The Results are in!


(In case any of you are wondering what I am writing about, here is a helpful link.)

Nearly three weeks ago, on Friday, October 11th, I took the FSOT Exam. This exam is the first step in what is a over a year long process in becoming a Foreign Service Officer—what is better known as a US Diplomat. The test is a T-Score, and is averaged among the other individuals taking the test that day. Here are my results:

  • Job Knowledge: 55.43
  • Biographic Information: 58.01
  • English Expression: 52.25
  • Multiple-Choice Total: 165.69
  • Your essay score: 8

Yahoo! Group 2009 Scores

I am disappointed in my English Expression score, but happy with my Biographic score because it is considered the most difficult portion of the exam. To pass the exam the test taker needs a score of at least 154, and an essay score minimum of six. If you do not pass the multiple choice, then the scorers will not even look at your essay. I am not very happy with my essay score either, but in consideration of the subject matter (of which I knew very little), I think I did quite good. (For a lengthy description of the average 2009 score, see here.)

So, what does this all mean?

Well, I have been “invited” by the US Gov to complete the next step of the process: the PN, or Personal Narrative. I must answer six short-essay questions regarding my past experiences and education in order to qualify for the next step: (gulp) the Oral Exam. The Oral is an all day event that takes place in good ol’ Washington D.C. in which you are put through grueling team-oriented exercises and case-based activities. Unfortunately, it takes little over three months to grade the PN’s. And the Oral’s won’t occur until April. This is, thankfully, a lengthy process (none of us want someone representing the US in Djibouti who is in any way under-qualified for the position).

Lastly, I would like to add that nearly 17,000-20,000 American citizens take the FSOT each year. Of those 17,000, roughly 25% pass the exam. This is roughly 4,250 citizens. Of those 4,250 who pass, roughly 40% are first-time test takers. That is 1,700—including me. That’s a large number. And in order to understand how competitive this all is, consider that of those original 4,250 roughly 420 FSOs are hired each year. That is a narrow 9%!

And guess what? Those 9% are put on a waiting list depending upon the “cone” they selected (I selected Public Diplomacy). A potential hire could sit on this list for 18 months before being hired! Holy crap! A way to expedite the process is to complete an oral exam for a foreign language, or be a veteran of the US military. All in all, only 1-2% of those who passed the FSOT are eventually hired. Wow.

I’ll leave you with this thought: although passing the FSOT is a huge first step, it is miniscule in comparison to the rest of the exam process. In fact, most consider it the easiest portion. But it is significant nonetheless. So, while I am congratulating myself, I know that I have to overcome this moment of self-congratulations because I have a new, and more difficult, task ahead of me.

Thanks for reading everyone.

I was Literally not Going to Write This Post Today

If I read/hear the word “literally” used to draw emphasis to a phenomenon, my head is literally going to explode.

Alright, you have probably heard the trite use of the word “literally” endorsed from celebrities and rock stars, to journalists and media moguls; but I think it is time to stand up and reconsider the use of the word literally as a way to emphasis and clarify our reliance on clichés and metaphors.

I wasn’t going to write a post about this topic. In fact, I have been jotting down a list of chapter ideas for a non-fiction book regarding the use of popularly accepted idioms such as “like,” “really,” and so forth in order to, perhaps, start a new blog. I firmly think that these words betray something unique about our experience in this world as it is right now. I think it betrays what Jean-François Lyotard first named the “Postmodern Condition” in which all of our experiences are kept at a relative distance form ourselves—obviously I am oversimplifying for the sake of brevity, but you get the point.

In an earlier post, I analyzed the use of the word “like” as a part of speech that frames actions, happenings, occurrences and experiences in a way that keeps those phenomena at a distance from our own lives. So much so that we must then use hyperbolic words such as “really” and “seriously” to bring that simulated experience (the “like”) closer to us.

Here is an example from my post:

Bill: “What’s up? What did you do today?”
Gill: “Oh, nothing much. We, you know, like, threw the football around a bit. Man, once, Lill threw it really hard and I had to run superfast to, like, just catch it, you know?! That was crazy.”

It comes down to our basic social function in this world: communicating our experiences and lives to another human being. But if we cannot grasp the fundamental description of life experiences that happen to our own person, then we will find a way to make up for that, let’s call it, gap in proximity or happening.

