Hassan’s “rhetoric of dismissal”

Reflecting on Ihab Hassan’s “POSTmodernISM,” I am struck by one (seemly) vital difference between modernist and postmodern literature. In modernist literature, language (in the sense of word choice and syntax), integral to the core of the work, directs the form (e.g. Joyce’s Ulysses). However, postmodern works employ different architectural processes for “attaining such an aesthetic” (Hassan 16). Is this, as “some profound philosophic minds of our century” (15) suggest, “the disease of verbal systems” (15), a reflective condition of deterioration achieved by creating texts in a new way and using old rules to analyze them? Clearly, Hassan’s “rhetoric of dismissal” (9) is easy to achieve, but what does it mean?

A. The Fad. In the case of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease,” the success of the story is contingent on punctuation and symbols. Printed in standard typography, the story would, in effect, disabled. Instead, the punctuation and symbols take on the function of language. Is it likely that we are to see more stories of this kind, that it will be a new movement in literature? Or will this too “quietly go away” (9)?

B. The Old Story. Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” uses another effect to stand in for language: shock value (a combination of “dehumanization” (19) and “antinomianism” (21)). DeLillo employs (to borrow from Professor Sample) “cartoonish violence” as both a structural support and to facilitate movement in the text. Censored even in the most basic way, there would be little to nothing left of the plot, characterization, etc. in the same fashion as a Quentin Tarantino film “edited for tv.”

C. The Safe Version. Jonathan Lethem’s “Super Goat Man,” like the two previous pieces, adopts another type of structural support: the insertion of the strange and unusual, treated as ordinary. This technique is not new, but the emphasis put upon it to carry the story is. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” offers as an excellent modernist (though this label could be debated) point of reference. Though Kafka employs a similar device, he adjusts the syntax of his sentences, often reversing the places of the direct object and the verb to further defamiliarize the reader. Lethem seems to make no effort to tinker with the language, instead relies wholly on the “oddity” of a superhero to do most of the work for the story.

D. The Newspeak of Art. Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” marries the “strange and unusual” with an eccentric main character. She returns to old method of storytelling. She relies on language, demonstrating the contingencies of identity by adjusting the main character’s name. At times, the story seems both “conventional” (9) and “innovative” (10). Whether this serves as refreshment or irritation is contingent on the reader.

Though it may seem unfair to apply the rules of the old system (aka “rhetoric of dismissal”) to new works, this phenomena is neither new nor game-changing. For as literature changes, there will always be older (and yes, at times, antiquated or cultured) points of comparison (as was it for the Victorian writers, the realist and naturalist, and the modernist to name a recent few). And as time goes on, new works continue to be baptized and welcomed into the canon. This “cruel” vetting process seems, as Hassan observes, to be more endemic to the change itself than the quality or the “lasting power” of a particular literary movement, technique, or device.

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.

I was struck by the part in Hassan’s piece “POSTmodernISM” about “Periods.”  I am trying to wrap my head around periods as well.  This short post sorted out some of my confusion with Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism, but considering that those three movements came over the span of only 60 years, it stands to reason that individuals were alive and writing over multiple literary periods, and perhaps in multiple literary styles.  Hassan asks, “Does modernism stretch merely to stretch out our lives?” (7)  I would be interested in knowing the reactions of authors historically to shifts in literary trends.  Do they welcome the change, or try to “stretch out” the old period?  Hassan says that the avant-garde should “serve as the agent of change, which is recognizable when still newer change is in progress” (10).  Can we really not recognize change as its happening enough to name it?  Will post-modernism acquire a new name after something else takes its place?  It’s strange that although Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism all reacted to each other and were more or less chronologically progressing, we don’t call Naturalism “Post-Realism,” etc.  (What did they call Naturalism while it was happening?) So why is postmodernism called postmodernism?  The name is almost a negative space – a sign: “Reserved for the name of the period after Modernism.” Does postmodernism have no defining characteristic of its own other than that it defies categorization?  And seeing as many authors neither knew nor cared what literary period or style they were writing in, how useful are these literary categorizations – and to whom are they useful?

