Corporations and Flat Characters

Some of you have commented on the parts of Shooting War that seemed flat (the characters) or gimmicky (the ending).  I agree with those comments, but I also think that the book gives us a very real sense of the fine line between our current way of life and a full blown dystopia.  As Don DeLillo points out in “The Guardian,” corporations have become a fatally important part of our society, deemphasizing the power of our own government.  Our current market is run according to the idea of exponential growth.  Corporations go uncontrolled, wreaking havoc on the environment and the economy. 

One of the first things we hear about in Shooting War is “eminent domain.”  In the dystopic America that Burns lives in, the government has the ability take private property and redistribute it to the corporations who can promise the most revenue.  Although we don’t see this idea fully fleshed out, it is easy to imagine the horrors that would accompany this law. 

In this scenerio, the government doesn’t work for the people anymore, but for the big corporations.  Lappe shows how the government is not only ineffective, but actually harmful.  All the government actions we see, such as the masacre of citizens, culminates to the final action in the book.  The last thing we hear about the government is that McCain will not run for another term, a sign that our government has failed.

Getting back to the idea that the characters were flat, what did people think of Abu?  Like most of the characters, I felt like he wasn’t very developed.  The psychological underpinnings of a terrorist just weren’t there.  I was hoping for more complexity from that character, but instead I got things like “of course I may die, but this isn’t about me.”  His dialougue often seemed cheesy and oversimplified. 

But to be fair, Burns and Crash are not very complex characters either, so perhaps its just a flaw of the medium. I have to admit, I’m not an avid comic reader, so I’m not sure how the medium may stifle some the psychological development of characters.  Unlike the terrorists in Shooting War, DeLillo gives an eery look at terrorism: “He builds a plot around his anger and our indifference. He lives a certain kind of apartness, hard and tight. This is not the self-watcher, the soft white dangling boy who shoots someone to keep from disappearing into himself. The terrorist shares a secret and a self. At a certain point he and his brothers may begin to feel less motivated by politics and personal hatred than by brotherhood itself. They share the codes and protocols of their mission here and something deeper, a vision of judgment and devastation.”

I think this passage does a better job getting at the psyche of the terrorist.  DeLillo shows the terrorists’ intense sense of separation from the rest of the world.  In one passage he discusses the lifestyle of the terrorist, their vision, their motiviation, and their sense of self, which is more than we see out of Abu.

The Author and The Character

This is one of the more self-aware texts that we’ve read, which I thought was mostly effective. The self-awareness of the book, such as Saturn’s references to the dedication, made the book seem more realistic. Despite all the fantastical elements, the relationships and emotions within the text were somehow authentic.  However, sometimes I felt like the self-awareness detracted from the book by making it too overstated. There were sections where I thought the writer gave away some of the analytical capacity through the technique of metanarrative. For example, towards the end of the text the narrative becomes more fragmented by all the different voices. Instead of letting the reader discover for themselves why the writer chose this technique, he tells us his reasoning through Smiley: “Liberated from Saturn, from the order that had for years kept us in line, our narrative organized and mindful of the conventions of story. Now the order had been upset, lost in a melee of voices” (217). There are a couple of instances, like this one, where I felt like the writer gave too much away. I don’t want a writer to tell me how to read a book; that takes all the fun out of it.

Throughout most of my undergraduate studies I was taught that you are never supposed to assume, or allude to the fact that a character is based on the writer’s life. Plascencia seems to challenge that by inviting the reader to make connections between his characters and himself. For example, he often mentions the Ralph and Elisa Landin Foundation, who supports the war, which we know (because the book tells us) it is a metaphor for writing a book. He intentionally make sus feel like these characters are a real part of his life: “Much gratitude to the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation…It should be noted that the foundation never recanted its support” (acknowledgments). In this statement the author tells us two things – one, parts of the book are based on his life, and two, parts of the book are complete fiction. I found this kind of confusing, but mostly intriguing. I don’t know why, but I liked reading the book more once I thought that Liz was a real person.

