The Frequency is Courage!

Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War was humorous, entertaining, but also informative and politically charged.  The graphic novel seems to revolve around the issue of media manipulation.  At the center, Jimmy Burns finds himself blogging politically charged journalism,  field reporting, and dodging rocket-propelled grenades all at once.  Initially seen as a maverick of sorts capable of penetrating the political agendas, Jimmy Burns and his camera become tools of manipulation for various ‘parties’: terrorists and the sensationalist American media.  Shooting War seems to be commenting on the dangerous powers of instant media outlets.  The graphic novel brings to mind Don DeLillo’s Mao II and the manipulative power of images.  It is suggested that Brita’s photography might be turned into a political tool used by Bill Gray (or at least he initially intended to use his photograph) and Abu Rashid, but Brita demonstrates that the image can be used by any person or party (she ‘claims’ the child terrorist by removing of his hood and taking his picture).  In Shooting War, we see a similar trend: Jimmy Burns is used by both terrorists and media outlets like CNN.

Visually, Shooting War is equally intriguing, mixing drawings and real photography.  I think one of the most interesting illustrations done by Dan Goldman is the convoy ambush scene (sorry, no page numbers).  We enter the point-of-view of an American soldier through his tactical mask.  If you have ever played a ‘first-person shooter’ video game, the layout is very similar.  Later, we see another connection between video games and warfare with the mobile robot guns controlled by ‘gamers’ of the ’10th Infantry Division, Remote Battlefield Operations’.

Side Note:

I thought the inclusion of Dan Rather was hilarious, and apparently, “The frequency is courage” is a reference to a 1986 mugging of Rather by a man who said to him “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” which has become somewhat of an inside joke for pop culture.

On a completely unrelated note, I was watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” [#2.18, Up the Long Ladder] (…Yes, I’m a dork…), and I found quite a postmodern twist in the episode: Picard and his crew come across a planet with two near-extinct societies (Bringloidi and Mariposan).  The Bringloidi are a pre-modern, agricultural community, and the Mariposans are a technologically superior society who have stricken sexual reproduction from their way of life; they have survived only through generational cloning.  They are nearing extinction, however, due to ‘replicative fading’, which reminded me of the essay we read from Jean Baudrillard (‘Simulacra and Simulation’) earlier this semester.  The colony’s clonal replication has become reductive: each subsequent copy of a copy becoming less defined, more incomplete, and eventually fatal.  The solution was to merge the pre-modern Bringloidi with the Mariposans to ‘replenish’ the DNA pool.

“Under the wreckage, the whole town was crushed, the mighty Samson among them.”

Never before (or after) was a haircut so disastrous…

In the Book of Judges (13-16), the story of Samson unfolds, and this story is all too familiar for nearly everyone in The People of Paper: a man, weakened by the seductive powers of a woman, meets his demise.

As a Nazarite, God has given Samson superhuman strength, which he used to defeat the Philistines on numerous occasions, killing thousands along the way.   Samson’s story in Judges 13-16 plays out like a see-saw of revenge between him and the Philistines.  Twice Samson experienced a woman’s betrayal, the latter resulting in his demise.  Samson’s wife, Delilah, assisted the Philistines in defeating him.  By cutting his hair, Samson’s agreement as Nazarite was broken, and as a result, “the Lord had left him” (Judg. 16.20).  With Samson’s power lost, he was taken into custody by the Philistines, and (long story short) he was brought in front of their Kings and harassed: “they made him entertain them and made him stand between the columns” (Judg. 16.24-25).

A tactical error, however, was made by the Philistines; they allowed Samson’s hair to grow back, allowing him to recuperate the Lord’s strength, and…well…Samson was pissed:

So Samson took hold of the two middle columns holding up the building.  Putting one hand on each column, he pushed against them and shouted, “Let me die with the Philistines!”  He pushed with all his might, and the building fell down on the five [Philistine] kings and everyone else.  Samson killed more people at his death than he had killed during his life. (Judg. 16.29-30)

Salvador Plascencia uses Samson’s story in the final chapter of The People of Paper.  He likens Saturn (or Sal or Himself?) to Samson: a man with superhuman strength brought down by the woman he loves.  In both cases, love for a woman turns on itself, acting as a smokescreen for the uprising of the newly strengthened masses (Philistines/EMF).  As Samson loses his superhuman strength, Saturn’s control over his own story slips from his grasp.  Saturn’s authorial voice is absorbed, and the book’s characters take control (note: chapter fifteen (one of the numerous ‘columned’ chapters) begins with Saturn’s column blank for three pages).

The structure of the book’s final chapter demonstrates the ultimate showdown between Saturn and his characters.  Literally nineteen different voices collide, competing for the book’s authorship and (perhaps most importantly) the book’s final word.  Like Samson, however, Saturn ‘prevailed’.  Samson found renewed strength in capillary regrowth, and Saturn’s body “adapted” to the sadness of his lost love, allowing him “to summon enough strength to press against the columns” (242).  At last, “[o]nce the first support was down the others were easily tipped, all the columns falling, giving Saturn full control of the story” and subsequently the last word (242); appropriately, that last word is “sadness”.

As a reader, we witness this battle between author and his subjects, but whom are we to support?  In the final chapter, Rita Hayworth complicates this question:

It is Delilah who is the hero, the one who brings the brute down.  Avenging the deaths of the thousands he killed.  Standing up for the Philistine people and the tender skin of their cocks. (235)

But in what light are we supposed to view Rita Hayworth?  She forsook her lettuce pickers, substituting the new for the old.  Come to think of it, much of the novel is about substitution: old, lost loves are replaced by newer ones.  Just about all of the characters in this book participate in some kind of substitution, and so the big questions that I’m not quite ready to answer are: Do these substitutions work?  Do they provide workable alternatives?  Can the broken-hearted ever heal or, at the very least, manage the weight of their losses?

I’m not sure.

One last note of interest: Although Saturn ‘succeeds’ in taking back his story, eliminating the other authorial voices, the final paragraph suggests he has not truly regained power:

Together [Federico de la Fe and Little Merced] walked out of their stucco, through the softest of all lawns, and Little Merced, who still stunk of dead fish, raised her parasol, shading her and her father.  They walked south and off the page, leaving no footprints that Saturn could track.  There would be no sequel to the sadness. (245)

Saturn can no longer contain the characters within the borders of the page.  Without Federico de la Fe and Little Merced, Saturn cannot write a sequel.   The story ends not because the author has chosen to end it, but because he has lost the power to extend it.  Perhaps this echoes Samson’s story.  He must sacrifice himself to kill the Philistines: “Under the wreckage, the whole town was crushed, the mighty Samson among them” (234).

Enjoy:

Grateful Dead’s “Samson and Delilah”

Tropicana of Orange

Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange seems to me a smorgasbord of postmodernism qualities: shifting point of view, issues in globalization and consumerism, media saturation, a mixture of genres (magical realism, film noir, disaster fiction, etc.).  Indeed, as I read Tropic of Orange, a number of other texts came to mind.

It was one of those days when [Emi] just felt like a little adrenaline high for real-life horror.  Maybe because it was disaster week.  So far she had been to a fire, to the scene of a robbery, and had chased the NewsNow van chasing cops involved in a two-hour car chase that started in Burbank and ended up in Whittier.  But the thought of seeing mangled bodies in a car wreck suddenly churned about in her stomach.  She could always see it on TV.

Perhaps it is becuase we just read Mao II not too long ago, but this passage (and many others in the novel) feels like it could be in one of Don DeLillo’s novels.  The idea of this ultra-saturation in media; Emi has an obsession with disaster footage like Mao II‘s Karen.Yamashita’s dialogue also feels a bit DeLillo-ian with its peculiar wit and humor.

Tropic of Orange‘s structure reminded me of another American author often associated with postmodernism (also female, also a minority [Native American]).  Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine is told through many different characters, whose stories and lives collide and contest with one another.  Like Yamashita, Erdrich also employs elements of folklore and magical realism.

Side note: In the spirit of disaster oranges, I heard about this recent product marketing debacle from a friend.  Earlier this year, Tropicana changed their ‘classic’ straw-in-orange  logo to a new image.  Tropicana enthusiasts, however, were not so pleased with the new look, and Tropicana saw a substantial drop in sales over only a matter of months.  One of the popular reasons for the mass- disapproval was that the carton looks ‘cheap,’ too much like the generic-food brands.  Consumers said that they might as well buy the generic orange juice if their Tropicana was going to look generic itself.  Subsequently, Tropicana has decided to bring back their classic carton design.  I chuckled when I heard the story.  Has the consumer gone from buying food because it tastes good to buying food because its container looks good?  Has the image of the orange juice surpassed the juice itself?  I think we can attribute some of this to a nostalgic demand.  I thought this was a tiny bit postmodern and appropriately orange.  I only hope McDonald’s doesn’t decide to freshen up their logo…we could be looking at World War III.

The Real Disaster Orange
The Real Disaster Orange

Reconfiguring the Past

Well, it is very late, and I am wondering why it has taken me so long to come up with something to write about concerning Toni Morrison’s Beloved.  Perhaps, it has something to do with not actually liking the novel that much.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a fine literary achievement, but for some reason it doesn’t “strike a chord” with me (but I will leave my personal taste out of this discussion).

More importantly, I am struggling with the postmodern-ness of the novel (and of Toni Morrison in general).  So it is a relief to see that as a class, we seem to be struggling together.  I keep trying to find a postmodern entry into this novel but have found little success, and so my last resort is to attempt to situate Beloved with the other postmodern texts we have read up to this point.  Obviously, this is no walk in the park either…but I did find one thing that could prove useful, but could also prove worthless.

In Kimberly Chabot Davis’ essay “Postmodern Blackness,” she discusses the interaction between past and present in Morrison’s Beloved:

One way to free oneself from the horrors of the past is to reenact and reconfigure the past in the present, as Sethe does with an icepick at the end of the novel, attacking not her own children this time but the white man Bodwin, whom she perceives as a reincarnation of her slave master Schoolteacher. (251)

Could we not consider this idea (reconfiguring the past in the present) in terms of Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven?  I believe a comparison with Le Guin’s novel depends on how one reads the ending of Beloved.  As Davis explains, some critics see the ending as a positive resolution; however, Davis “find[s] that the last chapter denies such a simplistic closure.  Morrison ends the novel with the word “Beloved,” suggesting that the past is a lasting presence, waiting to be resurrected. […] Although the ending suggests partial healing, the spectre of the past reamins, waiting to resurface” (251).

To reinforce her claims, Davis turns to Hutcheon who I think can be used also to consider The Lathe of Heaven:

the past is not something to be escaped, avoided, or controlled. . . the past is something with which we must come to terms and such a confrontation involves an acknowledgment of limitation as well as power. (251)

So to try to pull this shaky argument together: Sethe’s icepick maneuver is comparable to the chaotic ending of Dr. Haber’s effective dream in The Lathe of Heaven.  These resolutions are not perfect.  Instead, the endings demonstrate an “acknowledgment of limitation”: Sethe cannot erase the past by stabbing someone with an icepick, and Dr. Haber cannot alter the wrongs of the past by changing the world’s present condition (Note: his attempt to do so results in chaos.  Had it not been for George reaching the “off” switch, the world would have been staring into the eye of an apocalyptic disaster.)

Alternatively, both novels demonstrate the failing attempts to reconfigure the past through the present: Beloved in terms of a personal, familial past and The Lathe Heaven in terms of a broader world history.

Well what exactly does all of this tell me?  By placing Beloved alongside a postmodern text, can a claim of postmodernism be made for Morrison’s novel?  I’m not sure.  As was stated in Davis’s essay, Beloved‘s ending can be read several different ways.  If we read the ending as a positive resolution, then I can see the case being made against a postmodernist reading.  Either way, a comparison between the two novels certainly raises questions about the reconfiguration of the past through the present, and whether or not this can be achieved.

Transitioning from Danielewski to Russ

So, I’m relaxing over spring break, recovering from the marathon that was Danielewski’s House of Leaves (thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless), and I start in on Joanna Russ’ The Female Man.  After having finished the novel (shall we call it a novel?) a week later, I reflect.  At times I thought the book was brilliant; the subversion of the science fiction, manipulating the genre to fit what she was trying to address on the feminist ‘front’, was outstanding.  The Faulknerian use of stream of consciousness and first-person narration is also commendable.  But then there were parts of the novel that became burdensome for me; in other words, at a certain point, I felt like the book’s entire discussion (the question of a woman’s role/freedom/right [I hesitate to provide a label for fear of a Jael-like counterattack] in the world) became repetitive; and I would guess if you go searching for criticism against The Female Man you might find a similar complaint somewhere…

…but really you don’t have to look any further than the book itself:

Shrill . . . vituperative . . . no concern for the future of society . . . maunderings of antiquated feminism . . . selfish femlib . . . need a good lay . . . this shapeless book . . . of course a calm and objective discussion is beyond . . . twisted, neurotic . . . some truth buried in a largely hysterical . . . [and so on and so forth]. (140-41)

Within the book, Joanna Russ has provided the reader with criticism for the book: The Female Man is its own worst critic.  What does this tell us about Joanna Russ and her intentions?  Is she mocking these critical voices; drawing attention to the very biases that they reinforce?  Is this critical inclusion a form of self-deprecation of her novel?  Is it a little bit of both?

Whatever answers we might conclude to these questions, this section of the book got me thinking about Danielewski.  Of course, after three weeks of House of Leaves, we are all familiar with Danielewski’s tactics, his self-proclaimed preemptive strike against any form of literary criticism, or any attempt to disassemble the book.  I’m not necessarily suggesting that Joanna Russ was trying to actively prevent criticism like Danielewski is, but she is certainly anticipating responses towards the book.

With House of Leaves already in the discussion, I also thought of another interesting comparison between the two authors.  With the construction of numerous levels of ‘authorship’ (i.e. Zampano and Johnny Truant), Danielewski effectively ‘distances’ himself from the text.  Conversely, Joanna Russ eliminates any separation between her and The Female Man by identifying herself in the book as both character and author, crossing the conventional line between author and text.  I wonder what this accomplishes for the book.  As the ‘1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world’, what can we say about The Female Man Joanna and the author Joanna?  I’m thinking it’s important to remember that  she is only one of the four female ‘representations’ in the book.

…As you can tell, this book has left me with more questions than it has provided answers.

Side-note:

With all the references to the moon,  it will be hard not to think of The Female Man whenever I listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.  Now, I keep thinking of ‘Us and Them’ in terms of Jael’s version of Earth with warring male and female societies.  Try it; it just about fits…

Thoughts on Zampano and Johnny

I will preface my post this week with the fact that I haven’t quite finished House of Leaves yet.  As much as I am enjoying the book, I’m finding it to be a slow read; evidently, navigating through the maze is equally as difficult for me as a reader as it is for Navidson and Holloway to manage the haunted hallways, or Zampano and Johnny Truant to survive The Navidson Record.

As I continue to make my way through the The Navidson Record, it is interesting to reflect on the relationship between Zampano’s footnotes and Johnny Truant’s ‘narration’.  As stated early by Johnny in The Navidson Record, the book evidently drove Zampano to his grave, and Johnny Truant appears to be following in Zampano’s footsteps through his increasingly self-imposed isolation.  But both of their collections of footnotes in The Navidson Record serve very different roles within House of Leaves.  Zampano’s ‘scholarly’ notes are ‘informative’ and relevant to the Navidson text (obviously some if not the majority of Zampano’s notes are actually fabricated, but are still written to ‘inform’ the text).  Conversely, Johnny Truant’s rants often have little or nothing to do with what is found in The Navidson Record.  With this information, what can we say about the two?  If we were to conceptualize the two, could Zampano come to represent order, or at least the desire for a kind of structure?  On the other hand, Johnny Truant constantly disqualifies Zampano’s references, and narrates these fantastic side-stories.  Thus, could Truant’s tangents represents a kind of confirmation of the chaos found in The Navidson Record?  Like the explorers of the ever-changing hallways, Zampano tries to make sense out of the senseless, and even when this fails, he fabricates this order; while Johnny seems content in weaving his own labyrinth of chaotic, autobiographical storytelling.

With these basic differences between Zampano and Johnny identified, could we begin to consider these writers in relation to the division between modernism and postmodernism (albeit as very broad generalizations)?  Where Zampano would attempt to impose an order/structure on the world/film/haunted house (modern), Johnny Truant participates in this chaotic atmosphere (postmodern)

Again, I haven’t finished House of Leaves, therefore, this blog serves as a kind of brainstorm for my thoughts as I continue my way through the latter part of the book.  Even as Danielewski seems to be intentionally limiting avenues for critical inspection, I think this comparison between Zampano and Johnny could be useful.

A Side Note on Danielewski’s Only Revolutions:

If you are thoroughly enjoying House of Leaves (as I am), I’d suggest checking out his following work Only Revolutions. I haven’t read it yet, but I found this interesting discussion with Danielewski on Only Revolutions.  I know it doesn’t directly relate to House of Leaves, but it’s interesting to listen to him explain the basic concepts for the structure of Only Revolutions.  Clearly with both books, Danielewski is very concerned with the typography, visual landscape, and textual labyrinth both works present. Mark Z. Danielewski on Only Revolutions.

The Art of Simulation

I decided to compose my blog post this week after having read the introduction to Danielewski’s House of Leaves and before continuing through the rest of the book:

So what  are we to make of Danielewski’s introduction?  I’m not exactly sure, but neither is Mr. Johnny Truant.

First, we have what appears to be a frame narrative of sorts (or perhaps this is merely an introduction; I don’t know if the book returns to the point of view of Johnny Truant). Nevertheless, we have a narrator addressing the writing that follows him.

So what does this supposed framing establish?  Very little…

I’m kidding of course…or am I?  If one thing is for certain of the words of Truant, it is that nothing is for certain (or real for that matter?)…

Now, surely we have all encountered the frame narrative used in it’s classical form one time or another: William Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, One Thousand and One Nights, or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Perhaps what all these frames have in common is their establishment of incentive for the reader.  What do I mean?  In each of these examples, the reader is given a reason to enter through the frame and into the heart of the text:  Chaucer’s prologue establishes the pilgrimage, its travelers/storytellers, and a reason to read through their various stories: to find out who gets the free dinner!  In One Thousand and One Nights, the reader is encouraged to find out if Scheherazade’s storytelling can save the day!

But in the introduction to House of Leaves, the reader is left to question: Does any of this matter?  Why should we read on if The Navidson Record is fake?  But in rebuttle, Johnny Truant asks the reader: should it matter if it doesn’t matter?

“See, the irony is it makes no difference that the documentary at the heart of this book is fiction.  Zampano knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t real doesn’t matter here.  The consequences are the same.” (Danielewski xx)

Johnny Truant, Zampano (and more generally Danielewski) are calling into question the relevancy of reality, of Truth:

“They say truth stands the test of time.  I can think of no greater comfort than knowing this document failed such a test.” (xix)

As readers, we buy into the ‘reality’ of a story.  Heart of Darkness is a piece of fiction; its frame narrative is a piece of fiction that ‘sets up’ another piece of fiction…and yet we accept the ‘reality’ of the characters.  At times, we sympathize with Marlow, but we also criticize his actions.  We are confused, fascinated, and appalled by Kurtz.  We root for the cannibals…(just me? okay).  We do all of these things as if Marlow, Kurtz, and the cannibals were actually ‘real’.

Through this introduction, Danielewski questions the simulation that is art, and our role in this simulation as readers. Should I continue through the rest of House of Leaves?  Should I continue to read what I know is ‘fake’?  Of course, because the “consequences are the same.”  The difference between Heart of Darkness and House of Leaves?  The latter is self-aware of its role as fiction, as simulation.  This is not to say that Joseph Conrad and his readers (or any author/reader for that matter) are unable to distinguish between their lives and the literature they read; but rather, it’s writers like Danielewski and Luigi Pirandello, or directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Robert Altman who are willing to play with these conventions and incorporate these self-reflexive elements.

Order vs. Chaos…A Draw?

          Early in his book entitled “The Condition of Postmodernity,” David Harvey addresses a key identifier of the movement from modernism to postmodernism.  Paraphrasing from McHale, Harvey explains that the postmodern novel “is characterized by a shift from an ‘epistemological’ to an ‘ontological’ dominant.  By this [McHale] means a shift from the kind of perspectivism that allowed the modernist to get a better bearing on the meaning of a complex but nevertheless singular reality, to the foregrounding of questions as to how radically different realities may coexist, collide, and interpenetrate” (Harvey 41).  While reading this section of Harvey’s argument (and a number of other parts), I was continually brought back to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven.  Indeed, her novel deals with the very basic concept of reality, and its subsequent manipulation.  George Orr, the appropriately named protagonist, has dreams, and these dreams tend to alter his and the world’s reality (or perhaps the world is stuck in a cycle of Orr’s dreams).  Whichever the case, Le Guin is reasserting the common question of dream vs. reality.  What is reality, and what is dream? If these dreams alter reality, then is the new reality merely a dream? etc…until confusion ensues for both the reader and the characters in the novel.

         The juxtaposition between George and his psychiatrist, William Haber, further illuminates the postmodern qualities in Lathe of Heaven.  If George Orr’s mind represents a sort of fragmentation and chaos, Dr. Haber serves as the overarching orderattempting to ‘right’ the ship.  According to David Harvey, however, “postmodernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and the chaotic currents of change as if that is all there is” (Harvey 44).  Quoting Foucault, Harvey’s argument suggests that postmodernism “prefer[s] what is positive, and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems.  Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic” (44).  And indeed, it is with a representative image of this ‘nomadic flow’ that Ursula K. Le Guin chooses to begin the novel: “Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. […] in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways;” (Le Guin 1).  When re-reading this opening passage, I am reminded of George (or perhaps more specifically, his world-altering dreams).  Throughout the novel, George and his ‘power’ are continuously at the mercy of Dr. Haber, whom strives to use Orr’s dreams as a tool (or lathe) for sculpting a sort of Utopian society.  George opposes Haber’s manipulation of his dreams, and also opposses Haber’s desire for perfection.  Perhaps this opposition is better understood through George’s role as a postmodern character.  George (chaos) rejects Haber’s plans (order) because his Utopianism is a kind of meta-theory, and this “broad interpretative schema” like all meta-based ‘pratice’ is rejected by postmodernism.

          Thus, in the end, does Le Guin suggest chaos over order?  I don’t believe so.  Consider George’s life pre-Haber; he was unable to function.  The chaotic dreams had consumed his life and affected the lives of those around him.  Instead, George settles for (or is given) a compromise through synthesis.  As Harvey might suggest, this synthesis comes in the form of collage, or a jumbled patchwork of the varying realities created by Haber through George’s dreams, and at the end of the novel, both George and Heather are left to live life in this synthesized reality.

Let your feet balance the forces of order and chaos for only $29.99!
Let your feet balance the forces of order and chaos for only $29.99!

Just a little on Pynchon’s parody (and an afterthought on Varo)

A large portion of my interest in Thomas Pynchon is with his sense of humor and the resulting parodic nature of his writing.  Having already read The Crying of Lot 49, this re-reading allowed me to really focus on the “world” of Southern California that Pynchon has created, or more accurately, parodied.

Throughout The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon seems to be humorously commenting on American, and specifically Californian, culture.  As stated by the narrator, “Like many named places in California it was less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts–census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway” (13).  Per Pynchon’s construction, it’s a culture lacking substance; California and its inhabitants are all image, which is often merely imitation.  For example, the Paranoids, who “watch English movies a lot, for the accent,” are Pynchon’s American ripoff version of The Beatles (17).  (Considering Oedipa’s increasing paranoia throughout the story, the Paranoids seem appropriately named.  In fact, they periodically serve as the “Greek chorus” for the tragic (yet comical) unraveling of Oedipa’s life as she uncovers a potential conspiracy)  Dr. Hilarius, Oedipa’s “shrink or psychotherapist,” is perhaps only best described as a psycho.

In his first novel V., Pynchon presents a woman who becomes increasingly machine-like as the novel progresses, and threads of this same metaphorical device can be identified in The Crying of Lot 49 (although not as ubiquitous).  “[Oedipa] looked down a slope […] onto a vast sprawl of house which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth; and she though of the time she’d opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit” (14).  Here, Pynchon is reacting against the increase of tract housing suburbs  noting their machine-like resemblance (if I’m not mistaken, the “cookie-cutter” suburbs first got their start in the 1950s, just a few years before the publishing of The Crying of Lot 49).

Continuing with Pynchon’s role as social commentator, I come to perhaps my favorite passage in The Crying of Lot 49: the initial description of Wendell “Mucho” Maas.  “[H]e could still never accept the way each owner, each shadow, filed in only to exchange a dented, malfunctioning version of himself for another, just as futureless, automotive projection of somebody else’s life.  As if it were the most natural thing.  To Mucho it was horrible.  Endless, convoluted incest” (5).  To me, this passage evokes a couple of Pynchon’s concerns.  First, the machine once again stands in for the human being, and in fact, the passage preceeding this quotation describes these used cars as “metal extensions” of their owners.  Second, Mucho’s association of used cars/humans with “Endless, convoluted incest” reminds me of Pynchon’s recurring theme of entropy and/or entropic decline; if a system is closed, then that system will inevitably decline.

______________

On a somewhat random, separate note, I searched for and found the Remedios Varo painting referenced in The Crying of Lot 49: “In Mexico City they somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remedios Varo: in the central painting of a triptych, titled “Bordando el Manto Terrestre,” were a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kindRemedios Varo Bordando el Manto Terrestre of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.  Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried” (11).  In the context of the chapter, the painting refers to her personal relationship with Pierce Inverarity, but I can’t help but look at the painting and think of Oedipa’s journey as a “detective” through the Trystero conspiracy.  In many ways, she is weaving her own tapestry with the threads of conspiracy, filling a void, creating a world with the jigsaw pieces she has discovered (or perhaps have discovered her).

DeLillo’s “The Uniforms:” Violence Mediated Through Film

War, terrorism, rape, murder…gauche boots? baseball? Lucky Strike? Luis Bunuel?  Where and how do we connect the associative lines?  In a world where terrorists carry Molotov cocktails “in a Coca-Cola sixpack,” these associations are jarring, yet feel somewhat natural (DeLillo 5).  Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” is a crossroads of many things: sex, violence, and consumerism (perhaps accurately identified as the DeLillo-ian trinity), and this trinity is mediated through DeLillo and delivered to the reader; however, he is not the sole “owner” of the texts.  As expressed from the lips of DeLillo himself, the short story “is an attempt to hammer and nail my own frame around somebody else’s movie (http://perival.com/delillo/dduniforms.html): Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend.”

In a sense, the story reads like a script for some terribly perverse action film (hence, Godard).  DeLillo’s descriptions are limited to whom and how a band of terrorists rape, pillage, burn, and mutilate its victims, and like any good screenwriter, DeLillo provides detailed sketches of costumes and props; “Bradley wore Hassan’s red beret; a blue bandanna around his neck; buckskin pants and moccasins and a bright green football jersey with the silver numeral on the front and back.  He put some lampblack under his eyes […]” (11).  Amusingly, Bradley (or “Wheaties”) emulates the American jock turned brutally hard soldier, often associating what he sees in battle with sports (He thinks of Jean-Claude’s Molotov toss as “girlish” and un-baseball.  He fashions his own grenade tossing as a Kareem-esque skyhook).  This merger between sport and war is a theme that DeLillo experiments with a lot (most notably in End Zone).

Interestingly, many of the sporadic, anecdotal interjections made by the characters/actors reference directors and films:

“[Harlow] told them this was a trick she had learned in Algiers during the time of the filming of Pontecorvo’s great fictional documentary” (5).

“Jean-Claude asked the crew whether it was true or false that Resnais had faked the filmclips of the bomb victims in his movie about Hiroshima” (8).

“Jean-Claude had learned the lighter fluide trick from his father, who had been in the hills with Bunuel when the latter had declared that the days of the slow dissolve were numbered” (9).

And so on…

Jean-Claude, thinking like the filmmaker that he is, provides a mini-lecture on the importance of effective uniforms in war films/newsreels; “The revolutionary uniform must be tight and spare.  Touches of color, individuality and personal fantasy are to be encouraged. […]  We will shoot in color because color is the color of childhood fantasy” (7).  Summarizing Jean-Claude’s remarks, the violence they commit becomes and image mediated through film and delievered to the masses.  Thus, the lethal consequences of war/terrorism come to mean less than the emotions and reactions evoked from the audience viewing this product (Examples?  DeLillo points to the Zapruder film in later works.  Our generation? 9/11?).  As Jean-Claude might suggest, in today’s world, history is often learned through (and altered by) media.  (I’m reminded of the persuasive power of Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will,” or Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin.”)  I think DeLillo is trying to illustrate this point for us.  As we are reading through the story, Jean-Claude is filming all the horrific acts, ensuring that the violence reaches its potential as a visual media.  Sadly, violence has been reduced to its prospect as images on a screen, losing its entrie connotation as lethal.  In “The Uniforms,” life has become mediated through film, and the result is propagandisitic art for the anxious consumer.