Monday, February 24, 2014

Measures of Worth

Measures of Worth

El Dorado challenges Candide’s perception of priorities and of what constitutes value.. The juxtaposition between Candide’s perception of jewels and the schoolmaster’s perception of jewels emphasizes how exploring other countries is helpful to understanding one’s own beliefs. The narrator states, “Our travelers from the other world amused themselves by looking on. The quoits were large round pieces, yellow, red, and green, which cast a singular luster” (41). Since the narrative focuses on Candide, every other place should be considered the “other.” However, the use of the world “other” is relative to El Dorado being the “norm.” This particular description signifies that “otherness” is relative to what one is familiar with; this way of thinking does not, however, allow one to see the world without prejudice.

In contrast to Candide and Cacambo’s viewpoint, “the schoolmaster, smiling, flung [the quoits] upon the ground; then, looking at Candide with a good deal of surprise, went about his business” (41). The action of “[flinging the quoits] upon the ground” demonstrates indifference toward the jewels. From the previous extracted quotation, Candide and Cacambo are “amused” with the objects; the schoolmaster is “surprised” at the visitors. While “amused” and “surprised” are charged with a similar energy, the objects that evoke these emotions differ which signifies the disproportionate weight these two parties place upon jewels. In comparing and contrasting how the two systems differ- that of El Dorado and that of Westphalia, Candide experiences a place that is able to sustain itself without the application of familiar structures and institutions, like prisons, governments, etc. This experience signifies that there is no singular, proper, approach to creating a foundation for a nation. The approach that fuel independent gain through material goods have a direct correlation with war and violence.

The Complexity of Identity

The Complexity of Identity

The festival of the Twelfth Night was a time when everything was turned upside-down and normal roles and behaviors were forgotten.  In Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, the characters’ very identities are questioned. The play asks the question of whether identity is transient. Maybe more importantly, it asks the question of whether it is it based on “nature or culture?”[1] Twelfth Night suggests that identity is not always what a person is born as. The identity nature bestows on a person is not always who they truly are inside. Identity, especially gender identity, does not always fit into the neat box that culture prescribes.

          At the very beginning of the play, Viola tells the Captain, “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid/ For such disguise as haply shall become/ The form of my intent” (1.2.53-55). She discusses disguise, or identity, as if she can shape it to her “intent.” She becomes an eunuch, which is fits her “true” identity as a woman. In fact, she never truly lies. When the Duke questions Cesario about who he/she loves, Viola answers that the person is “of you complexion” (2.4.26) and “about your years, my lord” (2.4.28). She plays her part so well that nobody ever questions whether she is a truly a man. In another play of Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew, he writes, “Was aptly fit, and naturally performed” (Ind.1.87). Maybe the fact that Viola so truly fits her role as a boy suggests that she is fulfilling her true nature. She has autonomy and abilities that were never afforded her as a woman. She is able to both advise the Duke and Olivia, as well as sometimes contradict them. At one moment, Viola even is able to make a stand for women. The only true difference between Viola and her brother is her sex. When her true identity is discovered, the Duke proclaims, “One face, one voice, one habit, and two person - / A natural perspective that is and is not” (5.1.211-212). Viola has able to play her part so well that it seems if that is who she is naturally supposed to be. In fact, at the end of the play Cesario never turns back into Viola. Perhaps this is implying that her identity is as clear cut as her being a woman.

          Viola plays her part of a man so well that Olivia falls in love with her thinking that she is truly a man. Yet what she actually falls in love with is Viola’s speech about love (1.5.257-265). Olivia falls for the passion in Viola’s voice. Her love crosses the boundaries of gender. She falls in love with who Viola is as a person. Additionally, Olivia takes on the role of the aggressor, when previously she had been the mourner and maid. She is quickly transforming her identity to gain what she desires. She is taking on a more masculine position in the relationship, which mixes up what masculinity and femininity truly mean. It is also possible that Olivia is comfortable enough around Cesario that she is able to become the person that she truly is inside.

