Escaping Their Thoughts

     When I first began reading The People of Paper, I had no idea what the book would turn out to be about.  While I was reading the prologue, I was envisioning a trailer of a quirky computer-animated film based on this book.  It turns out this book is not a childproof story, as the title, cover and prologue may have indicated to me; it is in fact a story full of paper cuts, scars and emotional suffering.  The novel opens up in heartbreak and feelings of loss and abandonment that afflicts almost all the major characters.  Self-inflicted pain is a subsequent and recurrent motif in the book that is initiated as a mode of escapism by most of these miserable characters. While I was searching for a topic for my research paper, I came across a few texts that talk about psychological detachment and disassociation as a way of protecting oneself from a horrific experience/reality, and I started to pick up on how the characters in People of Paper are severely traumatized.  Even some of the minor characters that we only get a glimpse of, such as Sandra and Merced, show signs of emotional torment through nightmares and addictions.  These characters are willing to endure physical pain in replacement of the emotional, and this act of constriction or numbing is a way of resisting their individual traumatic narratives.  Each night, Federico de la Fe sticks his hand into his stove “until it hurt so much that he could not feel his sadness” (20).  For him, fire cured his itch, his bed-wetting, and his sadness.

      In the light of this reading, the war against Saturn is another method of resisting the trauma narrative, as members of the EMF attempt to conceal their thoughts and memories by hiding under lead that is too dense of a metal that “not even the most powerful x-ray in the universe could penetrate” (26).  They will be able to escape these thoughts if they manage to hide them from Saturn who is responsible for writing about their experiences and is therefore the cause of their emotional suffering.  Consequently, the “fight for emancipation” is initiated and the EMF members cover their houses with lead.  It’s interesting to see that the repression of their psychological and emotional pains always must come with a price as the lead causes their stomachaches and subsequent vomiting.  Figuratively, their escape from their grief through silence, again, causes them physical pain. 

     Another method of escaping emotional pain by avoiding being on Saturn’s radar is achieved by baby Nostradamus and Little Merced.  Baby Nostradamus teaches Little Merced mental strategies to consciously block her thoughts from Saturn and she is able to acquire that power and gradually progress through practice.  I think several aspects of the book remind us all a little of House of Leaves, especially the layout and the use of metanarratives, but have you noticed the many random dots in the book? For my midterm project, I talked about the appearances of various forms of dots in House of Leaves and suggested that they represented absence, silence, emotional void etc. and I find it quite daunting that the big dots that appear at the end of the book are one form of Little Merced’s silenced thoughts.    

Authorship/Form in The People of Paper

This is the second book in a row that I won’t be able to finish in time, which is frustrating because this is due to a lack of time rather than a lack of interest. I still wanted to post on what I’ve observed so far, namely on authorship and form. Immediately–maybe three pages in–I was reminded of House of Leaves, per various voices claiming the page. In House of Leaves, Danielewski uses different fonts to distinguish between Zampano and Johnny Truant, and uses the appendix so that Truant’s mother, too, informs the text. We spent a great deal of time in class talking about authorship with that book, as I’m sure we’ll also do with this one, given the nature of authorship in these pages. Per that nature, or rather, structure, Plascencia distinguishes between authors not via font but via capitalized headings, columns, and chapters. Reading through this various authorship was, for me, not necessarily easier or harder than reading through the authorship in House of Leaves, though, to clarify, when engaged in Zampano’s text, I knew right away when the authorship changed to Truant due to the font change, whereas in The People of Paper, I sometimes made the mistake of reading a second column with the assumption that I was following a continuation of the same author from the first column. It was only when the POV in that column contradicted this that I was reminded to scan up to the heading to see who was speaking. As I progressed through the book, I didn’t make this mistake as often, for the form became more familiar.

While the various authorship reminds me of House of Leaves, the omniscient Saturn brings to mind the film, Stranger Than Fiction, where a character becomes aware that he is indeed a character. Certainly, Federico de la Fe feels aware of this Saturn/Author that follows him and Little Merced, forcing Federico to hide in mechanical tortoise shells, etc. The book falls in line with some of John Barth’s metafiction, notably in his short stories in  Lost in the Funhouse wherein the author interrrupts a story to discuss his process in writing the story or to otherwise insert some authorial information into the narrative. I had always disliked the effect this had on the story–that temporary removal of the reader from and subsequent insertion of the reader back into the text, but Plascencia frames his differently so that it is not a matter of interruption but a matter of structural authorship; in other words, the reader knows from the very first page of The People of Paper, just like the reader knows in House of Leaves, that this is indeed the way the narrative is structured, therefore you’re not reading a traditional narrative for twenty pages and come across a sudden, off-putting interjection by the author, as was the case sometimes with Barth. Mary Karr, in her memoir The Liar’s Club, writes a relatively straight narrative but for a sudden shift to second person in one paragraph in the middle of the book where she speaks to a man she had been formerly writing about in third person–a man who, as a child, had molested her. This accusatory paragraph directed at “you” stands out for me in the book because it was unexpected and it departed from the otherwise solid, objective memoir. This seemed, to me, to be the kind of thing that would’ve been weeded out in a workshop and I’m curious as to her defense of that paragraph.

I just wanted to note, lastly, that I was both envious of and in awe of the fact that this is Salvador Plascencia’s first novel, not to mention the fact that he’s a recent graduate of an MFA program and only three years older than me…

Mao II and Optic Consumption

Mao II and Optic Consumption
Whenever two distinct cultures come into contact with one another, there is always resistance – either resistance to assimilate, resistance to acknowledge the other culture’s traditions, or whatever. Generally such an encounter results in consumption. One culture consumes the other, the other’s traditions/artifacts, or the other’s land. The bigger the gap between cultures, the messier the encounter seems to be, historically speaking – Europe and Africa, Europe/America with Native Americans, Brits and India, Spain and Anything South of Texas,…etc…add technology to the mix and things can get really out of hand.

Imagine, its like 1840something and you and your tribe are living somewhere in present day Idaho – your day consists mainly of getting food, taking care of your family, sleep, etc and a stranger, who looks nothing like you or your friends and has this crazy machine that flashes and makes your face appear on paper. How would you rationalize that? Sure it might seem primitive (though to be honest I still don’t understand the logistics of film and cameras) to conclude that said machine has somehow trapped or stolen your “soul,” but is the idea that a photograph or photographer can connote some kind of ownership, really that crazy?
The motifs of mass vs anonymity in Mao II are fairly evident and the consequences, or the “next step” inferences/reaction from/to such a situation – the inability to be recognized in a crowd, the desire to be isolated, etc – are present in the text. But more interestingly to me, is the focus on photography and its implications. Brit, a major character is a photographer…that’s gotta mean something right? Sure…but first let’s consider the “magic” of photography.

Sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke (2001: A space odyssey/the sentinel) offered the following statement as one of his “laws” of future prediction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. So is it insane for the Native Americans to conclude that a photo can steal/imprison one’s soul? If we’re dealing in a world of “magic” that seems plausible. Or consider the practice of the voodoo doll – a likeness of an enemy can act as a sort of psychic remote control, giving complete ownership to the doll’s creator. Or more recently, whether it should be termed postmodern, or pop art, or pastiche, or whatever, consider the re-appropriation of images of Mao/Manson/Hitler, whoever – using his likeness to subvert/pervert/remake their being. It’s said that people don’t just read books or look at art, but rather they consume…with their eyes, rather than mouths. The act of photography (or other visual media) is the first step in a process of optic consumption.

