Month: July 2016

Can I Make Twilight Sound Interesting?

Posted July 28, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 0 Comments

twilightI have a keen interest in literary theory and criticism, I often think it is a dying art form. However for me personally, I think it is a very useful tool to develop. While literature teaches us about the world around us, it can help develop empathy and lead you to explore new ideas. Literary criticism and theories can help unpack those ideas and look at commonality in those books we read. If writing is a therapeutic undertaking which allows the author to get ideas out and explore their own mind. Literary criticism is the exploration into understanding those thoughts and unpacking some deeper meaning.

While some people read for escapism, I tend to enjoy a book more if I find something deep. That’s not to say that all novels are meant to be dissected in this way, I believe that you could find deeper meaning in all novels, whether the author meant it or not. Sometimes the author is not aware of the deeper meaning that come out in their writing. I think that trends, symbols, motifs and even opinions (both personal and political) seem to be represented in your writing.

There are many types of literary theory out there and I think that most people interested in criticism tend to focus on the theories that they understand the most. For example, if you have a degree in psychology you might focus on psychoanalysing the text you are reading; trying to understand the characters’ and authors’ psychological makeup.  While someone that has a political interest in socialism, might look at a piece of text through a Marxist lens and explore the class issues that are evident in the writing.

I thought I might try to explain some common literary theories on a very basic level, as a way to understand just how interesting criticism can be. Note that I am not an expert and I am trying to learn more about criticism (that is how I got talked into buddy-reading The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism), but I thought this was a topic that needed to be talked about. I am going to use Twilight by Stephanie Meyer as my example, because I want to demonstrate that literary theory can be used on any writing and may even make it more interesting.

Queer theory

Queer theory is the exploration of sexuality and gender identity within a piece of text. From what I can remember there is no queer characters within Twilight; it is a heteronormative novel. However if you look at sexuality within the novel you can come up with a different story. Take for instance the fact that Edward is over a hundred years; is this perpetuating a fantasy of the older more experienced man? What does this say about Belle and her sexuality (not just her sexual identity)?

Feminism (sometimes referred to as Gender studies)

Feminism is a popular lens for critical analysis; in Twilight you can explore a lot on the topic. We are looking at the role of the woman within the text. While there is little descriptions about Belle, what do have makes her out to be a needy woman with no notion of independence or any idea on what she really wants. Although this is done on purpose, to make it easier for female readers to put themselves into her shoes. Ask yourself, how is Belle depicted in her role as a daughter to a single working father, and as a girlfriend. Just to be clear I am not saying Twilight is anti-feminist, I would say it is rather a post-feminist piece of writing (but I will not go into defining post-feminism).

Marxism

I enjoy Marxism when it comes to literary criticism; it looks at the class conflicts. There are three basic classes, all represented in the novel. The Cullen family represent the upper class, the Swans are middle class, while the Blacks are representing the lower class. Look at the Cullen class, they are represented as wealthy, well educated, and the classical representation of all things related to the upper class. Now look at the way Edward Cullen interacts with Belle and Jacob through the Marxist lens. Does their interactions represent an inherent class struggle?

Post-colonialism

Within post-colonialism, you can look at the relationship between the Cullen family and the Blacks. In post-colonialism you need to take into account the historical conflicts of the setting. Since the Cullens are super white (vampires) and the Blacks are Native American, you are able to see this motif play out quite easily. The relationship between white people and the indigenous in western culture is a big issue that is often explored, whether it is obvious or not.

Psychoanalysis

This is the exploration into the conscious and the subconsciousness of not just the characters, but also the author and even the reader. If you think of Twilight as a work of romantic fantasy, what does it say about the characters, the author and even the readers? This would closely parallel Queer theory and feminism in this instance because this is meant to be a romance. So this fantasy of an older, more experienced man plays a big part in understanding the character of Belle.

Intertextuality

While intertextuality is not a literary theory it is useful for criticism and understanding the relationship of a text with the literary world. Intertextuality is simply the ‘interrelationship between texts’, looking at influences and connections with the wider world of literature. In the case of Twilight you can look at the mythology of vampires and werewolves and how they differ to other books on the topic. This is a very simple way to look at Twilight, especially since the vampires in mythology do not match those that are found in this series.