The Duke has a similar issue with his feelings for Cesario, except the gender she is portraying is not acceptable for him to fall for within the social constructs. There is no denying that the Duke has genuine feelings for Cesario: “I have unclasped/ To thee the book of my secret soul” (1.4.13-14). Later when the Duke believes that Cesario betrays him he questions if he should “Kill what I love?” (5.1.116) and he promises to “sacrifice the lamb that I do love/ To spite a raven’s heart within a dove” (5.1.127-128). It is as if he is more upset by Cesario’s betrayal and the possibility of him favoring Olivia than he is that Olivia loves someone else. Yet unlike Olivia who believes Cesario to be a boy, the Duke is unable to truly act on his feeling until Cesario’s “true” identity is revealed. When he discovers that Cesario is actually Viola, he immediately states. “I shall have to share in this most happy wrack./ Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times. Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.” In fact, he even still refers to Viola as a boy, as if her gender does not truly matter. This aspect of the play is part of the reason it controversial. The play suggests that love has no gender barriers; that true love is based on who the person is inside and not about his or her sex.

          In the end, Sebastian states that Viola has “been mistook/ But nature to her bias drew in that/ You would have been contracted to a maid;/ Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived: You are betrothed both to a maid and man” (5.1.254-254). Sebastian is pointing out that nature fixed the predicament that they faced. It would have be “unnatural” for her to love a maid, so nature stepped in and brought the male version of her. The play ends in a socially acceptable way, with only heterosexual pairs. Yet as Sebastian clearly states that Olivia is “betrothed both to a maid and a man.” While this may be referring to his virginity, on a deeper level it might be referring to the fact that Viola and Sebastian are essentially the same people. The relationship of Viola and the Duke also remains in a state of question concerning the gender of Viola. The Duke states, “Cesario come -/ For so you shall be while you are a man/ But when in other habits you are seen,/ Orsino’s mistress and his fancy’s queen” (5.1.378-382). Yet, as earlier mentioned, Viola never changes back into her female clothes. Like Sebastian, perhaps the play is subtly suggesting that Viola is both man and women. Also Orsino is suggesting that the gender does not truly matter to him, he fell in love with her as Cesario and will love her as Viola.

          Lastly, the changing costumes in the play symbolize the ability to take on a new identity. A person can quickly discard an identity to fit the situation. Yet like the quote from The Taming of the Shrew states, “Was aptly fit, and naturally performed” (Ind.1.87), meaning that some roles, or costumes, fit better than others and therefore signify one’s true nature. Twelfth Night expands on this idea, suggesting that perhaps more than one costume can fit a person. In the case of Viola, both her costumes for man and women seem to be interchangeable. The same goes for Malvolio; although he claims to be a modest and Puritan of a man, in his fantasy he was dreaming of wearing a “velvet gown” (2.5.45) and a “rich jewel” (2.5.57). He later truly wears ridiculous garments in order to impress Olivia. For Malvolio, he might truly desire to wear more splendid clothes yet feels like he must conform to society or his beliefs. Or maybe is truly is both people, that there is in fact a middle ground. Clothes are often the constrictions of society. The more important message to be gleamed may be that it truly does not matter what one wears, or what society mandates. A person is a mixture of complexities. There is no set version of what masculinity should be and what femininity should be.

          Twelfth Night breaks all of the social boundaries that are forced on people. This is dangerous because it destroys the foundations that society is based on. This might be the danger (in the minds of some) or the merit (in the minds of others) of theater. Theater is the physical symbolization that identity is not always what is being shown in clothes. A man can play an unbelievable convincing woman and vice versa. Also, an actor may wear many different costumes in one night and they all might fit who he or she is. Theater shows that identity is not a simple categorization but something that is complex and changing. The Twelfth Night shows the identity is simple and that is what makes life enjoyable. 



Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Edited by Stephen Orgel. Penguin Books: New York, 2000.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Edited by Jonathon Crewe. Penguin Books: New York, 1992.

[1] William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. Jonathon Crewe, (Penguin Books: New York, 1992), xlii.

What's good for the goose may not be good for the gander.

