Bloggin bout Bolano

A smattering of reviews for Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives:

 

‘Bolano’s ambition is huge; his capacity to tell stories, never-ending…What impresses us is the fine ear of Bolano, who can masterfully create so many different voices, each of them telling a story…The most important writer of the Spanish language of this generation.’ –Horacio Moya, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

 

‘It’s no exaggeration to call [Bolano] a genius.  The Savage Detectives alone should grant him immortality.  It’s an outstanding meditation on art, truth, and the search for the roots and the self…Astounding.’  Ilan Stavans, The Washington Post Book World

 

‘It’s great literature about literature that is lost—or, for that matter, was never fated to be—which in essence, pretty much encompasses everything else in life—except this book, whose appearance in English is a major literary occasion.’ –Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

 

Beyond this praise, the book was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, it won two of the most prestigious Spanish awards: the Herralde Prize and the Romulo Gallegos Prize.  So, in light of this, I will now say that I’m terribly disappointed.  Four-hundred and ninety pages in and I’m not sure what I’m reading.  One review says that it’s a search for a long lost poet: I’d say about twenty pages thus far have been devoted to that story line.  The introduction made it sound like the book was about the perseverance of art in the modern world: I’d say that theme is a strong undercurrent, but far from dominant and far from controlling the narrative.  There are so many characters and so many stories and so many disappearing characters and stories that I’m not sure what to focus on.  The parallels between these stories are tentative at best, and I’m afraid to say less postmodern than my research paper would require.  A terrible weight, therefore, is upon my shoulders as I hit the homestretch.  The weight of crafting some themes that are not merely superficial exaggerations of postmodern stylings in the novel; the weight of trying to use the novel to back up the strong postmodern points brought up in the introduction which I’ve yet to see fully evinced in the book itself; the weight of getting a good grade on a paper about a book whose size is forcing me to sacrifice my lesser obligations this Thanksgiving, such as enjoying college football and enjoying some nature on a horse ride.  I do have hope, however, that soon this novel will take a turn; that the endless stream of interviews will slow down and begin to form a much needed conclusion which hopefully applies to the postcolonial and postmodern themes I had assumed the book would tackle.  I’ve talked about postmodernism’s love to disrupt expectations in blogs before.  Unfortunately now I’m confronted with some real consequences, and I find it not as stimulating as I do infuriating. 