Bill, fears his picture being taken much like he is hesitant to release his newest work – presumably for the same reasons, that once both are no longer solely his own, they can be remade, subverted, perverted, reappropriated as the consumers see fit. He consents to a photograph under his own terms to, effectively, take control (yes a split infinitive!) over the frightening situation. Now I’m not advocating that a camera actually captures some ethereal portion of our being, but if we look at other depictions of people via photograph, still or moving, we can see at least the political and social implications of reappropriation of another’s image. Exp: Karen in the bedroom watching tv (with no sound so that she is able to re-author the scene) when film footage of a crowd appears. She describes a horrible writhing of thousands of people pressed into a fence and when it pauses into a still image, she describes it as a fresco in a tourist church..only as a master of the age could paint it. She redefines the image in her own terms but still the characters in said “fresco” remain anonymous in the crowd –a girl…men…maleness…etc – and she never speculates upon the event itself.

Thoughts on Zampano and Johnny

I will preface my post this week with the fact that I haven’t quite finished House of Leaves yet.  As much as I am enjoying the book, I’m finding it to be a slow read; evidently, navigating through the maze is equally as difficult for me as a reader as it is for Navidson and Holloway to manage the haunted hallways, or Zampano and Johnny Truant to survive The Navidson Record.

As I continue to make my way through the The Navidson Record, it is interesting to reflect on the relationship between Zampano’s footnotes and Johnny Truant’s ‘narration’.  As stated early by Johnny in The Navidson Record, the book evidently drove Zampano to his grave, and Johnny Truant appears to be following in Zampano’s footsteps through his increasingly self-imposed isolation.  But both of their collections of footnotes in The Navidson Record serve very different roles within House of Leaves.  Zampano’s ‘scholarly’ notes are ‘informative’ and relevant to the Navidson text (obviously some if not the majority of Zampano’s notes are actually fabricated, but are still written to ‘inform’ the text).  Conversely, Johnny Truant’s rants often have little or nothing to do with what is found in The Navidson Record.  With this information, what can we say about the two?  If we were to conceptualize the two, could Zampano come to represent order, or at least the desire for a kind of structure?  On the other hand, Johnny Truant constantly disqualifies Zampano’s references, and narrates these fantastic side-stories.  Thus, could Truant’s tangents represents a kind of confirmation of the chaos found in The Navidson Record?  Like the explorers of the ever-changing hallways, Zampano tries to make sense out of the senseless, and even when this fails, he fabricates this order; while Johnny seems content in weaving his own labyrinth of chaotic, autobiographical storytelling.

With these basic differences between Zampano and Johnny identified, could we begin to consider these writers in relation to the division between modernism and postmodernism (albeit as very broad generalizations)?  Where Zampano would attempt to impose an order/structure on the world/film/haunted house (modern), Johnny Truant participates in this chaotic atmosphere (postmodern)

Again, I haven’t finished House of Leaves, therefore, this blog serves as a kind of brainstorm for my thoughts as I continue my way through the latter part of the book.  Even as Danielewski seems to be intentionally limiting avenues for critical inspection, I think this comparison between Zampano and Johnny could be useful.

A Side Note on Danielewski’s Only Revolutions:

If you are thoroughly enjoying House of Leaves (as I am), I’d suggest checking out his following work Only Revolutions. I haven’t read it yet, but I found this interesting discussion with Danielewski on Only Revolutions.  I know it doesn’t directly relate to House of Leaves, but it’s interesting to listen to him explain the basic concepts for the structure of Only Revolutions.  Clearly with both books, Danielewski is very concerned with the typography, visual landscape, and textual labyrinth both works present. Mark Z. Danielewski on Only Revolutions.

Going Back to Hassan

I think that House of Leaves more than any other book we have read so far invites us to consider what Hassan meant by what he called the “Rhetoric of Dismissal.”  For Hassan the rhetoric of dismassal was related to the way that the establishment tried to keep down anything new or daring that was going on.

House of Leaves would be most easily dismissed as “The Fad,”  which according to Hasssan is not accepted becaused it “implies permanance as absolute value.  It also implies the ability to distinguish between fashion and history without benefit of time or creative intuition,” (9).  I could easily see people writing this novel off as a fad.  Or something cool to do once, but really not anything with any real future.  Which would mean future works that are similar to House of Leaves would fall under the “The Safe Version” dismissal, which Hassan says claims “the entrance fee has been paid, once and forever.”

Anyway, my point is, I think Danielewski is daring us to dismiss his work. He wants us to put it down in disgust, or frustration.  Look at how many times the book starts, then stops, then goes back to the beginning again, or just starts a completely new beginning.  We start with the Truant letter, the first one which seems to lead us to believe that we will be reading a book about Zampano writing this book.  Then we stop, go back, start learning about The Navidson Film, which begins to interest us. Then on page 18, we stop and go back and begin Truant’s story (and it is not like you can ignore it, Danielewski makes it long enough that you would have to skip 3 pages to get back to The Navidson Record, which no reader will do).  Then with Chapter 3, we stop and go back and learn Navidson’s history and psychology.  Think about how many times we stop and go start new somewhere else: learning the histroy of echoes, Truant’s mother’s letters, Henry Hudson, Magellan, Karen’s short, Lude’s List, Zampano’s poems, the Pelican Poems, Zampano’s Letter to the Editor, etc..  They all just lead to us stopping what we are reading and beginning again.

Danielewski wants us to get angry, he wants us to be mad.  He is literarally daring us to come at him.  I think he feels he is like Truant with the Gdnask man fight, he is going to let us come at him with all we’ve got. just sreaming “706 PAGES OF THIS? ARE yOU SERIOUS? AND WHAT THE F IS UP WITH THE FOOTNOTES?” then he is going to take our punishment and wait till we turn our backs and hit us in the head with a jack daniels bottle, and possible rape and murder our girlfriends.

Someone brought up that Danielewski may have put in all the Truant sex scenes because he wanted to be cool by proxy.  I think there is something to that.  Originally I thought it was purposefully absurd to point out the unreliability of Truant, but the nerd porn theory holds up just as well.  Especially as I read the end of the book, I got the idea that Danielewski just thinks he is so cool, and it bothered me.  But I do not want to give anything away, and I need something to talk about next week.

Oh, I actually liked the book by the way.  It may not seem like it by what is above, but I dug it.

Photographic Technology’s Twist on Reality and Credibility

I am going to take a break from my reading to post on what I have read so far, and then get right back into it.  I just finished one of the sections where there are very few words on each page, and I must say that I was turning those pages so quickly that my dogs got startled.  Really, I was reminded of those little flip-books with pictures that if you flip through quickly enough produce a cartoon.  That page-turning effect especially kicked in for me when reading pages 182 to 245, when Navidson’s group meets with Jed and Wax.  I even found myself getting outright angry at Truant for having the audacity to interrupt the story.

Speaking of Truant, please don’t give anything away but it seems to me he will have “disappeared” by the end of the book, according to Ashley’s letter on p. 151 (in my black-and-white book).  She writes, “I’m sorry to hear he disappeared.  Do you know what happened to him?” and I, the reader, am thinking, “No, you jerk.  I didn’t even know he was missing!”  But now she’s got me wondering: will Truant disappear into this empty, ever-changing space?  Does the space represent our consciousness and sanity, and will he “disappear” like his mother did?  I am determind to find out.  (Perhaps I will know by tomorrow.)

