Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Seagull: Not Exactly a Happy Ending (or a “Comedy”)

I wrote the following for my "Great Works" portfolio. Enjoy.

Historical Context

Anton Chekov is a renowned Russian writer who is also the contemporary of literary greats such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy. While the latter are both well known for their substantial contributions to narrative literature, Chekov is predominantly identified with his short stories and theatrical productions. Set in the rural, Russian countryside, The Seagull is almost entirely devoid of urban “hustle and bustle.” Although now considered a veritable classic, the play first received unbridled derision and Chekov, presumably humiliated, abruptly resigned. Thankfully for modern theater buffs, the play was rejuvenated and now enjoys wide acclaim. (Chekov soon revived his career.)

Critical Analysis

While unremorsefully depressing, The Seagull is the type of production that leaves the astute observer indelibly marked and quintessentially changed. This is not to say that the play is any kind of Nirvana-inducing gospel, but its impact is certainly profound. Most of this stirring effect results from one of the play’s major themes: the hubristic downfall of the self-centered and the futility of human existence.

Chekov presents many of the main characters as fundamentally self-interested and unconsciously disinterested in those who love them. As is often the case, Chekov presents us with various love triangles. Kostya, his mother Arkadina, and the playwright Trigorin (Kostya really just wants his mother to love him). Kostya, Trigorin, and Nina. Kostya, Nina, and Masha. Kostya, Masha, and Medvedenko. That’s a lot of love, and yet, ironically or moreover, sadly, none of the characters truly end up loving each other. In the interest of time and Thuja occidentalis (Northern Whitecedars . . . trees), we’ll focus our discussion primarily on Kostya, Nina, Trigorin, and Arkadina.

The foursome is especially interesting because of the duality in the relationships or the lifestyle reflections, if you will. Arkadina is an actress, Nina is an aspiring actress; Trigorin is a playwright, Kostya is an aspiring playwright. Again, one of the saddest ironies developed during the play is how much Kostya longs for his mother’s approval and yet how much she scorns him and basically dotes after Trigorin. Next, Kostya romantically yearns for Nina, but, like Kostya’s mother, she longs for Trigorin, primarily due to his status as an established playwright which may help her budding career.

As the genre demands, Trigorin appears to “love” both Arkadina and Nina. However, as Chekov foreshadows (dualistically, which we’ll discuss momentarily) early on, Trigorin will dubiously take advantage of Nina when, in essence, she meant to take advantage of him (at least his status). "A young girl lives all her life on the shore of a lake,” says Trigorin. “She loves the lake, like a seagull, and she's happy and free, like a seagull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom. Like this seagull." As is readily manifest at the end of the play, Trigorin veritably destroys Nina. Yet, it is not in this obvious destruction where Chekov places the greatest emphasis.

Even after Nina runs off to fraternize with Trigorin, Kostya still aches for her. Even after discovering, surreptitiously, that Nina gave birth to and subsequently lost (to death) Trigorin’s child, Kostya still loves her. Unfortunately for Kostya, Nina is so distraught that she will not listen to him. When Nina exits the scene we consequently witness Kostya exit and then hear a loud gunshot. Thus, not only is Nina destroyed by the boredom of Trigorin, but Kostya is as well (he shot himself). Hence the dualistic nature of Trigorin’s shooting the original seagull. He destroyed both individuals.

However, the implications and scale of these obliterations are much more complex than being brought on simply by the boredom of Trigorin. In a sense, all of the characters are made miserable because they refuse to recognize that the characters whom they love do not love them. Therefore, Nina and Kostya are not the only victims of this cataclysmic, domino-disaster; the entire cast is also made to suffer and it’s almost like a vicious ecosystem of depression, a circle of death (or at least sorrow) instead of life.

