Monday, February 28, 2011

Become a Writer: Petronius' Satyricon

Cover of "The Satyricon (Oxford World's C...Cover of The Satyricon (Oxford World's Classics)
How to become a writer
Notice the sentence openers from "Dinner with Trimalchio":

With the weight off his bladder, he demanded water for his hand, splashed a few drops on his fingers and wiped them on a boy's head.

After this a picture of how he learned accounting, and finally how he became a steward. 

Beneath this same inscription a fixture with twin lamps dangled from the ceiling and two notices, one on each door-post.
Petronius: Roman satirist (died A.D. 66). The Roman satirist Gaius Petronius Arbiter —nicknamed "Arbiter of Elegance"— was not only a writer but also a close friend of the Emperor Nero. Because the emperor thought of himself as a connoisseur of the arts, Petronius —a true intellectual— gained much favor from Nero by fawning around him.

But like many other high politicians, he fell victim of a conspiracy, causing Nero to force him to commit suicide. Yet, knowing of his impending death, Petronius wrote a scathing satire against Nero, which he promptly dispatch to him.

In his novel Satyricon, Petronius depicts the scandalous lives of Romans: wild parties, bacchanalias, orgies, and degenerate habits. Only fragments of the novel remain, but what remains in sufficient for today’s readers to get the full flavor of Petronius’ intellectual reach and style.

Petronius anticipated what later was to develop as a separate genre: the picaresque novel. Satyricon stitches together the adventures of three picaros —Encolpius, Ascyltus, and Giton who meander aimlessly through Italy and whose main concern is to stay alive, eking out a living by their own wits. Petronius describes their love adventures, troubles with the law, their quarrels with outraged citizens, and their escapes.

A lively scene —the Ban­quet of Trimalchio— depicts with gross exaggeration one of wealthy townsman Trimalchio’s parties. Scott Fitzgerald admitted that he had in mind Trimalchio’s banquets when he wrote of Jay Gatsby’s parties in Long Island. Of low birth and little or no education, Trimalchio strives to gain respect through the accumulation of wealth. And after he becomes rich he pursues his social climbing by mean of ostentatious parties that rather than affairs of refinement turn out to be affairs of ridicule.

Since Petronius was familiar with the aristocracy, he was quite accurate in painting Trimalchio’s as a vulgar copycat of good manners and learning. Petronius wrote the novel in Latin, but there are many fine translations into English which give a fine rendition of what life in those years was like.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dante's Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise: Writing and Bliss

Dante and Beatrice speak to Piccarda and Const...
Image via Wikipedia

How to become a writer
When Dante set off to write The Divine Comedy, he had only one requirement on mind: to write every day. That is what writing is all about: to write daily. Just write and you will have production; the corollary to this is write sporadically and you'll have sporadic production at best--nothing at worst..

Training o be a writer
Studying the style of authors, reading 10 hours a days, imitating your favorite writers, or memorizing grammar rules and syntax patterns will not help you a great deal. A little yes—but not a lot. We all benefit from studying, but the crux of the matter is to write every day no matter what. If you are a writer you must not lose your way.Writing every day is the best training, and the best way to develop the skills necessary to stitch together decent sentences.


Writers often give up; they lose their intensity, and soon their way—witness Dante:
“Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood, for the right way had been missed.”
And in he goes through the gates of hell, after reading the ominous sign: “Leave every hope, ye who enter!”

Procrastination is Satan’s helper. Dante portrayed Satan frozen in hell. Don’t let the sin of procrastination freeze you in your creative impulse. Write. Rage. But write. Temptations and distractions are many, but Productive writers develop the will power to get something done every day. We all know writing takes time, but not a lot of time. With enough practice one can write a page in five or ten minutes. It may not be great writing, but it doesn't have to be; we can always pluck out the thorns later. Just think that no circle of hell can detain a willful soul. Dante had Vergil —a poet he admired— to lead him out of the darkness and circles of hell towards the light. Writers live to bring light and dispel the shadows that fetter our thinking and of those whom we wish to help. The best lesson we can take away from Dante’s Inferno is that without effort there’s no human hope:
“Consider well the seed that gave you birth: you were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to be followers of worth and knowledge."


