Jonathan Safran Foer

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A favorite author of mine is Jonathan Safran Foer, due to his ability to portray something so specific, and not at all generalised, with an endless sea of details and quirks, but simultaneously deliver the most relatable and deep cutting of emotions. His writing is hugely personal, to the point that it feels impossible to define the group of people he intends to target his work to if not only himself. The characters in his stories are real people, living real lives, and having real experiences, that are messy and complicated and sometimes not understandable. His expressions of creativity is not for everyone, but the inner works and stories of his words capture the most human experiences of our time and do so with such intense, alternative means.

His debut novel Everything is Illuminated was released in 2002 and was immediately hugely discussed in the roam of literature, establishing Safran Foer as a cultural centrepiece of alternate authorship. The book is a culmination of his personal style of writing, being two parallel stories of different aspects of Jewish history and heritage; telling stories of personal discoverings and complex emotions and relationships. The scheme of this continued in his next coming novel Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close (2005), which portray a post-nine eleven tale of a child learning to live without his father as a result of the events simultaneously dealing with his extreme mannerism and social behaviours. Safran Foer constantly speaks volume in matters of identity, family, relationships, and grief, but does so in stories and artwork that is completely his own. In his latest novel Here I Am (2016) he succeeds to depict the fall of a relationship and the depiction of the chemistry between the married couple that fades away with small actions is some of the most uncomfortably real illustrations of a dysfunctional relationship, leaving me feeling sick while reading. Actually sick.

“You’re not making sense”
“I’m making perfect sense. I would have respected you so much more if you’d fucked her. It would have proven something to me that I have found harder and harder to believe”
“Which is?”
“That you’re a human being”
“You don’t believe I’m human?”
“I don’t believe you’re there at all”

Safran Foer is probably most known for his non-fiction book that is Eating Animals (2009), a modern classic in the genre of literature about the meat industry and vegetarianism and/or veganism. It’s a recollection of his personal journey with the matter, discovering and uncovering different aspects of the phenomenon through notes from actually breaking in to meat factories, a peek into his family’s historical relationship with food, and his relationship with parenthood. The scheme of Safran Foer’s writing is equally present in his non-fictive work, as Eating Animals delivers the same amount of personal but oddly generalised view of the matter. His personal stories intertwine with the massive framework of research, completed with illustrations by Tom Manning to visuals certain fact, which creates a much more nuanced perspective in the discussion of eating animals. His work combines the factual, objective with the personal, subjective to fully understand the different aspects of eating and not eating meat, and how to comprehend the alternative. The book also discusses other matters of animal welfare, like raising questions of hierarchy amongst animals in relationship with humans (why most people never could consider eating dogs, but chooses to eat other animals without hesitation). The discussion is intricate and delicate really understanding the personal aspect of meat consumption, but never shying away from the issues with it. The book also cultivated in the production of a documentary with the same title discussing the same matter, Eating Animals (2018), co-narrated by Safran Foer and actor Natalie Portman, a well known animal activist and vegan, the latter due to the book of Safran Foer.

Safran Foer is one of my favorite authors since his work offers an alternative outlook upon literature, an aspect crucial to his novels that is rare amongst writers, the relatability of the unique. The stories and characters don’t always resonate with me and my personal experiences, but the emotions created within the pages of his books are as real as the emotions of my close friends and family, or even myself. The emotional impact he has the reader is remarkable in its depth and lasting effect. The crippling sensation of reading Eating Animals for the time in 2015 remains with me to this day, and staring into the cover of Here I Am brings me nausea of remembering the heartbreak of reading it. A heartbreak I never wish undone.



Writing: Power and Catharsis

Writing as a phenomenon aims to createletters or characters that serve as visible signs of ideas, words, or symbols”, and is at its core a form of communication of the human verbal language. It’s a strategy, a simple matter of putting the spoken into specifically defined curbs of the visual, and is used on a daily basis by a great majority of people. It’s proceed in grocery lists, sticky notes, recollections of information, and a constant back-and-forth messaging. However, the idea of writing is most often associated with creativity, as the most simple of matters have become an industry of imagination. Writing, the formality of the term, has transformed into a form of art, which has made it more unaccessible, not for the public, but for the artists among us. However, this is not the only way to observe and use the tool of writing.

