Every once in a while (okay, more often than not), I’ll complete an assignment I give to my students.
I do this for a couple of reasons. One, I want the kids to know that what I’m giving them to do is entirely attainable. I have two jobs (three if you count the yoga teacher gig), two kids, and half of the responsibilities of our household; if *I* can take the time to complete an assignment, so can my students. Two, I like to think in student mode. I enjoy the kinds of thinking I ask my students to engage in, and taking up my own homework assignments gives me an opportunity to keep those skills sharp. Finally, I like having an example of my work to give to students as a model. Granted, I’ve had a lot more writing and critical thinking experience than they have, so I’m not asking them to create work of the same quality or caliber (and yes, I’m that good), but I am asking them to aspire to it.
To that end, I’ve written an analysis of a poem.
I’ve tasked my juniors and seniors with choosing some poetry to teach to the class. I told them that in order to do this – and to do it well – they must have a close and careful look at the pieces they’ve chosen, decide what they think about it, and then come up with a way to lead us, if not to their conclusions, then to one of the students’ own devising. Good teaching can’t happen without careful analysis, and while I’m holding out hope that they understand that (I’ve only spent the last three days saying it) I’m a little less confident that they’ll actually do it.
So *I* did. I took one of my kids’ poems and wrote an analytical essay that I’ll bring in to class tomorrow. There are two reasons why this was fun to do; the first is that, true to form, I didn’t really know what I wanted to say about this piece until I wrote about it. I knew that the poem intrigued me, but I had no idea what I really thought about it until I had to articulate it on paper. The second reason this was fun is that this poem was actually written by my student; he’s a member of a metal band, and this is a song he wrote. If I know this kid at all – and I think I’ve got a pretty good read on him – having this analysis is going to geek him out on a number of levels. I’m looking forward to seeing his response to the effort I made in investigating a piece of his art.
By Blood Of A Cynic
An exchange of sacrifice is made between two races
Unique flesh stains this earth
A stern vexation
This itinerant pest and visions of apocalyptic doom are unfurled
As is the horrific truth of our wretched coexistence
Now all martyrs of science and religion
Shall fall to their knees before this creature
With vague intentions
Unprecedented and catastrophically divine contact
Unto this earth
A race kept in secrecy stirs beneath superior force
Ancient visitors bare knowledge of eternity
No man is safe in this place
Our enslavement will soon follow the invasion of our masters
shows the genetic manifestation of our future
Twisted and sickly misshapen
Our history eclipsed
Upon the end of this time of knowledge and understanding
A new age of insanity begins
Nameless Clairvoyance Analysis
November 12, 2009
An initial reading of Nameless Clairvoyance leaves one with the feeling of foreboding and impending and inevitable violence due to reckless and unchecked technological advancement that outpaces the human capacity for compassion and empathy. The poem seems to be serving as a warning; a call for man to be aware of the consequences of his attitudes and behavior, or suffer the logical and tragic end result of his callousness and disdain.
The opening stanza of this piece speaks of “an exchange of sacrifice…made between two races,” which could be read in a number of ways; war (as soldiers on both sides of the conflict die), vengeance (as in the morality of an eye for an eye), or even a more political interaction (Desmond Tutu famously told the world that oppression demeans and dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor). While the “unique flesh” mentioned in the second line could refer to some sort of alien presence, it could just as well speak to the uniqueness of the individual; that every death is the loss of untold potential. The “itinerant pest” is racism, prejudice, and the heedless pursuit of power, control, and knowledge, which are attitudes that are found in literally every society on Earth, and which brings about, to the observant, the “apocalyptic doom” and “horrific truth of our wretched existence.” The second stanza brings the metaphor into sharper focus, telling us that the “martyrs of science and religion” will “fall to their knees before this creature.”
It is the contention of many thinkers, both modern and ancient, that religion is most often used to separate people rather than to unite them. Institutionalized hatred – or, at the very least, segregation – seems to be the end result of most organized religions; if one is not one of “us,” one is necessarily one of “them.” Setting up that us/them dichotomy makes prejudice, racism, and other forms of social ostracization far easier and more palatable to the individual; if those behaviors are legitimized and condoned by the larger group – especially by the leadership of that group – then the individual is freed from the moral responsibility for his or her behavior. In the course of belonging, we must necessarily identify against those who are not us; having the church – in whatever form that church takes – tell us that it’s okay to create an “other,” and that that is indeed part of God’s design, removes autonomy and free thought from the agent.
Despite their often being portrayed as opposing ideals, religion and science can have much the same effect of separating us from one another, and of giving us ways to justify and legitimize that separation. While the mapping of the human genome has taught us that we are all of us far more similar than we are different, we continue to fear the knowledge gained in scientific pursuit as a doorway to an uncontrollable future; genetically modified foods, chemical and biological warfare, designer babies with “perfect” eye color and skin tone. Our concerns over our inability to keep private our medical records, the proliferation of weaponry and biological agents, and the explosion of
instant and global communication all have the possibility of leaving people a little less secure in our own existence. While we may communicate more, we actually connect less; interaction through a computer screen hardly constitutes genuine human contact. The end result of our advances in technology is that we run the risk of losing our very humanity. The loss of our humanity only makes more likely the possibility that we will fail to recognize the humanity of others. Those whom we deem less than ourselves are very easily abused, disregarded, or eliminated.
The third stanza hints that all of this was inevitable, that a “race kept in secrecy” has always had “knowledge of eternity.” One is left to wonder whether this ‘race’ is in fact a separate and distinct group, or if it refers to those who have gained some sort of enlightenment. If the latter is a possibility, one can read hope into this poem. That some may survive by removing themselves from the choices that people make in how they treat one another – and that they operate outside the knowledge and control of the “superior force” – promises that another possible future exists, and that total destruction of humanity might be avoided.
The fourth stanza calls out the warning that “no man is safe in this place” and that “enslavement will soon follow the invasion of our masters.” Recognizing that the blade often turns on those who wield it, it is reasonable to think that the behavior that the dominant engage in will cycle back to engulf them. The reference to “anatomic inferiority” which “shows the genetic manifestation of our future / twisted and sickly misshapen / our history eclipsed” can be read both as a reference to past efforts to create a “perfect” or “master” race through the oppression and elimination of the so-called “other,” or it can refer back to science and the work being done to uncover and map the very nature of our existence. We have, though the advancements of science, the capacity to destroy ourselves in ever more efficient ways. Who lives and dies is entirely the choice of those in control of the knowledge and the resources. The “masters” are those who decide who gets use of the media, the pulpit, the university, and the lab, and of what messages come from them.
The final couplet serves as the condemnation of technological advancement and scientific achievement untempered by human compassion; at “the end of this time of knowledge and understanding / a new age of insanity begins.” Without the equalizing forces of empathy and goodwill, the effects of unfeeling science and polarizing religion will leave humanity with no reason to rely on one another for comfort or existence. “Knowledge and understanding” – especially of ourselves and of one another as like beings – are the key components to survival here; when they cease to be present in the human experience, all hope is lost.