Sunday, April 19, 2015

Madam Crommelynck

I think one reason that Mitchell painted Jason's schoolteachers as extremely nasty is so they would later act as a contrast to the person who turns out to be a much more better teacher than any of the school teachers: Madame Commelynck. Her advice in regards to poetry, literature, and language have immediate impact on Stephen (translating that French book for example). Furthermore, like Hugo, she acts as a character that shows Stephen that its OK to write poems. Hugo does it by liking poetry *and* being cool. Madame Commelynck simple says screw everyone else, if they think you're gay for writing poems they're bafoons.

She's an interesting character because, while she seems very cultured and knowledgeable, when she started talking about living next to Charlie Chaplin and all those other famous people I felt a hint that she might not really be everything she makes herself out to be. I don't really have any concrete evidence... the whole situation just seems really weird. And then, to make things weirder, she gets extradited. Are you kidding me? Mitchell is totally playing with us.

"Hey, here's this cool character who's helping Jason with his poetry and overcome his inhibitions aaaaand she's extradited"

All in all, Solarium is kind of a weird chapter. We'll have to see how Jason responds to his short experience with a great teacher and how this effects his membership with the Spooks

Friday, April 10, 2015

What did you bring me to keep me from the gallows pole?

Jason's personification of his stammer, Hangman, is another element of his colorful imagination (Millennium Falcon, ghost boy on the lake, etc.).

The personification is sort of haunting. The Hangman makes cruel decisions on his own, has his own commandments, and comes and goes as he pleases. He's almost biblical... When he's temporarily defeated by Ms. de Roo, she beats it using her "white magic". He seems to come at the worst times, and recedes when Jason's with Ms. de Roo. It's like... he knows. All of this is almost comical from our perspective, but from Jason's perspective this really is a haunting figure due to both how dangerous the Hangman can be socially and also probably just how annoying it is to have to change words so often.

We talked in class about how it was hinted at that Jason can't full suppress the hangman. When he is excused by the teacher from doing his vocal presentation, a classmate disappointingly asks if Jason will be doing a presentation the next week. The guys are just waiting for him to slip up and really screw up (rather than a short pause) in public. Later we see the hangman strike again in math class, where Jason has to look stupid in order to not stammer (this again shows how important social status is and how damaging stammering would be). All of this contributes to a sort of looming impending doom that this social situation presents.

The hangman presents a problem that must be solved. What will Jason bring to keep him from the gallows pole? 

Also, an interesting fact... The Hangman comes from author David Mitchell's person experiences. "I try to cultivate a conviction which states this: "I may stammer on this word, yes, and I may look like I'm being strangled by an invisible man, but if that makes you uncomfortable, then that's 100% your problem and 0% mine."  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


The character of Sylvie is unique among any of the characters we've encountered so far in the sense that she doesn't explore philosophical or coming of age concepts (like Holden, Esther, etc.) but rather embodies some of those concepts herself.

Chapter 8, when Ruth is put in the position to experience Sylvie's world, and the subsequent fallout of that night, forces us to address how we feel about Sylvie--a detached transient-- raising two children. In doing so, Housekeeping forces you to think about your views on the nature of transience in the context of a rather rigidly formed society.

The question of where these transients fit into society, especially into the role of raising kids, is more difficult the more you attack it. On one hand, if children are raised under a strict "Home Ec Teacher" discipline, could this way of life be damaging to those children who are naturally "transient"? And if children are raised under a Sylvie discipline, could this way of life be damaging to those children who will find greatest happiness in order and stability?

Housekeeping might make the case that such questions are irrelevant. Sylvie did, after all, grow to live a transient lifestyle after spending her whole childhood. And Lucille did, after all, escape from Sylvie to find a more stable life. In fact, the grandfather could be another example, running from his childhood stability Iowan homeland. Perhaps, if the nature of transience (or lack of transience) is a natural part of a person (as the novel seems to imply), it doesn't really matter who raises you.

However, someone pointed out in class (I think Coleman) that it's easy to have transient people in a heavily structured world (a world where most people are "stable" or whatever), but it's harder (or impossible) to have structure in a world where most people are transient, because society relies on a vast network of people subscribing to the same set of ideals and such, but transience doesn't. Maybe that's part of where most of our inner uncomfort comes from the idea of Sylvie raising children. But mostly, I think it's because wasps and leaves in the corner and moldy, dripping couches is just kind of gross.

"It's about the immensely resourceful sadness of a certain kind of American, someone who has fallen out of history and is trying to invent a life without assistance of any kind, without even recognizing that there are precedents. It is about a woman who is so far from everyone else that it would be presumptuous to put a name to her frame of mind." -New York Times article on Housekeeping

Does Housekeeping really portray Sylvie (or Sylvie's type of person--a transient) as a sad concept? I suppose the whole letting the soggy couch dry on its own and sweeping leaves into the corner of the house might be there simply to make us go "ARG look at this sad was of living!", but classroom discussion on these subjects was generally much more forgiving and I certainly didn't feel that Housekeeping tried to completely paint transience in a negative light.