Cipher

The Oxford dictionary definition of the word “cipher” is as follows:

An arithmetical symbol or character (0) of no value by itself, but which increases or decreases the value of other figures according to its position. When placed after any figure or series of figures in a whole number it increases the value of that figure or series tenfold, and when placed before a figure in decimal fractions, it decreases its value in the same proportion

Upon looking over this definition of a cipher over a few times, I can see how it relates to the circle that Jay-Z discusses on page 4. Outside the circle, people “barely make an impression.” However, when they are inside the circle, they are somehow transformed (4).

The positioning of the person in the circle gives them value, just like how we give celebrities or other famous people value by placing them into separate categories. Likewise, we can also devalue people by putting them in the circle, isolating them from the rest of the people. While the person in the circle is the one being transformed, it is the people on the outside who are responsible for judging this transformation.


My thoughts on Persepolis

I thoroughly enjoyed Marjane Statrapi’s Persepolis. The style in which the novel was written was quite engrossing. I enjoyed looking at the comics and illustrations, and even though this graphic novel did not carry as much weight (literally) in words as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, it certainly did bring with it messages far greater, and certainly far more modern than the happenings in India and the events that surrounded its independence, but before I get into that, I am going to talk about some things I noticed in the novel.

During the beginning, Marji talked about how she wanted to be a prophet. In fact, God even encouraged the idea. I particularly took special note of the line of page 8. God says, “You are…my last and best choice.” The word that really caught me was “last.” Iran is unique in that it holds true to the Shiite sect of Islam (unlike Iranians who are mostly Sunnis. Perhaps this explains the war?). This means that they believe that the next ruler of the country must be hand-picked by God himself, or he must be a descendent of Muhammad. Because Islam is a theocracy and because the shah (or the ruler) has connections to religion, it is not surprising that many people choose to adhere to the ruler…no matter what his orders are and how he thinks the state should be run. After the beginning of the novel, we do not see Marji in such a close connection with God as we did before. She seems to slip away. Perhaps this signifies her disagreement with the regime/state or even religion. It is interesting how Satrapi does not mention more on this towards the end of the novel. Marji is very interested in heroic stories and is proud when she hears that her uncle is one. She tries to comfort her friend in school whose father died by saying he acted like a hero on page 86, but all that girl wanted was her father to rather be alive in jail than be a hero. Marji starts to slip away from the hero idea as well. I think she may be starting to see herself as a hero more than anybody else, always wanting to participate in demonstrations. Then, we see Marji, like Saleem, growing up. She literally says, “I was a grown up” (page 117) after smoking her first cigarette. First of all, unlike Saleem, she certianly “grew up” more quickly  and took initiative with the cigarette to actually to do it. Secondly, Muslims are most likely not permitted to smoke, or do drugs. It is a little ironic that Satrapi grows up in this way. It seems like she is growing out of her religion, even if her family is more avant-garde modernists Muslims already (pg. 6). It is interesting to see contrasts between Marji and Saleem, even though they similarly come from well-off families.

Even though this novel is supposed to open our eyes to the more serious issues plaguing Iran, Satrapi does include humor and similarly, so did Rushdie. For example, on page 97, Satrapi included how the girls decorated the school hallways with toilet paper and simply on page 131 Marji is imitating Kim Wilde (It is interesting also that she is more akin to listening to western music. I must say, as an Indian person, that is the case with me, too, but still western music may be more attractive to her because it is something she is forbidden to listen to it). Rushdie included Saleem’s nicknames for humor, I believe and the action of Mr. Zagallo pulling Saleem’s hair, although quite intense, was a bit humorous. I sometimes why authors include humor into serious stories. Perhaps to lighten the mood? To not make things sound so bad? To make it easier on the reader?

Now I am going to move a little away from the humor side, and focus more on some of the underlying messages in Satrapi’s playful comics. The first chapter of this book was titled “The Veil.” That immediately led me to think about female subjugation, which is what I thought most of the novel would be about. Although i believe that was not the main focus of the novel; Satrapi focused more on violence on men AND women. Page 51 and 52 were difficult to read. A man being burned with an iron and being cut to pieces? That is just not right. It’s so sad to think that these things actually happen in real life, too. I remember not too long ago seeing the cover of a magazine of a lady whose nose and ears had been mutilated by her husband. She was so beautiful, and it made me so angry that anyone could ever do that. It makes me thing of the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, a book I read in high school that went into great detail about violence in Afghanistan, a country close to Iran. The characters were horrifying in that book, but anyway, back to Persepolis! Another instance of violence that grabbed at my heart was on page 74, when Marji’s mom relayed that, “They said women like me should be pushed up against a wall…then thrown in the garbage.” That was a horrifying sentence to read…The violence even carried through to the very last page of the novel. It really hurt my heart that the story had to end that way (I won’t disclose the ending here to people who may not have finished the book yet), but I believe Marjane Satrapi’s message to her readers were clear: that not many people have happy endings in some parts of the world. Even Mehri (pg. 37), due to her social class, could not attain happiness in love. Violence hit both social classes equally in Persepolis. More commoners may have died, but just as likely, do did Marji’s mother. Social class is not as prevalent here as it is in Rushdie’s novel, but nonetheless, it is evident. Unlike Saleem and Shiva who do not get along, though, Mehri and Marji are like sisters. I find that comforting.

