*not ranked are AP Music Theory, AP Studio Art, and the Language AP’s
This list is based on personal experience, some stats on who gets 5’s and doesn’t, as well as the nature and format of the course and how crucial teacher instruction is, and how new the course concepts are. High school year plays little role with the exception of AP World History, in which sophomores and below tend to do very poorly.
If humans could be compiled into code
Some would be the “Hello World!”s,
novices who can only count to seven,
even using digits, new to the digital world.
And some would most certainly be,
the bug-infested executables,
who wriggle and squirm
and jumble their lines as they run
past their past like a worm.
And some would be rushed,
yearning to be used,
plagued by an eternal fear of deadlines.
And some would be perfect,
polished results of a rigorous programmer,
with perfect syntax and perfect grammar,
the perfect, most efficient manner,
of printing out:
wrap your warped view of this world over my neck,
and bless my nape with a kiss,
or a bite, despite saying no, and wanting yes,
and tighten it around our bodies,
and tighter, and tighter,
hands reaching towards hell,
the lowly, oh lowliest pits of hell.
tighter and tighter, lynched in lust
and seizing in sin
as we twirl from the tree
of Adam and Eve,
our fruits forever forbidden.
Lacerated with feathers laced in gold,
the jaguar skull bounds her silk
and binds her fate, her soul,
to the whims foretold of the oracle.
A skeleton clad in civilization’s bones,
she dances on the pedestal of blood
(you can still hear her weary moans)
as the White Gods take their thrones.
La noche anterior la princesa
visitó el altar de rey Montezuma
y cuando durmió en esa mesa
le comieron el corazón y abrieron su cabeza.
“Oh!” the oracles say, the kingdom
will rise, salvation shall come
when the Dioses Blancos arrive
and demand sacrifice through the gun.
“Oh!” the oracles say, the kingdom
will rise, salvation shall come
when the Vestido Dorado dries
with the blood sacrifice of a virgin.
Aiac xiclti in Halticapac
pero así desespero tu pueblo
leaving solely el Vestido Dorado intact.
Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal” details a young, nameless narrator’s fight, both physical and social. In the story, an African-American valedictorian is subjugated and demonized, reduced into a pawn for a white man’s game. His society, roughened from generations of diaspora, does little to assist him, and thus he believes he can overcome white rule only by assimilating. “Battle Royal” is guided by a narrator whose mimicry of white culture ultimately undermines his goal of social equality; hence, the narrative culminates in a colonialist agenda. In this context, critical theories of postcolonialism and multiculturalism can reveal the internalization of hatred and spread of subjugation in the frame of twentieth century America—although the narrative itself is chained to colonialist cufflinks, a postcolonialist criticism serves as an important exercise in understanding how imperialist culture can burrow into the mind of characters both black and white. A postcolonialist criticism will assist the reader in gaining a new understanding of how the main character internalizes the hatred he receives, and how it alters not only the plot but rhetoric of the narrative.
Even the rhetorical facility of the narrator implies a colonialist worldview. It is a replication of Standard White English and furthers racial homogenization. It lacks the Ebonic language that distinguishes most African-American narrators; the fact that instead he adopts their language in not only his narration, but his speech—all for whites—helps to reinforce feelings of inferiority and thus propagate the white dominion over culture. In this speech, he draws from a parable to admonish “to those of my race…[do not] underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man” (Ellison 22). From a historical standpoint, the narrator’s speech can be described to the weaker and lesser known nonviolent racial movements of the 1920’s, which rested less upon “humility” and more upon integration (Ibid.). This assimilation-based syncretism is not inherently negative; rather, it is the presentation of his speech that begets a colonialist undertone. His replies of “Sir” to the white men (who ironically speak in southern drawl) signal respect; during his speech, he uses the euphemism “social responsibility,” demonstrating his reluctance to agitate the crowd with notions of equality, and then when he accidentally does, he claims to have “[swallowed] blood” (22, 23). As the “thunderous applause” engulfs the room, the superintendent praises him, prophesying “some day he’ll lead his people in the proper paths,” which suggests that narrator requires the approval of a “Southern white man” to find equality and success (23).
