Early impressions of Dream Jungle, etc.

I’ve only read a very small portion of the novel at this point (26 pages), but I feel its safe to bring up some early points of interest. Ideas at this point may be inaccurate in terms of the overall narrative. Although I find the writing style to be somewhat dry, the idea of a post-colonial postmodernist novel seems very interesting and potentially promising. I think it’s safe to position this novel in the post-colonial pantheon. The initial chapter of the novel is, after all, an excerpt from an account of Magellan’s expedition to the Philippines, and this discovery was the event that catalyzed Spanish colonization of the islands. The fact that the author chooses to foreground the novel with this account seems very telling. The idea of the colonial, non-native intruder is reinforced by the initial portrayal of wealthy Spaniard Zamora. His native servant girl, Celia, is described as “belong[ing] to him,” in practically every sense of the word (9). He is egotistical, callous, acutely aware of his own power.

This got me to thinking about Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, and the way the journeys of Marlowe and Willard upriver affect them. In both, the increasingly disjointed, unfamiliar, and hallucinatory experiences of the river force them into uncomfortable realizations about themselves. Both come to relate to the madman at the end of the river, realizing his pragmatism is significantly more authentic then the ongoing BS of bureaucracy espoused by the colonial(?) forces. And I think also, they realize that any preconceived notions they have about the way things are supposed to be are essentially inapplicable in the place they find themselves in. And they are fundamentally changed by the confrontation at the end of the river; this is more explicitly covered in Heart of Darkness but seems equally obvious in Apocalypse Now.

I wonder if Zamora will experience a similar crisis of self and fundamental realization.

Who’s the Heroine of Female Man?

Reading through the novel, obviously it’s hard to pick a “heroine” because the text itself seems so topsy-turvy (silly word).  However, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Jael.  She is the character who has taken her anti-masculine logic to an instinctive and combative level, and while I don’t think this hyper-oppositional stance is necessarily the best one, it is her efforts which ultimately bring together the other protagonists (spatially and, I think, ideologically), and allow them to understand their own failings or contradictions. And that is  the element of her that I find specifically heroic. I think she is heroic especially in the fact that this effort affects some change in super-passive Jeannine,  who seemed to be the one “thrown under the bus” and most change resistant throughout the whole narrative, frustrating the reader.

Additionally, I find her (Jael)  heroic because she is the one character who has essentially determined her own path.  Certainly, Jeannine hadn’t;  Joanne had to sacrifice her own identity to become a “man” in a man’s world; and Janet seems like more of a product of her strange utopia then a utopian ideal.  Also, we learn, or are lead to believe, that Jael’s hand in the struggle in her time created the later utopia.  As ambivalent as I am on this utopia (and the idea of utopias in general), the idea of self-sacrifice and risk to create an ideal society is certainly heroic.

[Edit: I just realized that that seemed vaguely like a ‘hurrah’ for genocide (sexocide?)… oops.]

That’s all that comes to mind, for now.

Identity, identity, identity…

It’s interesting to compare the new media pieces (especially “We Feel Fine”) that aggregate individual discourse (blogs) into a visual, interactive whole, with the Claritas demographic tool we saw in class. Both seem to trivialize individuals. This feeling is less profound in “We Feel Fine,” because the “participants” are being defined or categorized by theemotions they project. Still, they are reduced to blips and blobs, and the defining object itself (short text) is fragmentary. The Claritas tool is obviously more upsetting in this sense. We end up defined by the car we drive, and the square footage of our houses. At the same time (if I recall correctly), the categories are presented with cartoonish, idyllic pictures. This seems worse than a straightforward, un-illustrated presentation; you get dehumanized by becoming a consumer category and then are represented as a cartoon.

What all this seems to highlight is the ongoing transformation of identity in current society. The postmodern is obsessed with the plasticity and solipsism of perception. But in spite (or because) of the sheer amount of representational forms available to us, projecting this“authentic” self to a greater community seems increasingly elusive. We become more and more fragmented as our means of representation expand. And in a culture obsessed with individuality,this is painful. I’m beginning to wonder to what extent my interest in obscure and frequently transgressive media originated as a means of reclaiming or maintaining a strong sense of individuality, as opposed to simply authentic curiosity. It seems to be a “chicken or the egg” type of relationship. Are these obscure trappings on my Facebook identity simply a means of having a foothold in an increasingly “information saturated” world, or do they constitute a partof a “real” identity. And how would I know the difference in genesis?

