Laryssa Haliv

Major 20th Century Writers

Theme: Narcissism vs. Psychological Depth

Oral Report

Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman

In order to fully appreciate this enchanting mélange of time fables it is noteworthy to be introduced to the author's personal history. Alan Lightman is a novelist, essayist, physicist and educator. He is a Professor of Humanities in Creative Writing and a senior lecturer in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a physicist and professor at MIT, one would tend to think that Lightman's writing would be dry or too technical and scientific. On the contrary, he possesses both qualities of extensive knowledge in science and artistic style, which he developed from an early age. In his teen years, Lightman simultaneously worked on independent science projects and wrote poetry. His interest in creative writing as well as in the human side of science and the mind of science provided Lightman with a unique perspective of humanity that enabled him to examine the world both spiritually and scientifically. As a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics he began to publish poetry in small literary magazines. This was the start of a twofold professional career of writer and man of science that would ultimately fuse together to create an enlightening and humorous approach to physical science.

Lightman began writing in an attempt to make science understandable for the layman to explain the relationships between science, art, and literature. He credits Salman Rushdie as having the greatest influence on his fiction. Einstein's Dreams is his first work of fiction and was a bestseller when it was published in 1993. Lightman beautifully threads the art of creative writing with science through the stream of conscious of a scientific genius. The story provokes philosophical thoughts of time and space accompanied by vivid metaphorical imagery.

The story borders on the genre of fiction and creative non-fiction. Even though the subject matter centers on scientific theory with events that have been fabricated, it is not a work of science fiction because it is based on a true story. In the prologue we are introduced to a young patent clerk who ponders his theory of time. This young man is Einstein who at the age of twenty-six in 1905 in Berne, Switzerland worked forty hours a week in a patent office and moonlighted after hours as a physicist in which he developed the Special Theory of Relativity.

The theme of narcissism vs. psychological depth applies to this book on both levels. The author whose own scientific research focused on gravitational theory is similar to Einstein's chosen field of research. In addition, the book is about Einstein's humanistic thought processes. It pays homage to his incredible intellect. This could imply narcissism of the image of one of the world's greatest geniuses. Conversely, this could be a fresh approach to the transcendent image of Einstein where he is portrayed as a common man who contemplates a deeper understanding of time. He becomes spiritual, a philosopher, and a man of psychological depth.

In relation to the process of writing it is appropriate to discuss the hypnogogic state of consciousness that is experienced by every human being during sleep or daydreaming in which thoughts are uninhibited allowing creativity to flow freely. It has been described by the poet Jean Valentine as a heightened creative state when the door of your unconscious is open for ideas that are manufactured organically from an individual's holistic being. This is Einstein's state of being throughout most of the book. Valentine has also commented that time is universal as it is described in the fable "time is a circle". Each individual's interior life is connected to the exterior. For example, the subtext of an author's work can apply to every person just as much as the surface text in that we all dream the same dreams, have the same fears, and endure the same emotional experiences through the same life cycle "and just as all things will be repeated in the future, all things now happening happened a million times before". Therefore, it is appropriate to state that we find solace in the artists that are compelled to express the prismatic spectrum of human emotion because they act as a channeling device for every conceivable human circumstance, conscious or unconscious.

The Brazilian conceptual artist Cildo Meireles continuously explores the essence of time and space in his abstract installations. For example, Fontes a monochromatic labyrinth of thousands of misnumbered rulers hanging from the ceiling and dysfunctional clocks on the wall with loose numbers on the floor, is intended to create a feeling of chaos in a world that is greatly dependent on time and numbers. His medium is the basic tools of measurement that transform a space into an unnavigable jungle that evokes a disorienting feeling of anxiety. Meireles uses the sensory experience to engage his audience in spatial perception. The fable that describes "time as absolute" supports Meireles' message of the chaos that could occur when the numeric and mechanical order of the modern world is disturbed, "people look at their watches and take refuge in time."

In conclusion, it is recommended that Einstein's Dreams be read piecemeal and not in one sitting. This book is structured into thirty distinct fables of time that are meant to be digested in meditation. It is inspirational and entertaining with a brilliant approach to the simple idea of time that is dissected into complex interpretations, which are easily applied to every man's life.

Bibliographic Reference

The New Museum of Contemporary Art. Cildo Meireles (Exhibit).

