Archive for May, 2013

May 17 2013

Reflections on the Past Semester

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Though I’ve always been interested in questions of consciousness and self, before this semester I had never focused on these themes in literature in such an organized way. Reading poetry and fiction had taught me that subjective truths weren’t necessarily less real than objective ones, but I did not think of subjectivity as a process that could be analyzed objectively. Through reading “neuro novels,” as well as researching synesthesia, I have come to understand subjectivity and objectivity as two sides of the same coin rather than as a binary of opposites. We often use the term “subjective” to suggest that something is not necessarily true. However, as Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment demonstrates, subjective consciousness may actually be the material that gives rise to and determines reality.

I think that my favorite book of the semester, by far, was Mrs. Dalloway. The metaphor of consciousness as a wave that washes over our surroundings–as opposed to more fixed conceptions of consciousness, like Damasio’s–has influenced my reading of books not only for this course but in others and in my own private reading. It has even affected the way I understood several films I’ve watched since reading Mrs. Dalloway, most notably Leviathon. I think that this novel is a must for any future course on “neuronarrative” literature.

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May 14 2013

Draft of Introduction to My Web Page, “Synesthesia and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper'”

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For more than a century, readers have interpreted Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a story about hysteria and women’s struggle to achieve freedom. Critics debate whether the narrator’s madness creates or is brought on by the reality she lives in. But there are other ways we can pick at the narrator’s brain. The narrator evidently has a condition known as synesthesia, a phenomenon where the brain perceives a stimulus in a sensory modality (or in modalities) that in most people it does not. This explains why she describes the yellow color of her bedroom wallpaper in terms of smell.

In the following web pages we will learn about the difference between literal and literary synesthesia, explore evidence for literal synesthesia as a real phenomenon, examine evidence for the narrator’s synesthesia in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” analyze the author’s use of literary synesthesia, and draw connections between literary synesthesia, the narrator’s literal synesthesia, and Gilman’s critique of patriarchy.

 

Artwork by Corey R. Tabor, formatted from original to fit page.

http://coreyrtaborillustration.blogspot.com/2012/01/synesthesia-how-these-things-are-made.html

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May 14 2013

Reflections on Final Project Feedback/Plans for Web Project

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In the feedback on my research project, Professor Tougaw pointed out several flaws in my essay that, had they not been brought to my attention, I probably never would have pushed myself to correct. I agree that my essay fails to sufficiently connect my analysis of synesthesia as a condition and Gilman’s portrayal of synesthesia to Gilman’s critique of patriarchy. I also agree that some of my points are distracting, and that I don’t spend enough time examining the narrator’s consciousness and Gilman’s use of literary synesthesia.

I have already begun to work on the web component of my project. So far, I’ve set up pages that summarize “The Yellow Wallpaper,” provide fMRI evidence for literal synesthesia, and discuss literary synesthesia. But, in light of the weaknesses in my essay, I need to talk more about literary synesthesia and the ways in which it is used in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I will also need to analyze the symptoms of the narrator’s synesthesia more thoroughly, and draw stronger connections between this condition (and literary synesthesia) and Gilman’s critique of patriarchy. Also, I need to explain exactly what patriarchy is in this story and how it is depicted.

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May 07 2013

Reflections on My Research Paper

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Overall I am satisfied with the final revised version of my research paper. I think that compared to my first draft I have analyzed my sources more thoroughly and stitching paragraphs together more effectively. However, I think that the prose style of my essay can still be improved. Maybe adapting my essay to the web will help solve some of these issues. I am still figuring out how to use WordPress for my web project, but I have a few ideas for how I might adapt my essay to web media.

For example, during my research process, I came across a brief YouTube video by a respected neuroscientist on what we can learn from synesthesia as a brain phenomenon. This might be interesting to integrate with my Jamie Ward source, which explains synesthesia as “a window into, among other things, how conscious experiences are created” (69). Since synesthesia can be difficult to imagine for non-synesthestes, I’ll also search around for helpful illustrations.

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May 07 2013

Words Guide Thoughts in “Sorrows of an American” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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In Siri Hustvedt’s novel Sorrows of an American, there is a scene where Erik asks Inga about the Inside Gotham tabloid article in which details on her late husband’s private life are expected to appear. She goes into a brief explanation of consciousness, and says that in her book she discusses “the way we organize perceptions into stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, how our memory fragments don’t have any coherence until they are reimagined in words” (47). Inga’s understanding of language is that it creates a track on which our minds can run and without which we could not think linearly. She explains that even time itself “is a property of language, syntax, and tense” (47), arguing that reality as we perceive it is constructed by language.

Similarly, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator tries to escape her oppression by tearing down the wallpaper of her room–which, according to Paula Treichler, represents language as a tool to oppress women. Language, in this interpretation, is the front on which women fight the patriarchy for the right to self-expression. Language is essential to the struggle to achieve freedom, and is also at the core of the social imbalance that causes madness. By tearing down the wallpaper, by documenting her thoughts in her journal, and–I argue in my research paper–by being a color-olfaction synesthete, the narrator rebels against patriarchal norms and “creates in her brain a world that makes sense to her, and in doing so rewrites the rules of what is legitimate and real” (11).

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