As some marketing gurus might inquire, “What is the take home message here?” Perhaps, as Chekov oddly subtitles the piece, life is a comedy. Although certainly a paradoxical concept, it’s as though life is so absurd, so feebly ridiculous, that even our dearest and most sincere desires are so incongruently matched so as to fizzle into nothing more than pure and unadulterated vanity. What a pleasant thought, huh?

Personal Response

This is one of the most depressing plays that I have ever seen. Period. Thankfully, as one of my favorite professors, Charles Swift, pointed out, most Latter-day Saints who see The Seagull will have a somewhat similar experience to the following. “Wow, that was really depressing . . . Wanna go get some ice cream?” Having an eternal perspective really helps to wash that futile flavor out of my mouth.

Other than the sullen and devastating tone of the piece, I loved every minute of it, especially the humor. If not merely a result of the English translation, Chekov’s dry wit is absolutely uproarious, even a century later. The acting was superb and the setting, The Margetts, divine. I only wish to see it again, in the same setting, and unfeasibly, with the same cast.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My BYU Bureaucracy Experience: Unpleasant

Bureaucracy: a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation, says Merriam-Webster. Don't forget to add large headaches and a heeping helping of my unbridled rage!

I applied for a BYU parking permit back in the day and was quasi-promised that it would arrive, in mail, 2-4 days later . . . riiight. So I left some "feedback" for the Parking People asking them where in the freckles my permit was at. Response: We have it, we just weren't coordinated enough to MAIL IT to you (paraphrased).

So I said, "Oh, that's it! CougarAbogado bout do somin bout dis!"

I left my Bio class at 3:45 (15 mintues before class, plenty of time to run a couple of errands) expecting nothing more than a commonplace in and out cake walk. I was sorely mistaken.

I walk into the parking office, sit in line for like 7-15 minutes (I'm not good at guestimating ranges), have the woman tell me that even though some clown sack told me that they HAD my permit I had never applied for a new one since, get this, last September. Wow. So I figured that I would quickly bust out the scantron form on the left. No big deal. Tell me something, Jedi Knight, have you mezmorized your VIN? Most of us haven't . . . So I figured that I would just hit up the closest computer station and resubmit. That was easy enough. I go back in and the girl who told me that I hand't submitted anything tells me that her screen isn't working . . . So I go sit in line in the one to the right, waiting, waiting. When I get up to the front, the woman tells me that the system is moving slow and so she'll have to make me a temporary (yes, meaning that I would actually have to deal with more nonsense) permit. Next she asks me if I have my student ID and I point to her circular mouse pad and say something like, "Actually, you have it on your mouse pad . . ." Needless to say, I was not thrilled with swimming upstream like a desparate Salmon against the ferocious currents of shameless bureaucracy.

So I leave, "salty," as Fword (the Blogger, not the epithet) would say, and head over to the Talmage to pick up my generous check for services I had rendered in an experiment to the department. I pick up the check, somewhat satisfied that at least I would have some George Washingtons to add to my name, and the guy yells out to me, "Actually, that's not a real check, it's just a form you take to the ASB so that they can cash the check." WOW.

So I walk over, saltier than a 3-foot-long Westchester pretzel, and march into the ASB (otherwise known as the X building). My woes would continue. I go into the back of the opaque windowed office room to whip out my check and receive vindication. The thing is closed . . . so I turn the corner and ask if the girl can cash me check. After five minutes of incoherent mumblings, consulting with another girl at least twice, and then having to go make change becasue she didn't have any $5s or $10s on hand, I was the proud recepient of a handsome sum of $12. That's right, kids, $12. I almost felt like charging the school $20 just for wasting my time with their nonsensical gibberish.

The bright lining of this story is that my Bio professor spends about as much class time actually going over stuff that we need to know as a drunk Russian trying to speak English makes sense. So the fact that I returned to class at 4:30 (45 minutes later), wasn't the impetus of a nuclear holocaust or anything.


