Archive | February, 2012

Stylistic Meanings and Importances of Sandman

25 Feb

By:  Andrew Schuster

The illustrations used in The Sandman: Fables & Reflections are very important in portraying the desired atmosphere and tone of the individual stories told.  Gaiman’s choice to use different art styles between each tale reflects on the significance placed in capturing the actions of the characters within the story.  Environments can also be drastically changed depending on whether the textures are smooth and colorful or messy and grey.   

The first story in Sandman, Fear of Falling, does a great job of capturing the emotions the character Todd is feeling in his situation.  The broken line patterns coupled with the grotesque attention to detail give a sense of hyper-alertness to ones surroundings, a characteristic of feeling afraid.  In recalling his traumatic dream as a child, panels that are red and confusing to the eye are used to disorient and mimic the fear a confused child would have in such a situation.  After Dream helps Todd overcome his fear, the final panels actually reflect this change in mood by being clearer and less erratic.  The design becomes a lot more calm and confident as a way to mirror Todd’s newfound courage.  This change, however, can also be used for more negative purposes, such as in August.

August alternates between two major art styles within its story; the first represents the present while the second represents dreams and memories.  The first design is in color and emphasizes imperfections and blemishes along the human body, which is most evident when Caius and Lycius are preparing themselves to be beggars.   The second design is in black and white and presents the characters being focused on as being flawless in their physical display.  The contrast between the two designs emphasizes the difference between reality and memory, showing how over time certain superfluous details are lost leaving only the important people and their general features.  The real importance of the dream and memory design is not the way people look, but the actions they’re doing.  The art design can also leave an impression of the personality of the person it reflects.

In A Parliament of Rooks, each character that tells a story has visuals that reflect their personality.  Cain’s story was the darkest of all three, with the color palate being mostly represented by black and brown.  The grim demeanor of the story gives insight into the nasty nature of Cain, who treats the other characters very disdainfully.  Eve’s story was a lot more colorful, but the context was actually similar in darkness to Cain.  Her gentle nature is a product of the fact that Adam was unsatisfied with women of his equal, so Eve was made to fulfill his wishes.  The final story by Abel was drawn completely differently than the other two and in almost a cartoonish manner, making all the characters look and seem like children.  Abel likens his own murder by his brother’s hands as nothing more than a mere fight, showing that Abel is either incapable of understanding the graveness of the event or his gentle nature took over while telling a story to a young child.

The utilization of differing art styles aides in the understanding of the characters is a crucial aspect of Sandman.  Instead of simply writing out the thoughts of each individual character, an artistic representation both allows for a concise emotional experience in addition to leaving room for interpretation.  Ranging from physically perfect beings to grotesque monsters, the wide spectra allow for a more immersive and complete feeling regarding the progression of the novel.

Neil Stephenson’s Quicksilver: A Hard Novel to Pin

11 Feb

Neil Stephenson’s Quicksilver provides readers with an interesting conglomeration of history and fiction. Rich in ‘old-timey’ literary elements and stylistic techniques yet clinging onto aspects of the 21st century, one might find it difficult to place the novel within our culture. Is it an artifact only to be appreciated by the higher ups of society? Or instead to appreciated by the common man? Containing elements of both popular culture and high culture it is my hope to distinguish the differences between the two cultures, and secure Quicksilver a place somehwhere between the two.

Popular culture can be simply defined as the culture of the masses. Alternatively, it may be considered the culture of the many as opposed to the culture of the few. Any idea, activity, perspective, etc. that is shared by the masses may be considered a part of popular culture. For instance, the idea that a supernatural being or ‘god’ created and set the universe into motion. Or, for the American audience, the activity of playing football. It is important to understand how this popular (also called “low”) culture differs from high culture.

Lying on the other end of the sociological spectrum is high culture. Definitively speaking, high culture are those aspects of a culture like opera, theatre, or art that are not reproduced, but are often enjoyed more by the elite members of a culture. Where football is considered pop culture, polo is high culture. While Twilight (belonging to pop culture) may be one of the most appreciated sagas of our decade, the multi-century old works of Homer and Shakespeare (high culture) would be more liked by a literary scholar who has developed a rightfully acquired elitism as per their education on the material. This reference of what one might consider popular culture and high culture allows the argument that Quicksilver belongs at neither extreme, but instead between the two.

