Can You Analyze Something to Death?⎟ Critical Analysis

Dear Reader,

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how a reader and viewer engages with different media. I remember when I was in secondary school (grade 9-12), one would hear the chant, ‘But why do I have to analyze the book? It ruins it for me?’ And that mantra still holds true for a lot of people. I think that means you were taught wrong. I had some pretty crap teachers, but I was really lucky to have a mom and neighbour that taught me the importance of books, reading, and forming opinions. In addition to that, I had amazing post-secondary professors that opened a whole new world of reading.


via tumblr

For a long time, it was hard for me to read fiction alongside academic sources. Both parts of my brain couldn’t function at once. I like to call that period of time a-bridged. It was hard to do both because I was learning different types of reading. I had to build a bridge between reading fiction and reading critical theory. It was when I learnt that I liked reading in silence at a desk. That may sound incredibly dull, but libraries were the spaces I occupied when I escaped into fictional narratives or discursive accounts of post-revolutionary France. When one is studying, libraries can seem to be this really daunting space. But, I love them. I love carrying all 20 kg of my books to the library, opening all my stationary, placing pens and pencils in a line, taking out my notes, and, depending on the library’s rules, sipping on hot coffee or tepid water. I live for that feeling. I love that I know how the library system worked: HQ for political books relating to women and women in India, NA for art history, B for British History, D-> more history. It is such a good feeling. One of my favourite things is to spend time with a book. I will, on occasion, type notes, but I much prefer to hand write them.

When you read in a library, you fidget and fight the table in front of you and escape into the author’s words. That’s when I started reading fiction in the library. When I was young, I wrote in books. But when I got older, the marginalia became a rite of passion and passage throughout the book. I buy used books (I cannot afford new ones), so I can write in them. It does make my reading time longer than if I skipped it, or perhaps that’s untrue. Indeed, when I write marginalia, I am able to ruminate on a thought or connection and let it go to focus on the next thing.


Medieval Marginalia

So, today, I was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). I remember being obsessed with the film. I would quote it, laugh at its oddities, and revel in its colour scheme. I was a kid. I enjoyed it the way children are meant to enjoy things, without reserve. I flicked to the station that the film was on, so I could have noise as I fed my dog. I started to eat my own breakfast, and I was once again enraptured by the film. There were so many new things that I hadn’t understood when I saw it. It was like I was watching it for the first time, again. Isn’t that the feeling we’re always trying to recapture?

How had I previously not noticed that using one Oompa Loompa to represent an entire Indigenous culture fits neatly into dominant ideas about indigenous peoples and cultures–that others are all the same but different? How had I not noticed the magic of Wonka’s world? It is magic. I love the magic. How had I not noticed that Wonka’s chewing gum is made to seem as though it is made of real food: the chewing gum isn’t artificial flavours that we know–it is told to us that they are real. That is something we can never know.


via tumblr (please expect a future post about cannibalism in this film)

And so, as I found things both mystifyingly awesome and stupefyingly problematic, I realized that being given the tools to analyze things or question how characters are portrayed, based on race and gender, is not tiring or exhausting. It opens a whole new world and aspect of the story that you’re being told. We should not resist questioning the text, music, or film because we don’t want to kill the thing we love. We should go into these things expecting to be challenged and to challenge. We should teach our children to be filled with curiosity so that the norm is always challenged. Instead, we are taught that stasis is satisfying, desirable, and worth doing anything for. That makes us rigid, and, quite sadly, too exhausted to learn empathy and critical thinking.


via imgur

As a final note, I’d like to add that you should never be made to feel stupid because you do not have the same education as someone else. Education should not be used to oppress others. If someone purposefully derides you, they are doing it wrong. I have known many people in my life that have had little formal education because it was unavailable to them; they are extremely intelligent and intuitive. These, mostly, women have been the fertile earth that nurtured me. And that is my point, we should teach our children to be filled with curiosity so that they nurture one another. It is important to teach ourselves that we can enjoy things as we think critically about them.

So, to answer my title question: No, you cannot analyze a thing to death, but you can analyze it to life.