I like to look at the intertextuality between Twilight and Wuthering Height (Belle’s favourite book), especially how the relationship seems to mirror that of Catherine and Heathcliff. To be clear, Wuthering Height is a piece of Romantic literature, which is not to be confused with romance. Both Heathcliff and Edward is a typical Byronic hero, which is described by Lord Macaulay as “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.” The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is toxic and is disturbing that Belle would base her idea of love on their relationship. Although Edward is named after another Byronic hero, and that is Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, which yet again another toxic relationship that could be compared to the one found in Twilight. You could go with intertextuality, for example the fairy tale Cinderella and the connection Twilight has with that story.

There are so many different literary theories that you could use to look at the writing in Twilight and deconstruct it into something deeper. Also while reading critically, you could use other tools to analyse the text, from looking at Stephanie Meyer’s background, the cultural influence and there are many other ways to look at this series. I am still learning about literary theory and criticism, but I am very interested in the way the tools I am learning can transform the text into something deeper. I think using Twilight was a good way to prove the usefulness of literary theory or criticism. I would like to know what literary theories interest you and how you would use it in the context of Twilight.


The Adventures into Krissy Kneen and Incredible Erotic Literature

Posted July 25, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 4 Comments

The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex MachineSometimes you come across a novel that sounds so weird that you cannot help but consider reading it. For me, while browsing the shelves of Avid Reader, a delightful indie bookstore in Brisbane, I came across Krissy Kneen’s novel The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. The premise was simple, a young woman who wears a True Love Waits ring finds herself joining a sex book club. They dedicate themselves to exploring the so called classics of erotic literature. Upon reading this novel, I found this to be a delicious romp of genre blending and surreal sex. In the vain of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure but with a blue glow emanating from her vulva. This fact I discovered early in the novel with the line “She wondered what Jack would think on their wedding night when he lifted her skirt to find her glow-in-the-dark vulva providing subtle illumination of their final act of love”.

One of the joys of this weirdly surreal novel was the way Kneen managed to explore the journey of sexual awakening while also recommending some good erotica to the reader. I compare this book with Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or shall I call it Fanny Hill) simply because it explore this journey into sexual pleasure in a similar way. While one book feels more about the empowering nature of desire and the other a perverted fantasy written by someone stuck in prison.

I will admit my experience into erotica is very limited, from a perverted start into the website literotica to a mild curiosity in this genre. One key difference I have found between modern erotica and the classics is intention. For popular authors like Tiffany Reisz, Sylvia Day and E.L. James, their books intend to explore a fantasy, hoping to titillate the reader in one way or another. While in the case of the classics, it was more about exploring something much deeper. Whether it be a sexual awaking (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), the pleasures of the flesh (A Sport and a Pastime) to just using sex for symbolism.

I still have gaps in my reading for this genre, for example Anaïs Nin or Marquis de Sade. Though I am curious to explore it in greater detail. Thanks to Krissy Kneen and her novel, I now have a list to work from. I was pleased to see James Salter kicking off this wonderful novel and I was eager to write down a list books to read…only to find them listed in the back of the novel as well. In my never ending efforts to be well read, I now have some direction when it comes to Erotica.Erotic literature

While I adore the voyeuristic nature of A Sport and a Pastime, I was pleased to see some transgressive erotica gracing the pages of The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. One could argue whether these picks should be considered erotic in nature but they do explore sex in an interesting way. Take for example Lolita, there are some beautifully written erotica writing in the novel but this is countered by the disturbing nature of Humbert Humbert. Dolores’ own sexual awakening will be forever tainted by the predatorily nature of Humbert. This can also be explored in Me and Mr. Booker by Cory Taylor and Alissa Nutting’s novel Tampa which takes on the idea of the fantasy of sleeping with the teacher. However for further exploration into this I would recommend a memoir; Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz.