Dante described Purgatory as a mountain to be climbed. First stretch: Have a clear topic, situation, story, novel, or idea of what you want to write about. Have a goal. If you lack this you’ll be all over the place; you’ll be like a directionless flood. On the other hand: if you have a defined goal, you’ll be like a well-behaved river that will flow into the sea. Next stretch: Climb up one step at a time. Do it in installments. No task becomes insurmountable if you chunk it down. If your goal is to write a paper of 750 words, think of it as three chunks of 250 words each. The higher plateau: Avoid writing in your mind, for pondering and contemplating, and cogitating isn’t writing at all. Get into the habit of thinking with pen and paper—or a computer screen. Build a file; create a record that you can see right in front of your eyes and that can be retrieved at will. Enjoy the top of the mountain: You have reached to top of the mountain when you see your rough draft right in front of you. This enjoyment is but a moment of ecstasy, but ecstasy nevertheless, for it is: "the conversion of the soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to the state of grace." The greater bliss will hit you when you see the fruits of your labor turned into a final product.


While Dante had Beatrice to guide him through the celestial spheres to get close to God, writers only have themselves and their minds to get there. In my experience, every time I complete a piece of work, I experience an instantaneous vision of paradise. It is bliss. “This is my light, this is my contribution—my effort,” I say to myself and I rejoice.

Indeed, writing is a Divine Comedy. So, let’s write for “The secret of getting things done is to act!”

No greater words were ever said for those who are hesitant to do, to act, and to write.

Senada Selmani, model

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Becoming a Writer: Schleiermacher's Hermeneutics (PART II of II)

Friedrich schleiermacherImage via Wikipedia

4. Good interpretation can only be approximated.

We are, considering all advances in hermeneutical theory, still far from making it a perfect art, as the perennial fights over the writings of Homer and over the comparative merits of the three tragic writers+ show.
No individual inspection of a work ever exhausts its meaning; interpre­tation can always be rectified. Even the best is only an approximation of the meaning. Because interpretation so seldom succeeds, and because even the superior critic is open to criticism, we can see that we are still far from the goal of making hermeneutics a perfect art.

[A philologist’s approach]

5. Before beginning the technical exposition, we must know the manner in which the subject occurred to the originator, and how he acquired his language and anything else one can learn about his mannerisms.
First, one must consider the prior development of the genre of the work at the time when it was written; second, one must consider the use made of the genre typically in the place where the writer worked and in adjacent areas; finally, no exact understanding of the development and usage is pos­sible without a knowledge of the related contemporary literature and especially the works the author might have used as a model. Such a cohesive study is indispensable.
The third goal raises very troublesome problems. We could say that the interpretive process as a whole is only as easy as this step is to take. But because even this step requires a judgment which can also be anticipated in the previous steps, it is possible that one might be able to omit it. Biographies of the author were originally annexed to their works for this purpose; now­adays this connection is overlooked. The best sort of prolegomena attends to the first two points.

[Context matters: divinatory and comparative methods]

With these contextualizations [Vorkenntnissen] in hand one can gain an excellent perception of the essential characteristic of a work upon a first reading. The whole task requires the use of two methods, the divinatory and the comparative, which, however, as they constantly refer back to each other, must not be separated.
Using the divinatory, one seeks to understand the writer intimately [unmittelbar] to the point that one transforms oneself into the other. Using the comparative, one seeks to understand a work as a characteristic type, viewing the work, in other words, in light of others like it. The one is the feminine force in the knowledge of human nature; the other is the masculine.
Both refer back to each other. The first depends on the fact that every person has a susceptibility to intuiting others, in addition to his sharing many human characteristics. This itself appears to depend on the fact that every­one shares certain universal traits; divination consequently is inspired as the reader compares himself with the author.
But how does the comparative come to subsume the subject under a general type? Obviously, either by comparing, which could go on infinitely, or by divination.
Neither may be separated from the other, because divination receives its security first from an affirmative comparison, without which it might become outlandish. But the comparative of itself cannot yield a unity. The general and specific must permeate each other, and this can only happen by means of divination.
7. The idea of the work, by which the author's fundamental purpose [Wille] reveals itself, can only be understood in terms of the convergence of the basic material and its peculiarity of his developments.
The basic material by itself stipulates no set manner of execution. As a rule it is easy enough to determine, even if it is not exactly specified; but for all that, one can be mistaken. One finds the purpose of the work most pre­cisely in its peculiar or characteristic development of its material. Often the characteristic motif has only a limited influence on certain sections of a work, but nonetheless shapes the character of the work by its influence on others.


