Consuming news and peaceful (?) endings

This week’s reading was my first experience with graphic novels, and, I have to admit, the experience was better than expected. I found the form interesting, and both works provided clear commentary on the media and the ideas of sensationalism that we have discussed throughout the course.

I thought the Lappe and Goldman work employed an interesting mix of real photos and graphics. The commentary on consumerism and globalization was obvious, with Starbucks and other American stores and products appearing throughout the work. Also, the idea of the media itself cutting off true reporting comes up repeatedly throughout the work. After Jimmy’s first video appears and he interviews with Global Television, the anchor repeatedly cuts him off. He is continually cut off throughout his experience. Jimmy feels that he has a “real” story to tell. Clearly, Lappe and Goldman are attacking news media through their work, and they seem to specifically focus on how stories and true reporting are hindered.

Both Shooting War and In the Shadow of No Towers speak to how news can consume individuals and society. Jimmy says that “being a war correspondent eats away at your soul. It happens slowly.” Spiegelman’s character is obviously consumed by the events of September 11, 2001. Another one of Spiegelman’s characters pulls her husband from the computer, saying that he’s “gonna get news poisoning” (8). Interestingly, though, Spiegelman portrays almost everyone else as having a lack of awareness or consideration for the catastrophic events. He mentions that “by 9/12/01 clocks began to tick again” (10). Time moves on, but, for many, the catastrophic event fades with each year, a reality which he depicts with the image of the fading tower.

Spiegelman makes an interesting point about what he “actually” saw versus what he saw on TV (4). He says that “he saw the falling bodies on TV much later…but what he actually saw got seared into his skull forever.” In the introduction, Spiegelman talks about his experience traveling to the Midwest in October of 2001. Whereas New York was still dealing with the tragedy, “in Indiana everything east of the Alleghenies was very, very far away.” Spiegelman speaks to the idea that TV is a sort of alternative reality—the events aren’t truly real unless they happened to you. Otherwise, the pictures are entertainment. Here he is definitely commenting on the sensationalism of news stories.

Although I enjoyed the overall experience of reading these graphic novels, I really feel unsatisfied with the ending of both works. I truly don’t know what to make of the ending of Shooting War. Where does Jimmy stand in the end? It seemed that he was realizing the “evils” of the news media industry, but then, in the end, it seems that he has become consumed by it and is in it for the thrill. In the final pages of In the Shadow of No Towers, Spiegelman reflects on “old newspaper comics” in which some searched for “solace” after 9/11/01. He ends with the comic of a man trying to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa because he is convinced that it will collapse. The ending seems unclear, but I wonder if Spiegelman is commenting on himself and his purpose or goal. He expresses self-conscious thoughts throughout the work. He admits that he “see[s] glasses as half empty rather than half full” (8), and he even doubts his own thoughts and fears when he cries out when he’s among “complacent” sleepers (9). Perhaps ending the work the way he did is his way of acknowledging that his work has no real effect (or that the “problem” can’t be fixed), but he’s making an effort. Alex makes some great points about Spiegelman’s work as “trauma literature.” It seems that the book, written over a period of years, was Spiegelman’s way of dealing with the tragedy. Hopefully he found more peace when he completed the work, as Alex suggests that the final “Ah!” indicates.

The writer and his subjects

Wow. I had thought House of Leaves took us on a whirlwind tour de force narrative, but I think Plascencia’s People of Paper has Danielewski’s work beat. I have so many questions. I was really hooked by the Prologue and the first couple of chapters, but then found myself juggling so many narratives. Obviously there are connections between the narratives, but these connections are often vague, and I kept waiting to have some grand epiphany as to how all the puzzle pieces really come together.

