Saturday, November 27, 2010

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as well as Everything Is Illuminated (which was adapted into film in 2005), uses bits and pieces of his own childhood to shape the precocious narrator, Oskar Schell. For example, when Foer was nine years (the same age as Oskar), he was terribly burned in an accident at a chemistry lab and as a result, he suffered the same kind of mental stress as Oskar after the death of his father. Therefore, from the very beginning of the novel, readers are exposed to traumatic effects of death.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
is a novel built around the eyes of a nine year old boy who concocts inventions in his mind that would improve everyday life and solves mysteries to quench his curious mind. The opening pages of the novel expose Oskar's thoughts (which I believe exceed the mind of a nine year old) as a stream of consciousness, having no sort of pattern or reason. He is weighed down by a secret he holds and feels all the burden and exasperation as a result of losing his father and his mentor. Interspersing the novel are letters from Oskar's grandfather to his son and Oskar's grandmother to Oskar. These letters again reveal the themes of suffering and pain as a result of loss.

The aesthetics of the novel are similar to much of the works we've been exposed to this semester but also contribute a natural fluidity to the narrative. Foer includes photographs, colored highlights or circled words, illegible text perhaps to reflect how a nine year old processes death and loss. Despite the seriousness of the themes, Foer also includes elements of humor and a sense of innocence to the protagonist's search.
Some questions we can consider as we read the novel:
  • What are the advantages of telling the novel through the perspective of a nine year old?
  • How do the aesthetics contribute to the themes of the novel?
  • How do the letters Oskar's grandparents write help us understand the protagonist? Why include these letters?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Pokémon Theory

Absolutely amazing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Introduction to The Jacket

First of all, I should start out by saying that The Jacket got some unfortunate advertising when it came out in theaters in 2005. Because it was advertised more as a horror film than, as the director calls it, the “subversive psychological thriller” that it really is, along with its horrible trailer (seriously) it didn't do very well at all before it came out on DVD. However, keeping in mind that this is only Maybury’s second full-length film, and despite mixed reviews and poor advertising, The Jacket, although clearly Memento-esque in many ways, it is definitely an aesthetically interesting film that introduces new ideas and elements into the memory loss/time travel sort of stories that it is adapted from.

The director, John Maybury, is a British director that is pretty well known for the artistic visual elements that he brings into his works. He claims to find inspiration from silent films, and has often had an avant-garde style in his film making. Keep these things in mind when thinking about the stylistic aspects of The Jacket. Another thing to keep in mind is Maybury's insistence that the film appears "organic", in direct opposition to big-budget Hollywood movies, which he often says are “crap”. He didn't want to use CGI in his film, although it is used in one aspect of the film (which I will let you figure out for yourselves). Furthermore, he likes to use colors and backdrops to reinforce emotion and set tone - so keep this in mind as well. Before directing The Jacket, John Maybury’s resume was made up of music videos and a number of short films that he described in one interview as “arty, pretentious nonsense in Europe that no one has ever seen."

This is Maybury’s first American film, as well as his first time “being allowed inside the system” (i.e., Hollywood). Furthermore, even though Maybury has continually expressed gratitude for the experience of directing The Jacket, he has also expressed frustration with the limitations that Hollywood produced films present. The largest of his annoyances with the system seem to be with advertising (which isn’t surprising when you look at how they advertised The Jacket) and with the American rating system/test screenings. About an hour and twenty minutes had to be cut from the original version of this film, mainly because of the results of test screenings – Maybury, being British (and this being his first experience working with American cinema), was surprised at many of the things that were cut, especially how much nudity and sexuality (which doesn’t even seem to have been very explicit in the deleted scenes, if you ask me) was cut out compared to the very little violence that was cut from the film. In commenting on this in an interview, he said, “obviously it’s a process that’s very important to the corporate people who work in this country, which is why you get so much crap cinema.” Obviously he’s a pretentious guy, but at the same time he makes a pretty good point about what our ratings system has turned into.