The interpretive knack is to somehow intuit the meaning while being cautiously aware of how the intuition in some ways predetermines the pro­cess of validating it.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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Becoming a Writer: Schleiermacher's Hermeneutics (PART I of II)

stamp series, men of the history of Berlin II,...Image via WikipediaBecoming a Writer: Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 - 1834)
The father of Hermeneutics was a German philosopher and theologian who lectured on a new method of understanding textual material. From his students' notes of his lectures his basic innovative ideas have been organized and published in a book titled Hermeneutics.

Of importance to writers is his insight into what today we know as the "hermeneutic circle." This is a conceptual device that enables readers to get a better understanding of a text by examining its parts, and then extending this understanding to the whole, and vice-versa.


1. The common beginning for both the technical and the grammatical interpretation is the general overview which grasps the unity of the work and the main features of the composition. The unity of the work, the theme, will be viewed here as the writer's motivating principle and the foundation of the composition as his peculiar nature as it is manifested in each motif.

The unity of the work derives from the manner in which the grammatical constructions available in the language are composed or connected. The author sets a verbal object in motion as communication. The difference between popular and scientific works is that the author of the former arranges the subject according to his peculiar style, which mirrors itself in his ordering. Because each author has minor conceptions each of which is determined by his peculiarities, one can recognize them from among anal­ogous omissions and anomalous inclusions.

I perceive the author as he functions in the language: partly bringing forth new things by his use of language, partly retaining qualities of language which he repeats and transmits. In the same way, from knowledge of an area of speech, I can perceive the author's language as its product and see how he operates under its aegis. Both methods are the same process begun from different starting points.

[Note the incipient basis for the seminal idea of the hermeneutic circle]

2. The ultimate goal of the psychological [technical] exposition is nothing other than to perceive the consequences of the beginning; that is to say, to consider the work as it is formed by its parts, and to perceive every part in light of the work's overall subject as its motivation; this is also to say that the form is seen to be shaped by the subject matter.

When I have looked at everything individually, there is nothing left over to understand. It is also obvious in itself that the apparent contrast between understanding the individual parts and understanding the whole disappears when every part receives the same treatment as the whole. But the goal [of good interpretation] is only achieved in the continuity of both perspectives. Even when much is only to be understood grammatically, it is not understood fully unless one can make an intrinsic analysis which never loses sight of the genesis of the work.

[Schleiermacher’s ideas on style]

3. The goal of good interpretation is to understand the style completely.
We are accustomed to understanding style as the handling of language. We presume that thought and language intertwine throughout, and the spe­cific manner with which one understands the subject requires an under­standing of the arrangement of words: i.e., the handling of language.
The peculiarity of an individual conception results from what is missing or added to a conventional conception. Whatever peculiarity results from imitation or habit it results in a bad style.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Becoming a Writer: John Stuart Mill's On Liberty

The philosopher John Stuart Mill and Helen Tay...Image via Wikipedia

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), the English Utilitarian philosopher, published his philosophical essay in 1859, in which he discusses the limits of power of the government —or ‘the state’— over individuals. Any kind of interference with individual rights is a violation of individual liberty.

How to become a writer
From an early age --having been home-educated by his father-- he practiced writing, even composing serious essays. He was much influenced by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), from whom he learned the doctrine of Utilitarian ethics. This doctrine seeks the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers (Utilitarianism).

On Liberty
Mill says throughout his essay that he is only concerned with one important yet simple-minded principle: self-protection. Power —be that in the form moral, legal, or physical force— should only be used to prevent harm to others.