Blog #4 — Mother Truant and Echo

As it stands I’ve still only done through Thursday’s reading (up to p.106 and Appendix 2-D and E), so my comprehension for this post will be limited compared to some. I thought that White Noise offered a lot of divergent interpretative possibilities… obviously House of Leaves blows it out of the water and leaves me feeling a little stymied.

I found the mother’s letters to be really compelling, they offered an emotional resonance or intimacy that I felt was otherwise lacking due to the psychological stress placed on the characters in the main text. But beyond that, there were some disturbing echoes (hm, echoes) of Pelafina’s words in Zampano’s text. The most glaring one was briefly mentioned in class: sad news “tore me [Pelafina] to pisces” and Pan “tears [Echo] to pisces” (599 and 41). There are a number of interpretative possibilities here. Obviously, this brings authorship / narrative reliability issues into question in an even stronger way than some previous anomalies (the water heater / heater, etc.). However, I’m more interested in why this correlation appears where it does, in the passage about the mythological nymph, Echo. Certainly, Truant’s mother is a tragic, isolated figure, appearing only via her voice (ok, letters), and prone to loquaciousness. Like Echo and Narcissus , she sees herself as being impossibly separated from Johnny (although we learn that he has visited her several times) . She is also clearly knowledgeable about the classics and has other obscure knowledge (ex. Old English). At one point she refers to herself as “Sibyl of Cumae” (642). According to Wikipedia (most professional of sources), sibyl were legendary female oracles or prophetesses, and the Cumaean Sibyl was an especially significant one. According to legend she arrived unknown to the last king of Rome providing him with books of prophecy. Additionally, in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue she gives voice to what people later came to see as a Messianic prophecy for the coming of Christ. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumaean_Sibyl ]

My reasoning for mentioning all this is that it shows Pelafina’s willingness to embrace her ego and position herself and her son in the classical pantheon (although this may be purely to appease her poetic sensibilities), and in the role of the prophetess, or prophetic voice. This is what makes the inclusion of the offending phrase in Zampano’s text so compelling. House of Leaves, obsessed with semiotics, asks us how we construct meaning in an unreliable framework of hyper-heteroglossia. Truant’s mother becomes conflated with the mythological, the timeless, while simultaneously, and by her own admission, being “hopelessly unreliable” (636).

I’m not sure what I’ve said but I hope you guys got something interesting out of it, something to think about.

By the way, have you guys noticed that the book has an index? Pretty handy.

( Is the cutoff for submission exactly 12:01 a.m. Sunday? If so I’m late by about 15-20 minutes. Apologies.)

Blog #3 — Murray – Postmodern Man

John Duvall’s reading of Murray as “the true villain of White Noise” definitely seems heavy handed. First, why the word “villain,” instead of “antagonist”? The novel seems to be essentially amoral, leaving little capacity for a morally loaded figure like a villain. Regardless, as Susanna said in class on Thursday, there is something vaguely sinister about Murray. I think a more interesting path to take in analyzing Murray is asking why the reader feels this way about him, as opposed to trying to superimpose on him the character of Iago / arch-manipulator. He doesn’t seem to be sinister because of any literal antagonism. Instead, he is sinister because of how totally aware he is, his passivity, and how unemotional he is. When he interacts with other people in the novel, he does so either in the interest of collecting more “data” or of voicing one of his theories. As was brought up in class, he solicits a prostitute at one point, but he wants to do the Heimlich maneuver on her (this is also at the height of the toxic disaster). This kind of eccentricity highlights (albeit comically) the sheer “Otherness” of Murray Jay Siskind, and this is a large part of why he is threatening. Not only is he strange in his eccentricities, but also, his ability to recognize trends in the “white noise” and examine violent spectacle (movie car crashes) as symbols of “American optimism” (218). The latter highlights Murray’s capacity to bypass typical emotional responses and look at phenomenon in a strictly intellectual light. His sheer intelligence and intellectualized detachment strike me as something kind of alien. It’s almost as if he represents the next level of human awareness, an observer and analyst of the postmodern, contrasted sharply with Jack’s frequent cluelessness and intellectual affectation. Murray is the genuine article, whatever that article may be.

