The New Renaissance: Lamar, Woolf and Shakespeare see life in perspective

photo of Kendrick Lamar.
Human experience is a major theme in Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, but also dates back to the literature of Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons).

“As I get a little older, I realize life is perspective.”

Set against the backdrop of a quick beat, these are the opening words of Kendrick Lamar’s pre-album track, “The Heart Part 5.” In preparation for the release of his album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” Lamar already inundates the listener with the soulful wisdom of his writing in the first few lines.

Just in this first line, Lamar managed to express an unavoidable truth about the human experience — each person has their own perspective on life. That is what his latest album is about — exploring
his humanity through his experiences and perspective.

The idea that human experience varies with perspective is reinforced in the opening of “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” with the first song, “United in Grief.” The song closes with Lamar saying “I grieve different,” followed by “everybody grieves different.”

Lamar addressing the grief’s universality while also recognising the individual responses to grief reinforces the idea that each person’s perspective is unique, and that human life views will vary. This overarching view of the human experience is what makes Lamar the lyrical genius he is; however, he is not the first literary figure to emphasize the ideas of individuality and perspective.

May 14 marks the 97th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece, “Mrs. Dalloway.” Another story heavily centralized on the human implications of perspective, “Mrs. Dalloway” takes place in a single day focusing on various events as perceived through the lenses of different characters. As Mrs. Dalloway prepares for a party, the story shifts to the mindsets of the people she passes on the street and dives into their perspectives and emotions in that moment.

The constant shifting of perspective between characters serves to show the fluidity of time and highlight how, on some baseline level, there is an interconnectedness between human lives.

One of the novel’s most common motifs refers back to the main character, Clarissa Dalloway, and her connection to Shakespeare. On multiple occasions, she is seen referencing Shakespeare’s play “Cymbeline,” quoting “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, / Nor the furious winter’s rages.”

To further understand the context of this quote, a brief understanding of “Cymbeline” is necessary. “Cymbeline,” one of Shakespeare’s final plays, is a story about deceit, pursuit and seduction at its core. The line quoted in “Mrs. Dalloway” is further expanded in the play to say “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, / Nor the furious winter’s rages … Golden lads and girls all must, / As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”

That final line is key to understanding the novel’s discussion of perspective and circularity of time. Regardless of individual experiences, humans are united in the fact that we must all eventually come to dust. This understanding places life in an even wider perspective, prompting the question: What difference do the small details of individual experience make?

It is the little things, tangible or short lived that obsess human minds — but, in the end, they all mean very little.

These artists hold that life is temporal, so the motivating forces influencing actions in our life need to serve a larger purpose than instant satisfaction in a single moment.

Lamar alludes to this idea on multiple occasions, stating in “We Cry Together” that “This is what the world sounds like” as he proceeds to fight with featured artist Taylour Paige for five minutes in what is ultimately a circular argument.

Human emotion dictates human life, and, because of this, we run in circles. Emotions are a powerful thing because, on the other hand, they also dictate our perspective on life, an inevitable fact for every person.

Like Lamar says in “The Heart Part 5,” “my perspective may differ from yours,” but that difference is necessary for growth and human development.

Life and its temporality are inevitable, so understanding the unique journeys and perspectives of different people is what will lead to a solid foundation for human nature.

In one poignant line, Lamar states “tomorrow, we forget the remains, we start over.” That is the point all these artists have been trying to make: Life goes on in the end, so each person must live fully to understand and internalize their own perspective.

Jina Umakanthan is a rising sophomore writing about the continuous relationship between present and past artwork. Her column, “The New Renaissance” runs every other Wednesday.