Apocalypse Now, Dispatches, Michael Herr, and Shooting War

OK, I think some clarification is in order.

Yes, Apocalypse Now is based on Heart of Darkness, but! the screenplay for that movie–as well as Full Metal Jacket–is co-authored by none other than Michael Herr. Herr wrote a non-fiction account of his time as an embedded journalist in Vietnam–complete with his accounts of actually accompanying troops into the shit, his dealings with Generals clearly lying about the situation in Vietnam, etc. The point I wanted to make in class is that Apocalypse Now is, in fact, based heavily upon Herr’s experience in Vietnam. The story follows Heart of Darkness but some of the things that happen are based on the very real scenes in Dispatches–this is how Herr makes both Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket so damned realistic–he was there. The cover of Shooting War quotes Forbes magazine: “A winner…The Apocalypse Now of the War on Terrorism.” My question/point had to do with whether the authors knew about Dispatches or not. If they did, then this is a great example of their view on the media. Forbes didn’t say it was the Dispatches, but referenced a movie–much more popular culture. This is just like the media going sensational/getting everything wrong in Shooting War and not really presenting both sides/doing their homework. The real Shooting War of Vietnam is Michael Herr’s book, DispatchesApocalypse Now references the book frequently. Scenes from both of those movies pull from Herr’s book, which does a lot of the same things Shooting War does, just without the graphical element. Since we just left last class, I doubt many people will read this–but now I feel vindicated. This is my rant/revenge post since I lost that point so quickly in class. I feel better now, but will concede that I didn’t vehemently back up that point because I wasn’t sure if it was Full Metal and Platoon or Full Metal and Apocalypse that Herr co-wrote. Dispatches is an amazing read for anyone interested in what it was like to be a journalist during that fight, or anyone just looking for an excellent read. For those familiar with Full Metal Jacket, that line about shooting women and children (easy, just don’t lead them so much) is something a real heli-gunner said to Herr. Yeah, it’s that kind of book. Just thought I’d finish the thought I didn’t finish in class because I lost faith in my reference. That’s what I get for saying “based on” instead of “partially based upon” :-)

Good luck on your papers and read Dispatches!


Apacolypse Now–right there in the top paragraph–“drawing elements from…Dispatches.” Ha! (not that Wikipedia is scholarly or anything, but…)

Zotero Alert

Hi All,

I thought I’d let you all know to be on the look-out if you’re using Zotero for your bibliographies. It’s not a big problem, but it’s worth double-checking when you create your Works Cited page. I just used the function for another paper and two things happened with the authors identification section. This only happened with the works with multiple authors:

The first problem I had was with Zotero getting the authors right but messing up the MLA style. Rather than doing it: Clark, Jared and Jack Larder  it tried to say Clark, Jared, and Larder, Jack. This is a very minor detail and maybe only a style stickler like myself actually cares. The second problem I encountered was a bit more serious.

One of my articles had two authors but for some reason Zotero combined them using one of the authors’ last name as the first author’s middle name. So be on the lookout.


Systems, Birds, No Towers

I enjoyed both readings this week. I may be biased because I’ve dabbled in the graphic novel genre before (they’re not comics! They’re literature worthy of any scholar’s criticism!). I am particularly drawn to Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers. I’m not sure if this is because of the size of the strips, the creative use of page space, or simply Spiegelman’s unique style–it is probably a combination of all three.  I noticed that birds are an image often conjred in this graphic novel–and often these images of birds help Spiegelman reveal the systems that dominate our society. Spiegelman reveals these sytems in his writing as well, but I felt these images did a great job of providing visual support to his argument that Americans can’t seem to break free from the systems that have always been in place (as seen in the circa 1900 comics) and become even more imbedded after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The two images I was most drawn to occur on page 2.

