Posts Tagged ‘narrative’
Let me just say that, as my 37th year?speeds?toward the platform and is?due to arrive in a paltry?seven days, I’m not crazy about this novel’s claim about?the 35th year:
You begin to think, ‘Well, I more or less understand how things work. Do I really want to disassemble tens of thousands of semi accurate beliefs on the off chance that I might be able to bring one small receptor field into better focus?’ (111)
With a projected 50 years left, give or take a decade, that’s a long time to sit on my ass and?give up the quest. Let the disassembly continue… Full Speed Ahead!
That said, let’s move on to pages 48-153 of the novel.
CHILDHOOD REALITY V. ADULT DELUSION
One would generally assume that children would have a stronger imagination than adults, the ability to?create their own reality and imaginary friends, but that isn’t what is being said in this novel. As I mentioned in?a previous post, “something between childhood and becoming an adult shifts the understanding of language, makes it less literal, less real.” I found this idea interesting when Powers described a?book that permanently?influenced him?while he was still young?(19).?This same type of reference appears later, when Lentz and Hartrick?dupe Powers about Imp C’s ability:
A babe in the woods would have seen through this… I myself would never have bitten, had I still been a child. Yet I’d believed. I’d wanted to. (123)
Powers can no longer see the real, but why? Perhaps, as our narrator describes,?it is his adult desire to want to believe.
In childhood, facts are collected?much like?William and Peter Hartrick’s?alphabet and international flags.?Conceptual meaning hasn’t yet been assigned, as Hutcheon would point out.??Unlike the boys,?Powers?associates everything with narrative rather than fact. When speaking about their mother, Diane,?Powers says “I didn’t know the first thing about her” (136) but?”I recognized?this?woman…?from a book I read once as a novice adult” (137).?This referential knowing is not real. It stems from a concept learned elsewhere?during Powers’?early adulthood rather than from what actually stands in front of him?in the moment.
Powers recognizes the impact of narrative on his thoughts and the ways in which those thoughts then shape his reality. “Here was the home I would never have. Shaped by a book, I’d made sure I wouldn’t. I’d forced my heart’s reading matter to come true” (138). To deny himself access to Diane or?a home based on a particular?book leads me to believe that, had he read another?book (or no book), things might have turned out?differently. Like ideology, the story has the power to order Powers’?thoughts, but also to confine him within that story.
SUBJECT V. OBJECT
Confinement within the story becomes problematic for all the main characters in this novel. Diane, Lentz, C.?and even Powers?become splintered identities in terms of subject/object. As said above, Diane is a stereotype in Powers’ internal narrative. First?she is?scientist, then mother, then “she became a different woman” (136) after she put her children to bed and?sat in her living room. None of these images allow access to the real Diane, for Powers or the reader. Lentz too is seen solely as mad scientist until Powers?recognizes him as husband and father thanks to the calendar on the door. Still, he doesn’t know who Lenz truly is or why he’s such a sad,?angry man. These characters are nothing more than objects seen through the one limited?lens of the narrator.
Powers and C. are special cases in the subject/object dichotomy. Powers, when proofing his latest book, says:
My eleventh-hour triage demoralized me even more than the first writing. I felt a despair I had not felt while still the teller… What lost me, while listening to my own news account, was learning that I didn’t have the first idea who I was. Or of how I had gone so emptied.?(117)
Is Powers really so emptied and lost?within his own identity? The word?”emptied” implies that Powers was?once full.?When?he writes about himself as?the subject, he?is unaware that this identity crises exists because it doesn’t yet. It is when he no longer writes but reads, making the switch from subject to object, that he feels some sort of self identity loss. It is the mechanism?of narrative?that induces the loss, unable to capture the whole of who Powers is, even in his own attempt to portray himself.