            In his work, Candide, Voltaire uses the character, Dr. Pangloss , to satirize the notion that the world is the best it can be. Pangloss believes that everything that happens must happen for a reason because God made it so. Also since God it so, it must, obviously, be the best possible world. Voltaire greatly respects Pangloss and in turn accepts this notion.
             One of the most poignant moments that Voltaire’s satire shines through is when Jacques dies. Jacques, and Anabaptist, saves the live of a man who is about to drown. Unfortunately, while doing so, Jacques falls overboard. The man who live Jacques saves does not return the favor. The ship sinks and Pangloss, Candide and the sailor are the only survivors. In this scenario it is very hard to justify everything was for the best. The man, Jacques, who represented good, lost his life and the man he saved did nothing to help. Things only get worse when they get to land.
            When they get to Libson it is in the aftermath of an earthquake. The land and ravage and many are dead and seriously wounded. Pangloss tries to console the survivors that everything is for the best. Pangloss’ statement does not go over well with the survivors. He is accused of being a heretic because there is no way that someone like Pangloss could believe in original sin. Pangloss is confronted with the claim that original sin is proof that all is not for the best. Although Pangloss tries to defend his story with some twisted logic, and while he may convince himself, not many people believe him.
            It is not entirely surprising that Pangloss believes what he believes. Though he is not royal he still enjoys more power than many other characters. For those with power the world may seem like it is for the best. They do not have to see the troubles face by many others. The world may be wonderful for them but for those who are oppressed the world is most certainly not the best it can be. Voltaire seems to be making this point. Many of the characters who are the most optimistic, like Pangloss, also enjoy, to some degree, power. It is most evident in the fact that Candide’s parents due not marry.  The only reason his parents do not marry is because his mother had more royal lineage. While Candide’s mother might have viewed the world as great it seems his father would not view the world as being the best it can be. For if the world was the best it can be he would have his son and wife. Pangloss’, like many others, view of life is skewed based on his experience. He is able to be more optimistic than most because his situation, while not ideal, is still better than most people’s.

The Road to El Dorado

Romantic comedies are the bane of all successful relationships. Yet they are some of the most enjoyable forms of entertainment. Every ‘rom-com’ has the same formula; guy meets girl, there is some obstacle to overcome but they get together, some difference between the two breaks them up, they realize they’re perfect for each other and get back together, happily ever after. People keep watching, even though they become repetitive and predictable, solely for that happy ending. The movie always ends with a wedding or a reconciliation of the relationship with a hope for a future of endless bliss. That simply isn’t reality. Life is a constant flux, not everyone gets back with their first true love, sometimes the problem cannot be defeated. Because the movie always ends on the good, it implies that after the movie the couple will never fight again, their differences have been over come. Human relations work on the structure that it is constant work, there will be huge blown up arguments, and there will be perfect snuggling on the porch swing at dawn drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company in silence. 
Voltaire is trying to show the constant balance of struggle and success. He has Pangloss with his eternal hope of a perfectly balanced world where with the bad always comes the good. “Come, sir, seat yourself; not only will we pay your reckoning, but we will never suffer such a man as you to want money; men are only born to assist one another” (Voltaire pg 27). He is the person who believes in the ‘rom-com’, because Candide is of good character he shall be provided  from other men and the world. Pangloss believes the couple will get back together because they belong together and a little bad in the relationship will end by them getting back together and living blissfully. Pangloss is the ‘rom-com’. He is the man that encourages his friend he will do great on the test he hasn’t studied for because he failed that last one. 
Then there is Martin, the eternal pessimist. He is the one who sits in suffering and points out the futile need for hope in other. He is the person that hopes the couple breaks up because love doesn’t exist anyway. He is that friend that would watch his friend search frantically for his car keys and say they probably fell down a well earlier. 
Neither accomplished anything. According to Pangloss, James saves a sailor, and should be rewarded with good. Yet the sailor does not return the favor and is striving once the cast aways reach land. “Honest James ran to his assistance, hauled him up, and from the effort he made was precipitated into the sea in sight of the sailor, who left him to perish, without deigning to look at him” (Voltaire pg. 45). While injured men pile around him, the sailor is imbibing and enjoying the company of a lady of the night. Pangloss simply just keeps on preaching the value of the good and does nothing to help while the evil sailor seems to be dancing among the injured, Pangloss is preaching and is just as bad. 
Martin is always expecting the worse and is often wise while Candide is constantly losing his fortune. Yet while Candide is searching for his true love, Cunegonde, he sits back and revels in Candide’s anguish. He sits on his heels and preaches the discouraging told-you-so mantra, content in his misery. 
Voltaire’s balance is in the Old Lady who’s father is the Pope. “A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself: but still I loved life”(Voltaire pg 84). She points out that everyone has tales of woe, but they keep on living. Humans always strive for the happy ending or El Dorado, but they will never be content with that. The Old Lady has embraced the ups and down, the continual fight. There is no end to suffering or happiness, until death. Death is the final end of the movie. It is not a happy ending where all skip into the field of flowers. 
The characters in Candide cannot hole up and simply live on their little farm in complete bliss. Voltaire is doing a satire of his own satire. Life is not complete when you hole yourself up happily. Humans need to go out and live to prove they are alive. That is the human condition, constantly seeking a happy ending that humans will never achieve. The happy is the ‘life’ part and the end is ‘death’. A life death is not a realistic goal. Humans need to go out and experience each other to forever be surprised and challenged to test the limits of the sincerity and the cruelty of the world. That is the human condition to cause our own momentary suffering to see glimpses of occasional happiness. There is not perfect match in which life settles into bliss. The perfect lover will make his significant other mad again and vice versa, but they will not break-up because he was looking at another girl. They will work through the bad to reach the good and struggle for something that is still working. When it stops working the relationship is over, similar to life. When life gives up the ability to work it can only conclude in death. 