Besides the main point of argument —liberty— he deals withtwo corollaries: (1) with the individual being responsible only for his own actions and not with the business of other people; though he sees benefit in the improvement of society at large, he objects to restricting the individual in favor of the general welfare. He argues the point that religious intolerance —as deemed beneficial to human welfare— may be harmful to both the individual and society. (2) If the individual actions harm others, then those actions have consequences.
Mill goes on to list some of the acts which a person may be forced to do —for example, to give testify in court, to bear a fair share of the common defense, and to defend the weak— arguing that beyond these acts society has no right to interfere when a man freedom. Freedom, Mill says, extends beyond physical freedom to move about, and includes freedom of thought, feelings, sentiments, and expression (the press). Thus opinions, whether true or false, should not be suppressed because unopposed ideas soon become dogmas—empty words.

In addition, each man should be free to do as he wishes and seek happiness provided what he does not harm to others. Can man form associations? Mill says, yes, as long as such unions do not harm others.
Throughout history states have often used their power to restrict the liberty of citizens in areas in which they should not invade, much less regulate, or legislate. Interference by the government blunts individuality, Mill holds, and fosters group-think.

In closing his essay, he says that governments that coerce individuals to submission makes small men out of them; therefore, nothing great may be expected from them.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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Becoming a Writer: Demosthenes (384 - 322 BC C)

Démosthène s'exerçant à la paroleImage via Wikipedia

The Greek orator and Athenian statesman Demosthenes became famous not only for his mastery of the art of public speaking, but for being a political animal with strong political instincts.

His father had been an arms dealer who when he died left the family fortune to his six or seven year old son. His guardians, however, stole part of the fortune. Given to stuttering and incapable of being understood, the legend goes that he would put pebbles in his mouth, and practice speaking for hours.

To become a good writer and speaker
The first time Demosthenes made a speech in the public assembly was a disaster. Humiliated but not beaten, he sought the advice of an actor who coached him to act his delivery. To perfect the technique, he set up a routine, which he followed for months until he had mastered his oratory. Plutarch narrates that Demosthenes to become a good writer and speaker he would hide away two or three months at a time; to inhibit himself from leaving his hideout, he would deform his looks by shaving half of his head.

Wealthy Greek men were expected to contribute to the polis and so Demosthenes outfitted a trireme in 357 B.C. In addition, he sponsored theatrical performances. As a warrior hoplite, he distinguished himself at the Battle of Chaeronea 338.
Demosthenes foresaw the danger to Greece with the rise of Macedonia under King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Delivering fiery speeches which he wrote with great care— known as Philippics and Olynthiacs— Demosthenes alerted the Athenian people to prepare, but to no avail, for Philip started his conquest of Greece in 339 BC . To stop the advance of the enemy forces, Demosthenes formed an alliance of Athenians and Thebans, but these forces proved to be too weak, and were defeated in the battle of Chaeronea.

The details of Demosthenes' life from the time he delivered this speech to the death of Alexander in 323 BC C. are vague, but when Alexander died, the hope of freedom was revived and Demosthenes came into prominence again.
When he sponsored a failed rebellion against the Macedonian general Antipater, rather than be taken alive by the enemy, he took poison that he had hidden in a quill; he died in 322 BC C.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Simone de Beauvoir's The Prime of Life

Simone de Beauvoir à la BastilleImage by zio fabio via Flickr

SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, novelist, essayist, author of The Second Sex (1949), and life-long companion of Jean-Paul Sartre, was also a diarist much concerned with leaving her legacy in her own words. To "become a writer" she wrote every day of the year. Her autobiography contains four volumes, from which (the second volume entitled The Prime of Life), the following pages are excerpted.
This selection depicts a writer in the midst of apprehension and anxiety in the eve of the Second World War. Not only are her impressions genuine, but also realistic as she attempts to capture the spirit and atmosphere of the day.

3 September
Awake at 8:30 to find it raining. My first thought: "It's really true, then." I'm not exactly miserable or unhappy, and I can't discern any feeling of resentment inside me; it's the world outside that's so horrible. Someone turns on the radio. No reply to the Final Notes from France and England; fighting still going on in Poland. Unthinkable prospect: another day after this, and another, and another-much worse, too, for then we shall be fighting. Only stopped from crying by the feeling that there would be just as many tears left to shed afterwards.