Perhaps Powers?has stopped?disassembling his?”tens of thousands of semi accurate beliefs” at 35,?having learned?little since his relationship’s end with C.?Prior to this autobiographical fiction,?Powers becomes the subject of C’s story and she becomes the object, driving?the wedge?of death into their relationship. Powers knows?this to be true?when C. says, “It’s your story… It makes me feel worthless” (108). He begins to question:
What did the finished thing mean? That book was no more than a structured pastiche … One that by accident ate her alive… She would never again listen to a word I wrote without suspicion. (108-109)
Even after living the consequence of setting the divisive dichotomy of subject/object in motion with C., Powers inflicts that same divide within himself and feels the power and pain from both sides.
Of course,?objectification is okay when you’re Powers, the author of this novel,?portraying the narrator as the author and narrator of his own novel. Only by making this move does narrative no longer mean objectification alone. Narrative, in this manner,?becomes self-reflexivity, or has… self-reflexive Powers. (Insert “bad joke” groan here.)
PS: If C was with Powers in U., E., and B., who do you think A. is in her 22nd year?? Son of [a] B!! I can?t seem to work it out yet? but I sure do sound like a mathematician when I try.
The first 48 pages…
I found A Brief Biographical Sketch (excerpted and adapted, with the author’s permission, from Understanding Richard Powers by Joseph Dewey) helpful in understanding the extreme similarities between the author and narrator of Galetea 2.2. In essence, Powers’ life is the source of his fiction and fiction thus becomes his life. This is not unlike the photography of Nikki Lee. Each quite literally lives the art that they create and questions representations of the real. Although this is interesting in and of itself, for the purposes of this post “Powers” refers to the narrator, not the author, unless otherwise indicated.
The novel begins with the sentence, “It was like so, but wasn’t,” and screams for a sneak peek at the last page for clues. I refuse to give in. According to this book, there is no short cut to learning – even for neural nets. Let?the synaptic links painfully struggle to?materialize, one at a time.
The plot centers around teaching language, and subsequently the canonical list of Great Books, to a neural network in order to understand how the brain orders and accumulates information to learn. We didn’t get to talk much about language limitations in class, but there are so many references to it throughout the book, I find myself tracing each instance.
- In the first paragraph, Powers says of his 35th year, “We got separated in the confusion of a foreign city where the language was strange” (3).
- At U., “Work at the Center divided into areas so esoteric I could not tell their nature from their names” (5).
- At the Center, ?Talk in its public spaces sounded like a UN picnic: excited, wild, and mutually unintelligible. I loved how you could never be sure what a person did even after they explained it to you” (6).
- When meeting Lentz, Powers says, “We made interstellar contact, paralyzed by the mutual knowledge that any attempt to communicate would be culture bound. Worse than meaningless” (13).
- The Dutch, according to Powers, amount to little in the area of novel-writing due to “the fault of translation.” Lentz blames it on “the limits of that Low German dialect” (18).
- Powers “still dreamed in that language. It had ruined [him] for English” (18).
- Of a flood Powers read about in a book as a child, he says, “this was my unshakable image… The word “Holland” filled me with autumnal diluvian disaster… even after living for years… in the Dutch Mountains” (19).
These types of quotes span?just pages 3-19, but there are many more. Following the order listed above, these quotes point toward:
- general linguistic separation and confusion
- lack of concept transference within the same language
- cultural boundaries rendering speech less than meaningless
- loss of meaning in translation?from one language?to the next
- the bondage of language on thoughts and dreams
- creation of real perceptions and representation of a non-reality
If language is so fallible, how can a machine avoid these linguistic pitfalls, particularly when “taught” by similarly fallible humans? What is the key to getting it right, making language more communicable?
According to Powers:
A child’s account of the flood that ravaged Zeeland shortly before I was born turned real in my head. That’s what it means to be eight. Words haven’t yet separated from their fatal content. (19)
Something between childhood and becoming an adult shifts the understanding of language, makes it less literal, less real. A return to that childhood state, when switches quickly flip through intelligent processing, may offer better understanding of how to access reality through language. To return to the beginning, new opportunity exists in discovering how a mind learns and how to better teach that mind.
Like a child, the machine too requires “someone like Lenz to supply the occasional ‘Try again’s and ‘Good Boy!’s” (31) as it essentially makes its own decisions and deductions about what is correct and incorrect. That said, with a father figure like Lenz, will the machine suffer emotional damage, adopt his bad attitude, reject him all together? We’ll have to read on and see. Good Lord, that man is frightening!
