Elton John’s cause of death?

I’m trying to draw connections between some different ideas and events and things we’ve read, so bear with me.  Maybe the connections aren’t there, I just think they are…this isn’t the preoccupation with connections of the paranoia essay though.

So there are the recent attacks in Mumbai, there is an article by the BBC that comments on the attacks and the age of “celebrity terrorism”, and there is Shooting War – those are the ingredients to the mess.  The only thing I want to connect between Mumbai and Shooting War is the appearance of a previously unknown terrorist group – there’s not much more to offer about a graphic novel and a recent tragedy that would be worthwhile at this moment.  It is still too recent.

The article and the novel, however, they offer an interesting analysis on the role of celebrity.  The article offers the view that perhaps the motive isn’t clear cut at all for this group, that perhaps this was an act of violence for violence’s sake, but the media and the analysts and just about everybody who is interested in the events, disect what went on and assign a motive because they need one for themselves.  They act in such a manner to get attention and not because of a large greivence but because of a minor one.  They use violence to be noticed as people and not for a cause.  It’s much easier to excuse/forgive a cause as a reason, than to look at something so violent and think of it as an attempt for recognition, recognition that is given by the media.

Shooting War, like Trish said, is heavy-handed in its portrayal of soldiers, of the spin media places on a story and the emphasis it lends to certain extremes and the business of getting a good story.  Burns doesn’t seem to be on a quest for celebrity nor is that the motivation for Abu Adallah, but Burns is in some ways turned into a celebrity and maybe even wants that role – given the blogs and the willingness to cover Iraq for Global.  Adallah uses the media, manipulates it and the celebrity it grants him, and uses the platform it gives him to  exspouse his ideas.  He is traditional in his use of media, but Burns could be better compared to the ambiguous motivation of celebrity that those acting in Mumbai might possess.  It’s not a fully formed idea.

Disclaimer right off the bat…I don’t think of myself as any sort of expert on magical realism, and my experience is limited to a series of short stories I’ve read in my Spanish 309 class last spring, most notably, those by Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez – in particular, “Dos Palabras” and “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”  I will throw in my late night read of Like Water for Chocolate into the mix as well.  It should help explain where I am coming from.

Flores doesn’t go into an in depth explanation of what qualifies a work as being magical realism, but he does list a few of his ideas, and one of the things that I don’t believe he mentions is the presence of sadness/loneliness that the stories seem to carry with them.  It wasn’t mentioned in Faris’ list either.  You can’t miss the sadness in People of Paper, and it is hard to ignore in any of the works that I am basing this overarching generalization on.  They are rarely the type of stories that make you cry, if you are prone to that sort of thing.  It is never that type of intense emotion, maybe because the characters tend to be held at a distance.  They have their little quirks, but they also feel a bit like stereotypes.  They are playing a part, and their sadness is a part of that.

Some of the stories have happy endings, and others have those endings where you aren’t quite sure.  Is Little Merced and her father walking away from Saturn and El Monte a good thing?  A happy thing?  Is it a satisfaction of the criteria of postmodernism to frustrate the readers’ expectations?  I don’t know.  Could you say that the characters of most magical realism stories could be classified as tragic characters?  Or is the sadness that surrounds them not of a degree to be really tragic?  For this point I am thinking of Marquez’s story, because I am not sure if it could be said that anything is particularly tragic about it.  Maybe it is a comedy, but nobody gets married in the end.  But it is a story of sadness – an old man lost and made into a spectical, the frustrations of a priest, and besides it has the great line, “The world had been sad since Tuesday.”

Eight planets

Alpolonio was right there are only eight planets in the solar system.  But it isn’t because Saturn left, but because Pluto was demoted in 2006.  Just a side note, in case you missed it being regaled to its dwarf planet status.

The force of Saturn, the unseen hand that propells events, good and bad within the story has been revealed, but it wasn’t all that suprising.  You can’t miss the multiple references to the force, or watching or some semblance of a presence – there is at least seven in the first twenty-five pages, give or take a few.  The reasoning behind the events, the evil omens, is also revealed, and again, it isn’t all that suprising.  It’s a woman.  The woman who broke Sal’s heart and leaves him dispondent and sprawled naked across his bed.  It’s the very same Liz of the dedication page.  Then comes what I found suprising, Liz’s request to Sal, for a story without her.  (Right after a short chapter in the first person who I am not sure who to attribute the narration to concerning Cami.)  But does he?  Is Saturn able to continue the story without the sadness and the need to unleash it on someone that had driven the action in the earlier parts of the story.  There are the few pages that list his name at the top of the left page column, but are followed by blank space for a span of time.  He continues the story, and after a brief respite, he is back in the mix, returning with “Napolenonic fevor” and the direction of the story, the punishment he seems to unleash on de la Fe does not seem the less.  It may be in fact all the more, with the weather systems working their ways around Morte, the irragation pipes being fixed to deprive the residents of water, and the lead poisoning from their attempts to shut Saturn out.  Perhaps further reading will disprove this idea, that the sadness is still there, that Liz is still in this novel regardless of a dedication page, but I am unconvinced.  She was there in the beginning when he started the story and I think she will be there in the end.

