Thursday, April 22, 2010

Final Post

Well, it has been fun, I suppose. I haven't been the best at keeping up with this blog posting thing, but it was a new experience. And the reading was interesting. Before my paper, I had no idea why we read half the books we did. Now, like I said in my last post, I'm a little more aware of why those themes are important. I also found it interesting how the work of Darwin affected the US more then anywhere else, perhaps because of a stronger intellectual movement in Europe? Anyway, I fear I will begin rambling if I continue on that subject.

My time in class, I have conflicting feelings about. To be honest, I felt it was too heavily based on the academic ideas and not enough time was given to the concepts of social movements. For example, I think we did an excellent job of analyzing the naturalist elements in McTeague, but we did not spend much time talking about the overall reason that such elements were important to the culture at the time. Same with our first book, the Blithedale Romance. While we touched on the idea of feminist movements, we did not really explore them in a greater context. Before my paper, I had no idea that Darwin's work had influenced the culture in the way that it had. In general, I suppose that was the point, to give greater perspective. I just wish we had spent more time exploring such perspective. While the individual is interesting (ie, the individual author's perspectives), it is the culture surrounding them that shapes them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Workng on my paper

I've enjoyed working on my paper, to a degree. There were things I already new, of course, like the fact that Darwin's ideas weren't new at the time, but I had not realized the extent of this. I also had assumed that naturalism had really evolved after Darwin published his work, but the truth was that Darwin himself was a naturalist. What started as simply a look on Darwin's influence on naturalism in turn has come full circle to naturalism's impact on Darwin, as well as the roots of naturalism.
Ah, but that last part presents a problem, and one I am sad to say I do not have time to adequately deal justice. One of my sources makes a link to naturalistic themes used in ancient times. However, it is difficult to separate out the ideas of a handful of powerful individuals as opposed to a social movement. To do so would require an in-depth analysis of historical links to naturalism, perhaps a look at the roots of evolutionary theory (some of which is debated), and a cross cultural analysis to see if naturalism arose primarily from one background, or if it evolved separately in various cultures, both possibilities having different implications concerning the nature of philosophy.
This brings me to the point I want to end on this week. I had not looked at naturalism really as a social movement. Perhaps it is because my studies have looked more at the early 1900s, when such ideas were getting adapted to various evolutionary theories on culture and social darwinism. Perhaps it was my own optimism that limited my sight, as I see naturalism as an incredibly bleak perspective, suggesting that humans are inherently horrible creatures and that society only holds us back so that when we give into our urges it is that much worse. To be honest, I do find it depressing that naturalism was the idea gripping intellectuals at the time. I suppose it hardly matters, however, as the past is the past. I just need to remember that it isn't people's past love of naturalism that matters, but the fact the majority of society has moved past that. I just hope it is on to better things. In the end, however, only time will really tell.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Presenting on Naturalism

I must admit, I am not the most confident presenter. That is to say, I practiced for hours, and still managed to ramble like a 10 year old describing his favorite video game after having a dozen pixie sticks. That said, I enjoyed the actual process of creating my presentation. I had originally looked at three or four more general topics to present on, but none of them had satisfied me, but then I did a google search for House of Mirth (and something else I can't remember), and found a great article. It changed my entire perspective on the book.

When I originally read House of Mirth, I was only mildly interested. Perhaps it was just the semester wearing thin for me, or lack of sleep for weeks straight, but I found myself often drifting. Pizer's article "The Naturalism of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth" ( changed that. I found myself re-evaluating numerous elements throughout the story, looking for the naturalistic themes. At the same time, I was trying to evaluate Wharton's stance on naturalism. Because of the way these themes are presented, I questioned if they were fatalistic, or a case of self-fulfilling prophecy brought on by faulty ideas. While I suspect the latter, it is difficult to say with any certainty. However, just having the concept of this book as a naturalistic work changes how we read it entirely, and such a change in perspective is always welcome.