On to another point.  Many of us, at some point or another, have considered the credibility of this text.  (Somehow, the term “text” seems so much more complex when applied to House of Leaves than when applied to any other book.)  I was struck by the following 1990 Andy Grundberg quotation, and I began to consider the implications of film being at the heart of this text:  “In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they will be well aware that they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has been manipulated” (141).  I began wondering whether this was a “real” statement or a Danielewski original, and when I did some research, I found the following 1990 New York Times article:

Grundberg’s article is fascinating, and though Danielewski does not include the following excerpt from the article, I think it is particularly relevant in the conversation of credibility and reality which is essential when considering this text.  “In the future, it seems almost certain, photographs will appear less like facts and more like factoids – as a kind of unsettled and unsettling hybrid imagery based not so much on observable reality and actual events as on the imagination. This shift, which to a large extent has already occurred within the rarefied precincts of the art world, will fundamentally alter not only conventional ideas about the nature of photography but also many cherished conceptions about reality itself” (Grundberg).  Yes, reality must be questioned, and the presentation of reality, thus the credibility, of this text is just so complex. 

I think it is very important that in this particular story the focus most basely comes down to a FILM, or photographed images strung together.  Grundberg discusses the “video” specifically in the last section of his article:

“If photographs can no longer be perceived as unalloyed facts peeled from the surface of the real world, what will replace them? The temptation is to say video images, since electronic image making increasingly bears the primary responsibility for supplying society with pictures. But the prospect that video will inherit photography’s former truth-bearing function is limited by its even greater susceptibility to computer manipulation.

Some have speculated that an enterprising computer wizard could, for instance, create a visual data bank of all of former President Ronald Reagan’s speeches and then, using a montage of the recorded images and sounds at his disposal, make the President’s video image speak entirely new sentences – literally put words in his mouth. At a time when governments can deny the reality of unmanipulated television pictures, as China has done in the case of last year’s Tiananmen Square uprising, the notion of a fabricated video reality seems especially frightening” (Grundberg).

Nineteen years ago, “fabricated video reality” was a far-off, almost imaginary concept; today it is “our reality.”  Essentially, reality adjusts based on what technology produces for us at any given time in our human history, and therein (forgive me for sounding like Ray Bradbury, but I am a big fan) lies the “rub.”  Obviously, this novel is not real, nor are the characters, the stories, and especially this “film.”  But then again, there can be no definite reality, as Grundberg predicted, rightfully so, in 1990.  What he calls “computer manipulation” can “literally put words in [people’s] mouth[s]”, and yet, how is that so different from the various methods used to communicate one hundred or two hundred years ago? 

Maybe the difference is that we still, unwittingly, believe in technology’s reality.  We believe what we see and read online is real, especially when we have pictures to “prove it.”  Even the websites which discriminate between urban legends and reality, like, could be (and probably do sometimes) distort reality.

If, therefore, one of the messages we can take away from House of Leaves is that nothing is “real” and no one is “credible,” then I would argue that, in one sense, PostModernism is a continuation of Modernism.  The Modernists were a disillusioned bunch, and my thoughts here point to that same disillusionment, at least at this point in my reading, in Danielewski’s text.

On authorship and Labyrinths: In Response… (Zampano who did you lose?)

…to some of the previous posts:

Reading some of this week’s posts I see that other people are also questioning authorship in HoL as well as the labyrinth-like structure of the text itself. I can’t say I have definitive answers, but here are some of my thoughts on these matters.

I believe that as far as House of Leaves is concerned, “The greatest trick [Danielewski] pulls is convincing the [reader] he doesn’t exist.” Danielewski does an amazing job of creating a work of fiction that seems to be the work of Zampano (does anyone else have issues accenting the ‘o’ in his name?) and Johnny Truant. I like the idea that the reliability of the narrator “doesn’t really matter” as has been said in class, but while browsing through the pages of the book over the weekend I found something very interesting. This Easter egg is not “within the text” so to speak, but is a part of the novel–found on the page of photos directly after the cover. The stained, ink-marked piece of paper on the center of the page is a partial note about the book (This, I now realize, is also in the appendix in full–but I found the one after the cover first, so I’m going to keep that. Sorry, folks, just started looking over the appendices now). It reads

“Note # [indecipherable text] Chapter XII: Perhaps I will alter the whole thing. Kill both children. Murder is a better word. Chad scrambling to escape, almost making it to the front door where Karen waits, until a corner in the foyer suddenly leaps forward and hews the boy in half. At the same time Navidson, by the kitchen, reaches for daisy…arrive a fraction a second too late, his fingers…’ding air, his eyes scratching after Daisy as she…to her death. Let both parents experience that …’eir narcissism find a new object to wither by…’em in infanticide. Drown them in blood.” A note written in red ink below this type-written passage reads “…top primary sense, to wound, tear, pull to pisces.”  Note: The line reads pisces, lowercase, not pieces. (DNE)

This sheds a new light on the authorship. Clearly somebody is creating this tale if they have the power to change the ending. But all the passage–like so many others–really does it create more questions. Is this Danielewski’s note? If so, then Truant could indeed be reliable. The same could be said if it is a Zampano note: Truant could still be reliable, but Zampano’s work would further be established as mostly fiction. Is it Pelafina’s note? As we have seen by reading the appendices, she is deeply troubled. Something in her letters hints that she may have had exposure to this work herself, after all, she appears to be in the state that Johnny himself is heading towards.

I am beginning to believe that the question of authorship is answered in the way Danielewski creates a book where readers constantly question the validity of the text. The text–or the body of materials that constitute the novel–are not concerned with fact or fiction. They cause whoever is in possession of them to devolve into a state of isolation and eventual insanity. Can’t the same be said for us, the readers and critics of this novel? There is nothing for us to do but continue reading as the book deconstructs itself. Does this not lead us to frustration and insanity? As many people have mentioned in their posts, HoL consumes us. We want more time–need more time–to consume the book even as it consumes us. The same thing is happening in the text. Johnny isn’t sure whether he is working with genuine documents–he even says the film doesn’t exist and the footnotes are often fabrications–but he can’t put it down. Neither can we. This is the text messing with us. Hints of this can be found in the fonts used for each character:

Zampano uses Times–he is the reporter who did immense research on the Navidson record and reports it in academic and journalistic style. Truant uses Courier. He is the messenger who brings Zampano’s research to the reader. Pelafina’s font is Dante, which conjurs images of hell, perhaps as a result of coming into contact with the very materials that appear to be sending Johnny on a path towards insanity. The editors–perhaps the only reliable writers in the text–use Bookman because they are literally book men.

These fonts are ultimately the work of House of Leaves’ ultimate author, Danielewski, who places specific hints in the text for the readers. It is clear that this is a work of fiction, but the text seems to be confused by its own state of existence. Sometimes we question its credibility and other times accept what the book’s authors write as credible. This is a text that deconstructs itself before I can even fully formulate my own deconstructing criticism and the use of fonts and subtle hints lead me to question the authenticity and reliability of the text, seemingly around every corner. This shows that the text is fighting this struggle itself–trying to exist even as all signs say it should not. I believe the point Danielewski is tying to make is that credibility and authenticity are not always that important or especially clear cut. After all, Johnny reads Zampano’s text knowing that it is largely a fabrication but still finds himself becoming consumed by the work. So do we, the readers, consume the text–fully aware of its status as fiction–and find ourselves consumed. Here we can see elements of postmodern fiction blurring the lines of authorship, transcending the boundaries of fiction and reality and leaving us saying only, “who cares.”

