Henry David Thoreau: Walden

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During a writing course I attended the class was encouraged to give Henry David Thoreau a chance, and I set my mind to do so, but it did not take long to realize that may be a little more difficult than first imagined. Within the first several pages I got the impression that Thoreau was stuck on himself, captivated by his own voice, and yet, he seemingly contradicts himself more than the Emerson piece we dealt with earlier. For instance, he boasts about building his own cabin in the woods (a mere mile from his neighbors) and diligently surviving two years from the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow, then he lambasts first the farmers for equal diligence in maintaining a plot of land for their homes, what he calls “a fool’s life” (7), then he targets the equally “foolish” strivings of most men, who, in his eyes, toil religiously with nothing to show for it. He says the “finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (7).

Thoreau did make one statement early on that was rather profound. He said, “It is hard to have a southern overseer (referring to slave masters); worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself.” But then, just when I wanted to give him another chance to impress me, he waxes poetic, but without common sense. He begins with the following statement: “No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof” (9). And he follows that with the adage “what’s true today may prove false tomorrow” (9), which is acceptable, but the use of “no” in the former statement stipulates an all-inclusive reality that inevitably proves the contention false, since various truths, once discovered, have been and still are handed down from generation-to-generation.

Furthermore, in an attempt to confirm his view, Thoreau seemingly digs himself a deeper ideological grave. He contends “old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new” (9), and claims, “I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from any seniors” (9). And he further states that they can never tell him anything of purpose.

I say that he who has not, does not, and cannot learn anything from others, especially elders, is a fool by all relevant standards. But I will continue through the text with the hope of finding something redemptive along the way. However, I do find that I enjoy reading Thoreau more when I cease efforts to ascertain his personal beliefs and simply enjoy his writing style and how he represents his Walden experiences. For instance, after buying a shanty for boards he recalls passing the family as they were leaving and says, “One large bundle held their all, — bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens, — all but the cat, she took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat at last” (33). And when speaking of a neighbor visiting, Thoreau writes, “He was there to represent spectatordom, and help make this seemingly insignificant event one with the removal of the gods of Troy” (33). And I found his admiration of the cellar, the longest lasting section of the home in his eyes, better than the house above it oddly interesting. He states, “The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow” (34); which equally embodies the nature aspect he is expounding on.

Inevitably, I found Walden fairly enjoyable to read only after I skimmed over any of his futile attempts to be philosophical.

Writers and the Mental Health Connection

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The average American cannot reach adulthood without hearing about the tragic lives of several writers. John Berryman, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, and Allan Ginsberg are favorites of the education system. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Edgar Allan Poe have a large media influence. For every famous writer who appears to have a Utopian existence there seems to be an equally talented writer who struggles with mental illness, cannot cope with life’s challenges, and meets a tragic end: often self-inflicted. The field of psychology is singularly interested in the connection between writers and mental health. A quick check at PsycINFO for academic papers related to “creative writing” or “creative writers” registered over 1100 hits: nearly half of those since 2000. The nature of many of those research papers was rather surprising. Instead of delving into areas such as childhood, alcoholism, and drugs they attempted to find a connection between the act of writing or creativity and mental health. This paper deals with the three primary connections between writers and mental health as viewed through the psychological studies: creativity and madness, mental health evaluation through a writer’s words, and the “writing cure” controversy. Continue reading

Critique of Bear Island (Part 3)

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The third section, Hole in the Day: Grafters and Warrants, begins with turbulent natural images around Leech Lake, and transitions into the equally turbulent social conditions on the reservation as a result of demeaning “treaty ties,” “federal legacies,” and “shady agents.” Then Vizenor begins to elaborate on the main character of this section, Chief Bugonaygeshig, Hole in the Day, who, the reader found out earlier, was disrespectfully called “Old Bug” by the local long knives. Continue reading

Critique of Bear Island: (Part 1&2)

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PART ONE:

Bear Island: the War at Sugar Point is by Gerald Vizenor. The foreword by Jace Weaver and the introduction by Vizenor give a fairly detailed account of the Sugar Point incident near the more notable Bear Island. It was an incident that predominantly occurred after Chief Hole in the Day became upset at being forced to walk a long distance after being acquitted of whiskey running charges. He swore he would never deal with the white man’s court again, so when he was again subpoenaed to go to court, this time as a witness, he refused. Thus, the authorities attempted to arrest him, but the chief called for aid and approximately twenty natives helped him escape. Continue reading

Leading up to the Red Power Movement

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People often try to pinpoint specific events when they talk about the birth of wars, happenings, fads, and major movements. For instance, it is easy to say America entered into a war with Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is a lot harder to retrace historic and cultural events which paved the way for Japan to ally itself with Germany and Italy. The same concept applies with consideration over what paved the way for the Red Power Movement of the 60s and 70s among the Native Americans. Similar to a chef adding various ingredients to some meal a variety of events occurred among Indians, over a thirty to forty year period, that created the recipe which brought forth the Red Power Movement. It is a complex issue that could easily require a volume of text to do justice. However, for the sake of brevity, I will point out some of the predominant ingredients which helped create the socio-political concoction known as the RPM: government policies, poverty, perseverance, and place paved the way for the Red Power Movement. Continue reading