Releasing Expectations

One of the more salient ways in which postmodernism ticks off readers is by subverting or disappointment traditional, perhaps, cherished expectations.  (Diana, you may not want to skim this next example).  Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, for instance, builds up a tangled story, with many parallel storylines and budding characters and revealing discoveries in the classic pulp detective novel method only to eventual disappoint any hope of a grand, culminating ending where pieces fit and characters realize their vast interconnectedness.  It has been argued and can be defensibly surmised that Pynchon’s refutation of a clean ending was his refutation of life’s coherence, but then of course, it is just a fun little detective story, isn’t it?  Prof. Sample brought up Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones, and though not exactly postmodern in that it is enjoyable and accessible to many readers (just a dig), it too complicates the story by giving us the name of the young narrator’s killer, even delivers him his fate rather early, and also shows us the poor dead girl in her own piece of heaven.  So why do we keep reading?  Sebold moves outside the CIS model by not having the novel end with some climatic discovery of evidence or court room scene–instead the novel takes an unexpected turn, giving our possible expectations the tound-about, and moves into the various stories of a town’s inhabitants, many of whom have forgotten the narraror spying down on them from above, for the latter half of the novel.  What’s a reader to do?  I used to love reading the last line of a book, then starting at the beginning, hoping that whatever I garnered from that last sentence would help me perceive some foreshadowing hidden early on (so that I wouldn’t have to read it twice and still get the ‘full’ effect).  This all fit into my habit of delivering foregone conclusions before they happened with an air of certainty–a tick visible in my willingness to save people the hassle by finishing their sentences for them.  With The People of Paper, I thought I was being quite prescient in realizing that Saturn was Salvador and that he was making up for a personal loss by inflicting unfortunate circumstances on other characters.  I first thought this with Frederico’s brilliant line that ‘something other than [his] pee had driven [Merced] away’.  So I cherish this nugget, thinking myself smarter than the author, ahead of the story, la dee da dee da, a precocious snap sifting through clues to an answer he knows…well, perhaps we as English majors all know the feeling.   But Plascencia, like Pynchon and Sebold, seems to relish denying our expectations and breaking molds (as what writer worth his weight shouldn’t?).  We all noted how the back of the book made it sound that we’d discover who Saturn was late in the book, instead of within the first fifty or seventy pages.  Now that everything seems to be out the open, all authorial tricks and maneuvers exposed, well, what grand conclusion might we see coming?  The storyline I had set myself to figuring out is over and done with and I wasn’t even halfway through.  Why, a character has already met Salvador.  Also, if the EMF had one, we wouldn’t be reading the novel besides.  There was no ‘You’re not so powerful’ anywhere near the front of the book.  There is a great tragedy in reading a book about a character who fights the author from making his life a tragedy and not a romance, especially when we know he’ll lose that fight in the end.  That bastard Salvador for ruining his life, taking his wife with her flute-ish sneezes and whatever other quirks Frederico found enchanting.  We’re seeing a resemblence between poor Lil’ Merced and Liz, and we know what Salvador would like to happen to Liz.  Must I keep reading why that frowsy, selfish prick does that cute, lime-loving sweetheart in?  I think I’ll take up my own fight against Salvador.  If I win, maybe we’ll all have an ending that meets our expectations, reaffirms good’s dominion over evil, fate’s employance of malleable chance and chaos, and leaves us warm in spite of these nights embraced in winter’s chill.  A story of helplessly lost love does not seem to be all that medicinal considering the weather these days (ah, but who wants tragedy to cloud the eyes of spring?).  Whatever happens, I hope Salvador doesn’t ruin the ending of his book for all of us (Frederico, Lil Merced, Smiley, 53, and me) to prove a pont to a carousing harlot who broke his heart.  I get enough of that from that asshole Pynchon.

Anyway, I’m on the highway to hell, guys! Heading to AC/DC in like ten minutes!!! Whoop WHOOP!!!!!

As we set out to list ‘first contacts’ in our last class, it seemed inevitable that Zamora was the most prevalent name, (dare I say character?) and also the most frequently ‘priveleged’ individual in each pair on our list.  Indeed, if we scrutinize all these characters closely, we see that if not for the novel’s focus on Zamora we might not have met any of these characters: most obviously there is the Taobo tribe, but moreso, Rizalina, who enters this story on her trip to visit her mother working for Zamora; Kenneth Forbes; Dee Dee; the President and his nephew; and then of course there is the rest of the household, including Ilse and Sputnik and everyone else.  When Thomas Docherty says ‘ If humanity is always and everywhere the same, traditional and non-secular rather than the geographically and historically culture-specific, a justification is provided for the excesses of imperialism: in principle, the oppressed is being ‘enlightened’, granted a position in the social formation of the colonialist, who of course assumes his own ‘enlightenment’, and enlightenment supposedly guaranteed by a rationalist epistemology and a traditionalist antiquarianism,’ he is of course, outlining how postmodernism breaks this mold, allowing for characters to revel in the difference, to come to light out of their own inherent importance and not merely the attention of colonialists.  Needless to say, after the first part of Dream Jungle, this does not seem to be the case.  With Zamora being the pivotal character, the one with the most gravitational pull in the narrative, we see again that characters are ‘enlightened’ only insofar as they are useful to or are entangled with Zamaro.  The bringing to life of marginal characters so often found in postmodernity is surely at work here, but under whose discretion?  As Prof. Sample says, we might never have met Rizalina had she not been the daughter of Candeleria, a servant of Zamora’s.   As I’ve mentioned, the same goes for the other characters.  Is Jessica H. satirizing this traditional method?  I’ve yet to see any blatant subversion of this convention.  Instead, I’m seeing a strong subversion of Docherty’s premise that characters are no longer constructs and instead are personalities.  Though these characters are conflicted portraits (Rizalina being remarkably intelligent; the Taobo’s being a far more civilized and family oriented society than ‘colonialist’ portrayals might allow) they are nonetheless only tools which are used to focus our attention on Zamora and bring to light his own conflicts, such as his insecurity, father issues, and dysfunctional family.  These characters serve his interests in the novel as much as his father’s colonial subjects served his, though in the former case, strictly confined to their serving the narrative propulsion.  We see signs that Zamora is not so enlightened as the imperialists were, perhaps, in earlier ‘drawing room’ novels, and we are inclined to expect more calumniating revelations concerning his life and his loves, but as of the first part, we no-a see dis.  Docherty goes on to point out in classical novelistic constructions, the setting and the characters are much larger ideological and national allegories.  Can Jessica do justice to life on the Phillipines without portraying their subserivence to a colonialist buisness man?  Unfortuantely, I do not believe she could.  Perhaps the age of allegorical characters and setting is not entirely on the wane as Docherty suggests, or perhaps Jessica will verify his claims later on in the novel and portray her characters freewheeling away from the centrifugal force of Zamora, existing and subsisting entirely of their own varied and uncontainable personalities.  We can only wait with bated breath.