Another element I will touch on briefly are the mentions of the labyrinth. I was hoping to spend more time writing about this, but I am already well over 500 words, so a note will suffice. I agree that the book is much like a labyrinth that we must negotiate. But my question is this: While a normal labyrinth has many dead-ends, with blocked passages connected to the one that actually leads somewhere, is every passage in House of Leaves really a dead-end? Is the text like this on purpose? Serving as a maze with no entrance and no exit–one that answers any questions we may want to address before we can address them? One that traps characters and readers alike in a state of fear, locked away with a monster we can’t see but know is there? You guys tell me.

This is a comic by XKCD that is fitting for our reading of house of leaves:

An xkcd cartoon using an IHOP menu and heavy HoL inspiration
An xkcd cartoon using an IHOP menu and heavy HoL inspiration

What to believe in this work of fiction

As I continue to read the book, I continue to be pulled into its labyrinth-nature. I wish I had a full day to finish it because it really is hard to put down!

Both Professor Sample and Sara Flood have commented on how exactly we are meant to approach this novel. I keep asking myself that same question, too. Sara pointed out a great quote from page 114 of the novel. I think this quote, which refers to the labyrinth-like nature of the film and the viewer’s interaction with the film, also applies to us as readers of the novel. As we discover the multiple layers we, too, are continuing to try to piece it together. Sara commented on the remark that someone made in class: “Does it really matter?” I’m reminded of Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I absolutely love the novella and love teaching it. Every year, though, my students get so hung up on the questions that don’t really matter. They become practically obsessed with the identity of the narrator and who really took Angela’s virginity and they miss some of the bigger elements and deeper connections. I am wondering if I’m doing the same thing with Danielewski’s novel. Are we missing something, or, perhaps, are we looking too deep into it? Is Danielewski’s master plan to confuse us in this way? If so, for what purpose?

(I am interested in Professor Sample’s suggestion that the real tests and references in the novel could be the lens through which we should be viewing the book.)

I’m also questioning what Danielewski wants us to believe. Yes, we are dealing with a work of fiction, but Danielewski has put such great time and effort into making his novel appear real. The frame narrator, the footnotes, the letters from Truant’s mother….all of these aspects of the work make it seem real to the readers. But then the footnotes and references are a mix of fact and fiction, and it seems we are seeing more and more references of sources that never seemed to have existed. (Of course, none of it really existed to begin with!) For instance, on page 83, Zampano references a book that is “no longer in print”. Similarly, on page 99, he refers to Navidson’s “now lost journal”. And, of course, The Navidson Record isn’t obtainable. With this mix of fact with an overwhelming amount of fiction constructed to appear factual, what are we supposed to believe? How does this mix contribute a greater meaning and greater significance of the book and its layers?

The layering continues to develop as we read. I had not read the mother’s letters for last class, but, now that I have read them, I agree they provide more insight into Truant’s character. I think we can see him as more intellectual than his lifestyle suggests. The stories about his childhood abuse makes us view him (and his times of violent thoughts and actions) differently, too. It is so interesting to read his footnotes! Whenever I come to one of Truant’s long notes, at first I’m a little annoyed that I have to stop reading about The Navidson Record, but then I get into Truant’s thoughts (it’s almost like reading his annotations in Zampano’s work) and I don’t want to shift back to The Navidson Record! I’m really enjoying the style! I was also particularly intrigued by the fact that layers are played out in this style as well. For instance, in Chapter VIII, the text (and space) mimics the film shots which mimicked the “SOS” knocking heard in the house. I found this choice fascinating!

I look forward to finishing the novel and, hopefully, gaining a better understanding of how we are supposed to read the work and what we’re supposed to take from it.

~Jennifer Kathryn Fulton

More on Form and Function

Yes, I keep feeling ridiculous for trying to analyze this book. Last week when we were talking about whether or not Johnny Truant was a reliable narrator, someone asked, why does it matter? I’m starting to feel that way about the whole book. Danielewski leads us around in his little text mazes, getting deeper into the analysis of a movie that doesn’t exist, about a house that doesn’t exist. Truant, for that matter, doesn’t exist either. Neither does Navidson. Or Karen. Or her problems. Danielewski’s writing fiction here.

However, as much as it resists analysis, it kind of cries out for it. Sure, nothing really exists, but really, neither do the dark hallways, so everything at least relates. It reminds me again of the layers in The Crying of Lot 49. Peel away everything only to reveal more layers:

“From the outset of The Navidson Record, we are involved in a labyrinth, meandering from one celluloid cell to the next, trying to peek around the next edit in hopes of finding a solution, a centre, a sense of whole, only to discover another sequence, leading in a completely different direction, a continually devolving discourse, promising the possibility of discovery…” (114).     

Even if Danielewski doesn’t want us to interpret it, there’s this need to at least mull over the deeper implications of everything that happens. Especially when he presents so much analysis of everything. I mean, given the interpretation of Minotaur-as-deformed-child, how could people just move on like that isn’t an interesting consideration? At the very least, we can analyze his analyses, right?

I really like the part about the Minotaur, even though it’s hard to read because of the strike-through. I also like how he describes how to read the text sort of the same way he describes how to view the movie. For example, he’s talking about how Navidson mimics the distress code by timing his film clips to the pulse of SOS. At the same time, the text in the book forms a similar pattern. Later he leads us through the maze of text and footnotes, some dead ends, while explaining how to interpret a maze. I suppose this is pretty gimmicky, but I kind of like it because it reminds me in some ways of a comic strip – how you’re visually led from one frame to the next. 

If the form of the text is so interwoven with the interpretation of the movie, is it any wonder the book itself gets analyzed? I’m not sure how to read it without constantly applying whatever he says to Truant. I’m also not sure what to do with the Sheehan Disability Scale. I guess it’s like the ultimate form of analyzing the book, right? Put it through psychotherapy?

Also, can I just point out that on page 84, an article titled “The Illusion of Intimacy and Depth” appears in an issue of Ladies’ Home Journal? That’s pretty funny. So was the story about the captain with the red shirt/brown pants.

Real Echoes

I was intrigued by the passage in The House of Leaves that defined and related the history of echoes. Echo’s voice “has life. It possesses a quality not present in the original, revealing how a nymph can return a different and more meaningful story, in spite of telling the same story” (42). Of course the series of echoes is found in the construction of the text itself, Zampono’s voice filtered through at least two other voices, and Truant even admits to changing Zampono’s “heater” into “water heater,” in order to make Truant’s echo of Zampono’s story more meaningful to Truant. The echo therefore is real and has meaning in its own right, independent from the original sound. This independent meaning of the representation parallels Baudrillard’s phases of the images, where a simulacrum can exist with no relation to reality, and the invented character of Navidson, who would perhaps fit in at number three of the image phases. Of course it’s silly for literature students to debate whether or not fiction/lies/simulacra have meaning, but by inviting the reader to imagine the book as a true story, Danielewski makes the reader more actively involved and invested in the story. Baudrillard suggests that simulation is dangerous because it implies that everything is a simulation. The reader, confronted with such a skillful simulation of a critical discussion about a film, will then somewhat question the existence of the “real” critics and films s/he reads or has read about.

The main episode where echoes play a large role is when Navidson, lost in the passageway, keeps calling out to find his way through space, and his daughter’s response to his calls is a kind of echo that (it would appear) saves his life. Navidson’s adventure in the passageways echoes the imagery Zampano uses to describe (what Truant thinks is) his own experience with echoes: a word “flung down empty hallways long past midnight” (48). The only evidence of the beast in the passageways with Navidson is aural as well, the growling noises reverberating in the silence. Even the beast itself seems to only echo the awareness of it. Lude hasn’t detected anything wrong with reality. Zampono’s foreboding final emphasis on how Daisy’s “Always” echoes “hallways” seems to give great weight to echoes, but to what end? (73) Is the beast the reality that everyone’s simulacra are working to hide? Or is it the truth that there is no reality?

