Electronic wanderers

These metal Hyperions guarding the land

with their pulsating energy thumping through the soil

tainting it with thick, electrical tar.

We shiver and shake, all creatures recoil

half awe, half disgust

at what this world has become; a steel blue sky ripped

by their metallic spears

The sun once gorged itself on these natural feasts

now it’s electrocuted by a single lick.

And we walk amongst them,

children of the earth, reborn through these tangled wires

of supposed innovation,

when really we’re just walking around sick, demented , blind

to the world we left behind.

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Disjecta Membra

I still see her face, trapped in the moment.

The moment I chose to create.

I stole her away from the life she had made,

And just left her with her hands feeling unclean.

I took pleasure from her torture, her suffering, her pain.

To me, it was a song, a tune, a melody.

I gave her last request when she was gone with the wind,

Leaving me with a wife without her soul, but a ring that bears it all,

A ring of blood around my neck, like the choker that declared her death.

What is ‘othering’ and what does it mean to Conrad?

‘Otherness’ is a concept whereby differences in cultures, societies, or people are used in order to create a divide, and in some instances to create a sense of hierarchy. Historically it was commonly perceived that the white populations were superior to those of different ‘non white’ races, an idea which was further exacerbated by the white colonists venturing into lands where the populations were ‘non white’.  Zygmunt Bauman, a polish sociologist, wrote that the notion of otherness is key to the way in which societies establish identity categories, and that these identities are set up as oppositions. This directly links to Conrad’s work in ‘Heart of Darkness’ (HoD) as Bauman proposed the idea that “stranger is the other of the native […] ‘them’ is the other of ‘us’” which is the same idea that Conrad tries to portray through the white men setting themselves apart and claiming to be superior to the native African populations. However, in HoD Conrad does not only propose the idea that ‘otherness’ is an exclusive concept that the white men use against the black African men, but in fact a universal concept used also by the native men against the white imperialists and men against women, suggesting that othering is not mutually exclusive between people of difference races or between two people where a power dynamic suggests that one is superior to the other.

 

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Zygmunt Bauman

 

In the first instance, Conrad represents the black African men as ‘the other’ towards the white colonising men, a theme which is constant throughout the book. Upon Marlow’s first experience of Africa, he describes the natives as “black shapes”, “black shadows” and “moribund shapes”. By diminishing the Africans to “shapes” and “shadows” he has dehumanised them, therefore implying that he has a higher status since he is a ‘white man’ and they are only ‘shapes’. However, it could be argued that Marlow is not othering the black Africans but Conrad is instead using the technique of delayed decoding as Marlow does not initially realise what he is looking at so gives a blatant description of the scene without realising that he is looking at people. Delayed decoding would therefore explain Marlows’ kind nature he exhibits towards the native African people as he “offer[ed] him one of my [his]  good Swede’s ship’s biscuit”. Marlows’ kind gesture of offering food implies that his previous comments were not intended to dehumanise the Africans, but were purely used as a descriptive. Despite this gesture, Marlow continues to use degrading language towards the Africans as he calls them “strings of dusty niggers” – a term which not only removes all aspects of the individual since plurals are used, but it also verbally signifies to the reader that Marlow believes the Africans are of a lower status and are their ‘other’.

 

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Sketch by Lauren Reeser 

 

 

Yet, Conrad also shows how the white men become ‘the other’ to the black African men. A black African is used as a soldier by the white men, and when he (the black African Soldier) sees “a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I [Marlow] might be.” The last sentence “white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be.” is directly comparable to Marlows’ earlier statement; “black shapes crouched … nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation” as both the black and white men in their own scenario cannot distinguish the men of the other races. Therefore, Conrad has established a mutual sense of otherness between the white and black peoples.

Furthermore, the idea of ‘the other’ is applied against other colonised areas. Marlow in the trading company’s office remarks that “there was a vast amount of red – good to see at any time because one knows that some real work is done there” when he is looking at a map on the wall. The ‘red’ is referring to the British Empire, and so by Marlow remarking that it is “good to see at any time” this suggests to the reader that he views the British Empire as a just and good cause, potentially because he believes that ‘some real work is done’ in that Empire. These positive views of colonisation and Empire are contrasted against his views of the Belgium Empire which he states is “Dead in the centre”. This blunt and definitive statement portrays a negative image of the Belgium Empire which is a stark contrast to the British Empire, and the use of the word “dead” presents a corrupt and deathly pretence towards the Belgium Empire. It is important to note that Marlow is not opposing the concept of colonisation as he only referring the Belgium colonists through the word “dead” as he used positive terms when describing the British colonists. He also defines each different colonised area by a different colour “marked with all the colours of the rainbow” and doesn’t refer to any named country exclusively. This further emphasises the idea of ‘otherness’ between the different colonies because the individual colours act as a way to establish identity categories, and Marlows’ suggestion that the British Empire is better than the Belgium Empire supports the idea of  a hierarchy within the colonial powers.