One of the main puzzle pieces I found myself working to place was the question of Saturn’s identity. Initially, and at many points throughout the novel, it seems that Saturn is a God-figure. He’s all-knowing, always watching the many characters. However, the characters are able to hide from him behind their lead walls and doors and by blocking out some of their thoughts from “view.” However, we also learn that “Saturn’s real name is Salvador Plascencia” (102). Postcards sent to Saturn are addressed to Plascencia, and the two continue to be equated throughout the novel. We learn that Saturn’s great-grandfather is Don Victoriano and his father is Antonio, providing more connections between the characters and suggesting that Saturn is not a God-figure. It also seems that Saturn is, at least at times, an actual neighbor in the town because Smiley watches “the light from Saturn’s bedroom” being turned on and off (151). Saturn’s identity is clearly jumbled, but it seems that Saturn is most likely representative of the author and Plascencia is commenting on writing and the role of the writer.

The town is at war against Saturn, a war which is later referred to as “the war on an omniscient narrator” (218). At several points throughout the novel we learn that Saturn is losing some control over the story. Early in the novel he is said to be “blind to the progression of the story” (105). Later, Sandra shares that “After all these pages, as Saturn faded, it was our voices that directed the story, our collective might pressing Saturn into a corner” (216). At this point in the novel, the voices of the characters dominate the pages. Saturn is called a “tyrant” because he is “commanding the story where he wants it to go” (228). The characters want privacy. They build their safe houses to protect themselves from Saturn’s view. Even when the lead houses must be taken down, the characters are still able to withhold information from Saturn—the author—by withholding thoughts when telling their story. The clearest example of this withholding of information is when Froggy “never revealed what the letters [from Sandra] said” (244). He viewed this withholding of information as “his small way of triumphing over Saturn.” In this sense, the character is withholding information from not only the author, who has not provided full disclosure of the character’s thoughts, actions, and motivations, but also from the reader. Not all questions are answered, and some things have been left open to interpretation. The characters seem to prefer this “privacy” to full disclosure. Little Merced even feels anger “not only toward Saturn, but also against those who stared down at the page, against those who followed sentences into her father’s room and into his bed, watching […] perhaps even laughing” (186). It seems that Plascencia is making a statement about the writer’s role, suggesting that not all questions should be answered but, rather, things should be left open to interpretation, just as they are in life.

In this way, Plascencia also suggests, as Cameroon states, that we are “not of paper” (226). Cameroon says that there is a difference between telling and writing. As both Cameroon and Liz point out, an author cannot capture the whole story when trying to portray a character or a person. Text, then, and the retelling of the stories on it, becomes dangerous, as Ralph and Elisa Landin conclude (219). It is interesting that Plascencia suggests that writers embark on a dangerous task when they write their stories, and yet his novel seems so personal.

More on crowds, writers, and writing

While reading Mao II, I felt that I kept waiting for something to happen–for the pieces to come together, for something to “click” more than it was. I was initially drawn into the work, but then I began to feel that the novel was a never-ending exposition. Additionally, it took me a while to get used to DeLillo’s style. (This was my first exposure to DeLillo.) The writing felt very stiff and the dialogue and interactions felt unnatural, maybe even unbelievable. (For instance, the scene of Brita’s photo shoot with Bill seemed awkward and artificial in an unnatural way, if that makes sense.) I liked how DeLillo changed the “focalizer”, but I sometimes found it difficult to keep up with the dialogue changes and would have to frequently go back and re-read sections of dialogue. I am pondering the greater significance of this confusion. Was DeLillo intending for the dialogue to sound like one voice, adding to his commentary on individual identity vs. combined experience/identity?

Now, before it sounds like I’m bashing DeLillo’s work, I have to say there were things that I liked about the novel. Again, I liked the shifting point of view, and I did enjoy the bits of humor interspersed throughout the text. Additionally, I liked DeLillo’s use of the prologue and epilogue to shape the narrative. (I am interesting in discussing the greater significance of the epilogue, though.) While I didn’t feel as fulfilled at the end of the novel as I had expected I would be when I started reading, there are definitely things I like about the novel, and I definitely have questions!

