Friday, October 19, 2012

Of What I Cannot See

"The carving of the jack 'o lantern," he explained, "represents the cross-cultural incident of three nations--the Indian family, the Pakistani man, and an American tradition--coming together in an intentional way."

The class remained quiet.

"See, the Indian girl had never carved a pumpkin before, neither had Mr. Pirzada. They were trying to embrace this different culture, even though they did not feel America was truly their home. India an Pakistan were at war with each other at the time, but in America, this didn't matter, they were taking on the American way. The carving of the pumpkin together was a symbol of unity."

There are moments in my life, more often than I'd care to admit, when I feel dumb. There are several instances on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:05-3:30 that I certainly do not feel intelligent.

I looked at the title of the book, making sure I read the right story. I admit I did remember reading about the pumpkin, but never once did I imagine it was anything more than a carved pumpkin. A symbol of unity? What if the author just wanted the characters to carve a pumpkin together? How do we know it was anything more than that?

This is my multi-cultural literature class. This is the place where I feel dumb.

He went on to talk about the significance of the candy and the witch costumes. My brain was exploding. I liked the story, but I hadn't thought about what the jack 'o lantern, or the candy, or the Halloween costumes represented, not once. Apparently, they had significant symbolic meaning.

I suddenly felt anxious. It bothered me that I had so completely failed to notice the significance of these details.

To overlook literature is one thing, but what else do I miss? Not just while reading brilliant stories that could be unpacked for an hour and a half, revealing world-shaking truths about Indian and Pakistani culture, but in life in general. What don't I see?

Reader, life can be mundane, yes? Life can feel meaningless.

Perhaps it is.

I mentioned in a previous blog post from this summer that I was reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. From what I gathered, the point the author made in his book was there is no point. He seemed to insult the classics, deeming all of the symbolism authors build around their novels as ridiculous.   

It would seem the power of the pointless has found its way into the newest additions of "classic" literature today. Could this be the general opinion of the late 20th and early 21st century? Is this the newest voice, not only in modern literature, but society as a whole? Is there power in pointlessness? 

Contemplating, there I sat in my multi-cultural literature class, at liberal arts university, receiving a classical education, learning about the symbolism of jack 'o lanterns and candy corn. 

What if your life was a novel. What would it mean when you drop your apple and it bruises, or when you trip on the third step going to your room, or how about when you put chicken on your sandwich instead of turkey? 

Maybe I am mocking symbolism a little. I shouldn't be. I know that it is both powerful and necessary. I also know that I am not good at finding it, or articulating its significance. Learning to see the magnificent in the mundane is never an easy thing. Yet, perhaps in time I will find the value in searching. 

Nadeem Aslam“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.” 

― Nadeem AslamThe Wasted Vigil

Stephen King
“Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity.”
― Stephen KingOn Writing

Sigmund Freud
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
― Sigmund Freud


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