All Language

     We speak a lot in class about the power that is inherent in language. The ability to speak, read, or write gives people an avenue through which to influence others. Man's ability to communicate through words is his one undeniable claim above other creatures on Earth and the reverence which is given to language as a whole, endows him with a certain amount of power. 
     This power and influence of language is directly acknowledged in Voltaire's Candide. The person from whom Candide takes all his lessons is Dr. Pangloss, a name which, according to the notes in the back of the book, means "all language." From this simple and clever naming of the philosopher filling Candide's innocent mind with knowledge about the world and life itself, Voltaire makes an important statement about the power of language as a whole. Candide is an easily influenced character in his naiveté and he is gullible enough to fall into many unfortunate situations, but the one person whose advice and lessons he holds dearest to his heart and firmly roots his life in, is Dr. Pangloss. 
     The banning of books tends to be an attempt to extinguish a flame it may possibly ignite, but the fact that these books have the potential for that encompassing blaze and that people fear their influence, give them even more power in society. Language is dangerous to some in its communication of ideas that may counter those of existing societal norms and we have seen this through the banning of the books we have already seen this semester. Candide, being another broadly banned book for much of its content and ideas, holds a great amount of power, and even before its banning, Voltaire seemed to be aware of the influence of language and manifests this through the character of Dr. Pangloss and his totaling influence on Candide. 

Optimism, The Fatal Flaw

In chapters eleven and twelve of Voltaire’s Candide, we learn the brutal history of the kind old woman who saved Candide from the earthquake.  Though she was born the pope’s daughter, she has managed to live most of her life as a slave, enduring plagues, beatings, and the death of the family.  Recounting her horrid experiences, she says, “A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself...for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which one can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one’s existence?” (29).  This, I believe, is the central question of Candide itself, for it begs readers to think about why life is worth living amidst all of its hardships.  
Clearly, something about life’s light pervaded over death’s darkness for the old woman.  This kind of optimism, seeing what is still right in a world filled with wrong, is a central theme in Candide.  The picture of optimism himself, Candide traverses through life without much thought or care.  Not only does he accept his life for what it is, he looks forward to the future.  As they leave Portugal for the new world, Candide tells the old lady and Cunegonde, “We are going into another world and surely it must be there that all is for the best” (23).  His positivity is astonishing amidst all of the tragedy he has faced, but perhaps this optimism is also his fatal flaw.  By never thinking too deeply, Candide is never truly affected.  Though he dismisses the violence and corruption in the world, he doesn’t seek change or improvement.   

