Graphic Self-deception

I have to admit I was a little resistant to this week’s reading, not to do to the form of the graphic novel, but because of the subject matter regarding 9/11.  Like many others, I have trauma fatigue and-still one administration later-remain a little nauseous from the transformation of tragedy into an excuse for fear-mongering and little American flags.  That said, I feel that the two texts, read together, accomplish something that would have been impossible singularly-they act as foils to one another.  Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War attempts to personalize a war on foreign soil to the American reader; whereas Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers depersonalizes terrorism in the United States.  To that end, the styles of illustrations complement each.  As other have noted in their blogs, Shooting War blended graphic design, photography, and drawings to create a blended reality (not quite a comic strip, not quite a computer generated image, not quite a hand-sketch).  Conversely, In the Shadow of No Towers withdraws from reality, adopting nostalgic forms from the comic strip tradition.  The former defamiliarizes, whereas the later one soothes and orients [the implied American reader].

As complements, In the Shadow of No Towers and Shooting War represents responses to trauma-one first-hand, over a short period of time, the second abstracted and extended over time.  As Jimmy Burns states in the beginning of Shooting War, “But that asshole was right about a couple things.  Not all the dime store Hegel, but the part about my stupid blog.  It wasn’t changing shit… I did need action.  I couldn’t shake the rush.  It was like noting I had ever felt.”  Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman underscore the adrenaline-rush call-to-action that many experience after a trauma-the knee jerk reaction to do something.  In the Shadow of No Towers, however, parodies that response-extended over years of tangerine-coded threat levels-to which there is no clear resolution.  In one of his strips, one of his characters admits, “…maybe I really want the world to end, to vindicate the fears I felt back on 9/11!  May it’s just my little world that ended… But then I glance at the news and there’s absolutely no doubt… THE SKY IS FALLING!!!” (9).  Rather than contend with the fact that his world pre-9/11 held a false sense of security, he must (and like many others) go to the other extreme of alarmism instead of realizing that he lives in the same world no more or less safe.  Moreover, In the Shadow of No Towers concludes with “Bringing Up Father,” a comic strip that emphasizes Americans desire for a clear resolution to (even fictional) problems.  It seems that Americans can’t get over that sometimes there is nothing that can be done-that in fact, as the old axiom goes, “Motion should not be confused with action.”  In fact, Shooting War seems to demonstrate this self-deception.  Rather than take ownership over the emotional payoffs of being the center of a media blitz, Jimmy Burns demurs, “I’m a magnet for death; mayhem.”

Syntax and Semantics

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

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

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

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

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

A Lesson in Postmodern Disorder

In “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism” Rachel Adams writes this of her students’ responses to The Crying of Lot 49 and Tropic of Orange:

Their responses caused me to realize that in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Pynchon’s novel [The Crying of Lot 49] has ceased to read as a work of contemporary fiction, even though many critics continue to use postmodern and contemporary as synonymous term.  While my students find Tropic of Orange no less challenging, they are willing to grapple with its difficulties because they recognize its form, which evokes the internet’s polyvocality and time-space compression, and its theme–the human and environmental consequences of transformations taking place at America’s borders-as belonging to their own contemporary moment. (2)

Looking at these texts from an undergraduate pedagogical perspective, this seems to be a fairly onerous lesson.  Even if pairing these two texts together produces a distinction within literary postmodernism, it seems more of a salvage mission than one of intellectual curiosity.  If The Crying of Lot 49 (or any text for that matter) only “works” for those experientially familiar with Cold War paranoia, “nuclear apocalypse, and newfound distrust of a government enmeshes in secrecy and conspiratorial activity” (2) then does it really offer a spring board for scholarly discussion (outside of: This text will inform the other texts we will be reading)?  Is it only possible for students to value the text after they have read a “relatable” contemporary text like Tropic of Orange?  Taking it a step further, are we merely teaching The Crying of Lot 49 for contextual/historical reasons?  Is it possible to make it more relevant to students?