Quicksilver, published in 2003, cannot stand up to a work of Shakespeare composed during the late 1500’s. Romeo and Juliet still finds itself relevant to our culture even today; the story has passed the test of time. Not to be cast into popular culture, however; Quicksilver contains many instances in which Stephenson finds archaic language useful. Correlating with the setting of 1713 Boston, the diction is well deserved. One excerpt from the novel provides us with a particularly splendid example: “Flotillas of shavings from some carpenter’s block-plane sail down the stream like ships going off to war. Underneath them the weak current nudges turds and bits of slaughtered animals down towards the harbor. It smells accordingly. No denying there is a tallow chandlery not far upwind, where beast-grease not fit for eating is made into candles and soap.” Words such as ‘flotillas’, ‘tallow’ and ‘chandlery’ all belong to high culture.

Will Quicksilver one day be strictly considered high culture? More likely than not. The archaic diction riddling the text is nothing but a catalyst in the matter. Time, however, still stands in its way along with perhaps a few additional traces of the 21st century. Until the novel can show relevancy centuries from now, it will have to settle for not pop culture, not high culture, but somewhere in between.

Quicksilver is Poppin’ with A High

10 Feb

Determining whether or not Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is strictly “High Culture” or “Pop Culture” can be difficult; therefore it is simple a combination of each. I would have to say that Stephenson does a great job of being effective by telling a story combining two very different concepts. He portrays it in terms of “Pop Culture” by providing insights to our modern world with some dry humor and tweaks in order to provide more entertainment and desire for readers. On the contrary, Stephenson adds in “High Culture” aspects by adequately including historical figures and references.

Quicksilver has numerous amounts of historically accurate concepts that tend to make it seem very “High Culture”, beginning with extremely important figures in the calculus world: Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. He also includes other recognizable characters that have had an enormous impact on human culture like Ben Franklin.  Furthermore, Stephenson also extensively mentions the Royal Society and Newton’s Presidential role.  He also includes the whole “Leibniz stole calculus from Newton” dispute. As one can note, Stephenson applied several “High Culture” ideas and references to make the read seem more realistic and less fictitious. However, not everything was entirely and strictly accurate, thus giving it a pop cultural twist.

Other than the splurges of “High Culture” Stephenson provides, everything else in Quicksilver should be categorized as “Pop Culture”.  The book itself is an adaptation of history dealing with math and science. Being an adaptation, it characterizes the book in pop cultural manner. Stephenson provides some tweaks here and there in terms of history to make put a little thrill to the story plot. For example, the book starts off by claiming a man by the name of Dr. Daniel Waterhouse founded “The Massachusetts Bay Colony Institute of Technologikal Arts” in the 18th century. However in reality, Stephenson is referring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which was actually not even founded until the 19th century in 1861. Little tweaks like this Stephenson carried through with made things feel more pop cultural thus more enticing to read in a modern society like today.

Stephenson’s reasoning and purpose for adding a pop cultural feel with some “High Culture” values is most likely to take something completely boring (calculus) and make it more enjoying. Rather than presenting these scientific and mathematical topics like an encyclopedia would, Stephenson spices it up to make it more approachable for the reader. As a result, readers find Stephenson’s work so appealing they want more, causing sequels to take place and ultimately earning him tons of money.

To sum up, Quicksilver cannot be definitively proclaimed as just either “High Culture” or “Pop Culture”. Instead, Neal Stephenson used his creativity when publishing the book by mixing the two. He used historical people and references along with a huge controversial topic in history and used “Pop Culture” twists to tell a rather interesting and unique story.

