Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Well Written Sentence Openers in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho

Cover of "American Psycho (Uncut Killer C...Cover via Amazon

What can one say about a fine writer —Bret Easton Ellis— who chooses a degenerate and violent theme? To me it seems like a waste of talent. But to each his own! Why lament the fact that Flaubert –another superb writer—chose to write about infidelity, adultery, the provinces, and a low-witted heroine? Yet the fact remains that while Madame Bovary is a masterpiece regardless of its theme, American Psycho is a minor work.

American Psycho is a scary book for whoever reads it, be the reader male, female, gay, lesbian, straight, or crooked. But, besides the gratuitous violence, what makes this book scary? It isn’t a novel in the vein of those horror adventures that Stephen King writes. Not at all. This book is disturbing not because of the horror of the violence it contains, but because of what it represents: the acts, realities, and fantasies of a narcissistic killer that not only makes a killing in the market, but who is also a serial killer.

Beneath the well polished, well groomed, and sartorial splendor of the anti-hero Patrick Bateman, lays a soul-less predator intent on gratifying his most base and mad passions. This character’s confessions will put you out of your comfort zone and get in your face for sure.

The narrator lets us get inside his mind, the mind of a depraved killer. Not only do we get a ring-side chair, but we get to sniff, feel, and move around to take in every little detail that fills the psycho’s cesspool of a mind. The precise and minutes descriptions, the inner monologues, the hues, shadows, and graphical depictions of clothing, accessories, and grooming artifacts all seem excessive, yet at the end of the novel we feel that they were necessary to experience the full blast of a sickening milieu. The detailed cruelty, torture, and sadistic hate crimes to human beings (and dogs) will leave readers speechless. With Wittgenstein I’ll simply say: “Of what we cannot speak we must remain silent.”

But not everything is violence, banality, and frivolous. Humor is there for the reader to inhale when is needed. The pace demands moments of hilarity, or readers would get fed up with the continuous iterations of objects, clothes, clubs, and cabs. And if hilarity is missing, you’ll find sarcasm everywhere.

For those who aren’t familiar with the world of investment banking (Drexel, Lehman’s, Kidder Peabody, First Boston, Morgan Stanley, Rothschild, Goldman, and others), it’ll be an eye opener. To think that yuppies —graduates of Groton, Lawrenceville, Milton, Exeter, Kent, Saint Paul’s, Hotchkiss, Andover, Choate, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and other Ivy schools), earn large bonuses and salaries, will make many people unhappy. Excess, wealth, and opulence are visible everywhere: Bergdorf’s, Fortunoff, the Harvard Club, The Pierre Hotel, Café Luxembourg, Café des Artistes. Maybe this is where the satire resides. The author is painting a grim landscape of a segment of society that has indeed become a dog-eat-dog jungle where remorse, conscience, and moral imperatives don’t exist.

The next time you look at a Wall Streeter you will think twice: is this man a lady-killer, a gay killer, or a serial killer—maybe all of the above or not. After all we are dealing with a figment, as Patrick himself says:
There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping you and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.

Bret Easton Ellis uses his command of the English sentence to shape an emotionally numb and de-personalized character that thrives in the 1990's yuppie culture. While we read we feel immersed in the thick of the action and we overlook grammar, syntax, and rhetoric that the author employs to accomplish his literary goals: alliteration (“You are pure prep perfection,” he purrs), altered syntax (“Just like a leaf I’m shaking), and exciting sentence openers.
To imagine that another character can resemble Patrick Bateman in cruelty may seem far-fetched, but not remotely unreal: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov —the Russian psycho of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment— comes close. Raskolnikov kills the two old ladies with an ax, and he does it in order to test his depraved theory of the superior man who can get away with anything; this is a character who feels he is above the law. Patrick Bateman, on the other hand, though he also uses an ax to kill Paul Owen, has no theories to prove other than to rid the world of “objects,” lesser beings that deserve to be raped, tortured, and then killed. This is pure evil. For a character that lacks a conscience there’s no redemption, as the character himself says it:
My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have cause and my utter indifference toward it, I have surpassed. I still though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed.

