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White Noise. . . the Pop-up?

White Noise

I didn’t mean for this to be a normal blog post, but I saw this this morning and laughed so hard. It’s definitely not Don DeLillo. This is a pop-up book by David Carter . .. for children, and from the description I heard it may or may not emit some sort of white noise. Maybe it’s DeLillo with training wheels? I wish his had pop-up pictures, though.

And there’s a video for this . . . thing they call “a pop-up book for children of all ages.”

The Yellow Submarine Wallpaper

I have been thinking about our discussion in class about whether or not Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a work of magical realism sans magic. Although I think that we made a strong argument in favor of this idea in class, it occurred to me that maybe that this novel is a work of realism, but instead saying that it is magical, I propose that it is a really good example of psychological realism.
Through the combination of fantastical and revealing interior monologue, interpersonal interactions, and Foer’s biographical contributions to the novel, I think that one can definitely make a case for this novel as a work of psychological realism.

Intrapersonal activities throughout this novel, especially on the part of Oskar, help determine whether or not this novel is a work of psychological realism. When I look at how fantastically Oskar thinks I have to compare it to one of the classics of psychological realism, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which, if you haven’t read it already, is definitely worth skimming. In both cases, the narrator reveals a psychological state that reveals their innermost anxieties and a sense of perspective that they cannot fully express to others. The protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffers from delusions that she refuses to explain to her family. Oskar, similarly, has wild thoughts of inventions that collect tears and fantasizes about things one normally could not do (i.e. beating up a bully during a class play). Both suspect the people around them, though there reasons may be implausible. Even Oskar’s scrutiny of details, in a way, falls into this stream of thought; he is unable to accept that things such as the lyrics of “I Am the Walrus” or the mannerisms of others carry no special meaning and, as a result, becomes paranoid and OCD. Although the narrator is unable to articulate his or her feelings to other characters, the audience can string together these bizarre thoughts and perceptions of reality and attempt to understand their rationale as a result of outside factors.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close may also be considered a work of psychological realism because of the Foer’s past experience and the implications that it had on his creation of this novel. As the article that we read for last week revealed, at age eight Foer was involved in a classroom explosion that left a physical and psychological imprint on him. Many of the mannerisms that we see with Oskar– skipping school, avoiding certain situations, etc. —  could definitely stem from this Foer’s experience with trauma, which is common in psychological realism.

The lake

I picked the first scene of the novel, starting with the dream portion and working from there.

Scene begins in a dank, eerie cave. Camera, in first-person point of view, pans over the jagged surfaces of its interior while soft dripping noises echo in the background. This goes on for three beats, uninterrupted. The camera turns to the boy, who looks into it for a beat, then turns and walks away, pulling on the man’s hand as he goes.

The camera goes to third person point of view as it follows the boy and man stumble through the rocky passageway. Footsteps splash in scattered pools in the cave floor. After 10 to 15 beats the passage begins to widen and a faint, wavering, silver light glows from the opposite side. They pause, then pass into the chamber. They stop with their backs to the camera, then the camera cuts off and shows what they’re looking at: a giant, black lake. As the camera pans across the rooms, we see the walls of the room give off a faint luminescence that is swallowed by the murkiness of the lake. The camera cuts back to the boy and the man, who are solemnly taking everything in.

Soft footsteps are heard off camera and the two characters turn to see what it is. The camera cuts to the opposite side of the lake, where a white creature is approaching the water to drink. AS it takes in water we see its eyes are large, flawless orbs without pupils. Its skin is silver yet thin and translucent; a closer shot reveals that veins, throbbing organs, muscles, bones, and the like can be seen. After a few beats it pauses and looks up, realizing that the man and the boy are watching. It stares into the camera, growling, then lopes away.

The camera cuts to the man in real life, who bolts upright from the dream, gasping for air. He coughs, then gropes around for the boy among the folds of the blankets under their tarp- made tent. After a second of patting the blankets he moves a layer over, revealing the boy, still asleep, laying perfectly still on his side with his arms tucked in for warmth. The camera cuts back at the man, who solemnly stares down at the boy. The camera fades, focused on the boy.

