People of Paper

Sorry if this is a little late.

The People of Paper tackles the age-old book themes of sorrow and loss.  Unlike most derivative writing that deals with these ideas, Plascencia presents them in a fresh, innovative, and often comical way.  After reading some of the posts, I found that most people were surprised with the subject material in People of Paper, and their expectations where changed when reading it.  I feel the same.  Sorrow and loss are certainly not new themes in novels, yet they are far from becoming passé; there is always something to say about sorrow.  To discover this postmodern novel focusing on such recurrent topics, while employing new strategies in its presentation, made for a very interesting read, and I would agree that People of Paper is one of the most interesting novels we’ve read this semester.   I would like to focus on these themes and how they are handled in the novel. 

Frederico’s bed wetting problem served as a hilarious catalyst for Mercde leaving him.  Though it is under a ridiculous circumstance, I know of no woman who would stay with a lover in spite of such a problem, thus the bed-wetting is funny yet true.   Frederico’s self-mutilation is handled in such a way that makes the violent act seem absurd and, coincidently, heartbreaking.  Frederico’s maiming of himself may seem far-fetched, but I think it is pulled off well with the magical realism that Plascencia creates in the novel.   But the most absurd comes when Froggy adopts an Oaxacan Songbird and chooses to listen to its loud calls to deal with the pain of Sandra leaving him.  The curandero gives Froggy the bird as an escape to his distress and loneliness. 

The idea of escapism is interesting and has been touched on in the posts.  Just how Frederico, Froggy, and others escape their loss through pain, Saturn, who turns out to be a character named Salvador Plascencia, escapes his loss by creating these self-mutilating characters.  This part of the book I found strange and startling but also very interesting.  I like the idea of the writer putting himself so freely and to the forefront of the text that deals with loss.  I’ve read many novels that tackle this subject matter (there seems to be at least a tinge of this idea in at least all of them) and I’ve always felt that there is some sort of cathartic process going on, like the writer is putting his characters through loss and pain in order to deal with his own.  I think that Plascencia recognizes this and thus puts himself right in the text, like he is saying that he is dealing with it just like his characters, as if he is beating us to the punch.  

Terrorism Vs. The Great Novel

I want to apologize for this late post.  I know some of these topics were discussed on Wednesday and some were exhausted but I would like to contribute some of my thoughts.   I thought that Mao II was one of the most interesting novels we have read so far and the most representative of what postmodernism is. 

Terrorism and its portrayal in the media is such a striking theme in Mao II.  Terrorism played such a prominent role, not only forming the novel’s plot, but also in influencing our society’s reception of art and stimulation.  The shift from traditional art, i.e. paintings, sculptures, novels, etc., to the media oriented “art” is an overarching theme of Mao II and a symptom of postmodernism.  I thought Delillo’s execution of this idea is insightful and impeccable, given that terrorism has become central to today’s media coverage.  I first thought that terrorism stood in as a metaphor for the utopian tendency to conform culture into a uniform society by way of unrealistic ideals.   I think Delillo is certainly suggesting that but I also think that terrorism is literally used as a social and cultural pervading revolution, no matter how disturbing and repulsive it may be, and that is pulling social thought away from traditional art and into a stimulated society.  People react to terrorism portrayed on the news more readily than say that of a novel.  The horror of terrorism overshadows whatever emotion tied with traditional art.   On page 200, Bill is thinking about the conversation he had with George on the terrorists, “When you inflict punishment on the innocent, you began to empty the world of meaning…replacing real things with plot and fiction.  One fiction taking the world narrowly into itself.”  This One fiction of the terrorist is recognizable as the utopian ideas that are wrapped up with modernism and other nonpostmodern ideas.  Bill sees this revolution as a form of subversion and a threat to the art that he represents.  However, at the same time I found that the terrorist achieve what postmodernists see as the end of the great novel and the beginning of the new media, the only force capable of changing social thought and beliefs – the revolution will be televised. 

Bill’s unfinished book is another aspect of Mao II that struck me as a poignant signal of postmodernism.  Bill is the reclusive writer, which as we discussed in class is a cliché.  Bill tries to separate himself from the society of spectacle, or the mass mind of today’s culture, but ultimately fails.  His book remains unfinished and modernism dies or at least stays unfinished.