The first is of George W. and Dick Cheney riding an eagle, one would assume into battle. Upon closer inspection, we see Dick Cheney is slitting the Eagle’s throat. This works on many levels. The Eagle is the symbol of American freedom, yet as the leaders of American ride the emblematic bird into combat, they also murder the very freedom it represents. Much of Spiegelman’s piece focuses on the ways in which the ruling class used tragic attacks for political advantage in securing America’s interests overseas. For all the words Spiegelman spends describing this, I find that this image succinctly says it all. Upon closer inspection, one can see that the tool used to slit Freedom’s throat is a box cutter–none other than the purported tool used by Sept. 11 hijackers. In this way, Bush and Cheney both serve as metaphors for terrosts in the skies. They’re sabotaging that flying eagle and everything it stands for in the name of freedom and, to an equal extent, revenge on the terrorists that did this to us (or at least the relative, but not quite exact, region where the terrorists who did this to us reside).

On the same page is the frame with the journalist saying “vatch here the burdy.” In the journalist’s hand is a vulture. It is pretty clear that this image is calling the press vultures, but I felt that in the context of the soaring Eagle that appears just above it is a pretty meaningul image. Even as the government creates systems to proclaim freedom even as they take it away, journalism exists as a very powerful system as well. The press is supposed to be fair and balanced, reporting with the nearest to objectivity a person can conjur. In reality, the press just cares about the next big story and is more concerned with profit than truth. Spiegelman’s juxtaposition of these two images makes a strong point: the government is a corrupt system that we all buy into, and the fourth estate (journalism), which is meant to reveal government wrongdoing, is just as systematic and corrupt–yellow journalism, indeed.

If it bleeds, it leads--also if it reeks of corruption, won't make you think, or tells you what you want to hear
If it bleeds, it leads--also if it reeks of corruption, won't make you think, or tells you what you want to hear

Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction

Sorry this is late.

For the most part I liked the Flores article we read for class this week. It did a great job of saying what magical realism is and how that fit into the context of Spanish American Fiction. I found the article informative because I’ve known the term “magical realism” but never really knew its exact definition. Some parts of the article were frustrating however. I didn’t recognize a lot of the authors she mentioned which made it hard to relate the evidence she used in the essay to her actual argument, and some of the quoted Spanish passages were beyond my reading comprehension of Spanish. Also, this article was written in 1955–predating postmodernism–so I started thinking about how it relates to the broader scope of our postmodern theory lessons, which it doesn’t touch on for obvios reasons.

First, there’s the obvios linear path: Flores’ essay helps us understand elements in The People of Paper, the book we read this week for class. The People of Paper features postmodern elements like multiple narratives and so “Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction” relates in that way.

However, there is one point Flores makes in her essay that I believe includes some of the elements in postmodern fiction. Flores writes that a crucual element to magical realism is the magical element “was accepted by the other chracters as an almost normal event” (191). I believe this is one way that magical realism can fall into postmodernism. Many postmodern writers attempt to reveal the narratives that societies follow without realizing they follow them. Magical realism is a technique that allows some of these narrative threads to be revealed. By changing society’s norms to the point where something like people made of paper is accepted by the characters in the novel and also the reader of the novel, we can get a better glimpse at the norms that define society in genereal. One example in the People of Paper is that the multiple narratives present the differing view points of what is really happening in “reality” while accepting the magical parts as true. In this way, we are given differing perspectives of the real and forced to ask questions not about whether people made of paper are real but how reality is manifest to each individual observer.

Postmodernism and Place

Sarah briefly mentioned place in her blog post and that got me thinkin’. Since many folks out there have already weighed in on the Adams article, I decided I would go elsewhere with this post and try to make sense of place in some of the novels we have read.

The notion of place seems to be pretty flexible in postmodern texts. In gothic literature, for example, place is often easily described as antiquated. In genres like fantasy and sci-fi, place also fluctuates but tends to follow some basic rules (outer space, past feudal realms). Many people have posted about how difficult it is to place postmodernism within any strict walls or interpretive confines. I agree that this is tricky and as I’ve read books from The Crying of Lot 49 to House of Leaves to Tropic of Orange, I’ve noticed that there don’t seem to be any conventions that strictly define place in postmodernist writing.

As I looked closer I found that there is little overlap in location: Beloved occupies a small space in the rural South; The Crying of Lot 49 takes place in bustling, crowded cities across California. The size of the places also changes: there are the small confines of a house that can also grow to enormous proportions in House of Leaves; the small (but ever-changing) office where much of Lathe of Heaven occurs; Tropic of Orange sprawls all over LA and in Mexico too, across landscapes both vast (the urban ghetto, the highway systems) and localized (the house near Mazatlan). Places can occupy just about any form in postmodern texts, from rural to urban, small to large.