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Journey

Journeying is an especially predominant motif in Parable of the Sower, metaphorically and physically transporting Lauren and other major characters from one point of the novel or state of mind to the other. There is the obvious coming of age journey that Lauren undertakes, wherein a fourteen-year old girl from a sheltered life develops into a pessimistic yet hopeful young adult. The development of her religion and entries in her journal seem to chronicle her maturation process; as she progresses, her thoughts become more complex and her feelings about others, the world, and so on alter with her changing needs. Laura personifies change as she adapts to the changes going on in the world and begins to realize that she has the ability to accept or control event around her, from people being mugged or murdered before her to the fires that ravage California.
The actual journey in Parable of the Sower gives a better perspective of American dystopia: fires, burglary, drug use, murder, climatic decay, etc. As Lauren recounts the past through the stories of her parents and other adults and travels from the previously safe fortress of her community up north, the audience takes a journey through time, from a time where there is relative security and a sense of normalcy to a time where fundamental institutions such as justice and community are torn asunder. To some extent, the nation itself undergoes a journey through time wherein the nation digresses and may continue to crumble, going withershins as apposed to progressing. The overall journey across America parallelsa the traditional  trans-American story in a distorted, pessimistic view of the nation.

Lauren’s journey north itself also recounts the heritage of African American slaves making the journey north to escape slavery or the progression of pioneers into the American west. In California the only prospects for the poor are indentured servitude or actual slavery or employment in the corporately owned city of Olivar, a reinvention of sharecropping in which the workers are intellectuals and the crop is knowledge. In the north, on the other hand, there is the prospect of freedom without walls and self-reliance, a romanticized portion of the world that, in comparison, is relatively untouched by the chaos of the outside world.

Space travel also plays into this journey motif. The process of traveling to other worlds, much like the characters’ progression north, represents the process of obtaining the means for improving life. With the death of an astronaut and the foreclosure of the space program, however, dies any hope of colonizing and reviving the vitality of humanity.  Lauren, however, does not give up hope on interstellar travel and, instead, preserves on earth yet vows that her Earthseed, the fate of humanity,is destined for the stars.

One of the most striking and most prolific themes in White Noise is the distortion of the mundane and other facets of life not normally considered mundane. The grocery list of items brought by students and parents as well as the spectacle they create at the beginning of the novel, for instance, mixes a sense of comical awe with monotony. Although spectators cannot help but gather for this yearly ritual, readers become bogged down by lists of worthless junk. These lists crop again and again throughout the text, adding a tone of superfluity to items and situations considered more important to the characters in the novel. At times when Jack is clearing out the house, instead of revealing precious mementos and priceless goods he tosses out pieces of rubbish and uselessly horded refuse. Even his diplomas and awards receive this treatment; after his ordeal with the airborne toxic event and his acknowledgement of his premature death, these markers of his success and progress become meaningless scraps of paper that signal time wasted.

Sex also becomes mundane in this novel, transforming from something invigorating to a daily chore. When Babette reads erotic prose to Jack, she does so with the same tone as she reads tabloids to the blind and stories to Wilder. The act itself does not seem to arouse her; she mentions earlier in the book that she only reads dirty literature to make Jack happy. Sex becomes something that characters simply exchange, whether as a sign of gratitude from a wife to her husband or as pure currency. The presence of prostitutes outside of the evacuation shelter endorses sex as currency in that their services are something they can just go out and purchase at a whim. Even Babette uses her body as collateral, exchanging sex for medications, disallowing kissing and other signs of affection and reducing these encounters to businesslike exchanges.

Even religion becomes devalued, becoming something that just happens in one’s life without further need for thought. The nuns of Germantown, for instance, have none; they merely keep up a front to bring security to others. The nuns perform religious rituals with as much enthusiasm as someone taking out the garbage. Religion, once a staple of life, something that give individuals a reason to live, becomes something to which one performs lip service.