The screenplay for The Jacket is loosely based on the novel The Star Rover by Jack London. This novel tells the story of Darrell Standing, a university professor serving life imprisonment in San Quentin for murder. While in prison, Standing is subjected to a torture device called "the jacket," a canvas jacket which can be tightly laced so as to compress the whole body, inducing angina (severe chest pain caused by lack of blood/oxygen to the heart). Standing figures out that he can tolerate the torture by entering a kind of trance state, in which he walks among the stars and experiences portions of past lives. Most of the novel is made up by the accounts of the past lives, so it almost comes off as a series of short, disconnected stories. Jack London based The Star Rover off of the real life experiences of Ed Morrell. Similarly, Morrell was subjected to torture at San Quentin prison, and claimed to have taught himself self-hypnosis in order to endure the pain. When he got out of prison, his wife wrote a book titled The Twenty-Fifth Man under his name, relating his experiences. The book supposedly became a platform for prison reform and the state of Arizona, where they completely changed their prison policy based on its contents.

Things to keep in mind while viewing the film: settings, colors and patterns in the background/surroundings, war aspect of the film, repeated or mimicked elements

One question you should ask yourself when watching The Jacket: is this or isn't this a film about time travel?

Friday, October 29, 2010

La Jetée

Released in 1962, La Jetée
(The Jetty or The Pier) is a 28 minute film narrated almost entirely from black and white still photography.
The narration is done through a voice over and very little dialogue occurs throughout. The story is set in post-apocalyptic Paris where scientists are experimenting with time travel in order "to call past and future to the rescue of the present." A nameless man becomes the most promising subject because he has an obsessive memory of his childhood in where he witnesses passenger jets take off, a man falling to the ground, shot, and killed, and a distraught woman standing as another witness to the scene. Through the series of still shots, we experience the time travel to the past and the future.

La Jetee's film director, Chris Marker, packs so much detail into this short film and introduces it as the landmark to sci-fi. Not only does it deal with imagined innovations in science and technology, it also utilizes its form to twist around themes like time and memories. The themes of the apocalypse, travel, loss, hope, and memory are some of the main concerns that the film examines through its content and aesthetics. As the protagonist voyages from the post wwiii present to the past, the film also takes this journey through time rather than space.

Interesting fact! La Jetee was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys that starred Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt. In fact, executive producer of 12 Monkeys persuaded Chris Marker to expand the 28 minute film into a full length science fiction film. Similarities between the two films include their nonlinear storyline and time travel subplot.

Here are some of the things you want to be thinking of while watching the film:
  • Why does Marker choose to portray the film through stills rather than motion pictures? are we viewers affected in any way by this kind of presentation?
  • Consider the themes of time, memory, and how reality is experienced. What does the film reveal about our own memories? Consider even what this film has to say about cinema.
  • Although there's not much dialogue taking place in the film, do the voice over and the other sound effects form its own narrative?
Here's the video clip of La Jetee:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Woman's World: what it takes to be a woman

During my reading of Graham Rawle's Woman's World, one very specific idea kept coming to mind: is this really how he views women? While the character of Norma is more outgoing than her male counter-part Roy, both of them are easily interchangeable. Rawle over-simplifies the life of a woman to simply revolve around cleaning and looking fabulous. He seems to suggest that with the right amount of makeup and a pretty dress, any man can become a woman and have it be completely convincing. Now, this may just be a disillusion of Norma's, but the method of Rawle's construction of the novel itself seems to suggest otherwise. To fully convey the "woman's world," Rawle collected woman-specific magazines and compiled a novel based on pop-culture and advertising of the time. His view of women only covers surface-level characteristics. Yes, women tend to take care of the home and wear makeup, but by completely ignoring any deeper levels, the story comes off as semi-chauvinistic. Early in the story, as Norma is narrating, she says, "It's normally so unlike a man to know about such things" (23). While she is commenting on knowledge about shoes, she might have well been commenting on a man's knowledge of the multi-faceted world of a woman. Graham Rawle's superficiality wanes on borderline offensiveness. 