A day late, a buck short, an hour off.

Far be it for a postmodern critic to challenge the assumptions of our political life or our position as citizens enmeshed in discources about an amorphous history.  In challenging the latter, Linda Hutcheon also attempts to attach the integrity of the former as irascibly as Democrats in chanting ‘four more years’.  Perhaps both assumptions are far reaching and somewhat indiscriminately applied.  Granted, the politics of representing history are far from innocent and deserve the breadth of her scrutiny, especially where self-concious motives are involved.  And granted, there remains four pages of her theorizing left unread as of this late hour and present moment.  To finally conclude: granted there remain parts of each where she is perhaps beyond my reach.  With these limitations borne in mind, I have to argue that the politics of our day (in the form of blackberry prompts, twenty-four hour blogging by pundits and the misinformed, and viral youtube propaganda) have yet to fully concede themselves to this idea of our self-concious and admitted embellishment or deprivation, our interjection or removal from debate. An example inteferes: FOX News, and following ‘Fair and Balanced’ flows the tagline.  Obviously Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs are far from postmodern novelists, of the kind Mrs. Hutcheon lends her analytical prowess.  But she readily cites a postmodernist’s ambition to represent society to the truest extent of his or her powerl; all while reality and history remain so inherenttly troubled and problematized by intrusive perceptions or limitations or interference.

If only people saw the news and media coverage as such.  In the case of I the Supreme, had that ‘document’ of a king’s troubled days been presented to the people through a Yahoo! headline, or even in the form of an unearthed document surfaced from a Congressional member long past suddenly released to the public (imagine a tortured confessional from Joe McCarthy, solace to commy hearts).  More importantly, imagine the vast majority of readings avialable and probable.  Imagine the editorializing.  The only reason this seems unimaginable to me is that something of this magnitude would likely have the weight to remain sunk, while the revelations we pride ourselves in are Sarah Palin’s clothes budget, Obama’s radical associations, McCain’s rickety, bellicose behavior caught by cell phone, then just as quickly shuffled back into rotating and back page recounting of reasons Why Not.  Our anchors, our news journalists, our talking heads do not pride themselves on detailing their judgement of the material, and though we all perceive these documents differently, there is far too little irony in the political machine or in sections of the citizenry to make sense of this in postmodern terms.