I read Gide's Journal. Time passes slowly. Eleven o'clock brings news of last-minute efforts in Berlin. The result will be known today. Hope is non-existent. I can't conceive the joy I would feel if someone told me, "There isn't going to be any war"; perhaps I wouldn't feel any­thing.

Phone call from Gege, I go over to see her on foot. This cuts actual distances everywhere considerably: to go half a mile or so still takes about ten minutes of one's time. The police have all got magnificent new tin helmets, and carry their gas masks slung in little snuff-colored satchels. Some civilians have got the same equipment. Many Metro stations are shut and barricaded, with notices announcing the nearest one available. Car headlights, painted blue, look like large precious stones. I have lunch at the Dome with Pardo (Gege's second husband, whom she married after her first marriage was annulled), Cege herself, and an Englishman who has very striking blue eyes. Pardo takes a bet, against Gege and me, that there won't be a war, and the Englishman agrees with him. All the same, there's a rumor going around that England has declared war already. Gege tells us about her trip from Limoges back to Paris: all the way an endless stream of taxis and cars going in the opposite direction, piled high with bedding. Very few cars in the vicinity of Paris: nothing but unaccompanied men, mobilized reservists. Workmen busy blacking out the windows of the Dome with thick blue curtains. Then the sudden announcement at 3.30 in Paris-Soh: "Great Britain declared war at 11 a. m. France to follow suit at five this afternoon." Despite everything, the shock is still tremendous . . .

A scuffle on the Place Montparnasse. Some woman mistook a man for a foreigner, and he slapped her face. Bystanders protested, and a military policeman grabbed the man by his hair. Fresh objections from the crowd. Policeman seemed somewhat confused and told people to move along. By and large they seemed to blame the atmosphere of hos­tility on the "foreigner."

This evening, with Gege, at the Flore. People still saying they don't believe in the war, but they look pretty panic-stricken all the same. A man who works for Hachette says all his trucks have been requisitioned and the Metro bookstalls emptied out on the sidewalk, just like that. We walk back along the Rue de Rennes: lovely effect of violet or blue head­lights in the darkness. At the Dome we find a policeman arguing with the manager, who finally has extra-thick blue curtains put over the win­dows. I catch a glimpse of Pozner, in uniform, and the Hungarian. At eleven o'clock they clear the cafe. People hang around on the pavement; nobody wants to go home. I spend the night at Gege's place. Pardo gives me a pill, and I am able to sleep.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Becoming a Writer: James Jones' From Here to Eternity

From Here to EternityImage via Wikipedia

Becoming a Writer:
The best way to become a writer is knowing that there is no single way, but many ways. Here's one tip from the top of my list: Read every day.

Brief Biography

 JAMES JONES (1921-1977) was born in Robinson, Illinois, the son Ramon Jones, a dentist, and the town drunk. In high school he found he was a fair boxer, and later he boxed as a welterweight in Golden Gloves tournaments, background that he was to use in his novel From Here to Eternity.

Although he attended college for a while, family finances forced him to abandon his studies.

During World War II James Jones enlisted in the US army where he reached the rank of sergeant (1939-44). Rebellious by nature, he had disciplinarian problems that often landed him in the guardhouse, or remanded him to mopping floors, or washing pots and pan in the mess hall. At one point he was sent to Schofield Barracks, a tough Army stockade prison.

While stationed on Guadalcanal he was wounded in a combat, and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Jones was later stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked it.

The enormous success of his novel From Here to Eternity provided him with the financial independence he yearned so that he could dedicate himself to writing full time. By many accounts, he was generous with his money, helping and funding friends in need.  During the next two decades he dedicated himself to writing and befriending fellow writers such as Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, William Styron, and Hemingway.
At the end of the 1976 the Joneses moved to Southampton, New York. He died in Long Island, on May 9, 1977.

A blockbuster of a novel: From Here to Eternity

Jones spent six years writing the novel. What made the narrative not only beautiful and moving, was the plainness of language. Critics, scholars, and the public in generals lavished praise on the war novel, which soon became a selection of the Book of the Month Club. In 1951, Jones received the National Book Award for fiction.

