Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dispension of disbelief

The stories examined this week serve the purpose of representing the extraordinary events of life as we know it. The stories begin as an entrance and/or opening of describing every day reality, relationships and occurrences available for interpretation by the everyday human being who experiences day to day interactions with other human beings. The mystical element of the stories enters with a drastic occurrence of magic and mysticism that could stand for the unknown many of us try to dismiss in our ordinary lives as simple "occurrences". Though this could be a stretch, the depth and longevity of these stories shows they are not "ordinary" fairy tales serving to teach us a moral at the end of the tale, but a possible representation of how unpredictable and mysterious and/or unpredictable life can be. The sudden poof of magic or unexplicable occurrences described to the audience cause us to search for a deeper meaning which may in turn lead us to a more fulfilling interpretation of our lives, leading us to challenge the ordinary ideals that have been ingrained in us since birth.

Love conquers all

Sounds pretty cliche right? Not in the "Wondrous Oriental Tale of the Naked Saint" its not. Love really does conquer all- even an incessant seemingly uncontrollable ticking in your mind. In this literary fairy tale there are a few specific elements that are classic fairy tale. First is the interaction with nature. The nature of the setting is very descriptive and the author pays attention to the specifics of the cave and the surrounding forrest. In fact, the saint has such an intense interaction with nature that nature and its "song of love" cures his ailment. Another aspect is the mystical and unknown setting of the Orient. It is not specific to a certain place or time period. This lack of specificity of this location ads to the universality of the story and the underlying messages and themes of the tale. The last fairy tale characteristic is the one the only L-O-V-E. Of coarse in this fairy tale it is a couple of star crossed lovers who cause the man with the incessant ticking of time to forget his problem and realize that the in life one should focus on finding happiness, preferably with another person, than worry about the passage of time.

The magic in this story is not about a fairy god mother or magic wands- it is about the amazing and awesome power of nature. It was natures song of love, not a supernatural force, which caused the saint forget his focus on the passage of time and the ticking of his internal clock. The saint is released from his human prison when he witnesses love. I found this aspect very interesting. Humans have an internal clock- we obviously dont live forever. the saint was trapped in a human form with this ever present lingering concern for the inevitability of death. However he saw love and was able to release himself from being human and the accompaning worries of mortality. This story highlights the power of love and magic of nature to defeat the omnipresent fear of death in humans and return a saint to the heavans. Thats some pretty powerful stuff if you ask me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Do you believe in magic?

The question of the role of magic was one that was especially alluring to me. As we talked about in class, the first part of Wieland's "Philosopher's Stone" seems to be making fun of those who believe that alchemical magic exists; yet, the second half of the story is entirely magical. I make sense of this because I think that even Enlightenment guys like Wieland can believe in metaphorical transformations and believe that those who believe in this voodoo, abra cadabra magic are discrediting the very real "magic" that can occur inside someone. That type of remarkable change, seemingly magical, is discredited by those who believe they hold the powers for that change or that the ability to change is based off of psychic abilities.

The ability for a man like King Mark to change is seemingly miraculous - something that would not have come about if not for some magical influence. But I think this "magic," Wieland is trying to show, is spiritual, not a man-held gift. He believes in the ability for people to change and in figurative "donkey" stages (a rock bottom of sorts) that some men might have to go through to realize their satisfaction does not lie in gold, and while that is "magical," he does not want that spiritual, superhuman magic to get confused with the phoney "magic" of man.

I also want to make a comment about something that was brought up in class today and which I was thinking about earlier in the week because a book I'm reading outside of class mentions a lot of what we've talked about this semester. If you haven't read Dan Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol, I'd highly recommend it. I started it Monday and I only have about 70 pages to go. It's all about the Freemasons and the Ancient Mysteries and Eqypt and the search for the Philosopher's Stone (that's what the lost symbol is). It's like Wieman's tale but reads more like JK Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." Just as good as The Davinci Code, for sure.

The longest "fairy tales" ever, come on

Well, I think the use of story-telling for these particular tales had two important effects. The first one was, of course, that these stories were excruciatingly long and full of somewhat inane and impertinent information. The second effect was that of creating a level of imagery that we have not encountered with the previous fairy tales. There was so much detail that little had to be left to the imagination, whereas the other stories we read were fairly to the point and just threw in the important stuff with no time for logical flow, detailed imagery or in-depth story-telling. But what makes these stories classifiable as fairy tales is that they feature some of the time-tested fairy tale methods, including fantastical events and the transformation of humans into animals.