Though I do not disagree with Adams pairing of the two texts, I am curious to whether she believes them to be short-term “cultural capital” or appreciating assets on the road to canonization.  Though either point could be argued, for the purposes of this discussion (as well as arguing for its inclusion in this course), I am more interested in the latter.  Though Adam’s experience with her students initially points to the texts as holding short-term “cultural capital,” this need not be the case.  First and foremost, a reader, even a reader as potentially resistant as a student, must have some sort of connection with a text.  Even if it manages to “generate a more precise understanding of literary postmodernism” (10) that lesson will be lost if it is not more than a simple history lesson.  Therefore, to make The Crying of Lot 49 relevant to an undergrad population, one must have an appropriate framework for discussion.  Adams seems to draw a connection between using The Crying of Lot 49 as a point of entry to discussing Tropic of Orange.  “These novels are an ideal pair because each translates the cultural and political dilemmas of its time into the aesthetic and thematic innovations of narrative fiction.  Any attempt to define what makes Yamashita’s moment distinctive will require different forms of literary, historical knowledge, and attention to emergent sensibilities that break from earlier understanding of ‘the contemporary'” (10).  I think she falls short in using the more remote text to inform the more “relatable” one.  Drawing from Robert Scholes, I would stay she demonstrates “the tendency to follow a line of ‘masterpieces’ until the end, [which] no longer serve their purpose.  It is not simply that the line is too narrow, though it is, but that this material does not reach student effectively because they do not know why they know why they need it. . . To put it simply, we much begin where we are, at the end, and start asking how we got here” (115).  Perhaps, it would be wiser to read the “relatable” Tropic of Orange first. Only then is it possible to spark the intellectual curiosity necessary to take The Crying of Lot 49 to task.

Works Cited

Scholes, Robert.  “A Fortunate Fall.”  Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature. Ed. David H. Richter.  Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994.  111-119.

You haven’t been married, until you’ve been mass-married!

Don Delillo’s Mao II begins with Karen and Kim’s “mass-marriage” in the center of Yankee Stadium. The event, written in present tense (perhaps to maintain resonance through the text), questions the commodification of human relationships and the consequence of this process on the individual. As the couples walk together in lines of two, they enter into a “sacramental” assembly line. The repetition of act devalues the individuality of each union. One party seems completely interchangeable with another. In fact, from the grand stands, parents, mothers and fathers of the brides and grooms, strain to identify their own child in the crowds. Even “[t]hey [the bridal parties] feel the same, young people from fifty countries, immunized against the language of self” (Delillo 8). The individual internalizes this commodification—embracing or surrendering to it.  Moreover, it seems, in many circumstances, it is the individual that improves on it. Though Karen does not immediately return to Unification Church, she continues to consider herself a commodity: “…Didn’t he [Scott] bring me here for you [Bill]?” (84). Her question demonstrates her lack of agency. She did not act, but instead was acted upon. In her mind, she was “gifted” like a toaster or a Saint Bernard.

In like fashion, other characters participate in commodification (self-commodification and the commodification of others). Scott seems unable or unwilling to separate Bill from his identity as a writer. He discourages Bill to publish his most recent creation, because it will mar his image or perhaps more accurately Scott’s image of Bill. Scott feeds Bill’s image, even if it is to the determent of Bill himself. Bill is an object that may be manipulated and controlled. As Mark Osteen points out, the bonds of commodification are strong. Resistance may thrust you even deeper into its grasp: “Like the real-life Thomas Pynchon or the fictional Bucky Wunderlick, his very resistance to celebrity has made him one. Gray now realizes that his isolation has allowed others to manufacture an aura for him larger than he will ever be” (Osteen 649). Any action, a publication or a picture, can damage the soft-focus of his writerly-persona, precisely because of its lines and detail. Scott, electing himself brand-manager, recruits Karen to join in his game. Soon the entire household is a willing participant. As Brita states to Karen, “‘Go back to Scott and stay with him. You people belong together, all three of you. I think it’s a strange and sad way to live in many respects but who am I to say that something is strange and anyway you desperately need each other. I don’t like thinking of Bill being off alone somewhere’”(Delillo 183). Until this point in the text, the characters abstain from commentary. Though all seem to understand that something is going on, that they are a party to something, they are incapable of confronting it. Perhaps it is the postmodern at work, but Delillo offers an observation of a problem and no hint of a solution. The reader must merely observe the happenings.

