More real than magic?

Sorry for the late post- haven’t been feeling well at all today…

The issue I have with magical realism is that because the reader is aware that anything is possible and accepted as real, there is nothing surprising about the text. In People of Paper, we encounter characters made out of paper, characters who resurrect after dying, and a convoy of mechanical tortoises. Like House of Leaves, the text is ergodic and requires more than a linear reading to comprehend the points made therein. The characters take turns narrating the story and the pages are split according to who is narrating. Leafing quickly through the novel, the reader witnesses long paragraphs of text totally blacked-out, crossed-out lines, and even “holes” cut in the middle of paragraphs (which are there to carefully mask the name of Plascencia’s ex- lover). Nothing too new—I’ve seen this similar style in House of Leaves before.

The only weird thing about this book, in my opinion, is that the author features himself as one of the characters. All the characters in the novel are on separate journeys to mend their paper cuts and broken hearts. They are all aware of Saturn’s presence in their lives; and they blame him for their complications—which mirrors the image of humans blaming a God for their miseries in real life; thereby alluding to the metanarrative of free-will and deterministic fate. Anyway, the characters of El Monte towards the end of the novel are warring against the author’s obtrusive narrative voice, or what Frederico calls “the war on omniscient narration (a.k.a. the war against the commodification of sadness).” Readers learn that “Saturn’s real name is Salvador Plascencia” (102). They attempt to get rid of Saturn (aka Plascencia) by using thei compounding voices and increasing the number of columns on the page to literally try to force Saturn—and conjunctively, the concept of authorial control—out of the novel. Plascencia’s use of both graphic and dramatic intensity simultaneously makes the book definitively postmodern. As this war goes on throughout the pages of the book, the reader witnesses the destructive effect of Saturn’s world intertwining with the other characters because Saturn’s inability to have control over his own life leads to chaos in each of the characters’ lives. To me, the book then becomes an allegory for the repercussions of fighting against a confused God who is responsible for human life. In this sense, I believe the novel deals with reality more than it does with magic as it seems at first glance…

The writer and his subjects

Wow. I had thought House of Leaves took us on a whirlwind tour de force narrative, but I think Plascencia’s People of Paper has Danielewski’s work beat. I have so many questions. I was really hooked by the Prologue and the first couple of chapters, but then found myself juggling so many narratives. Obviously there are connections between the narratives, but these connections are often vague, and I kept waiting to have some grand epiphany as to how all the puzzle pieces really come together.

One of the main puzzle pieces I found myself working to place was the question of Saturn’s identity. Initially, and at many points throughout the novel, it seems that Saturn is a God-figure. He’s all-knowing, always watching the many characters. However, the characters are able to hide from him behind their lead walls and doors and by blocking out some of their thoughts from “view.” However, we also learn that “Saturn’s real name is Salvador Plascencia” (102). Postcards sent to Saturn are addressed to Plascencia, and the two continue to be equated throughout the novel. We learn that Saturn’s great-grandfather is Don Victoriano and his father is Antonio, providing more connections between the characters and suggesting that Saturn is not a God-figure. It also seems that Saturn is, at least at times, an actual neighbor in the town because Smiley watches “the light from Saturn’s bedroom” being turned on and off (151). Saturn’s identity is clearly jumbled, but it seems that Saturn is most likely representative of the author and Plascencia is commenting on writing and the role of the writer.

The town is at war against Saturn, a war which is later referred to as “the war on an omniscient narrator” (218). At several points throughout the novel we learn that Saturn is losing some control over the story. Early in the novel he is said to be “blind to the progression of the story” (105). Later, Sandra shares that “After all these pages, as Saturn faded, it was our voices that directed the story, our collective might pressing Saturn into a corner” (216). At this point in the novel, the voices of the characters dominate the pages. Saturn is called a “tyrant” because he is “commanding the story where he wants it to go” (228). The characters want privacy. They build their safe houses to protect themselves from Saturn’s view. Even when the lead houses must be taken down, the characters are still able to withhold information from Saturn—the author—by withholding thoughts when telling their story. The clearest example of this withholding of information is when Froggy “never revealed what the letters [from Sandra] said” (244). He viewed this withholding of information as “his small way of triumphing over Saturn.” In this sense, the character is withholding information from not only the author, who has not provided full disclosure of the character’s thoughts, actions, and motivations, but also from the reader. Not all questions are answered, and some things have been left open to interpretation. The characters seem to prefer this “privacy” to full disclosure. Little Merced even feels anger “not only toward Saturn, but also against those who stared down at the page, against those who followed sentences into her father’s room and into his bed, watching […] perhaps even laughing” (186). It seems that Plascencia is making a statement about the writer’s role, suggesting that not all questions should be answered but, rather, things should be left open to interpretation, just as they are in life.

In this way, Plascencia also suggests, as Cameroon states, that we are “not of paper” (226). Cameroon says that there is a difference between telling and writing. As both Cameroon and Liz point out, an author cannot capture the whole story when trying to portray a character or a person. Text, then, and the retelling of the stories on it, becomes dangerous, as Ralph and Elisa Landin conclude (219). It is interesting that Plascencia suggests that writers embark on a dangerous task when they write their stories, and yet his novel seems so personal.