Throughout most of the book I lost sight of the self-awareness as I became increasingly interested in the war between Saturn and Fredrico de la Fe. I became so immersed in this element of the text, that I kept forgetting Saturn’s real role in all of this. He is the writer, and thus the creator of the other characters. Saturn, like Plascencia, cannot help but let his own identity rub off on his characters. Towards the end of the novel I began to see how the details of Fredric de la Fe’s life matched the details of Saturn’s life. They are both pining after women who left them, women who they both remember wearing green dresses with white trim. Later on in the book they use opposing, yet similar methods to cope with their loss – they tend their lawn. While Fredrico is busy caring for his lawn to make Merced’s return easier, Saturn is busy destroying his to make Liz’s return full of hardship. Despite their opposite reactions, the sentiment is the same. At one point, we even learn that Saturn had once tried to burn himself to get rid of his pain. Plascencia is trying to call attention to the intimate connection between the creator and the created.

Family Life in Postmodern Literature

I think it’s interesting how the chapters in Tropic of Orange correspond with the characters. I’m not really sure what to make of it. It’s clearly another expression of fragmentation, but it’s odd that she outlines it for us in the beginning. It almost seems like a key, in the way that some of the information in House of Leaves seemed like a key. Yamashita is, in a way, telling us how to read the book. She organizes the information, it seems, to help us make sense of the novel. Doesn’t this sentiment seem slightly anti-postmodern? However, I’ve never seen it done in another text, so it is an innovative technique. I wonder if anyone read the chapters out of order. I’d like to go back and reread this in a year, but instead of reading straight through, I’d read the chapters the way they appear in the outline. I wonder how that would change the meaning of the text.

I liked this book, in particular, because it gave me some ways to continue thinking about my research topic. Most of the books we’ve read don’t deal closely with family life. In fact, their seems to be a lack of families, or a tearing apart of families, in most of the books we’ve read. Pynchon doesn’t depict a family and gives very little weight to the one marriage in the text. In House of Leaves, the Navidson family is figuratively (and literally in the case of Tom) torn apart.  There is one marriage in the Lathe of Heaven, but it is also made to be a background issue. 

We do see marriage and family life in The Female Man, but it is completely different from the traditional idea of the nuclear family. In Belovedthere are families, but they are often separated by death and slavery. In this text, family members never seem to work as a cohesive unit, but instead stay isolated from one another. In Mao II, Bill, Scott, and Karen make up a sort of untraditional family unit.  However, this family is also torn apart by the end of the novel. In The Tropic of Orange, Rafaela, Sol, and Bobby are at the center of the story. Although family members, such as Rafaela and Sol, seem to operate in normal ways, their are various abnormalities surrounding them. In this case, the family life is altered, not internally, but externally as the geography around them twists and turns from its natural state.

 Sometimes the aspects that interest me most in a book are not what it says, but what it doesn’t say. There is an obvious absence of family life in the books we’ve read.  This lead me to wonder – where do families (especially nuclear families), marriage, and love fit into postmodernism?

The Individual and the Crowd

The crowd versus the individual was one pattern of thought that I followed throughout the text.  The book shows several crowds, starting with the wedding in the prologue.  But more abstract crowds appear in the form of the terrorist group, the unification church, and the homeless crowds near Brita’s apartment.  The crowds are often positioned in opposition to the individuals in the text: “She went home to feed the cat but returned right away, taking a Jamaican taxi and saying Tompkins square…People in clusters and large groups” (150).  Karen feels compelled to walk amongst the crowd.

Bill, who embodies the individualist through his reclusive habits, attempts to fight a terrorist group on behalf of the individual.  Bill goes to speak for the kidnapped writer, but ends up getting even more involved.  I think this connection has less to do with him being a writer, and more to do with him being an individual.  He tries to go against the terrorist group, not on behalf of that specific person, but on behalf of the principle of individuality. 

Reading the book in this way made the ending even more jarring.  Bill’s death symbolizes the death of the individual and the triumph of the group.  Is DeLillo trying to say that there is no longer a place for the individualist in our society?  He brings up the idea that we no longer have power on an individual scale, because the only real power comes from groups.  This, to me, is a very frightening idea.