The Overuse of “Limited” Power

In Kimberly Chabot Davis’s article “‘Postmodern Blackness’: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the End of History,” Henderson claims that the novel “asserts the importance of a ‘mediation between remembering (possession) and forgetting (exorcism)'” (Henderson qtd. in Davis 251). More simply put, Beloved questions the power dynamic between outside forces and the individual’s free will. Though this is not a new question in literature or philosophy, Davis uses this as a springboard for a postmodern reading. She (over)promotes the slipperiness of the text in an effort, I believe, to jump ahead to other (potential) postmodern elements. In the process, she ignores or diminishes the importance of key moments in the text that contradict her perspective.

At first glance, Beloved appears to inhabit the gray space between determinism and existentialism (innovative for a modern text that includes slave narratives). Morrison points to the (at times meager) freedoms that exist within confines without occluding the fact that there are indeed confines. Her protagonist Sethe rejects the traditional either/or logic favoring the unconventional either/or/neither/both or (to borrow a phrase from Eugene Eoyang) “four-cornered logic.” The introduction of this four-cornered logic allows the reader to develop double vision, a perspective which Davis capitalizes on to develop a “blended” postmodern resolution allowing for both and neither determinism and free will. Davis notes “Sethe has limited power to revise or erase the past” (Davis 251). “Limited power” implies that there is indeed an element of free will (existentialism) though it is not without boundaries (determinism). This argument encourages the “slipperiness” or “untidiness” of a postmodern reading.

Though I agree that Beloved is neither overtly deterministic nor overtly existentialist, I find less ambiguity in the text. Morrison notes, “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (Morrison 95). This statement implies both agency and responsibility. While Sethe made a difficult decision, it was a choice for her to make. Moreover, it becomes something she takes ownership of (one could say literally). Though Davis make a point when she notes that the text does not offer obvious directives: “memory also has its costs, resulting often in the reopening-rather than the healing-of old psychic wounds” (Davis 250). Davis (perhaps inadvertently) demonstrates something important about the process. The cost of memory implies something gained from payment. In that case, the “something” seems to be Sethe herself. She goes from “…sadness at the center, the desolated center where the self that was no self made its home… [the] fact was she knew more about them than she knew about herself, having never had the map to discover what she was like” (140) to beginning to accept that she is her own “best thing” (273) at the conclusion of the text. If the self is created through one’s actions, this progression is important. Without choice and action, there can be no self-as there was at the beginning of Sethe’s journey. A self may only be formed though choice and action. Lastly, if the reader agrees to that gain, Sethe’s situation is not futile. The text becomes less slippery, less untidy, and potentially less postmodern.

A Misandristic Proposal

What is the opposite of misogynyMisanthropy?  No, that’s the dislike of humankind in general, rather than the specific dislike of males.  Try again.  Misandry is the word.  As I type it into Microsoft Word and hit the spacebar, it becomes underlined in red.  Misspelled?  Quite possibly.  No, a quick trip to the Oxford English dictionary confirms spelling and definition.  So misandry simply isn’t recognized by Microsoft technology.  It’s unfamiliar.  It’s defamiliar.  Perhaps, this just represents one of many omitted words and names, or maybe it signifies something greater and more telling about (wo)men and technology.  Regardless, it offers point of entry into discussing Joanna Russ’ The Female Man.

Though Russ’ The Female Man can fit into many classifications of literature (e.g. postmodern fiction, science fiction, a feminist work, etc.), I am interested in how it functions as a satire.  At the end of the text, Jael proposes the women (Janet, Jeannine, and Joanna) “do business with [Jael’s] Womanland” (211) and to incorporate women soldiers from each of their individual realities to wage war on the men.  Jeannine and Joanna quickly acquiesce.  Jeannie states, “‘Oh sure, I don’t mind.  You can bring in all the soldiers you want.  You can take the whole place over; I wish you would’” (Russ 211).  The response is pert and off-the-cuff.  Oh sure.  Why not? Well, why not?