The “post” distinction Appiah makes in his essay I think needs to be further drawn out in its explanation.  The “post” connotation as almost synonymous for better is too vague and not necessarily true when applied to things termed “post-colonial.”  Not that I’m for imperialism and the extortion and extraction that colonialism tends to burden nations with, but I think progress and the idea that post is the equalivant to better needs to be qualified to a greater degree.

Modernism saw the economisation of the world as the triumph of reason; postmodernism rejects that claim, allowing in the realm of theory the same multiplication of distinctions we see in the cultures it seeks to understand. (434)

I have a hard time reconciling this statement with the evidence of globalization present in today’s supposedly postmodern world.  The first part of the quotation from Appiah’s essay makes sense to me in that the commodification of things increased at a rapid pace since the turn of the century.  But I think until very recently there has been a continuation of mass culture seeping into distinct cultures, with the type of globalization that allows ice cold Coca-Colas to be purchased in just about any small town in a developing nation or the disappearance of small shops in light of big box stores opening up.  The argument could be made that the postmodern seeking out of distinct cultures is slowly coming around with more and more people latching onto the idea of buying locally.  Further, there has been evidence in economic studies that in the aftermath of Super Wal-Marts, local specialty shops have surged in success because they can hone in on a very specific niche market.  But I think it will take many more years for the idea of a postmodern market place to play itself out in the local versus global game.

Sleeping in a room, on the floor, with four other girls last night, I was trying to decide what to talk about in this.  The girl to my left was snoring and I lay there staring at the ceiling knowing that I had so much to do before the wedding at 3.33 and this was one of them.  Why the wedding starts at 3.33?  They have a strange sense of humor and my friend Dave woke up from a nap, and decided that was the time it should start.

There seems to be a common unreliability to most the narrators that we’ve come across thus far.  From White Noise to The Female Man, there is always some bias – something that makes you doubt if what they are really telling you is true.  The self-absorption of Jack that seemed to skew his perspective on the world; or how much could you really trust anything in House of Leaves, let alone the narrator(s).  And now as we come to Dream Jungle, I think the same question of how reliable are the people telling the story.  From the introduction, or the first chapter, whichever one it really it, with its differing font and coming from the journal of Antonio Pigafetta, I read it with a certain skepticism.  There is a mind set of early explorers and their history in general that without intending to, has a slant to it.  But more than that there are the narratives of Rizalina and what I can’t decide is a third person narration or perhaps Rizalina with more information later on (but I think that very very unlikely and an idea that is a product of very little sleep).  Of what we’ve read though I think she (they?) bring a more consistent perspective than any we’ve seen yet.  Rizalina doesn’t seem to be hiding anything – she lays bare to the reader to the theft of the ribbon and her reasons for it, her feelings for Zamora, the things her father did.  So I don’t think she is unreliable – or at least not yet and the same goes for this third person perspective that we’ve encountered.

So what does this mean?  I don’t think it means that all novels grouped into the post-modern label feature unreliable narrators, and the Dream Jungle would be a good argument against the idea.  But it seems to be a commonality in the things we’ve read so far, and so I’m kind of waiting for that shift.  The surprise and thwarting of the anticipation of the reader – challenging their preconceived notions as to what a novel should do.

I guess I’ve always though of a hero as someone you root for, and I can’t say that these ladies give me a lot to root for.  Are they heroines in terms of what?  In defiance of The Man? Jael would win that one.  In terms of character growth?  Jeannine being more assertive, not needing to marry Cal, or going through with it so that we see it – maybe that is heroic.  But I would not go so far as to call any one of the four J’s a heroine.  And maybe the most heroic action comes on the part of Janet as they sit in the cafe, or diner, when she refuses to let Jael’s army put a base on Whileaway.  Janet doesn’t understand men, doesn’t have to deal with them, but it doesn’t mean she wants them eliminated.  There is potentially the type of green ray with a fifty-mile raduis that Jael’s world could bombard Whileaway with, but that possibility doesn’t hinder her decision.  (But I grew up Mennonite, so it figures that I applaude that.)