While we admire the confessions of tortured souls like Augustine, Rousseau, and Tolstoy, we abhor Patrick Bateman’s telling. Since there’s no redemption for the protagonist of the novel, we can well say that, the novel while entertaining and well written sentence openers, has no social redeeming value and will remain a minor work in American letters.
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

Sentence Openers

Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

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Lindsey Vonn

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Women Power: Medea and Lysystrata

Through two strong characters, Medea and Lysistrata, the playwrights Euripides and Aristophanes paint the abject situation of total dependency of women in ancient Greece. In those patriarchal societies the significant cells —the family, the society, and the state— often erupted into conflicts for which no remedies, redress, or justice was afforded to women.

In each of the stories we clearly see that man has abrogated all the power. Medea is a woman in Euripides’ tragedy, who is driven to madness by her anger towards her husband for whom she had given up so much. Lysistrata, a woman in Aristophanes’ eponymous comedy, concocts a comical plan in order to obtain peace by coercing men to it.

As it turns out, Lysistrata sees and uses the withholding of sex as a mighty weapon. According to the text, Medea and Jason (her husband), have been living together for ten years in Corinth. Their home is a model of unassailable married life and devotion to each other and their children. Medea, a princess, gave up privilege and fortune for the love of Jason. Even knowing that in her new life she would be considered a barbarian —and not a citizen— she journeyed to Corinth, the city-state where Jason was a nobleman. But fate intervenes; causing Jason to betray her by seeking to married a royal princess of his own people. Not only does Jason scorn Medea by rejecting her, but he also humiliates her by intending to keep her as his mistress.

What is a wife, a barbarian princess to do? Suffer in silence? This is the crux of the tragedy; as she exclaims: “I am the mother of your children. Whither can I fly, since all Greece hates the barbarian?”

She has no options, for she sees herself as a loveless, homeless foreigner. A passive woman would have accepted the treatment, for women had neither rights nor means of redress. But Medea wasn’t a tame citizen—a wild passionate woman she was! And Jason had not counted on that. Although both Medea and Lysistrata were both Greek women, Medea was considered a barbarian from a backward region (Colchis). Lysistrata, on the other hand, cared not only for her husband, but also for her city-state and neighbors. At that time, Greece was fighting a series of wars, so the men had to join the army or navy. Death occurred daily. Wives lost their husbands or suffered in silence their long absences without news of their fate. Life without men in the city caused untold hardships.

Lysistrata, one of the wives, seizes leadership, appealing to other women to deny sex to their husband and coerced the men into peace. In the end, her plan yields good results, winning thereby the city’s approval, and gaining much respect. In principle, Medea and Lysistrata have the same problem; their husbands leave them because of status or wealth, however, the ways that they get status or wealth is different. Jason (Medea’s husband) chooses to sacrifice Medea to marry to a princess to change his status and wealth. Lysistrata’s husband decides to leave Lysistrata to fight a war in order to get wealth. Medea reacts in a negative way to deal with her husband’s betrayal. Betrayal brings hurt to both men and women alike; but specially, for women. For the love of her man, Medea kills people, leaves her home country, and also her family. And when she learns that Jason will leave her, all the pent-up feelings of love in her memory change to sorrow and hurt; at this time, the sorrowful memory prompts her to plot revenge against Jason. Memory not only impairs her judgment, but also determines her actions—her inescapable future. Her revenge would take place indirectly; that is, by killing those close to Jason: King Creon, his daughter Glauce, whom he had promised in marriage to Jason, and her own two children. Both anger and a deep felt resentment move her to commit such violent vengeful acts. Reason fails her. Only after she destroys Jason will she feel liberated from her trauma and unbridled hatred. Creon guesses correctly: “You are a woman of some knowledge, versed in many an unsavory skill.” His remarks show that Medea is not only feared, but also powerful, dangerous, and malicious. The “unsavory skills” Creon mentions, refers to Medea’s reputation for being a witch, a fact that is already well known since she saved Jason’s life by her magic powers. Medea knows that no matter what she says, the king won’t let her her stay. To gain time to commit her crimes, she uses her children as an excuse; in our language today we’d say that action is premeditated murder. In addition, by exploiting King Aegeus’ childless condition, she gains his promise of protection.