Nov. 19, 1999-Mar. 15, 2000. New York, NY.



Incest, Anaïs Nin

Anaïs Nin's collection of personal journals has been both shocking for me to read and beneficial in the courage she had to publicly bare all in an exposé of her sexual experiences. As an aspiring writer, I am struggling to find the courage to be true to myself especially in my journal. Even though I may not agree with Nin's self-centered, egomaniacal lifestyle, I have found inspiration to liberate myself from the tenets of our puritanical society and my own religious beliefs to express every true thought and feeling that consumes my body and soul (for now, at least in my journal and perhaps later in my future creative writing pieces).

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn could have named this book "Shukhov's Special Camp Survival Guide", or as part of the modern man's library, "The Idiot's Guide to the Corporate World". Management and corporate trainers can take example from the collective work ethic of Shukhov's squad at the power station. Each man is conscious of the fact that rewards are not presented to a single man, but to a cooperative group.

The lesson learned is that the success of an organization, whether it is a squad of inmates or the staff of a Fortune 500 company, is the result of a productive group of people not the leader. Workers worldwide are categorized by numbers, rated by numbers and work to increase numbers. Shukhov is aware of the significance of the number on his uniform as a label that is his membership to the 104th squad. It counts him as a laborer. If he allows his number to fade, he could find himself in violation of camp code with a penalty of time spent in the dreaded guardhouse. If it is too visible he could be a walking target for ridicule from the guards. He has to take care to be visible enough and yet take care not to go unnoticed. Comparatively, corporate employees must make their presence known to be acknowledged for their work, but not make themselves too available to become a lackey to the management. It is a delicate balance in an endless cycle of staff vs. management.

Self Arrest

I live in a box

I eat in a box

I work in a box

Sometimes I dream of a breath

Of Fresh Air

Sometimes I dream of living outside

Of my box

There is no visible exit or entrance

There is no sign that reads THIS END UP

Lost amidst the stagnant darkness

Reaching with petrified limbs

A faint light shines through the

Softened, worn walls

Nourishing my pale skin

Awakening me with the fragrant scent

Carried by a passing zephyr


Mounds of marshmallows

A sweet blanket for my tracks

Softly underfoot


Narcissus and Goldmund, Hermann Hesse

A young man tried to end his life last night. I don't know him but I feel his pain. I don't know what I would do without my soul mate. Sometimes I am in awe of our spiritual connection. We can read each other's thoughts through subtle body movements. Words are not always necessary. Our senses take over like a metal detector uncovering the richness of our spirits and the junk we collect from our fears. Someone saved my life tonight; he is my soul mate. Someone loved me tonight; he is my soul mate. Someone shared my dreams tonight; he is my soul mate and "when my soul was in the lost and found [he] came along to claim it (Aretha Franklin)". I wish that young man had a soul mate, then maybe he wouldn't be so sad.


Moon hiding over my shoulder

Your hand in mine

Mapping the heavens

A journey together we find

Brimful of brilliance

Hidden beneath a grey sheath

Ebb and flow ceases

A fractured spirit weeps


Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

The story is reminiscent of a Shakespearean or Classic Greek tragedy where Humbert Humbert plays the role of the tragic hero whose destiny is predetermined for an inevitable downfall. Nabokov succeeds in this category through his use of lyrical language that arouses a feeling of sensuality in this intensely disturbing poetic prose. Humbert suffers from an unrequited first love and the tragedy of Annabelle's untimely death from typhus forever denying him another chance to fulfill the void in his heart. He ultimately lives out the rest of his pathetic life in search of another Annabelle to complete him. Lolita is not quite the refined Annabelle, but she is good at playing the coquette that rekindles the passions of Humbert's first love. I find Humbert's actions as an adult to be despicable, however, I am sympathetic to his loss of Annabelle. I am not quite as sympathetic towards Lolita because I find her to be a child that lacks proper discipline who apprehends the Achilles heals in each of the adults in her life. She selfishly manipulates them for her own entertainment or benefit. We know that Humbert has a psychological impairment that causes him to desire adolescent girls, but, Lolita is not completely innocent in this situation. She possesses some evil in her personality as well.