Janet, the woman from the all-female Whileaway, alone, resists.  Moreover, she refuses Jael’s retelling of the plague as an act of female aggression.  It is unclear whether this resistance comes from inexperience with males, stupidity, or a more simplistic view of conflict resolution (or perhaps, like Microsoft, Janet does not have a word for this construct).  Still, we don’t know why she would resist or why anyone should resist?  At first glance, it seems perfectly logical.

What’s wrong with a rebalancing of power?  In Jeannine and Joann’s worlds, when woman are not being infantilized by the men in the text, they are being raped or arranging their lives so that they won’t be vulnerable to rape.  Clearly, a master-slave relationship is at work, dominating the women at every opportunity, denying them “adult independence—namely money” (118).  It is only through technology that Whileaway and Womanland the women regain their power.  Why not take this to the next level?

Given the endless possibilities of technology, an inter-dimensional war with men may throw the balance of power in favor of the women.  Most of the characters find that idea fairly attractive.  In fact, Jael’s logic reflects that of an oppressed people made free.  Rather than preach the ills of subjection, the free must, in turn, oppress to maintain their freedom.  Freedom cannot exist without oppression; oppression cannot exist without freedom.  On second glance, it simply replaces one societal ill with another: misandry with misogyny.  So what’s the point of this exercise?  By promoting misandry, The Female Man would undercut all its previous points about the master-slave power in male-female relations.  But it doesn’t just do that.  Misandry defamiliarizes misogyny.  It gives us a new word, a new point of reference, a new context to highlight an old referential.

When one does not know what it is, then it is something; but when one knows what it is, then it is nothing.

In the humanities and sciences, the role of the analogy has always been an important one.   Integral to religion, mathematics, literature, and the Law, is it any surprise that the good folks at Educational Testing Service (ETS) spend a great deal of time and effort composing the analogy section of the GREs?  If anything, most of postbaccalaureate education seems to be the fine act of making and understanding relations/hips.  Of course, it has been said by those recently privy to the experience:  ETS takes it to a new level.  Perhaps they have Mark Z. Danielewski on retainer.

Mark Z. Danielewski  relies heavily on analogies to provide meaning and structure within the text.  This is neither a new or innovative device in and of itself.  What I’m struck by is not how many connections seem to be present in the text (through the benefit of the footnotes, appendices, etc.)  but how many of those connections are incredibly complex or just slightly irregular.  Though he cites Derrida (111-113), Danielewski seems to move beyond simple binary oppositions.  His pairings play with ideas that aren’t quite opposites or synonyms.  Sometimes they may be from the genus, but their relationship is distinct and often tenuous.  This produces a fun house effect in some places, pause for thought in others, and still others simply fall flat.

Though they may not be central to the text as a whole (but then again it may, wait and see), I keep returning to the appearance of riddles and jokes in the text.   Chapter IV discusses the issue at length, even going so far to quote from a fictional source.  “Riddles:   they either delight or torment… It’s beneficial to consider the origins of ‘riddle.’  The Old English rœdelse means ‘opinion, conjure’ which is related to the Old English rœdon ‘to interpret’ in turn belong to the same etymological history of ‘read.'” (33).   Riddles require reasoning and interpreting, and (not unlike the analogy section of the GRE) may be ultimately unknowable.  Riddles become the object of tension, jokes the release of that tension.  But that is not to say that jokes are diametrically opposed to riddles.  Jokes may also delight or torment.  In the cold hallways of the house, Tom begins telling joke after joke to alleviate the tension of being alone or potentially alone in the company of a Monster.  The punch lines of his jokes rely on making connections between two different things; like riddles, they require reason and deduction to make that jump.  Tom may entertain himself with these stories, but what does it signify that he addresses them to “Mr. Monster”?  Does it mean anything that there may be a creature present without the ability to reason in the same sense Tom can?  In that circumstance, do his jokes become riddles?  What does it mean if this Monster can get his jokes?