In a related development chronicled in the article “Modern Book Publishing and Book Culture – TIME, the publishing industry seems to be shifting into a more postmodern form. So not only literary movements are shifting, but literary media are shifting as well.  As we discussed in class, postmodernism is a product of new technology. I liked the lip service to fandom, but it was a little vexing that the author implied that fandom’s postmodern activities only started recently with the Internet.  The article’s vision of the future of publishing – amateur writers blazing new trails while professional writers lay back and watch – reminded me of Hassan’s view of critics “Taking few risks, the best known among them wait[ing] for men of lesser reputation to clear the way” (9).

The DeLillo piece I found extremely offputting at first, but as the narrative became faster and more ridiculous it caused a sort of Brechtian-alienation shift within me to not only become aware of the component parts of narratives but also to become aware of the component parts of our visual experience of society. By starting in a more conventional, slow-moving narrative style and then moving toward the more extreme style, it also exposed my own assumptions that stories are supposed to “make sense,” characters are supposed to be developed, and actions are supposed to be motivated.  At the end, I found myself wondering if the soldiers that they killed would be soldiers if they had been out of uniform, and if the women that they raped would be women if they weren’t wearing skirts and dresses.

Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” was one that I loved at first – I found Soap’s internal narrative hilarious.  That’s why I was so taken off guard by the kidnapping at the end.  I felt like I had missed some sign earlier – a clue that this was going to happen.  A big clue, of course, is the painting.  It is at the center of what caused Soap’s life to change so dramatically by going to prison, and Soap shows a strange attachment to it that even he does not understand. Its shifting identity parallels Soap’s and Carly’s own shifting identities.  It changes depending on how the viewer looks at it.  So too do Carly and Soap’s identities shift depending on how another person perceives them.  Soap’s name was given to him by others, and the reader only realizes Carly’s “friend of the family” identity is false when Soap points it out.  Given the extent to which the reader sees the inside of Soap’s head, it’s amazing that I just didn’t see the kidnapping coming.  This lack of real internal access, coupled with the emphasis on outer identity implies that there IS no real internal identity, that we are all shifting constantly like the painting, made up of “stuff that isn’t the same every time you look at it.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Form and function

I agree with the post’s that have commented on this week’s readings in regards to seeing the authors experimenting with how their content is being delivered.  Although Cage’s “Diary” at first seems to be a fractured mess, you can see strands of text looping back on themselves throughout the work.  One of the strands that I picked up on and most interested me concerned how content is delivered and digested by reader and author.  Although haphazard in appearance at first, Cage put great thought into how this piece was put together, the snippets of text he chose, the fonts, sizes, etc.  He also alludes to the importance of form several times throughout diary.  He references Joyce and Finnegan’s Wake (as does Hassan) repeatedly, which I have not read, but is known for its difficult syntax and structure.  Cage writes on 208 “TO RAISE LANGUAGE’S TEMPERATURE WE NOT ONLY REMOVE SYNTAX: WE GIVE EACH LETTER UNDIVIDED ATTENTION, SETTING IT IN UNIQUE FACE AND SIZE; to read BECOMES THE VERB to sing”. Cage’s use of different fonts, sizes and grammatical structure is meant to keep the reader on their toes, so that they give each letter undivided attention, which gives the words themselves and their structure as much meaning as any overarching idea that the work is presenting.  Cage also writes about how reading should be enjoyable, and that enjoyment can come out of the artifact itself as much as its content: “Paper should be edible, nutritious.  Inks used for printing or writing should have delicious flavors.  Magazine’s or newspapers read at breakfast should be eaten for lunch.  Instead of throwing one’s mail and in the waste-basket, it should be saved for the dinner guests”.  I also think that Cage is trying to replicate what he admired in the ancient chinese language, that it was free of syntax and”floated in no-mind space.”  Cage is rebelling against modern ways of delivering language that he feels have become “arthritic.”  I personally enjoyed the Cage piece and thought it was similar to the mash-ups we were listening to in class when exploring postmodernism, many disparate parts being brought together to add up to something that is more than the sum of its parts, while at the same time making you appreciate each of those parts that you are experiencing in a new context.

