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Forms Of Artistic Expression In ETA Hoffmann's The Sandman - With A Free Essay Review



THOMAS GOOMER

Forms of expression within themselves represent bounds that an artist finds himself stuck between, regardless of the infinite reaches of his/her imagination. Assuming the role of god, the artist breathes life into a character with four limbs, a mind capable of thought and feelings - that loves like a fool, feels like a man, and falls as a hero or dies as a villain. As a masterpiece for the ages, his work is forever confined to the bounds of time and space, either stuck on a mantelpiece or the pages of a book. “The Sandman,” breaks this barrier between creation and the limits of artistic expression by giving the protagonist a metaphorical spectacle, with which he glares into the heart and soul of a lidless audience who stare at words on a page. We find that in the end a cruel sentence, liberates Nathanael from the pages of the book but simultaneously confines him to a life of insignificance and vulnerability that, when seen with clarity through a metaphorical spyglass, drives Nathaniel to madness. In turn, the reader establishes grounded judgments based on protagonist’s vulnerabilities and limitations, along with his thoughts and feelings, to determine whether the text is worth remembering. In a story with a beginning, “The Sandman,” traces the life of Nathaniel keeping the innocence of a child and the laws of time and space constant, while perception and unfortunate events twist his mind into an alternate reality with monsters, sandmen, and crazy murderers. Like most children, the young protagonist, Nathanael, becomes enchanted with the idea of a “Sandman,” a “wicked man, with a crooked beak, who can pick up the eyes naughty human children, and send them away from their father at night.” As the “clock strikes 9,” his father is silenced, and Nathaniel hears thumping and his “heart trembles with anxious expectation,” because the “Sandman already introduced him to thoughts and wonders that only gain ahold of a child’s mind.” The reader begins to entertain the idea of how the image of the Sandman brews in the mind of an innocent child, after it kills his father in a tragic accident; from a freighting creature to a man, Coppelius. Instead of a fictional creature, the story forms a well-defined antagonist, where Nathaniel and Coppelius are expected to perform an elegant mechanical dance that begins with “Once upon a time,” and ends with “Happily ever after.” However, the conventions of early great writing, were dull and boring, or as the author put it “too tame,” for purposes of this story. The protagonist is neither beautiful nor elegant, nor a strong demi-god with heroic qualities, but a man that is not important enough to deserve such an introduction one specific moment in time. Statistically, the likelihood of accidents and unfortunate events on a day-to-day basis indicates there are many others, who die just as insignificant a death without leaving behind a trace of their existence, with only one difference: Nathanael plays the role of protagonist just as the great Greek heroes, or demi-gods who, as forms of art, are automatically placed in situations of constant speculation and immense scrutiny…make it clear, reading about him, looking at him, his life under microscope. àNathaniel is insignificant

While still a work of art, Nathaniel’s life of insignificance represents reality like preceding art-forms never did, outlining an eerie connection with the reader by showing that “nothing is stranger than actual life.” Even more entertaining than the unfortunate events and evolution of a wicked “Sandman,” is Nathaniel’s life of insignificance and his vulnerability to ridicule from unforgiving ears when placed under such scrutiny. A strong demi-god, like Hercules and his 12 labors after killing his wife and children, answers with sword and shield in the face of adversity, for a higher purpose and grandeur, with confidence and a ruthless demeanor. Face-to-face, regardless of an audience of several thousand or million, a majority would inspiringly listen to Hercules’s stories of, Minotaur’s, 9-headed hydras and Centaurs, that he fought with valor and honor, and in the end, exchange laughs about the petty lives of lesser folk and flagrant women- idolizing Hercules as hero above average folk, and their day-today lives. On the other hand, Nathaniel’s more than obvious limitations provide him with a morbid, weak attitude, susceptible and ill-equipped for the adversity of a large audience that may not appreciate the madness of actual life, or respect the bounds that Nathaniel is trying to cross by showing nuances that lead to what the audience immediately perceives as insanity. {SENTENCE}Ideally, the audience expects the sight of the man that murdered his father would call for vengeance and send a character of significance into a violent rage, and without thinking twice, or heeding any advice from his lovers, ruthlessly kill the man, leaving the consequences to the will of the gods. Instead, for the duration of the story Nathaniel wallows in misery at the thought of Coppelius, writing poetry, finding comfort in the arms of Clara. However, to others who see Nathaniel as a character of significance, “The Sandman,” then turns our eyes to the stories, culminating the events in our life narrowing to an adjective or two, without any place in time, or described as Clara ends the story when she finds happiness, “which the… morbid Nathanael… would have never given her.” Compared to romantic novels, and conventional writing styles of magnificent heroes, “The Sandman,” confines Nathaniel to a life of insignificance, yet frees him to ridicule and public criticism from vast audiences who either dislike him as a character of morbid insignificance unworthy of recognition, or use him to draw upon similarities that reflect on their own lives.