So I tie up my boot straps this morning, take care of some business, and then mosey over to the parking office. Christy needs a new permit as well, so I, the ingenious Hidalgo that I am (it's from Don Quixote), had the tremendous foresight to prepare a power of attorney form, have her sign it, and even had the wherewithal to take in her ID. The result? FERPA. That's right, sports fans, SHE has to walk in there physically because FERPA thinks that all men are chauvinist pigs who like to take advantage of their wives by stealing their parking permits!


When I gave the woman my ID, it took like two seconds and she handed me my permit. Irony truly is a very, very harsh mistress.


Don't ever think that you can go an entire calendar month without running into our dubious friend, Mr. Bureacracy. He's out there, and he's waiting for you!!!

See Strongbad for more hilarity and a similar "customer service" situation:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Falling Out of My Chair

For those of you who are interested, the thesis is OVER (at least the first draft)! Jon and Ryan: I hope that I don't have to do sleepless nights as much as you clowns do.

Now all that's left in probably the most stressful month of my 24 years of life is for me to write 9 two to three page papers, attend a play and a symphony, stack up all of my shining undergraduate papers together, and pass out on the steps of the Maeser building (where I turn in all of my honors junk).

It's been a wild ride and I could have never done it without the best woman in the world!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cotton Swabs: Flexible & Safe

When I opened our new package of Q-tips this morning, I just couldn't help but take two minutes to blog my wonderment. Flexible and safe? Are those really the two principal reasons why consumers purchase Q-tips, er, cotton swabs? I was thinking more along the lines of makeup applicant, and ear wax remover.

Either they think that those two uses are overdone, monopolized, or they just have no marketing skills whatsoever.

Oh well, I guess they figure that cheap bungles like myself are going to be purchasing them so as Strong Bad would say:

As long as your tone is well dressed and sweaty enough, it doesn't matter what ya say!

Friday, September 5, 2008

St. Anselm's Proslogion: Say What?

According to my pals over at Wikipedia, Proslogion is a Latin word meaning "Discourse on the Existence of God." Don't ask me how they get six words out of one; I don't speak, think, or read Latin. In fact, about the only Latin that the all-knowing Cougar Abogado understands is veni, vidi, vici, which, ironically enough is part of tobacco giant Philip Morris' logo . . . go figure.

Anyway. If you're wondering why I decided to culture myself with this Early Christian/Medieval classic, I only had one book left to go on my "Great Works" list and Proslogion is only like 40 pages. So yes, Scott, I took the shameful road more traveled-by with one of the quickest reads that I could find and read as I wandered about the burgeoning confines of BYU campus.

Although an aspiring lawyer myself, I have to confess that most of the Medieval logic was lost on the all-knowing CA. If you're interested in the Fletchword-style synopsis keep reading:

Basically the essay, argument, piece, or what have you is set in the second person singular and sets out to prove that God does, in fact, exist. In my opinion, most of the arguments are somewhat confusing and left me furrowing my eyebrows as I drifted back and forth across campus. If you're interested in reading the actual text, here's a link: PROSLOGION.

Beyond what is in my opinion a nebulous argument for why God has to exist, the piece has some interesting tid-bits here and there and quotes some great scriptures. Admittedly, some of the additional arguments also seem rather hazy and contradictory, but hey, my man St. Anselm was, I presume, primarily a church official and not a philosopher.

Looking at the piece in the light of the Gospel helps to fill in the gaps here and there, especially in Anselm's explanation about how God can be just and merciful at the same time. The missing link is, of course, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Ironic, I know. As the Fletchword and I were sipping orange juice and philosophizing a week ago, we each came to this conclusion about flawed or incorrect doctrines:

But whoso among you shall do more
or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.

In essence, any "Gospel" which doesn't have Christ as its central explanation will not stand, because He must be at the center or there can be no reconciliation with God and therefore no eternal salvation. Everything else is, essentially, a sandy foundation.

If you're looking for the antithesis of most classics (a work that isn't 10,000 pages) I would highily recommend taking a look at this one.