Ackland Visit

For my third blog post, I wanted to talk about our visit to the Ackland on the 13th of November. I guess it was only fitting that on one of the rainiest days of the entire semester, we looked at a good deal of paintings that had to do with the sea. The feeling that I associated with two of the items we looked at during the visit, was a sense of serenity. The painting, “River Landscape with Fisherman” from 1643 was very true to its title. In the painting, the water is very still, there are multiple boats on the river. You can see people on these boats, who we can presume are fishermen, there is even a dog seen on one of the boats in the foreground. The sense of calm is further exemplified by the bluish sky and the wispy clouds. We can see a town in the background of the painting and due to its proximity, the town does not look very big. I feel like this what was somewhat purposeful in that it just further denotes the importance of the boats. The purpose of this painting, in my opinio,n is to showcase a moment in history. Based off the context given by the description at the Ackland, this was painted in the 1600s by a Dutch painter that went by the name of Salomon van Ruysdael. In the 1600s, the Dutch were the number one exporters in the world due to the establishment of the Dutch East India Company, which was the world’s most powerful trading company.

The second item that I saw, that kept with this theme of serenity was the video called “The Batture Ritual” by Jeff Whetstone. The part of the film in which I sat through, I got to see a man fishing in the night. The video was filmed in a wide-shot and for that reason the man looked very small amidst a giant sea and the encompassing darkness of the night. The sound in the video was very minimal, as you were able to hear the soft splashing of the water, the horns of the steamboat in the distance, as well as the sounds of insects and birds. There is was no movement in the camera, which once again added to a sense of calm due to lack of action. The interesting thing about the movie, the film wavered between being boring and being somewhat striking. The reflection of the steamboat onto the river was incredibly beautiful, we are shown the interaction between nature and the industrialization of man, and despite what initially I found to be somewhat flat cinematography, turned out to capture on of the most astounding images i’ve seen in a while. Als,o I found a certain choice in the film to seem somewhat Avant-Garde, especially the close-up shot of the fish breathing, it almost looked as if it were suffering, which also made the whole experience feel very grotesque. I only found that to be off-putting and uncomfortable. I really don’t understand the purpose of that shot besides maybe giving the audience a more upfront view of nature, I just found that it disrupted the pre-established tone of the video which was much more tranquil. But there could be an argument of how there is a shift in scale, as bigger objects such as a human being and a steam-boat are given are smaller in scale in respects to the space in which they occupy, and this is shown through the wide-shot. While the close-up on the fish blows up the image of it and there is a sense of claustrophobia. The focus on the fish shows how even the smallest objects, such a fish, can have great weight if shown in a certain style or perspective. There was more gravity to the shot of the fish than anything else in the film, so maybe this is trying to show the significance of focus in media and the power that it possesses.

In the Ackland Visit, I was not initially impressed by the paintings that were associated with rivers/water but as I attempted to delve deeper into their purpose and what significance that they possess, I found myself asking questions about the feelings that the painting gave me and the reasons for they exist in the first place. Sure there is a commonality in that both these pieces were calming to me for the most part. In contrast to the item we saw, which was called “Looking at the Sea” which was much more abstract and gave me this feeling of chaos. This is painting that I personally didn’t see very much purpose to and it left an unwanted pretentious taste in my mouth, because of how abstract the message of the painting was. Maybe, it just wanted to emulate the chaotic nature of the ocean or maybe it delves deeper than that. Yet, I digress, I guess the two works of art that I talked about prior both showcased the beauty that exists in the interaction between humans and nature. Both works exemplify tranquility and an appreciation for nature and its gifts.

Wilson Library Visit

As a class, we had visited Wilson Library. The different materials that we were able to look over showed how stories such as that of Frankenstein, Robinson Crusoe, Sherlock Holmes, and Jane Eyre were repurposed over time. One of the materials that I looked at was a comic book adaptation of the classic Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of Baskervilles. What I found to be pretty interesting, was a page of the comic in which a group of suspects was laid out, through photos and description of each them. This gave an interactive element to the text so that the reader felt as they were more involved in the search for the criminal. I am not entirely familiar with the original source material, but what I do know is that this particular story is not very action-packed. But the comic book gave off a very different impression, as the first image of the comic book shows Sherlock Holmes punching somebody, which is a particularly violent image for a detective known for his deductive reasoning rather than his fighting prowess. There is also another image within the comic book that shows Sherlock holding a gun. Which got me to thinking about how this adaptation of The Hound of Baskervilles could be adhering to the action-packed format that is synonymous to that of a comic book. A comic book warrants spectacle, which is what this particular story could have originally been lacking, so it may have been essential to the authors to make the story seem more exciting by inserting more violence. The changing of Sherlock Holmes’ character reminded me of the movie adaptation of Sherlock Holmes in 2009, in which they turned Sherlock Holmes into an action hero. The movie was filled to the brim with different action set pieces and it seemed as if the greatest commonality between the characters in movies and characters that were based on in the book, were their names. The movie was also incredibly stylized and fast-paced, which is a staple of Guy Richie’s film-making. It’s definitely interesting to see how people take the original source material and how they try to make it their own, but then in certain aspects, it seems like these stories are repurposed completely based off the brand associated with its namesake. There comes a certain point in which an adaptation deviates so much from its original source that it brings up the question of why didn’t a particular author or film-maker, just take their own story. Making a comic book or film about a classic story, can definitely work in one’s favor if an interesting take is brought to the table, but when it seems like elements of a story are used just for the reason that they are recognizable to a general audience, that is when adaptations seem unnecessary. But yet, I digress because I did not read all of the comic books, so regardless of the vivid imagery that I saw in the comic book, it Is possible that these first few images were utilized as a sort of framing to give the audience an expectation that the story will be exciting and fast-paced. This idea of framing was also very apparent in one of the other materials that I came across during our library visit which was the series of reviews regarding Jane Eyre. All the reviews talked about how fantastic Jane Eyre was, calling it one of the most exciting novels to be put to pen and paper. These reviews prime the reader to have lofty expectations of the novel, which could work to its detriment, in that readers could be disappointed in the quality of the writing, or to its benefit if readers forgive the shortcomings of the novel because they think that the book is “a classic”. It is evocative of somebody reading reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and believing that a film will be good, just off the fact that it has a good rating on the somewhat credible site. I found these two materials during my Wilson Library visit to be the most interesting to me, in that they brought up the discussion of why adaptation exist, how can people repurpose stories in an effectual manner, as well as the idea of priming and how exactly it interacts with a reader.