Postmodern Magical Realism

The essay by Flores was really shocking to me in its own unquestioned assumption of authority, scathing critique, and, well, stereotyping. Is this just a ’50’s thing?? It was hard to get past for me. The history of magical realism and its evolution as a reaction to realism is useful, however, in putting magical realism into a larger context among genres, and in putting The People of Paper in a larger context of magical realist works. When Flores states that “The practitioners of magical realism cling to reality as if to prevent ‘literature’ from getting in their way, as if to prevent their myth from flying off, as in fairy tales, to supernatural realms” (191), it seems as if it is only a matter of prose style that separates magical realism from both literary dreck and other genres such as urban fantasy. (Although in the case of urban fantasy, the markers of elves and fairies would probably force it to be categorized as such, even if it were written in the most bleak and spare realist style.)

Recently, my friend got into an impromptu conversation with another girl about what qualifies a work as magical realism. My friend was frustrated that she could not explain to the girl that no, Harry Potter did not qualify as magical realism. I suggested to her that if the characters defined something as magic, then the text wasn’t magical realism, which seemed to work as a guideline for me. However, reading Flores and his more stylistic definition, I wonder how he would differentiate between magical realism and fantasy – or science fiction, which is often written in a more realist style but can still contain unexplained prophesying like Baby Nostradamus’. Apart from the typical content markers of science fiction and fantasy (space ships, wizards, etc.), one of the things that sets them apart from magical realism is their attempt at explanation of the impossible (through magic and science). Flores highlights how Kafka and Camus and other magical realist writers never explain the impossible premise of their tales, but simply move on with the realistic implications of that premise.

Apart from these signs of magical realism, The People of Paper’s postmodernist markers of multivocality, heteroglossia, intrusion of the author, foregrounding the narrative construction, and playful spirit are all present in the style. I found this multivocality much easier to read than House of Leaves’, and especially the ending, with Little Merced and Frederico de la Fe walking off the page (with Baby Nostradamus’ assurances that he knew all the characters’ lives outside the bounds of the novel) made me feel more invested in their characterization. It was odd but when the author revealed himself halfway through I began to feel frustrated, as if the fate of the characters somehow didn’t matter anymore because their construction was *foregrounded*. (Of course all fiction is constructed, but I guess I like to pretend?) However the end seemed to revert to Plascencia as an unreliable narrator with an incomplete view, paradoxically declaring victory only to be distracted by thoughts of his lost love and giving characters the power to walk off his page. As an aside, Saturn and Frederico’s view of men spurred to great achievements only because they suffered the pain of a lost love reminded me of what Russ said about the Whileawayans’ lifelong achievements motivated by the childhood pain of being separated from their mothers.

Syntax and Semantics

Looking at form, The People of Paper has many characteristics of the House of Leaves.  The text does not limit itself to a traditional format or even a single column down the page.  It breaks into seemingly concurrent narratives, each column clearly denoted with its own heading.  The narratives are amended with blackouts and strikethroughs which emphasize the text’s self-awareness as well as the feeling of being in real time, keeping pace with characters’ thoughts and feeling and the revision of these thoughts and feelings.  Incidentally, the typographic revisions also inject emotion.  Instead of writing “And for Liz who taught me that we are all of paper,” Saturn writes, “For Liz who fucked everything” (Palscencia 122).  This statement, identical to the book’s dedication page, contributes to the metanarrative and informs it in a new way.  When we reflect on the dedication page, is there a sense that it will be revised or that it was revised and then returned to its original state?  Is there a feeling of tenderness or hostility?  Again, this calls to mind the House of Leaves’ dedication page, “This is not for you.”  How do we read that?  Is it a static warning?  Is it written with light-heartedness or hostility?  Regardless, the fact that we are considering the dedication page at all is quite postmodern.

Salvador Plascencia excels in his use of grammar and tense.  Like many other Spanish writers, he does not submit to a singular tense; rather, the narratives interweave the past (e.g. 91), present (e.g. 181), future (e.g. 118), and conditional (e.g. 180) tense, expressing the complex relationship between these spheres.  Moreover, Plascencia does not feel clausal shame.  His sentences are inundated with modifiers:  “In the bathtub, while his toes thawed and Cameroon sat in the next room reading impossible books about capturing birds with peppers and salt, Saturn dialed” (236).  By allowing himself the syntactical space, he gains a panoramic lens.

In the tradition of South American writers like Marquez and Borges, he does not fear passive voice.  He does not seem to fret over “telling” his story.  Consequently, he retains a sense of authorial power in the text-above and beyond the metanarrative.  The passive voice evokes a history of story-telling and oral tradition.  In doing so, he points to the power of the narrative in everyday life:  the stories that we tell ourselves and our responsibility in constructing these stories:

Saturn concentrated on the future, staring at her finger and the way it seemed to hover the longest over the ringed planet, and then looked at her face, wondering what it would be like to touch her Gypsy hair again, to wake in her bed and taste her paper lips and write love letters complete with graphs and charts on her paper skin as she slept, so she would wake and say, ‘You wrote all this for me?’ and Saturn would simply nod. (245)

From a thematic perspective, The People of Paper lands antithetical to the House of Leaves.  While Danielewski would have us believe that we have no control over our own narratives, Plascencia emphasizes the pursuit of narrative control rather than end result of that struggle.

