writings + doodles

A Mission to Defintion

Sandra Wallman’s Introduction: The Scope for Ethnicity describes the “transactional” relationship shared between “us” and “them.” As Wallman states: “Ethnicity can only happen at the boundary of us,” in other words, groups are defined by their relationship to others, not as independent entities. This distinct notion of identity and ethnicity propagates itself throughout  Aḥmad Ibn Faḍlān’s Mission to the Volga. Faḍlān, the narrator and author of his story, continually interacts and comes into contact with unique Turkish tribes throughout his three-hundred and twenty-five-day journey into the Volga region north of the Caspian Sea. Faḍlān captured this transcendent journey in ninety brief passages. Despite Faḍlān’s concise rendition, he successfully presents an internal ideological clash between Islam’s “barbaric” other and the “civilized” Muslim self. . .︎

In order to fully interpret the reliable contributions made by Ma’mar ibn Rāshid in The Expeditions, w e must begin with the introduction written by the book’s English translator Sean Anthony. Anthony introduces the concept of a “real Muhammad” versus a “historical Muhammad” as two depictions of the prophet, with the latter being a postmortem interpretation of Muhammad through the lens of a given faith community. While the “historical Muhammad” presents an issue with the authenticity of the narrative, it incidentally relays a precise and reliable depiction of the community in which it was produced. Despite failing to be a reliable biography of Muhammad within the narrow expectations of Fred Donner, author of Muhammad and the Believers, an alternate evaluation of The Expeditions as an early interpretation of Muhammad made by a continually evolving community reveals the reliable core. Ultimately, through a focused analysis into the non-chronological structure of The Expeditions, set against the “historical Muhammad” interpretation, reveals an unequivocally reliable insight into ideological conflicts within the Believer community, the social values of Ibn Rāshid’s era, and how the Muslim identity was cultivated in relation to Muhammad. . .︎

Existential Reflections

No character in Breakfast of Champions commits suicide in the entirety of the novel, but that does not mitigate its importance. Instead, the placement of death on the periphery of the story enables Kurt Vonnegut to reflect on his mother’s suicide by rehashing the phases of his and his father’s recovery through an existential lens enacted by his characters. Vonnegut creates Dwayne Hoover as a way to represent his younger self and forms Kilgore Trout to symbolize his father. Additionally, Trout works as Vonnegut’s own alter ego. Furthermore, Vonnegut inserts himself into the story to work alongside Hoover and Trout to emphasize the role awareness has on existentialism in terms of an individual’s actions, specifically in relation to death. Through the creation of two reality-mirroring characters and by placing himself into Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut examines the relationship between awareness and the three conditions of existentialism outlined by Jean-Paul Sartre within the terms of suicide and grief. . .︎