Wednesday, December 28, 2011

human condition

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QUESTION The Human Condition is a continuing mystery. How have the texts you’ve studies enhanced and extended your knowledge?


The human condition refers to our attempts at contemplating the continuing mystery of life and overcoming its many emotional barriers. It embraces the harshness of reality and beauty of imagination human existence. Utilising a variety of literary, visual and filmic devices, Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, Sam Mendes’ film, American Beauty, John Keats’ poem, Bright Star and David Turnley’s photograph, 68 all seeks to explore the importance of human thought and need for fulfilment. Together, these composers provide us with a fuller understanding of our own struggles and discoveries in life, thus extending and enhancing our insight into the human condition.


Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, is a dramatic monologue written in iambic pentameters to describe the mending of physical and psychological barriers humans create in order to protect their ideals and beliefs. Frost establishes a sense of mystery and creativity through the inverted syntax in the first line, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”. This “wall” is both a tangible barrier and a symbol of isolation between Frost and his neighbour. The composer refers to the physical barrier through natural imagery, “gaps even two can pass abreast” and evokes mystery with, “No one has seen them made or heard them made” to evoke the secretive and continuing destruction of nature. On the other hand the psychological barriers are demonstrated by the composer’s expression of his distance with his neighbour, “beyond the hill” and “set the wall between us”.


The human power of imagination and its ability to transcend the mundane is displayed when the persona personifies boulders as “loaves” and “balls” and shows his playfulness by referring the mending process to an “outdoor game”. Frost again stresses the significance of imagination and juxtaposes this with his neighbour’s stubborn acceptance of traditional beliefs by rhetorically questions, “Why do fences make good neighbours?” He then uses logical sequencing of answers, “Isn’t it where there are cows? But here there are no cows.” thus positioning the responder to see the unthinking nature of some individuals.


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The simile, “like an old-stone savage armed” and primitive imagery of his neighbour, “he moves in darkness” further elucidates the concept that his neighbour is devoid of individual thought. The clich� at the end of the poem, also a repetition of the old saying finally confirms the simple acceptance of the neighbour.


Robert Frost explores the delicate interaction between humans while similarly, Sam Mendes’ film American Beauty, a black comedy also encompasses the emotional barriers between humans and their ultimate quest for fulfilment. The “Beauty” in the title could allude to the recurring motif of roses in the film or the character of Angela, the idealised female appearance as well as referring to the Western preconceived notion of beauty.


The film is a declaration of the expression of true feelings juxtaposing with the pretentious disguises of conformity. This is represented through characters Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening). During Lester’s so-called midlife crisis or rather re-birth, he realises the lack of honesty in his life and rebels against everyday routines. It is shown through the mis en scene effect at the tense family dinner where a long table separates Lester and Carolyn, symbolic of their distance and psychological barrier. The warm lighting depicts a friendly environment which contrasts with the intensity of the predicament. Lester then releases his inner emotions by smashing dishes and transcend into a role of dominance in the family.


Contrarily, Carolyn is obsessed with creating an image of success, striving for occupational satisfaction and materialistic fulfilment. There are close-ups of her exaggerated smiles while grooming her impeccable rose garden, captured through a series of mid-shots and long-shots. Her costuming and possessions e.g. car, house all paints a picture of confidence and success. However, her restraints of allowing her true feelings to show creates an emptiness in her life demonstrated by her need to find new happiness in a man other than her husband.


American Beauty is an exploration into complex human interactions, emphasising the need for self-discovery and therefore change. The film attempts to address the perceptions of beauty and solve the continuing mystery behind its illusions.


Conversely, John Keats’ poem Bright Star illustrates the mystery of life by dwelling on ideas of permanency and want for interaction between humans. Written in sonnet form, the poem involves two opposing ideas - the octet being representative of the desire to stay constant and unchanging while the sestet demonstrates the desire for connection.


The idea of permanency is shown through the persona’s reference to the “Northern Star” which is a symbol of consistency and fixity. Keats appreciates the star’s characteristic of immortality and addresses it, “would I were steadfast as thou art” yet he does not want to be isolated like the star, “Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night”. However, detachment is shown with the personification of the star as if its “watching” as opposed to participating.


A grandeur and stately tone is established through infinitive imagery in the octet, “eternal lids apart” and “sleepless Eremite” and cold, remote imagery such as, “mask” and “snow”.


The volta, “No, yet still steadfast, still unchangeable” marks the change in opinion of the composer. The word “still” acts as a pun and enhances the idea of consistency. Keats then refers to the desire of connection with his lover, “Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast”. The tone becomes yearning and sensual through images of love and gentleness, “fall and swell” and the oxymoron “sweet unrest”.


The repetition of “still” gives connotation to the persona’s want for time to stop forever and let him live eternally in one everlasting beautiful moment i.e. with his lover.


Bright Star demonstrates the magnificence and beauty of the human mind i.e. the positive side of life while David Turnley’s photograph 68 captures a depressing close-up, image of a salient crying woman. The context could be determined through the ethnic patterned scarf she wears covering her head suggesting she is of Muslim background.


A strong sense of isolation and anxiety is depicted through the figure’s body language � her lowered head, small, hunching shoulders and both hands pressing against her mouth. She wears a ring, being a symbol of prosperity juxtaposes the realistic state of this destitute woman.


The positioning of this elderly woman is also demonstrative of her emotions. She is placed towards the right hand side of the picture which leaves large blurred background on the left suggesting that there is something unknown behind her i.e. her past which could be the cause of her insecurity. The eye direction of the figure is to the upper right, outside the photo’s frame which signifies her detachment and uncertainty.


The level of modality in this picture is very high, achieved through lighting and the absence of colour. Natural light pours from the top right corner creating shadows on the woman’s wrinkled features and bony hands which allude to her deficient state of health as well as adding a degree of concealment and darkness to the overall effect of the photograph. Similarly, the absence of colour suggests that the salient figure is shown as she really is - without any modifications - emphasising the severity of her condition.


In capturing the harshness of reality, David Turnley has presented a distressingly emotional side of the human experience audiences could all relate to. The human condition is portrayed as frail and fearing which is a continuing mystery mankind is seeking to solve and overcome.


Through the engagement of the harshness of reality, the beauty of imagination and the importance of human interaction in these texts, our understanding of the continuing mystery of the human condition is broadened and enhanced and thus we can embrace our own life experiences with more wisdom.





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