In reference to Einstein's Dreams, Humbert's story is befitting to the fable in which "individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and do not get free." Humbert obsesses about the narcissism of youth and is repulsed by the maturity of women and is therefore a prisoner of time. In addition, the fable that describes "a place where time stands still" is a place where Humbert would ideally choose to live since he could relish frozen moments of contentment, to "never lose the passion of this instant in time…an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case."


Journals: Characterization of Humbert Humbert

No Exit, Jean-Paul sartres

While I sit here in my six foot windowless flat awaiting my fate, Sartre's No Exit falls onto my coarse blanket. Startled, my stream of conscious rudely interrupted, I adjourn from my confessional memoir to investigate. I languidly fan through the tattered pages oblivious to the presence of my bunkmate. His appearance would instill fear and prompt any sane person to walk on the opposite side of the street, however, I am strangely amused by the juxtaposition of his burly image that carries a head to toe mural of an ode to his dearly departed mother. As I nod with approval he asks, "answer me this professor, is it hell on earth"? I chuckle to myself realizing the irony of my predicament.

The doomed characters in Sartre's play reflect my own miserable life. Incarcerated for murder. My obsession with nymphets caused me to live in my own hellish prison, tortured with a painful longing for every girl-woman I met. The barbed wire, the steel bars, the impenetrable cinder blocks are in fact a blessing. The Lolita's of the world are no longer accessible to me. I am contained. Consequently, this is not a win-win situation. The intensity of my obsession cannot be repressed. I am to destined to live the rest of my pathetic life in excruciating agony with the memory of Lolita and my Annabelle. My punishment will not be this cold cell. No, that would be too easy. A constant fire in my loins, a constricting internal barbed wire that grows sharper with each passing day that denies me gratification of my desire.

Yes, my friend, it is hell on earth. Sartre was keenly aware of the true image of hell. It is the tragic flaw carried by each individual. It is the agony of the mind and cruelty among human beings. Wounding the spirit is far more lethal than wounding the body. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" - what a fallacy!

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

I wouldn't expect anything less than great work from a fellow Englishman. Huxley's was certainly ahead of his time and his foresight into modern technology and his knowledge of human psychology is eerily accurate. Even Hollywood has a fascination with the scientific utopia of Brave New World specifically in the film Gattaca that depicts a society that maintains each citizen's genetic profile as public record for the purpose of weeding out the weak. Those individuals with a higher probability for disease are discriminated from opportunities such as higher education and career advancement. The preconditioning of man has become somewhat of a reality in totalitarian countries. The current controversy of the genome project among scientists, government and religious leaders has also created a heated debate over the benefits and consequences of altering human genes. The benefits are promising in increasing life expectancy because it enables detection of a genetically transmitted disease in a fetus, such as cystic fibrosis, that will then allow physicians to change the degenerative cells with healthy ones. The consequence of this of course would be a loss of privacy due to public access to health records, which could result in the denial of health insurance or even employment for those likely to have genetic defects that are beyond repair. Aldous Huxley's novel clearly shows this negative result in the definition of classes in the World State where everyone is preconditioned with a predestined future by the engineers in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center.

The classes range from alphas who are the most intelligent and the leaders of the State to the epsilons who according to Mr. Foster one of the scientists at the hatchery, do not need human intelligence and are therefore given the least desirable jobs such as sanitation work. Neither one can change their destiny because according to the State each class fills a need in society that keeps it balanced. Huxley cleverly uses the American Ford Model T to show that this system is merely a human assembly line as Ford's invention of the Model T was an innovation in the production of assembly line made automobiles. It's no wonder that the leader of the World State is named Ford and that the people of the State make the sign of a "T" to pay homage to their maker. Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, the story's main characters, serve the purpose to show us what we would be missing if we were to live in this idealistic society of predestination. We would be void of individual identity and intimacy. These two very important emotional needs cannot be suppressed unless by unnatural means such as the soma, a type of mind numbing drug, that is widely used and distributed to the people of the state (mostly the upper classes of alphas and betas) so that they may avoid any unhappy or uncomfortable feelings.

I found the novel to be disturbing yet it prompted me to think about my position on genetic engineering. We should continue to conduct research, but before we put any of this knowledge to practical use we need to carefully examine every possible scenario as a result of human intervention with life and natural selection.