Furthermore, throughout the narrative he emphasizes imagery in connection with animals such “wolfing…goose flesh…baboon’s butt…bird-girl…cautious crabs…hypersensitive snails” and “wet rat” (17,18, 19). The imagery as a collective functions in two ways: first, it helps reinforce the element of a well-mannered man being reduced to a savage animal; second, it relates to the narrator’s nightmare at the end of the short story. The motif of a circus—present in both the stripper scene and the dream—tie into the concept of the savage, the chaotic, and the unattainable. The scene in which the stripper dances, which the narrator describes as
a desire to spit upon her as my eyes brushed slowly over her body. I wanted at one and the same time to run from the room, to sink through the floor, or go to her and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and to murder her, to hide from her. I had a notion that of all in the room she saw only me with her impersonal eyes. (18)
symbolizes the exoticness of a culture unknown, but at the same time an insatiable desire for it—the narrator’s desire to be and act white. These elements both tie into the concept of unattainability and control in superficial sexual terms and deeper racial terms as well. Consequently, the way in which the narrator diminishes the stripper into a “circus kewpie doll” while mentioning the ways he would harm her is similar to the ways in which the white men treat the narrator; hence, the narrator’s treatment of the woman signals an internalization of colonialist hatred (18). The second idea of a circus, appearing in the dream, involves his grandpa sending a “short message in letters of gold” which reads “To Whom It May Concern…Keep This Nigger-Boy Running” (24). Barring the racial slur that serves to degrade the character, those concerned can be posited to be the “Southern white men,” and thus the letter represents how the whites throughout the story force them into segregation and internalized alienation under the faux auspices of concern, how the whites throughout the story force the narrator into a “struggle” of “[slipping] out of [their] hands” while remaining in their clutches (21). Examining the narrator’s comment that first he had to “attend college,” it is logical to assume that he is still “running” and his identity as a whole is not solidified (24). This element of vagueness in identity can be attributed wholly to the cultural forces of imperialism perpetuated by both blacks and whites that subvert his process of self-identity.
If this subversion of self-identity taken for its irony, does it display colonialism’s disequilibrium, its darkest shades? To an extent, but the work does not go far enough. Certainly, the cruel actions of the white hegemony can be reflected upon in the story, and this endows it some semblance of postcolonialism. However, the tragic counterpoint comes from the narrator—and indeed, his society as a whole—who legitimize the social force of racism by accepting white rule, seeing the only solution as agreeing and never explicitly criticizing the folly of this notion. In attempting to construct a criticism of colonialism, Ellison becomes its product; the goal of overcoming an imperialistic culture by accepting it, integrating into it, and then changing it fails. He “[accepts] their answers” despite their “contradiction” (17). The nameless narrator expresses that these were questions only he could answer, that he is “nobody but” himself—but first he had to “discover [he is] an invisible man” (Ibid.). This component of invisibility, defined as being viewed as a potpourri of racial stereotypes rather than a fledged human being, is overcome through syncretism, the process wherein the narrator synthesizes colonialist and anti-colonialist strains—this in particular is not a negative thing, but his syncretism is imperfect; it degrades itself by subjugating him to pain and mockery that he could otherwise overcome. Following his grandfather’s path, he attempts to “overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death” in order to be “praised by the most lily-white men”# (Ibid.). Hence, the narrator’s assimilation—or, rather, attempted assimilation—into white culture undermines, rather than strengthens, the structure of his identity.
“Battle Royal” is a battle not of characters, but of ideologies. In its literary rings, two philosophical juggernauts—colonialism and postcolonialism—wrestle. As the story progresses, the black identity of the narrator is deconstructed, diminished, and destroyed—the story’s linguistic style, symbolic mechanisms, and syncretism each work, almost unknowingly, in tag team to deliver postcolonialism a harsh uppercut. Ultimately, as the narrator stands in victory, a postcolonialist agenda falls to the electrified rug, and any aims to illuminate upon the black struggle falter by their inability to truly criticize the power structures and racism of his time.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem “Truth” is a quintessential example of 14th century poetry. Its stanzas are formulaic, austere, constricted to rules and patterns—much like medieval life. This structure, reflecting a simple and focused life, reflects the content of the poem as well. Chaucer’s poem is clear and instructive, calling the reader to avoid mortal sins and to trust in “Truth,” meaning Jesus Christ. As a result, Chaucer’s poem is sculpted from a didactic tone, repetition, and religious allusion—each of which simultaneously sculpt the message which admonishes the reader from the seven deadly sins so that their self-control leads them to a spirited, Christian life without fear.