The Jonathan Safran Foer piece also explores new ways of delivering language, although in a much more personal way.  I thought his piece was about how the traditional forms of communication, or writing about communication fail to really capture the essence of what is being said/felt.  Foer sees gaps in languages that cannot be filled by the traditional methods of writing and seeks to fill in those gaps with his new symbols.  However, in the end it is futile as those new symbols will leave new, smaller gaps, and any attempts to fill those gaps will create newer, smaller gaps, and so on.  I think Foer just wants the reader to step back and re-examine language and communication.  We take language for granted and assume that words have a fixed meaning, but really they are just signifiers and each of us have our own perception, based on what we have learned/experienced, on just what those signifiers mean.

On Lethem, DeLillo, Hassan, and Cage

I was excited to see that Jonathan Lethem was one of the included authors in the download. I had read Lethem before but only his non fiction, an essay entitled “The Ecstasy of Influence” which appeared in an issue of Harpers. The essay was so well written and convincing that I read it twice in one sitting, which is a rare occasion considering my short attention span. “Super Goat Man” was just as engaging. I thought the story had great blend of fantasy and reality, which I suppose is indicative of a postmodern story. Super Goat Man is not revered by the youth like the other grandiose superheroes; instead he is small time, which I think adds a bit of reality into the plot, making Super Goat Man more of a human. The narrator’s parent generation embraces Super Goat Man for his rejection of pedestrian life, as Everett says in the opening paragraphs, “It was our dads who cared.” This was a facet of the story that I found interesting. Everett disliked Small Goat Man, and also it seemed to me that he disliked his father for his interest in the minor hero. It bewildered Everett that his father and Super Goat Man had so much in common. His detest for this connection comes at the end, “I knew that my loathing had its origins in an even deeper place, in the mind of a child wondering at his father’s own susceptibility to the notion of a hero.” From the hippy parties to Jazz music, Super Goat Man is the hero of the past, a hero that is unrecognizable in Everett’s generation. Furthermore, I thought the element of Jazz was metaphorical for its association to Super Goat Man and Everett’s father. Everett has little interest in it, as if Jazz is passé for Everett’s generation.

Don DeLillo’s story was difficult to digest, not just for the grotesque killing scenes, but also the barely there plot. There story didn’t seem to be heading in any sort of direction, but only to show the depravity of the terrorists. Jean Claude describes the War uniforms shown in film, claiming that uniforms from the civil war are connected to success. Color and personality are encouraged. “We will shoot in color because color is the color of childhood fantasy.” The terrorists’ uniforms reflect Jean Claude’s argument; they are motley dressed with various styles that even exceed cultural boundaries. I could possibly infer from this that the consumerist culture, which is today’s culture, embraces personality and color, bears the new uniform and it is this uniform that cloaks the depravity of DeLillo’s terrorists. This sounds like total bs but it’s the only thing I managed to pull from the story.

I agree with Alana’s post that the typography and position of the text have an impact on the Cage and Hassan essays as well as the content, and that it influences the reader’s perception of the essays without even having read the words. From what I’ve seen, this tactic seems to be a reoccurring one in postmodern literature.

Week One Post: Responses to Short Stories and Journal Articles

After reading and rereading this week’s journal articles and short stories, I started looking for similarities-not necessarily similarities in content, but similarities in “feel”-to see if any of the pieces made me feel like they were linked. As we discussed in class, the question of what exactly constitutes a postmodern piece of writing is still rather fuzzy. Personally, it’s always made more sense to me to talk about literary genres more in terms of stylistics than era (meaning that I would respond to a Gothic novel written recently as a Gothic rather than a postmodern novel, while still acknowledging the work’s context). I also tried to compare the pieces to the different postmodern artifacts we looked at it class.