The story focuses on the trials and tribulations of Army Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a recruit from Kentucky, knick-named “Prew.” Of little education but of great moral integrity, Prew finds a home in the US Army, where he wants to spend 30 years of service—a regular army professional. Endowed with physical stamina and resilience and with an ear for music he becomes a bugler and a boxer.  
By an accidental blow, he injures another boxer, causing him to abandon his career as a fighter. By the time he is assigned to serve in Hawaii, his reputation as a boxer preceded him. Yet, he refuses to join the boxing squad. His commanding officer permits the other boxers to harass Prew so as to force him to join the team. He resists.

Insulted, humiliated, and held in contempt by the boxing team, he befriends no one except Angelo Maggio—a kindred spirit. Incarcerated in the Hickam Field Stockade, Maggio falls into the hands of the sadistic Sergeant James "Fatso" Judson who subjects him to continuous physical abuse.  Maggio escapes, but only to die in Prew’s arms.  To avenge Maggio’s death, Prewitt in turn kills Fatso in a knife fight. During the Japanese attack to Pearl Harbor, Prewitt is killed by friendly fire when he tries to return to his unit. All through the novel, the author interweaves romantic scenes, so that the story isn’t just about lonely soldiers serving in a peace army.

When Hollywood produced the film version of the novel, both the film and the novel became enduring works for many generations to come.

Other works

Jones's other novels include PISTOL (1958), and WHISTLE (1978), which together with From Here to Eternity constitute Jones war trilogy.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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Mary Duffy: author of East of Tiffany's and Toolbox for Writers

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Roland Barthes

Roland BarthesImage via Wikipedia

How to Become a Writer like Barthes:

The best way to become a writer is knowing that there is no single way, but many ways. Here's one way (from the top of my list): Write every day.

Brief autobiography of Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes (1951 – 1980) was born in Cherbough, Manche, moving with his mother to Bayonne after his father’s death in 1916. In 1924 they again moved, but this time to Paris, where Barthes attended the Lycée Montaigne and Lycée Louis-le-Grand. At the Sorbonne Barthes studied classical literature, Greek tragedy, grammar and philology, majoring in in classical literature in 1939.
After teaching French in Romania and Egypt he was hired by the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. Later he became a professor at the College de France until his death.

Major works

In his collection of essays, Mythologies, he turned his quirky persona to an assortment of topics ranging from wrestling to car ads and on to the face of Garbo, seeking to decode the subtle messages with which common people are bombarded on a daily basis. In other words, he put his magnifying glass to the nascent pop culture. Though not a Marxist, his articles were fraught with a critique of bourgeois consciousness as implanted by the dominant classes of business people and industrialists.  

In A Lover's Discourse (1978) his narrative meanders aimlessly —apparently— observing and decoding the ambiguous signs of love. Although we pay lip service —he sustained— to the language of love, there’s no institution that takes this language seriously. So he stitched together a series of brief articles that though disparate on first impression, they may be read with pleasure.

S/Z (1970) is a surgical analysis of Balzac’s novella Sarrasin. From the novel as a whole, he dismembered into more than 500 observable organs, and to which he applied his analytical  invention, the five codes for interpretation: actional, hermeneutic, semic, symbolic and referential.

As one of the leaders of the Structuralist movement, he obliterated the author as it was commonly understood. In The Pleasure of the Text (1973) Barthes performs a newer acrobatics with language by disconcerting and traumatizing readers hitherto accustomed to their old ways of reading. By attacking conformism and the status quo, he wanted to channel literature, reading, and writing into a pleasurable activity that was free from old preconceptions.

Style and influence of Roland Barthes

Because of his unorthodox and seductive style, Barthes’ books were well received. Of all the
French structuralists and deconstructionists that sprouted in decades of the sixties and seventies, he was the most respected and influential. Perhaps most of his charisma derived from his own humble admission that he was only a plain writer—not a philosopher or a serious scholar.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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Becoming a Writer: Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights - Who is Who

Emily Brontë's Wuthering HeightsImage via Wikipedia
Emily Bronte (1818-1848) published her acclaimed novel Wuthering Heights (1847) under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. In spite of some of the scenes of romantic mush, the novel is a violent tale of revenge in which the protagonists are determined by their consuming passions. The guiding passion in the novel is the gathering of wealth as a means to regain a lost love. For novelists who are interested in setting, the moors of northern England provided an animated panoramic view.