I cannot refrain from an idea on the elitism of Mrs. Hutcheon.  Is it degrading to the below average reader or mere receptacle who does not anticipate bias or allow for the many levels of narrative intrusion when she is told Barack Obama is a Muslim, Arab, terrorist sleeper cell, or, as we suddenly learn, a socialist?  I think we’ve attached enough significane to Hawaii and Hyde Park and Georgetown, and on the other side Wasilla and ‘real Virginia’ (ATTACK OF THE SIMULACRUM!) to suffice, yet what article in the New York Times or The National Review allows for the admittance of unbalanced reporting.  Hannity seems to be preaching the gospel from a pulpit he pin beneath his lapels.  The elitism enters when Mrs. Hutcheon believes these people’s ‘simulated reality’ can only be understood through an author’s ironic and overpowering influence, can only be understood.  Have we all come so far as that?  Unfortunately or fortunately for me, so many articles on postmodern thought have made that case not as easy to defend, and perhaps I am allowing for the existence of a below average reader–elitism alive.  But I don’t belive these novelists making light of the way so many people in our supposedly postmodern society view these things, especially politics–as ulitmately emotional and irrational an enterprise as any we parade as a triumph of thought–rightfully accounts for the sadly prosaic and one-dimensional perceptions of so many of the world’s characters.  i don’t know–how can we talk about representing history even minutely faithfully, especially by adding metafictional conceits throughout, when there are so many Sarah Palin supporters in the world?  Thoughts interlocked like cinderblocks, making as much sense as monoliths.

Holding out for a hero

A case for any of The Female Man‘s characters to be defined as a hero is almost always refuted by the reality, history, or tradition of a different society in the novel.  Janet can be seen early on as the hero of the novel with her steadfast liberation from female restraints on both Jeannine and Joanna’s Earth.  When she fights the pompous Ginger ‘stache, despite Jeannine and Joanna’s concerns, most women, NAY! most readers, likely see her as a strong woman with strong convictions, and her actions motivated far more by the disrespect of the oaf and not a mere inclination toward violence.  But whereas she may be a hero on Earth, on Whileaway she is expendable, a stupid guinea thrown into an experiment where her safety is of least concern when compared with the will of scientific research.  Also, Jael picks up where Janet seems to fail, being a rich and influential person in her world, a powerful fighter, a remarkable genius, and also a compassionate other to the remaining three J’s.  But the revelation of her hand in the disease which exterminated men from Whileaway casts her into a darker light for all readers, both in knowing that Whileaway has turned out to be far from the Cockaigne (pun intended) Jael may have envisioned and also because she seems to kill men mostly out of pleasure–a terrifying prospect and a terrible reason for menocide.  Jeannine may not be a hero to anyone but Mr. Frosty, and Joanna cannot seem to hold her own against any of the women–even Jeannine, who she treats with a very unheroic contempt.  All women have some claim of a heroic stature, yet none of these arguments can be said to be watertight or comprehensive.  In a novel where futures and histories are all so hightly probable and somewhat continuous, the nature of each J must be held in account for these other realities, detrimentally so for them all.

I felt it was somewhat inevitable that these four women would eventually be revealed as one person, though all under different circumstances and whatnot as Jael apparently points out later in the book.  If nothing else, we are beginning to realize that our writer Joanna Russ is slowly making her presence felt as the ‘creator’ of these characters.  Understanding that Jeannine is also Joanna, in a different time and place, makes our discussion of how Joanna, Janet, and Ms. Russ feel about her more problematic.  We’ve all noted that she is the more obsequious character thus far, being manipulated by Cal.  Her compensatory, intense relationship with Mr. Frosty, her inner turmoil of her looks rooted in Cal’s perspective, and her willingness to attach herself to someone who will not commit to her future present a portrait of a woman submitted to an unfulfilling and subordinate life.