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.    


We discussed self reflexivity of a text as one of the characteristics of postmodernism on the first day of class.  This is, in my opinion, the most self reflexive of any of the texts that we have read so far this semester (although House of Leaves would be a very close second).  I give The People of Paper a slight edge because the actual author Salvador Plascencia shows up in the novel, as where Danielewski stayed hidden.

When it become clear that Plascencia is Saturn and a character in the book, the first thing that came to my mind was the movie Adaptation.  In the movie, Nic Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, who is the screenwriter of the movie.  We watch as he struggles with a script for a movie based on The Orchid Thief, eventually writing himself trying to write the script into the script he is writing, which is the movie we are watching.    Kaufman’s personal life effects what is happening in the script and the script is effecting what is happening in his life until the two become inseparable.  The book, the script about the movie, and Kaufman’s life are involved in this intertexual relationship that is the movie (the movie itself become part of the layering of the intertextuality as well).  For anyone who has seen a Charlie Kaufman movie, this paragraph makes sense, if you have not, it probably does not.  Kaufman’s latest movie Synechdoce, New York also deals with a lot of postmodern ideas, but I did not want to discuss it here because I am pretty sure I need to watch it again before I can make any sense of it.

Like Jennifer, I am sometimes annoyed by the authorial intrusions in some postmodern works (John Barth comes to mind for me as well).  However, I did not mind Saturn/Plascencia in this novel.  Instead of just popping in to remind us that we are reading a fictional work like some metafiction, Saturn’s role shows us how Plascencia is actively shaping the story.  The writing of the story and the resistance the author recieves from both inside and outside the fictional world he creates is the novel.  Just like in House of Leaves, once we learn something about Truant (namely Pelafina’s letters) it casts a new light on everything else that we have already read.  Merced leaving Federico de la Fe, Rita Hayworth snubbing lettuce pickers, the seeming cold-heartedness of Merced Del Papel all seem to take on a new meaning when we consider what happened with Salvadore and Liz.

Anthony wrote about it in his post, but I was wondering what other people thought of the treatment of women in this novel.  Is it misogynistic? Is there really a Liz? does it matter?

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…

Postmodernism and Place

Sarah briefly mentioned place in her blog post and that got me thinkin’. Since many folks out there have already weighed in on the Adams article, I decided I would go elsewhere with this post and try to make sense of place in some of the novels we have read.

The notion of place seems to be pretty flexible in postmodern texts. In gothic literature, for example, place is often easily described as antiquated. In genres like fantasy and sci-fi, place also fluctuates but tends to follow some basic rules (outer space, past feudal realms). Many people have posted about how difficult it is to place postmodernism within any strict walls or interpretive confines. I agree that this is tricky and as I’ve read books from The Crying of Lot 49 to House of Leaves to Tropic of Orange, I’ve noticed that there don’t seem to be any conventions that strictly define place in postmodernist writing.

As I looked closer I found that there is little overlap in location: Beloved occupies a small space in the rural South; The Crying of Lot 49 takes place in bustling, crowded cities across California. The size of the places also changes: there are the small confines of a house that can also grow to enormous proportions in House of Leaves; the small (but ever-changing) office where much of Lathe of Heaven occurs; Tropic of Orange sprawls all over LA and in Mexico too, across landscapes both vast (the urban ghetto, the highway systems) and localized (the house near Mazatlan). Places can occupy just about any form in postmodern texts, from rural to urban, small to large.

It’s how place feels to the reader and how it is handled by the characters in the stories that I think give many of the places we’ve read about a common characteristic: they are unreliable, sometimes to the point of becoming untrustworthy. Why do I see some of the places in this semesters novels as unreliable? How does this relate to postmodernism?

I don’t think anyone will disagree that the space in House of Leaves is unreliable. The house shifts, it changes, at times it attempts to trap people inside. However, the novel also takes place in the world of Johnny Truant. Johnny begins the novel with some forays into the city, but by the end, he is as shut-in as Zampano, with drapes over the windows and cardboard blocking the vents. Not only does he not trust his own space, he doesn’t trust the space outside.

In Crying of Lot 49, everything seems to be untrustworthy. Oedipa travels around to different cities, and as she does this, I never feel a strong sense of the location. Each city seems the same. What makes them important is that they conceal the hidden clues she so desperately seeks. Each place sends her to a new location, all another stopping point on a journey that leads pretty much nowhere. Those are some unreliable locales.

In Tropic of Orange place seems to be more reliable than these other two, but is it? Crabs in Mazatlan, located hours’ walk from the sea, signify that something isn’t right. Gun shots on the east side may be an every day part of life, but for Buzzworm, it can all be avoided, the space can be reclaimed–from the beuracrats, from the gangsters who do their best to claim it, from the vicious cycles that occupy that space and keep revolving and threatining to never let anyone out. Gabriel’s unreliable space takes the form of a two-headed monster: the quiet Mexico or the bustling LA where he can continue working as a journalist. These spaces all bring with them a strong sense of unreliability. This is not the house you grew up in or the bustling city that represents opportunity. No, these spaces, even when they’re at their best, are ever-changing, sometimes alien landscapes.