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George Orwell awed humanity with his novels about the totalitarian state, Malala Yousafzai used writing to solidify her activism and tell the story of rebellion, and Harriet Beecher Stowe was once called “the little lady who started the great war” by Abraham Lincoln for contributing to the war and the dismantling of slavery by writing her famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin from 1853. Writing and the written words are not only forms of art, but a tool of influence, and furthermore power. A common saying of writing is that the pen is the most powerful weapon (“The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”), also recurring in 1900s feminist theory with authors such as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Elin Wägner. These historical people of immense political influence all built their careers and rewrote the norms of society through their authorship, proceeding in the aim of writing by presenting ideas of priorly rarely discussed matters of women’s independence, gender as a social construct, and women’s collectives. And while the mentioned authors proceed their writings with artfulness, this depicts a reality in which writing necessarily isn’t centered around creativity, but rather only tool of presenting ideas and gaining influence and therefore power.

Writing can also be a form of therapy, a cleansing experience, catharsis. This can be done in various manners, but the most common one is journaling. To regularly use writing to communicate one’s thoughts and experiences in personal means is a tool to structuralize the brain into order and logic, transforming complex emotions into words and letting them be held by the fragile structure of a book spine; that is the most simple form of multiplex therapy. And to deepen this argument, the cleansing experience isn’t limited to the highly personal containment of a journal. The term catharsis originates from the works of Aristotle, in his Poetics (335 B.C) he established the notion of the expression to be the cleansing that comes with the production or consumption of art, primarily literature. The modern definition of the word is “purification or purgation of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art”.

Catharsis as a terminology isn’t targeted at the writing of personal matters, but the cleansing experience of the writing that is meant to and later proceeded to be published for other’s consumption. The original purpose was never specified to whom the terminology was created for, so the purpose of the act is only interpreted by literary scholars. It can be said to be a crucial part of authors’ processes of writing, for the finest literature is created through the purification of the soul, or also be a method for the audience to experience such powerful emotions and be cleansed by it, historically often during theatre shows.

Writing can be explained as the most complex form of art, since it forces humans to articulate emotions and thought processes perhaps too dynamic and abstract for the verbal communication that demands elaborate specification. However this is the ultimate form of expression, simply due to the complicated and patency of it. No other art form demands the same amount of sure instinct than writing, regardless of it being the most personal notes in a journal, a political statement, or a novel.



Getting Over Someone: A Phantom

The endings of romantic relationships are often met with the comforting promises of moving on with life and being able to getting over them, which is basically a short term promise of a solution to eradicate the pain of the moment but overlooking the nuanced reality to come. Relationships are never to be left fully behind, that is the truth, regardless how much it hurts or how much someone wishes it to go away.

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Ask yourself, how many previous partners or lovers have you really erased? Not just by physical matters, of not seeing them and deleting their number or even disposing of everything they ever touched in your home, but of mental matters. Do they never, ever appear in your thought processes? Because even if they appear just as a name of a distant period in your life, they’ll still be there. The impact people have on others is not only in their presence in the flesh, but in the memories of times when they were present. And most of all, the impact they have had on oneself. Some experiences and relationships, even though past, are a crucial part of the embodiment of the self; perhaps even negatively. Certain relationships bring fear and anxiety long after they are dissolved. And relationships that were especially happy, even if ended on good terms, bring on massive impact. Even if it’s with certainty one is unwilling to once again have a previous partner in one’s life again, neither as a lover nor as a friend, the relationship that was and the emotional impact it inflicted will forever remain.

To forever cherish a previous partner for the relationship in the past is a matter that is seldom brought attention to in films, literature, or other forms of medias, however there’s a prime example that dedicate its entire existence to the topic; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). The movie sets place in a reality in which completely moving on from a previous partner is provided by a service that offer the possibility to erase memories, often used to ease the pain and suffering. This explores the human attitude towards previous romantic experiences and raises the awareness that even in pain, the experiences of the past shape the present and by removing the past including all the suffering the reality of now drastically changes. This is not a very unfamiliar topic, as its heavily explored in other matters than specifically eradicating memories of previous loved ones. Numerous films and books have explored the idea of time travelling to change certain aspects of the past, only to find that it’s impossible to proceed without severe consequences. This is the same with “fully moving forward” with previous romantic relationships, it’s not fully possible, and if it was, all the learnings and experiences would spill to waste and change the course of people’s emotional development to greater relationships, perhaps forcing them into similar situations that they previously left.