Alyssa brought up some great points about the crowd/individual pattern seen throughout the book. This was a pattern that I, too, took note of starting with the prologue. As Alyssa pointed out, Bill fights for the individual. On the other hand, Karen wants to blend in. Obviously, she took part in the crowd at the mass-marriage. She also seems to be drawn to crowds in the news and photographs. And she seems to enjoy the city. At one point when Karen is in the park she “realized they saw her” and this realization was a “shock” (151). I’m not sure that we could say that Bill and Karen are complete opposites in this respect, and I’m not exactly sure where Scott and Brita fit on this spectrum of individual vs. crowds, but it is clear that DeLillo is making a statement about the individual identity and experience being consumed by the idea of the common experience and identity.

In addition to the identity motif, I was also intrigued by the references to writers and writing. Todd made some interesting observations about these references in his post. Throughout the novel, writers seem to be held high in society-everyone is wondering what has happened to Bill and rumors have been circulating; Bill is asked to read Jean-Claude’s poems because he will carry some weight as a writer; the veterinarians in the restaurant seem impressed that Bill is a writer. However, the text also speaks to the weakening influence that writers have in the world. I also found it interesting that while the text speaks to writers losing their influence in society, writing is what Bill blames for his decline, saying that “it was writing that caused his life to disappear” (215). Writing may not have the influence on the greater population, but it definitely impacts the individual.

I also picked up on the idea of images vs. reality and how they can become one in the same with technology. Brita speaks of the “authority” of images and how they can become reality when she tells Bill that “the moment [his] picture appears [he’ll] be expected to look just like it. And if [he] meet people somewhere, they will absolutely question [his] right to look different from [his] picture” (43). This passage stood out to me and stuck with me throughout the novel.

Overall, I noticed many things in the novel which we had discussed in class (images,/reality, media coverage, etc). I look forward to class discussion in hopes of a greater understanding of DeLillo’s work!

Past, Present, and Future in BELOVED

I share some of the same uncertainty that others have expressed in previous posts regarding classifying Morrison’s work as “postmodern”. When I read the novel, I wasn’t actively trying to place it into a category. It was not until after I finished reading the novel that I started to think about it through a “postmodern lens”. I’m having the same difficulty that others are having. I found Alana’s comment about the narrative interesting. Alana suggests that “the narrative isn’t particularly fragmented (at least in the sense of point of view)”. I agree that Morrison’s narrative was not ground-breaking or earth-shattering, but as I read I was continually struck by her skill at flawlessly weaving in and out of the perspectives of the various characters. Some chapters contained multiple perspectives, weaving from the voice of an unknown narrator into the memories of various characters. While I guess this isn’t fragmented in the sense of The Female Man and some of the other works that we have read, I do feel that it is distinct.

After considering my own thoughts on how and why the novel is (or isn’t) postmodern, I was struck with the question of how many books are “postmodern” due to the time period in which they were written yet lack some of the key characteristics of postmodern works. This question made me think about how and why we classify texts, but I realize this pondering doesn’t get us anywhere with our discussion of Beloved as a postmodern work.

Aside from the narrative, and my ponderings on classifying works as postmodern, I was struck by several things while reading the novel. The motif of space comes up throughout the novel. Sethe feels that she can’t take any more memories, thinking, “I am still full of [the memories], God damn it, I can’t go back and add more” (83). Beloved talks about the lack of space on the other side, telling Denver there was “nothing to breathe down there and no room to move in” (88). Along with the idea of space is the selfishness of each character. Denver wants Sethe to herself and doesn’t want to share her with Paul D. or Beloved. But she also wants Beloved for herself and views it as her mission to care for and protect Beloved. Paul D. wants Sethe for himself and is jealous of their new boarder, Beloved. And Beloved wants Sethe for herself. This idea of space and selfishness is connected to Sara’s post about characters trying to establish ownership. It seems that Denver tries to establish ownership the most. Not only does she desire to “own” Sethe and Beloved, but she also seeks ownership over the past. She resents the fact that “her father’s absence was not hers” (15), and she “hated the stories her mother told that did not concern herself” (74).

Of all the characters, Sethe’s desires seem unclear. She is obviously obsessed with the past and it seems that Beloved is the embodiment of what Sethe calls her “rememory”. It is interesting that Sethe believed that she could forget her past because Beloved was there and seemed to understand when, in actuality, Beloved’s presence made Sethe remember even more. At one point Sethe even says that “her mind was busy with the things she could forget” (227). We are told that “to Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay” (51), and “her brain was not interested in the future” (83). Because of the deep hurt of her past, she had “no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day.” Despite her desire to “[beat] back the past” (85), the past seems to be Sethe’s obsession.

