Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize

Hayles’ 2nd chapter makes me think of a book I read last year called A Visit From the Goon Squad.  (Amazing, by the way.)  The book was a series of interconnected short stories, sort of.  Each chapter would be about someone you’ve met in the previous chapter, and you never really knew which person’s story would be featured next.  The author, Jennifer Eagan, was such a marvelous, creative storyteller that I found myself wishing there was a story about EVERYONE in the book.  I’m asking she take up an eternal task, of course, and that’s a little unreasonable.  But what if many writers got together and collaborated?  They wouldn’t all be Eagan, of course, but maybe that’s okay.

I was rather hard on the hand-wringers who wrote the articles that we read as our first assignment for this class, the ones who talked about how the internet affects the way we read (link to Carr and Birkerts).  I’m imagining a form of hypertext novel, and then I’m picturing doing that through an author wiki, and that’s clearly influenced by my interactions with the internet.  The internet is, indeed, affecting the way authors write and the way I read (except, unlike the authors of those articles we read for the first class, I embrace this change).  Eagan already kind of headed toward that hypertext element in her book–without the internet, of course.  I was just wondering what it would be like she’d post it online and people could attach stories to all the characters, so it would be an ever-branching system.  It’s like real life–everyone has a story and a network of associations, each who have their own stories and network of associations, etc., until all people in the world are connected.  Except in the world of real people, there’s a finite number of characters.  In the literary world of imagined characters, we could go on forever, making an amazingly complex piece….

Layers of Edit

Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize

When we were talking in class on Thursday, I realized that the short analysis of Tom’s story was a commentary on Zampano, and maybe the whole book.  In the story, Zampano writes, “If Sorrow is deep regret over someone loves, there is nothing but regret her, as if Navidson with his great eye had for the first time seen what over the years he never should have missed.  Or should have missed all along.”  If we keep in mind that it is Zampano speaking and he has kept a fairly academic voice thus far, the italics and the very personal-sounding last statement seems a little out of place.   I started thinking about the minotaur parts being crossed out and about how crazy Zampano got about the  bible story, and I think that Zampano is giving us some insight into his life own life.  The story of minotaur and the maze winds up being a story of father and son, and Jacob and Esau is obviously about brothers and their fathers. It’s the stories about families that seem to get Zampano worked up.  It seems as if what Johnny was saying about Zampano’s possible family woes may be true.  This makes me wonder if Zampano sees the Navidson project as a surrogate relationship, or some kind of penance for a source of guilt over family.  What else could make him so upset?

If this is so, I don’t think it’s too far off to assume that the Navidson project Zampano is working on is also a labor of love, his weird and off-the-beaten-path apology to a wronged family member.  But who?  Who in the story is Zampano trying to dedicate the Navidson record to, the way that Tom’s story is a dedication to Tom?

Does Zampano somehow forsee Johnny reading?  Is Johnny the family member, or pseudo-family member, that Zampano wants to apologize to?  Clearly, Zampano’s work has pretty much wrecked Johnny’s life.  And Johnny and Zampano seem to have an eerie kind of connection.

It’s also interesting that Zampano notes how heavily edited he thinks Tom’s story is.  This seems almost like an admission of how edited Zampano’s story is.  Maybe Zampano, if he forsees Johnny’s work with the text, is conscious of the annotations he will be doing and the way he will be altering the piece.

I’m not sure this makes total sense.  I’ll have to think about it more.  But it’s interesting.  And I remain convinced there are layers of meaning to “A Short Analysis of Tom’s Story”

The Monster in House of Leaves

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I doubt it’s an actual creepy with fangs and rabies.

Is it whatever you’re most afraid of?

Is the monster people’s own personal, psychological demons?

Is it the black, endless, empty space itself?

At first, I figured it was whatever flaw each character had, except amplified.  But after reading about the children’s drawings and thinking about how Danielewski uses medium as a way to both show and tell, I feel like it’s a combination of that AND the fear of blank or black space.  Have you ever met someone who couldn’t stand to be alone with their own thoughts?  Who always needed to be around people or have some kind of external stimulus?  I feel like the monster is whatever they are running from, whatever terror manifests itself in quiet moments.  Silence moments make many uncomfortable, and I found myself feeling a little perturbed about all the empty spaces on the pages of House of Leaves.  I was wondering if the boxes of black and the empty page spaces are supposed to make us start confronting that silence.  Maybe that confrontation is what is making Truant crack.  It’s interesting that all parties, including those who embrace the house’s engulfing empty space willingly (Navidson, the explorer), compulsively (Truant–and, it may be argued, Navidson), or not at all (Karen) all seem to be suffering as a result of its existence.  I would think that those willing to confront the emptiness are those well-adjusted folk that have nothing to be afraid of in empty moments, and would find it’s not as bad as they thought.  Tom defeats the monster by embracing darkness, after all.  But even Navidson hears the monster of the empty space growl.   Maybe we’re no match for our own psyche.