Before arriving at any conclusions concerning the sanity of Nathaniel in relationship to his level of significance, an argument, no matter how counterintuitive or absurd, when presented with sound logic is just as valid as what is directly implied or readily seen in the text itself. When traversing between dimensions, Nathaniel makes a quantum leap from the pages of a book to reality where sense of time and space are skewed by perception through a spyglass, rendering conventions for judgment of a character’s sanity meaningless when not presented with a reason that takes this metaphorical transportation mechanism into consideration. The epic voyage begins when Nathaniel ...The purpose of the spectacle is to snip irrelevant arguments that might distract the reader from the connection between the protagonists as an object of our entertainment, and Clara/Olympia as an object of his, and base judgment of his sanity off of the process his thoughts, reasoning and depth of perception translate into reality, rather than his culmination of unfortunate events. A thought becomes real in a picture of a thousand hues or a book of a thousand words and a thousand more, or a few moments in time through a spectacle in the hands of Nathaniel, where the reader, text, and main character judge each other to either eternal damnation unworthy of recognition, or a haven locked in the minds of the perceiver worthy of remembrance. Nathanael plays a beautiful fantasy in the “pair of eyes,” given to him by Coppelius, one that can play a scene of an “automaton,” a cold lifeless being that he “constantly gazed upon through Coopola’s glass,” and through such infatuation with Olympia's form floating before him in the air. In a picture-perfect close-up with such clarity noticing every facial expression, movement of the body, arms and legs, he ignores her stupidity and lack of awareness, evident by her sighs, response to his comments, and blank stares. He falls in love through the spyglass with Olympia as a program with specific functions rather than a human being with drawbacks and human imperfections- where words are irrelevant, but the beauty of “such a creature,” is the only significance- where ugly is ugly and beautiful is beautiful without any underlying meaning of words to cloud judgment. Such twisted logic strikes a dark chord in an audience. When Scapia explains it was all an “allegory, or sustained metaphor,” they cannot separate a complex artificial program of reason and logic and a face of worldly beauty and lasting significance. While thoughts and opinions change faster than the direction of the wind, people, like great works of art that stand the test of time, are judged through a spy-glass that focuses on what is pleasing to the eyes. What better way to show it than through a spectacle in the hands of a character of similar insignificance, Nathaniel, that sees everything with the same clarity without preconceived notions and an acquired essence for true eternal beauty.

In conclusion, while Nathaniel remains an insignificant character, conveying what he sees through words, his over-arching idea that physical beauty remains the true basis of judgment conveys the purpose of “The Sandman,” as a reality, rather than an art-form, that delivers the outcomes of a guiding principle rather than that of a significant character.

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ESSAY REVIEW

Your sentences are not as clear and precise as they need to be. They tend to be syntactically complex and to refer uncertainly to the intended meaning. That makes the task of reviewing your essay, which presupposes understanding your essay, very difficult. For example, I don’t really get you are trying to say in the following sentence: “ ‘The Sandman’ breaks this barrier between creation and the limits of artistic expression by giving the protagonist a metaphorical spectacle, with which he glares into the heart and soul of a lidless audience who stare at words on a page.” I get that you are concerned in your opening sentences roughly with the opposition between the finite character of form and the infinite character of the creative imagination, although it’s a bit of a chore to work through the sentences that describe that opposition. But when you get to the first claim about the story, you more or less lose me completely.

Part of the problem, I think, is that you are using figurative language to describe an aesthetic phenomenon associated with the use of figurative language. So there are a couple of levels of confusion here. The phrase “metaphorical spectacle” is confusing and of course Nathaniel doesn’t literally glare into the heart and souls of a lidless audience. What is a “lidless audience”? Do you mean the reader doesn’t have eyelids? The reader can’t sleep? The other problem is that once I’ve sort of figured out what you are trying to say here I’m not sure that you are saying anything that illustrates a breach of the barrier you mention. I guess (but why must I guess?) that you are saying that the telescope that reveals that Olimpia is an automaton figuratively reveals that the reader is an automaton. I’m not sure if that is what you are saying though (elsewhere you seem to be saying the reader is like the protagonist) and I don’t think the essay in any case demonstrates the truth of that claim. Now the same kind of problem affects the next sentence, and then many more sentences throughout the essay. It must be difficult and time-consuming to write sentences like that. I would suggest that you stop doing that and focus on achieving conceptual or interpretive complexity instead of syntactical and linguistic complexity. The goal in other words should be a complex argument simply explained, not the other way around.

I cannot help you with your interpretation of the story, and can only say that I don’t think you’ve fully worked out your interpretation yet (I don’t think you’ve fully worked out the significance of the protagonist’s insignificance, for instance). I don’t think your essay really is saying anything yet about forms of artistic expression. Beyond that you make claims about the kind of protagonist that Nathaniel is (I don’t think you really need the comparison with classical heroes to discuss the kind of protagonist Nathaniel is) and you make claims about how readers have responded to the work and are implicated, by way of allegory, in the story of the protagonist falling in love with Olimpia. That’s interesting enough for an essay, but the upshot, that people judge on the basis of appearance, is perhaps a bit banal (that upshot is the thesis, however, so I think you are right to suggest, in your comment below, that it should be in the introduction).

Even if you have not fully worked out your interpretation, there is no point in trying to disguise that fact with a style of exposition that is deliberately elliptical. So work on the basic stuff of writing well. Prioritize precision in every sentence; the development of a single topic in every paragraph; and the elaboration of a specific question in the essay as a whole. Generally try to help your reader understand with appropriate guideposts (such as a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, and, as boring as it sounds, topic sentences and paragraph conclusions that clarify the main point of the paragraph and its relation to the overarching argument of the essay). You could also provide contextual information in a straightforward, methodical way instead of just occasionally weaving poorly specified bits of the story into your desultory exposition.

Best, E.J.

P.S. Read Freud’s The Uncanny if you’re short on inspiration about “The Sandman.” Freud was an expert at writing clearly (too clearly, for Lacan’s taste), so you might learn something from him about the art of exposition too.
Submitted by: tgoomer
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Comments
Tgoomer
+1

Should I put the sentence that I posted at the end (In Conclusion...) at the top as a thesis, or do I already have a thesis? Please help me with this paper, I have been banging my head for hours and hours trying to come up with something meaningful and coherent.
June,07 2012

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