Keeping in mind that ‘these are all the same woman’, we are forced to assume Jael’s criteria primarily account for these women’s differences.  Janet may be the most deprived member of the group, but to my thinking, even as independent a woman as Janet and as fierce a woman as Jael would be overtaken by this male mentality in power during Jeannine’s elongated Depression.  The hostility we perceive in Joanna or Janet’s feelings toward Jeannine perhaps are more rooted in a knowledge of a woman’s limits, their frustrating susceptibility to the powers of someone else.  With the knowledge of a future’s fraility due to the probabilities and possibilities inherent in each atomic movement of each organism, how enfuriating it must be for those women to see a woman such as Jeannine allow herself to be so controlled and belittled because of the caprices of time?

It seems that Ms. Russ may intentionally diminishing a woman’s actual ability to progress from the social constraints of society.  If the possibilty or the power for success and equal identity is resigned to shfiting circumstance,  where is the ability to forge one’s own destiny, to make something of oneself?  I do not think Ms. Russ wants us to believe that only men decide a woman’s circumstance.  I doubt it was a decision of men to remove themselves from female companionship for too many obvious reason; women on Whileaway have been creating their own circumstance for thousands of years.  But does that not count as a default, with men not being an option?  I’ve yet to meet Jael, who exists in a quite separate reality with men, so we’ll see, but it seems to me that Ms. Russ would have strengthened her feminist stance by not taking men out of one equation, and having them the dominant ‘variable’ in the other two women’s lives.  Joanna would be most upset with Jeannine because Jeannine seems to have laid down an unfortunate path of subordination that Joanna, in the most recent future, is forced to travel.  This relationship points to a profound disappointment Joanna has with her precedents, her former self, her very self–but again, is it Jeaninne’s fault or the male hierarchy embodied in Cal which reduces her so?  The implication of these women all being the same women, varied by mere circumstance and not individual will (where’s the feminism in that?), strikes me as conflicted enough to shape most of the events later on, and whose importance in any later convergence will very likely experience some turbulence.  Vroom Vroom

I don’t believe any example of new media will ever seem that effective when the digital artists seem so willing to let their story suffer through any number of strange experimentation for the sake of something different.  The new media utilizing conversation, and J. Harris’ The Whale Hunt, certainly were impressive, but mostly for their uniqueness.  The new media which shuffled shifting shapes and boxes with broken lines of poetry, however, seemed visually fantastic, but disappointing for a reader–at least for those vocal members of our class and myself.  I find it difficult to imagine any new media which combines writing and a dizzying digital environment to great effect, without losing the stability I currently believe narrative forms require.

I say stability here with the greatest leniency.  Self-referential works, or narrative interjections, or when a writer sends a reader back and forth within the same book, or even disturbing the positioning of words on the page, seem interesting to me, but only insofar as they contribute to the meaning of the text and the enjoyment of the reader.  I remember approaching House of Leaves with a great foreboding  because I imagined that there was no way his story could be that great with that much experimentation.  But, as we’ve noted, he had enough to say and had enough control over the novel’s scope to not let it all go to his head, and lose us completely.  Those new media examples which based themselves around ‘true’ narratives, such as [theHouse] or Star Wars, One letter at a time, seemed to have lost their respect for a reader’s enjoyment.  I find some critics’ arguments that one cannot assume that a work of art is fractured to all readers well-founded, but I also agreed with David Lodge when he said that some writers or artists take the ‘presentational’ approach to far and alienate the average reader.  These new media texts appear to assume that their very opaque meanings will mean something to somebody; that this same fractured design I’ve noted means more than it might otherwise.

What I would really appreciate is a new media approach to a narrative that doesn’t seek to disorient a reader, but that supplements his reading with interesting, interactive choices to shift the work.  This may sound like it contradicts my earlier point that some stability is necessary for an effective piece of literature, but I think that when the interaction of the digital text does not impede the flow and the arc of the story–and instead presents it as mellifluous or reactive with the drama intact–, the reader stands a chance at constructive interpretation, not merely befuddled and soporific musings on why the author doesn’t want us to get through two consecutive lines of her poetry.

