The Nebula of Gephi

I have, unfortunately, been unable to use Gephi. I've uninstalled and reinstalled various versions of the beta - 7 and 8 - and it refuses to work. I hate to blame technology for something I could fix myself if I were more tech-savvy, but I'm pretty sure it keeps messing up because my computer runs on Vista.

That being said, I would like to discuss the idea of Gephi.

Gephi takes the vast world of literary analysis and compacts it into a tiny little nebula of information. Trends are turned into tiny planets and stars in the nebula that Gephi creates from each piece of work it reads. It takes information and data that would otherwise take hours to accrue, and consolidates them into easily-viewed "nodes" on its web graph. Looking at the graph itself is... different.

Personally, I have never studied literature in such a mathematical fashion, and, I'm going to be frank, it's weird to me. However, I do think it's necessary with the endlessly expanding universe of literature and knowledge. Without programs like Gephi, knowledge and information disappear into the abyss. As humbling a realization this is, it is impossible for humans to capture, analyze, and use every bit of knowledge we come across. As The Library of Babel and the literary philosophy of Derrida's Mal d'Archive posit, an archive has a "death drive". Constantly expanding to the point of disappearing into the margins, the vast and expanding oeuvre of mankind does not want to be known.

While I generally roll my eyes at people who think machines will supersede mankind, it is when I see programs like Gephi that I can sympathize a little with that paranoia. Humans just aren't good enough anymore. We create at a faster rate than we can analyze and archive, and efforts to become more efficient are made in vain. Gephi can gather up and read information, then preserve it in cryogenic stasis for man to further explore.

What a Waste

To all those self-proclaimed "poetry haters" out there -- those who think poetry is all just a bunch of fluffy dead people writing about love and religion and things that don't apply to the modern reader -- I defy you not to be moved by the poetry of T.S Eliot. When I think of "modern poetry", or really anything in the realm of modern literature and art, no one strikes a chord that resonates quite as truly with the modern spirit than T.S Eliot. In a modern age where the human experience is forgotten in pursuit of wealth, status, or "a cause", it's hard not to be moved by motifs as striking and beautiful as those which appear in Eliot's The Waste Land.

One passage which really struck me was that of the opening paragraph, before Part I even begins. Eliot quotes a line from the Satyricon of Petronius in which he (the writer) sees the Sibyl of Cumea, who, when asked what she wants, says, "I want to die". This line alludes to the driving theme behind the opening lines of Part I - The Burial of the Dead, which states "April is the cruellest month" for bringing the dead earth back to life, upsetting the forgetful sleep of winter and stirring things into a painful reawakening. However, while these first few lines suggest a feeling of pain in relation to living, Eliot also evokes a sort of bitterness and passion through the last few lines of Part I, in which he sarcastically calls to a man on the street, "That corpse you planted last year in your garden / Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?" This part provided some difficult for me, as well as the stanza before in which a clairvoyant gives a horoscope warning of "death by water." I'm not exactly clear on the relationship between the first and last halves of Part I. While Eliot's dedication at the beginning would seem to foreshadow a mood of angst and apathy, there are lines both in the first few stanzas and especially in the last two which suggest a completely different mood. A comprehensive analysis of Part I would suggest an overall allusion to WWI and the anxiety surrounding it, as well as the modern age itself. A motif in the modern age is a sense of lost identity, or perhaps a forged identity, suggested by the line "Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.", translated by Eliot as meaning, "I am not Russian at all; I come from Lithuania, I am a real German." This line, as well as the line in which Eliot calls to the man on the street, allude to a feeling of pain and bitterness in relation to one's national identity and exactly what lengths one would go to in order to protect it. "That corpse you planted last year in your garden..." is a bitter exclamation of loss and frustration, asking if that death was really worth it when he says, "Has it begun to sprout?" The connecting motif, perhaps, is that life is painful, and consciousness is a curse, but man endures it all the same. Passion and fervor are painful emotions to have, but they're all we have until we're dead. It's important to live truly, so if someone dies for a cause they may or may not have truly believed in -- as we can assume the corpse buried in the garden did -- it's important to ask if it really was worth it.

The Waste Land

Upon reading The Waste Land for the first time, what stuck out to me the most was the first half of section 2: A Game of Chess. It starts off simple and normal: a woman waiting for her lover to arrive. As time passes and her lover still hasn't shown up, the format of the poem becomes more erratic, emulating her thoughts.

The way the poem is written - appearing well put together at first and eventually breaking apart - struck me as very true of human nature. When we dwell on something for too long, eventually our thoughts become disjointed and unstable, causing panic and anxiety. The passage begins to break apart when the narrator first speaks to herself: "My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me" (111).You know things are bad when you start talking to yourself, and clearly Eliot used this as a device to make the reader feel more anxious as well. There is a clear buildup in this passage, and there seems to be a buildup in the other passages as well. Each story is building up to something, but I'm not quite sure what to make of both sections altogether.


Eliot and Empathy

Let me begin my admitting that, even during my third encounter with this text, I found myself having to resort to outside sources for commentary and clarification ( shame). I find the entire poem to be incredibly challenging, but I love how it can be dissected into smaller and smaller pieces for close study. One of my favorite sections, one which I find quite simple to understand, is the final scene in Section II. A Game of Chess. The scene is one of the most realistic scenes Eliot creates--women at a bar discussing the affairs of their lives. These affair,s unfortunately, are not exactly positive.

Upon this reading of the scene, I found myself struck by the lack of empathy expressed towards Lil. Again, let me be honest, when I read things I British authors, I usually use a British accent. I find that it keeps things interesting. For this passage, I found it extremely helpful in developing the character of the main speaker. The flippancy with which she disregards Lil's sufferings are shocking. For example, her assertion that "if you don't give it to him, there's others will" was so heartless, it made me immediately question the relationship of the characters. Who would speak this way to one of their friends? If the characters are not close friends, why are they having this conversation? What do these comments say about Eliot's view of social interaction and relationships?

I don't have answers to all of these questions, but I think that I can begin to interpret Eliot's view. Simply put, these characters lack empathy. They are calloused and do not feel for one another. I think this holds true with the destruction of social interaction brought about by the war. People had seen/heard/experienced such horrible things that they were made hollow. I still think that a lack of true empathy still exists in our society today. People are dehumanized by the tragedies we (arguably) glorify in our news and media. In this aspect, it appears that Eliot claims that a waste land now exists within the human emotional experience.