My point of focus today is the word “literally,” and I think it fulfills three social functions:

  1. It acknowledges the trite overuse—and universal knowledge of this overuse—of a cliché and amends its overuse by attempting to make the cliché a real occurrence.
  2. It removes the abstract object of metaphor (a comparison without using “like” or “as”), and replaces it with a real thing.
  3. It makes the experience closer, more alive, more Real, more True.

Okay, I literally just went to The Atlantic Monthly‘s website and scanned four articles for the word “literally”. I found one use of it in the comment section (yes, it aids my point). So, let’s dissect his or her’s little sentence with and without the word “literally”

“So the point is, you literally *cannot* escape at this point”
“So the point is, you *cannot* escape at this point”

The commenter is discussing Google, Facebook and Technologies hold on our lives. Yes, yes, it’s horrible—he types across a wi-fi network. The author’s point is that we cannot escape from technology. So, why is he or she using the word literally? The sentence functions perfectly without it, right? Well, kind of.

TechThe author is using an absolute idea. To his or her absolutist point: you cannot escape technology. Well, but, you probably can. There is no way for this author to account for all cases of occurrences where someone attempted to escape the Internet’s grasp and succeeded. Because, let’s face it, no one has that knowledge. It’s impossible to know. In our postcolonial era, claiming that you have absolute knowledge is a logical fallacy, and this author is aware of that fallacy. So, what the author does is place the word “literally” in front of the fallacy in order to emphasize the absolutism of the word “*cannot*”. The irony is that the use of the word “literally” implies that the author cannot prove this fact, so without the word “literally” the sentence becomes closer to a type of Truth.

Here is my final argument: it is not that the sentence needs the word “literally” to emphasize the absolutism; rather, it is that the reader needs the word “literally” to verify and communicate something unique to our time and space. As far as I’m concerned that intangible thing that the reader needs is capitalized Truth. And Truth over the Internet is very, very, really, super-hard to come by because it is unverifiable. Truth over the Internet is intangible. It is the very thing that we are seeking when we type “How do I…” on Google, but then scan three sources before believing the top result.

Sure, this could be simple cynicism and mistrust of knowledge, but I am not about to write off the social predominance of the word “literally” by news media corporations, pundits, documentary film makers, learned individuals, and average Americans. It cannot be that simple.

So, I ask you to aid me in my quest for Truth, and let’s reconsider our use of the word “literally” before we speak or write. Hmmmm, I didn’t even discuss the use of metaphor vs. literally, but that’s for a different post.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

(Edited: To add to my point, I found this a few minutes ago by one of my favorite writers, Derek Thompson: “That other websites don’t do this, or (less likely, but possibly) literally cannot afford to pay writers anything is unfortunate, but it is much more complex than gross exploitation”. Sheesh. “Literally” is literally everywhere!)

In an iPhone Darkly

It is the darkness of night and the soft glow
Of a screen that force me to realize this is it.

When my brain stem ceases to send messages,
Then I am gone.
I will no longer recognize color,
Light, sound.
So bring on the colors,
The lights,
The sounds.

From the leaf-strewn gutters,
The windows of second floor apartments,
The loud fire escapes,
The black iron balconies.
God, just push them on me.

A wave of fight or flight moments
Of intensities so hovering in their greatness,
So buzzing in their touch,
So bursting in their nobility.

I can feel it.
None of that is organized.

The organized moments give way to these desolate hours
When we finally understood this is it
And balk at our limitations.
My knee.
My wrist.
My shoulder.
Without them I cannot walk.
With them I cannot fly.

Happy FSOT Exam Day!

There is nothing better than a reasonable excuse as to why you haven’t posted to your blog in over two weeks, and I’ve finally got one.

Today at 9am, I sat at a small, grey cubical containing nothing but a pc, my pencil and scratch paper. This cubicle is in a room with reflective glass on one wall, mirroring rows of other grey cubes on which the other side lies an office and entrance. This office is housed in a building that sits next to a highway motel, and the concrete and tiny, vertical windows make it look like it was ripped out of Mussolini’s Italy or Khrushchev’s Russia, and planted in the awkward sprawl of suburbia.

I sat at this cube and took an exam to become a Foreign Service Officer, or, as it’s known in colloquial terms, a United States Diplomat.