Magic and Mythology: Literary tools of Shakespeare

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Magic and a sense of the divine were often used by Shakespeare, though their use and purpose varied. An example of this variation can be seen when comparing The Winter’s Tale with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In The Winter’s Tale, the magical elements are presented more like an illusion, similar to a magician’s trick. And the incidents that are not illusionary are credited to the supernatural, primarily Apollo. Even while Leontes is half-crazed by his own suspicions he still seeks divine confirmation: “For in an act of this importance, ‘twere most piteous to be wild – I have dispatched in post to sacred Delphos, to Apollo’s temple – (2.1.181-183). And to boost the divine element there are several passages which allegedly illustrate supernatural characteristics or acts attributed to the divine. For instance, Cleomenes claims, “But of all, the burst and the ear-deaf’ning voice o’ th’ oracle, kin to Jove’s thunder, so surprised my sense, that I was nothing” – (3.1.9-10). The incidents primarily attributed to divine intervention occur after Leontes claims the oracle’s reply to be false. The death of Mamillius seems but a heartbeat after the false accusation, which is credited to Apollo by Leontes, who quickly begs forgiveness: “Apollo, pardon my great profaneness ‘gainst thine oracle” – (3.2.150). Yet, Paulina then brings word of Hermione’s alleged death as well. And, subsequently, the death of Antigonus and the boat crew are considered byproducts of the supernatural, for they are foretold by Hermione in Antigonus’ dream: “For this ungentle business put on thee by my lord, thou ne’er shalt see thy wife Paulina more” – (3.3.33-35). And in the same scene Clown tells his father how he saw both the ship “flap-dragoned” by the sea, and Antigonus killed by a bear. And yet, the most magical-like incident in the play comes by way of Paulina and Hermione’s 16-years of hide’n’seek, and getting the others to believe Hermione is a statue transforming back into the queen in the final act: “Music, awake her: approach; strike all that look upon with marvel; come; I’ll fill your grave up” – (5.3.99-101). This truly goes to show that suspending disbelief applies not only to the audience, but equally to the characters within the play.

By comparison, and unlike The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream utilizes magic in abundance, and not like a magician’s illusion, but portrayed as actual power within the fantastic characters inhabiting the fairy realm. Thus, it is a substantial part of the theme: a parallel between the real and fantasy, and how both worlds fall into disarray when love is out of balance. However, the characters in the real realm, similar to The Winter’s Tale, portray a strong belief in the supernatural realm, though, for the most part, they cannot see it. We see an example of this when Hermia makes a promise to Lysander: “I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow” – (1.1.169). And confirmation to the reality of these characters follows later in the play. For instance, Oberon confirms the existence of Cupid within his realm when he recalls how Cupid missed a shot and the arrow hit a flower: “It fell upon a little western flower, before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, and the maidens call it love-in-idleness” – (2.1.166-168). Puck, likewise, speaks of Cupid as a living entity within their realm: “Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make poor females mad” – (3.2.440-441).

The fantasy realm, magical though it might be, and well able to use their powers to manipulate characters in the real realm, still find themselves plagued with problems. When Oberon and Titania show human-like emotions, both love and pride, it creates disharmony in nature: “Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, as in revenge, have sucked up from the sea contagious fog; which, falling in the land, hath every pelting river made so proud that they have overbourne their continents” – (2.1.88-92). This event of nature out of harmony when Oberon and Titania’s love is equally in disarray parallels the upheaval caused to Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius; both through the prideful act of Egeus, and later, the magical mishap of Puck. Subsequently, when love is once more in harmony it appears to heal most ills, as if, and in this play, with the help of magic. Even Bottom, clearly the most ill-used by the fairies, from ass in action to ass in appearance, feels no animosity after being a pawn in their game. In fact, he feels blessed, as if awakening from a wondrous dream: “I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of men to say what dream it was” – (4.2.207-209). And yet, he still confirms the ass it made of him: “Man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream” – (4.2.209-210). However, dreaming is merely another plot to the play. After all, Shakespeare has Puck recite the following within the closing dialogue: “That you have but slumb’red here, while these visions did appear, and this weak and idle theme, no more yielding than a dream” – (5.1.427-430).

Natural Selection: asexual, sexual, and unisexual

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Reproduction among the animal kingdom appears to be a hit-and-miss proposition. Even evolutionary biologists cannot come to one accord on a given direction with natural selection. Throughout the history of science sexual reproduction – the fertilization of the egg by sperm – has predominantly been considered status quo. However, early in the twentieth century scientists began noticing unisexual species, and further discoveries included asexual species to the growing list. In fact, in less than one hundred years there is now a list of over fifteen-hundred nonsexual species recorded.

The initial assumption arrived at by the majority of researchers in the biological field was that they were seeing the beginning of natural selection paving the way for the next evolutionary step in the reproduction of species. But was that truly the case? They thought so at first, after the initial fifty or so discoveries. But as the number of species elevated rapidly that hypothesis no longer seemed to hold up. Furthermore, technology improved, which played a role in many of the initial discoveries. And as technology continued to progress biologists realized that evidence seemed to suggest some of the nonsexual species they had found, along with species that reproduced both sexually and nonsexually, were hundreds of thousands of years old: with several they even believed to be as much as two-million years old.

