Thursday, July 21, 2005


These are some notes I have jotted.

1) To-do list (by the end of fall quarter I will...)

What think you?

2. My Thesis: Solipsism in Modernism.

Why? Pre-WWI, Europe itself was solipsistic, the West was solipsistic, academia was solipsistic - invisible, apart, structured, dependable. A sense that the rest of the world was a dream, not really relevant or applicable to anything.

This falls apart - the dream turns on the dreamer. The dreamer, as it turns out, was someone else. IE, the insight "Well if the world doesn't revolve around me, who does it revolve around?"

The dreamer is the one to whom the pieces make sense. If the world makes sense to you, then you are the solipsist, it is all in your head cuz you see the big picture. If suddenly the world is chaos, there must be someone above you who can fit you with all the things you can't understand into a more cohesive whole. In theory. Or maybe, just maybe, there is no dreamer, there is nobody who can see through the chaos to order because maybe there is no order. So, Eliot or Woolf, take your pick.

Solipsism in Ulysses: Stephen wants to be the dreamer, the character who is isolated and powerful. He is thwarted by the structure of the book - the mantle of "main character" is taken from him suddenly in chapter 4 and never really returned. Instead we get Bloom, the wandering Jew, representative of Old and New, East and West, a confused fusion of conflicts all resolved in an unassuming newsman who picks up his coffeecup by the nothandle and relishes the warmth. Older and Wiser than Stephen, if not quite as educated, Bloom is a level of complexity beyond stephen in that he can understand stephen and see a role for him whereas stephen can't really get beyond himself. So Bloom is the dreamer, as it were - but then bloom loses it and the text itself becomes the dreamer. Fragmentation and chaos and the narrator and writing style become our leaders, become the only lens which turns chaos to order. I guess, then, that Ulysses's insights on the matter of solipsism are that everyone wants to be the highest order of complexity, everyone wants to be the main character who intuitively understands, but there is always a higher, and even that is bounded by structure.

Wasteland and Solipsism: The Wasteland by Eliot presents the world as fragments and chaos, which to the reader make no real sense. There is a character, blind old tiresias, who understands everything, though. Sort of, he is unhappy, so one could say his rational understanding pushes everything to the limits but he cannot escape himself - The solipsist wondering who is dreaming him. Contrast him, then, with the character of Narcissus. Narcissus was in early drafts of this poem but was effectively killed off and sublated into the universe. He, too, understands everything - presumably on a deeper level than Tiresias can. In dying he became the world. T, who is immortal, can identify with the world as Other, whereas N, who is eternally dead, loses even the distinction between self and other and for him there is no such thing as a chaotic fragment. Wasteland on Solipsism, then, says that we must become one with the world to understand it - realize that the world outside of us is dreaming, but that there is no distinction between dream and dreamer. Very eastern.

To the Lighthouse and Solipsism: The mother has a holistic understanding of most things. She is nto perfect, but she is the dreamer figure - things unfold as she predicts, people behave as she predicts, life and the world of the text follow her understanding. Everyone else knows this, everyone sort of worships her. She is the lighthouse, essentially, standing there before everyone casting light into the darkness. Then one night she dies in her sleep. The rest of the book deals with everyone coming to terms with that - what happens to the dream when the dreamer dies? Woolf seems to be saying that this whole framework is illusion, albeit tempting illusion. There is no dreamer and there is no dream, there is only charisma and even the charismatic die. We sometimes feel that our very identity is contingent on someone else, and in that sense we are asking to be their dream. But this is a betrayal of self. We play along but in the end we need to know how to sail ourselves. Fragment is just memory and is beautiful for what it is.

Parade's End and Solipsism: Tietjins is Britain. Old Britain. Tory Aristocrat with pre-victorian values. He feels himself to be the dreamer, but the dream unravels. The dreams assert themselves - women's movement, lower classes, other countries. As Miss Wannop realizes after WWI, "It means no more RESPECT!" Tietjin's Dream is such that those below respect those above. WWI is then a betrayal of the lower by the higher, and so respect is lost. The whole system collapses. Am not done with this yet but don't suspect Tietjins will survive the peace.


What thoughts have ye, mateys?
It would be fun if you also consider Taoism as a comparison to Solipsism. I find Taoism fascinating, but of course strictly of its metaphysical approach. I can't stand the religious aspect of it.
Yes yes, taoism ties in really well with Eliot, many connections, I have written several papers applying taoist metaphysics to various western modernist/postmodernist art. Good call and very applicable to the project, those guys were all about chinese philosophy.
Drop Taoism if the paper is on modernism. I think that even you would be hard pressed to find a direct connection in modernist lit. (which falls only into the Western realm, at least as far as I have been able to tell) to it. You can apply taoist metaphysics to modernist lit. all that you like, but the fact of the matter is that taoism itself represents a very unlikely influence on the writers or on the Western world, which the paper is really all about, right?

Actually that was a period when many western writers turned to and embraced eastern thought to find a sense of coherence, or am I wrong? I wouldn't call the influence unlikely. But I am not sure how much room there is on a paper about solipsism - there might be, Narcissus is essentially a personified and murdered Taoist ideal. Very Obi Wan.
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