On the other hand, while he remembers the past, Paul D looks to the future. He takes Sethe and Denver to the carnival in hopes of a fresh start, and when he comes back to Sethe in the end, he tells her, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (322).

Finally, Denver is concerned with the present. We’re told that Denver “had her own set of questions which had nothing to do with the past. The present alone interested Denver” (141). Denver is lonely and feels that she is out of place. She is unaccepted in her society, and she realizes that she is not a part of the past that Paul D and Sethe share. She is also fearful of losing Beloved and her mother, just like she has lost everyone else. So, for Denver, life is about maintaining what she has. It is interesting that she seems to be okay in the end. While we are left with hope for Sethe and Paul D, it seems that Denver is the only one we can be sure of having a hopeful future.

I really enjoyed reading Beloved and was most intrigued by these views of past, present, and future. I do look forward to our class discussions of the various themes and motifs in the text, as well as its classification as “postmodern.” There’s too much to say about this novel for just one post!

Female Unity in THE FEMALE MAN

As others have been discussing, I, too, was struck by the “unity” of the women in the novel. There are several instances where Russ presents the idea of a dual-personality. For instance, Laura struggles with her wants and how they differ from societal expectations. (In fact, this idea of duality is clearly displayed as Laura’s name become “Laur” at points when her “other side” is most prominent.) When Joanna (?) discusses how she turned into a man she says that “knowledge is […] the perception of all experience through two sets of eyes, two systems of value, two habits of expectation, almost two minds” (137-138). Alice says “there are always two sides” (165), and Jael suggests that each woman has a Doppelganger (162).  These women, mainly “the J’s”, seem to be compromised of two personalities: the individual they want to be, and the individual resisting society’s pressures and expectations. Each woman seems to have another “self”. Earlier in the novel, this other self seems to be in the form of some sort of spirit. (The “I” is confusing here, as its unclear if the spirit “I” is the other self of the same woman, or another woman all together. For instance, the “I” in the scene when Janet and Laura first become physically intimate seems to be some sort of an observant conscience of Janet.)

Throughout the novel I thought of Adrienne Rich’s poetry and her themes of the unity of all women. Like Karin, I found the multiple pronouns to be very confusing at times, but I do think that Russ is saying something about the unity of women, just as Rich does in her poetry. Both Russ and Rich use pronouns in such a way as to emphasize the solidarity of women and the shared female experience. 


Along with my frustration with the shifting point of view that I could not always follow (I really feel that I lost whatever grip I had with the introduction of Jael), I also had a love-hate relationship with Russ’s style. I enjoyed Russ’s acknowledgement of social expectations and their incorporation throughout the novel, such as on page 65 when she repeatedly states, “everyone knows”, adding emphasis to these stereotypes and expectations. I enjoyed Laura’s rebellion against “The Man” (65).  I want a better understanding of the point of view changes, though. I also don’t understand why Russ uses what seem to be sub-chapters within her chapters and I’m curious as to the significance of this choice. I’m also curious about the significance of the moon. Jeannine and Janet’s first words were “see the moon,” and the moon comes up at other points in the novel.


As others have posted, I agree that in some ways The House of Leaves seems to have prepared us for the journey into The Female Man.  I have to admit that I did find it to be a challenge, though, and I feel that I’m left with more many more questions than I have opinions and arguments.

What to believe in this work of fiction

As I continue to read the book, I continue to be pulled into its labyrinth-nature. I wish I had a full day to finish it because it really is hard to put down!