Grocery shopping, on the other hand, takes on an air that blows this otherwise mundane act into something absurdly vibrant and exciting. Neon labels shout out brand names throughout aisles; unnaturally bright produce gleam from bountiful bins, providing foreign, out of season goods on demand; tabloids convey tidbits of invaluable information; cereal boxes that inspire avant garde study. A process that should not be considered unusual becomes the crux of suburban existence, a necessity that fulfils one’s social and cultural needs.

The Johnson Center

The building echoed with the sound of chairs, people, and trays shuffling about. From time to time there was a rise and ebb to the volume as groups flowed in and out of the building. Wrappers for potato chips and convenience store sandwiches crunched as students passed the time between classes, wishing it were Friday. Tables along the railings of the second and third tiers were all occupied, some accommodating three or more bulky chairs, others seating singletons who silently ate, read, scribbled, or typed. Audible words or phrases rose from assorted groups, linked together to create cryptic, hilarious, or unintelligible sentences.

Spastic, sporadic tapping on laptops, sometimes a distorted message from YouTube, resonated from distant corners of the building. Were they hurriedly finishing essays, homework, a review session minutes before the next class? Were they merely bidding their time, obsessively checking email, Stumbling, Googling, instant messaging, typing a memo to remember an obscure agenda?

Disembodied voices would speak from behind a bookshelf. The voices would be loud, laughing, then soft, mumbling, whispering. Were they speaking to one another? How many were there? After some time I realized many were alone, speaking to someone unknown, a sort of schizophrenia that was commonplace that I had come to expect in such crowded spaces.

Laughter was the loudest noise. Sometimes high shrieks in unison, sometimes an unpleasant hyena cackle pocked the otherwise consistent background noise of the J.C. It was hard to imagine these laughs originating from a good-humored joke; they had an air of sadism, a note of cruelty at the expense of an absent, ignorant party. Then there were the belly laughs, those which were full and booming yet warm. These were the kind of chortles that make you wish you knew what they were laughing about, make you wonder what those people were like.

Although I touched on this in my first blog post, I felt somewhat concerned about how environmentalists are portrayed in Lucifer’s Hammer. They hate progress, they fight the savage fight, and they do not stand a chance against the wit and intellect of the technology crusaders.

Compare how Maureen and Mabe—I mentioned her in the first post as well—are portrayed in the book, for example. Maureen is smart, beautiful, and embraces modernity as the key to saving civilization. Mabe, on the other hand, shrewdly complains about the ills of modern technology to someone who is not responsible for them and then is easily subdued by a strangely calculated counterpoint. The first survives the comet and carries on the blessed word of technology into the new world; the second is ignorant and dies with the other city dwellers in LA. And it probably not a coincidence that  the name Mabe is recycled for one of the Alim’s gang, the one who sleeps around and plays games with men. It’s almost as if the authors reinvent Mabe as a harlot to further discredit her viewpoint and to make her die twice.

Later on in the novel Harvey mentions Montross, who is the fifth president of the U.S., saying that he was “hyped up on the subject of environmentalism. Spray cans destroying the ozone, that kind of thing” (499). Very similar argument that Mabe makes to Harvey earlier, as if environmentalists have such a narrow scope of concerns and all they can think about are those damn spray cans and the ozone.

Finally, there’s the question of energy production. Niven and Pournell seem so convinced that environmentalists are so dismissive and ignorant of nuclear power that they automatically lump them together as adamant opponents of it. Not so. Nuclear power produces no pollutants with the exception of spent fuel rods, there is no extensive drilling for resources, and the amount of energy yielded far outweighs the ecological cost of production. If anything, many conservationists would be pro-nuclear power because it’s a better alternative to coal and oil. While some conservationists worry about the safety implications of these plants, the only really problem with nuclear power is the question of how to deal with nuclear waste, which evens the novel doesn’t cover. At the end of the world, with the means to carry away and bury radioactive waste products scarce or completely unattainable, how does the last nuclear power plant in the world safely dispose of its waste?