It’s how place feels to the reader and how it is handled by the characters in the stories that I think give many of the places we’ve read about a common characteristic: they are unreliable, sometimes to the point of becoming untrustworthy. Why do I see some of the places in this semesters novels as unreliable? How does this relate to postmodernism?

I don’t think anyone will disagree that the space in House of Leaves is unreliable. The house shifts, it changes, at times it attempts to trap people inside. However, the novel also takes place in the world of Johnny Truant. Johnny begins the novel with some forays into the city, but by the end, he is as shut-in as Zampano, with drapes over the windows and cardboard blocking the vents. Not only does he not trust his own space, he doesn’t trust the space outside.

In Crying of Lot 49, everything seems to be untrustworthy. Oedipa travels around to different cities, and as she does this, I never feel a strong sense of the location. Each city seems the same. What makes them important is that they conceal the hidden clues she so desperately seeks. Each place sends her to a new location, all another stopping point on a journey that leads pretty much nowhere. Those are some unreliable locales.

In Tropic of Orange place seems to be more reliable than these other two, but is it? Crabs in Mazatlan, located hours’ walk from the sea, signify that something isn’t right. Gun shots on the east side may be an every day part of life, but for Buzzworm, it can all be avoided, the space can be reclaimed–from the beuracrats, from the gangsters who do their best to claim it, from the vicious cycles that occupy that space and keep revolving and threatining to never let anyone out. Gabriel’s unreliable space takes the form of a two-headed monster: the quiet Mexico or the bustling LA where he can continue working as a journalist. These spaces all bring with them a strong sense of unreliability. This is not the house you grew up in or the bustling city that represents opportunity. No, these spaces, even when they’re at their best, are ever-changing, sometimes alien landscapes.

Manzanar seems to be one character who finds the space he occupies–highway corridors–to be reliable. However, upon closer expection, we see that they are only reliable as far as his music goes, but not reliable as a whole. Crashes occupy this wide-lane space and Manzanar also summons images of maps. Maps can be reliable, but for anyone who has used one knows they are subject to change. Unexpected, sudden change that leaves you at the end of a dead-end road, just miles from your ultimate destination in the middle of the night, wondering, “what do I do now?” The maps in this book also have layers–“for Manzanar they began with the very geology of the land…” (57). These multi-layered maps become so thick in their complexity and construction as to render them too numerous and too specific to serve much use at all. In chapter 13 Buzzworm thinks about maps and how little they really do to help. He sums this up with the early line, “if someone could put down all the layers of the real map, maybe he could get the real picture” (81). Only if all the layers are assembled can the maps provide a clear picture–and as the tone suggests, this will never happen. So even maps become unreliable in Tropic of Orange.

Some of the other novels we’ve covered also deal with unreliable places, but I felt that these were some of the shining examples. Places change, but their unreliability in postmodern texts seems to be relatively constant.

In postmodernism many aspects of life (language, morals, truth, etc.) are shown as constructs of society that we all end up buying into. In a postmodern novel, the author may investigate these constructs, and in so doing, help shed some light on their existence (the constructs’), which is usually enough to get people thinking. I can’t help but want to channel Saussure when thinking of place, who wrote about the signifier and signified in linguistics. I believe that while he mainly focuses on words, the same can be said for place. The signifier “home” or “city” will mean many different things to any number of different people (the signified). New York is the symbol of American freedom, LA of opportunity and fame, DC of power. However, to the people who visit and occupy these spaces year round, the cities become many different things. This may be part of the reason spaces seem so hard to trust in the works we’ve read. After all, when a space means something different to everyone occupying it, and seems ever-changing, there isn’t a lot to rely on. Just below the surface the labels we apply to certain locales (the peaceful setting of the South, the emblematic American cities) suddenly vanish. Each person takes something different away from their place. Each one views their place differently as well. I believe this root of unreliability is essentially postmodern becauyse it’s not only the observed that’s important, but who’s doing the observing, how they observe, and what that says about the unique spaces we all occupy and how they shape our unique perspectives.