Both Professor Sample and Sara Flood have commented on how exactly we are meant to approach this novel. I keep asking myself that same question, too. Sara pointed out a great quote from page 114 of the novel. I think this quote, which refers to the labyrinth-like nature of the film and the viewer’s interaction with the film, also applies to us as readers of the novel. As we discover the multiple layers we, too, are continuing to try to piece it together. Sara commented on the remark that someone made in class: “Does it really matter?” I’m reminded of Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I absolutely love the novella and love teaching it. Every year, though, my students get so hung up on the questions that don’t really matter. They become practically obsessed with the identity of the narrator and who really took Angela’s virginity and they miss some of the bigger elements and deeper connections. I am wondering if I’m doing the same thing with Danielewski’s novel. Are we missing something, or, perhaps, are we looking too deep into it? Is Danielewski’s master plan to confuse us in this way? If so, for what purpose?

(I am interested in Professor Sample’s suggestion that the real tests and references in the novel could be the lens through which we should be viewing the book.)

I’m also questioning what Danielewski wants us to believe. Yes, we are dealing with a work of fiction, but Danielewski has put such great time and effort into making his novel appear real. The frame narrator, the footnotes, the letters from Truant’s mother….all of these aspects of the work make it seem real to the readers. But then the footnotes and references are a mix of fact and fiction, and it seems we are seeing more and more references of sources that never seemed to have existed. (Of course, none of it really existed to begin with!) For instance, on page 83, Zampano references a book that is “no longer in print”. Similarly, on page 99, he refers to Navidson’s “now lost journal”. And, of course, The Navidson Record isn’t obtainable. With this mix of fact with an overwhelming amount of fiction constructed to appear factual, what are we supposed to believe? How does this mix contribute a greater meaning and greater significance of the book and its layers?

The layering continues to develop as we read. I had not read the mother’s letters for last class, but, now that I have read them, I agree they provide more insight into Truant’s character. I think we can see him as more intellectual than his lifestyle suggests. The stories about his childhood abuse makes us view him (and his times of violent thoughts and actions) differently, too. It is so interesting to read his footnotes! Whenever I come to one of Truant’s long notes, at first I’m a little annoyed that I have to stop reading about The Navidson Record, but then I get into Truant’s thoughts (it’s almost like reading his annotations in Zampano’s work) and I don’t want to shift back to The Navidson Record! I’m really enjoying the style! I was also particularly intrigued by the fact that layers are played out in this style as well. For instance, in Chapter VIII, the text (and space) mimics the film shots which mimicked the “SOS” knocking heard in the house. I found this choice fascinating!

I look forward to finishing the novel and, hopefully, gaining a better understanding of how we are supposed to read the work and what we’re supposed to take from it.

~Jennifer Kathryn Fulton

Layers and Reliability

I believe I mentioned in class that one of my students had the most bizarre reaction when I mentioned that I was going to be reading The House of Leaves. One day, when I told her I was going to start reading the book that night, she cried, “Oh no! Don’t read it at night! Read it during the day when you’re sure of yourself and the world around you!” Her reaction made me laugh, but when I did go to start reading the book later that evening I must admit that I was a bit hesitant. J Maybe it was the warnings of my student that got me, but I did find the style to be rather ominous. I kept waiting for the horror I might discover on the next page. Although I still feel that Danielewski has successfully created an eerie, foreboding mood, I’ve overcome that initial hesitation and I am very much intrigued by the style of the book!


Several people have commented on the many layers of the book. I find this layering just fascinating! We’re reading a book told from the point of view of a narrator (a “frame narrator”?) who is piecing together a book from scraps of writings about a film which, as others have mentioned, is also fragmented. Then there is the layer of false support and commentary found in the footnotes. Additionally, Truant’s compilation also offers him a chance to reflect in journal-like writings. Just like the house in the novel, these layers seem never-ending.


In addition to the layers of the novel, I’m also interested in the names Danielewski chose. Susanna discussed the significance of Truant’s name. I’m also intrigued by Truant’s friend, Lude. Lude is rather lewd, but, then again, so is Truant. However, by going through Zampano’s writing, Truant begins to think on a deeper level, to some level going beyond the lewd lifestyle of smoking pot, getting drunk, and having sex with multiple (and random) partners. However, Lude (or the lewd lifestyle) keeps interrupting his thoughts (50).


