Thursday, May 25, 2017

Virtue Ethics in Twilight

via Rolf Brecher on Flickr
I liked learning about virtue ethics in my high school philosophy class—I connected it to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer right away.

If you’ve never encountered Nicomachean Ethics, here’s a quick overview. A person is moral because they are virtuous, cultivating excellence in certain qualities or behaviors, avoiding both deficiency or excess. Everyone always uses courage as an example. Courage is a virtue, but too little makes you a coward, and too much makes you reckless. That sort of thing. (If you’re still confused, Spark Notes does better than I did.)

Twilight and virtue ethics just mesh. I credit this to the way in which Meyer constructs her vampires. Some vampires are reborn with superpowers (Edward reads minds, Alice sees the future, etc.), but some are not. All vampires, however, seem to regenerate with a dominant personality trait. It’s interesting to consider a vampire’s behavior based on whether they keep that trait in balance or not. These are my estimates for the Cullen family:

Click to Enlarge
I admire the Cullens for their virtues. Carlisle is among my all-time favorite characters because of his compassion. And it might be a little creepy that Edward can read minds, but I’ve always appreciated that this school compliments a gentlemanly perceptiveness, and doesn’t use his skills to humiliate or hurt others (except maybe in the case of Jacob).

Still, both characters’ actions result in negligence and hurt, too. Carlisle’s compassion makes him feel and seek to resolve Edward’s loneliness. When Bella arrives, Carlisle is so pleased that he condones Edward and Bella’s relationship despite its problematic elements. In my opinion, Edward moves past his abusive behavior by the end of Breaking Dawn—but that doesn’t excuse any of Edward’s actions beforehand. I hold Carlisle culpable as a bystander. As an authority figure attuned to others’ pain, Carlisle could have gone a long way in encouraging Edward to approach his relationship as a person instead of a vampire. Instead, he prioritized Edward’s pain over Bella’s, and his willingness to excuse his son’s actions shows how Carlisle has an excess where his son is involved.

Edward is the reverse—I see him as deficient of perception. On the one hand, Edward stays ignorant of Bella’s thoughts and wishes, even when she states them out loud. His willful disregard enables him to underestimate her, assume that leaving her will cause no long-term damage, and dismiss her ideas. He approaches Bella in the wrong way… But he approaches himself the wrong way, too.

For all his faults, Edward knows Bella is good. She is determined, loyal, and intelligent, and Edward attributes Bella’s positive traits to her humanity. This is why he fears changing her. As a vampire, her determination, loyalty, and intelligence would serve her bloodlust, rather than her family or community. Edward is likewise ignorant of any goodness in himself: he sees his body, mind, and abilities as tools of destruction that he has merely repurposed. He cannot fathom that he, a vampire, could be good, no strings attached. I don’t know if this series could have ended without Bella becoming a vampire. Until Edward sees that Bella maintains her goodness, he cannot perceive his own goodness, either.

As a final side note, virtue ethics is a fun lens for Twilight because it shows how the vampire couples complete one another outright. Edward gets into people’s minds and Bella keeps people out of them. Rosalie’s inner strength matches Emmett’s outer strength. Jasper looks into what is, and Alice into what will be. And Carlisle and Esme are a bundle of love and forgiveness, man.

Virtue ethics doesn’t help me explain or understand the books better, per se, but it gives me a construct with which to build my thoughts. And I love talking about Twilight, so there’s that.

Have you read a book where virtue ethics might reveal something about the characters?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Series of Series

via Martijn van Exel on Flickr
I loved reading series when I was younger. Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Ranger’s Apprentice, Artemis Fowl, Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones… looking back, there were quite a few. I loved reading about magical white children, apparently.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost touch with series—in some ways. Book series are not as common with me anymore. I have plans to reread from the Cycle of Inheritance and Twilight Saga this summer. That will be fun. But they will be exceptions to the more common standalones. This is absolutely true in the case of my college texts, since literary novels tend not to be series. Some folks like William Faulkner or Joseph Heller can interweave their texts or write companion novels, but I don’t end up reading them. (And I know in some cases, I choose not to read companion texts because I know I will not enjoy them as much as the first books.)

