Vonnegut (Optional Blog)

By Adarsh Bindal. Originally published at Adarsh Bindal.

Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse-Five, claims that time is relative. He claims that everything exists in different states across time. He does this narrating through the perspective of Billy Pilgrim, who is a soldier in the Second World War. Billy Pilgrim is captured by the Germans, and as his capture takes place, his first instance of bending time happens, and he sees and experiences his whole life in one sweep. Later, Billy is being shipped in a crowded German POW rail car. Once he arrives at the camp, he suffers a breakdown and gets a shot of morphine, which induces another round of time tripping. Billy and his fellow POWs move on to Dresden, which is a pristine city untouched by the war. One night, Dresden is carpet bombed by the Allies using incendiary “fire-bombs”, which obliterate the city and suck all the oxygen out of the air, which kills every living thing, but Billy and his fellow POWs are able to survive by shacking up in an airtight meat locker. To skip forward in the plot, Billy is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who explain to him the relativity of time, and with their help, Billy realizes that he exists throughout every time point of his life, and not just in what they perceive as “the present”. Through this realization, Billy makes a recording of the exact time and place and manner of his death, and the book ends on a positive note, with Billy saying that though he will experience the “violent hum” of human death, he will never truly die. He will just continue existing at a point in time where he is still alive.

It is at this point, that I take issue with Vonnegut’s idea of time. For me, Vonnegut ruins what could have been a perfectly good premise for hopeless optimism. Vonnegut’s idea of the perception time is more or less a happy one. What I gather from Slaughterhouse Five, is that Vonnegut claims that time is not flowing, rather it is stagnant and it is a human-made illusion that time flows. He claims that people can jump around and relive happy periods of their lives, as time is only what you perceive it to be.

A more interesting depiction of time, according to me, is in Ray Bradbury’s 1952 story called “A Sound of Thunder.” For those of you unfamiliar with this literary brilliancy, it is a short story which talks about a company called Time Safari Inc, which in the year 2055 allows people to go back in time to hunt exotic animals, especially dinosaurs. One of the main characters of this story, Eckels, goes back in time to kill a T-rex, where his guide explains to him that in order to prevent changes in the past altering the future, they make sure to leave no trace of their being in the past, and only kill animals that have been scouted before hand and are due to die within minutes of being hunted. Hunters who do not respect these rules are heftily fined. Eckels in his enthusiasm agrees to their conditions, but freezes up when the monstrous T-rex actually appears. Confusion ensues, and his guide Travis has to kill the T-rex for him. It seems like all is right and they haven’t disturbed the past, even though Travis is furious at Eckels and threatens to kill him. When they return to the year 2055, where to their horror they realize that people talk and behave differently, and there are horrible implications of the political changes, which implies in turn that they messed up and made some mistake in the past. Eckels inspects his boots, and notices a tiny butterfly that he accidentally crushed which set in motion a series of small changes that amplified exponentially. Travis is enraged and raises his gun at Eckels, and the novel ends with the titular “sound of thunder” which implies that he killed Eckels. It makes an interesting side note that Ray Bradbury wrote about the Butterfly effect before the term the Butterfly effect was even coined.

To me, Bradbury’s perception of time seems a lot less naïve and a lot more realistic than Vonnegut’s ridiculously happy-go-lucky, optimistic viewpoint. Bradbury insinuates that time lost is in fact, time lost, and mistakes made in the past cannot simply be ignored by going back to a state of existence that occurred before the mistake happened. Conclusively, I would have to agree with Bradbury on this topic: Mistakes can, with time, amplify, and the only way to correct them is by CORRECTING them, not skipping back to a more convenient time.

When Aliens Listen to Podcasts

By Adarsh Bindal. Originally published at Adarsh Bindal.