I found the change of occupation for Brita to be the saddest point in the novel.  She has abandoned her work of photographing writers for the oversaturated and over stimulated culture of war correspondence and other bloated forms of media exemplifies the postmodern theme of Mao II.  She travels to Beirut to photograph the terrorist after Bill fails to communicate with them.  The irony of this scene is striking.  Brita accepts that the terrorist have replaced the writer, the traditional artist.  On page 229, “She does not photograph writers anymore.  It stopped making sense.”  Terrorism and new media have replaced the artist and have become the new art.  

Either dream of world peace OR turtles from outer space

I also thought that Le Guin was nudging the concept of either/or with George’s personality and obviously his name. The first thing I thought of with the logical concept of either/ or is the Elliott Smith record (note a very postmodern pop culture reference), the other is Kierkegaard’s philosophical doctrine; the latter I think has a little more weight in this discussion so I’ll think I’ll pursue it. I don’t know too much about Kierkegaard but I know he typically wrote about concepts like fear and dread and doubt of religion. I searched Wikipedia for Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and found that the “Either” side of his argument is a worldview that adopts a purely aesthetic lifestyle such as drinking, casual sex, vanity, and any other indulgencies that satisfy the self. The “Or” side of the argument, which is given by a judge, purposes that in the later stages of life one adopts an ethical lifestyle, one that acts responsibly and morally. The doctrine attempts to answer Aristotle’s question “How should we live?” which I thought to be the question Le Guin purposes to the characters of The Lathe of Heaven.

Dr. Haber is an aggressive man but not evil; it is repeated several times, even by George, that he is benevolent: one page 83 “Haber wanted to make the world better for humanity.” However, Haber’s idea of “How should we live?” is presumptuous. He thinks that his idea of a world will be good for the people, but George knows that no one can possibly be responsible enough to make a decision that will affect everyone. George disproves Haber’s snake bit analogy by arguing that no man can make a decision for all of mankind: on page 156 George says, “Just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough. You have to be…in touch. Haber isn’t in touch…means are all we’ve got…he can’t let be.” And on page 140 George says to Haber, “We’re in the world, not against it. It doesn’t work to try to stand outside things and run them that way…the world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be (one of several Beatles references).” In reference to Kierkegaard’s book, George Orr represents the ethical side in his decision to try and stop dreaming and stop Haber’s dream suggestions, hence the name – Orr.

I don’t think George is merely average and timid. I think that his discourse with Haber in chapters 6 and especially chapters 9 and 10 shows that George is really contemplating this power and showing the flaws in Haber’s dream suggestions. He is living in a world that is pulling him one way or the other, either with Haber’s ideology or Heather’s assertiveness. His passivity is certainly there, but it is marked by intelligence (most likely an average person with this ability would make his life not average).

I also had trouble seeing this text as postmodern when it had prevailing science fiction themes. But I think that the altercation of reality by George’s dreams is consistent with Postmodernism’s critique of reality. Portland is constantly morphing yet no one seems to question this bizarre reality, except George. The question of what is reality is brought into question which Postmodern text attempts to ask. Also, Harvey brings up the connection between postmodernism and science fiction in his essay, “The boundary between fiction and science fiction has dissolved, while postmodernist characters often seem confused as to which they are in, and how they should act with respect to it.” If anyone is confused in what world they live in it is George Orr.

Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 and Entropy

The Crying of Lot 49 has a plethora of information that was just as confusing to me as it was to Oedpia. But I think this was intentional on Pynchon’s part. Oedpia pursues clues and information that appear to be connected, but when looked at from an objective viewpoint, these connections are arbitrary and only bring up more questions with indefinite answers.

Entropy is symbolic and used in a broader sense than just the explanation of Maxwell’s Demon. Oedpia is constantly getting clues to the mystery of the Trystero. There are loosely connected clues that Oedpia encounters throughout the story, but one that really grabbed me was what leads her to Nefastis’s perpetual motion machine and its relevance to Trystero. This is completely arbitrary. Koteks is merely sketching the muted post horn on a piece of paper when she walks by and he tells her the story of Maxwell’s Demon and Nefastis’s machine. Oedpia takes this to be some sort of clue and seeks Nefastis out. When she meets him, Nefastis says, “Entropy is a metaphor, It connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow” (85). I vaguely know what entropy is from merely the text and Wikipedia, so I spoke with my roommate, who is majoring in physics, and he tried to explain it to me a little better. He said that entropy is an actual measurable quantity in physics. The idea is that in a closed system, things tend to degrade into chaos. Without any force or loss in a system, that system cannot function (He gave an example of a boiling pot of water with the lid on and how the tendency is for the energy in the pot to push the lid off and escape). I think this idea is a prevailing one in the text, and entropy is used in terms of information and culture. All the information that Oedpia encounters during her journey in California does not fit together like she hopes. One thing leads to another and so on, and Oedpia becomes obsessive in solving this apparent mystery. While Oedpia is experiencing culture in 1960s California, she is trying to make sense of the world around her, or should I say, the world that seems to be hidden from her, but draws no logical conclusion. When Oedpia tries to formulate a conclusion and, seeing that the further she goes the more confusing things become, she loses the aspects of her life that were orderly and she becomes detached and paranoid: “They are stripping from me – she said subvocally – feeling like a fluttering curtain in a very high window, moving up to then out over the abyss – they are stripping away, one by one, my men” (126). In chapter 6 we really see her lose it as she wonders back to The Scope and her hotel started and meets with Mike Fallopian and Genghis Cohen again. The world that Pynchon created has caused Oedpia to descend into chaos.

Crying of Lot 49 is obviously more than a commentary on the monopoly of the postal service. It’s clear that Pynchon is making a greater point. Crying of Lot 49 is considered one of the definitive postmodern novels, and I think I’ll take a stab at the reason why. COL49 is reflective of the 60s culture of the time – music, drugs, promiscuity, and rebellion of authority – all these things are inherent in the plot (and rather cleverly mocked at). Elements of mystery, pop culture, history, counterculture, and science are combined in COL49 to form a pastiche, which is a symptom of postmodernism. Culture is mirrored and satirized in the text while realism is ignored in order to exaggerate culture. That’s the most I can make out of it for now.

Overall I enjoyed the novel and thought it had some fantastic sentences, like this one: “I am the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming from my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also” (62). With such a dense novel in so few pages it is obvious that Pynchon is smart, but with outbursts like this he also has a sense of humor.

On Lethem, DeLillo, Hassan, and Cage

I was excited to see that Jonathan Lethem was one of the included authors in the download. I had read Lethem before but only his non fiction, an essay entitled “The Ecstasy of Influence” which appeared in an issue of Harpers. The essay was so well written and convincing that I read it twice in one sitting, which is a rare occasion considering my short attention span. “Super Goat Man” was just as engaging. I thought the story had great blend of fantasy and reality, which I suppose is indicative of a postmodern story. Super Goat Man is not revered by the youth like the other grandiose superheroes; instead he is small time, which I think adds a bit of reality into the plot, making Super Goat Man more of a human. The narrator’s parent generation embraces Super Goat Man for his rejection of pedestrian life, as Everett says in the opening paragraphs, “It was our dads who cared.” This was a facet of the story that I found interesting. Everett disliked Small Goat Man, and also it seemed to me that he disliked his father for his interest in the minor hero. It bewildered Everett that his father and Super Goat Man had so much in common. His detest for this connection comes at the end, “I knew that my loathing had its origins in an even deeper place, in the mind of a child wondering at his father’s own susceptibility to the notion of a hero.” From the hippy parties to Jazz music, Super Goat Man is the hero of the past, a hero that is unrecognizable in Everett’s generation. Furthermore, I thought the element of Jazz was metaphorical for its association to Super Goat Man and Everett’s father. Everett has little interest in it, as if Jazz is passé for Everett’s generation.

Don DeLillo’s story was difficult to digest, not just for the grotesque killing scenes, but also the barely there plot. There story didn’t seem to be heading in any sort of direction, but only to show the depravity of the terrorists. Jean Claude describes the War uniforms shown in film, claiming that uniforms from the civil war are connected to success. Color and personality are encouraged. “We will shoot in color because color is the color of childhood fantasy.” The terrorists’ uniforms reflect Jean Claude’s argument; they are motley dressed with various styles that even exceed cultural boundaries. I could possibly infer from this that the consumerist culture, which is today’s culture, embraces personality and color, bears the new uniform and it is this uniform that cloaks the depravity of DeLillo’s terrorists. This sounds like total bs but it’s the only thing I managed to pull from the story.

I agree with Alana’s post that the typography and position of the text have an impact on the Cage and Hassan essays as well as the content, and that it influences the reader’s perception of the essays without even having read the words. From what I’ve seen, this tactic seems to be a reoccurring one in postmodern literature.