Woman's World

When I first reviewed this book before I started reading it I thought that is looked interesting. Not only does it look interesting because of the way it is written but it aesthetically pleasing to the eye in my opinion. I feel that the illustration of the book catches the readers attention before the actual plot does. The author choose to also to illustrate pictures of things being discussed. This gives the reader a closer understanding into the characters mind. Another undoubtedly interesting thing is definitely the main character Norma and Roy who are the same person. During the book though they are the same person one person is being focused on at a time though Norma always puts her input in when we are reading about the life of Roy. I think one should consider that Norma's character is definitely over powering to Roy's character. An example of this is the scene when Norma was with Mr. Hands and he tries to come on to her sexually but she does not want to. The reason why Norma is over powering in this situation is because even though she is dressed as a woman she has the strength of a man as well. Instead of letting her manly side, Roy appear when she needed him she decided to stay helpless and allow Mr. Hands in a sense to have the upper hand. While reading this I thought that Roy would surely appear and get himself out of the situation by restraining Mr. Hands but this did not happen. Norma ended up hitting Mr. Hands over the head with her heel. To me Norma does not think about it because she is convinced that when she is dressed as Norma she is a female and by her using her heel as a weapon is what one would think a typical woman would do. The last thing to think about is how Roy is considerate of Norma's feelings throughout the book. For instance, he does not go to dinner because of Norma. Whereas Norma is always running around trying to be something she is not a woman and gets into all sorts of trouble leaving Roy in uncomfortable situations such as when he was harassed by the police. Think about this situations and give your opinions on whether you thought they were interesting and why?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Language in Woman's World

Throughout the first two sections of Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World, the language of the 1960s fashion world is used in a possibly humorous, satiric mode. This use of language, however, fails in the third section as Roy realizes that Norma’s perception of the world is incapable of coexisting with his own. This failure begins to breach the surface of Norma’s exterior after she thinks that she killed Hands. Upon post-assault reflection, she realizes that actual life severely contrasts the romance portrayed in the magazines she worships, stating that “In all the romantic stories I have ever read in my magazines, not one of the men, and certainly none of the women, has ever killed anyone” (page 233-234). She expresses this new-found belief again when she states that “those who realize this truth [that life is not at all like Hollywood] will be happier for the knowledge” (page 237). Norma’s shocking experience of being victimized during an attempted rape results in her recognition of the superficiality and inapplicability of the content that she molds her life to.
This avoidable situation and the complication that accompanies it leads to the explicit statement by Roy that he wants to be rid of Norma (page 252), who chooses instead to believe that Roy is making this life decision because he experienced first-hand the disrespect that men show women. After Norma makes this statement, she makes it clear that she operates in denial. This should evoke a sense of concern within readers as this denial leads to an alteration of tone applied while portraying the Roy/Norma dichotomy. Norma reveals her insecurities, which is quite surprising since she normally fawns over herself and Roy loses his cool, collected mien that led him to unbelievable success in the past as he adopts instead a newfound air of paranoia (p. 215, 303-305). What does this say of the novel as a whole? Should we as readers be concerned that the portrayal of the first two sections, and thus the events that took place, was an inaccurate portrait?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rawle dissects a page of his book

I found this article online and I thought it was pretty cool so I put the link here. Its an article from New York Magazine in which Graham Rawle takes a page of his book and explains where he got the word clippings, etc. Other people might have come across this too, but I figured I'd share it anyway.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Unravelling the Mystery in _Woman's World_

I must admit that before I came to class today, I did NOT know that Norma and Roy were the same person. Oops. I was aware, however, that the characterization of Norma was a bit on the strange side, and I knew that some of her actions and how other characters responded to her stemmed from mysterious roots.

A characterization point that I found important is in Chapter Five, during the confrontation between Mary and Norma/Roy: “‘I knew you’d gone dressed like that when I saw your suit still hanging up,’ she said. I was ready to try and explain why I had chosen the particular outfit I had, but she seemed reluctant to listen, and, besides, I suddenly felt horribly conspicuous in it” (77). From this, it seems likely that Mary and Norma share a close relationship, because Norma says she is actually moved by Mary’s feelings. Unlike during the job interview, where she is adamant about her role and her rights as a woman, here she reveals vulnerability and unsureness. Did you, like me, see Mary as an especially important character, one who we readers can trust more in figuring out Norma/Roy’s actual situation and personality?

Also - a semi-related yet very important question: how does it seem like form is playing into this developing mystery? If, like we were establishing in class, we don't exactly trust the narrator’s voice... why? Is it through direct plot action, through the form itself, or a combination of the two?

Suggestion of Norma's Flashback / Suggested themes

(TYPO ON PG 101??????)