Truant also seems happier with Thumper’s “image feeling permanently fixed within me” than really getting to know the real girl with the tattoo (54). Something strange is going on with his repeated “can’t write the word”s, and also his “Known some call is air am” is a kind of textual echo of the Latin, purposefully leading the reader on an involved quest for its meaning (72).

Confusion of Authorship and the Gothic Novel

I know that as a literature grad student I am supposed to be able to step back and recognize fiction for what it is: made up stories about made up people ( I know that this definition is overly-simplistic, but whatever).  That being said, what I have read in House of Leaves so far seriously creeps me out.  I’ve only managed to read the first 80 pages that were assigned, but I am hooked, and may not get any sleep tonight because I want to know what happens next.  The last time a book freaked me out this much was when I misguidedly read Stepehn King’s It in middle school, alone, at night, and constantly worrying that a killer clown was going to come out from under my bed and do terrible things to me.  A coincidence I noticed was that Bret Easton Ellis offered a blurb praising this book saying that both Thomas Pynchon and Stephen King would want to bow down to Danielewski after reading this book.  It is a coincidence because the three books that pop into my head when I read House of Leaves are It by Stephen King, The Crying of Lot 49 by Pynchon, and Ellis’ Lunar Park.

Lunar Park is probably the book I most think of when I read this because it explores many of the same themes as House of Leaves (although admittedly many years later).  The main two of these themes being the hiding/layering of authorship and the physical house itself as the sourc of terror.  Lunar Park is a book written by Bret Easton Ellis, author of such works as Less than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, and American Psycho, whose protaganist is Bret Easton Ellis, author of such works as Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, and American Psycho. The first sentence of Lunar Park is “You do an awfully good impression of yourself.”  With this sentence, and throughout the novel Ellis attempts to hide/layer the actual authorship of the book by writing about the fictional Bret Easton Ellis writing this book.  The blur between the fictional Ellis’ and the real Ellis’ life are purposefully blurred to the point that his fictional actress wife, Jayne Dennis (I think, I have not read it in awhile), has her own website ( on which she is reported to have formally dated Keanu Reeves……Whoa!).  The novel includes enough actual facts about Ellis’ life that it is hard for the reader to know where the fiction starts and real life begins.  Like many of my classmates, I am so completely caught up in Zampano’s/Truant’s story that I forget that it is all just coming from Danielewski.  I keep feeling like if I stop reading and get on Netflix, I can put the Navidson Record on my queue, and I REALLY want to watch it.  As where Ellis creates the fictional Ellis to hide/confuse authorship, Danielewski manages to completely mask himself and the reader forgets he even exists.

The other thing I noticed was that there seems to be something gothic about this novel’s treatment of the home.  In gothic novels danger/otherness/creepiness shifted from coming from outside the house to coming from within or from the actuall house itself.  This most likely had something to do with Victorian mores about sex according to some scholars, but that is neither here nor there, the house, home or living space generated the otherness/spookiness.   I just thought this was interesting as we have discussed how postmodernism has been a reaction to other modes of literature.  We have mainly discussed how it relates/ contrasts to modernism, but House of Leaves seems to be  a postmodern take on the more traditional gothic novel.

Oh, and if anyone else out there is an Ellis fan, how awesome does the trailer for The Informers look? Spoiler: the answer, pretty awesome.

Layers of echoes

Several posts have been about Danielewski’s lack of presence– dare I call it his silence?–  in the novel.  I was certainly struck by this as well.   However, Danielewski’s voice, like so much of the postmodern literature that we have studied, is buried under layers of intertextuality–editors, Truant, Zampano, Navidson, Karen, etc. The only way we “hear” Danielewski’s voice is through layers of fictitious characters.  While we occasionally hear Navidson, he is presented through a film clip, or through a critic’s interpretation, or through Zampano.  Even Zampano’s voice, which is primarily heard through footnotes, is being interpreted through Truant. And Truant’s voice (or absence like Susanna pointed out) is also qualified by the editors.  All of these layers of distance and absence are important to simulation of reality.  I don’t feel like I quite understand Baudrillard’s successive phases of the image (or even if they can be successive), but the bit about the Moebius strip splitting in two and always calling into question the real by the imaginary seemed to fit in this case.  Isn’t Danielewski using the imaginary, the intertextuality, to define exactly who he is?

Another layer (real or imagined) was the lengthy and sometimes tangential comments about echoes in chapter v.  The very nature of an echo is imaginary, even mythic as the opening to the chapter suggests.  The echo isn’t the actual voice, but the mimicking of a voice– calling to mind the very strategy that Danielewski is using in crafting his book.   Many moments of the echoes arise in this chapter, mainly in regard to the hallways.  “In the living room, Navidson discovers echoes emanating from a dark doorless hallway which has appeared out of nowhere in the west wall” (57). These echoes are the voices of his children lost in the hallways.   

Not only do the echoes add a type of layering to the story that mimics the structure of the story, but they also add to the eerie tone. “Delay and fragmentation repetition create a sense of another inhabiting a necessarily deserted place” (46).  After the children’s shouts are heard throughout the living room, Karen “freezes on the threshold,” paralyzed by fear of the unimaginable.  This same sentiment is brought up a few chapters later when Navidson is lost in the hallway at 3:19 am.  Instead of the echoes being created by the hallways,”suddenly immutable silence” takes its place (67).  After hearing the growl, Navidson makes vain attempts to call out to his wife and brother, but his shouts are met again by silence.  Couldn’t this absence of words be relate to the echoing of words?  Each is missing some sort of reality of words.  Is Danielewski trying to do as Baudrillard suggests and define something according to its binary?  

By way of a tangent, it’s interesting to note that “Simulacra and Simulations” is the article being read by the character Neo early in the film “The Matrix.”  The movie contains multiple other references to the essay, including the phrase (uttered by Morpheus upon his revealing the wasteland that is the ‘real world’ of the future earth) “the desert of the real”– a direct quote from the essay.

Layers and Reliability

I believe I mentioned in class that one of my students had the most bizarre reaction when I mentioned that I was going to be reading The House of Leaves. One day, when I told her I was going to start reading the book that night, she cried, “Oh no! Don’t read it at night! Read it during the day when you’re sure of yourself and the world around you!” Her reaction made me laugh, but when I did go to start reading the book later that evening I must admit that I was a bit hesitant. J Maybe it was the warnings of my student that got me, but I did find the style to be rather ominous. I kept waiting for the horror I might discover on the next page. Although I still feel that Danielewski has successfully created an eerie, foreboding mood, I’ve overcome that initial hesitation and I am very much intrigued by the style of the book!


Several people have commented on the many layers of the book. I find this layering just fascinating! We’re reading a book told from the point of view of a narrator (a “frame narrator”?) who is piecing together a book from scraps of writings about a film which, as others have mentioned, is also fragmented. Then there is the layer of false support and commentary found in the footnotes. Additionally, Truant’s compilation also offers him a chance to reflect in journal-like writings. Just like the house in the novel, these layers seem never-ending.