Jersey!The FSOT Exam is the first of eight steps to becoming an FSO, and only 40% of people taking the exam pass it. It consists of a Job Knowledge (JK) section, a Biographical Information (Bio) section, an English Usage (Eng) section, and an Essay (E) question. The entire exam took me under three hours, and I had been preparing for the past five weeks (up until that point, I didn’t even know it existed). I read Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History But Never Learned, by Kenneth C. Davis. I read The Economist. Every Sunday, I read The New York Times (as I had been for the past five years). And I studied Atlases, maps, decolonization dates, and watched every episode of an engrossing Youtube channel called “Crash Course in World and US History“.

I have taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) twice, so I was no stranger to the testing method. But what worried me today was exactly what I confronted: on the JK section, I marked six questions of which I had very limited knowledge. Three out of those six, I know I got wrong (I checked when I got home). I had 8-12 minutes remaining to focus hard on those six remaining. And focus I did, but to little aid. This will keep me anxious until I see my results.

auf dem busThe Bio section was next. It consists of personal experience information ranging from “Have you ever…” to “When were you…,” and most often you are asked to list examples of those times. Most people complain of not being able to answer the questions because of time restraints. But after researching dozens of blogs, I had a plan. I would go through and answer each multiple choice question of “How often…” or “How many times have you…” to the best and most honest of my ability without filling in the following blanks listing those times and examples. Then I would return to the unanswered questions and fill in the blanks. It worked! I nearly completed all the blank spaces, and I answered every multiple choice.

Next was the Eng section. Easy. I’m a friggin’ English major. But I had to remember that these are strictly informational documents, so the US govt and Department of State wants concise answers. So, if you are given a selection of sentences, then 9/10 the answer will be the precise and less wordy answer. After completing this section, I had 12-15 minutes remaining, which I used to gather my thoughts, meditate, and prepare for the Essay.

The Essay. Well, each day this week I chose a topic, either from the FSOT study guide or the NYTs, and wrote a 5-paragraph argument for 30 minutes. Up until this week, I researched topics such as Abortion, gun laws, Edward Snowden, etc., and compiled a six-page word document full of treaties, amendments, and Acts that deal with each topic. And names of dignitaries (which I am OH so glad I did, ’cause I had to spell one…). The crappy part is that the essay question I received dealt with NONE of these issues… sheesh. But I had a running familiarity with the topic, and at least one specific and topical example. And I was ready to write.

WeissWurstSo, the thing about this test is this: it’s not really for someone straight out of school. You need worldly experience. Experiences like having had Weisswurst in Mainz, Germany, or attending Oktoberfest in Mainz, or participating in an English/German language debate with Germans in a German University, or having taken a private tutoring session with an Arabic speaking friend in 2011, or reading a blog about Croatia, or that the majority of your immediate friends are all non-native English speakers, or that you worked in a hostel in Rome, Italy, or even that you invented a game for Germans to play at a 30th birthday party are all experiences that are not going to win you a popularity contest with the majority of Americans. But the thing is: they all add up to HUGE experience in the Bio section, and an intense passion for other cultures and US presence in those cultures.

And I thought these experiences were anecdotes and asterisks in my life, but it turns out they are very, very valuable for a certain career.

PCAI think for my next post I will tell a story about how I came to take this exam. And just to let you know: only two people in my life know about my taking of the FSOT exam. I live in a world where friends and relatives tend to ‘put the cart before the horse,’ as is said, and this exam is only part one out of eight. And it can take 18 months for you to be selected for a position. I’ll receive my results via email in about 3-5 weeks, and until then, I am going to catch up on some Breaking Bad” and write my proposal for the Popular Culture / American Culture conference hosted by Chicago in April—just about the time potential Foreign Service Officers will be scheduled for their sixth step: the day-long Oral Exam in Washington D.C. I want one of those FSOs to be me. And it will be. Thanks for reading.

Kölsch, A Beer from Cologne

I wanted to share a story-in-progress with all of you. I hope you enjoy it.

“Um, ah, bier…?” her father asked, as his bushy eyebrows lifted along with the corners of his mouth.

“Sure!” I replied. “Ja, bitte. Danke” I added for polite emphasis.

He turned and walked toward the basement, quietly muttering and pantomiming my English, “Sure. Sure.”—with a slight rolling R.

