Modernity Class Short Stories

The first time I submitted creative writing as an assignment was in 8th grade, when our final project was to write our own ending for The Princess Bride.  The second time was my senior year of college, in a course on modernity with Joseph Duemer with an open-ended final project.  Now, writing is my soul, as far as I’m concerned, so I was apprehensive about letting someone into this piece of myself… but if I’m going to be a writer, then I’m going to have to get used to it.

As a developing writer, I welcome constructive comments and critiques!  I’d love to know what you think, and if the stories are effective or not.  Keep in mind that these were for an assignment- so the material isn’t quite solidly in my comfort zone.  (And please, don’t steal my stuff!)

 

The following is the introduction I wrote for the project.  If you want to read  about how these stories tied into the theme of modernity, keep reading.  If not, just skip to the good part where you click the links and read them.  By the by, In(s)anity is not yet posted because it’s in a contest right now, and Bunker C is still unfinished.  If you want to read those, you will just have to be sad for now.)

 

“The collection of stories Angel, In(s)anity, The Written Word, North Star [and Bunker C] were written for a course in modernity and serve to exemplify the modern creative writing process in practice.

In the course, we examined the origins of language and the conditions of modern man and modern language.  Several themes of personal interest include cross-disciplinary inspiration, alienation, variability of interpretation, the nature of the creative process, and Faust.  For this project, I am exploring these niches of modernity, as defined through various readings or discussions.  It is a study of how the different interpretations and pieces of modernity may be applied to, or give inspiration for, creative works.

From the introductory chapter of Berman’s All That is Solid Melts into Air, we learned that part of the idea of “post-modernism,” with regard to art, is the crossing of disciplines.  He speaks of multimedia presentations, of pushing the boundaries between conventionally separate fields.  Personally, music is an integral part of my day, and especially of my creative process.  Music so pervades modern cultures, as well as non-modern and historical cultures, that it is a part of humanity and a common environment for any creative writer.  Therefore, examining the effects of music on creative writing seems an obvious example of modernism.  In the spirit of cross-discipline media, rather than finding inspiration in a comparable medium, or from simple pondering, I actively sought a song that could inspire, a song that tells quite a story on its own.  Several of the stories that I wrote explore this idea, namely Angel, In(s)anity, The Written Word, and North Star.  Listening to the song before reading is advised, for it often adds considerably to understanding the story and where it came from.

In our studies of modernism, we found that part of modernism is an alienation of oneself from the past and from others.  From my childhood, when I was raised like an only child due to the age gap between my brothers and I, living well outside of town, and taking care of my grandparents, I felt distinct and alienated.  Living at home through college keeps me in touch with my family, but leaves me estranged from most peers.  My principle hobby is writing, a rather lonely endeavor.  For me, the idea of alienation was the most pervasive in my life, and therefore, holds special interest.  The first short story, Angel, focuses a woman who lives in the modern world and who is extremely alienated from those around her, by her own self-imposed social exile.  In the story, we meet another exile, also by his own doing.  It is a story about finding oneself and one’s place within the modern world, about re-writing one’s destiny.

Among the things we discussed were how modern literature and art, particularly, are open to many different interpretations, and that many different, sometimes opposing, equally valid meanings can exist to explain something.  This is reflected in such works as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, in which Humpty Dumpty creates his own meanings for words.  Throughout the book, it seems Alice’s comments are regarded completely literally, while the words of those around her are understood, at least by them, to mean whatever they decide, which is usually quite different from Alice’s interpretation.  Additionally, The Jabberwocky makes no sense upon first reading, but gains more meaning once nonsense words are defined by Humpty Dumpty.  Growing up loving the odd, Alice, and especially enjoying writing and the creative process the way that I do, I decided to explore this concept.  In my short story In(s)anity, I explore this kind of non-traditional use of language in the sense that the story bears little to no meaning until one gets to the end and realizes what the story is about.  Upon a second reading, the inane babble becomes meaningful and translatable, showing that much of it is formed from convoluted and circuitous metaphor.  It is also a story of alienation, imposed upon a person by society based on circumstances outside of his control, similar to poor Gregor in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

In keeping with both the ideas of alienation of people from themselves and one another, as well as the idea of multiple valid interpretations of modern works is The Written Word.  It is a piece about writing, about the process involved, and especially about creating extremely alienated characters.  It also examines the active process of trying to write a definite meaning for something, or trying to make something more open to interpretation, according to what is appropriate for the current mood of the piece and what message the writer intends.  It is a testament to the creative process, and actually provides insight into how I myself tend to write, rewrite, and edit characters.  It included commentary on how characters grow so much through the creative work that they are different at the end and how it is difficult to go back and write a character the way they used to be.

As mentioned in the discussion of Alice, I am a connoisseur of the more odd literature.  I enjoy the surreal and the mythological.  Therefore, in our studies of the modern man, the examination of Faust was particularly interesting.  Faust was a man of ambition, to whom enrichment of the soul through philosophy and scholastic endeavors was not enough.  He was in despair, and then he heard the bells.  These bells put him in touch with his childhood, and saved him.  In our discussions of modernity, the concept of disconnectivity and alienation from the past, whether the individual’s or the society’s, was a theme.  Through Mephistopheles, he went on to find sex and love, then adventure, and culminated in power and industry, surpassing even his master in his ambition.  When Faust first begins to speak of how the power and independence of the ocean annoyed him in lines 10198-10209, Mephistopheles replies that “There’s nothing new in that for me to know; I knew it a hundred thousand years ago.”  Faust continues on in his ambition, his new need to conquer nature herself, to show dominance rather than the pre-industry subservience of man to the natural forces.  He sought to destroy the old world, to carve from it something new and modern, where man held power over even the ocean.  However, he was in denial of some of the consequences of his actions, of how certain personal and human sacrifices, including his own, were required for the old world to give way to the new world.  He was a product of the old world, a driving force born of it, and had no place in the new world beyond its inception.  North Star is a story about a Faustian man, who loves progress and advancement, but attains it at the cost of something far dearer to him, something he neglected.  Beyond that, it is a social commentary on the effects of wealth and achievement on men who were not accustomed to them.

[[Another story was inspired by the multiple interpretation theory and the Humpty-Dumpty style of giving words new meanings.  I say inspired by because the idea of multiple interpretations made me think of uncertainty, of vagueness.  There are times when meaning of the spoken word is unclear and contextually can mean two very different things, based on sarcasm, pun, homonym, and simple mis-hearing.  The latter reminded me of a game, in which a person whispers a message to another person, that person relays it, and so on and so forth until it is spoken by the last person only to find that it is something completely different by the end.  This gave me the idea of generational degradation of language, of passing it on until it is warped.  From all this comes Bunker C, a language experiment… coming soon?]]

I feel it is my duty to warn the reader beforehand: in accordance with my love of fiction, each story is imbued with some sense of the surreal.  Be prepared, and enjoy.”

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