The first piece, John Cage’s “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)” is, I think, the most obvious piece just in terms of how it’s constructed, with the varying fonts, lines, and split-up occurrences that don’t seem to have an ending or a point. In this piece, the aesthetics of the work itself seem to have as much of an impact as the content, by which I mean the piece would read (or “feel”) very differently if it was presented, for example, with traditional margins and all in the same font. Similarly,  Ihab Hassan’s POSTmodernISM has a very conscious style or format that greatly impacts how the work is read-text as object and not merely content.

Looking at the short stories as an aggregate group, I think the first thing that stood out to me is the element of something unsettling or something that doesn’t “fit”-that forces you to stop and think or retrace your step as it jars you out of the rhythm of reading. Jonathan Safran Foer’s piece does that purposefully with his symbols that indicate a certain feeling or emotion as they stand in for something that cannot necessarily be conveyed through text. (How would one write a willed silence?) Jonathan Lethem’s “Super Goat Man” introduces a unbelievable character into an otherwise realistic piece, and then demands the reader’s acceptance of the believability of  Super Goat Man in these otherwise banal surroundings. The strangest thing for me in Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” is not the zombie plans or the presence of the zombies in the text, but the painting that seems to have come from nowhere.

Don DeLillo’s piece reminds me of Brett Easton Ellis (although it would be more fair to write that the other way): all surface and very brittle, like a sheet of caramelized sugar. (I would appreciate a trigger warning before texts with content like DeLillo’s.) I found it interesting that the figures in DeLillo’s piece seem concerned mostly with aesthetics-surfaces and appearances-than ideology (the attention to their clothing, the wish for a “black militant” on page 10). In this piece, I think DeLillo takes particular expectations and refuses to fulfill them, in favor of a facile piece that, in its very shallowness, reveals the emptiness of the characters’ actions.

Finally, I suppose I can say that if a pattern emerged for me, it was the pattern of something unsettling or “out of place” that I mentioned before. The best example that I can think of off the top of my head of other authors who achieve this same effect is the poet Frederick Siedel, although I’m not sure if I can confidently say that I’m any closer to understanding how to classify things as postmodernist.

Self-Awareness, Dehumanization

I agree with Jennifer’s summary of Foer’s story. He attempts to create a symbol-driven handbook for categorizing the depth of emotions arising from, among other things, love and illness. But the complexity of human experience cannot be limited to the characters on a standard keyboard. The approach reminds me of Hassan’s point that “we no longer know what response is adequate to our reality” (23). Hassan also describes dehumanization as a process of turning emotions into an equation, calling it a “revulsion against the human” (20). Foer’s story plays with this, but I wouldn’t call it dehumanized. Actually, I think its form allows it to have an opposite effect. Obviously no generic handbook would ever have such intimate examples, and by disguising itself within generic instructions, the underlying sensitivity is exposed.

I just mentioned Hassan, but I mostly didn’t know what he was talking about. I’m curious about what others thought of the “POSTmodernISM” essay. I had a hard time with it, partly because I’m unfamiliar with many of the names and works he referenced, partly because the form threw me off.

As for Link, I think I liked her story better than Jennifer did, but the ending also confused me. The zombies were what initially attracted me to this story, too, and it’s nice that Soap fears them but at the same time appreciates their simplicity. I don’t consider them much of a metaphor; I think they’re just zombies, but by the end I still felt like I’d missed something.

One part I found especially engaging and hoped would be expanded more was when she described Soap’s painting on 158-159 like a depiction of the story itself, the story of being lost in the woods. No one really knows what the painting is supposed to be or where it came from. Maybe it’s a forest inside of which is a prison, inside of which are these strange characters. But that’s about as far as I got with that interpretation. I like how the narrator calls Soap so many names, the preferred name being an object. Does this count as dehumanization? Sometimes he’s Arthur, or Sweetheart, or…Wolverine? At the end he’s not there at all. So whose story is it?