Manzanar seems to be one character who finds the space he occupies–highway corridors–to be reliable. However, upon closer expection, we see that they are only reliable as far as his music goes, but not reliable as a whole. Crashes occupy this wide-lane space and Manzanar also summons images of maps. Maps can be reliable, but for anyone who has used one knows they are subject to change. Unexpected, sudden change that leaves you at the end of a dead-end road, just miles from your ultimate destination in the middle of the night, wondering, “what do I do now?” The maps in this book also have layers–“for Manzanar they began with the very geology of the land…” (57). These multi-layered maps become so thick in their complexity and construction as to render them too numerous and too specific to serve much use at all. In chapter 13 Buzzworm thinks about maps and how little they really do to help. He sums this up with the early line, “if someone could put down all the layers of the real map, maybe he could get the real picture” (81). Only if all the layers are assembled can the maps provide a clear picture–and as the tone suggests, this will never happen. So even maps become unreliable in Tropic of Orange.

Some of the other novels we’ve covered also deal with unreliable places, but I felt that these were some of the shining examples. Places change, but their unreliability in postmodern texts seems to be relatively constant.

In postmodernism many aspects of life (language, morals, truth, etc.) are shown as constructs of society that we all end up buying into. In a postmodern novel, the author may investigate these constructs, and in so doing, help shed some light on their existence (the constructs’), which is usually enough to get people thinking. I can’t help but want to channel Saussure when thinking of place, who wrote about the signifier and signified in linguistics. I believe that while he mainly focuses on words, the same can be said for place. The signifier “home” or “city” will mean many different things to any number of different people (the signified). New York is the symbol of American freedom, LA of opportunity and fame, DC of power. However, to the people who visit and occupy these spaces year round, the cities become many different things. This may be part of the reason spaces seem so hard to trust in the works we’ve read. After all, when a space means something different to everyone occupying it, and seems ever-changing, there isn’t a lot to rely on. Just below the surface the labels we apply to certain locales (the peaceful setting of the South, the emblematic American cities) suddenly vanish. Each person takes something different away from their place. Each one views their place differently as well. I believe this root of unreliability is essentially postmodern becauyse it’s not only the observed that’s important, but who’s doing the observing, how they observe, and what that says about the unique spaces we all occupy and how they shape our unique perspectives.

Freeways, Highways, & Underpasses

As I read Tropic of Orange, I was immediately draw to the highway images.  Thanks to twenty-four hour news stations, I have seen many high-speed chases down 805, 1, or some other highway in LA.   While there are a few chase scenes in the novel–Gabriel and Emi after the woman and child in a taxi; the Jaguar and the bus–this wasn’t what attracted me to the highways . Rather, I was draw to the apparent use of the highway as map in the novel, albeit not one that is easy to trace.   

Yamashita is able to have her characters situate themselves in connection to the roads.  Sig traffic accidents happen, the “NewsNow” van arrives on the scene, cars pile up for miles.  Many homeless men and women, such as Manzanar, are described as living under it or compose music by it.  Goods such as oranges and body parts are transported along its veins.  Each character could be placed on or around the highway, thus creating a map of sorts.  However, I don’t think the map would lead the reader anywhere, but would be constricting in some points and expanding in others.  It was this idea that made me think of the staircase in House of Leaves that continually alters and changes on itself.   The highway, like the staircase, traps and confines characters to enclosed spaces.  Such as when Emi gets caught in traffic on page 58,  “Doing the Joan Didion freeway thang.  You know, slouching around L.A.  Sorry, babe, but it’s hard to feel exhilarated going five miles an hour.”  Other characters are situated and sometimes confined in cars–Buzzworm sets up a semipermanent headquarters in a gold Mercedes (186), Mara Sadat does a live TV broadcast from “the open hood of a rusting Cadillac” which is filled with dirt and to grow herbs and vegetables (191).  At other times, the highway seems to stretch in unusual ways, “Harbor Freeway.  It’s growing.  Stretched this way and that.  In fact, this whole business from Pico-Union on one side to East L.A. this side and South Central over here, its pushing out. Damn if it’s not growing into everything!” (189-190). These images seems to link with Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces” essay that we read many weeks ago.  He could bring to the table a discussion of the highway as a public or private space.  (I think a case could be made for its functioning as both.) On page 23, Foucault says, “We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside  a set of relations that delineates sites, which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.” Couldn’t these “delineate[d] sites” be transfered to the way we view highways in the novel–a way in which to organize our lives?

Another way to look at the highways could be to see them as another character in the novel.  Adams briefly touches on Yamashita’s humanization of the highway, “The great flow of humanity [runs] below and beyond his feet in every direction, pumping and pulsating, that blood connection, the great heartbeat of a great city” (35).  Adams contrasts Yamashita’s anthropomorphizing of the highway to Pychon’s passive description.  As I was reading Tropic of Orange, I found that not only was the highway given human qualities, but in some cases it served as another character making an appearance in almost every chapter.