Heaps of love,

WordPlay Xx


Serial Posts: I am working my way through Great Expectations to write some posts, and I’m really torn about how to approach it. I am thinking that I am going to have some posts about character development and the gendering of characters, and that I will have a podcast episode about the book as detective fiction.

Misha: I’m sorry I haven’t posted much, recently. It has been quite busy. The warmer weather is a lot of stress on Misha. So, the last little while has been a lot of me ensuring she’s cool and running to her when she’s struggling. Thank you for your patience.


The Silly-ad Iliad

Hades agreed to represent Achilles’s rage. // Disney / GIPHY

Yes, Achilles sulked. And it is humorous to regard his sulking as the petulance of a child, but we must recall that the opening of the epic tells us of Achilles’s rage. We are meant to envision rage. Indeed, it is what gives Homer’s tale a beginning. The Iliad does not review the full Trojan War. Rather, we land somewhere about the end–after nine years of battling. Achilles’s rage devours nine-years worth of war, and it makes the reader forget that they’ve been fighting for so long. His rage overpowers the entire act of war-making. That is some pretty powerful rage.

Achilles stops fighting because Agamemnon dishonours him by taking Brisēís, a woman Achilles won in battle, to recover Agamemnon’s loss of his own trophy. He was forced by Apollo to return Chryseis to her father, who offered a large ransom for her return. Achilles and the wiseman Calchas, alone, stand up to Agamemnon to say that the woman should be returned to her father. So, Agamemnon takes revenge and takes Achilles’s woman. Essentially, the men aren’t very concerned over the women as people but as property and conquests of war. To them, the women represent property won in battle. These women are representative of the men’s status as a warrior, but they are not represented—as humans or characters in the text. Indeed, even the beautiful Helen, for whom the Trojan war is being fought, represents the defamation of Menelaus’s honour because she ran off with Paris. Helen is much desired for her beauty and the property—her booty, in the many senses of the word. But these attributes are meant to be consumed by the men in her life; her husband(s).

These women are representative of the men’s status as a warrior, but they are not represented—as humans or characters in the text.

Troy will meet its destruction for the battle over honour; but, because Agamemnon dishonours Achilles, the Achaeans almost lose. Honour is constructed by many facets of war and warfare. As we have thus far seen, the conquest of women and objects signifies honour to other warriors and, especially, the people of one’s own race. (I use race here not in its modern sense but to refer to ones countrymen or allies). Furthermore, honour is signified by the performed masculinity of fighting and one’s armour. The gods urge on certain men, breathing courage and energy into their bodies. The gods discourage other men, casting fear and uncertainty into their hearts. Yet, the true warriors are men capable of destroying MANY other men. In an ironic twist, one man who eliminates hundreds of others is the pinnacle of masculinity. Man-ness determined by de-manning; the ultimate game of survival of the fittest. Hector, King Priam of Troy’s son, is beloved for his skill as a warrior. Likewise, Achilles, a man who easily kills many other men, is also distinctly male. Except that he sulks. For this reason, the listener/reader must be made aware, indeed, of Achilles’s rage.

Much of the plot is moved by Achilles’s anger at Agamemnon. The parallels between his dishonour and Menelaus’s is fleshed out. We are left in no doubt that Agamemnon committed the same sin that Paris did. Achilles’s similar rage and intra-Achaean act of warfare is sanctioned by Zeus, who allows the Trojans to, seemingly, win until Achilles re-enters the battle. If Agamemnon and Menelaus can begin full-scale war with Troy, then Achilles can rage his own fury. Indeed, borrowing from Homer’s many metaphors, the scales of battle are tipped in favour of the Trojans, and the warfare ebbs and flows like the tide against the sandy beach. This drama-filled poem contains many graphic scenes of warfare and the many men whom death covers. The ultimate scenes of battle occur when Achilles re-enters the fray, and his rage has intensified.

A quick note on the pace of the poem. The rapidity and the softness of pace that compels you onward. Most of the poem takes place in very fast-paced moment of war. What is extremely fascinating is the pace of the text. At times, many things are happening in what seems like mili-seconds, but there is a grace to the way words take their time and stamp their own authority over the timing of the events. Moreover, at times when fast-paced scenes unravel, gods or other characters will take a moment to interject and monologue, and these moments seem to be a false eternity before the eternity of all eternities: death

The ultimate scenes of battle occur when Achilles re-enters the fray, and his rage has intensified.