Can it be considered a feminist book? I do think there is a certain amount of satire in the way Joanna Russ is writing this, which may be an attempt to produce some resistance to notions about women especially considering the date when it was written, but I’m not sure.  I mean, I still haven’t figured out what I really think about House of Leaves just because there was so much to it, but I’m hoping that the Female Man will be a little easier to tackle.

So on the drive home after class on Thursday I was listening to NPR, which makes me a nerd first of all, but also fairly up to speed on news I would like to think.  They had a story on “All Things Considered” about Margaret Chase Smith who was the first woman from a major political party to run for president.  (The first woman was actually Victoria (Clafin) Woodhull in 1872.)  It was strange to listen to this story about a woman running in 1964 for the Republican party (which I didn’t see coming), who was self described as hawkish, but as a part of her campaign for the presidency she had a theme song and talked about how her blueberry muffins would be far better than Kruschev’s.  The criticisms most commonly leveled against her was that as a woman she lacked the stamina to be president, or that her emotions would cloud her judgement, and in her speech to announce her bid for the presidency she addressed those ideas along with her other limitations.  It is kind of funny to listen to because she cites all these reasons that she shouldn’t run, and then says she’s going to do it anyway.  The story called attention to the fact that what helped her to relieve stress was vaccuuming.  Really?  Her bid was such a long shot that I don’t think it was paid a lot of attention to, but in the story it is evident that she had to struggle to remain tough enough, yet feminine.  Why are the two made into separate things?  It made me think about Hillary Clinton and a little bit about Sarah Palin, but I’ll save that for Tuesday.

Bringing it back to the novel though there seem to be these opposites, not polar, but very different in Janet and Jeannine.  One very meek while the other asserts herself, and I think for what we’ve talked about concerning Jael, she and Jeannine would be polar opposites.  As for Joanna’s place, I’m going to put her somewhere between Jeannine and Janet.  It’s cleaner that way.  So there is a scale of meekness to assertiveness, neither of which are portrayed positively.  Here’s where the satire comes in – there seems to be no character hits some sort of neutral point.  It’s either too much (Janet’s smugness) or too little (Jeannine’s whining).  No such thing as a good woman in this story I guess (but you can’t say much for the guys in the story either).  They don’t try to balance toughness and femininity and are portrayed negatively, but I don’t know if it is necessarily because of it.  I ultimately don’t think there is a balance and I wish people could just be without the striving, but that is what you see if you look at Margaret Chase Smith or Clinton or Palin – a strived for balance that is unattainable.

4 October 2008

This isn’t going to be coherent – I’m sick. That’s my excuse.

I have rarely come across a word that when Goggled pulls nothing up. Nothing. But in the interview, in the apprendix section, on page 133, “Suddenly Danielewski introduces a startling paragraph, unfolding in fragments, provides the equivalent of Zupreuderesque, frame-byframe description…”  Maybe I didn’t spell the word right, but I was wondering about it.  It looks German.

In the discussions about unconditional love, I wonder if there is a certain argument that could be made for Danielewski’s love for the reader.  The ideal reader.  Maybe it’s a stretch, maybe a big one, but in the interview, he spoke of writing House of Leaves for that ideal reader who noticed all the nuances, and twists and shifts and plays with text, language and form, with the same sort of language that Johnny wistfully uses about that girl that he never meets, but longed for that can be found on 117 among references.  But it seems to me that Danielewski has a love of the reader and it isn’t out of stubbornness or the need to be an artistic recluse that keeps him from commenting on his work, but the concern that by his divulging of secrets, or what certain things mean to him, he would unveil the mystery and steal the joy of the puzzle.  Maybe unconditional love is too far to go, but he seems to have great respect for the kind of relationship between author and reader that holds so much trust, and after putting around ten years of work into the novel, it certainly would have helped to have an ideal reader in mind. 

Asystole.  “A state of no cardiac activity”.  It is one of the very last things Johnny has to say, maybe that is too definitive for this book, because is it really the last thing?  But the story he tells, “the one Doc told me when I was up in Seattle” (518) is also a story of unconditional love.  The connection between a mother and her brain-damaged son, maybe it is what he wished could have been – that he would have been the one with the illness in the brain and not her, and that he could have died.  But even with all the darkness that surrounds Johnny’s character, and the illusions to suicide that he makes, I don’t think that is what this story gets at.  It is just a love story with a sad end.