For instance, the first few pages of The Philosopher's Stone seems like a plausible story that is even set in England and all of the characters have name and realistic back stories. Then all of a sudden the king becomes a donkey and later receives the King Midas of lilies. It almost seems like a non-sequitur. However, without those fantastical elements the story is just a nice anecdote or a fun read (despite the length).

These stories go in an entirely different direction than previous stories and the only factor that seems to draw them back into the realm of fairy tales is that magical, fantastical turn of events.

Art History in Action

As an art history major, I tend to examine everything through an art historical lens. Therefore I think it may be interesting to look at The Philosopher's Stone as a piece of art from the Romantic era. Firstly, the Romantics considered nature to be extremely spiritual. Many pieces of art from the time period layer religious symbolism into the work. It is clear from what we discussed in class today that nature is a big theme in this tale: king turns into a goat, goes out into the wild, eventually finds peace (queen follows). It is not just nature however. The king's journey can be seen as ecclesiastic. The journey allows him to go out and experience nature from an animals point of view, and this leads him to realize he lead a sinful life and he has divinely been given a second chance. The story's moral is clearly understood.

Something else that I think can be applied is the concept of "Gesamtkunstwerk" which basically means art as an experience. I think that the author chooses to densely pack the narrative with many minor narratives for this very reason, to create an intense experience for the reader which they could not otherwise have. I realize this may be a stretch but I think that the king's journey thus becomes the reader's journey and the author becomes the our fairy/guardian angel. The king and queen are given a choice at the end, and so are the readers, do you read this story and brush it off as entertainment, or do you recognize its true value and apply it to your own life?

"The Philosopher's Stone" in Relation to "The Romance of Tristan and Iseult"

Christoph Martin Wieland’s “The Philosopher’s Stone” is interesting because it seems to believe it belongs to a history of storytelling. Its self-reflexivity in storytelling is apparent, but I want to focus on its ostensible kinship with The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, a medieval narrative that popularly espouses the prototype for an “adultery myth” that has persisted through the ages in texts such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. By Wieland indicating that the young King Mark of “The Philosopher’s Stone” belongs to the heritage of mythmaking that is The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, I wonder what the implications are. It is true that Wieland chooses young King Mark to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, King Mark of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. However, as those familiar with the traditional tale know, King Mark is a veritably supporting character to whom the injustice of Tristan’s and Iseult’s love affair is done (NOTE: Notice the passive verb because it will be important later).

Perhaps the key lies in the line: “The young King Mark was very much like his grandfather. He was arrogant without ambition, sensuous without taste, and greedy without knowing how to be economical” (233). That is, perhaps Wieland is trying to say that history repeats itself. By calling on the medieval narrative of magic potions and star-crossed lovers, Wieland associates his modern tale with a classic tale of similar faults: arrogance, tasteless sensuality, and greed. This is a curious assertion, though, because the King Mark I remember from The Romance of Tristan and Iseult was a horribly passive character easily duped by his vicious court.

Ah, ha! That is just it! It must be the fact that King Mark is so easily duped, just like readers see young King Mark is in “The Philosopher’s Stone.” Therefore, credulousness is the problem that runs through both narratives. In the age of Enlightenment in which Wieland lives, excessive gullibility is impossible. Faith is impossible. Trust is impossible. … But knowledge is possible.

But even the protagonists of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult know they want each other, but they do not really know why. To Wieland, this would be another fault of the tale. The Romance of Tristan and Iseult emphasizes passion, emotion, instinct… all of which are characteristics insupportable in Wieland’s times. As I have stated, history repeats itself in “The Philosopher’s Stone,” which gets its protagonist into trouble because instinct is wrong.

In Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” he states that history is filled with the present. That is, in telling history from the present time, the concerns of the present often find a way into a historical tale through particular parallels. Using Benjamin’s logic, the concerns of Wieland’s time – that credulousness is unacceptable and truth, logic, and reason are essential – parallels and shapes the implication of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, which is equally filled with credulousness and unconscious action. And, again, history repeats itself. More specifically, the tale repeats itself. In this way, “The Philosopher’s Stone” is inevitably a tale repeating tales.

Thoughts? Leave ‘em in the comments!

The Power of Love

I'd rather imagine this is the two lovers' song

The first thing one notices when reading "A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint" is that the setting is not some fairy tale land but rather the "Orient" -- a place that held much of the same charms for Westerners at the time as Cinderella's kingdom would have. Both places have the potential for magic and mysticism, due to things (and cultures) that were misunderstood or not known.

Oh and did I mention that being naked is what saints do in this foreign land? As Wackenroder writes, "We would call them crazy, but they are honored there as supernatural creatures." Yet this supernatural creature can't deal with time going forward. The "wheel" of time drives him insane as he can't slow it down.