Then you have something far more disturbing in nature with Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, which takes sex to a far more depraved level. While this novel will indeed shock and sicken you, the symbolism to be found is what I found undeniably appealing. With the help of some essays combined with this novel called “The Pornographic Imagination” by Susan Sontag and “The Metaphor of the Eye” by Roland Barthes, Story of the Eye transforms into more than a surreal erotic. As I read it, I was disturbed by the mind of Bataille but now I feel sympathetic to his pain.

I was not surprised to see Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) or Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour) was neglected from the pages, I was expecting Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs to make an appearance. Sex in Burroughs represents power and could have added an interesting dynamic, though this could be just a projection of my love for surrealism. It is pleasing to read a novel that mirrors fragments from the classics. Kneen not only recommends books to Holly White and the reader, she was able to pay homage to the greats.

While my journey into erotica seems to be focused on the classics, I am all too aware that I have not considered literary erotica. I would like to think that a more literary erotic novel would closely resemble what I am interested in rather than just a fantasy aimed to arouse. I know I need to read Affection and Triptych by Krissy Kneen but I do need to try other authors. More research is needed for me and recommendations as well as I continue down this rabbit hole, who knows I may write more about erotica in the future.


My Hot and Sticky Blog Re-evaluation

Posted July 7, 2016 by Michael Kitto in My Essays, Writing / 2 Comments

It is often a good thing to re-evaluate your life, your goals and if you are a blogger like me, your blog. I have been thinking about this for a while and decided it is time to refocus. You may have noticed that I have not been as active on my blog as I would like. I had this goal to write something about everything I read, plus I wanted to do more than literature. However due to motivation, work and other plans, I have not achieved much at all on here. I would say I have about twenty books to review but is it really worth the effort? Maybe, but does this achieve what I want to achieve.

For the longest time I wanted to be a writer, I never was sure what I would write but it was something that was always in the back of my mind. When I started reading and blogging, that desire slowly faded, to the point where I convinced myself that I was not a writer. This became a problem, as I would always dismiss myself and any ideas that I might have. The ideas kept swimming around in my mind; I was just not doing anything with them.

It took me a long time to change my thinking, I am a writer. I may not be a writer of fiction but I love blogging and that is a form of writing. It is a skill I want to build and improve. I want to write more engaging posts and the only way to do that is to practice. My blog is a collection of my thoughts and writing and I can see improvement happening. I am happy to be write about literature instead of writing literature. I am happy in my own writing universe but I still feel the need to push the boundaries.

I started a BookTube channel as a way to develop my skills at communicating and ultimately become a better writer. I got addicted to the community and my writing started to suffer. I need to find the balance. The channel Stripped Cover Lit proposed a #HotAndSticky novel writing challenge. Similar to NaNoWriMo but instead, you have a more manageable 488 words a day over the course of a few months (June till September). I decided to join in as a way to push myself further and see if I can in fact write fiction.

story ideaI think 488 words a day is a good way to start developing a writing habit again and try something new. My first novel idea was to write a hard-boiled detective novel with a female protagonist. I wanted to explore the pulp crime genre but I also wanted to explore the idea of how women are treated in a male dominated job and even go into sexual manipulation and abuse. I had a great plot lined up but it was not working on the page. I do not know if I have the ability to write plot heavy stories, I tend to rush through the story arc.

I quickly put this idea on the backburner and decided to try something different. This idea was to explore a grumpy bookseller as he reflects on life and attempts to find a connection with someone, in a world he does not understand. I hoped that trying a transgressive story would work for me. I want to try developing a character and seeing how the idea progressed from there.

I did not have much luck here although I did found some fragments that I enjoyed, I just felt like a failure. Reflecting on this, I asked myself what type of writer I wanted to be and a few names popped into my mind. Mary Roach for her entertaining and educational style and Anne Fadiman for the way she wrote about books. Both authors are witty and knowledgeable; two things I admire greatly about their writing. I have come to the conclusion that if I want to write like this, I need to change the focus on my blog.

