With the Emphasis on the Collected Poems by Rs Thomas and the Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy and with Wider Reference to Wit Margaret Edson Explore If the Modern World Destroy Emotions, Passions and Irrationality
English and Literature
Submitted By tutu8932
With the emphasis on the Collected Poems by RS Thomas and The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy and with wider reference to Wit Margaret Edson explore if the modern world destroy emotions, passions and irrationality creating a selfish, unresponsive and rational society?
By: Imogen Teale
The age we live in is the age of 'the machine,' where technological achievements are unimaginable, 'the age of space travel, the internet, genetic engineering,'(An Introduction to Marx's Theory of Alienation) this is The Age of Enlightenment. No longer are we seen as individuals in society, we are not urged to liberate human imagination and creativity to unleash,' the true, the good and the beautiful,'(Toward a Genealogy of Individualism By Daniel Shanahan) potential of individuals encouraged by the era of Romanticism. Living in the age where despite our power to control the natural world our society is dominated by insecurities, lives characterised by feelings of isolation, loneliness and the need for escapism,'insecurity has seeped in to the fabric of our lives.' (Insecure Times: Living with Insecurity in Modern Society, Author unknown, edited by Michael Hill, John Vail, Jane Wheelock) Exploring the ideas and themes portrayed in RS Thomas' Collected Poems, Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych and supported evidence from Wit by Margaret Edson each author uses a main character as a symbol for the death of the natural world and the destruction of modernity. The more densely populated cities become the more suppressed individual are passions, emotions and the spiritual existence of one is distracted by the consumer satisfaction, the constant want for more, to know more and living an unaware life.
Romanticism and nature are two linking themes romanticism glorifies the beauty and power held by the natural world. The rejection of the modernity, materialism , the belief that civilisation corrupts, destroys the natural order of life,giving a false sense of hope that distracts everyone from the spiritual knowledge of life, creating a sense of displacement when the physical impossibility of the death enters the mind of a living person, 'He who pretends to look upon death without fear, lies.' (Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), Stream of Conciousness)The pursuit for spiritual self awareness yearning for the unknown and the unjustifiable. RS Thomas throughout his early poetry uses a character called Iago Prytherch to show how the destruction of 'the machine' is constant throughout society.
RS Thomas lived a withdrawn lifestyle in Aberdaron he did not want to submit to the way of modernity in his life a witness to this was his son Gwydion Thomas, 'I was obliged to attend church and to listen to him drone on about the evils of fridges. . . . It was the Machine, you see. And washing machines. And televisions.' (The Truth about Lies, Doubting RS Thomas- an introduction to the poetry of RS Thomas) ' He embraced Welshness as a buttress against modernity,' shown in the work of Grahame Davies he disagreed with all aspects of modernity. Three poems supporting his questions and criticisms towards society and the importance of the natural world are A peasant, Iago Prytherch and Lament for Prytherch. Iago is referred to as the last of his kind, a farmer being an ordinary man of the Welsh hills. The hills where Iago spent his entire life have transformed beyond recognition due to the modern machines of this era. However Iago is different he does not own a machine that would have the possibility of destroying the silence of the Welsh hills. This man symbolises in a new world, a world known as 'the machine' where people that live in this machine are unable to escape, ignorant and judging him for all he has is, 'the yellow dust on your shoes, Spilled by the meadow flowers,' not worth any value in 'the machine' but it is natural and beautiful. The imagery used throughout Iago Prytherch plays on the powerful, horrifying aspects of nature,' the wind and the weathers claws.' This isolation from modernity has an elemental reality and power in his life which is to be envied. Showing how society has lost touch with nature, 'dream your dream,' reject the machine then you will be happy and be,' the first man of a new community.'
Tolstoy structures the novel by reversing the concept of life and death, the chronological ending to the story occurs in the first chapter. Tolstoy criticises the social system how we have become dependent on science and lost touch with nature, 'Science is meaningless because it has no answer to the only questions that matter to us: What should we do? How shall we live?'(Science, Reason, Modernity: Readings for an Anthropology of the Contemporary) Ivan Ilych was a well respected man, the son of an official working in the ministry department in Petersburg. He led an uneventful life, dull and soulless,' Ivan Ilych's life had been straightforward, ordinary and dreadful in the extreme,' (166pg) Everything in his life revolved around order, systems and doing everything the correct way. Ivan Ilych is a symbol used by Leo Tolstoy as a person from the Bourgeois class self interested, materialistic and shallow individuals. However when Ivan Ilych is close to death he does become spiritually self aware he starts trying to emerge his present self with the self he knew in his memories he realised,' all the pleasures that had seemed so real melted away now before his eyes and turned into something trivial and often disgusting.' When confronted with death the overwhelming power of nature realising he is not in control of his existence he is faced with becoming spiritually aware, 'What if my whole life has really been wrong?' (167pg)
The modern world is not viewed upon optimistically by Leo Tolstoy, RS Thomas and Margaret Edson. Modernity has created a good society through curbing violent impulses, reason, progress, tolerance and that this logical thinking is revealed through science. However, RS Thomas believes 'the machine' to be ,'vulgar modernity and commercialism that he loathed.' (The Telegraph, The enduring wisdom of a strange Welsh bard, by Allan Massie) Living in a world of industrial and scientific forces, where it is clear that industrialisation has caused dehumanization of society. Industrialisation has allowed people to gain money and invest money nevertheless this world that revolves around materialism has created dominant insecurities in each individual life, creating widespread characteristics of selfish, unresponsive and a rational society. The machinery and knowledge that is fructifying human labour do we behold exhausting and overworking it. Alluded with the distractions of life it seems we are growing in strength, freedom and status but actually being reduced to weakness, bondage and isolation, 'Progress is not with the machine.' With RS Thomas living an ascetic life and his work questioning the modern world it's ethics and it's blindness to spiritual awareness he strongly criticises the ways of our society and if there is any escape from 'the machine' once part of it?