Databases as an even Newer Genre of New Media

I must say I enjoyed reading the Lev Manovich article, even though I’m not sure I agreed with everything he wrote. I think the examples of new media like the weather visualizer and conversation fit in pretty well with his description of databases as ever-growing algorithms of data that contain no narratives. While I can listen to people prattle on about products, there really are no elements of narrative, but certainly one would say there is something to these sites on a deeper level than just a list of links.

One thing I think sites like the “conversation” allow users to do is create their own narrative. An author is not weaving a carefully constructed story, but, rather, the user is allowed to take the elements that Jason Nelson provides and create their own type of story from it. This is much what Lev Manovich argues is behind databases as a genre of new media, but a lot has happened since Manovich wrote this article. I think video games have changed in a way so that they both serve as database and narrative, but what I want to explore here is how Web 2.0 has changed the way databases operate.

One good example of this is the “We Feel Fine” page. This is a database of sentences (and sometimes pictures) and it operates in much the same way that Manovich describes. However, in the current post-postmodern state of New Media, the user has become increasingly more important. The “We Feel Fine” database serves as more of a thief than an organizer of information. It requires users blogging out there in the world to write a sentence with the word “feel” in it, then it goes and steals that sentence for its own purposes. Not only is this cool, but the algorithm at play here would have little to work with if the Web was not increasingly user-generated. Manovich mentioned in his article that with the advent of the Web, people became data archivists for work or hobby. We Feel Fine is serving this role, but what about all the people out there blogging? Those people are not really archiving data in a narrative-free database environment. Blogs, while short, actually serve as a collection of narratives, like a collection of short stories, that is forever growing. Blogs may not always have character, conflict, plot, etc., but often have some of these elements, especially when people are recounting their day/week/month.

Nowadays, the Web thrives because people like us post to blogs and allow a site like We Feel Fine to continue populating its content. We post videos to Youtube and, in so doing, are as responsible for the growth of the database as the adminstrator who may be adding content to another site. While I agree that these types of sites still function in the way Manovich describes, I find a new and exciting element as well. Youtube can still be surfed out of order and the site as a whole lacks narrative, but each video posted is the narrative of someone out there somewhere. Whether you’re watching someone do a stupid trick or a mock trailer for Mary Poppins, these narratives do exist. And because of the increasing amount of user-generated material being posted, the sites now begin to show the human narrative. Youtube allows us to glimpse into all sorts of pockets of life and realize that the idea that there is no universal truth (a postmodern tenet) or one right way of seeing the world becomes pretty evident. I think this is what the Web does now. While each site may not weave its own narrative thread, we get glimpses of the smaller narratives playing out in the world around us every day. And in a sense, this is what books attempt to achieve. The Web is just going about it with a little more chaos and a lot more everyman participation.

Postmodernism and Video Games

I thought I would write about an unrelated topic to DeLillo and the criticism this week since they seem to be pretty well covered. I am thinking about writing my term paper on the video game Fallout 3 and how the game’s setting, gameplay, and story all immerse the user in postmodernism. This got me thinking about video games in general as postmodern art forms. Not all games are alike, but I believe that video games in general are a very postmodern tradition.

One of the first things about more modern video games is the mix of high and low culture. Games require brilliant coding and engine design from some of the top programmers in the field. Many computer programs, like the one I am using to write this blog, provide a service and others like encyclopedias and Microsoft Office applications allow knowledge to be assembled and disseminated. However, for the amount of brilliant programming that goes into a video game, the function, more often than not, is to allow the user to navigate his way through a virtual world killing just about anything he encounters. In a game like Bioshock, an incredibly well written story about a Utopian society gone wrong (complete with repeated imagery and themes like love, power, and family) guides the gameplay, which mostly centers around killing. I think that is one perfect example of what games are becoming capable of these days. They do not just provide stunning environments and the opportunity to kill Nazi zombies (Call of Duty: World at War) but some also weave fascinating tales, the likes of which previously only occurred in literature.

It is also worth noting that many of these new first-person-shooter games owe their creation to a game called Wolfenstein. This game combined two previous traditions and pretty much paved the way for an entirely new genre of game. Driving simulators frequently used the first person before Wolfenstein, but most shoot-em up games where third person. Wolfenstein combined the two traditions and some of the most popular first-person games ever (Halo 3, Call of Duty, Resident Evil) are members of that fused genre.