In addition to the layers of the novel, I’m also interested in the names Danielewski chose. Susanna discussed the significance of Truant’s name. I’m also intrigued by Truant’s friend, Lude. Lude is rather lewd, but, then again, so is Truant. However, by going through Zampano’s writing, Truant begins to think on a deeper level, to some level going beyond the lewd lifestyle of smoking pot, getting drunk, and having sex with multiple (and random) partners. However, Lude (or the lewd lifestyle) keeps interrupting his thoughts (50).


As others have mentioned, Truant’s lifestyle has other implications…he can be seen as an unreliable narrator. Sara mentioned that Truant’s errors make him unreliable. I had a very different view, though. I actually see Truant has a rather reliable narrator because he is presented as very “real”. Truant’s voice is very conversational. He apologizes for how he is expressing his thoughts, he uses clichés (which we’re all guilty of), and he does make mistakes. Also, Truant demonstrates an understanding that time distorts memory. Within the first few pages of his introduction he admits that a particular memory “isn’t entirely accurate” but states that he is trying to be (xvi). Sure, we might not be getting an accurate account of this fictional tale, but I believe that Truant is presented as a rather real, believable character trying to make sense of what he has stumbled upon.


Speaking of real…I was relieved to learn that I was not the only one who struggled with Baudrillard’s essay on the real and the simulated. (I honestly struggled a bit with Foucault’s, too.) I think there have been some interesting comments about the connection between Baudrillard’s piece and The House of Leaves. I particularly liked Susanna’s observation that “Zampano’s reality becomes Truant’s reality”. From what I could gather, Baudrillard seems to make the argument that, due to representation and simulation, the real and the imagined become intertwined, and the imagined (or, in our case, the seemingly impossible) becomes another sort of reality. This thought really came back to me when I was reading Truant’s introduction and he states, “Zampano knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t doesn’t matter here. The consequences are the same” (xx). I feel this statement really connects to the idea of constructed realities. At this point in the novel we’re also seeing Truant dealing with consequences from what is not truly real but has become real to him through his connection to Zampano and his work. (Did that make sense? J)


I look forward to discussing the novel and the articles in class tomorrow!

~Jennifer Kathryn Fulton

Layering Signifiers, Space, and “Reality” in House of Leaves

Before I get into my fragmented points about signifiers, space, and “reality” (vs. simulation) in House of Leaves, I wanted to add to Sara’s point about absence in the book.  I noticed that the “narrator,” if we can call him that, is named “Truant” which can be used (in the noun form) to mean “one who is absent without permission” or “one who shirks off responsibility” (  Obviously, both definitions incite conversation (given Truant’s sometimes less-than-responsible behavior), but in terms of a conversation on absence, Truant serves as both the signifier and the signified: he conveys the message, and he himself is the message.  Truant tells Zampano’s story (which has Zampano telling Navidson’s story), so he serves as one signifer for another signifier.  Then, his name reflects the absence in the story he is telling; the message of absence is, ironically, present in the narrator’s name.

Along with several other posts, I was fascinated by the layering of this story; not only is the narrator telling Zampano’s story who’s telling Navidson’s story, but also, the story is a fragmented novel about a fragmented story about a fragmented film.  The layering of media, or signifiers, really strikes me as Postmodern.  Foucault explains in “Of Other Spaces” that a train “is something through which one goes,.. something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that goes by” (24).  In the same sense, House of Leaves presents, what Foucault calls “the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect” (24).  The multi-layered signifiers demonstrate the relationship between each story, but interweave to create a fragmentary and, at the same time, mirrored experience.  Truant becomes so engrossed in Zampano’s story (at least by p. 79, we know something of this) that he, too, becomes somewhat agoraphobic and paranoid; Zampano’s reality becomes Truant’s reality.  (We can speak of “reality” next, in relation to Baudrillard’s article.)  Even before the transference between the living Truant and the dead Zampano, we have reason to believe that Zampano has experienced some of the same obsession with space and reality that Navidson had.  As far as I am in the book, I feel ill-equipped to go further with the analysis of transference and multi-layered signifiers, but let me try to assess Baudrillard’s argument on “simulation” and “reality.”

Baudrillard writes, “Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible” and this: “Simulation is infinitely more dangerous [than transgression and violence] since it always suggests, over and above its object, that law and order themselves might really be nothing than a simulation” (177).  When I read that, I immediately considered what we know of the suddenly-appearing hallway in Navidson’s film.  (I say “film” because I think we must always consider that “reality” is mediated by a signifier, and thus may not be reality at all.)  I wondered whether, at page 79, whether we are right to question the reality of the story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already been terrified a few times by Danielewski’s story (let’s do give him a little credit since, really, it is his story, and not Navidson’s or Zampano’s or Truant’s), but it could be that we are really reading a “simulation” of reality.  This is, after all, someone’s film; dare we remember the “true” story that was The Blair Witch Project.  In any case, I think Baudrillard is relevant in reminding us, at this early stage of our reading, that there is no clear demarcation between what is real and what is imagined; in fact, there may be nothing that is “real” anymore.  Law and order have been lost in 1/4 of an inch, or whatever the measurement turns out to be.

And yet, the imagined space is terrifying.  We do not believe the “always” as little Daisy calls them could possibly open up and envelop Navidson as they do, and the “growl,” what is that?  A monster?  Come on now, Danielewski.  And yet, and yet, I am shakin’ in my boots.  The imagined has taken the place of the real, it has effectively inhabited multiple spaces through multiple signifiers, and it has done so in a positively disturbing way.

The Absence of…

Maybe it’s a copout to focus on absence, because what novel has everything? House of Leaves, however, seems to delight in its own absences, and furthermore build upon them. The absence of ¼”, for example, sets the obsession with space rolling. The whole phenomenon described is that of impossibility, that of the house being bigger than itself, or at least not easily contained.

And one of the biggest absences is that of a complete story. While the supposed narrators supposedly make every attempt possible to leave in everything and cite all sources, we can’t help but notice the absence of, say, the movie itself. Truant says plainly that many of the footnotes aren’t even accurate and that one of them is covered by an ink stain and others unintelligible. You get both the detailed analysis of a movie you’ll never see by an unreliable dead blind man, and the reactions of a slowly maddening Truant by way of disjointed footnotes. There’s this whole question of authenticity, noted upfront on page 3, which brings in the idea of artifice vs. reality. Even the introduction is written by a fictional person. The book seems to pretty much be a self-proclaimed fraud drenched in painstaking details to deny its fraudulence.

Here we have a photographer/moviemaker, a person skilled at manipulating light and space in order to “capture reality.” Someone in the book mentions Escher at some point, and I’m reminded of anamorphosis, that weird process of playing with perspective to create space that isn’t there. Take, for example, the St. Ignatius church in Italy, where the dome is painted so as to appear, when you’re standing at a certain point on the floor, to exist. Really the church ceiling is flat on the outside:


There is also the famous Ames room, an optical illusion where part of a room extends further than it appears, so when two people stand on either side of it, one looks tiny and the other like a giant. This is an illusion. Observe the creepy children:

ames roomAnamorphosis is a centuries-old technique (if I remember right, it started as a way to obscure political cartoons from kings), and has practical purposes (arrows and directions drawn on streets are distorted so as to look normal from a driver approaching in a car). It shows up in film, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey as a disproportional child under a table). It’s also used in sidewalk art:


Product placement!

Getting back to absence, I’d just like to point out there seems to be absence of feeling, especially with Karen (“she has no room for him” p. 12), and Navidson’s and Truant’s absent childhood families which supposedly lead to an absence of love and conflicted emotions later on.