I also read with more variety nowadays. I seek out more nonfiction, more contemporary fiction, and more literary fiction than before. This is not to say that I like YA fiction, for example, any less, but there are obvious publishing differences. I just finished The Vegetarian by Han Kang—great story, very eerie and intriguing. It was first published as three short stories, but they have since been compiled into one novel. The Vegetarian started out as a series, but now it reads more like a chapter book. Then again, many adult books are written as series—Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books number forty-one, I believe.

Then again, it’s also prudent to point out that while I don’t read serialized novels, series do pop up in other ways. I enjoy comics and graphic novels quite a bit: Saga, Star Trek, and Lumberjanes have all brought me some joy in the past few months. (Also, deep and biting sadness, but let’s not name any names here.) TV shows are also serialized by nature. I’ve been watching Star Trek (TOS), The Librarians, Bones, and Night Court, and they are great. I love having a story broken up with complex storylines in this format.

But, back to books. I hadn’t spent any time with a series since last November, but in my hunt for good audiobooks to listen to, I returned to The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. This series is better than I remembered—dark fairy tales that stop to teach you the meaning of dramatic irony and the moral of WWI. It’s funny, interesting, and well-read. It’s good to get back into a series of novels, and I look forward to more. I’m curious to see what else there is to try.

Have you enjoyed any series lately?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

I'm Back!

Jack in the Box
via gadgetdude on Flickr

I’m back!

As you, diligent reader, may have noticed, my last post was in March. Like, two months ago. It turns out that writing is hard when you are working a junior-level course load in college.

During my unannounced break, I realized a few things, which I have compiled here in a convenient and travel-sized list (not that you keep my blog posts in your wallet):

(a) I started this blog to encourage my writing practice.
(b) I no longer wish to be a writer.
(c) Writing during the school year is not feasible for me.

Number B has been my most interesting realization. I’ve leaned towards a professional writing career in some fashion since eighth grade, and been preparing for and educating myself about such a career since 2013.

Four years later, though, I realize, “I do not want to do that at all.”

Of course, as a voracious reader and person-who-still-writes-things-because-that’s-what-they-make-you-do-when-you’re-an-English-major, I still have a tremendous respect for writers and don’t regret learning about writing. It is a great career for some people, but I do not think it would be good for me.

To circle back to Number C, I have some practical applications in mind for this change.

(d) Sometimes I’m a Story shall end.

Now, hold on. It would be cruel and confusing to tell you I’m back, only to announce that this is my last post. Do not worry. This is not the last post.

It always bothered me to see blogs just STOP with no formal ending, just leaving people to wonder. Will the blogger return? What if she comes back next week? What if she’s DEAD? And I now realize why one might bring an abrupt end to her blog—but I do not want that for this particular blog.

Instead, I intend to blog once a week through the end of the summer. It shall be my chance to catch up on ideas I wanted to post, but never got around to. I will also get back to returning comments, visiting blogs, and so forth. And then, when the time comes, there shall be an official end.

Zero mysteriousness.

The end, though, is months away, and I’d rather end on a joyous note. Allow me to share a few books I loved over the last two months. Go read them and have happy times.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas—This book is amazing. I’m still struck by Starr’s voice and the way it compels you through the story. It is an important, relevant story about police violence against black Americans, but the way it interweaves challenges of family, friendship, first love, and coming of age grounds Starr’s personal story inside a larger community.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jay Robin Brown—books that combine faith and LGBT issues are so hopeful and nice, and Joanna made a compelling protagonist in this regard. I liked Joanna’s sense of responsibility throughout the book, and her conflicts between respecting her parents, being herself, and doing what’s right were sympathetic and encouraging to anyone who wants to make a difference in her community.

Jazz by Toni Morrison—I tell everyone to read Toni Morrison these days. Jazz is fantastic because despite the narrative’s simplicity (everyone is sad after a guy kills his eighteen-year-old mistress, including his wife), it dives deep within the characters’ souls and has an actual happy ending. It was a great end to my semester.

Go, read yourselves silly. And come back next week, because the book discussions have just begun.

What are the best books you’ve read in the last few months?