The technological aspects of video games are clear when one looks at the software and hardware design needed to create such complex worlds, but since the creation of online gaming (first with computers, now also on consoles) we have seen a new level of postmodernism come in. I can play a game with my roommate while we both sit in our own rooms because of online connectivity. Users across the world come together to play against each other and receive world-wide rankings in the process–a kind of constant Olympics where medals can always be lost. This has also allowed the video game space and time to become completely fractured. Games still have beginnings and ends when it comes to single-player campaigns, but with games like World of Warcraft the multi-player experience literally never ends. The game exists and the story just continues and continues. You may not always be playing in a game like Fable, but the time keeps ticking. So every time the user signs back in, their time frame has been fractured by however much time they have been away. They could leave a game after completing one mission, and rather than having the experience pick up again where they left off, they could sign back in a few days later to find a friend has robbed them of all their gold and items. A point in which they will actually move backwards in time because they now have to play catch up.

These are just a few of the things I’ve been thining about as I prepare to write my paper. Games have always been pretty postmodern, if for no other reason because of the inherent use of technology, but as games move online and become deeper and more robust, they are beginning to encapsulate more than just technology with thier postmodern tendencies.


Women, Science, and Technology

First off, I apologize for this post being a bit late. But it’s fitting because this week we’re looking at technology, and the technology services Verizon provides to some neighborhoods is absolutely terrible and only works intermitently, when it works at all. I’ve been trying to connect all morning and resetting the router can’t fix this problem. So if anyone out there is thinking of switching to Verizon Fios: Don’t.

Since I’m a writer for the American Psychological Association, I thought it would be nice to see what psychologists were saying about women and technology at a time closer to the publication of The Female Man. While this post won’t relate directly to the book, I think it will provide some historical perspective about women, technology, and science. The article I will be discussing is called “Women, Science, and Technology” by Sheila M. Pfafflin and was published in the October issue of  American Psychologist in 1984. This is about 9 years after The Female Man was published, but still 25 years before the present.

The article first points out that women, even back then with a work force prevalence of 45%, were missing from engineering and physical science fields with participation rates as low as 13%. Pfafflin points to four trends for why this is a problem: The equity issue turned women away because they were less likely to be encouraged to pursue careers and develop their talents in science and engineering. Human resource utilization comes from the failure of the equity issue the country then wastes a substantial portion of technical talent (women) which could lead to serious science and tech consequences. Discrimination against women in these fields, back then, further turned them away. And finally, policy-making in these fields, because of the low rate of woman involvement, was being made with low input from women.

I bring this study up, becuase it made me wonder: “Have women ever been participants in the science and technology fields?” What I mean by this, is this is an issue that we still hear about today. For some reason, I thought it was a recent development (like in the last 10 years), but apparently, for different reasons, it was also an issue in 1984. Pfafflin also makes the point that in the late ’70s the rates of women participating in science and technology were even lower. Prior the the ’60s, very few women were staying in the work place past marriage. Was there ever a time when women were participating in the physical sciences and technology more so than they are today? It doesn’t look like it.
While this is certainly cause for concern for social scientists understanding why this is the case, what I see here is really just the same old media trick of making big news out of old news. It seems like there is a new story a month about how women are avoiding science fields at ever increasing rates. How can this possibly be the case? The four things Pfafflin listed as the causes for concern and problems aren’t as big a deal in academia any more. Women are, with increasing frequency, affecting policy. Academic departments are constantly becoming friendly to both genders not to mention other ethnic and minority groups.

All of this is relavent because, while women may not be participating in science and technology fields at the rates some would like to see nowadays, they never really have. This brings us to Janet: “I’ve worked in the mines, on the radio network, on a milk farm, a vegetable farm, and for six weeks as a librarian” (1). It seems here that Russ is fully aware of the limitations and barriers that were facing women around her time (the ones listed by Pfafflin above) and made a simple point: For women to be included in fields typically dominated by men (the radio network, mines and farms) men cannot exist. Maybe that’s the case, but from what I gather from 20 years of psychological research, women have never participated at rates some folks would like to see. Of course, I don’t think there’s much any of us can do about it, because, after all, we’re English majors.

