Wordle’s Take on Duffy

Wordle: Untitled

Pages and pages and pages of “Mean Time” manuscript

I always found it really intriguing when, during a movie, film, etc., a character says the actual title of the piece. Sometimes it’s thanks to a shitty screenwriter attempting to be witty, but sometimes it gives the title new, valuable meaning. I was immediately curious as to which experience the poem “Mean Time” would bring.

Luckily, “Mean Time” turned out to be very insightful and characteristic of the overall collection, Mean Time. The poem is very straightforward, at least compared to a lot of feminist poetry bordering between modernism and post-modernism, i.e. the rest of the collection. Duffy, with artistic brevity, captures the timeless feeling of hindsight, regret, and mortality. I think that simplicity is a better word to describe Duffy’s style here. The words are powerful, far from inscrutable, and reminiscent of an artistic intuition that could never be evoked through complexity.

I really looked forward to seeing the type of creative elbow grease that must have gone into constructing such a lucid yet powerful poem and eagerly withdrew the ancient manuscript from its cryptic, folderous rest place. What was inside? Well, to start, there weren’t endless pages of edits, theme outlines, structural guidelines, rhyming words, or even annotations leading up to a final, polished, publishable piece. In fact there was nothing leading at all. No train of thought, outlines of artistic thinking, or even slight corrections to crack open the door to Duffy’s artistic mind. All that stood on the sole page dedicated to this poem was the poem itself, clean as a whistle. There wasn’t a single word changed or crossed off; only the first and final draft of “Mean Time” lay on the page.

After coping with the initial disappointment of finding nothing new (literally, the poem in the notebook was, word for word, identical to the copy in the book), I tried to connect the simplicity of the poem to the apparent ease with which it was composed. To me, it seems that Duffy had very little trouble making profound generalizations. The overall message in “Mean Time” is much more broad than others in the collection as it deals with time itself, yet Duffy seems to create this message with ease. Conversely, in less general poems such as “Mrs. Sisyphus” (in which Duffy relates matrimonial tensions and unnoticed marital conflict), Duffy seems to have more difficulty composing her thoughts (marked by the pages of notes leading up to the final draft).

In the end, however, I don’t think this is specific to Duffy but is rather a generalization in itself. After my experience researching this poem, Duffy has me believing that broad, far-reaching assertions, even if profound, are much simpler and attainable than those regarding specific, real-world situations. The collection, Mean Time, is Duffy’s attempt to describe the specific, drawn together by generalizations such as time and love. Duffy does a good job of showing that life is easy to observe from the outside, but not so much from within.

Demeter reversed: retemeD?

Unlike the majority of the poems in The World’s Wife, “Demeter” flirts with inscrutability. Or at least that’s what I initially thought. When I first flipped to the poem, I had no idea who Demeter was. So I started where any basic research begins, Wikipedia, and worked through a couple of online sources to slowly piece together an understanding of the Greek goddess of agriculture, fertility, and planned society. I soon discovered that after the death of Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, Demeter freezes the whole world into constant winter, which in turn compels Hades to allow Persephone to return to the world of the living. Intriguing as it was, I still couldn’t fully understand the poem so I was excited to check out Duffy’s manuscripts.


Although I planned on gaining insight through the original manuscripts, I was still shocked by the goldmine I found in Duffy’s old notebook. The main thing I noticed was that it looked as if Duffy wrote the majority of the poem out in meaningful, more grammatically logical sentences before applying her typical enjambment. I’m not a poetry expert but this technique seemed incredibly brilliant and much less burdensome than the alternative of constructing free-form, meaningfully-incoherent verses from the get-go. I also found it very interesting that Duffy had written a completely different, alternative version of the poem. The other version, which I presume was the original, flows more comprehensibly than the published one, revealing a little more about the relationship between mother and child in the poem.


Duffy’s archives definitely helped me understand the exterior meaning of the poem but the real source of mystery lies in the connection between the poem and Demeter. In the poem, the speaker is associated with icy death until her daughter brings the “flowers” (ll. 10) of life. This is the opposite of the mythical story of Demeter, in which Demeter brings her daughter back to life. Here lies Duffy’s artistic insight into the paradox of parent-child relationships:after having a baby, a parent’s own mortality (at least emotional mortality) is put in the hands of their vulnerable, helpless child.