This fires my next response…
Powers, the author, takes on the mother of all self-reflexivity in this novel. While postmodernism examines the ways in which particular forms like language, photography, film and music represent reality, Powers goes one step further and examines the very tool that both creates and interprets all form… THE SYNAPSE. As Powers, the narrator, says:
After great inference, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what cognition was… No tougher question existed. No other, either. If we knew the world only through synapses, how could we know the synapses? (28).
In that last question, one could replace the word synapse with narrative,?and see?the bold move that?Powers, the author, is making. To examine synapse as “form” is the greatest postmodern experiment of all,?the likes of which makes my head hurt.?
(How appropriate?for this post to appear on a blog called “Brain Drain, I Think Its Sprained.”)
HUTCHEON ON POSTMODERNISM: A Summary
by Michael Bastian & Kim Clune
Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Theorist Linda Hutcheon?finally offers?a clear?definition of?postmodernism?as compared to the somewhat slippery and?”indefineable” definitions offered thus far. “Postmodern representation is self consciously all of these – image, narrative, product of (and producer of) ideology” (28).? She combines several concepts which all work together in the following way:
For our purposes, mimesis?is?the assumption that representation is, in some way, a duplication of “the real” and also that there is a “real” to represent.?(To trace the morphing?philosophy of mimesis since the time of ancient Greece, visit the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, University of Virginia.)
Using?this definition of mimesis, Hutcheon?then says, “Postmodernism challenges our mimetic assumptions about representation” (30). This is called dedoxification.
Ideology constructs and naturalizes the way a culture presents itself to itself. To de-doxify this representation is to denaturalize the contrived reality that ideology assumes as truth. Postmodernism simultaneously inscribes and subverts the convention of narrative to this end.
Hutcheon uses Angela Carter’s The Loves of Lady Purple?to exemplify the dedoxification of femininity.??A marionette is made to represent the image of the woman prostitute in the construct of male erotic fantasy.? We are left to question, “Had the marionette all the time parodied the living or was she, now living, to parody her own performance as a marionette?”? and, “to what extent are all representations of women the ‘simulacra of the living’?”(31).???
Ultimately, the job of postmodernism is to question?”reality” and how we come to know it.?It forces us to examine the ways in which we?ve chosen (or have been made to choose) to represent ourselves. Historiographic metafiction?dedoxifies assumptions of ideology by consciously?and self-reflexively working to?accomplish?two things:
- bringing?historical context into the text in recognition of?history’s authority?and power, and
- simultaneously calls into question?historical limitations
By?inserting elements of?fiction?within historical context,?”fact” is exposed as an author’s assigned meaning?or subjective interpretation of an event. Historical representation is revealed?to be?inconclusive,?one more narrative employing the same devices used?in fiction.?As we understand it,?this functions the same way through all mediums of postmodern expression whether fiction, photography or painting.
For more on Hutcheon’s?historiographic metafiction,?visit Victoria Orlowski’s explanation (last entry at the bottom)?at Emory.edu.?
THEORY IN PRACTICE
- Michaels’ Observation: Photographic Discourse as Evident in the Work of Cindy Sherman
What is happening in this photo? Let?s create a narrative. We see?this?woman’s?bathing suit floating next to her. We can assume she doesn?t have a spare. She?s naked, nude, in the skinny. The only articles of clothing she?s wearing are the goggles (spy goggles) and a mask (a spy?s mask). Sherman is mimicking the actions of a spy approaching an enemy?s territory.?This?woman?doesn?t want to be seen. The pool is lit up. At the same time she is a naked woman swimming in a pool that someone could be spying on. She?s acting the part of a spy and sexually promiscuous woman. Those are antique goggles; they help to represent the historical representation of a spy. Although this spy does not represent one historical event we can narrate one. Mixing the story of the naked woman and the spy together does not work. Who is she looking at? What is she looking at? These are all questions in creating the narrative. The black and white photograph makes it seem like this photograph is representative of a historical ?real?. The move to de-doxify the reflex we have to link black and white to old is uncovered because of the use of fiction (the naked spy-woman). Uncovering this not only brings to question the power that black and white photography has over us, but reifies the power it does because of the reflexes its bringing out of us. This is called historiographic metafiction; examining the history of representing history through the use of fiction to pivot it against.
