Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni-Percy Bysshe Shelley

The subscript at the bottom of the poem explains that the author was attempting to explain the deep and powerful feelings brought on by Mont Blanc. Indeed, the poem constructs vivid images of the power, beauty and darkness of the mountain. He inundates many of the sense including the sense of smell, sight and sound. Shelley also laments the limitations of the human mind to comprehend the full effect of nature and suggest that only dreams may be uninhibited enough to experience some of what the conscious mind is missing. He talks about nature scorning the small mortal powers in the face of rock smashing, tree stripping powers possessed by the mountain. Shelley also reminds us aptly of the limitation of human ideas to describe, classify and label things. Ironically, he concludes, our labeling of it does not change it in any way. This poem is reflective of the time that Shelley experienced. Writing during the Enlightenment, he began to see reason as a limitation to the progress of humans and I think that this poem reflects some of these sentiments.

Progress-Neil Postman

Rationalism, claims Postman, stormed only the science during the Enlightenment to literally crush the romanticism of the Middle Ages. Reason became the buzzword for this era and a denial of the supernatural in Christianity became the vogue. Out of reason and logic reliable knowledge could be attained which, in turn, spurred on the growth of natural science. Newton, Kepler and Galileo were children of this way of thinking and collectively contributed to the theory of progress. Rousseau, also a child of this period, however, came to view reason differently than the rationalists. He argued, quite unpopularly, that science and the arts could corrupt, that science driving ethics could lead to moral catastrophes and that reason, untempered by poetry could turn the world into an ugly place. I found this a particularly interesting article in light of our discussion in the past couple of weeks. Superstition, fear of the unknown and unexplainable and a desire to covet power all ushered in the age of the Enlightenment. The Middle Ages were ridiculed for their lack of reason and scientific power. By the same token, Rousseau came to ridicule reason as the sole basis for progress. It was interesting to see how each of the eras produced characteristic ideas, each a child of the previous way of thinking.

Concerning the Deluge-Thomas Burnet

The first thing that caught my eye in this article was the term "mundane egg." It almost struck me as a joke. The idea of a perfectly smooth globe, perhaps a stretch of the imagination, is quite appealing. Indeed, when reading this paper, it struck me how much this narrative resembled a story. It created an image that people could relate to and brought the idea of God's perfection down to earth where everyone could experience it for themselves. After reading this story, I flipped back to the first page and realized that the period in which Burnet was writing was the romantic era. I can only imagine the ridicule that this theory must have suffered through after critics of the Enlightenment got a hold if it. Still, even if his theory is incorrect, I believe that it has worth by virtue of the fact that it is a narrative. Not only that, but the narrative itself perhaps may have affected the course of human progress. My question is this: How does poetry, narrative and music affect human reason, and by extension, progress?