 Lysistrata’s actions, in contrast to Medea’s, show a lack of malice. She acts with sincerity. Warm memories motivate her: she recalls her love for her husband and that emotion lingers within her. But her country happens to be at war, a war that deprives her of those warm memories. Deprived of happiness, all she has is an abundance of sadness. At the same time, she realizes that there are a lot of women like her, whose husbands leave them to cope with that same feeling of abandonment. Given women’s lower social status, they have no recourse and must accept their condition. Futility is their lot—they can’t change anything. Lysistrata moves the other women to action by the sheer power of her speech. Not by malice, nor by deception, nor outright lying —unlike Medea— but by persuasion, by the art of rhetoric. And although much has been written about Gorgias, Demosthenes, Pericles, and other great Greek orators, little has been said about Lysistrata’s way with words. She tells the women money is root of all evils, providing thereby a strategy for women to follow her plan to stop the war.

And her end justifies the outrageous means she proposed: female sexual veto.

Even though Medea and Lysistrata share some characteristics, Euripides and Aristophanes portray two opposite images of woman; one is a devil incarnate, and the other an angel. Though parts of the stories defy credibility, the audience suspended disbelief since the stories were well known and based on well known myths.

To accept that a woman could kill a king lacks realism. Or that a woman would stop a war through sex deprivation seems an utter impossibility. For women without any options, they could still get what they want by appealing to extreme measures. While Medea —a woman of wild passion— sacrifices her children and herself, Lysistrata — a woman of strong leadership abilities—makes men capitulate by using the extreme weapon that sex (or absence of it) can become.

From these acts we can infer that both Euripides and Aristophanes wanted to portray the injustices of their ancient system under which the city-states functioned. And that unless some changes were wrought, the system —family, society, and the state— was bound to collapse. The abundance of male-dominant passages in Medea and Lysistrata are evidence of the lowly status that was assigned to women. In ancient Greece, in some households, slaves were treated more fairly than women. Medea is not only the victim of abandonment, but also of legal divorce because in ancient Greece men could divorce their wives with the simple announcement of separation. All the husband had to say, in front of some witnesses: “I thee divorce. I thee divorce.” And that was it. Neither rights nor privileges were afforded to the wife, much less redress.

The wrongs, misdemeanors, torts, and crimes that were committed against women were committed with total impunity; frequently such acts were also condoned by the family, the society, and the state. Besides suffering untold abuses and much misery during peace times, females also had to suffer during war time. Neither war nor peace did bring improvement to women’s lot.

In conclusion, each of the two characters —Medea and Lysistrata— experience a modicum of satisfaction in the midst of much inequality and injustice. Their warm memories keep them going; also, passionate love, wild love, and lighthearted love motivates these women. What the authors wish to accomplish with their portrayal of the sufferings of these two strong women was their redemption—the redemption of women surviving in a society in much need of change.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vargas Llosa's In Praise of the Stepmother (Chapter 1)

Congratulations, Señor Jorge Mario Pedro Varga...Image by * starrynight1 via Flick
The day she turned forty years old, Dona Lucrecia found on her pillow a letter of infantile stroke, calligraphed with much affection:
-Happy bithday, stepmother!
-I have no money to give you anything but will study a lot, I’ll win the first place and this will be my gift. You're the best and the most beautiful and I every night I dream of you.
-Happy birthday, again!

It was past midnight and Don Rigoberto was in the bathroom given to his bedtime ablutions, which were

Abbe Prevost's Novel Manon Lescaut


Introduction by Marciano Guerrero

 Abbé Prévost (1697 – 1763), was a  French novelist and journalist. After having been ordained as a Benedictine priest, given his rebellious nature, he got in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities, causing him to flee to England. There he earned a living as a private tutor in wealthy families. Later he moved to Holland, returning to Paris in 1734.