Who is Gaby?

Pulling myself away from an author’s biography is difficult; as painful for me as pulling teeth. Thomas Wolfe once platitudinously noted that ‘one should only write about what one knows’–or something like that. Maybe that bromide would have been lost to the annals of history if not for the fact that it was what every displeased critic used against Mr. Wolfe when lambasting his novels. Well, the idea that any writer could write about what he doesn’t know is nothing short of absurd; so it follows that focusing on how the writer’s material draws from his or her real life of course doesn’t seem that original (least of all, as I’ve found, to English professors) or groundbreaking. Heaven forbid me to try an unoriginal analysis of House of Leaves that lacks the pioneering spirit Danielewski patiently awaits. But I still persist in my belief that ignoring a writer’s life, past struggles, and (especially in MZD’s case) real issues in many ways inhibits and limits a work.

As we’ve mentioned in class, and by MZD’s own assertion in the interview, by reading Pelafina’s letters and understanding some of the history and influence of Truant completely changes a reader’s experience of the rest of the novel. And as we’ve all experienced, not knowing Zampano’s biography can be a frustrating hindrance, or barrier, throughout. Trying to pinpoint the full influence of Truant on Zampano’s writing, or trying to understand why he forcibly eliminated passages, is a very difficult enterprise because of this lack of information. Thus, in not knowing Danielewski’s history it would follow that if the novel is not impoverished, it is at least different. For as self-referential a novel as House of Leaves, I do not think knowing the writer’s backstory would imbue a reader with set expectations or unnecessary framework that might damage or inhibit the experience of reading a novel.

Postmodernism often relishes in a writer who will unapologetically insert himself into the novel, either as a character or a blatant voice intruding on the narrative, for the extended scope it lends the experience and understanding of a work. House of Leaves frequently plays upon the influence certain characters or histories on the other, with numerous symbiotic relationships expressing themselves, and oftentimes these are only evident when one understands where the characters come from or the state of his mind while composing. Learning something of Danielewski’s past sheds some fortunate light on such a reticent, mysterious writer, but more importantly, on the novel itself. We can discern that Truant, Zampano, and Navidson have all dealt with some serious family issues because of how they react to the hallway, and of course the context of the hallway itself. It would logically follow that understanding MZD’s own issues with family further a reader’s preexisting interpretations.

I admire MZD’s refusal to explicate his novel as much as I admire his willingness to divulge the painful, emotional details of the novel’s inception and his childhood. Particularly for me, MZD’s detailing his late father’s film of the hallway leading to the matador’s arena, a film he never saw yet was of course a part of, being there for the filming. Later in life, his father’s retelling and passion for the film created another film entirely in his imagination, one almost perfect, certainly vivid, impossible. House of Leaves left me with this same yearning for what I feel to be the most amazing film never recorded, The Navidson Record. The film of that family, and the sensation in imagining the hallway and its power, left me with the same irrational desire to see that movie, but also the same understanding which afflicts MZD, that it would only lessen in the rendering. Truant, however, is compelled to find any trace of that film, even returning to the site of his former house, and his mother’s hospital room, to devastating effect. Zampano lost his mind in rendering his imagining of such a film. But of course we all know these effects are not in the film, but in the story of that family, and those hallways that can mean so much so differently to so many—all of them frightening and, for me, sorrowful. It is MZD, Truant, Zampano, Navidson and the reader whose back-stories are embellished in House of Leaves, given a particular light. Uncovering the biographical details of the characters in the novel was one of the greatest points of interest for me, one of the novel’s most rewarding challenges. But at the same time, learning the details of the life of the most important and noticeably hidden voice in the novel, MZD, extended that most powerful echo of loss, family strife, and, why not?, love. That’s why, no matter what some academics have said to me, (return to first line).