By way of Candide’s optimism, Voltaire suggests that the world is filled with problems; yet he also hints that these problems are not unsolvable.  As the old woman suggests, it is perhaps through shared experience that problems can be solved.  She tells Cunegonde, “ I have had experience, I know the world; therefore I advise you to divert yourself, and prevail upon each passenger to tell his story...” (29).  In this way Voltaire is suggesting that we should not face our problems alone like Candide, nor should we assume that everything will get better on its own.  Instead, we should follow the advice of the old woman and share our “gritty realities” (as Kolvenbach might say) so that others may learn from our experiences.   In this way, we can be optimistic like Candide, but also mindful of what we have gained from our mistakes or the wrongness in our lives.  

A Defense of Literature by Default

Candide is an argument against just about every single institution that humans hold dear. Philosophy, religion, militarization, and even optimism are all defamed in Voltaire’s satire. As the work is literature itself, literature is, naturally, excluded from this mass condemnation of human traditions. In banning the book, however, there is an implication that there is some element of accuracy and therefore danger to social norms in what Voltaire writes. It is not uncommon to see religion and military questioned by literature, but I found it surprising to see Voltaire take a stab at philosophy and optimism. These two aspects of society, unlike religion and militaries, are rarely sources of conflict and it is therefore more difficult to see why these concepts might be troubling to Voltaire.
The answer I found, through Candide’s experiences, was that both philosophy and optimism give a false sense of experience and understanding to people who may not know the reality of the world. When we assume that everything is for the best the way it is, we lose reason to change and progress. If we are to believe that philosophy has prepared us for real life issues, were may be sorely disappointed. Candide can only retain the belief that everything is for the best while his life is untried and untested. It is only after experience that he begins to realize that “all goes as well as possible” (Voltaire 65). Candide’s mistake in trusting his life to philosophical principles becomes obvious during his time on a ship in a storm. While Pangloss is busy describing the a priori reasoning behind Anabaptist’s death, many people die. It is obvious only to the reader that it is absurd to be concerned about philosophical principles while real life is going on. In this life or death scene, Voltaire emphasizes the problematic nature of relying on philosophy as a guide for life.

Through literature, however, we are able to see human experience in the many ways that it truly is and can be. The understanding gathered through literature, including Candide, is what allows us to become experienced without truly experiencing.

Unjust Justification

            At the beginning of Voltaire’s novella, Candide, we are introduced to Pangloss, a professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology, stating that this world is the best of all possible worlds and that there is no effect without a cause.  Pangloss considers himself an optimist, believing that eventually everything, including terrible injustices, will work out for the best.  Voltaire communicates this message throughout the novella’s series of unfortunate yet comedic events.
            The series of unfortunate events occurs in almost every chapter of the novella.  Canidide’s bad luck begins in the first chapter when he is banished from the castle by the baron after he and Cunegonde secretly kiss.  Next, he is save from hunger and fatigue by Buglar soldiers, though he is abused while he is trained to be a soldier.  When the Buglarian king learns that Candide is a young metaphysician and thus “extremely ignorant of things of this world” (4), he is pardoned for his unintentional desertion.  After having human waste dumped over his head for stating that the Pope could be the Antichrist, Candide finds Pangloss, whose body has been ravaged by syphilis, in the street.  While Pangloss becomes deformed by the infection, he still believes that it is necessary in the best of worlds.  These unfortunate events continue to occur throughout the novella, including natural disasters and diseases, all satirizing Pangloss’ optimistic, though unrealistic, philosophy.
            While Candide believes and follows Pangloss’ philosophy, everything that he experiences throughout the novella should tell him that this philosophy is wrong.  While these unfortunate events are humorous to us readers, their purpose is to teach us a lesson – that humans use philosophy and other reasoning to justify their own bad actions.  They do not take responsibility for their actions and blame their beliefs instead, leading to injustice and corruption that need to be faced and not blamed on fate.