Primarily, Chaucer’s diction (and as a result, tone) are formed from commands, and since each command deals with avoiding moral failure, the tone becomes didactic. The first line of the poem commands the reader to “Flee from the crowd, and dwell with truthfulness”; the effect of this is that Chaucer grants himself ethos by posing as an authority on the matter, but also the reader’s attention to the idea that they must avoid a life stilted upon fame and instead seek one of holiness. A line similar to this is “Savour no more” which calls the reader to avoid over consumption, both of physical and carnal things. The lines “Rule well yourself” and “Control yourself” directly tell the reader to exhibit self-control (and decency); these phrases are followed by “who others advise here” and “who would control your peer,” respectively, suggesting that the reader serves as a model of morality. Chaucer warns the reader of “kicking at an awl”; here, an awl is used as a metaphor for work, and since awls have sharp properties, it is unwise for the reader to not “[scorn] busyness” and fall subject to the ills of overworking oneself. Furthermore, the aforementioned relates to the concept of “humbleness,” which Chaucer urges the reader to demonstrate when receiving anything. The final four lines of the final stanza
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beast, out of your stall!
Know your country: look up, thank God for all;
Hold the high way, and let your spirit steer,
And truth shall deliver you have no fear.
are forceful commands—far more forceful than any of his previous—which command the reader to go “forth” and search for “your country,” the “high way,” the country of God: Heaven. Furthermore, these lines also hint at “your country” being heavy by mandating the reader to “look up,” which pairs smoothly with “thank God for all” and hence can apply concurrently to thankfulness and heaven. In these lines, Chaucer once again calls for the reader to exhibit control, although here control transcends the self, and instead focuses on the reader letting their “spirit steer.” Because of these properties, integral to the diction and tone of the work, the poem itself can be seen as a twenty-one line command.
Throughout this twenty-one line command, the concept of truth is repeated in a quarter of the lines. As stated before, the first line commands the reader to “flee from the crowd” and instead pursue more moral pursuits in privacy (this concept comes partly from the Bubonic plague, which caused Europeans to stay indoors; hence, being unaffected by the disease was viewed as a blessing from God), which lead them to “dwell with truthfulness” (as shall be later explained, “truth” is a metaphor for Jesus Christ). The final line of the stanza, which assuages the reader by explaining that “truth shall deliver you, have no fear” once again repeats the concept of truth, with “deliver” signifying freedom from fire and brimstone. The second stanza continues, but uses truth in a different sense. Whereas the previous used truth in a religious tone, the third usage employs “trusting” in its primary sense. The line and the line preceding tell the reader that “Trouble you not the crooked to redress,/trusting in her who wobbles like a ball”; the first part tells the reader not to worry over correcting that which is “crooked” or immoral, or to partake or trust in individuals who “[wobble] like a ball.” The pronoun in the second line is “her,” which implies a sexual (hence, immoral) connotation, warning the (male) reader to be wary of females whom he cannot trust. The final line of this stanza is identical to that of the first stanza. Finally, the line is once again repeated on the third stanza.
While Chaucer’s structure is considerably formulaic, with the line “And truth shall deliver you, have no fear” repeated at the end of every stanza, it is the penultimate line on the last stanza that breaks away from this formula. The lines “Rule well yourself, who others advise here” and “Control yourself, who would control your peer” are similar both in meaning and composition, but are counteracted with “Hold the high way, and let your spirit steer.” Hence, the strength of this line is amplified and its meaning given due concentration. Although the two lines previously mentioned deal with the concept of self-control as it results in influence upon others, the latter line deals with maintaining the moral “high way” while letting “your spirit steer”—it is also plausible that “high way” here refers to Heaven. Altogether, these lines imply a trust transcending humanity with promise of transhuman reward.