Not new, just more clear

It seems to me that the purpose of this collection is perspective. Through her words, Duffy gives us a different angle at which to think about the historically immortal. But isn’t that what all literature does? Give us new perspectives? Duffy’s poems don’t shed light in the typical manor.  Through reading these poems (at least up to p. 41), I haven’t learned anything new. In fact, the perspective Duffy shows us isn’t really new at all. What makes her work brilliant, in my opinion, is its ability to scream in our face what we already know while establishing timeless parallels between the past and the present.

Maybe I was insufficiently educated but I would not have been to understand any of these poems if I didn’t have Wikipedia six inches from my fingertips. I felt terrible at first; I either failed to remember many of the cultural figures’ importance or I simply never learned anything other than their names. But after spending 5 minutes or so reading the Wikipedia article associated with each character, the poems opened up in an exponentially greater light. I couldn’t help but realize, then, why we are reading this collection. Many of Duffy’s poems bring characters, some of which are thousands of years old, into the modern era. She practically digitalizes their stories in comparison to the scrolls and fables from which they came. But most noticeably, The Worlds Wives highlights the incredible power that The Digital has on learning. It would be interesting to make a group of students read this book, then Wikipedia each name, then read it again. I bet a lot of professors would be amazed at how quickly a month, even a year’s worth of historical studies could be, in essence, absorbed.

Hypercities evaluation

Jordan Nissensohn and Martin Benn

Digital Humanities

Hypercities. The term emanates a feeling of futuristic-modernity mixed with the current reality, a very intriguing juxtaposition. There is nothing more exciting than the prospect of bringing imaginative thinking together with advanced technology, and, currently, it is these types of projects that inspire the creativity, fuel the innovation, and make possible our acceleration into [a more] modern age. Read the rest of this entry »

2 powerful quotes

This book is THICK. Having said that, I can’t pretend to assume I understand or am able to analyze House of Leaves to an appropriate extent yet. But, just from the first sliver of reading we’ve done so far, I found a number of incredibly powerful lines that meant a lot to me. Here are two of these lines.

“Zampanó, I’ve come to recognize now, was a very funny man. But his humor was that wry, desiccated kind soldiers whisper, all their jokes subsurface, their laughter amounting to little more than a tic in the corner of the mouth, told as they wait together in their outpost, slowly realizing that help’s not going to reach them in time and come nightfall, no matter what they’ve done or what they try to say, slaughter will overrun them all.” (pg. xx) 

I can’t use this to analyze Zampanó because I haven’t read enough to even try, but Truant’s description here captures something brilliantly insightful. Just as Navidson captured an entire war, culture, and way of thinking through a single photo of a mere instant in time, Truant captures a major essence of human nature through this short-lived, but long-lasting metaphor. This description of soldiers’ humor gives incredible insight into the human ability to calm, entertain, and distract others. In the face of uncertainty and despair (the “slaughter” that will “overrun them all”), we are able to find some sort ease, no matter how brief (the laughter or the “tic in the corner of the [soldier’s] mouth”). Perhaps this stems from an innate understanding of how to distract the mind, whether the distraction is, as it is here, a trivial joke or something actually meaningful. Moreover, it is really fascinating that we are the only animals (at least that I can think of, but it would be an interesting study) that can do this, i.e. briefly lose sight of the enormous odds that may be against us and most likely poke through to find a sliver of hope, no matter how small. Just because I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll go ahead and assert that this aspect of our nature could be the underlying reason why we, as humans, so often seem to defy incredible odds. Maybe it is this infinitesimally brief pause from reality that gives us the motivation, encouragement, etc. to do seemingly impossible things.