Heathcliff, is a swarthy, violent, passionate, and ill-­natured man. Being an unwanted foundling in the Earnshaw household, he is subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment by Hindley Earnshaw—his chief tormentor. Unforgiving, vengeful, and violent, Heathcliff lives for the day when can bring retribution upon his nemesis. His character develops from anger to ire, from ire to rage, and from rage to demonic wrath. Not even his love for Catherine —Hindley’s sister— can assuage his violent temper. That inhuman desire for revenge consumes his life, so that in the end he dies devoid of any trace of human feeling.
Catherine Earnshaw, is the sister Hindley, and later wife of Edgar Linton and the mother of young Cathy Linton. Catherine is portrayed as selfish, wild, sensuous, and of devilish ways. While her brother Hindley hated Heathcliff, she developed an exaggerated romantic relationship him. Yet, she rejected him, fearing that a marriage to him would not only demean her, but also destroy their romantic attachment. When Edgar Linton proposes to her, she readily accepts him. But marriage doesn’t erase her deep love for Heathcliff, though she seems to be fairly happy in it; that is, until Heathcliff leaves to hide his shame and seek his fortune. With her childhood friend gone, she becomes irascible, dispirited, and sullen; a situation that improves only when Heathcliff returns as a changed man. The tormented couple —Heathcliff and Catherine— exhibit an unusual, almost inhuman uncontrollable passion for each other, a passion that only ends when Catherine dies in childbirth.
Hindley Earnshaw is the brother of Catherine Earnshaw, the husband of Frances, and father of Hareton Earnshaw. When unexpectedly his father brings the orphan Heathcliff to live with them, he develops an intense jealousy and hatred for the dark-looking, gypsy-looking boy. That hatred causes him to abuse the boy not only in words buy also physically. After the death of Frances —his wife— Hindley starts  to drink, dying debt-ridden, humiliated, and degraded, victim of Heathcliff's vengeful schemes.
Edgar Linton, is the husband of Catherine and father of Cathy. A refined, well-read man, he truly loves Catherine and makes her happy; that is until Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights. He is a level-headed man, patient, proud, and protective of both his wife Catherine and his daughter Cathy.
Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar and Catherine Linton. A bright, kind-hearted girl, she pities Linton (Heathcliff’s son), and yielding to Heathcliff’s machinations, she marries Linton, only to see him die within two years. In the end she finds happiness with Hareton Earnshaw.
Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley and Frances and the object of Heathcliff's revenge against Hindley. Under Heathcliff's constant abuse, Hareton becomes a crude, gross, wild young man. After Heathcliff's death, Cathy rescues him and eventually the two fall in love and marry.
Linton Heathcliff, the son of Heathcliff and Isabella and the husband of Cathy Linton. Spoiled, weak, and sickly he moves to Wuthering Heights after his mother’s death. Soon he becomes the target of his father’s violent outbursts. His marriage to Cathy Linton accelerates his death.
Isabella Linton, is the sister of Edgar. As a child of privilege and a spoiled upbringing, she becomes attracted to the dark-looking mysterious Heathcliff. Disregarding all warnings, advice, and opposition from her family she elopes with Heathcliff, marries him, and later has a son —Linton—  by him. Disappointed in her marriage, she leaves Heathcliff, taking Linton with her.  
Frances Earnshaw, is the wife of Hindley; she dies of consumption.
Mr. Earnshaw, is the father of Catherine and Hindley. In one of his trips to Liverpool he finds the foundling Heathcliff whom he brings to Wuthering Heights to raise as his own child and as a companion to the siblings Cathy and Hindley.
Mrs. Earnshaw, is Mr. Earnshaw’s wife.
Mrs. Ellen Dean, is the housekeeper; called Nelly for short. Initially she tells Heathcliff's story to Mr. Lockwood. Having been a faithful servant in the household at Wuthering Heights, she follows Catherine to Thrushcross Grange when Cathy marries Edgar Linton. Years later after Heathcliff buys Wuthering Heights, she returns to work for him as the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights once again. Much of the fiery passions and violent events that occur in Wuthering Heights are filtered through her eyes.
Mr. Lockwood, is the first narrator of the novel. After he becomes Heathcliff's tenant, he also becomes interested in the landlord's life as he hears Mrs. Dean recount the stories of the Earnshaw and Linton families.
Joseph, is a choleric servant at Wuthering Heights who is always making gloomy predictions about other people and chastising and punishing them for their —in his view— ill, impious behavior.
Zillah, is a servant at Wuthering Heights.
Mr. Green and Mr. Kenneth, attorneys in Girnmerton, a neighboring village. 