Or maybe the monster is something totally different.  Who knows.

House of Leaves, Media, and Telephone

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House of Leaves and our discussion of it on Thursday reminds me of the game of telephone.  Every time a story switches hands/media, there is a chance for things to be added or taken out.

So, the original story is the one that Navidson and his family experience from actually living in this house.  When that reality is chopped up and shown through the limited scope of film, the story changes.

As Zampano watches the film, he transfers the story into a new medium–printed narration of the events shows.  That changes the story again. Of course, we miss out on the wealth of things that might have added to our experience of the story if we were actually there in Navidson’s house–clues from peripheral vision, the clarity of external noise, a general sense of place.  We also lose a kind of depth of experience which we might have gotten from the film–the color scheme of the room, the texture of the furniture, the striking effect of visually seeing the bookshelf warped, etc.  Yet we might gain something from Zampano’s dedication to the narration–maybe he catches something mumbled that we wouldn’t have noticed if we were listening.  We get the possible benefit of his acting like a filter, straining out the many stimuli that would have been fired at us if we were watching the entire film, making it easier to concentrate on pieces of the art (which reminds me of “Ways of Seeing” and how this can be good or bad.)  The fact that Zampano is even writing such an extensive piece on Navidson’s story makes it seem very important.  People might put greater weight on the value of the Navidson story because Zampano wrote so much about it.  The story changes because we believe that, since Zampano viewed it analytically, it is worth viewing analytically.  And, when our goal is to analyze, we see a story differently than we do if our goal is entertainment.

Then, as his written form is published, we have more levels of “telephone”–we trust that the editors Truant and the characters called “the editors” have kept all of Zampano’s original text, but we don’t know that they have.  We also don’t know what is missing from Zampano’s original manuscript as found by Truant.  The added effect of footnotes also changes the story.  It  adds Truant’s story, for one thing.  It also adds weight to Zampano’s story (which, as discussed, adds weight to Navidson’s story)–because there are so many footnotes and editors, it makes Zampano’s text seem so important it is worth analyzing or even obsessing over.

The same thing happens with Truant’s additions to the text.  Because the actual editors at Pantheon left his text in and chose to publish the book, we see Truant’s part in the story as necessary to the plot.  We assume he is worth getting to know as a character, and he becomes a vital part of Navidson’s/Zampano’s story as we experience it.

All of this takes us pretty far away from the original story at Navidson’s house.  But that’s not necessary a bad thing. It’s just an interesting thing.

Lucy Ferriss

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I chose to explore the background and writing of Ms. Ferriss for a pretty silly-seeming reason.  I just dug one of her titles, which including the phrase “misadventures of a reluctant debutante.” reveals that she is from the publishing world and feels she writes because she has to–the only reason, she claims, anyone other than genre writers would still be “left standing” in the business.

From “The Difficulty of Translation”:

She spoke the language passably.  Once ao week or more she was invited to a dinner party at which others her age–bureaucrats, young lawyers, antique dealers–chatted excitedly around her and she soaked up their energy like a sponge going red with the excellent wine.  Her thoughts felt simple to her on these occasions.  The vocabulary at hand contained none of the shadings she was used to.  In the empty, half-sober moments after she’d returned to her flat, she wondered sometimes if her party companions thought simple thoughts–but that was her American prejudice at work, filtering out whatever subtleties it couldn’t immediately process.  She went to bed with the vapor of mystery.  What did anyone think, really, and was language just a bowl to contain it?  On rare occasions she missed the manager who brought her here, the one who had died on a hairpin term in the neighboring mountains.  But she had scarcely known him, when you got down to it, and the years had smudged him into the gray of the city, until when she dreamed of him he was speaking in this other language, the one that made thoughts simple.”


I liked this for a few reasons.  One, I hate tired similes, to the point where if I see the words “like” or “as,” I cringe and pick up something nearby in preparation to throw it in anger.  When I read the sponge-wine simile, I was very happy to  put down this notebook I was about to throw.  Horray for the Ferriss-recessitated simile!