I’m also curious to know what everyone took from the Cage piece. I was initially skeptical because of the multiple fonts–they seem a little gimmicky and annoying, especially since they don’t really make a pattern and I really want them to. But I enjoyed the story/poem and how self-aware and contradictory it is right from the beginning, with its hopeful title and hopeless parenthetical title. It’s sometimes like a piece about good intentions gone wrong. Tunnel workers go on strike to make more money or have better conditions, but the government ends up not just not needing them, but actually doing better without them. That’s so sad.

But back to the fonts: What do you think about them? Are they just there for attention? I don’t get why the form is the way it is, unevenly centered and mashed together, unless maybe the point is to look jagged (which is possible) or maybe there’s no point at all (also possible). What is it that holds everything together here?

On Foer, DeLillo, and Link

I thought I’d post in regard to some of the short stories while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s short story, “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” intertwines visual media with text in an attempt to simplify conversations he has had with his family. The symbols ultimately stand in for dialogue and therefore complicate rather than simplify these conversations, at least for the reader who, if he/she has as short-term of a memory as I do, must flip between pages in order to decode the symbols. Thematically, this story works in that it reveals the complex dynamics of communication (and the futility, I suppose, in attempting to simplify it). And, of course, post-modernly, the story makes good use of mixed media and substitution.

I read somewhere that Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms” was inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s film, Weekend, which I had seen once a couple of years ago (yay for Netflix). I don’t remember the film well enough to have made this connection on my own. If anything, the absurd fast-paced plot made me think of Voltaire’s Candide. In researching “The Uniforms,” I came across a passage in Marc Osteen’s American Magic and Dread that I thought the class might find interesting:

“The story dramatizes DeLillo’s recognition that, as Steven Connor argues, in postmodern culture ‘images, styles, and representations are not the promotional accessories to economic products; they are the products themselves’…DeLillo’s prescient vision of terrorist manipulation of the media anticipates the themes of Mao II as well as the media savvy of real-life terrorists. But the relationship between the media and violence works both ways: the bombardment of consciousness by images is itself a form of violence.”

Like Don DeLillo’s “The Uniforms,” Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plan” makes use of lists in the text. It took me about ten pages into Link’s story for me to realize that I’ve read her before. Another of her short stories, “Stone Animals,” appeared in Best American Short Stories 2005. The thing is, it wasn’t the author’s name that made me recall this other work; it was something in the style of the writing. I disliked “Some Zombie Contingency Plan” for the same reasons I disliked “Stone Animals.” I’m having a hard time trying to express exactly what those reasons are; maybe they’re based in my aversion to fantasy, or, on a related note, maybe it’s the nonfiction writer in me talking. Or maybe those reasons are the same inexplicable reasons I have for being unable to sit through many of David Lynch’s films (most notably, Inland Empire). I think it’s just that, while I enjoy the absurd, the bizarre, I need it to make sense in the end (or at least some weeks thereafter, when I’ve thought about it enough). I had originally been excited to read “Some Zombie Contingency Plan,” solely because of the title, having been a fan of zombie films for a long time (I even own The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks), but the use of zombies (as metaphor?) in this story threw me off. I’m interested in what the rest of the class thinks. Oh, and check out this blogger’s post about Link’s use of zombies as metaphors:


Welcome to ENGL 660

Welcome to the class blog for the Spring 2009 English graduate seminar “American Postmodernism.” If you are a student in ENGL 660, you can register for the blog, something you’ll need to do before the first week of classes is over.

Even if you don’t want to register yet, you can still browse this site, which will play an essential role in our course this semester. Of particular interest will be the course guidelines and the day-to-day class calendar.