Quicksilver: A Hybrid Nature

10 Feb

In today’s world, we experiences many forms of different entertainment. One way to categorize entertainment is by its content, and the “best” content is classified as high culture, and more general entertainment is classified as pop culture. Sometimes it is difficult to define whether or not something is high culture or low culture. For example, what category should Neal Stephenson’s popular novel, Quicksilver, be considered? Quicksilver is a piece of literature that does not fit into either pop culture or high culture, but contains characteristics of both.

Quicksilver can not be considered high culture. Although there is not a concrete definition of high culture, most definitions share the same traits. One main feature of high culture is that it endures through time. For example, Shakespeare and the Mona Lisa are known by almost everybody as examples of the high culture, even though they were made hundreds of years ago. Quicksilver, as a relatively new book, has not had the time to exhibit this important attribute that high culture possesses. Another aspect of high culture is that it is held in the highest esteem of a culture. Our society considers Shakespeare to be among the greatest theatrical productions of all time, and the Mona Lisa as one of the most captivating pieces of artwork ever. So far, Quicksilver has yet to earn this kind of respect from our culture. Because Quicksilver does not possess these two quintessential attributes of high culture, Quicksilver can not be considered an artifact of high culture.

Although Quicksilver can not be considered high culture, Quicksilver does not fit into the category of pop culture either. One of the main characteristics of pop culture is that it is entertaining to a mass amount of people, and its messages are simple and clear. Quicksilver does not fit into this category because of its length and the content of its plot. Quicksilver is a long read, as it is a novel with over 400 pages. In addition, the plot of Quicksilver deals with an incredibly rich historical time period. For example, much of its plot tells stories and has a unique characterization of Isaac Newton. While Quicksilver does distill much of the history down for less knowledgeable readers, it often directly references some historical events and people that most readers would not know about. For example, while most people know about Benjamin Franklin, the typical reader would not know about the scientists Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle. As a result of the content of the plot, the story is fairly complicated. Because of its complicated storyline and its fairly long length, Quicksilver is too literary to be considered pop culture.

Even though Quicksilver does not fit into high culture or pop culture, the book does share some characteristics of both. Quicksilver is an adaptation of a very rich historical and important scientific time period, and much research has been done to make a historical accurate story line. The fact that this book makes a sincere effort to be historically accurate invites the reader to wonder how the characters in the story contrast with the real people. This trait easily lends itself to complex analysis of the plot line and the actual history. These traits suggest that Quicksilver may be described as high culture. However, the goal of the book is to entice readers to want to buy it for entertainment, so the adaptations in the book have been aimed to make the book more accessible to a large reader base. The book has been quite successful as it has sold about 300,000 copies. The target of a large audience is the main characteristic that defines pop culture, which Quicksilver also contains. Quicksilver contains both aspects of high culture and pop culture.  Consequently, although Quicksilver does not fit well into high culture or pop culture yet shares characteristics of both, Quicksilver fits somewhere in between.

Quicksilver fits somewhere in between high culture and low culture. Some of the best examples of high culture today were actually pop culture in its own time period. Some of Mozart’s greatest symphonies were written for the common folk of Vienna as pop culture. But, this comparison of Quicksilver and high culture does not easily match either, as currently Quicksilver can not easily be considered pop culture. Quicksilver is not easily mass consumed for mindless entertainment. Although Quicksilver does have components of both categorizations of entertainment, Quicksilver is neither sophisticated enough nor massively popular to be considered either. As a result, Quicksilver fits in between pop culture and high culture.

A Little Bit of Both

10 Feb

Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver can be looked at as an example of a mixture of both pop and high culture. The novel refers to many aspects from the Baroque period in history, which is why the novel can be deemed as an example of high culture, but the novel also depicts these aspects of history into a fictional story. Quicksilver is a fictional story tied into elements of history the novel can be depicted to be a translation or an adaption. Because of how the information in the novel is presented the Stephenson’s novel can be seen as an example of high and pop culture.

One way that Stephenson displays a mixture of pop and high culture is by having the main character, Daniel Waterhouse, have an evolving friendship with Isaac Newton. The two friends go on a quest through science and mathematics. This journey involves historic scientific findings such as the effects of gravity and the transfusion of blood. Waterhouse and Newton also research the first philosophical language, which is also a major turning point in history tied into the fictional story in the novel.