Thinking from a “space alien”‘s point of view (definitely not a manner of thinking commonly used by me), I decided to pick the most American, patriotic, representative act from ’20 Acts in 60 Minutes”. I chose Act Nineteen: “The Hard Life at the Top”. This act deals with “New Cadets”, which is the term used for new students at the renowned, prestigious West Point Military Academy. West Point has a formidable Alumni body, including authors, presidents, and generals. This specific podcast reinforced West Point’s reputation, as it contained recordings of cadets on their first day, where as their first task as “non-civilians”, was to repeat a very simple sentence to an upperclassman sporting a red sash. The sentence itself was a simple one- all they had to say was something along the lines of “Sir, this is cadet (insert name here) reporting for duty!”. Cadets who say it correctly get to retire to their barracks, and those who don’t have to keep trying until they do. Doesn’t seem too hard, does it? Especially as the podcast mentions that these are students who have only been accepted into West Point after they have excelled at every field- athletics, speaking, interviewing, academics- for all of their lives?
In a bizarre turn of events, NOT EVEN ONE out of the 1200  best and brightest of America were able to get it right their first time, in fact, most of them weren’t even able to get it right the second or third time! There were soundbites of cadets screwing up in the most hilarious of way; some would forget the sentence halfway through, some would stammer and trail off, and there was even one cadet who actually forgot his own name!

From the point of view of an alien- illegal, space, or of any other variety- this would be the most odd and misleading thing to learn about American culture, and I can say this very accurately, as I was born and raised in India, halfway across the world (though I promise I’m in the USA legally). It would be extremely strange for someone’s only encounter with America to be an incident where the smartest and strongest of their people are reduced to stammering, blabbering potatoes who can’t even repeat a simple sentence. An alien would not be able to understand the concept of West Point, and of even patriotism of that degree, possibly. For someone to have values of patriotism and wanting to die for their country so deeply imbedded in them, that they would be willing to give up their identities- their clothes, their hair- up in order to serve their country would seem incredulous at a stretch. Aesthetically speaking though, it would be a spectacle to behold: twelve hundred freshly-shorn teenaged men and women in fatigues, stepping up to a “superior officer” in full regalia complete with a red sash to loudly state their purpose.

Conclusively, my best guess as to a space alien’s reaction to this podcast would be to be completely dumbfounded and befuddled learning about this ritual, and I would bet that the only thing to rival the alien’s incredulity would be it’s curiosity!

Blog Post: Themes of Sexism in The Yellow Wallpaper

By Adarsh Bindal. Originally published at Adarsh Bindal.

One thing that I must point out right at the beginning, is that the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper is never named. To me, this makes it seems like Charlotte Perkins Gilman wants to leave the identity of the narrator open-ended, to say that the narrator could, in fact, be any woman. The narrator seems to think that women of this era are very oppressed, and she seems to imply that the structure of the society she lived in was very patriarchal and almost chauvinistic in nature. It seems though, that the narrator would not agree with the modern principles of feminism. In feminism, women demand equality with men, but the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper seems to accept that in that time and setting, it was common for men to assume that they were superior and knew when and how to do things, and women were expected to be subservient. John, the narrator’s husband, is seemingly a doctor. Both the narrator’s words and actions reflect the aforementioned sexist attitude : the narrator says “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage,”. The narrator also talks about a newborn child that she is not allowed to see”, which suggests that she is suffering from postpartum depression, yet not even her husband believes she is suffering from anything, which only serves to further the very sexist undertones that the author seems to have about women. She disagrees with their treatment when they try to confine her, as she thinks she will benefit from more social interaction than confinement, but she still bows to their will because she feels like her opinion is inferior in some way, and does not mention it. This speaks volumes about what the narrator feels about women, and it suggests that in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s time, it was very widespread and common for women to be subjugated. The narrator makes this situation obvious when she talks more about the woman she imagines inside the wallpaper, and implies that she sees herself struggling against the male dominated society and her husband when in saying that she could see the woman in the wallpaper trying to break through the bars of the wallpaper. The narrator also speaks about how the woman in the wallpaper , who, by now, seems like an allegory for women in general, has to “creep around”, implying that she needs to figuratively “creep around” her husband and the other doctor who seems to be responsible for her mental illness all along, as her husband in another display of ridiculous chauvinism threatens to “send her back in his care” if she does not obey him. Conclusively, it seems like the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper feels like women are inferior to men and should obey them, and this suggests a lot about Gilman’s feministic attitude towards the patriarchy of the time.