To argue this is not the equivalent to state that it’s impossible to no longer hold massive emotional attachment towards other people, in this matter the simplicity of “moving on” from people is true. It is fully possible to live fully without constantly being caught up by memories of previous relationships, and above all; even if emotional attachment still exists, it morphes with time and experiences. A previous lover can still be looked back on with love and trust, but not necessarily in the same gaze of present romantic love and need of attention. It can be in the form of acceptance, and cherishment of what used to be rather than wishing it would have continue. Even painful memories can change, sometimes the scene of suffering morphes into something that teaches us life long lessons, or the emotion changes. It’s still associated with being painful, the actual pain of the moment is long accepted and moved forward from, often by processing by new memories of other people and scenarios.

Time is a parameter that constantly moves forward, however memories of experiences, emotions, and relationships are not. They can remain inside of people until end of time, and constantly be a motivation of development and change, even if the physical matter of this memory is long gone. The prior teaches us about the present and about the future, and relationships are a massive part of this, completely necessary for aspiring forward; to fully getting over someone is nothing but a phantom.


Black Swan

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A modern, presumably to-be-(historical)-classic, film that has established itself being one of the greatest films of today is the works of Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan (2010). It is constantly praised for being a perfect resemblance and representation of the genre that explores the desire for artistic perfection, and has in some cases been compared to other films on this matter such as Whiplash (2014), while also being categorised as a psychological thriller for its dark, and dissonant sensuality.

The main theme of the film is the dichotomy and incongruence of light and dark, constantly letting them conquer each other in their differences in various key elements to the film. The white and black swan is the obvious metaphor for this in its simplicity of the visual difference, but also in their deeper meaning and essence, the imagined rivalry between Nina and Lily which perfectly represent each of the swans, and the constant depiction of sexuality and innocence, both dressed with the colour scheme of the opposites, to establish virginity as the light and sexuality as the dark. This dichotomy is also further created with the production of the movie. The setting of the movie alternates in the scheme of the main motive with recurring exchanges of light and dark scenes, portrayed by scenes varying in the time during the day, the characters constantly dressing in colour palettes that disclose their personalities and inner emotions, and the process of slowly decreasing the amount of light throughout the film. Another crucial level of this portrayal is the gradual disintegration of the separation of light and dark, which symbolises the process of Nina’s mental dismantling. The role of both the white and black swan is given to Nina forcing her to embrace them both, the intertwinement of Nina and Lily in the utterly sexual dream of Nina, and the climax of the final performance, with the story of the white and black swan. Settings that previously were light are now used in much darker scenes, and with that, the emotion and feeling towards the setting has changed within both the storyline and the audience. This technique allows for the audience not only believing that Nina is turning insane, but postulates the viewers to participate in the emotional odyssey to derangement.

Another level to this dichotomy the fundamental human relationship to morality, with the perpetual discourse of right and wrong being withheld with the ultimate tool of power, shame. Nina is being held captive in the arms of an obsessive mother, constantly praised for her achievements in, ultimately, innocence and being treated to that standard. Her bedroom is kept childlike filled with stuffed animals, the appearance of a ballerina box is recurring, and her mother demands absolute knowledge and control over Nina. This creates an atmosphere in which Nina is conclusively being kept a child, even though she has reached the very ripe age of 28. With this problematic relationship with her over protective mother, she has not experiences much that would imply her adulthood, such as accepting and exploring her sexuality, which is a key element for her to completing her role as the black swan. In various scenes this is mentioned when Nina is practising dancing in the presence of the director of the production, Leroy. He constantly comments on her stiff performance and sense of the role, perfectly mastering the innocence of the white swan but struggling to fully commit to the dark essence of the black swan. Consistently throughout the film Leroy sheds light on the matter, while Nina equally as frequently passes it on as nonsense and therefore denying the existence of her having any kind of sexuality. Another scene in the film that speaks volume in this matter is, undoubtedly, the masturbation sequence. When Nina finally decides to commit and tries to discover her sexuality through masturbation, being in the very midst of it, she finds herself interrupted by the sight of her mother in her room, vast asleep but still constantly watching her. Obviously, this is washed over with shame causing Nina to further oppress parts of herself being too adult for her mother’s belief that Nina is still a young girl.