Tropic of Orange and Cognitive Mapping

Tropic of Orange was a very accessible read for me, so right away I knew something was wrong. The use of magical realism was charming, but that didn’t seem to jibe with what I thought I knew about postmodernist style. Adams’ article was very helpful to me in defining postmodernism by defining what it is not. She made a good point that the label of postmodernist loses any meaning it had when it is applied so liberally. Part of the reason I think we all feel so confused sometimes about what constitutes postmodern (aside from the fact that no critics can really agree either) is that the adjective is applied to such different-seeming texts. One thing I liked about Adams’ article was that she framed both postmodern fiction and contemporary fiction in more positive terms. Not only did she define postmodernism by what it’s not, she defined it by what it is. The “post” terms for schools of thought are somewhat troubling to me because they seem to define the wave only as a reaction to what came before, not as something in its own right. Of course all trends in intellectual thought are reactions to what came before, so it seems as if postmodernism should be able to come up with a descriptive definition for itself the way that other waves have done, instead of a temporal placeholder of a name. Adams terms postmodern fiction as Cold War literature, and contemporary fiction as the literature of globalization, which seem useful definitions to me.

Although she says it would be premature to label aesthetic and thematic trends in the literature of globalization (Is that a cop-out?), she does identify multivocalism as one stylistic trend in Tropic of Orange. I found myself reminded of House of Leaves’ multivocalism, but when I stopped to think about House of Leaves in terms of her definition of a postmodern text, it did seem to have the requisite “preoccupation with paranoia and conspiracy, radical skepticism about foundational truth and authority of all kinds, deft mixing of genres, distrust of received historical knowledge, and confrontations with the sublime and apocalyptic” (Adams 3). Tropic of Orange does mistrust the government, the army, the police, the newsmedia, but at least there does seem to be room for change. In a world where such acts of magical realism are possible, attitudes and ingrained cultural processes can surely also be extraordinarily transformed. What’s more, I did believe that the characters in Tropic of Orange themselves believed in the possibility of change.

It would be interesting to view Tropic of Orange, The Crying of Lot 49, and Adams’ article in terms of Jameson’s cognitive mapping. He decribed the alienated city as “a space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find themselves” wherein cognitive mapping should work to “enable a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole.” It was the beginning map of the character’s voices throughout the novel that reminded me of cognitive mapping, in addition to Adams’ focus on the geographical spaces in the novel. But in Tropic of Orange, at least some of the characters seem to have both psychological and metaphysical maps working and intact. Excluding perhaps Emi and Gabriel, Buzzword, Archangel, and even Bobby (with his barrio surfing) seem to be sure of their literal and figurative place in the world. Buzzword in particular seems to be an activist on behalf of cognitive mapping, wanting people to get outside and walk to connect themselves more intimately to the places they live in. Archangel as well was establishing a place for his people. Manzanar perhaps is with his symphony establishing cognitive maps for those who can hear, integrating the different voices of the city into a coherent living, functioning whole.

Family Life in Postmodern Literature

I think it’s interesting how the chapters in Tropic of Orange correspond with the characters. I’m not really sure what to make of it. It’s clearly another expression of fragmentation, but it’s odd that she outlines it for us in the beginning. It almost seems like a key, in the way that some of the information in House of Leaves seemed like a key. Yamashita is, in a way, telling us how to read the book. She organizes the information, it seems, to help us make sense of the novel. Doesn’t this sentiment seem slightly anti-postmodern? However, I’ve never seen it done in another text, so it is an innovative technique. I wonder if anyone read the chapters out of order. I’d like to go back and reread this in a year, but instead of reading straight through, I’d read the chapters the way they appear in the outline. I wonder how that would change the meaning of the text.

I liked this book, in particular, because it gave me some ways to continue thinking about my research topic. Most of the books we’ve read don’t deal closely with family life. In fact, their seems to be a lack of families, or a tearing apart of families, in most of the books we’ve read. Pynchon doesn’t depict a family and gives very little weight to the one marriage in the text. In House of Leaves, the Navidson family is figuratively (and literally in the case of Tom) torn apart.  There is one marriage in the Lathe of Heaven, but it is also made to be a background issue. 

We do see marriage and family life in The Female Man, but it is completely different from the traditional idea of the nuclear family. In Belovedthere are families, but they are often separated by death and slavery. In this text, family members never seem to work as a cohesive unit, but instead stay isolated from one another. In Mao II, Bill, Scott, and Karen make up a sort of untraditional family unit.  However, this family is also torn apart by the end of the novel. In The Tropic of Orange, Rafaela, Sol, and Bobby are at the center of the story. Although family members, such as Rafaela and Sol, seem to operate in normal ways, their are various abnormalities surrounding them. In this case, the family life is altered, not internally, but externally as the geography around them twists and turns from its natural state.

 Sometimes the aspects that interest me most in a book are not what it says, but what it doesn’t say. There is an obvious absence of family life in the books we’ve read.  This lead me to wonder – where do families (especially nuclear families), marriage, and love fit into postmodernism?

Re-creating Reality

Although the narrative was much easier to follow reading it for the second time, I remain very confused about exactly what Beloved herself is. The text from Beloved’s own point of view exacerbated rather than cleared up my confusion, as, apart from the interesting form that Davis comments on, I could not understand the content, or the point. Davis mentions that Beloved’s sections reference the slave narratives of the middle passage, and I didn’t catch that at all when I read it, but now I see the references. If there are references, does Beloved then become the spirit of African American history? Is she the mythical “presence” that Morrison is quoted as saying African Americans possess?