“Neither eternal nor safe”

One of the topics repeated prior to Hammerfall that helps represent the novel’s themes of social chaos as well as to foreshadow events to come is that of Charles Manson. Although Manson is mentioned only twice within the novel, the invocation of his name in this context seems hardly a coincidence. The first time the novel mentions Manson is when the authors introduce the audience to Harvey’s neighborhood, casually mentioning that Randall lives close to where Manson “proved to the world that was neither eternal nor safe” (33). Although civilization before the comet strike, at first glance, is organized and civil, we see a range of concerns that significantly refutes this view. While Randall’s neighborhood appears quaint and neighborly, rape of an eleven-year-old girl, Loretta’s murder, robbery, and even notorious conspirators like Manson severely crack this façade.

The second time Manson’s name is mentioned is when Joanna, Mark, and Frank camp out to await Hammerfall. At this point Joanna has become so terrified by the comet over the horizon that she looks as if “expecting to see Charlie Manson running at them with a chainsaw” (213).  Just like Manson, the comet brings disorder and fear. And instead of presenting the audience with a stereotypical pastoral wherein the characters are safe from the collapse of LA, there is a sense that there are no longer any safe places to which one can escape.

Although Manson is not mentioned later on in the text, many of topics connected with him become more predominant as the story progresses. We see a commune that, like the Manson commune, attempts to escape societal constrictions. Then there is the brutal slaying of the Roman family, much like the murder of Sharon Tate and all at the home of Roman Polanski. Finally, we have the New Brotherhood Army under the guidance of Reverend Henry Armitage, who proclaims that the end of the world– vague relation to Helter Skelter—has come and that the survivors must cleanse the world. The reader thus becomes exposed to a scenario in which Manson family values come to fruition and any hope for normalization is under constant threat.

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While reading Lucifer’s Hammer I have felt constantly conflicted about the authors’ portrayal of different social groups at the time the book was created, specifically minorities, women, liberals, and the like. Although there is a decidedly vast array of character types throughout the novel, one cannot help but begin to notice a pattern develop among characters that the authors seem more sympathetic towards and those characters who receive less favorable attention.

Conservationists, for instance, appear as lunatics who only want to pick fights and hate advancement. When Harvey meets Mabe Bishop (155), for instance, we can see a starting contrast between the cool and collected Randall and the fanatical, unreasoning Bishop. While Bishop rambles on about the deterioration of the planet and the threat of atomic energy, Randall calmly dismisses her complaints and, rather informatively, cancels out her claims and then feels triumphant when she cannot counter his argument. Does anyone else find it odd that she not only stands behind every cause that a stereotypical conservationist at the time would (spray cans and the ozone layer, etc.) and that she seems to simply regurgitate complaints rather than provide an actual challenge to modernity?

Then there are the women in general. For the most part, Niven and Pournelle seem to classify female characters into two categories: weak wives and girlfriends who become fodder for the readers’ bloodlust and strong, “modern” women. Women such as Loretta who are petty, greedy, and unreasonable are simply accessories that turn to liabilities and later die off, releasing their men and allowing them to survive without the burden of suitcases full of makeup. Women like Maureen, Leonilla, and Eileen, on the other hand, embrace modernity, can take care of themselves but have the potential for nurturing, and have sex appeal to boot. Is this slightly tilted in favor of a current standard of what is considered desirable in women or is this

And what about the African Americans? Again, we have two groups: those who are considered urban thugs and those who have conformed to the majority. While the latter group—Rick and the mayor of LA—are all successful and seem almost the same as their Caucasian counterparts, other African Americans in Lucifer’s Hammer rob and murder for a living. Not much room for ethnocentrism.

So ultimately what I am asking is whether the characters in this book are a product of uncensored views of social groups at the time or if this book is the construct of the authors’ interpretation of the times. Before you answer, keep this in mind: this book was made in the late seventies. PC is not as prevalent at this time, so writers at this time are free to call things as they see them. What we now would call stereotypes may have been more of the standard back then.

[ps I know the authors were into technology and all, but the part where Maureen microwaved frozen steaks just killed me. I'm a vegetarian and I wanted to cry; no cut of meat deserves to go out that way!]