(Admittedly that was lame)

A slave to the big picture

At some point the idea needs to sink in that this project, this inquiry 2, does not warrant a visual representation of the preplexity of the novel (which my Esheresque attempts seem to presume) but instead a compilation of some data, something quantifiable.  Whereas I seem focused on how these narratives and perspectives intertwine and compliment each other, the first part of any map-making project is a steady, informed delineation and demarkation.  This novel that is swirling in my head, a multivarious morass to be sure, is currently defying such attempts.  My problem is that, apparantly like Danielewski in his ironic way–but I could be way off–scholarly interpretation and single-minded focus on certain themes or individual characters seems to risk some deadening of the narrative thrust of the work.  (Imagine how much smoother a reading of House of Leaves would be without constantly checking the bottom of the page and rummaging through esoteric, recondite, and sometimes, or most of the time, imaginary sources; but then such a loss would lessen one of Danielewski’s greatest sources of humor; but can that be said to be the point of the actual scholars?).  Empathizing with the freneticism that spawned that last aside might help you understand my problem.  Ahhh, but I digress…

If Danielewski can allow for the varying discourses of architecture, aural mathematics, labyrinthine construction, perhaps my long atrophied left-side-of-da-brain might just be able to commit the most heinous act of deconstructing this monster into some cohesive categories.  Just today as I was going over so many aborted three-dimensional drawings of staircases and hallways, I realized that perhaps the dreadfully common bar graph might lend itself to the shape of those staircases.  Throw in another line graph (I’m still sticking with my laminated layer approach) and we’ll have ourselves an entirely different picture, won’t we?  Maybe as perplex as I find the novel itself to be, though I wouldn’t trust anything I think up to actually make it from mind to paper intact or in the shadow of the former really.  The question remains, however: how do I entrap the relative value of Truant’s narrative or story or trajectory to something so simple as a bar or something so terse as a line.  How might I visualize the scope of Navidson’s camera which, as I see it, is far from being stuck in Zampano’s head and instead carrying quite a degree of relevancy and dominance over the lives of the other characters.  At least Navidson appears somewhat honest and forthcoming–something everyone else in the novel owes it to themselves to be.  But wait, I’m not here to judge just overanalyze.

But like the footnote to the Seneca’s quote, in which can be found the quote Pascal telling us, according to the editors, that ‘If one reads too quickly or too slowly, one understands nothing.’  I found Danielewski’s talk about the labyrinthe inspiring.  In the midst of floundering ideas and even worse artistic endeavors, I found myself asking myself why, if Danielewski can represent his characters in the history and concepts of the labyrinthe, why can’t I take those characters and make defined concepts out of them; or, who knows, maybe with my roommates’ help, maybe making a mathematical equation for one or two of the buggers.  As I find myself leaping through the novel, barely taking a breath, I must remember that one mustn’t tire oneself out too quickly, or disparage too soon, when dealing with a maze.  I can’t imagine I’ll be lucky enough to stand back and see my final project and see even an inkling of my original ideas within that mess.  (Such a statement makes me chuckle when reminsicining that Danielewski appropiately notes that only some airborne or celestial diety might view a labryinthe in it’s whole–who can imagine that disappointment, really?).  Hopefully I will be able to entrench myself so deeply in this project so outside my comfort zone that I might at least glean something from the struggle, and have some numbers or data that are as confusing as this novel prides itself in being.

The Political Antecedents

Jean Baudrillard does quite the number on liberal ideology in his piece, ‘The Precession of Simulacra’.  The great work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein is very much a symbol of hope for our modern day journalists, that there are perhaps those who will not sit by abated by the scandals of the White House filling their articles and instead set out to inspire someone out there to take notice and put an end to them.  Does Jon Stewart and Bill Maher really want Bush to leave, or to pass on the punching bag McCain would very well become?  They are liberal talking heads, and yet they fight the forces which make their shows so powerful, painful, and awfully damn funny with 99% of their talking points.  To say that Woodward and Bernstein were mere pawns, or even concious manipulators, in the turnover of power, even the destruction of true political morality, strikes of grand apostasy.  Furthermore, to denounce the great social contract which allows us liberals to constantly hold our government accountable to a higher standard as flim-flam, that power has never and will never reciprocate that contract outside of political conventions, and that to fight with whatever tools we have to get what’s always been acknowledged as ours (social justice) merely aids in the procession of next wave of corrupt politicians…well, needless to say, our friendly Frenchman invited quite an amount of rancour on my part.