Women are mentioned throughout HoD, yet Marlow does not consider any of them to be his equal, instead he places them in their own world, keeping them separate from the men therefore implying to the reader that women are ‘the other’ to men.  “They – the women, I mean – are out of it – should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse.” The use of the plural ‘they’ and the collective noun ‘women’ in the passage is a clear indicator to the reader that Marlow is separating women from the men and has removed their sense of identity though the collective term. By Marlow also emphasising the idea that women and men are from ‘different worlds’ he is further enhancing the idea of women being the other of men, as the patronising tone in the phrase “we must help them stay in that beautiful world of their own” highlights how Marlow believes that women are completely out of touch with reality, and through the verb ‘stay’ further highlights this idea of ‘othering’ as Marlow believes that women should remain separate and apart from men since they are ‘out of it’. Furthermore, ‘othering’ by the white men is not exclusive to white women, as the native women are also ‘othered’ by the colonists: “And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman.” Through the word “apparition” Conrad has made the reader aware that Marlow doesn’t even view the native women in the same category as the white women, setting them apart further. Additionally, through the phrase “she must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her” alerts the reader that the white men determine the African womans’ worth through her materialistic possessions, and that only they can determine the value of ‘the other’. It is also implied that the African men use the African women in the same way that white men use the white women: “She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step.” Warrior imagery is juxtaposed against the women’s feminine elements as her hair – something distinctly feminine- was “in the shape of a helmet” as well as her protective brass coverings and her stance being string and ‘proud’ suggesting that she is the opposite of the soft and fragile Intended. Yet she is still being used as a rallying symbol for the African men in the same way the blonde European women are for Marlow, demonstrating how women of all races are set apart from all of the men, making them an ‘other’ to men in general.

 

 

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Photo from blogs.hpedsb.on.ca

 

In conclusion, Conrad has demonstrated how othering is part of the ‘human experience’ as it is a concept which has been applied to every group in the novel towards anyone who is perceived as different. The most obvious example of ‘othering’ in the novel is by the white ma towards the natives. This is most obviously apparent towards the end of the novel when Marlow calls his helmsman “a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara”. The visual imagery used through the description of ‘sand’ diminishes the helmsman’s’ presence, evoking connotations of insignificance and worthlessness, whilst deliberate insertion of the colour ‘black’ immediately alerts the reader that Marlow is acutely aware of the differences between the races and wants to make it clear that the natives insignificance is due to the difference in skin tone. This is further supported through Marlows’ statement “we two whites”. Marlows’ need to specify the colour ‘white’ makes it clear to the reader that skin colour is vitally important in the colonial landscape, and an important tool in the white man asserting his dominance and transforming the natives into ‘the other’. However, Conrad does include an incident where the black African soldier turns the white man into his ‘other’ as he is unable to “tell who I [Marlow] might be” which resonates to Marlows earlier experience of being unable to distinguish the native Africans from ‘shapes’ and ‘shadows’, further emphasising that the concept of ‘othering’ is not always used to establish a hierarchy in society. Conrad also uses the concept of othering to establish a divide between the sexes with women from both Africa and Europe portrayed as rallying symbols purely for the purpose of men, or as people who are completely removed from the real world and exist in a co-existing fantasy universe which they need to be kept in. This idea that women belong to a different world to men is perhaps foreshadowed early on in the novel as Marlow observes “two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool”. This imagery of the two women is used by Conrad to resemble the Fates of Greek legend- Clotho and Lachesi, and in Virgils’ Aeneid book VI, the wise Cumaean sibyl guards the door to the underworld into which Aeneas will venture. These early ideas of myths and legends envisioned through the women immediately alert us that men view women as being part of a different realm, and ultimately ‘other’ them into submission so they “stay in that beautiful world of their own”. Finally, Conrad also demonstrates how ‘othering’ is not only applied to people but also to the colonist countries. Whilst at the trading companies office, Marlow never mentions the individual countries’ names, instead only using colours which visually creates a divide between the colonies, and the difference in language between the positive and negative comments applied to the British and Belgium empire suggests that a hierarchy has been created and that ‘othering’ is used between the colonising powers such as Great Britain and Belgium.  Overall Conrad has demonstrated how ‘othering’ is a complex yet widespread concept which is embedded into the human psyche as all humans, of any gender or race experience  and implement it, to create divisions within society in an attempt to create a hierarchy, or as a defence mechanism for their own self-protection.