On authorship and Labyrinths: In Response… (Zampano who did you lose?)

…to some of the previous posts:

Reading some of this week’s posts I see that other people are also questioning authorship in HoL as well as the labyrinth-like structure of the text itself. I can’t say I have definitive answers, but here are some of my thoughts on these matters.

I believe that as far as House of Leaves is concerned, “The greatest trick [Danielewski] pulls is convincing the [reader] he doesn’t exist.” Danielewski does an amazing job of creating a work of fiction that seems to be the work of Zampano (does anyone else have issues accenting the ‘o’ in his name?) and Johnny Truant. I like the idea that the reliability of the narrator “doesn’t really matter” as has been said in class, but while browsing through the pages of the book over the weekend I found something very interesting. This Easter egg is not “within the text” so to speak, but is a part of the novel–found on the page of photos directly after the cover. The stained, ink-marked piece of paper on the center of the page is a partial note about the book (This, I now realize, is also in the appendix in full–but I found the one after the cover first, so I’m going to keep that. Sorry, folks, just started looking over the appendices now). It reads

“Note # [indecipherable text] Chapter XII: Perhaps I will alter the whole thing. Kill both children. Murder is a better word. Chad scrambling to escape, almost making it to the front door where Karen waits, until a corner in the foyer suddenly leaps forward and hews the boy in half. At the same time Navidson, by the kitchen, reaches for daisy…arrive a fraction a second too late, his fingers…’ding air, his eyes scratching after Daisy as she…to her death. Let both parents experience that …’eir narcissism find a new object to wither by…’em in infanticide. Drown them in blood.” A note written in red ink below this type-written passage reads “…top primary sense, to wound, tear, pull to pisces.”  Note: The line reads pisces, lowercase, not pieces. (DNE)

This sheds a new light on the authorship. Clearly somebody is creating this tale if they have the power to change the ending. But all the passage–like so many others–really does it create more questions. Is this Danielewski’s note? If so, then Truant could indeed be reliable. The same could be said if it is a Zampano note: Truant could still be reliable, but Zampano’s work would further be established as mostly fiction. Is it Pelafina’s note? As we have seen by reading the appendices, she is deeply troubled. Something in her letters hints that she may have had exposure to this work herself, after all, she appears to be in the state that Johnny himself is heading towards.

I am beginning to believe that the question of authorship is answered in the way Danielewski creates a book where readers constantly question the validity of the text. The text–or the body of materials that constitute the novel–are not concerned with fact or fiction. They cause whoever is in possession of them to devolve into a state of isolation and eventual insanity. Can’t the same be said for us, the readers and critics of this novel? There is nothing for us to do but continue reading as the book deconstructs itself. Does this not lead us to frustration and insanity? As many people have mentioned in their posts, HoL consumes us. We want more time–need more time–to consume the book even as it consumes us. The same thing is happening in the text. Johnny isn’t sure whether he is working with genuine documents–he even says the film doesn’t exist and the footnotes are often fabrications–but he can’t put it down. Neither can we. This is the text messing with us. Hints of this can be found in the fonts used for each character:

Zampano uses Times–he is the reporter who did immense research on the Navidson record and reports it in academic and journalistic style. Truant uses Courier. He is the messenger who brings Zampano’s research to the reader. Pelafina’s font is Dante, which conjurs images of hell, perhaps as a result of coming into contact with the very materials that appear to be sending Johnny on a path towards insanity. The editors–perhaps the only reliable writers in the text–use Bookman because they are literally book men.

These fonts are ultimately the work of House of Leaves’ ultimate author, Danielewski, who places specific hints in the text for the readers. It is clear that this is a work of fiction, but the text seems to be confused by its own state of existence. Sometimes we question its credibility and other times accept what the book’s authors write as credible. This is a text that deconstructs itself before I can even fully formulate my own deconstructing criticism and the use of fonts and subtle hints lead me to question the authenticity and reliability of the text, seemingly around every corner. This shows that the text is fighting this struggle itself–trying to exist even as all signs say it should not. I believe the point Danielewski is tying to make is that credibility and authenticity are not always that important or especially clear cut. After all, Johnny reads Zampano’s text knowing that it is largely a fabrication but still finds himself becoming consumed by the work. So do we, the readers, consume the text–fully aware of its status as fiction–and find ourselves consumed. Here we can see elements of postmodern fiction blurring the lines of authorship, transcending the boundaries of fiction and reality and leaving us saying only, “who cares.”