It was after dinner, and I was already beginning to feel my stomach protruding through my slim fit dress shirt. Course after course of chicken soup (bones and all), tomato-onion salad, homemade potato pita, sausages, beef wrapped in sauerkraut, bread, Slovonian made vodka, coffee, and now beer. Kölsch. Beer from Cologne.

The first time I was offered Kölsch, it was at her friend’s house. Karl. Karl Klingthammer. The sound of a hammer. And rightfully so.

German RoomHe greeted me in English, her in German. He shook my hand and added in English, “Welcome to Germany. You must know that in this house we only speak German”. I heard a murmur of embarrassed laughter and dismissive voices of “…aber Karl” from the kitchen. He turned from me and followed the voices, as my German emissary announcing my arrival in what I would later learn is the incessant German necessity of grand and glorious speeches—even if those speeches were in the kitchens of poor history students.

He spoke again in annunciated English, hoping I would appreciate the devious irony of his earlier admonition, “Shawn, you must try a beer from Cologne”. Now groans came from the kitchen. They had heard this before. “Später,” [Later] I yelled in his direction after he turned to display a large, dark beer bottle removed from a plastic, black crate on the floor. Feminine “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” arose like a Greek chorus from the crowded and hot kitchen as my unexpected reply had proven my cultural acumen.

When her father returned, he walked past us in the living room still quietly reciting his mantra of “Sure”.

He opened the beer in the kitchen and set both the bottle and the glass in front of me on the coffee table. Warm beer. Warm Kölsch beer from Cologne. Jetzt, nicht später. [Now, not later].


Before the foam settled from my pour, her mother had a line of salty snacks at my disposal. Peanuts, pretzels, Paprika chips—which I am convinced are the only chips available in all of Germany. We sat quietly and watched X-men 3 in German, without English subtitles.

Her father was usually the last to bed. When we visited, he either worked early in the morning or was making a particularly laborious visit to a physical therapist for lower back problems. I imagined the conversation. The stereotyping. The assumptions. German doctor. Possibly well established (read: old, born or conceived during WWII, traditional, intelligent). Croatian patient (read: immigrant, laborer, insular culture, unadaptive). What was unsaid during those visits could fill novels, but instead it would fill newspaper headlines about the lack of acculturation of Turkish and Yugoslav immigrants. The quiet, honest immigrant workers rarely made headlines. Only the stubborn and culturally recalcitrant received press.

A ViewTwo years and many hours of plane rides later, we sat outside enjoying the beautiful German, June evening confusing the Italian neighbors with our triumvirate blend of languages as we gossiped about their children in hushed German, Croatian, and English. It was a rare visit to her parent’s house in the absence of her mother, and the atmosphere contained the clarity of a Buddhist when compared to the presence of ever-dramatic tears and fears of that devoutly Catholic woman.

She was to my left, and he directly across from us. When he spoke Croatian, it was clearly directed toward her—since I could only understand very, very little Croatian, and was just beginning to understand the importance of the oft-repeated “dobro,” “tako,” and “možda”. When she spoke Croatian, it was for him. Speaking German was for all of us—with hand gestures for me. English between her and I was exclusionary, but English between her father and I was like candy after a bevy of salted meats and hearty breads.

If I was thinking of a career as a diplomat, this was my comforting induction.

She told him a story.

Croatian Coffee[Croatian] Earlier that morning, her and I had brought our breakfast of bread, assorted meats and cheeses, bresso, and coffee outside to this very table. All we were missing was some juice. I bravely decided to try my German skills and fetch some from the fridge. In the door lurked a small, translucent bottle with the German word for apple [Apfel] printed on it. The rest was indistinguishable Deutsch. The bottle was half full, and I had wondered who would drink only a little and put it back, but I brought it out anyway. Unassumingly, I placed it on the table and continued eating. She burst out laughing and told me that I had brought Apfelessig to the table: Apple vinegar.

What in the hell is Apple vinegar? No red-blooded American has ever heard of such a product.

With my tail between my legs, I returned the small bottle and came back with the cardboard carton of orange mango juice.

Luckily, I’m the type of man who enjoys a good laugh at himself—thinking that any publicity is good publicity. Typical American.