 

 

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Joseph Conrad photo from famousauthors.org

 

 

 

Rabbit Soup

Rabbit Soup 

It’s leg still twitching
on the cold slate worktop, with its’
fur smooth yet ruffled around its’ neck
from wrestling hands.
Eyes blank from staring at the wall
trying to remember what the grass felt like beneath its’ tender paws
or the warmth of the summer rain washing over its’ back.
The sensation was still with him until
one large swoop,
the knife cascaded down
like water running from a brook
onto its’ neck.

A creature once wild, now running into our mouths
our pudgy fingers molesting the flesh
javelins pushing body parts around our plates
as if we’d forgotten it once had a breath.

Stasiland: a heartbreaking work of genius

It is very rare to find a piece of journalism which is concise, creative , and invigorating, but Stasiland by Anna Funder does just that!

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Funders’ novel is her own report of her encounters with various members of the previous East Germany, whether that be famous figures such as Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, hidden members of the regime such as Stasi officials, or ordinary people who learnt how to survive the 40-year-old regime. From a historians’ point of view, this book is exceptional in allowing the reader to gain an insight into the grass roots of the GDR, and pans over the cruel regime with grace and insight – giving enough historical knowledge to educate the reader, but not too much as to scare them away – and although some factual details are a little hazy at times, this does not weaken Funders’ creative literary craftsmanship.

Perhaps  the most interesting part of this novel is the emphasis on ‘the untold’, the secrets from ordinary citizens which are finally coming up for air. Funder moves effortlessly through tales of fear, loss, escape, and redemption; we encounter Miriam who tried to escape when she was 16 to Frau Paul’s baby boy being kept across the border in a West German hospital: We experience the fear of Hohenhausen on the same parallel on which we are allowed to reflect fondly on the niche society of the socialist nation. Moreover, the accounts from the Stasi men are gripping as we see both sides of the coin; some who are still fighting for the rebirth of the fallen regime, and others relieved that it’s’ finally over. From a western perspective, it is almost incomprehensible how individuals can still long for a regime which destroyed countless lives over decades; whether it’s their sense of nostalgia or their continual belief in the communist system, these ideas spark an interest in the reader which blaze throughout Annas’ writing.

 

It is easy to forget that this novel is,in fact, a journalistic piece, as the reader is transported into Anna’s world creating the air of a fictional universe. Prehaps this is why Stasiland is such a heartbreaking work of genius; Funders’ ability to create a world which seems almost fantastical, when in fact the GDR was very real for millions of people, many of whom are still feeling the repercussions of its’ existence, and its’ eventual collapse today.

Silent Remains

Silent Remains 

This strange creature

Trapped in this little white room, scared but still, not knowing she’s trapped.

Yet she sits

Waiting for the pain to come again, her tears still not showing

Then in they charge,

They roar

The necessary brutal attack upon this frail unfortunate soul

Her eyes look at me, glistening with the fear she doesn’t want anymore.

Their tiny swords slice and stab

Yet she is still silent

Their panic like boiling water being poured onto ice

She’s their lump of coal not yet a diamond.

Inside she’s struggling,

Gasping for air as the tigers in their white coats and name tags leave

Believing they have fixed her

Without knowing her mind is about to bleed.

She raises her hand and leans in to touch mine,

I wait with baited breath

My exhalation visible on the glass coated metal

The girl disappears

I am what remains.

A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘Sad Steps’ — Interesting Literature

A summary of a classic Larkin poem about ageing ‘Sad Steps’ was completed by Philip Larkin in April 1968, and was published in his final volume of poetry, High Windows (1974). Larkin was in his mid-forties when he wrote ‘Sad Steps’, and the poem analyses and explores the poet’s awareness of middle age, and the […]

via A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘Sad Steps’ — Interesting Literature

Teaching old drugs new tricks!

We are in the new renaissance of medicine where technology is coming thick and fast into our world and we are both in awe and struggling to keep up. With major improvements in health care and public health, people on average are living longer and defeating illnesses and diseases that they never could have years ago. Recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has announced that a partnership led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) will invest over £230 million in a range of revolutionary technologies aimed at identifying the causes of diseases such as cancer and dementia. This is a huge investment, but only a ripple in the ocean since the global pharmaceutical industry reached US$1.1 trillion in revenues solely in 2014.