Another element I will touch on briefly are the mentions of the labyrinth. I was hoping to spend more time writing about this, but I am already well over 500 words, so a note will suffice. I agree that the book is much like a labyrinth that we must negotiate. But my question is this: While a normal labyrinth has many dead-ends, with blocked passages connected to the one that actually leads somewhere, is every passage in House of Leaves really a dead-end? Is the text like this on purpose? Serving as a maze with no entrance and no exit–one that answers any questions we may want to address before we can address them? One that traps characters and readers alike in a state of fear, locked away with a monster we can’t see but know is there? You guys tell me.

This is a comic by XKCD that is fitting for our reading of house of leaves:

An xkcd cartoon using an IHOP menu and heavy HoL inspiration
An xkcd cartoon using an IHOP menu and heavy HoL inspiration

On Harvey

“The Condition of Postmodernity” was not the easiest read, but there were several elements of postmodernism that harvey addressed in his article. Since Harvey writes about art, architecture, literature, etc. it is hard to make any one statement about the condition of postmodernism. However, after reading this article I can’t help but feel that at least as far as fiction goes, one underlying element to almost everything is the element of distrust. Harvey writes that “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 it it? Which of myselves is to do it?’ instead” (48).

An element of Marxism, which Harvey evokes often in his article, is the need to ask a continuous string of questions to find what is hidden underneath. One question is asked, and the opposite question must be tackled before you can move on to the next question. This is what shows us the hidden elements that define culture like religion, politics, laws, etc. There is also the concept of alienation, brought up as well by Harvey. This also cuts to the heart of distrust. Rather than continue asking questions until they reach definitive answers, it seems postmodern writers ask questions and very early on become distracted when they ask “why am I asking so many questions?” This sense of distrust for the past, and for dominant social norms permiates much of the fiction we’ve read so far.

In The Crying of Lot 49, there are numerous examples. One example that comes to my mind is  when Fallopian is describing the Peter Pinguid society. In the description of the society, it becomes clear that there is little in the way of an underlying message or truth. First Fallopian get lost in the details of the very naval battle that the Peter Pinguid society is based upon, only to say “Who cares…we don’t try to make scripture out of it” (36). This, to me, signifies a deep mistrust of religion. Especially its reliance upon translated scripture as a moral guiding post. The Peter Pinguid’s foundation myth is incomplete. The Peter Pinguid society also shows a distrust for economic systems when Fallopian later says, “good guys and bad guys. You never get to any of the underlying truth. Sure he was against industrial capitalism. So are we. Didn’t it lead, inevitably, to Marxism? Underneath, both are part of the same creeping horror” (37). While modernists tended to take sides in this debate, we see a very postmodern stance in Fallopian’s approach: who cares, they’re both effed anyway. Rather than investigate the deeper implications of each system, Fallopian stays on the surface and takes the stance that both are corrupt. He offers no new, better method, but leaves it at that. I believe this to be a clear sign of distrust: nothing can be fixed, so why bother. It’s more fun to observe how messed up things are after all, it seems Fallopian is saying.

In The Lathe of Heaven a more subtle distrust takes place in the character of Orr. His distrust lies in a fear that he will literally change the past. In the Harvey article, he describes the postmodern relationship with the past as one “eschewing the idea of progress, postmodernism abandons all sense of historical continuity and memory, while simaltaneously developing an incredible ability to plunder history and absorb whatever he finds there as some aspect of the present” (54). This is exactly what Orr does. Not only does he created a fractured version of the present, because to him, two versions of the past exist each time he alters it, but he literally abandons any hope for historical continuity. His dreams change the past–continuity is not possible.

While Harvey never mentions distrust, I believe that many of his points lead to this feeling. Youth in the 60s rebelling against forced consumerism as a result of tv, ideas of “the self without God,” and alienation all point to a generation–or generations– of writers whose distrust causes them to focus on the surface and avoid making any statements of grand meaning–after all, if they can’t trust, can they be trusted themselves?