The preceding is my academic response to the novel. Personally, this world could work to my advantage. I am an intellectual. I am physically fit. So therefore, I would be placed in among the alphas where I would have control in the Hatchery to create as many nymphets as I please. I could even create many clones of my Lolita. The thought sends chills up my spine. A harem of Lolitas and a society that encourages casual sex, this would be my ultimate fantasy. The abundance of Soma would place the proverbial cherry on the cake. I would surely become an addict of this absurdly legal pharmaceutical that allows one to relish in their indulgence and anesthetize the conscience.


Cyber Performance - Monologue

Humbert Humbert

"Good afternoon and welcome to the 114th Wimbledon Championship Tournament. I'm John McEnroe. Today we'll witness history in the making as the amazing Williams' sisters battle it out in the semifinal round. Their amazing athleticism and endurance place them as the favorites to win this most elusive of all the Grand Slam titles. Venus and Serena Williams have certainly captured the attention of tennis aficionados worldwide with their natural agility to command the game in their favor. Their professional training began at the Humbert Humbert Tennis Academy for Young Ladies where a generation of ambitious girls have bloomed into tennis champions as well as refined ladies well versed in Emily Post's rules of proper etiquette. Mr. Humbert is continually lauded by the National Tennis Association for his tireless efforts to rally support and encouragement to young girls who dream of playing center court here at Wimbledon."

Yes, John but you failed to mention that I have finally been successful in creating a blissful utopia for myself where I am surrounded by nymphets. How proud I am of my girls. Venus, goddess of love. Her stoic posture. Her demure disposition. Sweet and vulnerable but with the strength of a gladiator. She was loyal and obedient. She had the potential of a nymphet but not quite able to fill the mold. Serena, always unpredictable. Her vivacity was magnetic. Her integrity and camaraderie was appreciated by all. So methodical. She was more of a natural born leader than a nymphet. But, oh! How I miss young Anna Kournikova. My ice maiden. I was smitten with her when the day she arrived from Moscow. Her English was a bit foreign to me since it was based upon endless hours of MTV viewing, but no matter it was "Advantage Kournikova" allowing her to cross the cultural barrier and granting her instant friendship with the other girls. The pendulum swing of her heavy sun kissed blonde braid against her bare back that kept my rapid pulse in time as I watched her awkwardly dance across the court in endless pursuit of that wooly yellow orb. Reaching, bending, grunting. Her frustration when she missed the ball. The scowled look she wore and masqueraded for everyone throughout the day until dinner when she would engage in a plot with her bunkmates to irritate the cook by exchanging the sugar containers with salt. I was at once amused and aroused by her rambunctious nature.

Each new scrape that appeared on her slender limbs from near misses on the court caused my body to ache. She revealed herself to be a nymph to my tortured soul in the twilight of one Independence Day celebration after a full day of tournaments when she took my hand in her blistered palms excitedly with gaping heart shaped mouth and wide eyes pointed to the sky at the rockets red glare. As she jerked her head in every direction not to miss a moment of the light show extravaganza, her golden mane draped itself over my shoulder so that I could inhale the essence of her innocence by way of the sensual aroma of apple scented shampoo.

I found myself spending more time parading the grounds, especially during Anna's scheduled practice sessions. There were more and more signs of her coquettish tendencies that I found hypnotic. Occasionally, I would give the instructors the night off to which they would foolishly squander their earnings at the local pub. This was my opportunity to gaze at my Anna as she slept, dreaming of whatever young girls dream of, clutching her racquet. She was unlike other young girls her age whose arms held dolls or a worn plush teddy bear. Those nights I imagined myself as her racquet. The moment I caught her eye on the court she would run to me to show me the progress of her backhand begging me to give her a demonstration. She loved to model her new tennis skirts for me. The fringe on her bottoms was more titillating to me than any bare breasted woman on the beaches of the Côte d'Azur. With sweet emotion and without my pride I reached out from the inside. I failed to capture her spirit with mine. She was totally oblivious to my subtle advances. She was oblivious to her superb ability to handle the ball. It was as if her delicate hands were the perfect cradle for the precious sack I carry that I longed to give her to hold. How perfect a life this is for a man of my taste, when a sport of gentlemen is quickly becoming the dominant sport of young nymphets. The spotlight gravitates towards the attractive, the ornamental athletes, recruiting younger and younger competitors.