Image via google images
Image via google images

However fast this technology is being developed, drug creation is stunted by a long and lengthy process. In the United States, it takes an average of 12 years for an experimental drug to travel from the laboratory to your medicine cabinet. That is, if it makes it as only 5 in 5,000 drugs that enter preclinical testing progress to human testing. One of these 5 drugs that are tested on people is approved, so the chance for a new drug to actually make it to market is only 1 in 5,000. These are terrible odds, and if it was a horse I would recommend you withdrawing your bet! But, this isn’t a horse, these a medicinal drugs that impact lives and determine whether you die or survive.

But there is a simple fact unknown to many. Old drugs aren’t dispensable – they remain vital tools for combatting disorders, disease and infections. For example, Raloxifene was a drug which was initially developed to treat osteoporosis (the condition that affects bone strength, causing bone loss meaning bones become more fragile) but since 2007 it has been used to reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Raloxifene is not a singular case however, as Thalidomide has also redeemed itself from its destructive early beginnings. The drug started out as a sedative in the late fifties, and soon doctors were infamously prescribing it to prevent nausea in pregnant women, causing thousands of severe birth defects, most notably phocomelia, which results in malformed arms and legs. However in 1998, Thalidomide found a new use as a treatment for leprosy and in 2006 it was approved for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer.

Image via google images. Picture showing one of the birth defects which was a side effect of Thalidomide.
Image via google images. Picture showing one of the birth defects which was a side effect of Thalidomide.

So why is this important? The reason why these drugs are so significant is that they show pharmaceutical companies that the stashes of ‘ineffective’ drugs stored in their cupboards could actually be significant. These are drugs that have passed safety tests, but have failed to successfully treat their targeted disease, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be used to treat something else. Doing so will require academia, the pharmaceutical industry, government agencies and patient advocacy groups to work together, in conjunction with talented researchers and sufficient funding. After all, a single drug can cost billions to develop.

Queen Victoria is quoted to saying “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.” This is true as Thalidomide and Raloxifene have found a new purpose proving that defeat is never accountable and we should pursue victory, especially when toying with the aspects of life and death.

Peace

Peace: sadly to millions of us on this small planet, this seems a foreign concept. Gunshots that replace birdsong, screams that become new lullabies and missiles that shoot into the sky like demented metal kites that soar into the oblivion. And most of all, the blood. The blood that wounds and kills and spills recklessly is an ever-present flag of war that stains many clothes, hearts and sadly memories.

The Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rebens – Via Wikipedia

There is a famous painting called ‘The Massacre of the innocents’ painted by Peter Paul Rubens in the early 17th Century. It depicts a scene of murder and pain and children slain whilst mothers shriek in revolt. These scenes are no longer just paint on a canvas; it is a reality to thousands of mothers, fathers, children and families: the innocents of our modern world.

A child of war. Image via Google images

Prayers and hopes and wishes won’t sustain peace. It won’t even cause a dent in the war. We need action, practical action to sustain peace. Throughout most of our past, we have not known what has caused disease, suffering, and pain, until certain revolutionaries in ‘The Renaissance’ allowed us to see differently. We eventually learnt that prevention is better than cure, and the quality of medicine, technology and medical science improved rapidly. This is what we need now. We need a Peace Renaissance. We need change. Living in a wealthy, peaceful country, it is easy to forget and become unwillingly selfish. An occasional advert from ‘Water Aid’ or ‘Save the Children’ will pop up on our screens causing a brief surge of guilt and urge to help, but this is shortly followed by our program starting and so our selfish, materialistic, and greedy characteristics can feed once again.

We are not living in pain. We are not surrounded by it. But does that mean we should just sit back?

In the current Israel-Gaza conflict, since the start of Operation Protective Edge on 7 July, 77 per cent of fatalities have been civilians. Of the 138 killed when the report by the UN was completed, 36 were children, and 1,361 Palestinians had been injured. This is one small aspect of this conflict, and there have been many others, this report just highlights a needle in a haystack.

Can peace ever remain to conflict-stricken areas? Many people will say no as ‘those that fight will forever remain fighters’. I believe differently. Peace can return, and I know one day it will, but that day will seem even further away if we just sit here and pray and hope and dream. Prayers may ignite belief, hope may allow us to dream, but dreams will always remain dreams. We need to do all we can, and we need to act now before it is too late.