And in the great tradition of our social being as humans, her father returned us a similar story. When he first came to Germany, he spoke good German, but not that good—despite the hours of classes he and his wife undertook. His boss at the warehouse where he worked asked him to move a number of boxes from the packing floor to the stacks on the wall. After he completed the work, his boss came to look it over.

His boss asked, “Wie es ging? Mögen Sie die Arbeit” [How did it go? Do you like the work?]

Her father looked over his work with pride at a job well done, and replied, “Ja, Ich liebe dich” [Yes, I love you], instead of “Ich liebe es” [I love it].

The beginnings of their strained relations have been ameliorated through an exchange of laughter and cultural misgivings. Like how her father teaches his German boss to swear in Croatian, and they share a dramatic exchange of obscenities that belies their more obvious exterior differences.

And then that beer appeared again: Kölsch. Kept warm in the basement air, it felt no fear of condensation in the Swäbian, June night. She sipped her plum vodka while her father and I poured our beers into glasses and pushed the conversation toward the edge of its linguistic capabilities.

[German] “Okay. Okay. Prost.”
[English] “Prost. Živjeli.”
[Croatian] “Živjeli.”
[Croatian] “Živjeli.”
[German] “In Germany now, there are people who refuse to [Croatian] how do you say it?”
[Crotian] “Adapt. [German] Adapt.”
[English] “Adapt (?)”
[English] “Yes, in German it’s: [German] Adapt.”
[German] “Adapt. They come here, don’t work, don’t learn the language, and never talk to anyone.”
[Broken German] “Yeah, I know about that. I read an article in Spiegel about [English] Turkish migration?”
[German] “Turkish migration.”
[Croatian] “There is an older Croatian woman, you know her, the one who walked by this morning while we were outside, she is always coming over and talking to your mother about Croatia. ‘These people are suffering, these people need money, these people need jobs.’ It goes on and on. And then she sends money! Your mother. [Broken English] I don’t know. I don’t know.”
[Croatian] “I tell her all the time not to talk to that woman. She is no help. Mom doesn’t need anyone to give her a burden; it already comes natural to her.”
[English] “Is he talking about that lady who came by this morning?”
[English] “Yes, she gives mom ‘news’ about the gossip in Sarajevo.”
Swabian Graph[Croatian] “When we came here, we worked. We earned money and figured it out. We learned the language. And we try to meet the German neighbors. We bought this house, but we feared someone lazy would buy the other half of the house. [Broken English] The Roma. They come. [German] They want German protection, but don’t want to learn the language or work. [English] I don’t know. I don’t know.”
[Croatian] “Wasn’t there a Muslim couple who wanted to buy the other half?”
[Croatian] “Yes, but…”
[English] “When we moved in to the house the other half was vacant, and the first buyer showed up to speak to us. They were Muslim.”
[German] “His wife was wearing a [Croatian] what is the word?”
[Croatian] “Head scarf? Hijab? [English] She wore a Hijab.”
[English] “Oh. Hijab. Yeah. A head scarf.”
[Croatian] “Yeah. Head scarf. [Broken English] Head scarf. [German] And we had another offer from the Italian family who lives next door. Contessa is the big one. [English] Big one. [German] The wife. They have two sons. They are here tonight, and that is why they are all outside in the backyard. [English] Woohoo, party!”
[English] “The Italians were starting a restaurant that we knew about, so we were glad to have them move in next door.”
[Broken English] “The Muslims had, um, [German] two daughters (?)”
[Broken German] “Two daughter. Yes, yes, I understand”
[Broken English] “…and how could we live next to them? [Croatian] What would they think of our daughters? They would never be able to go outside without our neighbors getting upset.”
[English] “Ha! My parents were worried about raising us girls living next to Muslims who wore hijabs and prayed all day. We could never go outside without covering, he says! We would embarrass ourselves in their eyes.”

I thought of her in a bikini sunbathing on the porch, Muslim disapproval peppering the air. Or her sundress that nearly killed me, and never failed to provoke my arousal. I could not fathom what it would do to peoples who do not dare show their hair in public.

[English] “So, they sold it to the Italians. And they have lived here ever since.”

An inconclusive ending leaves much to pleasure and impetus for the writer to finish his or her work. Thanks for reading.