The second quote is:

“I want something else. I’m not even sure what to call it anymore except I know it feels roomy and it’s drenched in sunlight and it’s weightless and I know it’s not cheap. /Probably not even real.” (20)

I loved this passage because it put into words a feeling I didn’t think I would ever be able to articulate myself. I don’t want to over-analyze this piece because I think it can mean many different things to any given person. But because I am looking at the quote and typing at the same time, I might as well go ahead and say what I, personally, think. Our ability to succeed in life comes from our need to analyze the world around us; a “longing” for knowledge so to speak. I can’t say that without this, we would be doomed, but it is safe to say that without an interest in the world around (i.e. curiosity), a person does not have a good chance at utilizing Life anywhere near its potential. To me, Truant’s words here capture exactly this. This “something else” seems identical to this natural human “longing”, “curiosity”, whatever you want to call it. That is why Truant goes on to say this thing probably isn’t real. It’s not real, it’s not animate, it’s not attainable, but it’s the reason we can do what we do and it’s the reason we are who we are…


Sample has made it clear

I’m really glad we got to read Mark Sample’s “The digital humanities is not about building, it’s about sharing”. Around the beginning of the course, I really felt that arguing about a definition for DH was pointless (and a frustrating!). A name is meaningless compared to what the thing actually does. Who cares if one person is classified as a “Digital Humanist” and another person is not when in the end, both get the exact same bit of knowledge out of it that they didn’t have before. As cliché as the phrase, “trust your gut” is, it’s very true in this case. Through various articles, discussions and debates, my opinion of DH seemed to falter, sometimes over-analyzing/thinking Ramsay’s concept of “building”.

I should have trusted my gut… or maybe that’s what has happened. Mark Sample’s article resolved my conflicts with DH in words I didn’t think could be so-clearly formed. Sample utterly disintegrates Ramsay’s notion of building, very eloquently though, by reminding us that the “divide…between those who build…and those who study” is meaningless. In Sample’s words, this divide is nothing but “a distracting sideshow to the true power of digital humanities”, and through the power of this distinction, Ramsay seems to have been arguing something that was never really there. After tearing this former issue to pieces, Sample, for the first time, provides a real description of DH: “the reproduction [or sharing] of knowledge”. This is, by far, the most complete, accurate, and profound description of DH I have encountered. And how interesting it is that after all this analysis and discussion into the meaning of DH, I am now back where I was when we first started the conversation.

When I say ‘back to where I was’, I specifically mean how I feel about distinguishing digital humanists. But in terms of defining DH, Sample’s article has drawn together my understanding of what DH is really trying to do: spread the wealth of knowledge. Although I have moved back to my first impression of Ramsay’s “divide”, I have most certainly moved forward in my awareness of the overall significance of digital humanities.

Trying to piece the puzzle

I know this blog post is supposed to be on afternoon, a story,  but the newest article posted, “Why Hypertext Never Took Off” brings up an interesting debate. I think that Joyce uses the stream-of-consciousness writing style in a very interesting way. As opposed to long, elaborate transgressions, each of Joyce’s ‘pages ’are much more concise, often less than a paragraph’s length, and fade between dialogues, random thoughts, and seemingly unrelated anecdotes. Especially as a first time reader, these two words, ‘random’ and ‘unrelated’, are the best description of my experience with afternoon . At first, I read through the default path (eg. pressing return without clicking on words) and it seemed fairly logical. The narrator thinks that his son died in a car crash and he runs around looking for answers. More importantly, everything in this first section seems to move chronologically. However, at certain point, this path wouldn’t let me go any further, so inevitably I had to participate in the “clicking” of words. This is when the story became interesting.  Unlike Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, in which Woolf streams through the consciousness of different characters in time-sequential order (although memories sometimes evade this order, the plot regains the original path in Mrs. Dalloway), when clicking the hypertext links in afternoon , the story seems really erratic. I can’t seem to find a singular, linear path. And I suppose that is the point of this kind of novel: to be non-linear, but I really had trouble finding connections between the majority of the randomness. All I can say so far is that I keep returning to pages from the original, default path. Most of the time, between my sporadic clicks on hypertexts, I end up on a page related to the narrator’s search of his possibly dead son. This begs the question of whether or not the whole episode is based in the present, or a memory, continually showing up among the randomness of present-day life.