Two, I love the abstract, mind-bending comparisons, which are scattered throughout her writing.  There was no question in my mind, after reading this piece, that this woman is a writer.  That may sound odd, but I don’t actually consider many people of the title “writer” very deserving of the title.  She is creative and almost bizarre in her descriptions, but not awkward bizarre–awesome bizarre.  It’s the kind of bizarre that is a reflection of how unpredictable and nonsensical human psychology actually is, and her writing seems to track how we strive to make connections.  The explanation of simplifying language and trying to make sense of dreams (dreams which might be trying to make sense of experience, I might add) capture all of this complexities in a way I find fun and quirky.

Which brings me to three…the actual concepts behind her writing are so smart, so observant.   The nuances of language and this process of converting thought to some system of communication–it IS very surreal, isn’t it?

Berger and lit

Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize

I really, really enjoyed the clarification of Benjamin’s article through Berger’s Ways of Seeing episode.  The connection between all the art, photography, and film discussed in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and literature is much more apparent to me now.

For instance, our discussion about images changing with setting makes more sense. Pictures have different meanings if you view a part of the painting at exclusion of other elements, or if you attach music or words.  The balanced view that Berger took (that this can be either good or bad) made me very happy.  Many times, zooming in on particular aspects of art is edifying.  We do it with literature, too.  We might experiment allowing literature to stand on its own as a work, we might see it as autobiographical, we might see it as a historical piece, we might see it as a psychological allegory: all of these are ways to limit the meaning of the text, but with really rich works, it’s quite useful (and fun!)  But I see how this can be manipulated.  The part of the video that zoomed in on the Caravaggio painting while playing the Italian opera was a great example.  All of a sudden, I imagined all the peaceful figures in the painting to be screaming at one another.  And the relatively pleasant Van Gogh of the cornfield seemed ominous after Berger suggested it was his last work.  (Although, side note, that turns out probably not to be true.  The mythbuster in me got curious and went to the Google.)   This reminds me a LOT of my experience with literature and academia–a case in which I echo Berger’s unwillingness to assign the terms “good” or “bad.”  Example: it was not long ago that I hated anything by Shakespeare.  It all just always seemed like bombastic, overglorified drivel to me.  But I had a teacher at my community college who really made Shakespeare come alive for me, and it changed the way I saw Shakespeare in general.  Yet, without that context–without a teacher instructing me how to interpret the text, telling me where to look to find the worth–the works are empty to me.  I suppose that’s good.  It feels good; I mean, I’m an English major, I’m supposed to like Shakespeare.  But it’s also is a little unsettling.  Those plays are defined by the setting I experience them in.   And I am just thinking what experts tell me to think.   I’m like a little scholarly parrot.

Word as art

Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize

I’ve been really digging graffiti lately.  I spent a lot of time over the break looking at pictures, downloading graffiti fonts (hmm…the irony could be a whole other blog post), and trying to get the hang of it.  I got a book that’s sort of a “how-to” guide to graffiti, and in it the author talks about how some shapes of letters just don’t go with other shapes.  “X” and “Y” for example, don’t fit together well.  The arms of the letters vie for position and try to take up the same space.  I’ll come back to this idea–allow me a digression.

After looking at the Medieval manuscripts and the old, Arabic texts, it got me thinking even more about where art and writing meet and wondering how a picture is really any different than a letter.  For instance, the letter “X” is a symbol in many ways.  Pictorially, it’s “Bad!” or “Dig here for treasure!”  Phonetically, it’s a symbol for a “eks” sound.  When paired with other letters, it has a fluid symbolism designated by its neighbors–a symbolism that simply acts as signpost, as Prof. Trease was saying.  That is its most widely understood purpose, and its main one in the era of the novel.  But letters also, when set up against other letters, have a visual potential.  They act as shapes that take up space and push or pull against their neighbors.  They’re like a piece of a puzzle, and a skillful artist can figure out exactly which letters belong where in relation to each other.

You see consciousness of that function of letters in those old manuscripts.  I don’t necessarily think that all authors since the invention of the printing press are making a big mistake for ignoring the ability of letters to function artistically.  I like the text standing on its own, too–Plus, undue attention to visual appeal would be distracting or weird in a lot of books.  But I am surprised the artistic function of the letter went away as entirely as it did.  I was very happy to see the fun and experimental Humument in class, and  I hope the lines between art and literature continue to blur.  I think the Medieval folks were on to something, and that we’ve been missing an exciting potential use of letters.

A quick assessment of the necessity of publishers

Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize

Hayles asks, “Will the dissemination mechanisms of the internet and the Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?”  What a great question!

