F.Douglass, the SlaveThinking

I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.


According to the dictionary, the form can be defined as the shape and structure of an object. The form would be Frederick Douglass’s body, shape, and how people see him, how he is perceived by the world around him, that is to say as a slave. On the other hand, ‘in fact’ can be defined as something that actually exists, as the reality, the truth. After his battle with Mr. Covey, he no longer feels like a slave. Even if the world still sees him just as a slave and not as a human being, he sees himself first of all as a human who is doomed to be a slave for the time being. He is not a slave by essence, although that is what a slave is supposed to believe. He sees it as step in his life, a ‘carrer’ ;not as a life condition « This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave».

The thought, according to which he does not feel as a slave and never will, derives from his education. Indeed, because of his education he has become a « slaveThinking », which is totally inconceivable. The word ‘slave’ is used to describe a person held in servitude as the chattel of another, generally called the master. In other words, a slave is an economic instrument that can be bought or sold. Based on this definition, the slave is closer to an object than a human being and therefore this means that he is lacking the ability to think and judge which is proper to mankind. Ignorance is thus, a concept which is part and parcel of the definition of the word « slave ». Being a slave means to be confined in the dark, to be held in ignorance and bondage. Thus slavery is opposed to freedom which can be defined as the state of someone who is not subject to a master or the ability to act according to his own choice, without having to refer to any authority. This is especially through the exercise of his thought and through education that an individual can access this freedom, becoming a full human being. Hence, we can see the tension and incompatibility of these two notions – slavery and education – in their own definitions.

First of all, Frederick Douglass argues that being educated gave him the possibility to think. By learning words, by learning their meanings, by reading, one enriched its vocabulary and therefore is able to widen its field of thinking. It is through education that he was able to learn concepts such as freedom or the « abolition » of slavery as he says it himself. Exercising his thinking is to get out of the ignorance in which the slave is confined. Thanks to education the slave can extricate himself from his condition of obedience and submission, by allowing him to think independently from his master. Then, if his body remains chained to slavery his mind can travel, break the chains, and go beyond the boundaries imposed by his condition. In order to illustrate this conflict between a free thought in an enslaved body, Frederick Douglass draw a distinction between a « slave in form » and « a slave in fact ». He describes himself as a slave in form but who is never going to be a slave in fact anymore because of his education. In a way being educated has set him free… but just in his mind.

However, Frederick Douglass emphasizes throughout the narrative on the fact that  it was hard to be a slave after being educated, and this for two main reasons. The first one being that, when you are educated you go out from darkness and thus your are conscious about what is your condition which causes to yourself an immense inner pain due to frustration from not being able to escape from this condition. Being educated has « given him a view of his wretched condition without a remedy ». Secondly, the educated slave suffers from an external pain caused by the masters who despise and want to destroy any glimmer of hope, freedom or joy which might raise in their plantation and harm their business. Slaveholders fear smart slave because they can start opening a breach in the system by showing a bad example, leading others to rebellion by educating them as Douglass did in Hamilton’s plantation. A slave who has been educated does not conform to the expectations of slaveholders who are either choosing to reject him as Thomas did or break him as Mr Covey tried to. This issue is particularly well treated in the movie directed by Steve McQueen untitled Twelve Years a Slave.

From Paris to San Francisco my literary adventure…. a thought on education and freedom

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“I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” W.W

A barbaric yawp can be defined as a loud yell, a harsh cry, it is what comes from the deep within oneself. A barbaric yawp seems to be the opposite of poetry. Indeed, when we think about poetry we think about love, nature, lyricism, we do not think first about a cry, and even less about a harsh cry. By sounding his ” barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” W.W seems to confirm the idea that his poem is an anti-poem. This is an american poem, it is a free verse poem, which aims to free itself from conventional codes to make its own path.

Moreover when someone has to yell something it means that he cannot express it with words, it is either too deep or too painful. This is his way of expressing the unspeakable. W.W wants to express everything from what one can say to what is impossible to formulate. He wants to experience poetry, live through poetry and make his poem alive, not just write it down.

Even if we have not read it yet in class, we have spoken about the poem « Holw » from Allen Ginsberg. The title of the poem expresses the same idea of ​​wanting to yell what you cannot put in a conventional form, writing down on a paper.

From Paris to San Francisco my Literary Adventure… expressing the ineffable

An Invitation to Awakening, W.Whitman

“You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself”.


According to me these two consecutives lines are the most interesting lines in Whitman’s poem « The Song of Myself ». Indeed, they are located on the first paragraphs of the poem and represent on the one hand, a piece of advice that Whitman is giving to his readers, and on the other hand, the thought of Whitman on the « self ».

First those lines represent to my mind some advice for the reader but for himself as well. From the begining of the poem, Whitman is clear with the reader : this poem is not to learn by heart, it is not a finished product to be consumed as such, it is rather the expression of a “self” who explores its possibilies through a song. Whitman announces from the begining that we must not look this journey through his eyes. We must not be passive.

This is the song of Whitman’s « self » but also the song of all « self ». Whitman is sharing his experience, his doubts « Do I contradict myself? I am large (. . .) I contain multitudes ”, his thoughts, his love for humanity and nature, his journey through times and spaces…There are no more boundaries “ Inland and by the seacoast and boundary lines . . . and we pass the boundary lines.”. The “self” is limitless, it can raise above the material that surrounds it, and in the mean time not forget where it comes from. Whitman takes us beyond space and time, while talking about his earthly journey that allowed him to have the experience of human relationships, to become the poet and the voice of all, without forgetting himself. It is a journey through nature as a reflection of himself, and a conversation as well with the reader. These lines are, in my opinon, a summarize of the poem, as they are a call to awakening. Whitman shows us his way, a possible way among others, while inviting us to create our own path.