Male erotic fantasy led me to believe that Sherman was swimming naked; her bathing suit swimming next to her. Kim pointed out, after sharing my analysis with her, that Sherman isn?t actually naked at all. The bathing suit is just distorted by the water. I created a narrative based on an ideology that I subscribe to. I assigned her femininity, false femininity, based on the image presented. The history, male erotic fantastical history, associates woman in pool with sexually promiscuous woman. We now have three fictions with which to work from, that all work to subvert the control of the form and emphasize its control over our reflexes as cattle grazing on the fields of ideologies. – Michael
(Well, Michael’s cattle reflex anyway. – Kim, who finds this all very amusing.)
- Kim’s Observation: Fiction and History as Demonstrated?in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club
Fight Club demonstrates Hutcheon’s theory well. Historical assumptions about the?subject?are called into question?alongside those of historical representation, and each are de-doxified through self-reflexive construction of this historiographic metafiction. Although one human body acts out the events of the novel,?that body is complicated by the presence of?two identities or subjects housed within it. Each has a?very different perspective and thus?drastically different representation of the same chronological events. Tyler collects?his?events and assigns meaning via his conscious state while the narrator, when he?is awake and occupying the body, assigns different meaning to the same events. In this way, perpective is limited and skewed depending upon who is in charge at the time. Additionally, because the narrator is the reader’s only source of information?about Tyler,?his?limited scope of understanding filters out?aspects of?his alter-ego.?In this way, the narrator unknowingly skews the telling of his?own history until the end when he?fully realizes that he?has become a split identity and thus the bigger picture is finally revealed to the?reader. Our ideological notions about how naturally subjectivity represents history are challenged once we realize the power the narrator has over representation as well as his limitations in revealing all sides.
Palahniuk also explores society’s historical context through capitalism. By placing ficticious characters within a backdrop specific to the 90′s, we are better able to examine various concepts and perceptions of capitalism from two perspectives than we are from one. Interestingly, neither is verifyiable truth, nor are they together, but…
(I had a train of thought to explore here,?but Michael just stole my copy of?Hutcheon and left campus.)
We find that Hutcehon offers a logical answer to?several theoretical questions. Disputing negative generalizations of postmodern disorder, incoherence, and Jameson’s accusation of “depthlessness,”?Hutcheon says postmodernism has the specific function to?reflexively question?history by employing it’s own narrative in order to reveal the holes in such perceived truth. This specificity is new?from what we’ve seen this semester. She argues that Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra, representation as a copy of a copy, and media’s neutralization of the “real” assumes that there was a “real” to begin with. She counters that??there is nothing natural about the ?real? and there never was ? even before the existence of mass media? (31).?According to?Hutcheon, we have not slipped into?a false world because we have postmodernism.
Rather than postmodernism being a departure from contextualized history, or what?Jameson calls “a ‘revolutionary’ break with the repressive ideology of?storytelling generally,” (47)?the postmodern?relies upon that very device to decenter the?ideological?notions of authenticity and subjectivity. In the moment in which the center is questioned through narrative, postmodern stories of the oppressed “other” rise to the surface, no longer surpressed by ideology and past historical influence.? Postmodernism contradicts this notion of the real and accepts that everything has always been culturally represented.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- Hutcheon says events have no meaning until certain facts are selected and meaning is assigned. Do you agree? Why?
- Since history can be fictional and fiction can reveal certain truths,?is there?a line of distinction between history and fiction at present?
From the scholar-sphere:
- Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Hutcheon: On Postmodernity.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. November 23, 2003. Purdue U.
- Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Hutcheon: On Parody.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. November 23, 2003. Purdue U.
From the blog-o-sphere:?
Two posts from the Derivative Blog: Thoughts on Hutcheon?by a graduate student of English literature and culture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
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