About Manon Lescaut

Set in France and Louisiana in the early 18th century, more than a story about Manon, the story is about the blind devotion the hero, the Chevalier des Grieux, developed for his lover—the gorgeous young woman, Manon Lescaut.

Of a noble wealthy family and with a fine education Des Grieux gives it all up when he meets Manon Lescaut. In Paris the young lovers enjoy a life of ups and downs because of financial pressures. While Des Grieux is content with living a simple life, Manon has an obsession with expensive taste and luxury exacerbated by a congenital fear of poverty.

The cavalier continually borrows money from his unwaveringly loyal friend Tiberge, and others, engaging in crooked gambling. Just when he accumulates sufficient capital, fate thwarts his ambitions with theft, a house fire, extortions, and the like. Because Manon cannot be satisfied with the Cavalier’s intermittent income, she leaves him for a richer man. This perennial fear haunts him throughout the story.

The couple’s penchant for clever thievery of rich people gets them in trouble with the law. For their last crime the two lovers are sent to New Orleans in America.

In American soil, they live in idyllic peace—for a while. Des Grieux’s naivete and Manon’s beauty are a recipe for tragedy. Believing he had killed the Governor’s nephew, who had pretended to win Manon, the couple flees New Orleans, venturing into the wilderness of Louisiana, hoping to get help from the native Indians, to reach a distant English settlement.

Given the harsh elements and Manon’s delicate constitution, she dies within twenty four hours of their escape. Captured once again, Des Grieux is tried and pardoned, returning to France to become a cleric.

This framed novel is narrated in the first person (by both narrators), and because both narrators have a sound education their prose is elevated and literary. Even the dialogues contain lyrical tones. Although the genre wasn’t quite yet developed, the techniques used by the author are well advanced of his times. Manon Lescaut (1893), inspired Italian composer Giacomo Puccini to compose the opera by the same name.

All the elements of a thriller —suspense, mystery, narrow escapes, action, intrigue, etc.— are all present, making the prose athletic, robust, taking the reader on a non-stop galloping ride from beginning to end.    

Rene Descartes' Theory: Cogito Ergo Sum (From Discourse on Method)


Introduction by Marciano Guerrero

Early Life

René Descartes (1596 – 1650) was born was born in La Haye, a town in central France. He was extensively educated, first at a boarding school at the Jesuit Henri IV in La Flèche. Later he earned a law degree at age 22, at the University of Poitiers; but he didn’t practice law since an influential teacher persuaded him study and apply mathematics and logic to understanding the natural world. Descartes later added theology and medicine to his studies.
As he writes in his Discourse on Method, having made some stunning discoveries, he felt that at age 22, it was too premature for him to reveal his findings. Instead he traveled, joined the army for a brief time, saw some battles and was introduced to Dutch scientist and philosopher Isaac Beeckman, who would become for Descartes a very influential teacher.

His Mature Life

Having gained experience and maturity, Descartes continuously work on developing his new method for finding truthful knowledge. To doubt everything was at the core of his system, rejecting everything that was not clear and distinct to his understanding.
Yet, to doubting everything, someone —a doubter or philosopher— must exist! 
By following his method of total doubt, Descartes rejected the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions that had been the dominant throughout the medieval times. By his new method not only did he prove that he existed, but also the existence of God.
In 1649 Descartes moved to Stockholm to tutor Queen Christina in philosophy. The Queen desired to begin her studies at 5 A.M., and Descartes was unaccustomed to working at this early hour. The work, combined with the harsh climate, had ill effects on Descartes’ health. He died of pneumonia in 1650.

About the Discourse on Method

In 1637 Descartes published Optics, Meteorology, and Geometry, a collection of essays. The preface to the collection is titled Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences.
Descartes’ Discourse alters the course of philosophy, by starting first with a proof of the existence of the self — cogito ergo sum— and subsequently deducing from it the existence and nature of God. That is to say, he offers a
radical modern account not only of the physical world, but also of the fauna and flora.
Written in plain, straight forward French, he made his method accessible not only to the learned, but all who wanted to pursue truth in knowledge.