The idea of the individual versus the crowd is a reoccurring theme in DeLillo’s body of work.  In an earlier novel, End Zone, DeLillo’s main character is a reclusive football player who often seeks solace in the empty desert surrounding the town.  He is more at peace when he is in the wordless desert, compared to being on the field with his team.  In Great Jones Street, the main character is a rockstar who leaves his band and management to go into hiding.  In this book, we rarely see large crowds, but I feel like American consumers act as a crowd that is felt without being explicitly shown.

In an interview from the New York Times, the writer makes a comparison between Bill Gray’s reclusive individualism and Don DeLillo’s own lifestyle. (http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/16/lifetimes/del-v-dangerous.html?_r=1&oref=login)  This makes me think that DeLillo understands the success of the crowd as having a negative impact on our society.  The crowds is devoid of the artistic ability that Bill and DeLillo hold in such high regard.  It seems like DeLillo fears that the crowd, especially in the form of the terrorist group, is quickly replacing the power of the writer: “The cult of Mao was the cult of the book.  It was a call to unity, a summoning of crowds where everyone dressed alike and thought alike” (162).  He also makes this connection earlier in the book when Bill explicitly states “…our books lose the power to shape and influence…Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of a culture.  Now bomb-makers and gunmen have that territory” (41).  I’m not sure if this prolific passage could have been fully understood by the books original audience, but at this point I feel it’s something that should really resonate with our society.

Ghosts and Postmodernism

With this book, I feel like I have more questions than answers.  But, who knows, maybe I can still offer some insight through my line of questioning.  I agree with the previous post that Morrison’s “Beloved” seems out of character compared to the other  “postmodern” novels we’ve read.  I think the fact that the book gives us an altered, unexpected view on a certain historical period is the main reason for labeling it postmodern.  However, there is a connection I made with this text and another postmodern text.  Like the character Beloved in Morrison’s text, Don DeLillo also uses a ghostly figure to focus his novella “The Body Artist.”  When I first read DeLillo’s book I was puzzled by the ghost.  I didn’t see how it fit with the postmodern agenda, or why he found the ghost to be a productive tool to convey his message.  With Morrison, the ghost makes more sense.  Ghosts are often linked with history because they can exist outside of time.  Also, the concept of “haunting” works well as a link for the guilty conscience.  Okay, so maybe it works for Morrison, but I still don’t quite understand the link between ghosts and postmodernism.

On the first day of class, someone said “All I know about postmodernism is that it doesn’t work with religion.”  It seems like most of the postmodern books we’ve read are working against any kind of ontology.  So why use ghosts?  Don’t ghosts represent a higher power, someone in control of things we don’t understand?  Can we separate ghosts from the idea of religion?  Morrison does not attempt to separate ghosts from religion, but DeLillo does.  DeLillo’s seperation struck me as somewhat jarring, where Morrison’s connection seems more natural. Morrison calls attention to the link between religion and ghostsby deliberately making Baby Suggs a preacher.  When Sethe visits the holy ground where Suggs used to preach, she finds herself choked by Beloved’s ghost.

What I wonder about is the way this all plays out.  Baby Suggs status as a gifted preacher seems to make the other town folk jealous.  Somewhere in the text (I could not find the exact page) a character posits the idea that the town folk fail to warn Sethe about the police because of their jealousy of Baby Suggs ability to talk to god.  After that, Baby Suggs stops preaching and appears to stop believing in a god.  By the end of the story, both god and Beloved’s ghost have disappeared as if they were never really there.  The way these events play out makes me think that Morrison wants ontological views to be seen as a negative force within the text.  Religion and the idea of the afterlife only cause problems in the book, never solutions.

Role Reversals

Going off of the points made in “a misandristic proposal,” I sometimes found it hard to side with the women towards the end of the novel.  At the end, the book’s message seems more woman based than society based.  Although I am a woman and can sympathize with the plight to become a less oppressed sex, I am also a humanitarian.  The turning point for me, where this book stopped being about the possibility of a Utopian community where women are free of oppression, was with the introduction of Davy.  Davy, until we realize he is a machine, acts as the perfect subject for Jael’s misandristically driven motives.

