Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1541 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days

Post-modernism is a highly contentious turn of phrase, with regard to the era in which we currently live as there are many who believe we are still very much involved in the modern era. Yet, two elements of post-modern literature are homage and meta-fiction. Homage is the practice of openly associating literary works to the guidance of an individual who one admires as an exemplary literary figure. In an interview about Specimen days Cunningham states directly his homage to the greats who have come before; "I try to model myself on artists most heroic to me," says Michael Cunningham, "people who ignore their obvious gifts to try something new and see what happens."

Bahr 60) Meta-fiction is the type of fiction which openly draws attention to the literary work as a creative process to open the reader to questions about the nature of reality as it can be seen through fiction. Again in Cunningham's own words, "I was interested in what ghost stories, thrillers, and science fiction are telling us about human life and mystery."

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Bahr 60) by this definition of the post modern the collection of three novellas, Specimen Days written by Michael Cunningham must be defined as a work of post-modern fiction. Cunningham utilizes homage, his intertwining reference to Walt Whitman, and meta-fiction through out this work by directly referencing three popular literary genres familiar to the contemporary American reader. The three genres associated with this work are, the ghost story, the thriller and science fiction.In Cunningham's work, named for a collection of Whitman works by the same name, the three varied narratives, in the Machine (ghost story), the Children's Crusade (thriller) and Like Beauty (Science fiction) three differing times in New York City are explored through the lives and interactions of the characters.

Term Paper on Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days Assignment

In the novella in the Machine a ghost story set across the backdrop of the early industrial revolution evolves into a message about how close fiction can bring one to reality and the consequences of progress. The ghost story genre is fully developed throughout the work as an intimate connection between the characters and the "newly dead" is felt throughout. In the closing of the work the fire woman, the angle of a dead woman who had just jumped to a firey death as a building was burning spoke to Lucas "We are no longer anyone. We are part of something vaster and more marvelous than the living can imagine...God is a holy machine that loves us so fiercely, so perfectly, he devours us." Lucas cam to understand in a brief moment that he and Simon the character whose job he had been given were ment to fulfill life through Catherine's child, and that this was their duty and with this he joined the "newly dead." (Cunningham 92-93) in the Machine utilizes Walt as if he is a living character to be emulated by the young man being enveloped by the industrialization of Whitman's day. In Whitman's Democratic Vistas (1871) he questions the validity of progress, asking the world of his day to seek answers in elsewhere, than in those avenues of modernization and democracy.

I would alarm and caution...against the prevailing delusion that the establishment of free political institutions, and plentiful intellectual smartness, with general good order, physical plenty, industry & c.,(desirable and precious advantages as they all are,) do, of themselves, determine and yield to our experiment of democracy the fruitage of success.... I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face....

(Gambino 14)

This idea of Whitman in the first novella as a man to be followed as a replacement for education is essential to the understanding of the character, Lucas who is seeking to find his way into a world that will swallow him, the machine of progress. (Cunningham 4) it would seem a juxtaposition that emulating a critic of progress would be the answer of a young man given the job of a man who had been killed by the machine, but it demonstrates the validity of Lucas' desire to "stop striding altogether." (5) Lucas availed to recite Walt's unfinished work, "Lucas and Catherine would go into the book, for the book was never finished. Lucas would recite it to Walt and to everyone. He would recite what Walt had not yet written, for his life and the book were one thing, and everything he did or said was part of the book." (91)

The Children's Crusade, is set in contemporary New York and details the genre of a crime thriller through the interplay of characters involved in and affected by a terrorist organization created and run by children. Cat is a cop working on the deterrent squad trying to create a sense of normalcy in her life as well as understanding about the impetus of this new terrorist organization that seemed to be peopled only by children and that was blowing up people with hugs all over the nation. (190) the work is clearly seated in the crime thriller genre as Cat and her colleagues are surrounded by the lingo of their work and completely enveloped in the grey, kaki rumpled trench coat visuals, standing on the corner in the darkness of the grimy city, smoking, even though they have given it up years before. (187) in the Children's Crusade Whitman is used as a guiding force behind character action, a source of revolutionary inspiration, "Everybody wants a reason, don't they? Let's say this, then. Whitman was the last great man who really and truly loved the world. The machinery was just starting up when he lived. If we can return to a time like Whitman's maybe we could love the world again." (Cunningham 188)

The last narrative Like Beauty, is set in the future and details an interspecies romance between a lizard lady and a male robot in 2150 New York, a place teeming with refugees from the first inhabited plant to be successfully contacted by Earth. Interestingly, and true to the nature of Cunningham the male robot is a trafficker of homoerotic sadomasochistic fantasies.

Bahr 60) the setting of central park is his workplace as tourist pay to have him reenact systematic scenes of presumably historical park crimes against innocents. Carefully planned attacks ranging in systematic level from 1 cat calling to 9, alluded to as full acts of sadomasochistic sexual acts. (201-204) Simon, stays as a matter of practicality never goes past level seven assaults, carefully scripted scenes of social deterioration. (202) This activity true to the sci-fi genre is carefully described by Cunningham with elusive technical/trade terminology that the reader only slowly derives from the determined descriptions in the text. Simon is a paid fake assassin in a theatrical production of an earlier time, when crime was uncontrolled and persistent, the name of the company he works for being Old New York, being built on historical accuracy, that Simon only marginally fulfilled as he was white and only desired as a "single" the lowest paid attraction, as only gangs of blacks could really represent history accurately. (202) This activity of dubious accord is juxtaposed by Simon's interactions with his domestically talented but distant love, Catareen a Nadian (lizard-like) refugee, who now served as a nanny to two small blond children. Catareen, though entirely alien served as Simon's compass for the reality that all people felt in many ways disconnected from humanity, regardless of their composition, robot or biological. In Like Beauty Whitman poetry is programmed into Simon against his will and therefore it pervades the final piece as Simon navigates through discovering his humanity in an inhuman form.

The cited relevance to Whitman can bee seen at least simplistically on the front flap of the work, when the synopsis notes that, Whitman said in Specimen… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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