As others have mentioned, Truant’s lifestyle has other implications…he can be seen as an unreliable narrator. Sara mentioned that Truant’s errors make him unreliable. I had a very different view, though. I actually see Truant has a rather reliable narrator because he is presented as very “real”. Truant’s voice is very conversational. He apologizes for how he is expressing his thoughts, he uses clichés (which we’re all guilty of), and he does make mistakes. Also, Truant demonstrates an understanding that time distorts memory. Within the first few pages of his introduction he admits that a particular memory “isn’t entirely accurate” but states that he is trying to be (xvi). Sure, we might not be getting an accurate account of this fictional tale, but I believe that Truant is presented as a rather real, believable character trying to make sense of what he has stumbled upon.


Speaking of real…I was relieved to learn that I was not the only one who struggled with Baudrillard’s essay on the real and the simulated. (I honestly struggled a bit with Foucault’s, too.) I think there have been some interesting comments about the connection between Baudrillard’s piece and The House of Leaves. I particularly liked Susanna’s observation that “Zampano’s reality becomes Truant’s reality”. From what I could gather, Baudrillard seems to make the argument that, due to representation and simulation, the real and the imagined become intertwined, and the imagined (or, in our case, the seemingly impossible) becomes another sort of reality. This thought really came back to me when I was reading Truant’s introduction and he states, “Zampano knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t doesn’t matter here. The consequences are the same” (xx). I feel this statement really connects to the idea of constructed realities. At this point in the novel we’re also seeing Truant dealing with consequences from what is not truly real but has become real to him through his connection to Zampano and his work. (Did that make sense? J)


I look forward to discussing the novel and the articles in class tomorrow!

~Jennifer Kathryn Fulton

Fragmentation, Ends vs. Means, and the Unexplainable

Before beginning my “official” post, I must apologize if I repeat what has already been said in previous posts. I’m still getting used to the idea of a blog and I feel the need to write and post my individual, uninfluenced response to the text before reading what others have written. Obviously, this method sort of defeats the purpose of the blog, and if I could do a better job of posting earlier in the week it would be fine, so I obviously need to work on posting earlier…or developing a new approach to the blog. J


Now to the real post…


I absolutely loved Le Guin’s novel! I found The Lathe of Heaven to be quite moving and incredibly beautiful, and it has earned a spot on my list of top favorite works. However, I do have many questions about the book, and I am struggling with the fact that it seems so very different from what we have read thus far in the course. (I also found Lethem’s “Super Goat Man” to be uncharacteristic of what I was thinking was characteristic of Postmodernism, so, as Professor Sample said, it seems that defining Postmodernism will be a continual puzzle.)


The fragmentation quality seen in other Postmodern works thus far is not as clear in the novel. Le Guin has a beautiful, poetic-like style. The novel does not have a fragmented style like Pynchon’s work. George’s dreams and their effect on the changing realities could be considered fragmentation, though. Through the dreams and the interchanging realities, there is also an element of surrealism. George is in the center of the variations of reality and true reality becomes confused. Heather even refers to him as “Either Orr” since he is stuck in the middle (90). (This nickname also represents Heather’s shifting views of George; at times she views him as weak and at others she views him as her rock.)


As in John Cage’s ”Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)”, references to a deteriorating environment appear throughout Le Guin’s novel. (Le Guin also seems to criticize the hypocrisy of war in her work, another motif in Cage’s piece.) I found it interesting that Le Guin repeatedly refers to the 1980’s as a turning point in the decline of society and the environment. Also, George’s dream of the end of the world was in 1998, and the “true present” of the text is 2002. It seems that Le Guin’s work could be interpreted as foreboding danger, destruction, and decline to come, and, since it was written in the 1970’s, it seems she holds, or at least portrays, the belief that the destruction was fast approaching. While this message carries through the novel, there are also some conflicting views, such as the idea that “great self-destruction follows upon unfounded fear” (121). Although it does not necessarily seem consistent with the novel as a whole or with the time, it seems that Le Guin’s work could be interpreted as presenting the fears of destruction as unfounded since she often shows the destruction as self-imposed. Also, she seems to oppose irrational fears of space by presenting the reader with kind Aliens.