I still think reviewing is an essential skill to develop and I will continue to work on that. I have to stop reviewing every book I read and start practicing essay writing. I would love to write about my journey into literature in different essays, and develop that skill. But I also want to develop a more educational approach. A busy work and life schedule means I cannot achieve everything I want to achieve right now, but I need to work towards my goals. I would like to say ‘expect less reviews and more essays’ but this is a work in progress and I am not sure what the future will hold.

You can expect changes, but I feel like I am still trying to develop the skills I want, I think in order to do that, and I will need to try. I am a little unsure how to best write an essay but this is the place to experiment; Knowledge Lost houses a lot of my writing and blogging from when I first started. Most of it is embarrassing but it is a not so subtle reminder on how much I have improved.

I have some ideas planned and to begin with, this may be very focused on literature and my reading journey, I hope in time I will be writing about an array of topics. I hope this is enough to reinvigorate my passion for blogging and writing. Giving me the freedom to explore without the reminder of how many book reviews I am behind. I hope you will continue with me on this journey and if you have a topic you would like me to write about, I would love to know it.


Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Posted July 5, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 8 Comments

Don Quixote by Miguel de CervantesTitle: Don Quixote (Goodreads)
Author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Translator: Edith Grossman
Published: Harper Perennial, 1615
Pages: 940
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Don Quixote is a staple in western literature, it ushered in the golden age of Spanish literature and it is also is one of the earliest examples of the modern (canonical) novel. The novel tells the story of a Spanish nobleman (Hidalgo) obsessed with the chivalric romance literature of the middle ages, who sets out to try and revive chivalry. With his trusty squire Sancho Panza, he sets out on an adventure to undo all the wrongs and injustices he encounters in the world. Claiming to be a knight. he gives himself the name Don Quixote of La Mancha.

From the very start, we get a sense that maybe Don Quixote is crazy. In psychology the term Quixotism relates to “over-idealism” and is often used in reference to someone with a naïve romanticism towards utopianism. The term “tilting at windmills” refers to a scene near the beginning of the novel where Don Quixote races off to fight giants that were actually windmills. If you consider that Don Quixote went mad from all the books he was reading and set off to try and fix the world, then this could be used as a metaphor towards Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra own feeling toward the same books, but rather than fixing the world he wrote Don Quixote. This brings to mind the quote from Toni Morrison “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Don Quixote, like many books of the time, was read to children; this is a novel I could never imagine being read to any child now. However one thing that makes this novel so great is that there are so many interpretations to be taken from the text. Harold Bloom (who wrote the introduction to my copy of the book) calls this a work of radical nihilism and anarchy, in the way it glorifies fantasy over reality. Calling him the Sorrowful Knight whose objective is that “He is at war with Freud’s reality principle, which accepts the necessity of dying.” The translator of the edition I read, Edith Grossman, has said, “When I first started reading the Quixote I thought it was the most tragic book in the world, and I would read it and weep”. However when she worked on the translation she remembered “sitting at my computer and laughing out loud.”

After the French Revolution a popular interpretation of the novel was that it was about ethics and righting the wrongs of society.  While later on it was a social commentary which always lead to the discussion of whose side Cervantes was on. You could even pull some religious or feminist themes out of this novel but for me, I read this as a Marxist text. The relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza was a good representation of the class struggle. It is evident that Quixote needed Sancho Panza more than Panza needed him. Sancho Panza was there to rise the ranks of society while Don Quixote was be completely lost without his squire.

I cannot talk about Don Quixote without mentioning the way that Miguel de Cervantes played with intertextuality. This novel is split into two parts; the first part was originally published in 1605. In 1614 a second volume was released by an anonymous author. It is believed that Miguel de Cervantes started writing his second part after this and in 1615 it was released. While part one was a spoof of the literature that annoyed him, part two was more an attack on this unauthorised story of Don Quixote. It even made references to this scandal as Don Quixote explores the concept of someone writing about him.

This is the type of novel that deserves to be read again and again. Every reading will probably offer something different and this review is a reference point of what I got out of reading this book the first time around. If you get the chance, I recommend reading this with someone. I read this with Hilary from Yrrobotfriend and the discussions were the best part of this reading experience. While reading this novel I enjoyed part one the most but on reflection, I think part two offers more.