Not to step on my own toes, as I present next week, but when I think back on House of Leaves, I see a novel littered with distrust. The setting can’t be trusted, as it has a tendency to mess with the occupants. The first historical record, Navidson’s, is also untrustworthy. At times, so is Johnny Truant’s account. In this way, the novel questions its own trustworthiness and at times hints at the fact that it could all be a fabrication. It does all of this in many different forms, but one is the oft-footnoted style of academic writing–a medium which may feature opinions we aren’t inclined to agree with, but that many of us probably trust as legitimate.

These are just some final thoughts on how this ties into our future reading, but at this point, I don’t know who to belive–and I’m inclined to just stop trying, because what good is truth without trust, anyhow?

-Jared C.

On Dehumanization and the Humanization of Silence

Sorry this post is coming a little late. I was without power–but thankfully still had gas for heat–last night!

I noticed many people spoke about the dehumanizing aspects in the stories like Super Goat Man and Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms.” However, I see an oppossite effect occuring in Foer’s story, “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease.”  While I would not make the claim that this is a depiction of the most functional family, I will make the claim that the way Foer presents silence actually humanizes the characters and by using symbols, adds dimensions to silence–or a lack of speech–that are rarely represented.

A basic function of many stories and human interaction, in general, is communication. Represented in stories through dialogue, it is how the characters interact. However, in “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease,” the characters interact almost entirely through silence. Foer’s use of specific symbols to represent specific types of silence convey more emotion and meaning than words themselves could. This story deals with relatively heavy topics. As Foer states in the opening paragraph, “we have forty-one heart attacks between us, and counting” (135). The dialogue that follows is then represented by four open squares, or absences of language between the narrator and his father. In a typical story, this would be a hard conversation to write. However, in Foer’s story, we see that first the father says nothing, then the narrator, to which the father replies with more nothing, and the narrator once again follows suit. This is not just a period of silence, this is an open exchange of nothing said.

Additional marks like the closed square and the ‘??’ add new elements of silence to the conversation the narrator has with his mother, who is intent on loving some grandchildren–not yet birthed–before she dies. In this exchange we see the open squares (nothing said) and also the narrator’s willed silence–he has nothing more to add. When the mother answers with “??” her silence insists on an explanation that will not be offered.

Not every mark deals with silence. The ‘¡’ mark is a whisper and the ‘::’ marks point to a deeper meaning in the relationship between words. In this case, “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” deals as much with the “unsaid” as the silent. In describing the ‘←’ mark, the narrator says, “familial communication always has to do with failures to communicate.” This line cuts to the heart of this story (pardon the pun). Silence and the unsaid take on whole new meanings in this story because of the variety of representation. And this is what this story is really all about. While I see the dehumanizing effects that come from a family that barely say any “real” words to each other, I see the humanizing aspect in their varied silences. The real issue in this story is not silence, but a family who has 41 heart-attacks between then, and a son who has not yet found a companion. The silences that take place between father and sons revolve around the fear of death and failing hearts. The dialogue exchanges between mother and son incorporate the fear of death but add the element of loneliness to it. What’s worse than dying of a bad heart? Dying of a bad heart before finding love, marriage, and providing grandchildren for your desperate mother. This can be seen in the final pages of the story when the only things spoken are:  “Are you hearing static,” “Jonathan?,” “Jonathan~,” “I::not myself~,” and the whispered, “I’m probably just tired.” For so few words spoken, this passage conveys an intense amount of emotion. The concerns about health and loneliness are poured onto the page, creating an almost overwhelming sense of emotion, yet very little is said. It is in this way that the many faces of silence–as interpreted by the narrator–are used to humanize a family that appears to have serious communication issues. A story where they simply say nothing would be void of emotion and create a dehumanizing effect. A story where they say nothing, but in a myriad of different ways and in many different contexts is one that humanizes their fears and also their unspoken love for one another.

-Jared Clark

Work Cited:

Foer, Jonathan Safran. “A Primer on the Punctuation of Heart Disease.” Eggers, Dave, ed. The Best American Nonrequired Reading. New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003: 135-142.