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).

Either dream of world peace OR turtles from outer space

I also thought that Le Guin was nudging the concept of either/or with George’s personality and obviously his name. The first thing I thought of with the logical concept of either/ or is the Elliott Smith record (note a very postmodern pop culture reference), the other is Kierkegaard’s philosophical doctrine; the latter I think has a little more weight in this discussion so I’ll think I’ll pursue it. I don’t know too much about Kierkegaard but I know he typically wrote about concepts like fear and dread and doubt of religion. I searched Wikipedia for Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and found that the “Either” side of his argument is a worldview that adopts a purely aesthetic lifestyle such as drinking, casual sex, vanity, and any other indulgencies that satisfy the self. The “Or” side of the argument, which is given by a judge, purposes that in the later stages of life one adopts an ethical lifestyle, one that acts responsibly and morally. The doctrine attempts to answer Aristotle’s question “How should we live?” which I thought to be the question Le Guin purposes to the characters of The Lathe of Heaven.

Dr. Haber is an aggressive man but not evil; it is repeated several times, even by George, that he is benevolent: one page 83 “Haber wanted to make the world better for humanity.” However, Haber’s idea of “How should we live?” is presumptuous. He thinks that his idea of a world will be good for the people, but George knows that no one can possibly be responsible enough to make a decision that will affect everyone. George disproves Haber’s snake bit analogy by arguing that no man can make a decision for all of mankind: on page 156 George says, “Just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough. You have to be…in touch. Haber isn’t in touch…means are all we’ve got…he can’t let be.” And on page 140 George says to Haber, “We’re in the world, not against it. It doesn’t work to try to stand outside things and run them that way…the world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be (one of several Beatles references).” In reference to Kierkegaard’s book, George Orr represents the ethical side in his decision to try and stop dreaming and stop Haber’s dream suggestions, hence the name – Orr.

I don’t think George is merely average and timid. I think that his discourse with Haber in chapters 6 and especially chapters 9 and 10 shows that George is really contemplating this power and showing the flaws in Haber’s dream suggestions. He is living in a world that is pulling him one way or the other, either with Haber’s ideology or Heather’s assertiveness. His passivity is certainly there, but it is marked by intelligence (most likely an average person with this ability would make his life not average).

I also had trouble seeing this text as postmodern when it had prevailing science fiction themes. But I think that the altercation of reality by George’s dreams is consistent with Postmodernism’s critique of reality. Portland is constantly morphing yet no one seems to question this bizarre reality, except George. The question of what is reality is brought into question which Postmodern text attempts to ask. Also, Harvey brings up the connection between postmodernism and science fiction in his essay, “The boundary between fiction and science fiction has dissolved, while postmodernist characters often seem confused as to which they are in, and how they should act with respect to it.” If anyone is confused in what world they live in it is George Orr.

Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 and Entropy

The Crying of Lot 49 has a plethora of information that was just as confusing to me as it was to Oedpia. But I think this was intentional on Pynchon’s part. Oedpia pursues clues and information that appear to be connected, but when looked at from an objective viewpoint, these connections are arbitrary and only bring up more questions with indefinite answers.

Entropy is symbolic and used in a broader sense than just the explanation of Maxwell’s Demon. Oedpia is constantly getting clues to the mystery of the Trystero. There are loosely connected clues that Oedpia encounters throughout the story, but one that really grabbed me was what leads her to Nefastis’s perpetual motion machine and its relevance to Trystero. This is completely arbitrary. Koteks is merely sketching the muted post horn on a piece of paper when she walks by and he tells her the story of Maxwell’s Demon and Nefastis’s machine. Oedpia takes this to be some sort of clue and seeks Nefastis out. When she meets him, Nefastis says, “Entropy is a metaphor, It connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow” (85). I vaguely know what entropy is from merely the text and Wikipedia, so I spoke with my roommate, who is majoring in physics, and he tried to explain it to me a little better. He said that entropy is an actual measurable quantity in physics. The idea is that in a closed system, things tend to degrade into chaos. Without any force or loss in a system, that system cannot function (He gave an example of a boiling pot of water with the lid on and how the tendency is for the energy in the pot to push the lid off and escape). I think this idea is a prevailing one in the text, and entropy is used in terms of information and culture. All the information that Oedpia encounters during her journey in California does not fit together like she hopes. One thing leads to another and so on, and Oedpia becomes obsessive in solving this apparent mystery. While Oedpia is experiencing culture in 1960s California, she is trying to make sense of the world around her, or should I say, the world that seems to be hidden from her, but draws no logical conclusion. When Oedpia tries to formulate a conclusion and, seeing that the further she goes the more confusing things become, she loses the aspects of her life that were orderly and she becomes detached and paranoid: “They are stripping from me – she said subvocally – feeling like a fluttering curtain in a very high window, moving up to then out over the abyss – they are stripping away, one by one, my men” (126). In chapter 6 we really see her lose it as she wonders back to The Scope and her hotel started and meets with Mike Fallopian and Genghis Cohen again. The world that Pynchon created has caused Oedpia to descend into chaos.

Crying of Lot 49 is obviously more than a commentary on the monopoly of the postal service. It’s clear that Pynchon is making a greater point. Crying of Lot 49 is considered one of the definitive postmodern novels, and I think I’ll take a stab at the reason why. COL49 is reflective of the 60s culture of the time – music, drugs, promiscuity, and rebellion of authority – all these things are inherent in the plot (and rather cleverly mocked at). Elements of mystery, pop culture, history, counterculture, and science are combined in COL49 to form a pastiche, which is a symptom of postmodernism. Culture is mirrored and satirized in the text while realism is ignored in order to exaggerate culture. That’s the most I can make out of it for now.

Overall I enjoyed the novel and thought it had some fantastic sentences, like this one: “I am the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming from my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also” (62). With such a dense novel in so few pages it is obvious that Pynchon is smart, but with outbursts like this he also has a sense of humor.