It’s subtly poking at an issue beyond what we talked about last class period (which was, loosely, how the internet is changing the way we deal with words and reading).  It’s instead talking about the phasing out of a familiar paradigm—the unknown artists get “signed,” “published,” etc. by a company, and those companies make them famous/successful.  But now, the internet allows artists/writers to cut out this familiar middle man, and it’s fair to say the middle man won’t go quietly.   And should they?  Perhaps we need them to act as a filter so we are not so overwhelmed by choices that we give up trying to filter out the good stuff in a sea of trash.  But several things should be kept in mind.

I would first like to point out that, if words are printed on a page, cut, bound, and sold in a bookstore, it doesn’t make it more “literary” than words on a screen.  Therefore, publishers don’t necessarily work as filters. There are plenty of items that I see while strolling thought Barnes and Noble that I think belong more rightly in a shredder than in someone’s hand.   There is one particular best-selling author of last decade I’m thinking of whose books, from a “writer-ly” perspective, don’t hold a candle to half the blogs I read.   It’s as much amateur hour at the bookstore as it is online.

I’m also reminded of one of my first smart phones, a Blackberry, and the brand new app craze.  I wanted to get in on the app fun, but the only place I could find them was on slightly shady sites, accessed through my browser.  There were no guarantees I would even get something safe for my phone, let alone what I thought I was paying for, and frankly, weeding through and trying to find something I thought might be quality-made was a pain.  Then I found the Blackberry App Store, where user reviews determined which apps I would see first.  It was like a giant self-correcting system–after all, I didn’t want the equivalent of an app “publisher” to limit my choices and control the market.  I just wanted to know what wasn’t garbage.  I see no reason why we can’t develop a reader’s version of this system for electronic lit.  And, for fear of eliminating a potential job position before I’m even out of college, let me suggest English majors as the authoritative (but not the sole) members of this community of readers!

On change-inspired ulcers

Disclaimer: You are reading one of my early blog posts for a class and will have no context for what I’m about to say. For that, I apologize

Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr

Reading in a Digital Age, Sven Birkerts

No one can deny we’re living in an era of rapid technological advancement, and the blistering rate at which things are changing has (predictably) become the source of a lot of hand-wringing.  I have no patience for it.

“Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy,” Carr says.  “My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose…Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages.”  “Nothing penetrates, or punctures,” echoes Birkerts.  They complain about a change they notice in themselves and they interpret the change as negative.  I have no problem with that–we all have things about ourselves we would like to change.  My suggestion to people who are unhappy with their internal state of affairs is that they change whatever is bothering them about themselves.  These men are upset that they, out of habit, no longer read analytically?  Then they should make it a point to read analytically.  I don’t like the insinuation that the entire march of progress should stop because the authors of this article feel as if they are developing adult onset A.D.D. and don’t feel like breaking bad habits.

I also don’t appreciate the implication that this issue is as clear-cut and universal as a mathematic equation (specifically, progress = bad).  I, for instance, wish I was able to skim readings for key information.  I never learned how to do that.  For me, it’s analytic, hanging-on-every-word reading or nothing.  Because of it, I never have any free time to read for enjoyment during semesters.  In fact, I don’t really have any free time at all.  I’m busy squinting at a sentence in Critique of Pure Reason for ten minutes, thinking, “My god, what does it all mean?”  I see the ability to mentally multi-task and pick out valuable information as a skill, not a defective way of reading.

But what really bothers me is the terror of change and nostalgia for the safety of the status quo.  “I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m afraid,” quotes Carr at the end of his article, noting his feeling of kinship with the speaker.  “I can feel it,” and, “I’m afraid” are not the words of a person being logical and rational.  Birkerts put it this way: “Metaphor, the poet, imagination. The whole deeper part of the subject comes into view. What is, for me, behind this sputtering, is my longstanding conviction that imagination—not just the faculty, but what might be called the whole party of the imagination—is endangered.” That’s simply a supply/demand issue.  I don’t think the demand for good storytelling is going away any time soon.  And I know plenty of people who want the supply of works worthy of the title “literature” to keep flowing.  Creativity and imagination isn’t being hindered by technology—it’s being set free.  And if people still want the novel, it will stick around.  If they don’t, it will be because we found a format we like better.  Everyone needs to calm down.  We are not going to hell in a handbasket. So, to these article writers, I would say this: Don’t bang your fist on the table and declare what kind of reading is best for everyone.  And stop trying to freeze time in a moment of your choosing.