Indeed, those lines by emphasizing the contradiction between the “me” and the “yourself”, both located at the end of the verses, Whitman invites us to take a trip on our own, and to discuss with him, the “yourself” responds to the “me”. He invites us to think about how we must be, how we must distinguish ourselves from our fellows, to raise us to the level of individual by realizing our own experience, doing our own journey. It is a leitmotif in Whitman, found especially at the end of the poem ”Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you, You must travel it for yourself”. And there is no better way to discover one self, than going on a journey as the work of Irving (Rip Van Winkle) and Hawthorn (Young Goodman brown) show us.

Therefore, we can draw a parallel between Emerson and Whitman. The ideas expressed in those verses are completely connected with Emerson’s thought on the « man Thinking » in his text «  The American Scholar ». Both Whitman and Emerson share the idea that human beings have a reason and therefore they should banish imitation, repetition from the everyday and start to involve themselves and act. These lines are an ode to creativity, to singularity, and what better way to say it than these beautiful lines : « You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . there are millions of suns left ”. The reader should read, listen, experience the words and give them a particuliar meaning. The reader should not be a « bookworm ». However, Whitman adds an other dimension that I did not see in « The American Scholar ». Emerson is mainly talking about readings, while Whitman is invinting us to listen. All the senses are awakened to capture the entire work, indeed through the text Whitman works a lot on sounds, colors, movements, so that his work and his road come to life… It is a very romantic approach of the subject.

To conclude I would say that, in the manner of a palimpsest, Whitman invites us to awaken ourselves and to go on our own journey, detaching ourselves from what has preceded us, and writing our own story. Easier said than done because whatever he may say, we look through his eyes, we feel through his mind, we touch through his words…

From Paris to San Francisco my Literary Adventure…. there are millions of suns left !

Emerson’s complexity

« I will not shut myself out of this globe of action, and transplant an oak into a flower-pot, there to hunger and pine; nor trust the revenue of some single faculty, and exhaust one vein of thought, much like those Savoyards, who, getting their livelihood by carving shepherds, shepherdesses, and smoking Dutchmen, for all Europe, went out one day to the mountain to find stock, and discovered that they had whittled up the last of their pine-trees »


The task of finding the most difficult single sentence in Emerson’s essay, was not easy… Not because of its simplicity and clarity, but rather because of its complexity. Indeed, The American Scholar is a rich text with multiple sentences as complexe as powerful which requires a lot of proofread (especially when English is not your mother language) . Nonetheless, among all the difficult sentences I chose the above-mentioned. According to me, this sentence is one of the most difficult single sentence in Emerson’s essay for several reasons.

First of all, this is one of the few endless sentence of the essay, which is forcing the reader to reread the sentence several times to grasp the general idea. It is easy to lose the track ! But more than the fact that the sentence is long, there is also the fact that it has multiple examples to support his reflection. Hence, the first necessary work is to dissect this sentence and examine it little bit by little bit, by changing the punctuation. Then two sentences expressing two close ideas are obtained. On the one hand we have « I will not shut myself out of this globe of action, and transplant an oak into a flower-pot, there to hunger and pine. », on the other hand we have the other part of the sentence. The first one explains that the scholar should keep on acting, and the second one shows that he shall not operate just a single disposal of his mind until there is nothing left. The two ideas are complementary.

Moreover, one of the difficulties of the sentence is its multiple metaphors / comparisons. This remark could be applied generally to the whole essay. However, in this particular part of the text there are two metaphors to explain. The first one is the transplanted oak in a flower-pot. In my opinion, Emerson intends to show that the scholar must not be limited to what he already knows but rather he must explore and act. An Oak is a huge tree that would slowly die if confined in a flower pot. The second one is the one including the despised Savoyards who used all the resources which were available to them so that they are now unable to work. The resources must not be wasted, but they must be fed and constantly renewed. Similarly, the intellectual must be in a perpetual search of inspiration, knowledge, creativity, and not to be limited to worn, reusable, resources he already has.

In fact, once the sentence has been peeled and every idea taken separately, the phrase loses its complexity, and becomes almost clear. However, it took a long time ! What seemed at first a blurred excerpt, now perfectly blends  with the thought of Emerson. Indeed, this passage supports the idea that action is essential and decisive in creative writing and to enrich one-self. Any scholar man must banish idleness and passivity of his work. The literary work is first and foremost action, it is in the experience that the intellectual act is forged.

To conclude, if this sentence is maybe not the most difficult sentence of the text because of its idea, its complexity lies in its construction which makes drapes ideas.

From Paris to San Francisco My Literary adventure… trying to read Emerson.

Origins

The origin is the beginning, it is something from which anything arises. This is thus the path I have decided to follow to introduce myself. I was born in the land of haute cuisine and wine, and my first steps took place near one of the most beautiful and inspiring place in the world : the city of Paris. One of the best example that demonstrates my origins is probably my first name : Auriane – original, french and most of all… impossible to pronounce for english speakers ! I may confess that it is not very practical when you decide to make a career in international relations which implies travelling, living abroad, speaking English and last but not least forcing people to overcome the fateful event : the pronunciation of the french “r”. 

My origin and my future project have now been set, thus only one line is missing in order to complete the sketch of this portrait : the time being. I arrived in this New World two weeks ago and started my initiatory journey, an opportunity for a personal, cultural and literary exploration…

From Paris to San Francisco : my literary adventure.