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Lucretius' De Rerum Natura

Creech's LucretiusImage by philobiblon via Flickr

Lucretius life

Titus Lucretius Carus (approx. 100-ca. 50 BCE) left no biographies, and no major sources from which scholars can reconstruct his life. Like the marks of two parentheses, two pieces of information has reached us: that having drunk a love potion, he became insane from it, and that he committed suicide. Some information may be inferred from his long poem De rerum natura —translated as On the nature of things and also as On the nature of the universe— which alludes to his own person. In addition, Cicero referred to him in a letter to his brother.

What the poem De rerum natura is about

In classical times, poetry was used as method of teaching, propaganda, and transmittal of general information, there being no clear delineation among science, philosophy, and the arts. So, Lucretius deals at length and passionately on Epicurean physics. Because he openly admitted that he based his work on Epicurus, Democritus, and Leucippus, critics and scholars considered his work non-original.

Epicurean denied the existence of supernatural forces mediating human life. Epicurus held that that the world and all things in it are the result of the random accommodation of atoms. Lucretius interprets this materialism in a systematic manner, explaining the universe with incipient scientific principles.

Religion and ethics

Being an atheist, he cleansed and rid the world of big God, little gods, and other creatures in between. No allowances did he make for superstitions of any kind. Although his system depends heavily on a deterministic materialism, he manages to salvage man’s free will.
In addition, besides offering a dissertation of biology, physics and cosmology, he isn’t shy about tying into it a treatment of sexuality, ethics, the pursuit of happiness—and death.


Virgil cited Lucretius in his own poems, and had planned, upon his retirement, to study him more in-depth. Through the Renaissance his work was much read and translated into many languages. The French essayist Michel Montaigne loved to quote him.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis, Nobel laureate in Literature 1930Image via Wikipedia
SINCLAIR LEWIS (1885-1951), the novelist, playwright, and social critic hailed from the heartland of America: Minnesota. In 1914 Lewis married Grace Livingston Hegger, an editor at Vogue. Their son, Wells, was named after the famous British author H.G. Wells, whom Lewis admired, and whose social criticism he mimicked in his own works.

In 1902, Sinclair attended Oberlin College in Ohio and received his bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1908. Holding odd jobs and traveling around the country and abroad gave Lewis a first-hand experience and material for his fiction."Becoming a writer" was the only occupation he ever wanted to practice.

What established his reputation as a first rate novelist was his novel Main Street (1920), a dramatization of realism and idealism in a provincial small middle-America town, where one can find the same pattern of cheap shops, ugly public buildings, shabby services, and feeble citizens behaving by the same rigid social conventions. Through Carol Carol Kennicott —the protagonist and emancipated woman— Lewis portrays the suffocating activities that compel an independent-minded woman to rebel and defy the norms that enchain her. In this novel one can see an incipient flourishing of the theme — “The problem that has no name”— that Betty Friedan would later develop in her The Feminine Mystique.

With his next novel, Babbitt (1922), Lewis started a series of novels of the same theme: pettiness, mindless middle class conformity, and moral cowardice. The novel is a scathing criticism of a Midwestern businessmen —George Babbitt— who is at the top of his form at forty-six years of age, and who sees life through the rosy tinted glasses of business.

In addition to Babbitt, what survives of all his novels are Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), and Dodsworth (1929).

Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, the first ever awarded to an American writer. Prolific in different genres, he produced 22 novels, three plays, and many articles. Much like Balzac in France, his complete works show a tendency to benign social criticism.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
Becoming a writer is easy with enough practice and with the two books recommended above.
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