This concept of ‘transhuman reward’ is represented most explicitly through Chaucer’s usage of allusions. To the conformity of his time, his allusions are all religious, but can be separated into two distinct spheres: that which deals with sin and damnation, and that which deals with Christ and salvation.
The sphere of sin and damnation is partitioned by Chaucer into the Seven Deadly Sins, a component of Christian ethics which identifies capital vices to avoid in order to assure entry into Heaven. The first sin, luxuria, is present in the second stanza, which cautions the reader not to trust in “her who wobbles like a ball”—as stated before, Chaucer’s era would signify that the line most likely bore sexual connotations, and cautions the reader to avoid promiscuity or else risk moral impurity. The second sin, gula, is present in the second line which reads “Hoarding brings hatred”—Chaucer is rather clear here that gula leads to social and moral repugnancy. The third sin, avarita, is present in the aforementioned line, but also more explicitly in “wealth blinds overall,” which advises the reader against trusting material goods, lest they lose sight of the truth. Acedia, the fourth sin, is more difficult to pinpoint, but appears most likely in the second stanza’s third line, which states that “well-being rests on scorning busyness/Beware therefore of kicking at an awl”; it should be noted that prior to Dante, acedia referred to discouragement, rather than sloth, and thus the lines regard being discouraged or catalyzing disappointment as sinful, rather than pure laziness. The fifth sin, ira, is present in “Wrestling for this world asks but a fall,” which implies that ire—anywhere it is directed—results in a person morally falling from height. Invidia, the sixth sin, can be found in “Praise brings envy”—as with many others, its usage is rather straightforward: that invidia, as other sins, strays one from the “truth” and “blinds” them “overall.” Finally, superbia is warned against in the second line with “Let your thing suffice, though it be small,” calling the reader to appreciate their humble belongings—humbleness is then referred to in the first line of the last stanza, with this virtue needing to be shown with anything “sent.” Throughout these poems, each of these sins is warned against; participation in them, to Chaucer, are an offense to God, and the reader must exhibit self-control in order to let their “spirit steer” away from these mortal offenses.
But if these sins exist and should be avoided, what should be pursued? Chaucer is considerably clear in this, stating that one must trust in “truth,” a metaphor for Jesus Christ, which comes from John 8:32: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Bible verses John 3:21 (“But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”) and John 14:6 (“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”) further solidify that the line is in fact a direct reference to Jesus Christ. Because of this, we can infer that “truthfulness” in line one also deals with Jesus Christ, while the second line of the second stanza, in gerund form, is a verb, not a noun as it should be in order to mean Jesus Christ.
The centrality this metaphor has to the poem elucidates the message. As the lines before the final stanza suggest, it is necessary to have moral composure, to avoid all forms of sin, and this sinlessness can lead to knowing the truth, Jesus Christ. (This also reflects the era Chaucer writes during, as salvation springs forth from the spigot of faithful works, rather than the fountain of faith alone.) It should be noted this also works in inverse, as knowing the truth can lead one away from sinlessness. Given the usage of commands (aided by a didactic tone) urging the reader to avoid moral decay, we can assume that the poem implies human effort to avoid sin must come first. The result of this effort is a “home” in the “country” above, Heaven and a seat alongside the “truth,” Jesus Christ.
It’s been an entire year since I started Boltaway, which has been an erratic mess, but a fun erratic mess, as any pursuit in writing tends to be. At the same time, I don’t want to feel restricted by a bunch of old posts, or feel as if I should be keeping tally on my creativity. Because of that, I decided to delete all the posts from the past two years of this blog (don’t worry! They can still be found here). (PS: my domain name has been registered for a year, the blog itself has been alive since February 2011).
I truly love running this mayhem of wires and code, and it’s as much a hobby as a second identity. This is my world, and this is its New Genesis. I hope this year to become slightly (slightly!) more consistent in my blog updates and to hopefully improve the general quality of my writing (maybe I will give this blog purpose!).
Let’s hope everything here on out goes
well not too much of a disaster.