Literary Lessons: What I learned from the axe-wielding murderer, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov

The End

In a recent post, I reviewed Graham Green’s The End of the Affair, which I added to my list of “profoundly impacting novels“. A commenter on this post, one Peter Galen Massey, remarked my inclination toward rather, uhm, “unstable” characters. One such character is Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment. This got me thinking—navel gazing, of course, of which I am want to do while whistling away at work—and my thoughts lingered first on why am I attracted to these more reckless characters? and, furthermore, what does this reveal about my own character?

Once I came to the conclusion that I don’t revere Raskolnikov for his axe-wielding abilities, I set out to undertake an explanation as to why nearly every other year I come back to such a large and engrossing novel, such as Crime and Punishment. But to explain this phenomenon, I have to quickly summarize C & P. Alright, here it goes.

The novel is a reverse crime novel, i.e. we know who dunnit. In fact, we are privy to the murderer’s thoughts and actions both before and after the deed is done. There are six parts of the novel, and the first part is the murder. The rest is how Raskolnikov atones for this murder. Along the way there are some amazingly beautiful characters (including the Marmeladov family—who were actually the basis for the original novel of C & P, entitled The Drunkards—, Raskolnikov’s buddy Dmitri Razumikhin, and Porfiry Petrovich, to name just a few). Raskolnikov is a poor law student, and happens to follow a bit of Nihlism that is popping up around St. Petersburg at the time—Russian Nihlism, German Nihlism‘s uglier, angrier, and drunker sibling. Raskolnikov murders a pawn broker, Alyona Ivanovna, whom he has convinced himself, after hearing a conversation in a bar, is worthless and that the world would be better without her in it.

The first portion is Rodya not only plotting the murder, but convincing himself that it is okay. Now, here’s where the book becomes something more than just a run-of-the-mill, mystery-thriller-dime-store-novel stuff. CSI does this stuff to death, right? (excuse the pun): someone is murdered, and they have to find not only the killer, but his/her motive as well. Well, here’s the deal with Dostoevsky: we get to actually watch and imagine Rodya justifying murder—an act no normal individual can reasonably justify. Yes, murders are everywhere. Go ahead, turn on CNN, I’ll wait… but being inside the thoughts of someone who is convincing himself that murder is permissible is absolutely insane. It is raw, ugly existentialism.

Stuttgart StrasseSo, what I learned from Raskolnikov is that one must justify ones actions to two sets of peoples. First there is yourself. You simply must justify yourself each and every day you exist. And most of you, and me, have a preexisting justification for our daily lives. For example, why we eat bacon, why we wear jeans, why we take 10 minute showers, etc. The next set of peoples are the society in which you live. There are laws, both subtle and pronounced, for which each of is responsible for the sake of a peaceful existence. Such as, Thou shalt not steal, murder, worship false idols, and stopping at red lights, paying taxes for wars we protest, pirating music, etc. The weird (and beautiful) part is that both of these conditional clauses are dependent upon environment. In example, let’s say, in Germany, jaywalking is a huge no-no, but it is mostly enforced by social conditions. Whereas in New York, jaywalking is a part of the environment and one can and will justify their right to jaywalk with the proverbial, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” This response would not fly in Deutschland.

What is unique about Raskolnikov is that he overcame the most important person who kept telling him no: himself. Once he overcame that… well, that’s only the first part.

The rest of the novel is whether this “overcoming of self” is justifiable within societal norms, laws, and customs. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Rodya confesses in a populated square in the middle of St. Petersburg after an interesting scene where Sonya Marmeladov reads the story of Lazarus to him. And another scene where he confesses to the police, but they don’t believe him! (Ugh, that is a tough one to read). It should be no surprise that Christianity is impetus for Raskolnikov’s confession. It is personal guilt that eventually overcomes him, and guilt is the driving force behind Roman Catholicism, not to mention Christianity as a whole. Suffering is purposeful and personal for Raskolnikov. But atonement is not only personal, it is societal—which is why his confession is performed in a public square. Raskolnikov has overcome personal guilt to become this übermensch, or so at least he thinks (what is ultimately played out in C & P, is that the übermensch is an impossibility, if not a strict rarity, because of civilized norms).