Even the other characters in the novel seem confused about what she is. Once another character identifies her as probably a girl that had escaped being imprisoned by a whiteman. When she vanishes from the porch, some characters see her as fat, some as thin, and later a boy reports seeing a woman with fish for hair in the woods. Morrison herself says she blended Beloved from the murdered historical child and a woman in a photograph murdered by a jealous lover.

With all these different interpretations of her, it’s no wonder Beloved has trouble keeping herself together. Beloved mentions trying to keep herself intact, each part of herself, as if the integrity of her form was a function of her concentration, and if she let herself drift for a moment, she would all fall apart. This vulnerability to self-fragmentation is seen in Sethe as well, and it reminded me of the conscious re-creating of one’s reality the travelers in the hallways of House of Leaves had to do. Beloved’s own narrative is also fragmented, and she seems to see Sethe’s face as both the face she lost on the middle passage and her own face.

What is this ambiguity accomplishing? What is Morrison communicating that she felt Beloved would be the best medium for? And why do Davis (and apparently I) care so much about Morrison’s intent? I am fond of the imagery of Davis’s “wheel,” ever changing and adapting and never repeating – perhaps these are also the characteristics of the water from which Beloved came. Beloved herself is always changing, her form varying both over time and with the viewer. Yet in the end, no one can remember her and she seems to diminish in form to a kind of nature spirit, hiding in the forest. What does this development signify? Davis mentioned a theory that Sethe’s proactive reeactment of the past broke the hold of the past (in the form of Beloved) on her, making Beloved vanish and allowing Sethe to come to terms with her past in a way that still allowed her to live in the present.

In the normal ideal of a sane person in our society, the sane person clearly separates memory and imagination and the present, and also remembers all important events in their life. The characters in this novel clearly do not always fit that ideal, and even at the end when Sethe has been “liberated” from the past, she and others can not really remember Beloved, even though she played such a large role in their lives. Does this leave them functioning but insane? Does this ending shed some light on the way we construct our societal ideal of a functioning productive member of society?

Female Unity in THE FEMALE MAN

As others have been discussing, I, too, was struck by the “unity” of the women in the novel. There are several instances where Russ presents the idea of a dual-personality. For instance, Laura struggles with her wants and how they differ from societal expectations. (In fact, this idea of duality is clearly displayed as Laura’s name become “Laur” at points when her “other side” is most prominent.) When Joanna (?) discusses how she turned into a man she says that “knowledge is […] the perception of all experience through two sets of eyes, two systems of value, two habits of expectation, almost two minds” (137-138). Alice says “there are always two sides” (165), and Jael suggests that each woman has a Doppelganger (162).  These women, mainly “the J’s”, seem to be compromised of two personalities: the individual they want to be, and the individual resisting society’s pressures and expectations. Each woman seems to have another “self”. Earlier in the novel, this other self seems to be in the form of some sort of spirit. (The “I” is confusing here, as its unclear if the spirit “I” is the other self of the same woman, or another woman all together. For instance, the “I” in the scene when Janet and Laura first become physically intimate seems to be some sort of an observant conscience of Janet.)

Throughout the novel I thought of Adrienne Rich’s poetry and her themes of the unity of all women. Like Karin, I found the multiple pronouns to be very confusing at times, but I do think that Russ is saying something about the unity of women, just as Rich does in her poetry. Both Russ and Rich use pronouns in such a way as to emphasize the solidarity of women and the shared female experience. 


Along with my frustration with the shifting point of view that I could not always follow (I really feel that I lost whatever grip I had with the introduction of Jael), I also had a love-hate relationship with Russ’s style. I enjoyed Russ’s acknowledgement of social expectations and their incorporation throughout the novel, such as on page 65 when she repeatedly states, “everyone knows”, adding emphasis to these stereotypes and expectations. I enjoyed Laura’s rebellion against “The Man” (65).  I want a better understanding of the point of view changes, though. I also don’t understand why Russ uses what seem to be sub-chapters within her chapters and I’m curious as to the significance of this choice. I’m also curious about the significance of the moon. Jeannine and Janet’s first words were “see the moon,” and the moon comes up at other points in the novel.


As others have posted, I agree that in some ways The House of Leaves seems to have prepared us for the journey into The Female Man.  I have to admit that I did find it to be a challenge, though, and I feel that I’m left with more many more questions than I have opinions and arguments.

A Little on Structure, Tone and Treatment of Time

You’d think after reading House of Leaves we’d all find the weird and erratic narrative structure of The Female Man a piece if cake.  I personally had trouble understanding some parts of it, and the multiple narrators and the ambiguous “I” got me very confused at certain points.  I don’t know if the division of the narrative into so many passages, pointing the shifts in times and places helped make it easier or made it more confusing.  One thing I notice about the structure is its division into 9 parts; an interesting choice Russ makes, since the number nine is usually associated with maternity and, perhaps, femininity.  In her demonstrations of possible worlds where the boundaries of gender are destroyed, there is only one thing females have that males still can’t have: babies!  Women in Whileaway are able to conceive without needing male partners, while men in the other three worlds can’t make their own babies.