In addition to the scientific findings Waterhouse discovers with Newton they encounter meetings with John Locke and Robert Boyle in an alchemist laboratory. After working on all of these discoveries Waterhouse and Newton soon introduce their findings to the community such as calculus. Stephenson including these events of history is what makes the novel, Quicksilver, considered to be a form of high culture.

As the story unfolds Waterhouse comes across the time the plague hit. This period of time is also when syphilis started spreading. Even though Stephenson does not directly describe a lot of these historical events he still incorporates them into the story and plot of the novel.

All of the historical events, people, and scientific findings integrated into the novel are what makes Stephenson’s novel a form of high culture. Since these components are tied into the novel with a fictional story this novel can be considered as an adaptation of these historical occurrences which also makes this novel a form of pop culture as well.


Samiyah Malik

Quicksilver: High Culture with a dash of Pop Culture

8 Feb

By Andrew Schuster

It is difficult to classify Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver as simply “Pop-Culture” or “High Culture” due to a number of characteristics it contains.  Quicksilver is a liberal mix of pop-culture and high culture ideologies that combine to give it a unique standing.  Some scenarios seem to be a legitimate throwback to the age the book is set in by relating to actual experiments, people, and events.  Other scenarios, however, tend to feel more like the author is trying to force us to see how clever he’s trying to be by featuring prominent historical figures that don’t necessarily relate to the story.

An aspect this novel exhibits that moves it towards the high culture end of the spectrum is its attention to period based history and knowledge.  Even though some of the facts aren’t actually accurate, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology existing upwards of 100 years before it’s founded, the mood of the era is definitely established very skillfully.  The age of enlightenment and knowledge is believably upon the characters in this novel; on the political front there is an uprising of people against a former tyranny of Kings with beheadings mentioned fairly often while in the scientific community the men of the Royal Society and Isaac are slowly uncovering the mysteries that we today take for common knowledge.  Ranging from the numerous dissections that Wilkins, Daniel, and Hooke make to the light experiment that Isaac conducts with his eyes, the stage is very well set for the story to unfold before the reader.  This immersion, however, can become overbearing quickly if it is too heavily packed.

Neal Stephenson loads a lot of backstory, factual or not, into a very small amount of space and this shows a desire to show the audience just how much he can pad a story.  The aspect of specifically appealing to the audience comes from pop culture.  Ideals set out today pretty much force a story to appeal to an audience because if it can’t be sold then it isn’t worth much to a publisher.  The over indulgence in description while also unnecessarily adding certain historical figures makes some parts feel a little over-saturated and less believable.  Ben Franklin being the little boy Enoch was talking to at the start of the novel was rather awkward as well as the random appearance of Mother Goose in Daniel’s talk with his family felt misplaced.  Milking the concept of being relatable takes some of the effect away from the story.

A final success to mention on the high culture characteristics of Quicksilver is its very symbolic and deeply interpretive moments that give the characters a different dimension.  A notable example of this is Isaac Newton’s possible homosexuality that is hinted at during numerous points such as when he only had “eyes for his beloved” during the scene with the apple tree in Isaac’s childhood.  Instead of outright saying he’s gay, the author places key clues within the novel that reveal a different side of Isaac and better explain many of his actions.  What at first glance seems like a distaste of being around Daniel, it instead is revealed that Isaac fears the thoughts that transpire due to the fact that he is attracted to Daniel.  Depth to such a scale is evidence of caliber in the high culture area.

Neal Stephenson manages to make quite a riveting tale in his historical fiction, which manages to take the calculus controversy and add a meaningful story to it.  Making a large and believable universe out of the history surrounding the controversy and is done in such a way that truly allows the author’s ability to shine.  Over indulgence in relating to the audience in meek ways takes away from the experience, but not enough to make the book unbearable.  Finally, the author’s ability to explain complex emotions through indirect methods helps give a true understanding while also leaving meanings of certain scenarios to be interpreted differently.