Along these lines, Le Guin raises the question of whether the ends are more significant than the means. Haber seems to hold the view that the end justifies whatever means necessary to evoke the change (the end), whereas George believes that the means (costs) must be taken into account and individuals should not act as God to bring about change.  However, the Alien seems to share Haber’s view in regards to work/production. Rather than provide the reader with a definite opinion or message on the debate, Le Guin seems to present us with the debate itself—the reader, and society, must weigh the cost of their actions.


It’s clear that Le Guin presents that idea that some things simply are unexplainable. George reaches this “high attainment” (26), this ability to leave things as unexplainable. However, Dr. Haber can’t let things be (as George repeatedly argues that they must) and he believes that things must not only be changed, but also explained. George warns him, that he is “handling something outside reason” (page 86). He may have good goals (ends), but he is approaching them the wrong way. George tells Haber he is “trying to reach progressive, humanitarian goals with a tool that isn’t suited to the job.” Dr. Haber is ultimately destroyed in the end whereas George, who is able to let things be, “survives” (105) So maybe Le Guin’s view of the ends vs. means debate is more clear than it originally appears…


I’d like to have a better understanding of how this idea of the ends vs. the means ties in with the commentary on environmental destruction. I also want to have a better understanding of the ending of the novel. I feel a bit unclear about Haber’s dream. Haber obviously placed his own self-interests first, but he did seem to have good intentions. What was that final dream? Why would he dream for such destruction…or did he? I guess I’m trying to match up where the dreams intersect and make sense of what would have changed when. But then I’m trying to give reason to what may be intended to be out of the grasp of reason.

Style and Reason

Pynchon’s novel was quite the journey. While reading, I felt like Oedipa, trying to put reason into a world of chaos. I was immediately struck by how bizarre the plot of the novel is! Chapter 1 is considerably realistic and believable as we’re introduced to Oedipa, Mucho, and Oedipa’s new position as co executor of her ex-lover’s will. But realism really goes out the window when Oedipa begins a relationship with Metzger. I felt that the tipping point over into the completely bizarre and unbelievable was the scene in which the hairspray can flew destructively around the room. After this scene, Pynchon creates a rather surreal atmosphere that would only be believable as a dream or hallucination. Among other things, the Paranoids performances and tag-along nature, the constructed history, and the intricate web Oedipa attempts to weave through to solve the mystery of the Trystero really make the piece seem like a dream or hallucination.

I found it very interesting that this style is very much in contrast to that of Lethem’s in “Super Goat Man”. As we discussed last class, Lethem sets up a rather believable, yet surrealist, plot. The characters do not question Super Goat Man’s presence in their society. As the characters are not phased by his existence and presence, the reader buys into Super Goat Man’s existence as well. However, Pynchon clearly sets up a storyline that is not believable and, although he includes touches of reality, it does not seem that he intends it to be so. Interestingly, though, like Lethem’s characters, Pynchon’s main character, Oedipa Maas, buys into the world Pynchon has created.

In fact, Oedipa seems determined to put reason into her world and make sense of the mysteries. While she does partake in the madness of her society (as seen through her affair with Metzger), she does “[dedicate] herself […] to making sense of what Inverarity had left behind” (147). Metzger accuses her of being a “lib, overeducated [broad]” (59), but Oedipa essentially states that she is conservative when she confesses that she is a Young Republican. Although she becomes immersed in society, Oedipa seems to have a higher standard. She does not succumb to a reliance on pills (LSD), and, although she has an affair with Metzger, she declines other sexual advances. She also does seem to have a desire to “right wrongs” (59), as Metzger accuses, as seen in her daydream about taking the old gentleman’s landlord to court and her anger at the shopkeeper selling armbands.