 I find the ironic and aggressive tone of the book to be interesting.  Russ is very much in your face, and I can imagine it being a buzz killer for some readers.  She is really funny when she’s being ironically bitter. My personal favorite is on page 148:

Narrator to Jeannine on the danger of communication device: “It will explode in your brains and drive you crazy.  You will never be the same again.  You will be lost to respectability and decency and decorum and dependency and all sorts of other nice, normal things beginning with a D… You will be dead, dead, dead.”

With an emphasis on the D’s, I see an implied association between these things starting with a D and men.  Jeannine is also threatened by her relationship with her boyfriend and struggles throughout the book to find her independence.  “Dead, dead, dead” confirms the association, as men are all dead in Janet’s world.  This makes me even more curious about the J’s and what it means to give all four female characters names that start with a J. 

Finally, I want to briefly mention an important point the narrator makes in Part One- VI where she begins to introduce Whileaway to the reader.  She explains that since there might be an infinite number of possible universes, and that there isn’t a single and clear line of probability, “the paradox of time travel ceases to exist, for the past one visits is never one’s own Past but always somebody else’s; or rather, one’s visit to the Past instantly creates another Present” (7).  I think this and the rest of the passage says a lot about the treatment of time in postmodern works.  Modernist writers, as Virginia Woolf, talk about the importance of time in manifesting realism in literature and explain that time is not linear, but must take the reader to the past as well as the present to provide insight on the histories of the characters, giving them a more realistic portrayal.   Postmodernism takes this principle to a different level, as the treatment of time is more imaginative.  It attempts to explore several possible pasts, presents and futures, and therefore generating numerous realities.  The importance modernism places on the concept of realism is not only absent in postmodernism but is disparaged and rejected through this use of inconsistent and multiple time lines. 

Transitioning from Danielewski to Russ

So, I’m relaxing over spring break, recovering from the marathon that was Danielewski’s House of Leaves (thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless), and I start in on Joanna Russ’ The Female Man.  After having finished the novel (shall we call it a novel?) a week later, I reflect.  At times I thought the book was brilliant; the subversion of the science fiction, manipulating the genre to fit what she was trying to address on the feminist ‘front’, was outstanding.  The Faulknerian use of stream of consciousness and first-person narration is also commendable.  But then there were parts of the novel that became burdensome for me; in other words, at a certain point, I felt like the book’s entire discussion (the question of a woman’s role/freedom/right [I hesitate to provide a label for fear of a Jael-like counterattack] in the world) became repetitive; and I would guess if you go searching for criticism against The Female Man you might find a similar complaint somewhere…

…but really you don’t have to look any further than the book itself:

Shrill . . . vituperative . . . no concern for the future of society . . . maunderings of antiquated feminism . . . selfish femlib . . . need a good lay . . . this shapeless book . . . of course a calm and objective discussion is beyond . . . twisted, neurotic . . . some truth buried in a largely hysterical . . . [and so on and so forth]. (140-41)

Within the book, Joanna Russ has provided the reader with criticism for the book: The Female Man is its own worst critic.  What does this tell us about Joanna Russ and her intentions?  Is she mocking these critical voices; drawing attention to the very biases that they reinforce?  Is this critical inclusion a form of self-deprecation of her novel?  Is it a little bit of both?

Whatever answers we might conclude to these questions, this section of the book got me thinking about Danielewski.  Of course, after three weeks of House of Leaves, we are all familiar with Danielewski’s tactics, his self-proclaimed preemptive strike against any form of literary criticism, or any attempt to disassemble the book.  I’m not necessarily suggesting that Joanna Russ was trying to actively prevent criticism like Danielewski is, but she is certainly anticipating responses towards the book.

With House of Leaves already in the discussion, I also thought of another interesting comparison between the two authors.  With the construction of numerous levels of ‘authorship’ (i.e. Zampano and Johnny Truant), Danielewski effectively ‘distances’ himself from the text.  Conversely, Joanna Russ eliminates any separation between her and The Female Man by identifying herself in the book as both character and author, crossing the conventional line between author and text.  I wonder what this accomplishes for the book.  As the ‘1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world’, what can we say about The Female Man Joanna and the author Joanna?  I’m thinking it’s important to remember that  she is only one of the four female ‘representations’ in the book.

…As you can tell, this book has left me with more questions than it has provided answers.


With all the references to the moon,  it will be hard not to think of The Female Man whenever I listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.  Now, I keep thinking of ‘Us and Them’ in terms of Jael’s version of Earth with warring male and female societies.  Try it; it just about fits…

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.

Mark Danielewski can read your mind.

At this point, I really believe that Mark Danielewski is either a mastermind or a maniac. I really don’t remember ever experiencing a book like House of Leaves before. So far, it has been one of the most interactive reading experiences I’ve had! I also finally found the “best” way to read/conquer it (other people may have differing viewpoints): I began reading at the very beginning, and tried really hard not to think about the fact that it is 700 pages long. I followed the pages in sequential order. When I come across a footnote, I read the footnote and then returned to where I left off in the text. When directed to an appendix, I read the appendix (but not always too carefully unless it was really interesting) then returned to where I left off in the text. I found that way of reading it less daunting than, say, if I were to read all the footnotes separately after finishing the novel. Although Danielewski doesn’t instruct the reader to read in this way directly (or any other particular way) , the novel’s recursive structure (the interweaving of the different narrators throughout) forces the reader to get involved with all the different plots simultaneously, and therefore implicitly encourages this reading.