'Feel the cold winds of the modern world,' RS Thomas creates a bleak, dark image of the modern world. With living in this society RS Thomas' poetry shows the decay of society that is created by his passion of doubt and irony throughout his poems. In Cynddylan on a Tractor shows the disconnection modernity has with nature through the dominant imagery used,'gone the old look that yoked him to the soil.' The poem shows the connection between modernity and people, that it has become part of us through describing Cynddylan with characteristics of a machine,' His nerves of metal and his blood oil.'Showing that by enhancing human labour with technology, we are falling victim to the insecurities that have created the characteristics of 'the machine' we have become,'part of the machine.' The destruction that has been caused by this industrialisation has caused termination to the tranquillity of nature and the ending of everything natural,'emptying the wood Of foxes and squirrels and bright rays.' The ignorance of Cynddylan passing,'proudly up the lane,' symbolises the unaware and unresponsive society modernity has produced. That the thoughts that we are growing in strength and freedom is reduced because society has become dependent on the industrial world, becoming part of it and obeying its insecurities become weaker and unable to escape,'In my own fields with no place to run From your sharp eyes.'
Leo Tolstoy shows the devastation that modernity has on an individual, showing the ignorance of people through Ivan Ilych, who is in general an ordinary man living an ordinary life. Witnessing the everyday life of Ivan Ilych you notice the false, selfish, ordered life that has been structured by the modern world. Everything revolved around order and systematic procedure, ensuring the individual worked like a cog in a machine,'It was in the world of work that the whole interest of his life came into focus.' (173pg) Tolstoy's writing style represents this order and structure that is routine for Ilych, using short structured sentences and a logical flow being able to divide Tolstoy’s ideas into units. The repetitive language is deliberately used in paragraphs instead of extensive vocabulary.
The materialistic wants that are driven by society creates a false lifestyle wanted by the masses of people,'people who are not actually rich but who want to look rich, though all they manage to do is look the same.' (177pg) There are two lifestyles that Tolstoy represents in The Death of Ivan Ilych artificial and authentic. The authentic lifestyle is represented by Gerasim symbolising compassion and sympathy seeing others as individuals with unique thoughts and feelings. Ivan Ilych ,Praskovya, Peter and other characters,' the best people in society' (181pg) in Ivan's social group and company, representing the artificial lifestyle marked by shallow relationships, selfishness and materialism. With these false lifestyles that people aspire for creating the insecurities that riddle modern society resulting in the unresponsive, selfish and rational cold world we live in. This false facade hides the true meaning to life leaving one isolated and scared.
Living in this artificial age is clearly shown by RS Thomas, Leo Tolstoy and Margaret Edson leads to alienation. This alienation that is experienced in each text is caused by the realisation of the materialistic world that surrounds the individual, with the domination of industrialisation and the reification of human labour has caused the alienation of individuals from cultural and social events, ' Anything that at all made sense of the sickness of Western Europe.' (Freud) Leading many away from the spiritual awareness, destroying the natural world and the relationship that liberate human passions, emotions and the irrationality caused by impulse. This alienation that has been caused by modernity and the false lifestyles which societies persist at achieving create a need for escapism,'what did days, weeks or hours matter?'
With liberation comes isolation Ivan Ilych experienced this physical and mental experience during his early signs of illness,'There was no deceiving himself: something terrible, new, and more important than anything before in his life, was taking place within him of which he alone was aware.' When Ivan realises the world that surrounds him is continuing to develop, his isolation grows as this is the most important yet terrifying event to take place in his life. Death brings Ivan closer to the spiritual and the natural world and his view of the modern world now is that, 'Everything in the streets seemed depressing. The cabmen, the houses, the passers-by, and the shops, were dismal.' The false lifestyle which he once led seemed pointless, his friends seemed unaware and everything he used to use to avoid the unwanted emotions led him away from spiritual awareness, which now he can't avoid,'He would go to his study, lie down, and again be alone with It: face to face with it.' As he noticed the selfish, rational and unresponsive characteristics of the people he was surrounded by his suffering and fear of death liberated him from the values, desires, expectations, opinions constructed by the superiors of society,'It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death.'