Blog Post: Remix

By Adarsh Bindal. Originally published at Adarsh Bindal.

I ran away; I always had plenty of money, and it didn’t give out till I got to Mexico. I left a letter, telling them I wanted to enjoy a free life and depend on myself. They cannot understand why it is thus. I tried to explain that vice and immorality have a terrible responsibility to answer for. They believe it to be most disastrous, but they are also in a measure representative of a frightfully general social evil. Despite this, however, they believed that after I’d sowed my wild oats I’d come out all right. A mingling of shame and curiosity to know more prompted me  to practice deceit, and pretend ignorance if per-chance allusion be made to these offences. They’ve ruined me. They take you one step on a bad road, and the rest comes quick and easy. Their approach may be so secret and insidious that but one such incident may be discerned at first, and yet from all sides these will flock, darkening the eyes of the understanding. There is something wonderfully strange in the way youthful minds can take up lewd thoughts. Thoughtless parents, negligent teachers, these are just the kind that old Satan delights to see placed over children. Satan is more interested in some children than the parents. Satan lays the snare, and children are his victims. Satan captures and ruins their children, and they are to blame. Think of feeding the youthful mind on such carrion, of distorting the imagination by putting such abominations before children. I can say that the moral in the vast number is wrong. These devil traps are ruining hundreds of the youth.

Sources used: The Yellow Wallpaper, Traps for the young.
Tools used: Jason Davies- Word tree

Blog Post 3: Keywords

By Adarsh Bindal. Originally published at Adarsh Bindal.

I decided the word ‘crazy’ should serve as my keyword, simply because the multifaceted, various descriptions of the word crazy fit in very well when used to describe material covered in class. To start with the first colloquial definition of crazy in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way”. I believe this fits in perfectly with the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s narration in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, since it is a safe bet to assume that almost a hundred percent of the people reading that work would agree that the narrator is, by the strictest of standards, absolutely insane. The OED also describes ‘crazy’ as being “extremely annoyed or angry”. Again, this is the exact reaction I- along with almost every person who considers themselves more than shriveled husks- exhibit after reading through Harriet Jacobs’ narration of her life. Another way to define the word crazy, would be mentally unstable. While this sounds exactly like our first definition, the difference lies in the semantics. ‘Crazy’ covers a wide range of the intensity of mental instability; from the subtle mental sickness of Cho in the Virginia Tech Massacre, all the way across the gradient to Poe’s mad sounding narration. To end, I would like to embed a link to THIS VIDEO which perfectly displays what is, sadly enough, the first and most dramatic image I get in my head when I think the word ‘crazy’.

Blog Post 2: Madness

By Adarsh Bindal. Originally published at Adarsh Bindal.

In the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, the narrator begins by claiming to be mentally ill, but not mad (The Tell-Tale Heart, 64). He draws this line by claiming that he though he suffers from mental illness, he is in full control of his actions. Though this concept seems convoluted at first, it makes perfect sense if you think about it. The word ‘madness’ is most often used to define “a state of frenzied or chaotic activity” (The Oxford Dictionary) which is mostly linked to a more instinctive and  while the phrase ‘mentally-ill’ usually refers to a more clinical, festering condition. I believe Reiss misuses the word mad in his article “Madness after Virginia Tech“, as in this case, to quote Reiss, ” [a] group made at least two pleas to university officials to take action” implying that Cho’s actions seemed highly premeditated and rationalized to himself, which suggests more towards mental illness than madness. Poe, on the other hand, uses the word ‘mad’ to describe someone’s justification of their mental state, or in this condition, their mental illness. Again, I tend to disagree with Poe, as to me it seems like he is describing mental illness more than madness, considering that the narrator seems to be more in control of himself than the definition of madness suggests, until the point where he lifts the covers to do the deed and gets angered at the sight of the eye and kills the man, at which point I think most readers would agree on disregarding what the narrator said about not being mad and reaching the conclusion that he is, in fact, a stark raving lunatic.

Going off on a different tangent, I agree with Reiss when he says it’s not a good idea to try to psychoanalyze people’s writings to predetermine if they are “mad”, as some of the best dark fiction can come from a perfectly healthy yet highly creative mind.