The experience of reading this book really got me interested in the relationship between author and reader in a postmodern work, and how it can be distinguished from that relationship in the context of different literary genres. More than any other genre, postmodern writing encourages the reader to read actively and interact with the text on a continual basis (even in a physical sense—turning the book upside down and using mirrors, for example). Besides the heightened level of interactivity, House of Leaves also often communicates to the reader an introspective thought that the reader may already have about the text. For example, throughout the novel, I often got the feeling that Danielewski purposely and repeatedly gives the reader clues that he can see what is going on in the reader’s mind. Here’s a specific, but subtle example of this:

While looking through the appendixes, I was especially drawn to the little poem on page 563 in section F., inventively titled “Poems.” The poem is untitled “(Untitled Fragment)” and it does not have a credited author as far as I can tell. It is the only poem on page 563:

Little solace comes

to those who grieve

when thoughts keep drifting

as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.

I believe this short text somehow encompasses many themes (Is anybody counting?) that can be found within House of Leaves, and anticipates the reader’s reaction to the novel as a whole. The first line “Little solace comes to those who grieve” is probably referring to the reader here, and the initial reaction to the novel’s intimidating navigation. The “thoughts keep drifting” is an obvious reference to the reader’s reaction to the different narratives and narrators which cause thoughts to drift during the novel, and Danielewski is seemingly warning/telling the reader that there is no comfort found even after attempting to decipher the different narratives. “As walls keep shifting” is a reference to the house itself and the physical ambiguity of the house which keeps shifting to expand internally while appearing static externally. The second part of the short poem relates the “great blue world of ours” (where blue is significant to the word house highlighted in that color throughout the novel) to the monstrosity of the novel and its myriad links, footnotes and annotations which cannot be contained in any reader’s mind simultaneously. These connections are like a “house of leaves moments before the wind”: This evokes a powerful image of thousands of flimsy artifacts that are nonsensical even when arranged into the shape of a house, but virtually impossible to interpret after a moment, when the wind (another thought, fact, event, etc) comes in full force and blows away any “arranged” pieces of the imaginary puzzle. So from this little poem, the reader can see/read himself—trying futilely to assemble pieces of the puzzle that is the novel, to no avail.

Therefore, I cannot help but reiterate that House of Leaves is typically postmodern, not simply in its form as I discussed last week, but even more so in its function—where the focus shifts from the work of literature itself to the process of its production, and even more strikingly, to the reader’s “process of interpretation.” Danielewski seems to assume a certain reader response to the novel, which at times evokes the feeling that he can actually see what is going on in the reader’s mind.

Expectations and Disintegrations

Many of the posts so far have explored the “So?” question of House of Leaves.  The “what’s the point?” question.  But I think that a lot of this question is coming from the way that HoL breaks genre conventions.  Why don’t we ask “what’s the point?” of any literature we read?  Because we’re accustomed to genre conventions, we automatically accept normal genres of literature as fulfilling the functions of education and/or entertainment.  I think what HoL is doing is forcing us to reexamine our own genre assumptions and conventions.  This process of reexamination forces us to ask the questions: “What is the purpose of literature?” and “How do we determine and construct that purpose?”

By foregrounding the process of the construction of the text, HoL does not allow us to fall back into our normal mode of reading literature along genre conventions.  Some of the conventions I mean are: a book has a clear and authoritative narrative voice; there is one overarching story arc; characterization is consistent; there is a demarcated line between fiction and nonfiction; there is one font used throughout; there are chapters; there are page numbers; footnotes are denoted with numbers; text is arranged in a rectangular block and read all in the same direction and orientation; there are paragraphs, and they are indented and spaced; except for dialogue, spelling and punctuation are standard; illustrations are pertinent to the story; the text aims to enlighten or entertain the reader.  I’m just spelling out a random few, mostly determined by what conventions HoL has broken.  Perhaps it is this last one that is so disturbing.  HoL doesn’t seem to care much about the reader. Indeed, the anti-dedication warns us away.  Yet for a text that seems to ignore the reader’s desires and frustrate her expectations, it encourages great participation on the part of the reader.  The fact that the forum and the album were released along with the book contributes to the view of HoL as encouraging active reading.  But to what end?  Why bother to shake us up?

By highlighting different aspects of “what makes a book a book”, HoL exposes the fact that any book is merely a house of leaves – the sum of its component parts.  The concept of “book” itself is a kind of constructed cultural narrative.  Perhaps by becoming aware of the constructed nature of “book” and not taking its existence as a naturally coherent whole, readers will be able to participate more actively in the construction of meaning around them.  By viewing critically and strategically the various sites of cultural construction, readers can then learn to influence the reiteration of those constructs toward an iteration more favorable to themselves.

I would have to read more of Danielewski’s interviews on his own motivations (if indeed he reveals them), but this type of awakening agents of political change could be one answer to the “So?” question.

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.