There is also an absence of grammar. I realize that’s a bad segue. But seriously. Errors occur most often in Truant’s footnotes. For example, he keeps saying “I should of..” or “I could of”. While these seem to imply he’s just not a grammarian or that the “editors” hesitate to lose the contrived authenticity of the thing, there are also those which seem more intentional.

On page 31, Zampanó gets flowery about coffee spilling over until there is “nothing more than a brown blot on the morning paper” and then Truant footnotes it, saying the passage is unnecessary but left in so as to avoid absences, keep it authentic. However, Truant misspells morning, saying instead: “Easily that whole bit from ‘coffee arcing tragically’ down to ‘the mourning paper’ could have been cut.” Not only does the substitution of mourning for morning seem intentional, but it also serves to target Truant as unreliable (not that his drug-infused rants and ramblings don’t already do so).

There are at least two places where the word “pieces” is represented with “pisces.” What is this about? On page 41, Zampano’s talking about Echo and says Pan “tears her to pisces.” In the appendix of Johnny’s mother’s crazy letters, she says “such terrible news tore me to pisces.” (599)

There is also some discussion on page 45 of the substitution of “care” for “caves”. I wonder if these misspellings are meant to have the effect of echoes. Aloud, mourning sounds the same as morning. Later Daisy says “Always” is a game, which the narrator notes might echo “Hallways”.  He also says: “An echo, while implying an enormity of a space, at the same time also defines it, limits it, and even temporarily inhabits it” (46). Maybe this has something to do with the hallways which constantly redefine and shift outside and inside of the house, carrying the person within them along.

Response to first week’s reading

Foer’s narrative is probably the only one of the short stories that seemed relatively clear from the beginning.  It draws attention to the importance of listening to what is unspoken and untold and cleverly frames the story through the narrator’s instructions on the uses of the “silence marks”:: with each explanation, we are given a piece of information about him that ultimately narrates his story.  I’ve come across some writings in psychoanalytic criticism, such as Cathy Caruth’s “Unclaimed Experience,” that emphasizes the significance of reading into the silences that is particularly to be exercised with narratives that deal with trauma.  I wouldn’t know how to approach this story in terms of psychoanalysis, at least not for now, but I get the sense that we are left with an opportunity of exploring the narrator’s silences more deeply and examining not only what he doesn’t say in his conversations but what he doesn’t tell his audience. 

Don DeLillo’s  “The Uniform” reminds me a lot of Joseph Heller’s novels in terms of its use of elements of absurdity and irony.  It appears to me that this story follows the style of black comedy and I see the “cartoonishness” that Dr. Sample points to in the portrayals of the killing and raping that paradoxically makes the scenes all the more disturbing.  This narrative style serves the purpose of depicting a grotesque image without the descriptiveness expected and with simplicity and flatness that makes it more comical in a way.  But to understand the purpose of this use, I’m reminded of something Heller had said about Catch-22, that he had wanted his readers to laugh and then look back in horror at what the they were laughing at.  There’s also the recurrent attempt to articulate a traumatic experience (Harlow and her history of sexual abuse) and not being taken seriously and not being capable of comprehending it that we also see in Catch-22.  Is the excessive use of absurdity and hilarity a retreat from the futile attempts of expressing the horrific and the grotesque?  Does that suggest the inadequacy of language in these cases?

Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plan” I liked the most, despite its difficulty and ambiguity.  By taking the setting and the several references to horror films into consideration, the story seems like a mimicry of horror films of the 80’s and early 90’s that typically start with a group of unsuspecting teenagers gathering at a party where there’s music and beer, midway through the villain crashes and the slaughter begins.  But in this story the zombies never show up.  I’d hate to take this story back to psychoanalysis, too, but does that mean that the whole idea of zombies is just in the protagonist’s head? And why does he continuously slip into different identities as the narrator uses different names for him?

As to Hassan’s “POSTmodernISM” I was initially put off by its difficulty as I had trouble understanding what he was talking about, but reading more into it, I kind of get him.  I think his article is interesting and useful.  I especially appreciate the attempt he makes to compare Modernism and Postmodernism and show how they are different. It’s quite an interesting and ambitious attempt, and I mean ambitious in a good way, considering the time his article was published. 

DeLillo’s “The Uniforms:” Violence Mediated Through Film

War, terrorism, rape, murder…gauche boots? baseball? Lucky Strike? Luis Bunuel?  Where and how do we connect the associative lines?  In a world where terrorists carry Molotov cocktails “in a Coca-Cola sixpack,” these associations are jarring, yet feel somewhat natural (DeLillo 5).  Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” is a crossroads of many things: sex, violence, and consumerism (perhaps accurately identified as the DeLillo-ian trinity), and this trinity is mediated through DeLillo and delivered to the reader; however, he is not the sole “owner” of the texts.  As expressed from the lips of DeLillo himself, the short story “is an attempt to hammer and nail my own frame around somebody else’s movie ( Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend.”

In a sense, the story reads like a script for some terribly perverse action film (hence, Godard).  DeLillo’s descriptions are limited to whom and how a band of terrorists rape, pillage, burn, and mutilate its victims, and like any good screenwriter, DeLillo provides detailed sketches of costumes and props; “Bradley wore Hassan’s red beret; a blue bandanna around his neck; buckskin pants and moccasins and a bright green football jersey with the silver numeral on the front and back.  He put some lampblack under his eyes […]” (11).  Amusingly, Bradley (or “Wheaties”) emulates the American jock turned brutally hard soldier, often associating what he sees in battle with sports (He thinks of Jean-Claude’s Molotov toss as “girlish” and un-baseball.  He fashions his own grenade tossing as a Kareem-esque skyhook).  This merger between sport and war is a theme that DeLillo experiments with a lot (most notably in End Zone).

Interestingly, many of the sporadic, anecdotal interjections made by the characters/actors reference directors and films:

“[Harlow] told them this was a trick she had learned in Algiers during the time of the filming of Pontecorvo’s great fictional documentary” (5).

“Jean-Claude asked the crew whether it was true or false that Resnais had faked the filmclips of the bomb victims in his movie about Hiroshima” (8).

“Jean-Claude had learned the lighter fluide trick from his father, who had been in the hills with Bunuel when the latter had declared that the days of the slow dissolve were numbered” (9).

And so on…

Jean-Claude, thinking like the filmmaker that he is, provides a mini-lecture on the importance of effective uniforms in war films/newsreels; “The revolutionary uniform must be tight and spare.  Touches of color, individuality and personal fantasy are to be encouraged. […]  We will shoot in color because color is the color of childhood fantasy” (7).  Summarizing Jean-Claude’s remarks, the violence they commit becomes and image mediated through film and delievered to the masses.  Thus, the lethal consequences of war/terrorism come to mean less than the emotions and reactions evoked from the audience viewing this product (Examples?  DeLillo points to the Zapruder film in later works.  Our generation? 9/11?).  As Jean-Claude might suggest, in today’s world, history is often learned through (and altered by) media.  (I’m reminded of the persuasive power of Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will,” or Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin.”)  I think DeLillo is trying to illustrate this point for us.  As we are reading through the story, Jean-Claude is filming all the horrific acts, ensuring that the violence reaches its potential as a visual media.  Sadly, violence has been reduced to its prospect as images on a screen, losing its entrie connotation as lethal.  In “The Uniforms,” life has become mediated through film, and the result is propagandisitic art for the anxious consumer.

