“The Life I Formerly Led as an Ape”: Imitation and Intermediacy in “A Report to an Academy”

Essay completed 14 April 2017

Franz Kafka’s 1917 short story “A Report to an Academy” is a characteristically bleak assessment of human nature as restricting rather than liberating. The story’s narrator begins his oration by thanking his audience for inviting him to give an account “of the life I formerly led as an ape” (Kafka 250). If Red Peter is no longer an ape, is he a human, or something in-between? Through Red Peter, Kafka questions whether convincing human imitation is equivalent to being one. No matter how closely Red Peter imitates the human, in his narrative he repeatedly calls attention to what still separates him from humanity. As Red Peter describes how he learned to mimic human behavior, Kafka explores how the former ape’s imitative performance and interspecies intermediacy interact to reveal the instability of the human designation. Continue reading ““The Life I Formerly Led as an Ape”: Imitation and Intermediacy in “A Report to an Academy””

“The Wild Eyes of the Lady Ligeia”: The Underlying Horror of the Lover’s Gaze

Essay completed 20 September 2016

The eye is just as important to the Romantic movement as the heart. Romantic literature celebrates the external just as much as the internal through the outer beauty of the natural world. Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838 Gothic tale “Ligeia” reflects this Romantic celebration of the eye, vision being a pivotal subject of the tale. For the majority of the tale, the male protagonist observes two female characters, first Ligeia, then Rowena. The eye is a motif throughout, eye color being one of the primary characteristics by which the narrator describes the dark-eyed Ligeia and the blue-eyed Rowena. The narrator’s gaze dominates the majority of the tale; he begins by describing Ligeia and concludes by observing Rowena’s corpse. Continue reading ““The Wild Eyes of the Lady Ligeia”: The Underlying Horror of the Lover’s Gaze”

Beyond the Veil: Staging and Violence in Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers

Image by Grady Pearson

Essay completed 26 October 2015

“Greek theatre was an exercise of the eye,” says Camille Paglia (Paglia 104). In the first two plays of the Oresteia, Aeschylus explores the dichotomy of the seen and the unseen in two climactic murder revelation scenes. Clytemnestra murders her husband and his concubine in Agamemnon, only to be murdered alongside her lover by her son in The Libation Bearers. When Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon and his concubine, the chorus and the audience can only hear the king’s dying cries (Agamemnon 1369). Aegisthus meets his end the same way, behind the skene where his murderer awaits (The Libation Bearers 857). Orestes then pulls his mother into the palace and kills her offstage (The Libation Bearers 918). All four murders occur behind the palace walls and out of the audience’s sight. Aeschylus’ decision not to depict any violence onstage makes his audience “imagine the horror of the killing… an effect more powerful than words alone…” (Wiles 140). Continue reading “Beyond the Veil: Staging and Violence in Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers”

Heaven’s Gaze: Interpretive Vision and Medusa in Dante’s Inferno

Essay completed 26 April 2016

In canto IX lines 34-60 of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, travelers Virgil and Dante come across a tower at the Gate of Dis. Three Furies of classical Greek mythology emerge and call for the gorgon Medusa to petrify the men. Virgil commands Dante to turn and cover his eyes until the threat has passed. Dante the author then breaks from the narrative to invite the reader to “weigh with good understanding” the meaning behind this allegorical episode (Dante 9.58-60). The Medusa episode represents the obstacle that the physical world poses to Dante’s allegory of a quest for understanding. Continue reading “Heaven’s Gaze: Interpretive Vision and Medusa in Dante’s Inferno”