Science crumbles…

Today, I was reminded yet again of the seemingly paradoxical nature of life and understanding. This reminder came from the fact that it took a humanist, Jorge Luis Borges, to clearly state one of the biggest flaws in science. Borges’ short, “On Exactitude in Science” encompasses, with god-like brevity, the fundamental problem with science: over analysis. Borges’ example (of a world map so detailed that its size was that of the world itself) is a great hyperbole. In my eyes, the field of Psychology is a similar, although less extreme, example. The human mind is a place an extremely complicated place filled with strange phenomenon, most of which goes unexplained (by science that is). Our thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. interact in strange, unique ways. These interactions, which in terms of exactitude are largely unique to an individual, go on to define us. But when it comes to the science of these interactions, I believe there is less room for precision and universality than modern Psychology takes up. In today’s world, after only taking Psych 111 (Intro to Psychology), one is given dozens of supposedly scientific labels (each with their own respective connotations) to use in analyzing his own mind. But with so much exactitude in this science, people end up over-analyzing themselves and for example, labeling themselves as partially schizophrenic, a little OCD, a bit ADD, and just to add a cherry on top, maybe even manic depressive with a slight chance of being psychopathic. What’s the result? A person who has analyzed himself into a robot, probably taking 3 medications every morning, paranoid about finding another psychological classification he might fit into. This sounds a lot like the “Tattered Ruins of that Map” described by Borges. Luckily, there is a group of psychologists who see this as a problem as well:



Last thought on Dalloway

The ending of Mrs. Dalloway is interesting because there are no obvious resolutions to the many problems of the novel. But after our discussion in class on Tuesday, I think that there are subtle aspects of the ending that are worth our consideration. Most important is Clarissa’s reaction to Septimus’ suicide.

By modern standards, Clarissa would undoubtedly be classified as “depressed”. There is a perpetual sadness that fills her life, stemming from past memories, disappointment, regret, and a sense of failure. But upon hearing of Septimus’ suicide, Clarissa’s response is a bit unordinary. Mrs. Dalloway “[feels] somehow very like [Septimus]- the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it” (186). Neglecting the initial assumption that Clarissa is either sick (mentally) or suicidal as well, I see this response as a sign of Clarissa’s understanding of Septimus. The real reason Clarissa feels “glad” that Septimus kills himself is because she understands his situation much better than the majority of characters in the novel. Clarissa shows this recognition when she tells herself “if it were now to die, ‘twere now to be most happy” (184); in other words, Clarissa knows that Septimus is, mentally, no longer able to live in this world, and that he dies happier than he would after many more tortuous years.

Clarissa’s response becomes more intriguing when we compare it to Sir William Bradshaw’s medical advice to Septimus. To “heal” the mentally disturbed man, Sir William Bradshaw simply prescribes Septimus bed rest and solitude; a bit of a joke now that we understand PTS. The doctor is utterly incapable of understanding Septimus’ mental state, but on the other hand, Clarissa knows that life will bring Septimus nothing but more sadness and confusion as the “clock [continues to] strike” (186). What distinguishes Clarissa from Sir William Bradshaw that allows Clarissa to understand Septimus so much more clearly? I whole-heartedly believe that Clarissa’s depression makes her much more aware of others’ emotions, and in turn allows her to comprehend Septimus’ situation. Happy emotions are easily understood, but negative emotions and their effects are much more vague. Because Clarissa experiences so many negative emotions, she has a more solid awareness of negative emotions’ role in a person’s behavior. I believe that people who are depressed are much more empathetic, in general, than those uninflected. Dr. Nassir Ghaemi explains a similar point in his book A First-Rate Madness, where he examines some of the most prominent world leaders and their battles with depression. A quick example is Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Ghaemi explains that Lincoln, whom is often thought of as the greatest U.S. presidents and decision-makers, suffered from depression and was on suicide watch on several instances in his life. Dr. Ghaemi goes on to argue that depression makes people more empathetic and considerate of others, making the person afflicted more qualified to execute political decisions effecting the masses.