Species that were hundreds or a few thousand years old were considered too young, by evolutionary biologists, to have seen a complete evolutionary change in their sexual reproduction. But the older species tore apart the belief that natural selection had only recently (in evolutionary terms) begun to make the next major evolutionary leap in animal reproduction.

I am not quite sure I agree with that initial hypothesis. After all, Darwin recorded noticeable evolutionary changes in certain species (like the finches) from one generation to the next as a result of the change in available food supply. There has also been a wide variety of recorded information in the past fifty years showing species in controlled environments going from sexual to unisexual, and sexual to asexual species in one or two generations. However, some species fail to mutate in controlled conditions, while others mutate sporadically with as little as one-to-six percent transforming. And yet, other species have shown one-hundred percent mutation in a single generation: and their offspring reproduced without sex… though some species still needed fertilization of the egg, but without the sex act.

The result of the diverse findings has led to a hodge-podge of beliefs. No one has come up with anything close to a universal hypothesis to explain the absence of uniformity in animal reproduction.

Most evolutionary biologists question the need for sexual reproduction: “If reproduction can occur without sex, why does sex occur at all?” (Johnson, 2012) One train of thought contends that there appears to be an inevitable limit to long-term species survival inherent in clonal reproductions (Johnson, 2012). It is a phenomenon known as the ratchet mechanism, or Muller’s Ratchet, after Noblest Herman Muller, in the early sixties (Simon et al 2003).

Another contention, called the Red Queen Hypothesis, asserts that there is an instant advantage with sexual reproduction in producing genetically diverse offspring that make it tough to be targeted by harmful parasites (Simon et al 2003). This hypothesis was tested using Crucian Carp: the diploid sexual had fewer parasites than the triploid gynogens (cited in Simon et al 2003).

A third contention is known as the DNA Repair Hypothesis. Various geneticists believe sex continues because “only a diploid cell can effectively repair certain kinds of chromosome damage,” (Johnson 2012), primarily double-strand breaks in DNA. They suggest that synapsis “which in early stages of meiosis precisely aligns pairs of homologous chromosomes, may well have evolved originally as a mechanism for repairing double-strand damage to DNA” (Johnson 2012).

After reading up on the abundant variations of asexual and unisexual, along with the equally diverse methods of research, I came away with far more questions than answers. One of the biggest problems I saw in the research is that there is no standard methodology for studying or recording the information and data acquired. It is impossible to arrive at a universal answer to the basic ongoing questions when every scientist and research group alters their methodology to accommodate their resources, and often their hypothesis. For instance, certain scientists I read about confirmed that specific species have had no known mutations in sexual reproduction in their natural environment. But that did not stop them from isolating the species in a controlled environment to force mutation: and even after the forced mutation the mutated species never took hold in the natural habitat after they released it into its known environment.

Similarly, there are examples of natural mutation that have failed to show identical results in controlled settings. This raises additional questions of validity with regards to natural selection. How many of the alleged fifteen-hundred-plus asexual and unisexual species have honestly been naturally selected or genetically mutated (engineered) by humans? Which creates another question in a similar vein: how much of the human pollution, and toxic or nuclear waste, has added to the mutation level in the natural environments of many of these mutated species?

For instance, I know of several areas, such as dams and reservoirs, where the fish, fowl, and other local species have shown dramatic mutation in size, appearance, and behavior. Yet, not once in all the examples of research into mutated species on sexual reproduction that I have read did the scientists consider unnatural or external elements in the species natural environments a possibility  for mutation: to prove or disprove. That seems highly unprofessional, and yet it is the standard practice (as far as I can tell), to automatically discard the possibility of something that has been confirmed many times over, in many areas, simply because it does not fit their initial hypothesis.

Instead of learning what I hoped to learn while researching this paper, all I ended up discovering was my distrust for the recorded findings. So much of the methodology proves more about the genetic manipulation by humans with career aspirations than it does about natural selection. I admit that I am not a geneticist or evolutionary biologist, and will never be. But I was an investigator for many years, and I know a lot about eliminating suspects (or non-truths) to get at the right culprit (or truth). And as I read the research, if I only looked at the alleged data (like the proverbial tree) it seemed valid, but when I looked at the big picture (like the proverbial forest) all I saw was a lot of window dressing to validate their hypothesis in order to keep their grants coming in: there are just too many unanswered questions and areas never considered.

 

References

American Museum of Natural History. (2012). Web.

Johnson, G. (2012). The Living World. McGraw-Hill, NY. (180-181).

Patrusky, B. (1982). Where Males Don’t Count. Mosaic. (2-8).

Schlupp, I. (2005). The Evolutionary Ecology of Gynogenesis. (399-412).

Simon, J., Delmotte, F., Rispe, C., and Crease, T. (2003). Phylogenetic relationships between parthenogens and their sexual relatives: the possible routes to parthenogenesis in animals. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (151-163).