Virtuous Action

While reading Candide I was troubled by what it is was Voltaire was trying to convey to his reader since his satirical language points out the flaws in both philosophy and religion. Fate and destiny are a common theme, but I don’t think Voltaire cares much for either. The universal truth Voltaire promotes is virtue with noble characters like James the Anabaptist and Cacambo. 

James is a man that truly upholds the Christian ideal of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” He is charitable and kind; he feeds Candide when he is hungry, he heals Pangloss when he is sick. The Anabaptist refuses Pangloss’ teachings and claims that men become evil and therefore perpetuate evil. James’ death is senseless and ironic: if someone had only listened and followed his example, James would still be alive. But James is dead due to the self-absorbed sailor and the equally self-absorbed, Pangloss. 

Cacambo was once a beautiful, young and rich. Her father was a Pope. Her good fortune did not last long, for just about no reason at all: her mother was murdered and she was raped and sold as a slave. Although she is considered a daughter of the divine, she still endures a horrific fate and a life that has been nothing but unfair. I found it interesting when Cacambo said:

“A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life. This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one’s existence? in brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?” (29)

I find this response to so human. It could perhaps reveal Voltaire’s personal philosophy: the point of living is to live morally, it’s an innate characteristic within us all, no matter how terrible things get. Life for Cacambo has been torturous and yet she remains humble and pure. She is kind to Candide and cares for him until he is healthy. After losing everything she accepts her current state and admits that she has committed her life for the well-being of Cunegonde. She has endured hardship, but pain and suffering can only lead to a better understanding, she states she has experienced, and she tells Cunegonde to listen the stories of others. She understands the power of empathy and understanding. James and Cunegonde practice humility and are completely self-sacrificing characters whereas someone like Pangloss is caught up in his own mind that only hinders and disconnects him from the world. I think Voltaire is trying to emphasize the importance of virtuous action, and similar to the moral in Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale that gentillesse is important: the bonds of generosity matter. 

Flawed Logic

The satirical tone and nature of Voltaire’s Candide create an equal number of moments that are either humorous or highly disturbing. A main target of Voltaire’s satire is Pangloss’ theory that “all in the world is for the best.” Pangloss’ philosophy is contrasted with James the Anabaptist’s philosophy which is, “mankind have a little corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves.” (9). Voltaire displays the conflict between these two opposing philosophies through the experiences of Candide. Candide is seemingly ignorant because as an optimist, he follows Pangloss’ teaching that everything is right in the world, while his experiences should have him believing quite the opposite. A theme that I constantly seem to be sub-reading is the pursuit of a new Eden. Candide is constantly moving from place to place always believing that his next destination will prove to be paradise. However, Voltaire seems to be suggesting through James that this very pursuit has corrupted the nature of man and the state of the world.

  A serious flaw in Pangloss’ philosophy is the notion of “sufficient reason.” His flawed logic holds, for example, that “Legs are visibly designed for stockings – and we have stockings.” (2). While Pangloss’ ravings are humorous on one level, they also reveal what Voltaire believes is wrong with mindset of the world. Pangloss takes a generally accepted fact and misshapes it to fit his own argument. Pangloss’ methodology creates moments of humor in the book, but they also show how Mankind has formed the tendency to steal philosophical discourse and misuse it to justify their actions. In doing so, they deceive themselves in an attempt to justify their own actions. James believes that this is what has corrupted the world. He believes that men have created unnatural things such has rifles and cannons and have tried to justify these inventions by saying that God intended them to be made. James, however, sees inventions such as these as a perversion of God’s will and a perversion of the true nature of man. Voltaire is warning us that the belief that the ends always justify the means is a slippery slope and the belief that “all is for the best” is highly dangerous because it promotes inaction and creates an environment in which injustice can breed upon itself. 

Whatever Happens...Happens?