Oedipa’s desire for a reason and order is clearly seen in the scene in which she is pulled into a dance at a hotel. Everyone was dancing however they wanted and Oedipa wondered “how long […] it could go on before collisions became a serious hindrance” (107). Pynchon seems to be using this dancing scene as a metaphor for Oedipa’s world and, on a larger scale, America. Oedipa doesn’t understand how the dancers can continue in an atmosphere of randomness and chaos. With everyone doing their own thing there are bound to be problems. When Oedipa leaves the dance, she “feels demoralized”. Ultimately, Oedipa concludes that the mystery, “what Inverarity had left behind”, was “the legacy [of] America” (147). With this view it seems that Pynchon is commenting on the chaos of society by presenting the reader with a character who, unsuccessfully, attempts to make sense of the disorder. Oedipa reminds herself that she lives in America where “you let it happen. Let it unfurl” (123).

In the end, we’re still left to wonder whether the whole mystery was a scheme. Pynchon seems to hint that the whole story could, in fact, even be a dream. We know Oedipa has trouble with hallucinations, and the narrator tells us that “[l]ater, possibly, [Oedipa] would have trouble sorting the night into real and dreamed” (95). Is it then possible that the entire mystery, or at least parts of it, is imagined? Is the chaos of society a nightmare?

Thoughts on Hassan’s “prophecy” and fragmentation characteristic

This week’s reading confirms that the list of attributes of Postmodern work seems varied and, in some cases, contradictory. In reading the works for this week’s class, it seems that the definition of Postmodernism has always been unclear, but Ihab Hassan’s essay “POSTmodernISM”, an attempt at defining Postmodernism, seems to have been somewhat prophetic. Additionally, it seems that along with the “fragmented” definition of Postmodernism, fragmentation is a key characteristic of Postmodern work.
Hassan states his belief that our world is headed for a “utopia indistinguishable from nightmare” (22), and he worries about the disasters of “Pollution, Population, [and] Power” (issues also raised in John Cage’s work). I can’t help but wonder—are we currently in that “utopia indistinguishable from nightmare” that Hassan predicted? Despite all our modern conveniences and advanced technology that seem to make our lives easier, we also live in a world fraught with problems, including those of pollution, population, and power. If Hassan felt that he was in an age of “runaway technology” in 1971 (24), I can only imagine what his thoughts would be now!
While Hassan says that “we dwell happily in the Unimaginable” (22), he also suggests that we need to “open up alternatives to the Unimaginable” (30). Not only do these assertions appear to be contradictory, but Hassan’s concept of the Unimaginable, a place that seems to be defined as a healthy balance between “Complacence” and “Hysteria”, is unclear to me. Is the Unimaginable bad in Postmodernist terms because it is a balance? Is the desire and goal of Post-Modernism to break balance? It would seem that our society is out of balance. It does not seem, however, that Post-Modernist works are attempting to fix this problem, but, rather, are reflecting this lack of balance through content and style, including fragmentation.
In addition to some of the motifs that seem to be present in Postmodern works, John Cage’s piece really highlights this fragmentation characteristic. I was intrigued, but also frustrated, with the style of John Cage’s work. I felt that the piece was like a puzzle and I tried to find a pattern, attempting to match up the various fonts and pieces of stories. The piece seems like it could be classified as stream-of-consciousness, but I’m not sure that the term is appropriate for Postmodern works. The story of the Duchess seemed to be the most consistent, and, not only did it add humor to the piece, it also pulled me into the piece and kept me reading until the end. I’m curious about Cage’s inclusion of the Duchess story. Is the story simply added to provide humor in the midst of the fragmented, but running, commentary on how the world is changing and declining? The story does also seem to show that, as the title states, by attempting to fix a problem you will only make matters worse.
Along the lines of fragmentation, the writing style of the pieces seems to be rather “choppy”, lacking variety of sentence structure and even including some awkward syntax. John Cage’s “Dear Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)” and Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” all posses some degree of this “choppy” quality.
My hunch is that the fragmentation of the pieces, in content, style, and structure, mirrors the fragmentation of the world in which we live. However, not all authors demonstrate this fragmentation in their pieces. (For instance, I feel that Lethem’s “Super Goat Man” has a wonderful flow, much in contrast to the Cage and Link’s work.) I’m curious about these choices and how all of these pieces fit into the puzzle of Postmodernism.