(More-revealing spoilers below)

Achilles is a hero for the Achaeans (and somewhat of an anti-hero, generally); crucially, Hector is the true hero of the poem. The poem ends with the Trojans and the listener/reader mourning Hector. Even Helen, who has cursed both Paris and Menelaus honours Hector as a great man. But let’s look a little closer at what happens on the battlefield. Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles’s BFF, and this prompts Achilles to re-enter the war. Hector removes Achilles’s armour–so Momma Thetis goes to Hephaestus and asks him to make Achilles’s another set (MORE ON THIS LATER). Achilles seriously mourns Patroclus’s death. The depth of their friendship is revealed, and Achilles’s sorrow moves the listener/reader. Quite so, he must avenge his death, aside from the fact that he must kill the Trojans to win, anyway. So, as Achilles re-enters the war, the scales are forever turned in the Achaean’s favour. BUT ARE THEY?

At one point, Zeus is tempted to save Hector from death at Achilles’s hands. Surely. this would be the greatest dishonour to Achilles. (22.167-4). Zeus says:

How dreadful! A man I love is being pursued
around the wall of the city, My heart grieves for Hector

But now Achilles, whom no one can match running,
is chasing [Hector] down. All of you–we must decide
whether to save him from death or allow Achilles
to finish him off, brave fighter though Hector is.

Athena quickly quells Zeus’s desire to save Hector. She knows that Achilles must be the one to kill him, or he will never be satisfied. And Athena rather likes Achilles and the Achaeans. But look at the way Zeus offers to save Hector. He loves him and he grieves over his likely death. He wants to save Hector, but he also wants to allows him the chance to fight Achilles because he trusts his bravery. Parent-like, Zeus wants to protect Hector but also allow him to prove himself brave, even it means he dies.

Die, he does. Achilles tries everything to defile Hector’s body, but the gods protect his corpse so he may be honoured by his family with a proper death. Of all the raging men in The Iliad, Hector has his honour intact throughout. Hector is given a full burial rights; the gods ensure this too. How beguiling! A Trojan is the mourned hero of the epic. Indeed, Hector’s proper burial rites gives Homer’s tale it’s ending, not the end of the war or even Achilles’s death. The burial of a hero and not the triumph the the Achaeans, who will destroy and enslave Troy, ends Homer’s epic.

Now, to return to Achilles’s armour. Hephaestus’s craft-godship is perfectly and staggeringly breathtaking. Book 18 contains the magic of Homer. The detail of the armour is spectacular. One could study endless pages on the relationship between the scenes on the armour and the themes of the entire epic. (18. 521-531):

Upon it he set rich farmland that had been lying
fallow the year before. It had just been plowed [sic.]
three times, and the plowmen were wheeling their teams across it,
back and forth and up and down the deep furrows.
When they reached the edge of the field and before they turned,
a man would hand them a cup of honey-sweet wine;
then they would turn back, eager to plow through the soil
and reach the other edge of the field for the next turn.
And the land darker behind them and looked as if
it had just that moment been slowed, although it was fashioned
pure gold: so marvellous was the craft of its forging.

And this is only a brief taste of Hephaestus’s skill. As a final note, I want to remind the reader of the fact that in Homer’s Iliad the only two characters who create are Helen and Hephaestus. Helen sits at a loom making a purple robe with scenes of the battle. Both characters also destroy. Helen is at the centre of the Trojan war. Hephaestus helps save Achilles from an angry river god by casting his fires upon the water. Just like the ultimate claim to manness is de-manning the battlefield, these characters create and destroy. An unholy balance is somewhere set at equal by these characters.

The ending was always clear. The Trojans would lose and the Achaeans would leave triumphant; Odysseus would his famous journey home. Do not let these facts stop you. For, within this text, is heart-breaking language that will stir your soul. Of course, there are many problematic issues with the text: glorification of warfare and the appalling treatment of women–bitch is a recurrent word. But, for the beauty of language, the eloquent use of metaphor and imagination I would recommend this to all. I will definitely revisit this text again and again.

Hector's Theme song:  'Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone'