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!!!!!

The ‘Suspension of Belief’ among Readers

As we discussed briefly in class this week, the “world” of People of Paper is a strange mix of realism and fantasy in which the characters accept every premise and every invention of the author.  On the one hand, the book presents us with actual, living people made out of paper; mechanical tortoises; the strange “unmasking” of saints; and towns that, literally, disintegrate. On the other hand, the events and characters are all within the context of a “real” world of flower pickers, dominoes, cock fights, and travel in dusty pickups.  Tijuana and El Monte are real places; Rita Hayworth makes a “real” appearance as herself, but with a completely fake biography. This strange juxtaposition of the fantastical and the real is not always easy to follow, but, surprisingly, it is still easy to “go along” with these odd premises and become engaged in the story.

This makes me think more about the notion of “suspension of belief” when we read a novel.  When we enter a world created by an author, we as readers give that author a certain credibility and latitude; we’re willing to go along with whatever scenarios and characters he or she has created in exchange for (one hopes) a well-constructed narrative, interesting characters, good writing, thought-provoking themes (writ small or large), or just a good story. We willingly share the author’s make-believe world, and there is, I believe, a kind of covenant between reader and author; we suspend belief to dive into the creative work of the author. This is true whether we are considering “fantasy” works like Harry Potter or the “realistic” fiction of Flaubert or Hemingway.

In postmodern fiction, however, is that covenant on shakier ground?  Does a covenant even exist; are all bets off? If nothing, postmodernist fiction, as we learned in our first week in this course, is frequently counterintuitive. Our patience was tested (sorely) in House of Leaves, for example, as Danielewski alternately drew us in to a compelling, scary story and then taunted us for getting sucked in. The Female Man messed around with character identities in a way that was frequently confusing.  Dream Jungle drew us into characters but kept those characters at times hidden from us; many of their story lines, such as that of Rizalina, simply petered out with no conclusion (maybe that was the point). I seriously don’t suspect that postmodern writers, if they even think of themselves as postmodern, care nothing for their relationship with readers (why would any author want his or her work to be a failure, after all?); I assume they want to bring readers along for their experiment with new forms and challenges to old conventions and histories.  I just wonder if all of this will soon take on a dated feel, a faddishness. In People of Paper, for example, Chapter Three begins with “Many years after the Saturn War and in the unwritten afterword of this book…” (41). Here we go again, another instance of the book/author speaking directly to the audience, breaking down that “fourth wall.”  I kind of get this “been there, done that” feeling. So, ultimately, what must hold up a novel against the test of time is not just its form but also its content.

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.

Week #10 – Art and Museums

I took an aesthetics course last semester that discussed African “primitive” art, and I remember the class talking about the “Primitivism of the 20th Century: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” exhibit that Appiah mentioned on page 442.  “Primitivism” was such a controversial exhibit because it displayed African artifacts alongside famous modernist pieces that the artifacts apparently inspired.  For example, Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon was said to be inspired by this African mask.  This exhibit was so controversial because, the curator William Rubin seemed to imply that there was a universal formal aesthetic (what Appiah refers to as a modernist “ideology of disinterested aesthetic value”) by which both “primitive art” and modern art could be evaluated.  Critics of the exhibit cried that Rubin discredited both primitive art and modern art by putting them in the same plane instead of allowing each to be studied in their own contexts.

I personally can’t decide whether displaying primitive art on its own (in its own “context,” as far as a museum can replicate that context) is any less insulting than displaying primitive art alongside modernist art.  For Appiah, this question may be beside the point.  As Trish mentioned in her post, Appiah seems to be saying that the modernist tendency of Western museums and collectors to appropriate African primitive artifacts contributes to the commodification of African art.  According to Appiah, the central feature of modern society is not rationality but rather: “the incorporation of all areas of the world and all areas of even formerly ‘private’ life into the money economy.  Modernity has turned every element of the real into a sign, and the sign reads ‘for sale’ (433).  The reason why African art is so collectible is due, in part, to the Western myth of Africa as the Other.

As the list of possible words for Inquiry #4 points out, the subject of museums recurs in Dream Jungle.  Zamora displays Paz Marlowe’s Filipino mother’s painting in the same room as the painting in which Spanish conquistadors meet “natives with faces like Sonny’s,” a painting that Paz imagines smells like “blood and betrayal” (156).  There was something acutely unsettling about this grouping of native Filipino art (inspired by Amorsolo, one of the Philippine’s greatest artists) with a painting representing the native’s conquest by the Spanish.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the critics were outraged by Rubin’s “Primitivism” exhibit.

zamora

from the information given, i’ve been trying to figure out what zamora’s role in the hoaxing of the tribe and the scandal. paz talks about him being criticized for hoaxing the tribe as an excuse for him to help the president search for rebels in the jungle but if we look at the text and pay attention to the narrative point of view.

when we’re first introduced to the tribe and his discovery it’s in first person point of view which means it is zamora talking to us [the reader] and choosing what information he wants to give us. the structure of the narrative at this point allows our entire perspective of the narrative to be created by one man.

we are given a more fair perspective when witnessing zamora’s conversation with the president. we are neither given his, nor the president’s perspective but that of the bodyguards in the room. judging by the situation, we aren’t led to believe that [i forget his name and am out of town so i don’t have the book on me] would be lying to the reader. he doesn’t benifit by giving us false information about two other characters who he seems to be detached from.

because of this, i believe zampano really was innocent in the way that he didn’t know he was being used by the president. in fact, he was surprised the president was willing to not only help him but put him in charge, but as it goes, he was blamed for his unknown involvement.

as for hoaxing the tribe, there are parts when we are given his relationship to the tribe with either third person narrative or the voice of another character and it doesnt come across as a hoax on his part. if anything, he was decieved by [……]. the tribe only exists of 25 people, no one from the other islands have heard of them, their language is very similar to [……] and only he communicates with them. if anything, it was a way for him to get supplies and publicity and the hoax was no fault of zamora.

The Role of the ‘Outsider’

The discussion this week raises the possibility of further debate about the role of “outsiders,” specifically privileged outsiders, when they come to less-developed countries.  Certainly in Dream Jungle, author Jessica Hagedorn offers a pointed and cynical view of the negative effects of a paternalistic, Western society (and, in her novel, represented mostly by male characters). She does so, I believe, in a captivating literary style that, as noted in class, challenges our traditional understanding of “history” as written by the usual WASPs.  Still, are Americans really so awful and insensitive?  The country that ran off the Native Americans to reservations, killed all the buffalo and nearly self-destructed in a civil war over (among other things) slavery is the same country that has welcomed millions of refugees and immigrants no one else wanted, defeated Hitler and enabled millions of low-skilled workers on the factory floor to join the middle class. 

The same issues might be raised in the context of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s essay, “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern.”  In Africa, writes Appiah, “the distinction between high culture and mass culture, insofar as it makes sense at all, corresponds, by and large, to the distinction between those with and those without Western-style formal education as cultural consumers” (435). Thus, he seems to be suggesting that a Western sensibility creates a “market” for certain African art (he specifically mentions David Rockefeller) and creates an “international commodification of African expressive culture” (442).  If Africa and African art represent the “other” to the American/European art collectors, is it a valid characterization of a continent whose identity is intertwined with colonialist occupation and influence? What is Africa’s “real” identity?  What, for that matter, is the “real” identity of the Filipino culture on the other side of the world?

Ultimately, if “historiographic metafiction,” as we discussed in class, offers a platform for “marginalized voices,” how do we know that these new voices are any more authentic or emblematic of a culture than voices that have come before? My guess is they would be provocative and challenging and at least broaden the canon, so to speak, but they could also be not very interesting and not particularly insightful.  It’s just like any artistic endeavor; there’s good stuff and there’s not-so-good stuff.  If the history and culture of any peoples is “mediated” by a Western European, is it by default invalid or somehow tainted?  Appiah’s essay prompts a lot of interesting questions and I look forward to more discussion in class.

alternating POV’s in Dream Jungle

What is with all of these character point-of-views. I’m almost finding this book to be as confusing as The Female Man with the perspective always shifting to another character. It’s not so bad when the title of the section is the character’s name of who’s point-of-view the chapter is written in, but it’s very confusing, at least for me, when it’s not specified, especially since sometimes the chapters are written in a character’s POV in first person and other times in 3rd.

I’m wondering if this method of having so many different POV’s and switching them so often has anything to do with what we talked about in class on Tuesday. We were talking about how Docherty said that all postmodern novels have characters in which readers can never obtain their “essence” or they never realize themselves in the story, or whatever definition we decided to use for “essence”. I think this does hold true for Dream Jungle, but I don’t know if Hagedom meant for it to be that way. She does a good job of describing scenes and bringing a reader into the setting an the action, but as far as keeping up with the characters, I am finding it to be difficult. I think the switching of the perspectives is also confusing the plot a little for me as well, though it might be a bit confusing otherwise since there are two stories going on that aren’t completely connecting yet for me.

I haven’t read ahead of Thursday’s reading so maybe I will be less confused once I do, but I know that I’m having trouble getting into to these novels with so many different, alternating POV’s. I’m wondering if that’s a trait of the majority of postmodern novels. Before reading the last two or three novels we’ve read for class, I wouldn’t say it is, but now I’m thinking that it might be. Which is annoying. For me.

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.

Week #9 – Dream Jungle

Like Pierce, I’ve only read a bit into Dream Jungle, but already there are some interesting things to point out.  First, the issue of the Taobo tribe’s authenticity, which I have a feeling the author is not going to reveal definitively.  It’s not clear who is narrating during the descriptions of Zamora (I keep wanting to call him Zampano) in the jungle with Duan and in the cave with Bodabil and his tribal family.  Zampano brings people into the tribe’s environment to capture their unique primitive lifestyle using cameras, tape recorders, and other such devices of representation.  The likely-inadequate representation of the cameras, the ambiguous authenticity of the tribes…these are all postmodern topics we’ve already explored in other works we’ve read in the class.

Another issue is the shifting narrators and the slightly shifting chronology-which seems straightforward compared to some of the other books we’ve read (House of Leaves, The Female Man).  The first person sections I’ve read, the one with Rizalina for example, attempts to capture the flavor of the speaker’s language (though the language gradually gets more and more sophisticated, I’ve noticed).  The third-person chapter, “The Cave: 1971,” tries to mimic Bodabil’s childlike thoughts.

There is also a wealth of cultures and languages in this book, which makes sense if we consider the history of the Philippines.  One question that might be raised is:  What is authentically Filipino?  The references to imperialism are everywhere in this book.  The Zamora family’s history, the names of Zamora’s dogs (Caesar and Brutus), Zamora’s displays of power against women (especially the servants).  What has the Philippines lost with the arrival of these Western powers?  What have they gained?  I expect that Jessica Hagedown has more to say about that later.

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.

binary

we discussed it in class a little but i wanted to expand upon the idea that our society has moved more and more away from binary and how it has positively influenced our society.

feminism and queer theory have led to the breakdown of male/man and female/woman and straight or gay. now, gender is not correlated to sex but divided into a wide spectrum of gender identity and orientation. while american was founded on the binary of whites, non-whites, anthropologist and biologist have shown that race doesn’t exist more than a social concept. since religion has played a smaller and smaller role in our society we no longer have the binary idea of right and wrong in the same way as we did when morality was based on sin. in every action or reaction there is grey area and we examine the reason behind the action, the effects of the action, and the meaning of the action until deciding what degree of right or wrong it is.