I had a dream on Friday night about a house that was bigger on the inside than the outside.  It wasn’t dark but the rooms that kept leading to one another had large windows, beds and bookshelves.  I don’t know what that means.  Maybe it’s a good thing we’re moving on to something new.

How it ends.

I think I will follow Susan Sontag’s line of reasoning from here on out and likewise denounce the interpretation of works of art as, “to interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world – in order to set up a shadow world of ‘meanings'” (208).  It seems as if it would be a lot less work this way, but that is a weary attempt at complaining without being whiny.

The ideas of the literary critics that Graff cites in his essay (I thought about listing them in a footnote, but then decided that it would be annoying for everyone involved.  I’d be the girl who was trying way too hard), seem to have the general opinion that one of the things that distances post-modern literature from that of the modern period, is the frustration of meaning and symbols in literary text.  Moving from symbolism and representation of reality and truth that characterized works fo the modern is a shift to frustrate the search for those things.  It is a compliment to the last literary criticism we read concerning the “anti-detective” story, as both are the author’s attempts to confound expectation.

These ideas, I think can be easily related to House of Leaves.  Maybe the tricks with the structure and the embedded puzzles are attempts to confront the search for  meaning and symbolism.  Sure, they kind of come off as annoying and are a little bit like yelling, “Look at me.  Look at what I can do!”  But just like the academic footnotes and the idea of possibilities being exhausted in ways to approach the novel, they help it to escape “meaning” something.  Maybe it allows it to be strange and different simply for that and nothing more (which I doubt).

Another real quick jump from analysis to the novel – everything we’ve read in the last week only makes me thing that the ending won’t be an ending at all.  It will be a stop.

Trifles and Terrors

There were a number of things that I felt that I grasped from the literary analysis that went with the reading this weekend for House of Leaves.  Kind of a relief of sorts as it made me feel a little less dense.  From Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well:

Hence it is that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. (186)

The idea of making trifles from terrors kind of struck me as applicable to the academic writing and footnotes in House of Leaves.  They come from a multitude of angles but succeed in reducing what really is lurking in the house to something less real.  There is concentration placed on everything but the vastness of the hallway, the darkness, or the creature that growls.  Instead Navy and Tom are compared to Jacob and Esau, or the materials that the hallway is not composed of are listed, or some aspect of some character’s personality is thoroughly analyzed while this larger presence that is a source of terror is skirted around.  The elephant in the room.  To deal with the nature of the house gives it a reality perhaps and so one of the occasions that the properties of the hall has an opportunity to be analyzed, it passes by.  In not looking closer at the hall’s imperviousness toward the cat and dog, the academic criticism and Zampano don’t make much of it, maybe so to ignore a reality or the implication of such a thing if it were indeed real, and move it from a trifle to a terror.  Johnny catches the lack of commentary even from Zampano and his mention further highlights this oddity to the reader.  He claims to give his thoughts on what it means that the cat and dog run into the hallway only to instantly appear in the backyard, but I’ve had a hard time extracting his thoughts on the matter from the story he proceedes to tell.  Maybe it should be inferred from the quote at the beginning of the passage about the consciousness of animals, or maybe it is layered further down.

Wilder.

Almost everyone in White Noise speaks with the same diction regardless of age, or background – something that we’ve already discussed in class.  Their voices are indistinguishable from one another from word to word, but their thoughts give them away in the who’s who game.  Wilder is the only character who is not given direct dialogue.  He has the ablility of some amount of speech, and there was the seven hour scream, but by and large he is silent.  If the characters are a part of a larger commentary on the post-modern form and thoughts, then how does Wilder fit in?  We touched briefly on his character at the end of class on Thursday, but it reminded me of the questions I have about his character.

He’s treated delicately and with some degree of ambiguity.  Is Wilder mentally impaired, or disabled in some way?  The reader isn’t given the answer explicitly.  Jack says early on in the novel, “It occurred to me that he was too old and too big to be sitting in supermarket cars.  I also wondered why his vocabulary seemed to be stalled at twenty-five words” (36).  With this in mind, it can be inferred that something isn’t altogether right, but consider the source.  Jack is not a realiable narrator and he briefly glides over occurances, just giving scant information, and then quickly moving onto the next thought, next activity.  His narration lies in the shallows, and I think that lends some strength to the argument that the book is largely plotless.  But I digress.

Much like  the kitchen and the bedroom are power haunts for Jack and Babette, it seems that Wilder could be lumped into that idea.  He is in many ways a “source” for Jack and Babette.  In their dealing with their overwhelming fear of death, Wilder is their source of comfort:

I think it’s being with Wilder that picks me up.