            Dr. Pangloss of Voltaire’s satirical book, Candide, is a professor of “metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” whose philosophy the main character (Candide) greatly admires. Dr. Pangloss believes that “it is demonstrable…that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end” (Voltaire, 1). In other words: every effect is not without cause – everything in the world is supposed to occur exactly as it occurs, because it is the best possible way for things to happen. Voltaire, in his comedic novella, seems to criticize it as a passive stance.
            At the end of chapter four, just before his “a priori” drowning in the Bay of Lisbon, the Anabaptist disagrees with Dr. Pangloss’ Optimistic Outlook. Rather than accept every event as necessary for the best effects, the Anabaptist argues that humans are corrupt. He says “It is more likely [that] mankind have a little corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves; God has given them neither cannon of four-and-twenty pounders, nor bayonets; and yet they have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. Into this account I might throw not only bankrupts, but Justice which seizes on the effects of bankrupts to cheat the creditors” (Voltaire, 9). Dr Pangloss argues the opposite, saying that the wars are the inevitable result of the making of guns, whose purpose is to be made for wars. This creates an inactive cycle in which a stander-by may placidly accept the war, death, and suffering going on around him.
            At the beginning of chapter five, a storm wreaks havoc on the ship that Candide, Pangloss, and a kindly Anabaptist are on. “The Anabaptist…tumbled head foremost overboard, and stuck upon a piece of the broken mast. …Candide drew near and saw his benefactor…he was just going to jump after him, but was prevented by the philosopher Pangloss, who demonstrated to him that the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned” (Voltaire, 10). Anyone reading this can see how ridiculous, even comical, the explanation is, but this type of thought is actually rather dangerous. By assuming that the events had to fall out as they had (being the best possible series of events), Candide took a back seat and allowed for another to suffer and die.
Later on, we see Candide even justify his own brutal actions: “If I had not been so lucky as to run Miss Cunegonde’s brother through the body, I should have been devoured without redemption. But, after all, pure nature is good…” (Voltaire, 39). What would normally cause someone to be plagued by guilt, Candide’s murder of his beloved’s brother is waved away. It becomes the best event for the best results for Candide. This viewpoint selfishly takes the agony of someone else and rationalizes it for the benefit of another.

While Dr Pangloss’ philosophy initially seems a pleasant and positive outlook that can help one accept the hardships found in life, it ultimately encourages a form of injustice: a submissive acceptance. This would then allow for moral corruption to go by unchecked, because humans, like Candide, may just write off their wrongs as “what was meant to happen.”

Fate & Destiny vs. God

I found the first half of Voltaire’s Candide asking one central question: Do we as human beings have free will, or is there fate and destiny where our lives are already predetermined? Voltaire asks this question through a religious lens. Voltaire is hinting at why a God that is all powerful and all knowing allow such horrific things to happen to his people. Knowing this novella was written in a time where there was a strong correlation between money, class, and religious status, it is not surprising that Voltaire would write about horrific things happening to rich and powerful people in order to demonstrate his point clearly. I believe Voltaire is challenging the common view of his time that the rich and powerful are chosen by God, living in a world where poor people are, and always will be servants; and where others inherit kingdoms. 
In a scene where Cunegonede is reunited with Candide, Cunegonede is narrating her history from when they were last separated by her father. She begins her story by saying, “I was in bed and fast asleep when it pleased God to send…” (17). Considering her story is full of murder, rape and tragedy, I highly doubt that this would have pleased God, in any sense of the word. Voltaire is using this idea of Cunegonede’s estate being taken over by the Bulgarian’s to illustrate that God wants it to happen, or has decided that it will happen. In this story, no one has free will; the Bulgarian’s attack Cunegonede’s family because this is what God planned for them to do. Everything that happens to Cunegonede that leads her back to Candide was meant to happen; exactly like the Old Woman’s story, and precisely as Candide’s best friend and mentor Pangloss believed. 
In Voltaire’s world, even the daughter of a Pope is not exempt from God’s will. Right when you think Cunegonede’s story couldn’t be much worse, we hear the Old Woman’s story, learning that she has endured more tragedy and heart break in her life than one should endure in ten. Who would be more worthy of God’s mercy than the daughter of a Pope? For Voltaire, even the ‘divine’ are destined to endure whatever ‘pleases God’. 

