Can’t Stop the Signal

I was puzzled by some of the posts I read talking about the graphic novel form as comical or simplistic – I never carried those expectations, so to me what “Shooting War” felt most like was pulp fiction or even young adult fiction. While the content was adult and somewhat explicit, the style of writing was hackneyed and the characterization and narrative were rushed and incomplete. I heard that the authors were asked to expand this novel from the first two chapters, and if so, that accounts for what I felt as a confused narrative arc with an ending that I can only call… pasted on. (Also, wow, I hope those blog posts were meant to be whiny and annoying …because they were.) Not only was Jimmy’s redemption unbelievable in terms of his previous actions (With so much previous introspection there was surprisingly little immediate insight into what made him upload those clips.), it was unbelievable in terms of the world he lived in. With such a media splash with those Youtube clips, there’s no way he would be allowed to be freelance and not get snapped up again! Maybe I just wasn’t reading closely, but does anyone know what happened to his people at Global? And what was up with the sanctification of Yoda Rather? Is he some kind of hero to the Left that I don’t know about? I felt in general like I was watching a made-for-TV movie with cut and paste bildungsroman characters.

The art style, however, was arresting and very effective at conveying the aesthetic message, I thought. I particularly enjoyed the skull and cross that formed the maskfaces of the soldiers. Talk about anti-religion! Overall, while the story gave a good framework for the art’s scope, I didn’t feel like each carried the other to its full potential or to a true marriage.

I did fully enjoy the alternate universe aspects of the novel, however, as science fiction works best when it is scarily plausible. McCain and the eminent domain struck a chord in me, as some have pointed out in their posts, but I still don’t see what the solution to fight back against the Evil Oppresors is. I suppose we should all become vloggers and keep information flowing constantly?

“In the Shadow of No Towers,” on the other hand, was very charming and effective. I was a bit taken aback by the extreme leftist views of the text. No matter if I share those views, it’s disorienting and strange when literature and propaganda/advertising explicitly overlap. Of course I was charmed by his references to his own work when the mouse appeared. I liked the image of his family running away from the disaster paralleling his own running away temporally to the old comics. It’s strange how influential these comics were but how we don’t typically read them either as part of the canon or as popular ad-packaged entertainment. The traces of their influence on pop culture and literature is all that’s left, so that’s one reason that I was excited to see some of the original works (especially Little Nemo and Upside-Downs).

More real than magic?

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

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

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

Immigration and the Making of a Transnational Hybrid Identity

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

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

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

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?