Hassan’s “rhetoric of dismissal”

Reflecting on Ihab Hassan’s “POSTmodernISM,” I am struck by one (seemly) vital difference between modernist and postmodern literature. In modernist literature, language (in the sense of word choice and syntax), integral to the core of the work, directs the form (e.g. Joyce’s Ulysses). However, postmodern works employ different architectural processes for “attaining such an aesthetic” (Hassan 16). Is this, as “some profound philosophic minds of our century” (15) suggest, “the disease of verbal systems” (15), a reflective condition of deterioration achieved by creating texts in a new way and using old rules to analyze them? Clearly, Hassan’s “rhetoric of dismissal” (9) is easy to achieve, but what does it mean?

A. The Fad. In the case of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease,” the success of the story is contingent on punctuation and symbols. Printed in standard typography, the story would, in effect, disabled. Instead, the punctuation and symbols take on the function of language. Is it likely that we are to see more stories of this kind, that it will be a new movement in literature? Or will this too “quietly go away” (9)?

B. The Old Story. Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” uses another effect to stand in for language: shock value (a combination of “dehumanization” (19) and “antinomianism” (21)). DeLillo employs (to borrow from Professor Sample) “cartoonish violence” as both a structural support and to facilitate movement in the text. Censored even in the most basic way, there would be little to nothing left of the plot, characterization, etc. in the same fashion as a Quentin Tarantino film “edited for tv.”

C. The Safe Version. Jonathan Lethem’s “Super Goat Man,” like the two previous pieces, adopts another type of structural support: the insertion of the strange and unusual, treated as ordinary. This technique is not new, but the emphasis put upon it to carry the story is. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” offers as an excellent modernist (though this label could be debated) point of reference. Though Kafka employs a similar device, he adjusts the syntax of his sentences, often reversing the places of the direct object and the verb to further defamiliarize the reader. Lethem seems to make no effort to tinker with the language, instead relies wholly on the “oddity” of a superhero to do most of the work for the story.

D. The Newspeak of Art. Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” marries the “strange and unusual” with an eccentric main character. She returns to old method of storytelling. She relies on language, demonstrating the contingencies of identity by adjusting the main character’s name. At times, the story seems both “conventional” (9) and “innovative” (10). Whether this serves as refreshment or irritation is contingent on the reader.

Though it may seem unfair to apply the rules of the old system (aka “rhetoric of dismissal”) to new works, this phenomena is neither new nor game-changing. For as literature changes, there will always be older (and yes, at times, antiquated or cultured) points of comparison (as was it for the Victorian writers, the realist and naturalist, and the modernist to name a recent few). And as time goes on, new works continue to be baptized and welcomed into the canon. This “cruel” vetting process seems, as Hassan observes, to be more endemic to the change itself than the quality or the “lasting power” of a particular literary movement, technique, or device.

On Lethem, DeLillo, Hassan, and Cage

I was excited to see that Jonathan Lethem was one of the included authors in the download. I had read Lethem before but only his non fiction, an essay entitled “The Ecstasy of Influence” which appeared in an issue of Harpers. The essay was so well written and convincing that I read it twice in one sitting, which is a rare occasion considering my short attention span. “Super Goat Man” was just as engaging. I thought the story had great blend of fantasy and reality, which I suppose is indicative of a postmodern story. Super Goat Man is not revered by the youth like the other grandiose superheroes; instead he is small time, which I think adds a bit of reality into the plot, making Super Goat Man more of a human. The narrator’s parent generation embraces Super Goat Man for his rejection of pedestrian life, as Everett says in the opening paragraphs, “It was our dads who cared.” This was a facet of the story that I found interesting. Everett disliked Small Goat Man, and also it seemed to me that he disliked his father for his interest in the minor hero. It bewildered Everett that his father and Super Goat Man had so much in common. His detest for this connection comes at the end, “I knew that my loathing had its origins in an even deeper place, in the mind of a child wondering at his father’s own susceptibility to the notion of a hero.” From the hippy parties to Jazz music, Super Goat Man is the hero of the past, a hero that is unrecognizable in Everett’s generation. Furthermore, I thought the element of Jazz was metaphorical for its association to Super Goat Man and Everett’s father. Everett has little interest in it, as if Jazz is passé for Everett’s generation.

Don DeLillo’s story was difficult to digest, not just for the grotesque killing scenes, but also the barely there plot. There story didn’t seem to be heading in any sort of direction, but only to show the depravity of the terrorists. Jean Claude describes the War uniforms shown in film, claiming that uniforms from the civil war are connected to success. Color and personality are encouraged. “We will shoot in color because color is the color of childhood fantasy.” The terrorists’ uniforms reflect Jean Claude’s argument; they are motley dressed with various styles that even exceed cultural boundaries. I could possibly infer from this that the consumerist culture, which is today’s culture, embraces personality and color, bears the new uniform and it is this uniform that cloaks the depravity of DeLillo’s terrorists. This sounds like total bs but it’s the only thing I managed to pull from the story.

I agree with Alana’s post that the typography and position of the text have an impact on the Cage and Hassan essays as well as the content, and that it influences the reader’s perception of the essays without even having read the words. From what I’ve seen, this tactic seems to be a reoccurring one in postmodern literature.

On Foer, DeLillo, and Link

I thought I’d post in regard to some of the short stories while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s short story, “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” intertwines visual media with text in an attempt to simplify conversations he has had with his family. The symbols ultimately stand in for dialogue and therefore complicate rather than simplify these conversations, at least for the reader who, if he/she has as short-term of a memory as I do, must flip between pages in order to decode the symbols. Thematically, this story works in that it reveals the complex dynamics of communication (and the futility, I suppose, in attempting to simplify it). And, of course, post-modernly, the story makes good use of mixed media and substitution.

I read somewhere that Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” was inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s film, Weekend, which I had seen once a couple of years ago (yay for Netflix). I don’t remember the film well enough to have made this connection on my own. If anything, the absurd fast-paced plot made me think of Voltaire’s Candide. In researching “The Uniforms,” I came across a passage in Marc Osteen’s American Magic and Dread that I thought the class might find interesting:

“The story dramatizes DeLillo’s recognition that, as Steven Connor argues, in postmodern culture ‘images, styles, and representations are not the promotional accessories to economic products; they are the products themselves’…DeLillo’s prescient vision of terrorist manipulation of the media anticipates the themes of Mao II as well as the media savvy of real-life terrorists. But the relationship between the media and violence works both ways: the bombardment of consciousness by images is itself a form of violence.”

Like Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms,” Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plan” makes use of lists in the text. It took me about ten pages into Link’s story for me to realize that I’ve read her before. Another of her short stories, “Stone Animals,” appeared in Best American Short Stories 2005. The thing is, it wasn’t the author’s name that made me recall this other work; it was something in the style of the writing. I disliked “Some Zombie Contingency Plan” for the same reasons I disliked “Stone Animals.” I’m having a hard time trying to express exactly what those reasons are; maybe they’re based in my aversion to fantasy, or, on a related note, maybe it’s the nonfiction writer in me talking. Or maybe those reasons are the same inexplicable reasons I have for being unable to sit through many of David Lynch’s films (most notably, Inland Empire). I think it’s just that, while I enjoy the absurd, the bizarre, I need it to make sense in the end (or at least some weeks thereafter, when I’ve thought about it enough). I had originally been excited to read “Some Zombie Contingency Plan,” solely because of the title, having been a fan of zombie films for a long time (I even own The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks), but the use of zombies (as metaphor?) in this story threw me off. I’m interested in what the rest of the class thinks. Oh, and check out this blogger’s post about Link’s use of zombies as metaphors: