9/11: Personal or Political?

Before reading In the Shadow of No Towers, I hadn’t had the chance to read neither a graphic novel nor a book on September 11th before. I had assumed that reading a graphic novel would be a laborious process (probably because I take too long staring at the artwork) and that a 9/11-focused book would be too politically charged and biased (to either extreme) for my taste. This book reaffirmed both speculations, but it was fairly interesting to read nonetheless. Spiegelman offers his personal experience of the 9/11 disaster as his family lived and worked right next to the World Trade Center. This personal touch gives his accounts an accessible poignancy, with more validity and passion than the news coverage that is essentially detached since news pundits weren’t physically there to experience the trauma! I think that Spiegelman’s drawings are exceptionally animated, with his talent for creative allegorical representations bursting on the page. Spiegelman’s ability to relive his 9/11 experiences on each page is remarkable, but they seemed a bit too focused on his personal life and his individual post-trauma anxiety rather than on the general impact of 9/11 on the American public.

Still, I really think Spiegelman should have kept the narrative a personal one and left it at that. Unfortunately, Spiegelman introduces too much of the political aftermath of 9/11 too early in the book: “In those first few days after 9/11 I got lost constructing conspiracy theories about my government’s complicity in what had happened that would have done a Frenchman proud. (My susceptibility for conspiracy goes back a long ways but had reached its previous peak after the 2000 elections).” While I wouldn’t deny the fact that the Bush administration has used the 9/11 disaster to consolidate votes for the election and to instill fear into the public to increase the chances of their supporting Bush’s political agenda, I still found the political and social philosophies presented in the book to be undeveloped and vague, especially when compared to his stellar and poignant artwork. In the first ten panels, I found several references satirizing the 2000 election and the Iraq war, and I couldn’t really understand how these issues neatly tie into the 9/11 disaster narrative. Plate 7 was especially striking because of the extreme emphasis on partisan politics. Spiegelman seems to be contributing to the idea of a divided nation by including statements describing Bush as “the loser in office” and “that creature in the White House.”

Finally, I found the last seven pages of the book which include reprints of comic strips from newspapers from the1900s somewhat unrelated to the 9/11 tragedy and its impact. I’m not sure if this impression is because my knowledge in history is somewhat lacking or because there really is only a weak link between the first and second parts of the book.

One final note: I was really surprised by the lack of emphasis on the actual victims of the 9/11 tragedy. Any idea as to why Spiegelman would leave out much of that information in a book about 9/11 and focus more on the partisan debate of the 2000 election instead?

More real than magic?

Sorry for the late post- haven’t been feeling well at all today…

The issue I have with magical realism is that because the reader is aware that anything is possible and accepted as real, there is nothing surprising about the text. In People of Paper, we encounter characters made out of paper, characters who resurrect after dying, and a convoy of mechanical tortoises. Like House of Leaves, the text is ergodic and requires more than a linear reading to comprehend the points made therein. The characters take turns narrating the story and the pages are split according to who is narrating. Leafing quickly through the novel, the reader witnesses long paragraphs of text totally blacked-out, crossed-out lines, and even “holes” cut in the middle of paragraphs (which are there to carefully mask the name of Plascencia’s ex- lover). Nothing too new—I’ve seen this similar style in House of Leaves before.

The only weird thing about this book, in my opinion, is that the author features himself as one of the characters. All the characters in the novel are on separate journeys to mend their paper cuts and broken hearts. They are all aware of Saturn’s presence in their lives; and they blame him for their complications—which mirrors the image of humans blaming a God for their miseries in real life; thereby alluding to the metanarrative of free-will and deterministic fate. Anyway, the characters of El Monte towards the end of the novel are warring against the author’s obtrusive narrative voice, or what Frederico calls “the war on omniscient narration (a.k.a. the war against the commodification of sadness).” Readers learn that “Saturn’s real name is Salvador Plascencia” (102). They attempt to get rid of Saturn (aka Plascencia) by using thei compounding voices and increasing the number of columns on the page to literally try to force Saturn—and conjunctively, the concept of authorial control—out of the novel. Plascencia’s use of both graphic and dramatic intensity simultaneously makes the book definitively postmodern. As this war goes on throughout the pages of the book, the reader witnesses the destructive effect of Saturn’s world intertwining with the other characters because Saturn’s inability to have control over his own life leads to chaos in each of the characters’ lives. To me, the book then becomes an allegory for the repercussions of fighting against a confused God who is responsible for human life. In this sense, I believe the novel deals with reality more than it does with magic as it seems at first glance…

Immigration and the Making of a Transnational Hybrid Identity

Even though Yamashita identifies herself as an “Asian-American” writer, her literary work Tropic of Orange defies any specific cultural and geographical associations implied in that categorization. More than any other novel this semester, Tropic of Orange effectively portrays characters that have a truly transnational cultural identity. In one of the more engaging parts of the novel, Arcangel moves the Tropic of Cancer to the north, over the border between Mexico and the United States. This shifting of national boundaries obviously disturbs our understanding of the various political and cultural borders separating continents and countries, but even more interestingly, it challenges our notions of what constitutes a certain cultural identity. As a result of this “shifting geography”—which in reality just represents the shifting of populations—the identities of the characters have become hybrids of all the different cultures to which they have been exposed.

Yamashita is making the point in Tropic of Orange that the United States, whose inhabitants embody the transnational hybrid identity more than any other country in the world, does not offer its population (especially its immigrant population) justice when it comes to the social services that are available to them and how many political and economic choices they have. In the novel, Yamashita repeatedly brings up the issue of immigration. When Bobby recalls Rafaela’s immigration from Mexico, he considers other immigrants who try to cross the border: “Places ‘long the border everybody knows, every woman don’t get raped, she don’t pass. The price she pays. Next up from the women, it’s the poor Indian types. They don’t know the language, don’t know the ropes. It’s gonna be the border rats robbing them. Cross the river. Make a run for it down Zapata Canyon. Lose their money. Their shoes. The clothing off their bodies. Maybe nobody gonna see these folks again. Bunch come floating up the river. It’s a fourteen mile zone…On the other side the migra arrests 1,000 per night…It’s high technology with a revolving door. If you lucky, Border Patrol chases you down. Puts you in a wagon and dumps you back. But maybe you gonna be one of them gets shot” (201-202). When people successfully cross the physical border, they then have to cross other barriers, including melding into the American culture and learning the English language: “ ‘Do you have a green card? Do you have a social security card? Do you have any money? When you get there, you will be unprotected. If you get sick, no one can give you care. If you have children, no one will teach them’…’Is it a crime to be poor? Can it be illegal to be a human being?’ (211).” In “The Ends of America,” Adams rightfully notes that the issues raised in Tropic of Orangemost notably “the human and environmental consequences of transformations taking place at America’s borders”—are easily recognized by students because they are so pertinent to the current contemporary moment.

In an interview, Karen Yamashita explains that while she used the metaphor of land that shifts in Tropic of Orange, it is really the people who have moved: “The geography has changed because humans have created this transition. I suppose it’s fantastic and more radical to talk about the land moving, in terms of the artistic or visual effects of the book. But the real message is that people are moving. And that has changed the landscape entirely, because they’ve taken their culture and their landscape with them.” (By the way, this interview was very useful for me to understand Yamashita’s motivations for writing this novelà http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v2i2/YAMASHI.HTM). I can personally identify with this topic—maybe that’s why it’s so interesting to me. As an Egyptian-American I consider myself a hybrid of both cultures, belonging to both entirely, but not to either at the same time. It’s a very postmodern thought—that most American immigrants cannot identify themselves as belonging to only one culture. Similarly, even people who have not immigrated have a hybrid identity, shaped by transnational cultural movement of Americanization that has spread all over the globe.

“The darker the news, the grander the narrative.”

I think Mao II is a perfect example of postmodernist writing thematically albeit not so much in its form. While I do not think that Delillo uses a writing style or structure that is viewed as “traditionally postmodern” (sounds like an oxymoron because postmodern writing is supposed to be innovative and defy any restrictive rules of form and function), I do think that the subject matter of this novel is distinctly postmodern in that it presents the stories of characters who live in a postindustrial and postmodern world and are seduced by the metanarrative of consumerism, where media images are constantly idolized and accepted as representations of objective truth.

The novel’s recurrent allusions to news and advertisements on TV and the pervasive influence of the images they produce is really interesting especially as it relates to crowds and groupthink (in the end leading to a cult mentality). I also found the idea of writer as commodity both fascinating and frightening. Bill repeatedly shares his opinion of the “cult” of writers, and he admits to Brita that he is has “become someone’s material” (43). This view is substantiated by the fact that Bill’s identity is represented as a objectified commodity—in terms of what writings he has produced: “There were reviews of Bill’s novels, interviews with former colleagues and acquaintances […] stacks of magazines and journals containing articles about Bill’s work and about his disappearance, his concealment, his retirement, his alleged change of identity, his rumored suicide, his return to work, his work-in-progress, his death, his rumored return […] booklength studies of Bill’s work and work about his work” (31). With all this trouble that writers go through to publicize their works and yet remain reticent about their private lives, you would think that their influence extends far and wide and that they are respected and admired; however, Delillo argues the exact opposite.

In one of the most interesting discussions that takes place in the novel between Bill and Brita, Bill points to the destructive effect of the commoditization of the writer—writers no longer have the power to “alter the inner life of the culture” (41). Now, people can only be influenced by brutal acts of terror that “make raids on human consciousness [because] News of disaster is the only narrative people need” (41). Another really important idea in the novel) is when Brita discusses terror as “the only meaningful act” in a society where meanings and messages are superfluous and overwhelming in depth and extensiveness: “There’s too much everything, more things than we can use in ten thousand lifetimes. Inertia-hysteria. Is history possible? Is anyone serious? Who do we take seriously? Only the lethal believer, the one who kills and dies for faith. Everything else is absorbed” (157). In this seminal paragraph, Delillo points out to the reader a number of interesting questions that relate to this idea of terror as the only “real” thing in the context of media produced for the masses. As I was thinking about this statement and about the different characters’ journeys within the novel as a whole, it occurred to me that maybe Delillo is making a deeper statement about the existential nature of society as a whole—a person has to choose either to submit entirely to a higher power, or to a painful and reclusive life alone void of any moral direction. Bill Gray, represented as the antihero in the novel, clearly suffers from this lack of guidance as well as Karen who never successfully breaks free from cult; they both represent the resulting loss of a society that has abandoned this idea of objective truth. Hence, by focusing specifically on the metanarrative of consumerism, Delillo is emphasizing its futility and meaninglessness especially when placed within the grander and darker narrative of life and death.

Postmodernism and the “Black Experience”

Several posts have interrogated the placement of the novel Beloved within the framework of postmodernism. At first, I was also curious about the connection between postmodernism and historical fiction. Reading Davis’ article cleared up a few things, including the idea that rewriting history, or “rememory” as she terms it, can alter our view and understanding of history. However, I was still unsure about the reading of Beloved with a postmodern lens. (This has nothing to do with the contention that Morrison does not actually see her work as postmodern. Since postmodernism calls for the figurative “death of the author,” her opinion should not influence our understanding of the novel nor should it discourage us from thinking critically about the novel’s place within the postmodern critical framework.)

In an attempt to understand the connection between Beloved and postmodernism, I searched for any literature on the discussion of “postmodern blackness,” and found a useful article by bell hooks, published in Postmodern Culture in September 1990 (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Postmodern_Blackness_18270.html). Hooks argues that racism is actually perpetuated “when blackness is associated solely with a concrete gut level [black] experience conceived either as opposing or having no connection to abstract thinking and the production of critical theory.” Although Hooks is skeptical about a clear relationship between postmodernism and the “black experience,” she is also skeptical of the tendency primarily of black literary scholars to dismiss the probability that there may be a meaningful connection there.

Hooks realizes that the black experience has been left out of the discussion of postmodernism: “Since much of this theory has been constructed in reaction to and against high modernism, there is seldom any mention of black experience or writings by black people in this work, specifically black women.” In light of this absence of black experience within postmodern works, she finds it strange and ironic that postmodernist discourse has often suggested that discussions of “difference and otherness” are considered legitimate issues in postmodernist thought: “It is sadly ironic that the contemporary discourse which talks the most about heterogeneity, the decentered subject, declaring breakthroughs that allow recognition of otherness, still directs its critical voice primarily to a specialized audience, one that shares a common language rooted in the very master narratives it claims to challenge.”

Now that I think about it, even Haraway’s discussion on cyborgs recognizes the necessity for innovative ways of operating and of relating to others in a postmodern world where partial identities are the standard rather than the deviation. In keeping with Haraway’s vision for a definition of feminism that is “not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints,” cyborg theory accounts for and welcomes so-called ‘contradictory standpoints’ from women who are different in class, ethnicity, sexuality, age, nationality, religious beliefs, political party, and physical ability. Hooks seems to agree with this: “Radical postmodernist practice, most powerfully conceptualized as a ‘politics of difference,’ should incorporate the voices of displaced, marginalized, exploited, and oppressed black people.”

Hooks concludes her discussion by asserting that “postmodern critiques of essentialism which challenge notions of universality and static over-determined identity within mass culture and mass consciousness can open up new possibilities for the construction of the [African American] self and the assertion of agency.” I think this is a useful statement because it compels us to consider the benefits of viewing blackness and the black experience within another critical framework. Such a critique allows us to affirm the existence of multiple black identities, or a varied black experience, thereby challenging archetypes of black identity which represent blackness as one-dimensional in ways that reinforce white supremacy (Hooks).

Hence, I do believe that it is beneficial to discuss works of fiction that are not typically recognized as postmodern (such as Morrison’s Beloved) in a class on postmodernism. Confining our discussions of postmodernism to certain texts that are clearly postmodern defeats the purpose of making new connections and understanding the discourse from varied points of view. For example, if we don’t connect postmodernism to our discussion of Beloved, we may not be able to critically think about the fragmented identities of the characters in the novel as decentered subjects in relation to history, as Davis suggests. We may only be inclined to discuss the novel in light of the generic one-size-fits-all black experience that Hooks is desperately trying to escape.

No unintentional errors, huh?

What about…

Page 119: “Nothing there provides a reason to linger. In part because not one object, let alone fixture or other manner of finish work has ever been discovered there.”

Shouldn’t that say “finished”?

Page 145, Footnote 189: “A sperm twixt another form of similar unity, and look there’s an echo at haand.” There’s no way he meant haand. It’s “at hand.”

Page 146: “when he highlights Barthe’s observation…” His name is Barthes. Possessive would make it “Barthes’.”

Page 162: “It looks like its impossible to leave a lasting trace here” Should be “it’s.”

Page 320: “Regrettably, Tom fails to stop at a sip. A few hours later he has finished off the whole fifth as well as half a bottle of wine. He might have spent all night drinking had exhaustion not caught up with me.” Who is the “me” here? There are no quotes and no footnote to indicate that it’s from an interview. Maybe I missed something though…

Anyway, I’d be interested to see how Danielewski can justify these errors as intentional…

That’s it for now. :) I didn’t actually set out to find these errors; I just marked the pages as I was reading.

I’ll let you know if I find others.

Have a great spring break!

Mark Danielewski can read your mind.

At this point, I really believe that Mark Danielewski is either a mastermind or a maniac. I really don’t remember ever experiencing a book like House of Leaves before. So far, it has been one of the most interactive reading experiences I’ve had! I also finally found the “best” way to read/conquer it (other people may have differing viewpoints): I began reading at the very beginning, and tried really hard not to think about the fact that it is 700 pages long. I followed the pages in sequential order. When I come across a footnote, I read the footnote and then returned to where I left off in the text. When directed to an appendix, I read the appendix (but not always too carefully unless it was really interesting) then returned to where I left off in the text. I found that way of reading it less daunting than, say, if I were to read all the footnotes separately after finishing the novel. Although Danielewski doesn’t instruct the reader to read in this way directly (or any other particular way) , the novel’s recursive structure (the interweaving of the different narrators throughout) forces the reader to get involved with all the different plots simultaneously, and therefore implicitly encourages this reading.

The experience of reading this book really got me interested in the relationship between author and reader in a postmodern work, and how it can be distinguished from that relationship in the context of different literary genres. More than any other genre, postmodern writing encourages the reader to read actively and interact with the text on a continual basis (even in a physical sense—turning the book upside down and using mirrors, for example). Besides the heightened level of interactivity, House of Leaves also often communicates to the reader an introspective thought that the reader may already have about the text. For example, throughout the novel, I often got the feeling that Danielewski purposely and repeatedly gives the reader clues that he can see what is going on in the reader’s mind. Here’s a specific, but subtle example of this:

While looking through the appendixes, I was especially drawn to the little poem on page 563 in section F., inventively titled “Poems.” The poem is untitled “(Untitled Fragment)” and it does not have a credited author as far as I can tell. It is the only poem on page 563:

Little solace comes

to those who grieve

when thoughts keep drifting

as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.

I believe this short text somehow encompasses many themes (Is anybody counting?) that can be found within House of Leaves, and anticipates the reader’s reaction to the novel as a whole. The first line “Little solace comes to those who grieve” is probably referring to the reader here, and the initial reaction to the novel’s intimidating navigation. The “thoughts keep drifting” is an obvious reference to the reader’s reaction to the different narratives and narrators which cause thoughts to drift during the novel, and Danielewski is seemingly warning/telling the reader that there is no comfort found even after attempting to decipher the different narratives. “As walls keep shifting” is a reference to the house itself and the physical ambiguity of the house which keeps shifting to expand internally while appearing static externally. The second part of the short poem relates the “great blue world of ours” (where blue is significant to the word house highlighted in that color throughout the novel) to the monstrosity of the novel and its myriad links, footnotes and annotations which cannot be contained in any reader’s mind simultaneously. These connections are like a “house of leaves moments before the wind”: This evokes a powerful image of thousands of flimsy artifacts that are nonsensical even when arranged into the shape of a house, but virtually impossible to interpret after a moment, when the wind (another thought, fact, event, etc) comes in full force and blows away any “arranged” pieces of the imaginary puzzle. So from this little poem, the reader can see/read himself—trying futilely to assemble pieces of the puzzle that is the novel, to no avail.

Therefore, I cannot help but reiterate that House of Leaves is typically postmodern, not simply in its form as I discussed last week, but even more so in its function—where the focus shifts from the work of literature itself to the process of its production, and even more strikingly, to the reader’s “process of interpretation.” Danielewski seems to assume a certain reader response to the novel, which at times evokes the feeling that he can actually see what is going on in the reader’s mind.

Quintessentially Postmodern, in Form and Function

The first thing I did when received this book from Amazon is flip through it. I was immediately struck by the drastically diverse layouts—some pages were dense with “typewriter style” text, some pages were extremely sparse with only three or four words, some had music notes, comic book illustrations, poetry, or letters. The text itself also eventually develops into a copy editor’s nightmare as the novel progresses: multiple fonts, strikethroughs, upside down, sideways—it’s one of the most exaggerated examples of spatial disorientation I’ve seen in a text. Something looked consistent, though: the word “house” was always blue. But this is my point: if that’s not a quintessentially postmodern text, what is?! If we’ve been unsure about classifying the previous novels we’ve read for this class as postmodern texts, we cannot be unsure about this one. Though I am unsure about many things regarding the meaning/theme(s) of House of Leaves at this point, I can say with certainty that this text is a postmodern one!

In addition to this, the postmodern concept of “layering,” as has been brought up by many fellow bloggers, is what seems to hold House of Leaves together. Danielewski interweaves multiple narratives within the book dexterously, and each tale is told with a distinctive style and unique purpose. For example, in terms of style, Truant’s text has the rambling intonation similar to Pynchon’s Lot 49, while the Zampano narrative sounds like a profound yet satirical account of academic writing. Finally, Navidson’s account has the style and tone that sounds the most like a traditional story. Intertwined in this way, the novel is relayed to the reader in rambling fragments, separated by footnotes and halting subject shifts. As I read through the pages, I found myself trying hard to resist the urge to follow a linear path, and as I adopted this mentality, the once-intimidating text slowly began to slowly reveal itself, little by little, very much like the ‘character’ of the house in the novel.

This is an aside: Did anyone else notice this right before page xi of the “Introduction”? –> “This is not for you.” It made me laugh.. :-)

But seriously, it brings up a whole slew of interesting questions: Why is this not for me? For whom is this written? If it’s not for me, why does Mark Danielewski dedicate an entire page at the start of his novel to reveal this to me and to everyone else who picks up his novel? Who is the “you”/”me” in this statement, anyway? Whatever it means, it definitely does the job of capturing the reader’s attention, and by working in the same way “reverse psychology” does, each reader immediately starts to believe that this work is significant for him/her (which is probably the effect that Danielewski had hoped it would have). I think the reader’s relationship with this text is meant to be dramatized, and Danielewski does this effectively by increasing the reader’s level of interaction with the text. What is the result of this increased level of interaction? Well, as opposed to any other genres of fiction, where you as the reader choose to escape into the story, the opposite happens with the postmodern genre: the text “escapes” into you, and changes the way you think about yourself—just as Johnny Truant assures the reader will happen: “For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how.” Sounds creepy. And also very postmodern.

Harvey on Genre vs. Characterization in Postmodernism

In “The Condition of Postmodernity,” David Harvey attempts to define postmodernism in relation to modernism, and in myriad cultural contexts, including literature, architecture, psychology, and art. In his definition, Harvey discusses the blurring of genres, and specifically mentions the postmodern tendency to dissolve the “boundary between fiction and science fiction” (41). This is definitely true of The Lathe of Heaven, a novel that cannot fit into either/or category of science fiction/postmodern literature. LeGuin’s novel is most striking in its ability to use science fiction to cause disorder and confusion in reality as we know it. However, as opposed to the reality featured in Crying of Lot 49, which defies any sense of reason and is completely fragmented, the reality in The Lathe of Heaven is more believable, and also more ordered. Though George’s prophetic dreams do influence reality, this pattern is more noticeable, and therefore, expected in the novel.

Jennifer asks in the first post on this topic whether all science fiction novels can be considered postmodern. While it is definitely a valid and interesting question, Harvey posits in his article on “Postmodernity” that while “modernist literary critics do tend to look at works as examples of a ‘genre’ and do judge them by a ‘master code’ that prevails within the boundary of the genre, [the] ‘postmodern’ style is simply to view a work as a ‘text’ with its own particular ‘rhetoric’ and ‘idolect,’ but which can in principle be compared with any other text of no matter what sort” (44). If I understand this correctly, I think Harvey is specifically drawing attention to postmodernists’ attempts to eschew “genre” as we know it; therefore, we cannot really classify any postmodernist work as “science fiction” or any other genre. Though this seems easy enough to digest in theory, it becomes problematic in practice to shy away from categorizing literary works for the purposes of comparison and analysis. On one hand, postmodernism is fragmentation and chaos, as Harvey defines it; and on the other hand, in order to legitimize its impact, we need to understand postmodernism logically, and in terms that we can easily decipher and comprehend.

Leaving the genre debate aside, it becomes easier to think of postmodernism as a way to propagate equal representation: “The idea that all groups have a right to speak for themselves, in their own voice, and have that voice accepted as authentic and legitimate is essential to the pluralistic stance of postmodernism” (Harvey 48). Hence, when discussing postmodern literary works, such as The Lathe of Heaven, it becomes apparent that issues of racial construction, for example, are called to be eradicated. Dr. Haber states that we should have “no more color problems. No question of race […] Nobody in the entire history of the human race has suffered for the color of his skin” (LeGin 129). Additionally, “characters no longer contemplate how they can unravel or unmask a central mystery, but are forced to ask, ‘Which world is this? What is to be done in it? Which of the mysteries is to do it? Instead” (Harvey 48). This shift in focus from genre to characterization, and their influence on/perception of reality is a defining feature of postmodernism. The effect of this shift in focus is striking: “to break (deconstruct) the power of the author to impose meanings or offer a continuous narrative” (Harvey 51). Therefore, instead of the focus being on how LeGuin weaves the plot to create a work of science fiction, the focus shifts to how the characters—George Orr, Dr. Haber, and Heather—develop throughout the novel, and whether or not their respective dreams/ realities materialize and coincide.

The Meaning of Reality in Crying of Lot 49: “violence to our flabby habits of perception”

Crying of Lot 49 was not a fun read for me. Even though it’s supposed to be one of Pynchon’s most accessible novels, I was still frustrated by the evasiveness of its plot. After finishing the novel and reading Michael Holquist’s “Whodunit and Other Questions,” I started to find some logic and reassurance in the entropy of Lot 49’s plot. Holquist’s prodding question especially piqued my interest: “What, then, is the particular pattern of reassurance provided by detective fiction?” (138). Holquist defines the clichés of modernist detective fiction, and arrives at the conclusion that postmodern detective stories respond to modernist ones, especially in their attempt to escape from “rational” literature that fills illogical voids with psychological and mythical reasoning. Instead of filling the unexplainable “void” in stories with religion or myths, postmodernism “dramatizes that void” (155). In a way, the dramatization of this void presents a more realistic image of the world we inhabit. So, instead of making up stuff, we just admit that we don’t know…

It is only natural to feel jilted by Pynchon’s destruction of our rosy perception of reality. I believe that this is, in fact, his message. As Holquist eloquently states towards the end of his essay, it is this ambiguity and meaninglessness of the metaphysical detective story which causes “violence to our flabby habits of perception” (156). Instead of spoon-feeding nuggets of coherent, linear, and relevant information to readers, Pynchon gives the reader both useful information and superfluous, disorienting details in the order in which Oedipa encounters them, to emulate the realistic and often random transmission of information in real life. The unsuspecting reader will undoubtedly find the text initially infuriating, but there is some enjoyment that can be found in its “open” ending. Though unsettling, Crying of Lot 49 succeeds in provoking readers to ponder interesting philosophical questions regarding the relevance of information, the mutability of our perception of reality, and the (im)possibility of manipulating our circumstances to create (dis)order in our lives.

Perhaps the most pressing question that I have regarding the novel is this: Is Pynchon implying that life is so capricious so that arbitrary events and associations lead to profound discoveries, or is he suggesting the opposite—that life’s events are more banal than we imagine, leaving us (like Oedipa) falsely presuming that meaningful connections exist in the midst of random information? Is Oedipa fighting a losing battle by attempting to create order in her chaotic world?

I have accepted that these questions have no distinct, correct answers. In this sense, Lot 49 and other postmodern detective stories are violent. As Holquist points out, these stories are “not an escape, but an attack” (155). They are an attack on our stale and unimaginative perception of reality, one where all clues are relevant and lead to a solution, and where all detective novels end in the salvation of the good characters and the punishment of the bad ones. Pnychon wants to shows his readers that there exists a possibility of another (not so pleasant) reality, or maybe that there is no fixed reality at all.

pynchon-simpsons

“I like stuff that isn’t the same every time you look at it”

“I like stuff that isn’t the same every time you look at it” (spoken by Carly in “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”): It seems that this observation sums up a primary characteristic of postmodern literature and rhetoric, one which is evident in most of the short stories and passages assigned this week.

I enjoyed the short stories, particularly the pieces by Foer, Lethem, and Link. Foer’s piece was especially moving because it recounts experiences and emotions that are common to the human experience, yet are usually unexpressed. I wonder whether these emotions are untold because language as we know it fails to convey them, or because these emotions are not necessarily meant to be expressed, and should simply lurk in a person’s mind until other emotions take their place? Either way, Foer’s use of symbols and characters in place of incommunicable emotions effectively illustrates that language is significantly less sophisticated than we may think. Foer’s piece also displays another recognizable characteristic of postmodern texts: its focus on signifiers and the absence of a constant “signified.” If I understand it correctly, this characteristic resonates with Carly’s statement. Foer shows that though these symbols encapsulate unspoken emotions, these emotions are dependent on specific circumstances. Therefore, their meanings are fluid, changing every time they’re felt in a different context.

Link’s piece, “Some Zombie Contingency Plan,” does not have the easiest plot to follow, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. I’m not usually a fan of fantasy fiction, but I enjoy stories that have enigmatic and thought-provoking metaphors intertwined in the text. In response to Jennifer’s earlier post, I think the zombie metaphor is one that concerns the ambiguity and fluidity of identity. The main characters, Soap and Carly, repeatedly camouflage and change their identity throughout the story. Though Soap constantly presents the hypothetical situation of zombies invading as a fear-inducing scenario, I think Link wants the reader to think of Soap as a potential zombie, in a metaphorical sense. In other words, maybe Link is making the point that metaphorical zombies—individuals who are not necessarily dead on the outside, but are void on the inside—are to be feared more than the actual, fictional zombies. While attempting to escape from an “actual” zombie is certainly frightening, Link hints that individuals who themselves morph into metaphorical zombies can find no escape route (you cannot escape from yourself). Again, the postmodern statement above about things appearing differently in various situations also fits this storyline. The indistinctness of the characters’ backgrounds and personalities as well as the overall elusiveness of the plot collectively point to this postmodern notion of perpetual ambiguity and malleability of meaning within the text.

Finally, I found Cage’s “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)” an engaging piece to read as well. Though I found it initially difficult to immediately identify the theme or purpose of the piece, I was able to deduce a pattern in the text after a second read. Obviously, the structure of the piece is meant to be avant-garde, in order to capture the reader’s attention or unsettle the reader in some way. The title’s ironic humor has significant bearing on the meaning of the piece as a whole (I think): it seems that Cage is implying that human intervention—any attempts by humans to “improve the world”—usually fail and result in the opposite. Aside from technological advances, which are acclaimed in this piece (“Success for humanity lies in technology…), almost all other human attempts to change the world are useless or harmful. Among many other themes that I couldn’t decipher, Cage calls for the removal of government and politics (anarchy), the eradication of environmental pollutants, and the obliteration of “arthritic” language that is structured and lacks fluidity. Though no one can deny that there are meaningful messages within this text, they are still open for interpretation.

With Cage’s text as well as all the others assigned, the meaning of the text is never the same every time you read it. This indeterminacy is what makes postmodern, avant-garde texts unique—if they do nothing else, they will NOT fail to make you think. When the reader is given a chance to think, the result will likely be fruitful change. As Hassan points out in “POSTmodernism,” “What the avant-garde probably still needs to do for a time is serve as the agent of change, which is recognizable when still newer change is in progress.”