Foe and Apartheid

Near the end of the second chapter in J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, Susan Barton and Friday are on their way to Bristol in order to catch a ship that will take Friday back to Africa. Along their journey, they come across a stillborn baby in a ditch. Susan leaves the baby, but as she awakes the next day, she begins to think about Friday and his possible cannibalism. “Had I not been there to restrain him, would he in his hunger have eaten the babe… Cruso had planted the seed in my mind, and now I could not look on Friday’s lips without calling to mind what meat must once have passed them” (pg. 106). Up to this point in the story, Friday had never shown any signs of being aggressive or violent towards anybody, especially Susan. Regardless of Friday’s seemingly docile nature through the entire time that she has known him, she still fears that Friday possesses cannibalistic tendencies. Why exactly I wanted to focus on this specific part of the story is because of the societal implications of the time. It is essential to bring up the fact that J.M. Coetzee is a South African author who published Foe in 1986. From the late 1940s to the early 90s, institutionalized racial segregation, that went by the name “Apartheid”, was enforced in South Africa.  Coetzee adapts the story of Robinson Crusoe and utilizes one of its main characters, Friday, in order to comment on the racial injustice that was going on in South Africa at the time. Apartheid was an effort to separate white and non-whites. This era in South African history was marked by white supremacy that was fueled by a fear of the black majority within the country. When Susan believes that Friday could have eaten the baby if she had not been there with him, her fear of what Friday could potentially be capable of draws parallels to the fear that the white minority had during the time. Cruso talks about Friday’s cannibalistic background on page 12 of Foe, “He would tell stories of cannibals and how Friday was a cannibal whom he saved from being roasted and devoured by fellow cannibals”. This quote taps into the theme of white colonialism, in that he “saves” Friday, which henceforth exemplifies a trite archetype which is that of the “heroic white male”. It should be noted that by this point in the story, Susan doubts the credibility behind Cruso’s stories as she would state, “I did not know what was the truth, what was lies, and what was mere ramblings.” Despite her reluctance to believe everything that he says, she still chooses to dwell on his claims regarding Friday’s “dark” past. This can be a by-product of her preconceived notions about Friday, as a result of his physical appearance, as shown by her reaction to the first time she saw Friday, stating that, “I have come to an island of cannibals” (pg. 6). Cruso “planting the seed” in Susan’s mind can represent how South Africa’s government was giving the white minority the idea that the non-white majority was, in fact, dangerous, which in turn gave the government reason to implement separation. Friday’s “cannibalism” acts as a statement on the given perception of certain races and how others, regardless of their actual relationship to people of that certain race, will never look past the stereotypes that have been perpetuated by society. Susan, regardless of the tranquil treatment that Friday had given her thus far in the story, never seems to neglect Cruso’s comments about Friday’s cannibalistic upbringing. Her thoughts about Friday are perpetuated by stereotype and a fear of a race that she does not fully understand. In Foe’s original source material, Friday was brought up as a cannibal and his people were referred to, by Crusoe, as savages. Crusoe takes Friday under his wing and essentially becomes his master which in turn “civilizes” Friday. Crusoe represents the white colonizer who takes a non-white individual, who is initially deemed as primitive and attempts to instruct them. Friday is considered a second-class citizen to Crusoe, in the same way that blacks were perceived by the white man in South Africa. Coetzee is criticizing this colonialist narrative that Robinson Crusoe possesses by showing the contradictions between negative perception and reality. Friday’s lack of a tongue and his inability to speak also relay this idea to me that, those in power have such a strong voice that their views trump those who possess less.  Friday is voiceless and we do not get a real sense of what he is thinking or who he really is. The same way that many black South Africans had very little of a voice during Apartheid, as their views were trumped by the incorrect assumptions of white supremacists. Friday’s silence draws commonality to the lack of the dimension that whites perceived non-whites with, as their perception was based almost solely on a negative stereotype.

The source that gave me historical context: