In this painting I initially began in hopes to capture Rochester’s Satyr Against Reason and Mankind; the idea that it would be better to be beast than man if only because of the drive that propels animals. Instead of focussing on frivolous things, animals are instinctual. They do not ponder the meaning of life; rather, they live it. I chose this piece of writing because I really enjoyed this concept. I like the thought of not spending day after day studying so as to get acceptable grades so I might get a job doing something I do not necessarily enjoy. So for Rochester to suggest this foreign idea of not abiding by society’s idea of being successful, of having a well paying career and a family and whatnot, is inspiring. It makes me think of all the people who have lived their lives working towards something to find that they are not happy. While Rochester himself may have taken this to an extreme, from my viewpoint, the core concept I agree with.
To build on this concept I also want to talk about Swifts’ A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed. As I continued to paint I began to think about this poem; how Corinna spent all this time and effort into making herself into something she was not. And maybe she was happier for it, but it seems to me so trivial when regarded in comparison to Satyr Against Reason and Mankind. Though I’m sure Rochester enjoyed the fact that women dressed themselves up, I also think it’s contradictory to his idea of living instinctually. If a hummingbird were to weigh itself down with bangles and ornaments, it would hardly be beneficial and would even impinge on it’s lifestyle. Instead of living instinctually, indulging in what is enjoyable, people subjugate themselves to a standard set by society; a standard that dictates how they should look, act and dress. They find themselves caught up in things that do not matter in the long run instead of enjoying what they have. This is what Rochester is saying and what Swift is ridiculing.
I drew inspiration for this Photosponse from many different readings. We looked at many different kinds of measurement over the term, from Hooke’s flea to the question of how many angels dance on the end of a pin. My response is about what happens when we apply our passionate excitement for measuring and quantifying things to the human body, and how this turns sour very quickly. When we measure the human body, it’s often in search of some kind of perfection, the “golden mean” or Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. What we find, instead, are all the ways the human body fails to measure up to our ideals. The supposed “perfect” measurements for a woman are 36-24-36 (or they were once, that’s probably a dated ideal) but most runway models can’t find work if their hips are 35 inches or over. Our ability to measure the human body even gets weaponized: just think of how much bullying revolves around obesity, and it was less than 75 years ago that scientists believed they’d find a connection between the circumference of a man’s skull and his intelligence (they used data collected during WWI and WWII for helmet sizing).
This photograph reflects one side of a very strong, very emotional response I had to the whole “body” of readings on “The Nature of Woman” (Astell, Drake, Leapor, Swift, Montagu) in connection with Hooke’s Micrographia, Duden’s “History Beneath The Skin” (“if I truly believe my heart cracked, then maybe my heart really did crack” becomes “if I genuinely believe I am obese, maybe I really am obese”), and Behn’s “Clarinda.” Like the intelligent, powerful female writers of the 18th-century, Kassinda (who modelled for this picture) stares through the barriers of measurement – the (yellow) red tape, if you will – and sees through this trap she’s in. She sees you seeing her and meets your eye, not allowing the fact that she is the object of your gaze to undermine her power. She’s too entangled to escape this cage, but she fights it nonetheless. While we were playing around getting this photo, I pulled a lot on my ballet background, and in many of the images, I had Kassinda cross her arms at the wrists with her hands in fists, either over her chest or below the waist, which in classical ballet symbolizes both death and entrapment (you’ll see this mime in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty). But this picture was the most arresting. Her fists, raised above shoulder height, symbolize anger in ballet mime.
Of course, I don’t believe measurement is evil or that if we stopped measuring things our obsession with perfection would dissipate at all. But this is one use of measurement I believe we should endeavour to move beyond.
While reading Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” I focused on the contrast between Celia’s perceived beauty and the reality behind her looks. Everything she represents is artificially applied and I imagined seeing her after the removal of her ‘image’ not as ugly or repulsive, but as grey. I saw her as void of all colour and life and that the makeup she applies is not only her appearance but her entire self (The image on the right represents this). Swift brutally criticizes the remains of her labour and the description of the contents of her dressing room illustrates just how much preparation goes into her appearance. The lines below illustrate the contrast between her finished and “perfected” appearance with her natural state:
“When Celia in her glory shows, / If Strephon would but stop his nose/ (Who now so impiously blasphemes/ Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,/ Her washes, slops, and every clout/ With which he makes so foul a rout),/ He soon would learn to think like me/ And bless his ravished sight to see/ Such order from confusion sprung,/ Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.
His reference to the ointments and creams and more specifically “paints” she uses to perfect her image makes me think about the literal application of painting on your appearance. This led me to combine what was originally two individual pieces I had painted into one. I added the vibrant, colourful eyes and lips on top of the monochromatic greyscale painting of the girl to illustrate the literal effect of painting on beauty. The outward appearance of Celia is a mask in a literal sense as well as figuratively. The makeup she applies covers every contour of her face, acting as a mask to hide her natural features. It also becomes a representation of her worth as she is only judged by her outward appearance in the poem. Overall, Swift’s poem paints a picture of beauty as a mask, underneath revealing only a grey shadow of a woman.
My photosponse is a response to Samuel Johnson’s “Preface to Johnson’s Dictionary”. The reading really got me thinking of how much effort and time goes into creating a dictionary (apparently 9 years for Johnson, mostly solo too). It’s an impressive feat, and makes me think just how many words there are to include. Not only are there words, but syllables, stresses, origins, lexical categories, different meanings and more! Not only that but Johnson included quotes with his definitions as well, to give the definitions a better understanding.
To demonstrate this reading, my picture of a game of scrabble illustrates a small sample of possible words that can appear in a dictionary. The game itself relies on how many words you have learned in your life and can remember (and of course spell correctly). The same reasoning applies to a dictionary as well. Johnson would have needed to collect all known words at the time of his writing, and learn their spelling and meanings.
I think anyone who has played a game of scrabble had accused their competitor to prove their word exists in a dictionary (scrabble even has its own official dictionary). I know myself and possibly many others recall words they’ve learned from reading the dictionary and applied them to a game of scrabble. The importance of the dictionary doesn’t just benefit board games, but the english language as a whole. Johnson knew this, and strived to create the best available dictionary during his time. Not only did he succeed in that regard, but his influence has continued on to this day.
In “The Deserted Village,” Oliver Goldsmith addresses his opinion about how perfectly good landscape is ruined when man meddles with it. In some cases this is true, but in this picture, it is indeed false. When forests are cut down in order to make roads, or national parks are made smaller to make room for cities are just a few examples of land being overtaken and ruined by man. My mother recently found this walking trail which is located at the end of the East Suffolk Rd. It is roughly eight to ten kilometers long and the entire trial winds and bends though the trees along a nice littler river; it is quite a remarkable place. Towards the end of the trail there is about a half of a kilometer which is shown in the picture above. It is clear when you walk through it that once upon a time an old farmer had purposely planted these trees as they are all perfectly aligned in multiple rows. Although in Goldsmith’s poem he argues that landscape and the beauty of nature can be ruined by man, this is definitely not the case. It might have taken twenty years, give or take, but a farmer put love and care into this piece of land which is now rows and rows of beautiful trees which is gorgeous to walk through. My mother recently lost sixty five pounds and it is because of this little piece of manmade hidden paradise that she loves so much, that she was able to walk this trail time and time again.
There are two central objects in my photo, a mug filled with coffee and a computer with an image on the screen. The first, in the foreground, is the mug. Our class has been set up as a digital coffee house and I felt that bringing coffee into the photo would help continue that theme. The coffee mug is also often present during homework and I thought it would be interesting to put something slightly meta into the photo. I also included the mug because many critical discussions are held around cups of coffee and it is easy to tell Johnson was keenly aware that critical discussions would be held about his work. To account for the inevitable critical discussion, Johnson spends most of the Preface putting good ideas and thoughts out for discussion while also trying to insulate himself from the criticism that would arise.
The image in the background of the photo is a laptop with Johnson’s Dictionary pulled up on the screen from an online database. The page being displayed is a portrait of Johnson and the title page of the work. I used the background to connect to a quote of Johnson’s that I really enjoyed, “I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations and distant ages gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth.” Johnson’s work was extremely important, but I like the quote because it displays a selflessness that the creators of the non-profit database companies must also share. One of these companies, Openlibrary.org, is the database that stored most of the works we accessed in this class (including Johnson’s dictionary shown in the photo.) I thought it was interesting that Johnson’s attitude has carried forward and is the reason students in a different nation, and of a different age, can read his work for themselves.
When I was reading “A Satyr against Reason and Mankind” I found Rochester’s dismissals of mankind as being less virtuous and his argument of man’s so prided rational mind as making them equal to a savage beast very amusing. I ended up envisioning some kind of alternate reality where animals took the place of humans in society; originally thinking of the C.M Coolidge series of dogs playing poker. However what I really wanted to represent was a dog that looked, well, more rational, more humanized. Through this picture I almost feel as though I am making a satyr out of Rochester’s poem through this picture of a dapper looking pug, after all if animals are to be idealized by following their base instincts and their indulge a lot, a lot, a lot behavior then why don’t we view animals more favorably in our society?
In the poem, Rochester has a real issue with mankind’s rationality – especially the over thinking that we so often do as a society. This rationality, this reason as Rochester refers to it, sets us apart from one another and also from the animals. In Rochester’s view this is a negative thing and he repeatedly makes allusions to the concept that humans should follow their instincts – their senses like animals instead of “contriving A sixth, to contradict the other five”. This occurs when something unexplainable happens – a miracle per say –, people will search and search for a reason to explain it away, but sometimes there is no reason. It would be far easier to accept things for what they are than to reason them out and try and label them; as sometimes mislabeling will and can occur. It seems to be human instinct that if we can’t rationalize something we label it as evil or a freak incident.
Another key element that the poem is trying to represent is that humans are hypocrites who act out of vanity and self interest; and that the fear of being different or ostracized by others makes us act in horrible ways like lying and deceiving others to make our own gains; once again differing from the ‘straightforward’ animals. Interestingly it is from this fear that we get the saying “it’s a dog-eat-dog world”, but in reality it is more “man-eat-man world” according to Rochester.
But of course that leaves the question of whether or not it would be an advancement in society to take a page out of Rochester’s and an animal’s book and act simply by our instinct instead of our need to one-up each other on different social scales. Would this be a reasonable action? I think not.