Well, I must say that I can’t completely disagree with him.  Take the 9/11 Truth movement, for instance.  Regardless of my stance on the subject, I saw in his discussion of Watergate an eerie simularity.  As much as O’Reilly and the rest would love to point to liberal freak-shows as the main purveyors of what surely is one of the greatest calumnies of our American government, the fact remains neither Barack nor Hillary nor the ever loquacious Biden have even mentioned this atrocity.  However, John Buchanan (Republican presidential contender in 2004, fighting for the Truth movement) and Chuck Baldwin (Constitutional Party presidental nominee this year, a ‘right-wing fringe group) are perhaps the most vocal advocates, seemingly out to inundate their own party for the death of thousands of innocent Americans.  In Baudrillard’s view, these men are either out for the selfish reasons of getting Bush and Cheney and the old Republican guard out of the picture or are out for their eponymous Truth.  Can Baudrillard, as with Watergate, claim the only way to maintain any political justice is to forget about the alleged conspiracy, and instead blame these candidates for pretending any justice could possibly exist in Washington?

I believe that this small example shows the issue one might have with Baudrillard on the much larger issue of who to vote for this election.  With both parties, especially the incumbant party, calling for change, are we all simply duped into believing this to be a possibility?  Or, must we just be amazingly ‘naive to see an embittered good conscience at work here’ (100).  Does either candidate really mean to change the business of Washington?  I think Baudrillard would say we’re helplessly fighting the ‘precession of simulacra’.  Obama’s appeal relies on his appearance of change–as he says, ‘he doesn’t look like those presidents on dollar bills.’  He’s channeling JFK, most strikingly Jimmy Carter, even Mr. Lincoln, with the idea of adding historical precedent to an otherwise ahistorical candidate.  He is the change of the past and the face of the future, all in one earnest and appealing package.  McCain–he relies on his former position as a maverick to call for change, but also to warn us that the wrong change will throw us into a communist, god-hating, valueless USSA.  These bottled packages and ideas and rechanneled fears and hopes–what is real?  This is politics, but surely what we feel, those ecstatic tingles we feel when a phrase or policy strikes the timbre and heartstrings we assume have laid dormant these past eight years: those are certainly very real for me.  Yet Baudrillard, in his way of viewing things, sees all this as a farce, as the ever-shifting tango of corrupt power, all to the beat of the never-changing capitalist drums.  Let us hope he is wrong.  Obviously I have enlarged and politicized a small component of his argument, but that is how things reach my perception in this most political of years, where Baudrillard seems to attack everything I’m fighting for with my one frail vote.

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How do you classify any one place as more important, more powerful, more haunting than another, especially in the case of White Noise?  Everything seems to compound and condense itself so that the demarcations of where television ends and the character’s thoughts begin, or where one influence ends and another begins seem impossibly gray and vague.  While writing my paper, I was forced to choose, and what with my inclination to assume no place more powerful than another, my answer remained frustratingly unsatisfactory.  It did of course reiterate a point of DeLillo’s–that of separate mediums entangling themselves–but it didn’t help my case of specifically noting a place of paticular prescience.  The suprise of all this, though after four years of such surprises one would assume I’d become immune, was how easily I’ll b.s.ed by way into believing my paper made a strong argument with valid points.  In such postmodern cases as this (a blatant misuse of the term) I think I may have to enjoy the overwhelming ambivalence and ambiguity (and let’s not forget irrationality) of my theses.  PEACE