Well, no duh you can't slow it down! Silly non-Westerners and their saints that don't understand time (this is sarcasm if you can't tell). The magic in this piece is not really magic. The "wheel" of time is something that everyone understands. It's nothing special -- no real magical properties. The climatic night is also described as magical with how the moonlight shines.

So nature and time are both magical. But so is music, and more importantly, music that's fueled by love. The two lovers' song soothes the saint's pain. He then soars up into the heavens. Is the moral here that love is what makes the passing of time bearable? Maybe. I'd argue more that love is being presented as the point of life. Don't worry about the days going by. You've got to appreciate the magical stuff around you -- nature, love, music -- or you'll go insane.

-Matt P.

"A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint"

“A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint” has both traditional and nontraditional characteristics of a fairy tale, but it is still a fairy tale. Because this story is a literary fairy tale, we can tell that it was written for a more literate and educated audience. It goes into greater detail than the typical fairy tale, but is much shorter when compared with “The Philosopher’s Stone”. In this sense, this tale is about the same length as a traditional fairy tale. The line, “At one time there was a naked saint who lived in a remote cave near a small river” resembles the typical beginning of a fairy tale that would read something like “once upon a time there was a king who lived in a castle...”. In terms of magic, there are no talking animals, but the magic spell placed on the man is broken in the end. There is also some sense of repetition (the cycle the saint is stuck in, anger to sadness), but it does not have to be blatantly stated or repeated word for word for the reader to understand. Finally, there is a physical transformation of sorts, but we are told that the saint is “like a tiger” and “like a snake” in his actions; therefore it’s not an obvious, true transformation.

However, this story also deviates from a few traditional characteristics of the fairy tale. First of all, the characters are not flat. The saint immediately starts developing from the beginning of the story, and he develops until the story’s end. Secondly, while the story does name an undefined place where the saint lives, the cave, the tale opens with a description of native people from the Orient. It gives the reader an actual idea of where the tale will take place and allows the reader to envision the setting. I think this story should be considered a fairy tale because while it diverges some, it still maintains many qualities of what we deem a traditional fairy tale.

An Unconventional Fairy Tale

At first glance, Wackenroder’s “A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint” is not your typical fairy tale: there is no gallant hero, no terrifying villain, and no fantastical spectacles of magic. If we view the tale as an artifact of its socio-historical climate, however—as a distinct product of the Romantic era—then we can more easily come to understand how this story represents an unconventional fairy tale, but a fairy tale nonetheless.

When we first meet the naked saint, he is a mad, pathological being, a social recluse who frantically and compulsively propels a great wheel, driven to insanity by the sound of “the rushing of time.” Visitors flock to gawk at the naked saint’s demented activities, laughing at him like a carnival spectacle, yet the madman cannot fathom what they find so amusing: he “mocks those people who could still think of such mundane affairs when time was terrifyingly moving on.” For years, the naked saint lives on in a state of paranoia and bitter torment, yearning to fill the cold, clinical void of his existence with “unknown beautiful things,” until one day, the ethereal notes of a beautiful song float into his cave, and suddenly, he is liberated from his imprisoning spell.

The story is an eloquent ode to the transformative nature of music and art. Before he discovers the ecstatic experience of art, the naked saint is condemned to a sterile existence, devoid of creativity or impulse, an existence that clearly mirrors the lifeless Enlightenment era. Going off this idea, the wheel can represent science, which men compulsively turn and twist to no avail. Cranking the massive wheel is a mechanical, scientific pursuit that brings about no true progress; rather, it simply heightens a person’s sensitivity to the slow, monotonous advance of time. It yields more destruction than actual positive change, and it only impels people into insanity. In this way, the Enlightenment Era, which is embodied by the naked saint’s lonely confinement in the cave, can be seen as this fairy tale’s “villain.”

If science and progress are seen as the tale’s villains, then art is exalted as its hero, as the positive, vibrant force that emancipates individuals and transcends evil. As soon as the saint’s ears hear the first notes of song, he is freed from his prisonlike state and—in typical fairy tale fashion—undergoes a transformation, his human form dissolving into a “soft vapor” that dances delightedly towards the heavens. Music also introduces an element of magic into the story. In the tale, music acts as an ethereal, ecstatic energy that acquires magical capabilities of its own. It is the liberating force that frees the naked saint from his spell and elicits a sense of awe and “nocturnal wonder” in the world. Thus, art—in particular, music—is cast as the tale’s hero. It is a triumphant presence that sweeps in and saves the hopeless saint from a cruel spell, all the while introducing magic to the lackluster, Enlightenment-weary world.