Death / Fear of (Blog Post #2)

(Vague Spoilers for some of you[?], and somewhat tangential.)

It is interesting to look at how the different characters in White Noise react to their own preoccupation with death. (“Death has always been a preoccupation of man” ? Anyways… ) Heinrich’s clinical, detached perspective and fascination with atrocities is offensive to us, in light of Jack’s fate. But Jack himself had a similarly detached perspective earlier in the novel, before the exposure. So Heinrich static character acts as a foil to Jack’s existential pondering, and later Babette’s.

And then the Dylar is introduced. Obviously, the drug starts off as an object of foreboding, becoming a tiny counterpart to the Nyodene D threat. The cloud is an overwhelming phenomenon, opaque and oppressive, confronting the community as a whole with their fears (although noticeably not forging any real sense of community in the process, either overall or within the family). The Dylar, in contrast, is insidious, encapsulating (ambivalent on that pun) the paranoia / hypochondria of the modern consumer. Both, however, render their effects in unseen, uncertain ways. Unnatural death for people in developed countries is no longer an external issue in the way that we think of it as spectacle in developing countries (fires, tsunamis, etc.). Instead it is a delayed, lifelong process – anxieties about plastic leaching into drinking water, unexplainable, gradual neurological malfunctions, and so on. It seems that, in general, the paralyzing fear of, or obsession with, non-immediate health problems is a luxury of the developed world. It is difficult, however, to determine the main cause of these anxieties. Information saturation (“white noise”) seems to be the largest component, but we are also living in a society where medications and (really) health problems are marketed directly to the consumer. “Instant gratification” culture does not engender a psychological acceptance of the possibility of ongoing, debilitating health problems.

Inquiry Debriefing

Bear with me here; I am tired.

The part of the essay I found most difficult was finding a way to generalize and correlate distinct components of the mysticism that DeLillo grants his settings.  Fortunately, he seems to use characters throughout the novel to present various hypotheses about how meaning is constructed in consumerist society, and once remembering and locating these, the going got a lot easier.  I also had difficulty at times telling if I was being hyperbolic, as the characters occasional fall into reveries which can be difficult to categorize as either valid within the meanings of the text as a whole or merely as products of individual characters.

I was interested to notice how much depth there are to character’s own preoccupations, in spite of the “shallowness” of consumerist culture, and how fundamental some of the issues are in a philosophical sense

Postmodern Angst

(I composed this in Word and then couldn’t find the “import from Word” function; so, hopefully, the formatting isn’t crazy.)

Reading Don DeLillo’s story “Coming Sun. Mon. Tues.,” I found a parallel between modernist and postmodern fiction. There is a scene in Mrs. Dalloway where the narration fluidly shifts between the protagonist and other Londoners. Although the experiences of these figures are disparate, they are united by common spectacle – in this case a plane overhead advertising a product spelled by its contrails. A sense of community is formed. The postmodernist text, on the other hand, uses stream of consciousness in a different way, to affect the divorce of the individual from community. In the “information age,” we have more and more ways to interact with, and ostensibly become part of, communities via technology. It seems as though the act of representing oneself online should reinforce a sense of individuality and the sense of being part of a greater community. But the sheer amount of content available has the effect of trivializing both the individual and community. In the postmodernist reader introduction, the author mentions Umberto Eco’s assertion that, “we want to say things but our simultaneously aware … that they have been said before” (Nicol 4).

It seems to me that this sense of redundancy is a large factor in the alteration of our perception of authenticity, and subsequently the feeling that meaningful human interaction and community has been declining in recent years. Whereas in Woolf’s narrative the airplane unites the various figures, technology in DeLillo’s White Noise is a facet of the dehumanizing forces apparent to citizens of the “postmodern era.” The elitism and sense of progress (as producers of literature) espoused by many modernist authors is noticeably absent in DeLillo’s postmodernist screeds against the banality of consumerist culture. At one point, Murray, a character in White Noise, encapsulates the author’s postmodern angst, describing “the vast loneliness and dissatisfaction of consumers who have lost their group identity” (DeLillo 50).