The point is that all of this, all of this life, needs justification. It needs, nay requires, a reason. Not just breaking the law, but adhering to it as well. And it is not only oneself that one must reason into submission, it is also you and everyone reading this blog. And everyone driving on the road. And everyone on the subway staring into their new iPhone 5s. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to explain to people that each of us justifies our lives and actions in some way, shape, or form. Most people do NOT want to hear that their actions are conditional responses based upon profound and unfathomably numerous cultural signals and cues. Most people want to hear that each and every time they do something, it is a result of a choice. A rational choice plucked from the blooming flower of infallible logic. But that was Dostoevsky’s point! He thought that man was irrational! Such was the basis for existentialism. In fact, Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky’s 1864 novella, is a philosophical response in favor of irrationality against Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel, What is to be Done?

Boston CrowdI read Crime and Punishment and understand millionaires. I understand their wanting more. I understand crooked criminals. I understand the bribers and the bribed. I understand the takers and the givers, the makers and the destroyers. Because each and every one of them has justified their existence and their actions. Whether it be purchasing sliced bread or a new bed, each and every single one of us justifies our actions so that we can sleep at night—with full stomachs and on soft sheets.

I hope that I am not misunderstood in this post. And I hope that we can all learn something “good” from Raskolnikov. What we should learn is that we are all here for one another. No one exists alone. Not even Raskolnikov, not even the übermensch, not even the genius or the tyrant, the hero or the villain, the thief or the prosecutor. We are all responsible for the well being of one another. So, thank you for my well being, dear readers. I am truly thankful for yours.

The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There have been two novels I have read over the past decade that have significantly impacted my life. The first was Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, and the second was Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road. These two novels affected me more than many of the people I have met in my life because they, in the case of Dostoevsky, illuminated a grand and immeasurable philosophical quandary, or, in the case of Kerouac, identified a lasting inspiration within me. Now, I add Graham Greene‘s The End of the Affair to that list of profoundly impacting novels.

And for now, a ‘why’ is in order.

I was searching for this novel. And, perhaps, I’d like to think, it was searching for me. In that regard, I was looking for something to solve a mystery in my life; to, perhaps, better explain my feelings than I was able. And I drew it near me. To be clear: I was searching for a way to explain the end of a personal affair. I was searching for a work of art to explain an emotion that I could not yet apprehend due to broken ties across an ocean, and this novel did more than explain. It inspired.

The opening lines took me by surprise: “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead” (7). This line expresses a notion that I had been considering for some time, after I decidedly picked up Friedrich Nietzsche and read his words: “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena”. Greene echoes this in literary form, and thus begins a much more writerly text than I first supposed.

What I mean by writerly (a term used by Roland Barthes)is that Greene is not providing mere entertainment. One can feel his working of the novel’s breadth before him. The fact that the narrator injects musings on his daily writing habits and his nagging inability to bring to life a character or two, inform the reader that he or she is reading a book by an author. Also these notions hint to the reader that these characters may or may not be fictional, and that there is a thin line dividing the realm of fiction and fact when one relies on one’s “chosen” memories and “moral” interpretations. A writerly text seeks to elucidate this discrepancy. Writerly is Literature for writers, with writers in mind who want to demystify the artifice that is superficial entertainment. Writerly announces that this is Literature, this is a story you are reading, I am an author and a narrator, which is one reason why I often found this text so inspiring.

All stories are constructed to help us get through the day. To help us live. To help us wake up and go to work. To help us get through an emotion. This is the inevitable notion forever stimulating Art and Literature. Great Art is supposed to be cathartic. It is supposed to help you construct a social understanding when the your limited social world cannot aid you. There was no person, no friend, no relative, to empathize with me at the end of my affair (I use the term purposefully, even though there was no love triangle). What Art does is it gives you time to ruminate on a moment. Art provides a space for you to take the time to construct your personal empathetic understanding, when all life wants you to do is shut up and move on. Wake up. Get over it. Although, inevitably, it helps you do just that.

I can’t imagine this review does Greene’s novel justice. Inevitably, I waxed philosophical during my review and omitted much of the content of the novel, which is what initially forged my personal connection to it. Well, such is life. It is a novel I will be reading again soon with a pencil by my side to underline passages and quotations. And, so I hope it is one that I will revisit and possibly review again. After all, the most justice I think I can do for this novel is to mimic it, and with that, secure it the highest compliment of all.

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