  Throughout most of the novel men are the voyeurs, watching the women and objectifying them with their gaze.  Joanna, Janet, and even Jeannine are often disgusted with the men that crudely attempt to court them.  They do not enjoy being looked at by these men, because the often only looked at as sexual objects, rather than intelligent, meaningful humans.  At the beginning of Jael and Davy’s sex scene, the previous roles of voyeur and voyee are totally reversed: “I passed into his room barefoot and watched him cured in sleep, unconscious, the golden veils of his eyelashes shadowing his cheeks…” (196).  Jael objectifys him, seduces him, and uses him until she is satisfied and goes off to handle business with the three Js.

Jael refers to Davy with diminutive terms, such as “little Davy,” which is another illustration of a role reversal between the sexes.  In our male-dominated society, diminutive terms are typically reserved for babies and women, to show small, weak, and insignificant they are.  In Jael’s world, these type of word seems to be reserved for the male house-pets.  To complete the role reversal, the sex scene is finalized with Jael’s actually penetration of Davy: “that time I made him com by slipping my finger up his anus” (197).  So much for Frued’s idea of penis envy.  The penis has been reduced to a pleasure tool, that will eventually be eliminated entirely for the vibrators found in Janet’s world.

Men in Jael’s land are machines that live to serve.   Davy is a mere puppy, controlled by “the implants in his brain” (199).  It becomes clear that Jael does not simply want equality between the sexes, she wants totality.  Woman as the sole rulers of the world.  But Jael doesn’t stop there.  She doesn’t just want one world, she seems to want women to have all of them.  Although the conclusion of the novel does not spell out Jael’s plans, it does appear that she wishes to have soldiers on other worlds, which would inevitably lead to new wars. 

By the end, I wasn’t sure what to make of Jael’s intentions and the creation of Janet’s world.  I had previously found Janet’s world appealing.  Like Janet, I was disturbed by Jael’s new information about how her world came to be.  In a way, all the Js are feminists, but in varying degrees and temperaments.  Perhaps the novel is cautioning us against extremist views like Jael’s.  If this is the case, then Janet would be our herione.  She is a fair feminist who knows when it has gone too far.  She walks away from Jael’s plan to destroy the men, possibly altering the future of her own world and ending her women’s eutopia.

Why so much sex?

It seems like Danielewski has been very deliberate about everything he uses in the text, which makes me wonder about all the sex.  I’m thinking back to when Professor Sample discussed an interview with the author.  Danielewski said that nobody could think of anything about the text that he hadn’t already thought of.  So clearly, he is aware of most of the elements in his text and has used these elements intentionally.  This whole mindset seems the opposite of postmodern, but I digress.  Back to the point – if everything is so deliberate, then what is Danielewski’s intention with all the vivid sex scenes?

I don’t think that he is doing it just to be vulgar and off-putting, however a case could be made for that.  Most of the book, starting from “this is not for you,” seems meant to stop the reader from getting through to the end.  With all the lengthy footnotes, references to appendices, and switches in narration, it seems obvious that he has intentionally made this book a difficult read.  So I think an argument could be made that the detailed sex scenes are just another way to hinder the reader’s progress.  But the harder he makes it, the more I want to get to the end.  I wonder if he anticipated this reaction in his readers (I’m sure that he would claim he did), but I digress again.

Anyway, although that argument could be made about the sex scenes, I plan to suggest something slightly different.  The French refer to the refractory period after orgasm as “La petite mort,” which means “the little death.”  This phrase is meant describe fatigue, spiritual release, melancholy, and other symptoms that result after orgasm. But it gets even weirder.  A study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience found that this is actually a fairly accurate term: “To some degree, the present results seem to be in accordance with this notion, because female orgasm is associated with decreased blood flow in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is crucial for behavioural control.”

Keeping this in mind, what can we make of all the sex and, more specifically, after-sex experiences in the text?  Well, to start with, I might argue that “the little death” represents a loss of self that happens during sex, which results in meloncholy.  Death is the greatest representation of losing one’s self.  If we approach the sex scenes in these terms, it becomes easy to see why Johnny gradually becomes more depressed and, well, lost.  Just like the labrinth, the vivid sex scenes seem to work as yet another metaphor for losing one’s self.