Both Leo Tolstoy and Margret Edson use their main characters, Ivan Ilych and Vivian Bearing to portray alienation and isolation through the audience's knowledge that both characters knowing the inevitability of death from the beginning, ;“It is not my intention to give away the plot; but I think I die at the end.” The world in which Vivian surrounded herself in focussed on the study of 17th century poetry of the Holy sonnets of John Donne, portraying many characteristics of the modern world becoming a woman who can analyse but not sympathise. Her dedication and cold manner is returned to her when diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the treatment offered by Jason Pasnor. Both characters draw connections through their dominant traits and their lack of empathy for humans and inept from human relations. The isolation in the play is portrayed in lack of empathy and human emotions, '“Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness. I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see I have been found out.' The non existent relationship with nature shown by these two characters truly defines the way modernity has constructed a human machine.
RS Thomas represents isolation through the death of the natural world, and the introduction to modernity and how the option isn't present to be part of this new age rather it is part of us and we are part of the machine,'They did it to me,' and now,'I jumped into the world smiling my cogged smile.' This use of death incorporated with the order surrounding us is a main theme and idea composed by each author, using the loss of spiritual awareness shows The Gap formed by modernity creating death in the mind of individuals,' God woke, but the nightmare did not recede.' The Other portrays this idea that liberation causes isolation from the title and being part of 'The machine' leaves the mind dead like the minds in a,'mortuary.' The lack of individual thought is shown through metaphors used in this poem using the common mind set that has been created by modernity and that,'the life in you ticking away; your breath poison.' Using anthropomorphism constantly to show human life becoming part of a machine enhancing the idea that we as a society no longer have an option. With these repetitive characteristics mentioned in the poem,'cogged smile,' 'Iron hand,' 'x-ray eyes,' these anthropomorphisms enlighten the mental state of society and how cold and unaware society has become through this enlightened age.
The destruction of human nature has been caused by modernity, the lack of empathy and compassion shown has decreased and is almost non existent. There is a sense of threat with knowledge, disconnecting people from justice, care and compassion which are innate human traits. Losing touch with these spiritual and natural morals society has become dependant on the constant want to know more, to cure more and control natural processes. With the initial demonstration of Doctors in both The Death of Ivan Ilych and Wit having an automatic, inattentive salutation to patients,'the doctor treated this question as irrelevant, and ignored it.' Enabling a clear demonstration to the characteristics which have been created by becoming part of 'The Machine.'
Ivan Ilych requires constant treatment when he is diagnosed with an untreatable illness maybe a,' floating kidney, chronic colitis, problem with the blind gut,' becoming someone very far from his ordinary self. Throughout his life when aware of his illness Ilych's treatment by the doctors appears as arrogant, deceptive, unsympathetic and futile,' from the doctors point of view it was a pointless question not worthy of discussion.' Never being diagnosed with a specific illness the doctors use medicine to hide the real problem with the order, structure and process they know,' the doctor adopts a serious attitude and begins to examine the patient- pulse, temperature, tapping and listening.' His pain of his untreatable illness is just covered by medicine prescribed by the doctors,'take some opium.' Following the instructions that the doctors encouraged highly they believed it would help,'since his visit to the doctor Ivan Ilych had made it his main preoccupation to follow all instructions.' Tolstoy attacks many aspects of modernity but specifically the cult of modern medicine suggesting that modern medicine is dehumanising and shows the control society believes they have over life by the extension of life, inevitable death is the final outcome. The doctors ultimately never gave Ivan any medical help and his acceptance to the natural process of the world was the final outcome.
When Vivian Bearing is diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer the realisation that there are no other stages, her death is inevitable from the beginning of the play. With the modern technology and medicine in which she is now immersed in, she is purely a research project. Jason Posner shows his arrogance, selfishness when he tries to resuscitate Vivian despite her do not resuscitate orders,'She's Research!'. Edson explores many problems within modern medical treatment, this is symbolised by the protagonist of the play being part of a clinical trail for a new drug regimen to fight ovarian cancer. However this dehumanises Vivian Bearing, she is now not just a sick patient but part of a research project for the doctors who attend her. Urging Vivian to take the full dose of chemotherapy to gain new knowledge for future clients however they walk a fine ethical line between the well being of the patient and the want for new research. Doctors are their to save lives however the characteristics of an enlightened age are less attentive to the quality of life and focus on life preserving measures. Vivian’s view changes by the end of her full dose of chemotherapy treatment she realises she is just data for a file or a topic for a medical journal,'What we have come to think of as me, is, in fact, just a the specimen jar . . .'
Modernity, 'The Machine,' 'a foolish tapestry,' has destroyed emotions, passions and irrationality, this age of technology has created a society that is selfish, irrational and unresponsive. People whose minds are liberated from the mindset modernity has created are isolated,'deemed as different from society from the materialism, the constant want for more at the sacrifice of others. Human nature and spiritual awareness bring a sense of inner harmony and acceptance to the fact that we can't control everything, some events are out of our control. Each author demonstrates these modern characteristics that riddle society in each main character Vivain Bearing, Ivan Ilych and Iago Prytherch show our minds are like that at a mortuary. There is no thought and compassion for individuals, we have been dehumanised we are part of the machine, ' It can't be that life is so senseless and horrible. But if it really has been so horrible and senseless, why must I die and die in agony? There is something wrong!'