 

 


Magical Realism in Rushdie’s Novel

Realism in literature is when the author depicts life as it really is in his story. Now this does not mean that the story is non-fiction. It simply means that the story focuses on the realistic aspects of life: day to day activities, predictable characters, natural settings. No effort is made to include fantastical literary styles; the messages of these stories are usually direct, too.

Magical realism, however, does incorporate imaginable elements; but those magical elements are portrayed as real occurrences. This is the literary technique that Salman Rushdie uses throughout his novel, “Midnight’s Children.”

In this video, Rushdie’s View on Magical Realism, Rushdie, unlike Socrates, believes that falsity (fantasy, fiction) can allow is to arrive at the truth (via the road of untruth). This is similar to the fairy tales we may have read or the subject of mythology. For example, we learn from Beauty and the Beast, a story that certainly includes enchanting elements, that beauty comes from within. We learn from the myth of Pandora’s box to not open doors we know we should not, bringing to light the idea of self-control. I agree with Rushdie in his point of view, that magical realism CAN allow us to arrive at certain truths that we may never have even acknowledged if it was presented in a realistic form; we may think it to be too commonplace to give it a second look.

As Rushdie states through his character, Saleem, on page 47, “Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.”

As I was reading this book, I came across a rather strange scene on pages 48-49. I never thought that the Hummingbird’s voice possessed the power to kill. When I think of hummingbird, as in the bird, I never would associate it with violence. Apparently, this hum had the power to summon dogs and even cause someone’s eyes to shatter. I do not know what truth Rushdie is trying to reveal yet in this scene. Perhaps to not underestimate the power of someone seemingly innocent (for maybe he is like a hummingbird)?

Not only does Rushdie include magical realism in his book, but he also includes many hyperboles/exaggerations. I particularly enjoyed reading the one on page at the beginning of page 36 when Saleem talks about how he is literally falling apart, even though it is quite obvious he is not. The exxageration gives me a better image of what’s going on, and I can even picture it. I can see how hyperboles can be helpful to the readers, even if they are at times deceiving.

 


Justice in the City

Through a process of questioning, in which one thing leads to another, Socrates is trying to track down what justice is by starting from the bigger picture (as opposed to the smaller picture of the individual man): the city. It is clear enough that he is attempting to build what seems to be a perfect city from scratch. Firstly, the starting point for any city is agriculture, which serves to “provide food and sustain life” (page 44). We may also need skilled craftsmen and doctors—we need what is necessary. However as humans, necessity isn’t enough. We have wants as well. With desires come greed, and with greed comes war. It is unclear to me where justice fits in all these things, or when it even arrived!

Perhaps Socrates believes that justice is found in the citizens, and how they lead their lives in the city. He takes special note of the defender of the city, coming to the conclusion that he will be “gentle to [his] own people and harsh to enemy,” much like how a dog may act. Socrates believes that men must be educated based on this very concept, to stay loyal to the people in their city—to be just to the people around them.

If this task is to be accomplished, poetry must not be involved. He believes that poets are imitators and that they “don’t have the kind of insight as makers do; they only have opinion” (page 264). Poetry deals with appearances and has the power to distort the way a reader might look at an object, or an idea. I must say that I disagree with Socrates completely. Even though poetry may be a form of imitation, it welcomes people to look at things from a different perspective. Nothing appears exactly the same to anybody. We all generate our own appearances from what we see or do.

However I can understand why Socrates may choose to ban poetry. He wants to make sure that people have knowledge of the truth, and not just knowledge of opinion. He thinks it would contribute to a just society, and I agree because truth is a rare find if it has been distorted by a plethora of opinions.

At the end of the excerpt, Socrates states: “If you admit the pleasure-giving Muse…pleasure and pain will be the kings in your city instead of law or…reason” (page 278). To Socrates, the utmost importance for a city to function justly is reason. I do believe that is true because a sense of rationality leads to greater cooperation and success. However I certainly cannot imagine emotions, such as pain or pleasure, not being involved. Don’t laws form out of emotion? What lies behind reason? Is it simply logic, or an emotional desire for change? A city—to be just—must incorporate both pathos (emotions) and logos (logic), for they form the basis of ethos (what is right and wrong).

Truth is of the utmost importance here, and emotion (not just reason) contributes to it as well.


Poetic Reflection on My Life in Boston

Hustle, bustle, freshmen rustle

Hair all tousled

Some busy, some bored

Some surrounded, some ignored

Every mind wandering…