Simulation and Medicine

            I enjoyed reading the “The Divine Irreference of Images” section of Baudrillard’s essay.  The essay is so dense on a philosophical level that I had a hard time putting it into terms I could understand.  When he begins talking about simulation in relation to the medical field, I immediately made some connections that helped me deduce his meaning.  He talks about the simulation being both true and false: “The simulator cannot be treated objectively either as ill, or as not ill” (168).  This made me think of hypochondriacs and how they work well as a subject of simulation.  The hypochondriac simulates a disease to the point that they believe they are really sick.  Because of this, they are both healthy and not healthy.  Just as Baudrillard points out, the medical profession does not know how to handle such people: “What can medicine do with something which floats on either side of illness, on either side of health, or with the reduplication of illness in a discourse that is no longer true or false?” (168).

                Baudrillard’s idea of simulating an illness to the point that it becomes unclear whether the person is sick or healthy, or some form of both, made me recall a time I played hooky from school.  I hated elementary school and often simulated an illness to get out of going.  I usually concocted fake vomit to pour in the toilet or a fake fever from a light bulb.  In reality, I felt fine and spent the day home from school with no symptoms.  One time something very different happened.  I woke up and pretended that I couldn’t talk and that I had a sore throat.  I slipped up a couple of times in front of my little sister, but my performance was good enough to get me out of school and into the Dr.’s office.  I knew that after the Dr. did my throat culture I’d have to go back to school, so I really started laying it on thick: “Ouch, it hurts!”  To my wonderment, my throat culture came back positive for strep throat.  Was I sick or was I healthy?  I could no longer tell the difference between my simulation and my reality.

             House of Leaves begins with a list of medications Johnny has tried to use against his insomnia.  He has become too afriad to sleep.  This fear seems to have less to do with the actual events that happen in Zapano’s book and more to do with the implications of this book.  The implications deal with the power of simulation. I think that Johnny’s fear stems from Bauldrillard’s idea of neither “real” nor “fake.”  Zapano’s book is a simulation of a movie, which is a simulation of a reality that does not exist.  Johnny tries to peal back all of the layers of simulation to reveal the inner reality.  However, his investigation finds that there is no proof that the Navidson Record ever existed.  He is then left with only the simulation, which has begun to integrate itself into his reality.

Multiple Identities in The Lathe of Heaven

Everyone is mentioning the “Either Orr” symbolism of George’s name, but when I first read it, I thought of George Orwell.  After that, I began to think of the novel as a dystopian/utopian text.  I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the author also makes a reference to a dystopian/utopian book by Aldous Huxley.  On page 87, she calls the altered reality a “brave new world,” which also happens to be the title of Huxley’s book about a dystopian/utopian society.  I think this a reasonable connection to make considering that a large portion of the text is preoccupied with creating a better world and failing.  However, the farther into the book I got, the more I felt that my attempt to make sensible connections were a waste of energy.

I think that Le Guin intentionally makes references and symbols that don’t add up.  This seems to show some deconstructionist sentiment.  She uses a collage of different images, identities, and realities to create a very complex text, totally breaking down the notion of a “fixed sense of representation” (Harvey 51).  Someone mentioned the various different animals that Orr is compared with.  These animal comparisons are the types of symbols that don’t add up as the text progresses.  In fact, she seems to take great efforts to portray each character as having multiple identities, rather than giving them a consistent identity with consistent symbols.

Her portrayal of the different characters as having multiple identities answers one of Harvey’s questions about postmodernism: “But if, as the postmodernists insist, we cannot aspire to any unified representation of the world…then how can we possibly aspire to act coherently with respect to the world?” (Harvey 52).  Her answer is, we can’t.  We develop fragmented identities just like the world around us.  Heather is both a wife and not-a-wife.  She is both black and white.  She is strong, yet vulnerable.  Haber describes George as “feminine or even childish” (18).  Whereas Heather describes him as “the strongest person she has ever known” (96).  Haber is also a contradictory character, who is often described as “benevolent,” but is also called “power hungry.”  The fragmented world produces fragmented identities.

One last connection that I’d like to explore is the idea of the “center.”  Le Guin’s use of “the center” confused me a little, because I remembered reading something about the center in one of Derrida’s essays.  From what I remember, he said that the center was something that does not exist.  We can keep deconstructing all day, but we will just come up with more double readings and never get any closer to a center or an inherent truth.  Le Guin talks about a “center” for both George and Haber, but I’m not sure if it relates to Derrida in any way.  She describes Haber “like an onion, slip off layer after layer of personality…no center to him” (81).  George is described as “he could not be moved away from the center” (96).  I’m not really sure what to make of this, or if I should even be trying to make anything of it.