When one does not know what it is, then it is something; but when one knows what it is, then it is nothing.   What is it[1]


[1] Answer: A Riddle

2 A Monster

ISO Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin

When approaching a text as markedly enigmatic as House of Leaves, I am reminded of a climatic moment from “A Christmas Story.”   To set scene, we find Ralphie racing into his parents home, package in hand.  After weeks of fastidiously checking the mail, it (finally!) arrives. The Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin.  Ralphie, rapt with anticipation at the prospect of decoding his first Orphan Annie secret message, scurries up the stairs of his parents’ home to lock himself away in the bathroom.  He will need complete solace to complete the serious task at hand. 

It could be said that reading House of Leaves requires a similar form of dedicated concentration and blind enthusiasm.  79 pages into the book there’s no telling what the message will be or if the efforts will be worthwhile.  The dual texts intersect at (seemingly) random times, interrupting each other with hiccups, rants, and footnotes.  The two narratives differ in tone, the former a confessional, the latter a journalistic/scholarly voice.  In conjunction with the introduction, the layering of the two voices manages to both undermine and augment the authenticity of the story.  The fact and fiction are used interchangeably, ad nauseum.  Danielewski invents various citations, placing them alongside of actual documents.  At one point in the text he quotes from Borges’ “Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote.”  To this he appends another citation, citing Menard as if he were an actual person [he is not].  He then compares the real quotation with the faux one in an effort to support Zampanò’s echo theory.  How are we to read this occurrence?[1]  Is the reader to suspend belief throughout, marry fact and fiction and trust that the author will provide the tools necessary to digest the text?  Or is the reader to look to points such as these and use them as evidence to dismiss/ignore the echo theory?  Or does the author assume that the reader won’t recognize the inconsistency or, if he does, won’t place any importance on it?  At this point in the text, there’s no way to know what the right answer is, instead we must pick a path and move forward.  If we are wrong, we can only hope that the desire to understand the text fully will compel us to revisit it.  As Borges notes, “Besides, rereading, not reading, is what counts.”[2]   

But will we reread?  Given where we are at page 79, we must admit the potential necessity.  Are the narratives compelling enough to revisit concomitantly or will we find ourselves skimming through passages looking for breadcrumbs?  Will we end up scouring the internet in attempt to circumnavigate a tiresome task?  Or will we find the drive to master the text, embracing it fully, perhaps even creating our own footnotes and appendices?  Or, like Ralphie, will all our efforts be repaid by a simple:  “Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine”?        


[1] Must we send away for a Secret Society Decoder Pin?

[2] Borges, Jorge.  “A Weary Man’s Utopia.”  The Book of Sand and Shakespeare’s Memory.  Trans. Andrew Hurley.  New York: Penguin, 2007

The Color of Battleships

The Color of Battleships: Racial Identity in The Lathe of Heaven

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven confronts the “problem” of racial identity and the implications of, what Toni Morrison terms, the “deliberateness of the construction, the conscious necessity for establishing difference” (Morrison 39). Le Guin uses two methods of exploration. First she intentionally racializes her characters, calling into question the role of racial appearance on perceived identity. Le Guin offers focused descriptions of George Orr from the perspective of both Dr. Haber and Heather Lelache. Haber describes George Orr as having “Light hair and eyes, a short, slight, fair man, slightly undernourished, good health, twenty-eight to thirty-two. Unaggressive, placid, milquetoast, repressed, conventional” (Le Guin 7). Heather Lelache, the “Black Widow” (42), finds him “A born victim. Hair like a little girl’s, brown and fine, little blond beard soft white skin like a fish’s belly; meek, mild, stuttering” (42). In both instances, Le Guin marries the physical/racial with the psychological/emotional. This marriage leaves the reader to ask: how much does race have to do with who we are and how we are perceived? How much does race have to do with identity?

To answer this question, Le Guin proposes a universe that “undoes” this racial construction. Dr. Haber suggests that there should be “no more color problems. No more questions of race” (129). Consequently, human beings become gray, “the color of battleships” (130). With memories of both worlds, Orr struggles to integrate his ideas of a racial identity with a non-racial world. He notes, “That’s why she [Heather]’s not there… She could not have been born gray. Her color, her color of brown, was an essential part of her, not an accident. Her anger, timidity, brashness, gentleness, all were elements of her mixed being, her mixed nature, dark and clear right through, like Baltic amber. She could not exist in the gray people’s world. She had not been born” (130). Orr feels that race is essential to Heather’s identity or his perception of her identity. Resigned to this new world without Heather, George encounters the arrest of a short man for the crime of cancer. Instead of racial persecution, disease is “other.” By doing so, Le Guin emphasizes the metaphorical implications of race as a “way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic then biological ‘race’ ever was” (Morrison 63). To demonstrate this point, disease and race become interchangeable. Just as one can produce a racial identity, so can one produce one based on a particular illness or good health. These identities are not inherently evil; rather, suffering comes from the appropriation and misuse of these identities to create difference.

Le Guin depicts racial identity as something that gives human beings shade and dimension. To further emphasize this point, Orr compares the racialized Heather to the gray one: “His wife had been a gray person, a far gentler person than this one… This Heather carried a big black handbag with a brass snap, and probably a half pint of brandy inside; she came on hard. He wife had been unaggressive and, though courageous, timid in manner. This was not his wife, but a fiercer woman, vivid and difficult” (182). Like Morrison, Le Guin finds race as an asset rather than a detriment. Racial diversity allows for a “deeper, richer, more complex life than the sanitized one commonly presented to us” (Morrison 66).

Works Cited

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Lathe of Heaven. New York: Scribner, 1971.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark. New York: Random House, 1992.

Hassan’s “rhetoric of dismissal”

Reflecting on Ihab Hassan’s “POSTmodernISM,” I am struck by one (seemly) vital difference between modernist and postmodern literature. In modernist literature, language (in the sense of word choice and syntax), integral to the core of the work, directs the form (e.g. Joyce’s Ulysses). However, postmodern works employ different architectural processes for “attaining such an aesthetic” (Hassan 16). Is this, as “some profound philosophic minds of our century” (15) suggest, “the disease of verbal systems” (15), a reflective condition of deterioration achieved by creating texts in a new way and using old rules to analyze them? Clearly, Hassan’s “rhetoric of dismissal” (9) is easy to achieve, but what does it mean?

A. The Fad. In the case of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease,” the success of the story is contingent on punctuation and symbols. Printed in standard typography, the story would, in effect, disabled. Instead, the punctuation and symbols take on the function of language. Is it likely that we are to see more stories of this kind, that it will be a new movement in literature? Or will this too “quietly go away” (9)?

B. The Old Story. Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” uses another effect to stand in for language: shock value (a combination of “dehumanization” (19) and “antinomianism” (21)). DeLillo employs (to borrow from Professor Sample) “cartoonish violence” as both a structural support and to facilitate movement in the text. Censored even in the most basic way, there would be little to nothing left of the plot, characterization, etc. in the same fashion as a Quentin Tarantino film “edited for tv.”

C. The Safe Version. Jonathan Lethem’s “Super Goat Man,” like the two previous pieces, adopts another type of structural support: the insertion of the strange and unusual, treated as ordinary. This technique is not new, but the emphasis put upon it to carry the story is. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” offers as an excellent modernist (though this label could be debated) point of reference. Though Kafka employs a similar device, he adjusts the syntax of his sentences, often reversing the places of the direct object and the verb to further defamiliarize the reader. Lethem seems to make no effort to tinker with the language, instead relies wholly on the “oddity” of a superhero to do most of the work for the story.

D. The Newspeak of Art. Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” marries the “strange and unusual” with an eccentric main character. She returns to old method of storytelling. She relies on language, demonstrating the contingencies of identity by adjusting the main character’s name. At times, the story seems both “conventional” (9) and “innovative” (10). Whether this serves as refreshment or irritation is contingent on the reader.

Though it may seem unfair to apply the rules of the old system (aka “rhetoric of dismissal”) to new works, this phenomena is neither new nor game-changing. For as literature changes, there will always be older (and yes, at times, antiquated or cultured) points of comparison (as was it for the Victorian writers, the realist and naturalist, and the modernist to name a recent few). And as time goes on, new works continue to be baptized and welcomed into the canon. This “cruel” vetting process seems, as Hassan observes, to be more endemic to the change itself than the quality or the “lasting power” of a particular literary movement, technique, or device.