i’ve even found myself personally not using yes or no but usually rating things on a 1-10 scale, whether it be the spiciness of food, my enjoyment of something, or my wish to do something.

probably the only thing that is binary anymore is computer program. what does this mean…or what can i make this mean? to many [myself included], computers represent a certain amount of artificiality, whether it be with communication or authenticity of production or human relationships. one could on one hand use this to say that binary implies artificiality though it would take some fancy word play to correlate the onoff onoff of electricity with our need to divide things into one of two categories when they’d fit more naturally on a spectrum. other way to analyze it is through the idea of the cyborg and how this artificiality is similar to people needing to define themselves in any area of their life in order to be part of the culture.

boobz

After reading The Female Man, having never read or heard of any other of Joanna Russ’ works, I wonder what her intentions were when she decided to write this science fiction/feminist novel. I have looked up a bibliography of her work which sort of proved my original theory to be wrong, which was that she may have just been trying to enter a genre which was male dominated, and be one of the few women to have written a science fiction novel, challaenging sexist views through its contents and dedicating it specifically to women only to cause even more controversy. Joanna Russ has in fact written many science fiction novels. I have not looked further into her works to find out if they are similar to The Female Man in more ways, and I am sure that I won’t later, but I’m sure that at least some of them have at least feminist undertones as well, as Joanna Russ the person seems to be an avid feminist outside of her literature.

From what I have discovered about Russ’ writing, I now believe that her agenda the drove the writing of The Female Man was for a large part her attempt to try and change the image of women in literature, especially in science fiction writing. The four main protagonists, Jeaninne, Joanna, Janet and Jael all have different views on femininity and womanhood and all are trying to define their identities as women.

Since the novel was written in the 1970’s when the feminist movement was at its peak, I think that Joanna Russ was probably trying to create characters who would act mirrors to her writinga novel in a male-dominated genre, as well as the women who were struggling to be heard in the feminist movement of the 70’s.

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.

Good Themes from a Bad Book?

After completing The Female Man, I was glad to leave the book behind me.  I’m not sure why I didn’t like this novel; it was not because of its feminist sensibilities, nor was it its odd narrative style that marks it as postmodern. I haven’t been able to pin it down exactly, but as a literary work, it struck me—to bring up Russ’s own words in her mock review blurbs (141)—as, well, just plain bad.

Maybe that is too harsh, but I’m thinking now of one of my favorite aphorisms from Gustav Flaubert (although I don’t know if this is completely accurate since I could not locate the original source): “The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”  The trouble with Russ’s novel, for me, is that the author is both too present AND too visible.  Perhaps that’s the point of the challenges to traditional structure of fiction in postmodernism, but by way of contrast I recall House of Leaves, in which the author is very much present but only as an unseen force and background. Danielewski masterfully makes himself felt throughout his novel without intruding too much into it.  As readers we often wonder what he is “up to,” but he has a way of never revealing himself too much.  With House of Leaves, one gets a genuine sense of the tenuous line of trust that must be established between an author and reader that can be tested but should not be shattered. The Female Man, on the other hand, seems to be heavy-handed and self-conscious; it lacks the accompanying wit or engaging intellect. It is as if the novel simply became a prop for an ideological tract. Nevertheless, perhaps it served its purpose at the time and the author herself would be delighted if later audiences found it dated (although she probably would be offended that I also thought it was characterized by a lot of drivel, another word from her mock reviews).

Having said all that, I found the essay by Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” that we read as a companion assignment to be interesting and thought-provoking.  My initial dislike of Haraway’s essay was mitigated by further exploration in class of what she was trying to say, so I was better able to engage in the themes she raised and how they related to Russ’s book. Also, despite all my complaining about The Female Man, the class discussion, generated by the themes of the book and the questions raised by Professor Sample, has been lively, engaging, and even hilarious at times.  So I guess even a bad novel can generate great discourse.


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