Constructed Reality in The cRying of Lot 49

     An entire genre of fiction has been inspired by theories from postmodern philosophers such as Derrida, Lacan, and Sassure.  One of the theories proposed by postmodern philosophy is that human reality is linguistically constructed, a construction that is based on cultural narratives that are human products with human histories.  For example, Sassure went against the dominant language theory (correspondence theory) and stated that the signifier is not equivalent to the thing being signified.  Lacan also advocated the notion of the transcendental signified.  In Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 the main character attempts to make sense out of the vast amount of cultural narratives, but she is left with less clarity then when she began.  Pynchon is specifically calling attention to narratives created by the global capital system.  In Oedipa’s case, the more information the she uncovers, the closer she moves to a fragmented consciousness.

      Pynchon’s text reacts to aspects of the global capital system, such as economic policy.  Adam Smith’s text “Natural Laws of Economics,” along with the “Wealth of Nations,” theorized that economic policy was guided by an “invisible hand.”  Pynchon deconstructs this narrative along with several others by parodying the system as Oedipa attempts to make sense of the connections within the Inveriarity Empire.  Inveriarity becomes a symbol for the global capital system, which is exemplified by the systems all encompassing power.  One of Oedipa’s first encounter’s with Metzger emphasizes this power: “What the hell didn’t he own?” (Pynchon 27).  Oedipa tries to find an underlying truth behind the system, but the more she uncovers the more she realizes how incoherent all of the narratives are.  When Oedipa describes her experience viewing the painting “Bordando el Manto Terrestre” the failure of her quest is foreshadowed.  Oedipa tries, like the painting, to embroider the tapestry of the world:

“…embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.” (Pynchon 11)

     The painting calls attention to the fact that reality is a human construction.  Oedipa attempts to construct reality by tying together all of the narratives surrounding Inveriarity.  However, the more narratives she consumes, the more fragmented the story becomes, finally offering no closure.

       The end of Pynchon’s text parodies the global capital system by comparing economic theory to religion: “Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps a descending angel” (Pynchon 152).  Pynchon wants to compare these two narratives because they are both human constructions of reality.  Adam Smith’s metaphor for an “invisible hand” compares to a metaphor for god.  They both describe an unknown being in control of events.  Oedipa continues to give into the hope that the narratives are cohesive, but she and the reader are left with no closure: “He stared at her, smiling, as if saying, I’m surprised you actually came” (152).  Pynchon establishes the end of Oedipa’s quest as a failure.  Instead of rejecting the narratives, she continues to believe that they will somehow tie together.

The Modern/Postmodern Divide

Hassan’s essay makes several connections between Modernism and Postmodernism.  He also attempts to create a divide between the two genres: “Postmodernism may be a response, direct or oblique, to the Unimaginable which Modernism glimpsed only in its most prophetic moments” (23).  I think that the “Unimaginable” Hassan describes stems from a breakdown in communication.  He writes of an indescribable feeling of fear, the familiar “litany of disasters,” that comes from the breakdown of language and the discontinuous narratives on which our society is built. 

Modernism also emphasized fragmented forms, but unlike the Postmodernists, they found this fragmentation tragic.  Faulkner’s writing moved away from a fixed narrative point-of-view long before Postmodernism became a literary movement.  The difference is in the disposition of the Modern vs. Postmodern author.  Faulkner lamented the fragmentation of humanity, whereas Postmodernism chooses to glorify it. 

One of the Postmodern preoccupations is with the failure of communication and the inability to reconcile mutiple, contradictory narratives.  Thus we are left with an abstract, fragmented string of narratives.  Cage attempts to embody this fragmentation in his short story.  He intentionally makes it difficult for the reader to follow any single narrative by randomly changing the text.  Sometimes he keeps the text the same for a particular narrative, giving the reader a false sense of security.  Eventually the text for each narrative changes, causing the reader to become lost in the strand of narratives.