I know what you mean.  I always feel good when I’m with Wilder (209).

There are repeated references to Babette being with Wilder as he becomes her source of comfort.  As he is probably dependent upon her, or because he is “selfish in a totally unbounded and natural way” (209), there is something about Wilder that his presence brings simplicity, or maybe a return to something more organic. (Hence the name Wilder.)  But he allows characters to share in his wonderment of the world around him (watching boiling water in a sauce pan) and serves as a counter within the  Gladney mish-mashed family.

Failure

(If you haven’t finished the book, I’d skip my post for the time being.  I don’t want to ruin the end for you.)

If “all plots tend to move deathward” (26), but nobody dies, then is the plot complete?  I don’t believe the absoluteness of this statement, that all plots move in this direction, but the phrase and its failure to come to fruition in the novel called my attention to the multiple instances that failed in the novel.

There are parallels to be found in the attempt of Orest to set his record of time spend in a space with venemous snakes and with Gladney’s way of dealing with Willie Mink.  Gladney mentions his plan several times to “swivel my head to look into rooms, put him at his ease, wait for an unguarded moment, blast him in the gut three times for maximum efficiency of pain, take his Dylar, ger off at the river road, shut the garage door, walk home in the fair and the fog” (293).  But neither of these events is realized in quite the way they had envisioned.  Orest is forced underground, the humane society is against him and his attempt, four snakes are provided instead of twenty-seven and his is bitten within minutes.  So despite the exhaustive preparation, his moment of glory only results in him being a “jerk” as Heinrich put it.  Gladney’s revenge follows a similar pattern.  He doesn’t put in the effort Orest does, but his revenge, his quest for Dylar, encounters results that are much the same.   He doesn’t kill Willie Mink; he is himself shot and on top of it all, he discovers nuns don’t believe in heaven and angels either (not immediately relevant, but an interesting conversation).

The two events were both ways of challenging death, to stare it in the face (cliche, I know) or to absorb somehow the life of another by becoming a killer and not a “dier”.  So what’s the conclusion about death then?  If plots move deathward, but nobody dies and attempts to challenge death or gain life from death fail, then is it more about failure than death?  Because it isn’t just Orest and Gladney who are failures (their’s just concern death), but there are additional things in the story: Dylar did not work, the town did not evacuate due to a strange smell, despite the extensive practice drills, and the supermarket fails to provide the comfort after re-arranging its shelves.  Do all these failures tie in with the critique of consumerism and mass culture perhaps?  I don’t know yet.

Inquiry #1

I guess I was suprised by all the little details I noticed, and how they fit together so well (the lists of threes happen much more often than I first thought), and the fact that I noticed them after walking away from the paper for a while.

The thing I found most difficult was trying to keep it concise and limited. The little things in a particular passage were applicable to so many other ideas found throughout the novel.

While slow soaking my tomatoes…

As I sat on my small porch that has been taken over by my tomatoes, herbs, lettuce and broccoli (my attempt at a gardening in an apartment), I was slow soaking my tomatoes (the best way to water them), and reading White Noise (while underlining and making notes in what I forgot was a library book).  I finished Chapter Six and remember thinking – that it was probably the most post-modern thing I’ve come across.  But then I had to think about why.  And here’s what I’ve come up with…

In the conversation about rain between Heinrich and Jack, Heinrich continually response with questions to the questions that his father puts forth.  “What truth does he want?  What good is my truth?  Is there such a thing as now?  How do I know that what you call rain is really rain?  What is rain anyway?”  It is a constant challenge to the power of language, symbolism,  and the weight of an idea if looked at as a subjective thought and not a concrete reality.  But I don’t think that captures all of it.  I think it is part of understanding that the not knowing, the “only guessing” is postmodern in and of itself.  It is in part why Huyssen took a “different route” in his essay “Mapping the Postmodern” and did “not attempt here to define what postmodern is,”  and instead decided to discuss the characteristics of the phases of postmoderism because of the limitations of language.  He concluded that it is moving beyond the binaries and into the tension between them (much like we discussed in class), that there is a breakdown in what is what.  Or maybe the conversation is more easily linked to the discussion of Plato’s “simulacrum” in the Jameson essay as an example of a “culture of the simulacrum (that) comes to life in a society where exchange value has been generalized to the point at which the very memory of use value is effaced.”  Heinrich voices this idea in a way that captures some what I’ve come in the last week to think of as post-modern.  A kind of blurred feeling out of gray areas, and an expression of only guessing.