Where this idea of fate, destiny and God could be seen or interpreted several different ways, I believe that Voltaire is wrestling with this idea of God as all knowing and all powerful. Similarly to how someone today might ask: If God is all knowing and all powerful, why doesn’t God stop serial killers, rapists and school shooters from committing their crimes? If God knows that all of this will happen before it happens, why does God allow them to continue? I think these are all monumental questions that people struggled with in 1759, and continue to struggle with today. 

No monads no more

When looking into the “best of possible worlds” that runs deep through the critique that Candide attempts to bring to light regarding the philosophical investigations of Gottfried Leibniz, one of the key methods of critique, and one of the most powerful messages of Candide, comes from the silence or the lack of descriptions or information throughout the work. In this regard, Voltaire’s use of silence emphasizes the emptiness or the nothingness of the reality of the “best of possible worlds” and the unperturbed optimism that resulted from the idea that all of the “causes and effects” occur for the best possible reasons. The novel generally skips from scene to scene without the power of the creative manipulation of language as seen with past examples such as Huck Finn. Rather, events just happen, with no justification as to why, such as Pangloss’ hanging and the murder of Cunegonde’s older brother, the head of the Jesuits. Even when discussing the problems that the characters face in the world, the descriptions are left empty and examples are compared rather than understood, especially as seen when Cunegonde and the old woman who was the former daughter of the pope. When looking into the unfortunate problems that plagued the two women, the facts were generally presented without the emotions. In this sense, it feels as though the nature of Candide separates individuals and centers more on the hypotheticals in the world without a care about real people than the experience of communities.

It is easy then to see why the novel would be banned, as the comedic and generally idiotic events poke holes in the philosophical implications laid out by not only saying that the events that take place in reality do not match up with the idea of the “best possible worlds,” but also that there is more suffering and despair in the world that there is nothing that can justify the optimism set forth by Leibniz. The issue of how the world is the best possible then creates a scary reality for humanity, as the thinking that the suffering and despair that surround the unfortunate characters in Candide would actually strengthen the characters’ wills and allow them to see the “causes and effects” that make the world the best possible one. Therefore,it seems as though the separation of the characters into different "worlds" becomes one of the key realities that occurs in Candide, and the importance of an individual lies solely within God's will for the person. I feel as though Voltaire expresses this best when he writes, "'She will do as well as she can,' said Cacambo; 'the women are never at a loss, God provides for them, let us run.'" (Voltaire 32).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cause and Effect

Catlin Castan
Dr. Ellis
Banned Books
23 February 2014
Cause and Effect
            Similar to the other texts we have read this semester Voltaire’s Candide disrupts pre-existing social, political, and religious structures. For this reason, Candide is widely considered to be a controversial text and has therefore landed itself on banned books lists across the country.
            On the first two pages of the Candide, Voltaire writes:
“. . .things cannot be otherwise than as they are, for all being created for an end, all necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles-- thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, ad to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best”(2).
            Although lengthy, this passage speaks to the text as a whole, as well as makes clear Voltaire’s intended message. Dr. Pangloss—Candide’s mentor—aligns his philosophical beliefs with “optimistic philosophy”: a school of thought that believes all evil ultimately exists to yield a greater good. Pangloss teaches Candide about this philosophy amidst a series of unfortunate events that run throughout the course of the text (i.e. storms, earthquakes, disease). For this reason, I think Voltaire is mocking Pangloss’s (and various other enlightened thinkers) notion of “Optimism” in that his teachings are inconsistent with reality and are rather ridiculous.

            Referring back to the passage I included above, Pangloss applies philosophical optimism to the philosophical concept of “cause and effect”. However, Pangloss inverts the relationship between cause and effect for each of his examples (i.e. spectacles, stockings, and pigs). Here, Voltaire is shedding light on Pangloss’s ignorance and ineptitude in properly discerning cause from effect. By highlighting the absurdity within this specific passage, Voltaire is also highlighting the absurdity that he himself witnessed during the time of The Enlightenment; the form mimics the content. In addition, once we are able to recognize the inconsistencies within Voltaire’s literature--within his world—we are able to recognize similar inconsistencies within our own world.