Black Swan is the embodiment of the psychopathic and unhinged, in depicting a film through the perspective of main character whose reality is distorted, morphed into insanity. The films tells the story of the fundamental dichotomies of the entirety of humanity, and forces the audience to participate in the climax of the salvation, the ultimate form of purification not from sin but from morality, catharsis.


Mayim Bialik

A public person I find extraordinary interesting to observe and indulge into their work, is the actor Mayim Bialik; most known for her contributions to the sitcom scene in her roles Blossom Russo from Blossom (1990-1995) and, primarily, Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory (2007-). However, some of her lesser known work is equally as interesting as her acting career. Prior to appearing on the screen as Amy finished her PhD in neuroscience, and after her success on the show she has also established her own Youtube channel, in which she discusses topics such as motherhood, veganism, and religion, and founded the website Grok Nation, which also is a discussion based collection of articles examining topics of food, animal welfare, and book reviews, to only mention a few. Her most recent endeavours is the publication of her two books regarding growing up and puberty, from the perspective of both the scientific and social aspect; Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart, and Spectacular (2017) and Boying Up: How to be Brave, Bold, and Brilliant (2018).

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And while proceeding in all her endeavours is all impressing and surely adds to her to the list of some of the more interesting and complex public people of today, Bialik’s greatest work must be portraying Amy and bringing another level to The Big Bang Theory. The series often praises itself solemnly on the character of Sheldon Cooper, who with his behaviour mishaps and high intelligence is most recognised as the star of the show. However, after having watched the show for years and at times agreed with the greater mass I’ve found myself alter my focus over the years, this time to Amy. Her character starts off being very similar to Sheldon, therefore their instant connection, but develops with the years more naturally than any other of the characters, which in some cases don’t develop at all. This puts Amy in a specific and unique situation, still having the same intelligence and quick, almost sardonic commentary as Sheldon, but also being able to adapt to social situations, and ultimately, adapt Sheldon. With Amy, the audience is able to watch the layers of loneliness and alienation Amy has felt growing up unfold as she is accepted and established in the main group; being more accepting of her sexuality, finding comfort by having close friendships, and finally being able to trust in love, as she falls in love with and establishes a romantic relationship with Sheldon. The character of Amy is obviously a result of the writing of the show, but a lot of depth brought to the personality of Amy has, in my opinion, a direct connection to Bialik. Her commitment to the character and her storyline  is the absolute embodiment of acting at its best, when the role and the actor are perfectly suited for each other. Amy is highly intelligent, empathic, and open minded, and so is Bialik, both of them with personal perks that sets them apart. They feel intertwined, like twins, similar but different.

Bialik continues to impress by her transparency about the subjects that matters the most, such as politics regarding for example gender equality and feminism, environmentalism and the movement of a better climate, and motherhood, all on her Youtube channel mentioned earlier. Bialik has expressed her opinions on feminism to be strong, but simultaneously socially conservative, which might confuse a great majority of the movement, but I find it utterly mind opening as Bialik doesn’t use her opinions to convince others nor moralises the other side of the feminist spectrum. This is perfectly performed in her video with Avital Norman Nathman, in which they discuss a photograph Amber Rose shared of herself being nude and how their different views of the matter can alter the discussion; shedding light on both Bialik’s belief in the conservative perspective of social politics, and Norman Nathman’s more liberal or perhaps left winged opinion of the matter.

Another debate that Bialik has chosen to embark on is the matter of the environment, especially regarding eating and veganism. Bialik is a known vegan, having written several books on the topic, also raising her two sons to be vegan, which she discusses and explains openly through social media, again with the nature of which she discusses feminism; with an open mind without moralizing others in their choices. This exemplifies the perfect attitude that more public people should take inspiration from, talking openly about societal issues without using shame as the tool of power.