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Blog Post 3: Death Then and Death Now

From the moment I was able to understand the term ‘death’ up to now, I was always appalled and frightened every time I just heard the word. The cause of me to react like that is probably the death of my grandmother when I was six years old. My grandmother and I always had a special relationship. Maybe it was because I was the oldest son of her youngest son, or maybe it was because she knew how long she would be with us in this world. Who knows? All I know is that although I was only six years old, I knew what was going on when I was at her funeral with my parents and other family members. My beloved grandmother was no longer with us. Of course there were many more funerals I had to attend in the past several years, but I’m sure the death of my grandmother left me the trauma I still have today, or I should say the trauma I used to have.

After reading Fidler’s Impressions From the Face of a Corpse, I learned a few positive things about death to help overcome my fear. In his essay, Fidler asserts that “the death mask is something between a creepy portrait and a contact relic,” that “it’s an uncanny object, one that spurs us to reconsider the matter of portraiture and commemoration. To ask why or how a death mask works is to probe a maelstrom that makes mock of sure footing. But what if the thing that makes a death mask tick is not the resemblance to someone long-dead, but rather the visual noise, static, and imperfections that halt that resemblance in its tracks?”

Even to this point, I didn’t have a complete understanding of what the quote meant. However, after reading that “phrenologists sought them out as teaching tools, and taught students to read worlds into the bumps and grooves of cheekbones and foreheads,” and “artists incorporated death masks into commemorative busts, such as that made of Napoleon I by Francois Carlo Antommarchi,” along with what was revealed within Napoleon’s and Beethoven’s masks in the following paragraphs, I had a better understanding. Not only was I fascinated at the fact that we humans have advanced so much in coming up with these theories and ideas, and even went beyond science in order to learn more about the kind of people who are long-dead are, but also had a better understanding of the different perspectives from different societies, and the different purposes of the masks. I learned that death masks aren’t just commemorative items, nor are they unwanted reminders of grotesque things that we don’t want to remember, but they are some kind of portal that leads us to a better understanding, a clearer knowledge of the person, who the mask belongs to.

Blog Post #1: Our Relationship with the Materials

In his essay, John Maguire asserts that “it’s all too easy for students to float away on abstract words.” That seems to be a valid statement because I also happen to be one of them. Even about ten years ago, students used to get writing topics on solid objects that were either assigned to them or objects they found and chose to do. However, as time went by, students tend to be given more creative, abstract writing assignments. The more we spend time on abstract materials and ideas, the more I think we become weaker when it comes to physical materials and hard evidence, which goes along with Maguire’s characterization of student writers today. As students, we are given more formal academic writing assignments, which is supposed to include citations and other hard evidence to support your idea, but as Maguire states, “Student papers are often unreadable not only because their grammar is bad and their sentences incomplete, but also because they are way, way too abstract,” which I found to be the most interesting in his essay because this whole time, I thought most papers were graded badly because of incorrect grammar and fragments. During my years in middle school, high school and even college, the most difficult object I have encountered was and still is the internet. Although it may be the best way to research and the best source of hard evidence, I have always had trouble with it. The reason is simply because as much as the internet has good information, I knew it also had as many good misinformation, and I did not know how to differentiate them when I had to write a good research paper.

While Maguire emphasized on students shifting their attention to more physical materials rather than the abstract, Mihaly Czikszentmihaiyl and Jules David Prown examined the balance between the physical and the abstract. Czikszentmihaiyl’s essay was interesting because he looked more closely at the relationship we have with the objects. He warns his readers, “if we do not achieve a better understanding of things, we may find ourselves entirely in their thrall.” He also asserts that “most of the things we make these days do not make life better in any material sense but instead serve to stabilize and order the mind,” as he emphasizes that our dependence on objects is not only physical, but also psychological, which is very true when we think about our relationship with television or cell phones today. We feel lost and uneasy when we lose our phones or when we leave it at home one day. Without us realizing it, we have slowly become an object ourselves that depend on other objects to feel whole again. Prown, on the other hand, reminds us that abstract materials correlate with physical materials. In other words, he means that there would be no abstract materials if there were no physical materials, and there would be no new physical materials without abstract materials. In his essay, he noted that the word, style, reflects values of the individual and of the society that produced the object. There would be no “style” if there was no society or an individual to base that from, and without a certain style, that individual or that society would not be able to be identifiable. After reading all three essays and putting these different perspectives together, I realized we should balance our focus on both physical and abstract objects instead of falling too deep only on one side (the abstract world), which can be dangerous because not only does it limit our writing skills and brings bad grades, but also has the possibility of tilting the balance of our relationship with the objects, thus making us helplessly dependent on the abstract things.