The Narrator of Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway - Is He Gay or Bi?

In The Great Gatsby Scott Fitzgerald presents a study of wealth and ambition through the prism of pathetic characters for which one can find almost no socially redeeming values.

My ebook "Essays on the Great Gatsby: Is Nick Gay? Is Daisy Buchanan Slow? is now available in amazon and Barnes and Noble:Is Nick Carraway Gay?

If you don't own a Kindle or Nook at present, you may download the ebook to your computer--for only $0.99

What the novel portrays is the sordid story of small band of feeble characters engaged in cheating, adultery, deception, and debauchery. The lavish parties --Jazz-age style-- that Jay Gatsby throws to recover Daisy Buchanan (his lost illusions and perfidious lover) are all but wild bacchanalians.


Essay 1 — Introduction to the Great Gatsby

Essay 2 — Nick Carraway, Narrator: Is He Gay? Or, Is he Bisexual?

Essay 3 — Daisy Buchanan: No Golden Girl but a Master of Echolalia and Deceit

Essay 4 — Purple Prose and Objective Correlatives in the Great Gatsby

Essay 5 — F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Style: Carpentry, Pulleys, and Scaffolding

Essay 1 — Introduction to the Great Gatsby

While volumes of criticism and book reviews have been written on The Great Gatsby, nowhere have I read any allusions to the fact that the all the main players in the story are morally degraded and of low intelligence—or to be charitable: mediocre.

In fact, it is possible that the heroine —Daisy Buchanan— may well be ‘slow,’ as shown by her own actions, assertions, and in dialogue. This may be construed as harsh criticism, but in my view it is justifiable criticism which is supported by the text.

This study contains two parts. First, we will argue that NYC did not corrupt the characters presented in the novel. Second, we’ll show the writing techniques that F. Scott Fitzgerald employed to depict his characters and their environment.

Contrary to what many might believe, New York City despite all its sins and flawed institutions doesn’t corrupt people, but the characters in the novel (Southerners and Midwesterners) reached the Big Apple as adults with their values already formed, stained, and doomed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald presents a study of ill-gained wealth and ambition through the prism of pathetic characters for which one cannot find any socially redeeming values. What The Great Gatsby portrays is the sordid story of small band of feeble characters engaged in cheating, adultery, deception, and debauchery. The lavish parties —Jazz-age style— that Jay Gatsby throws to recover his lost illusions and perfidious lover Daisy Buchanan, are all but wild bacchanalians.

When one thinks about of the rest of the nation, we can breathe a sigh of relief to see that the rest of Americans are engaged in productive enterprise, in rebuilding the nation after the waste of resources that was the First World War. The sordidness of the story applies, almost in its entirety, to that small band of marginal, misguided, and unsavory characters.

The Great Gatsby isn’t a book about the spiritual dismemberment of America (as many have interpreted the book to be) caused by the ‘roaring 20s’ and the Great Depression. No such dismemberment ever occurred; on the contrary, America went to become the leading industrial super power in the world.

The second part of the study unveils the writing techniques that Scott Fitzgerald employs to capture not only the spiritual nuances of his characters, but also the setting —Manhattan and Long Island— where the action transpires.

Yet, the Great Gatsby will endure simply because F. Scott Fitzgerald created a literary archetype: Jay Gatsby. While many great writers achieve temporary fame, only writers who invent archetypes will endure eternal fame, and in this respect Jay Gatsby will join the pantheon of heroes where we find: Heathcliff, Tarzan, Holly Golightly, Lolita, Mr. Darcy, Gregor Samsa, and Holden Caulfield—among others.

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My ebook "Essays on the Great Gatsby: Is Nick Gay? Is Daisy Buchanan Slow? is now available in amazon and Barnes and Noble:Is Nick Carraway Gay?

If you don't own a Kindle or Nook at present, you can download this ebook to your computer: Only $0.99