With what was mentioned in class--the possibility that the part about the young girl getting run over by the bread delivery track could be a flashback of Norma/Roy's--I'm thinking that Rawle's presentation does in fact serve as a possible story of origin for Norma's behavior. But, I wanted to mention that Rawle's movement into the presentation of the event (suddenly and out of nowhere), creates an aspect of Norma's inability to maybe forget this event (whether it's truly significant to her past or not).

The exit from Norma's "flashback" does a fine job in continuing the action of the flashback. The boy is apparently up in a tree hiding, and when Mary (or the mother of Norma/Roy) calls to Norma, it's presented in a way that could possibly trick the reader (Mary asks, "What are you doing up there?"). This adds to effect of surprise Norma most likely was experiencing snapping out of the flashback. It may suggest that Norma is the boy in the tree, which ultimately creates the idea that Norma/Roy could have possibly been in the incident she is thinking about.

(After the new reading, I was feeling the incident w/ the accident w/the little girl was about to occur during Roy's escape from the bra theft. Don't forget the bra is in the glove compartment, Roy!! lol)

I'm beginning to truly feel for the main character. I'm feeling sympathy towards Norma/Roy and her mom. Though Norma wishes to be herself, it's evident that her mother is affected greatly by 'Norma' ("Norma" possibly suggesting an spin on the word "normal" creating irony with Roy's abnormal behavior, just a thought). Roy makes Mary happy, and the disappointment/resentment of Norma is evident from her mother throughout the past two readings.

The switch to Roy creates a surge of positiveness in his life. The green light found at Mr. White's presents a theme of acceptance of the 'true' Roy. He receives the green light from the different secretary (which he never got as Norma due to her personality's impatience). Also, the secretary becomes a major factor in Roy's life when they begin to flirt which of course would not occur had he been Norma. He also gets the job, which creates 3 positive events all focussed around this "green light." Roy is approved in many aspects due to his switch to himself (even later by Mary who's attitude completely changes due to Roy's success at Mr. Whites). He essentially receives the "green light" when he is Roy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Norma, Norma, Norma

What in the world is going on with Norma?

As refreshing as it is to be reading a—comparatively speaking—novel, after a string of books that I have not quite been able to characterize, Woman’s World is still considerably more unconventional in terms of the definition of a “novel” than, say, something written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. What Graham Rawle is giving readers is a story, constructed beautifully out of clippings from 1960s-era women’s magazines. This is the story of Norma Fontaine/Little, but after reading the beginnings of this book I cannot place my finger on who she really is.

I think this might be part of Rawle’s intention, or maybe not. After all, the actual text of this book was largely improvisational on his part—he stated that his first draft of the story was his own words, but in using the clippings the bulk of his writing was altered. Because of this, Norma’s personality is slightly muddled during the first one hundred or so pages of the book. We know that she lives with her brother, Roy, and someone named Mary, and that her wardrobe is seemingly endless and exceedingly fashionable. But the story of her life before this novel is unclear. Who was she before? Why is she not allowed to answer the door? Why do her neighbors think her a stranger, and her home’s regular postman confused by her presence? How much, if at all, can we trust her?

(500) Days of Summer

At first I wasn’t all too excited for (500) Days of Summer having been jaded by probably every rom-com to have come out in recent memory. You know the ones with the same plot staring the same actors again and again?

Sorry Vince Vaughn but I’m tired of staring at your ugly mug for an hour and a half.(What's with that mustache anyway?)Yet, (500) Days was a surprisingly refreshing detour from the cookie cutter formula that most of romantic comedies fall under. Released in 2009 and directed by relatively unproven music video director Marc Webb, the films stars Joseph Gordin-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

The movie follows a failed relationship between Gordin-Levitt’s character Tom and Deschanel’s character Summer as a non-linear sequence of days during said relationship. The beginning of the film nods towards the idea that the films plot isn’t entirely based upon fiction reading “Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental ... Especially you, Jenny Beckman ... Bitch”. Writer Scott Neustadter later admitted that Bechman is from a former relationship of his. The writing of the movie is based upon this to a point.

The film through the relationship of Tom and Summer brings up the problems of memory when someone looks back to tell a narrative. 500 (Days) does this by playing scenes multiple times but with Tom analyzing the situation in a new light. Writing the film as a memory of days also allows it to show the conflict between Tom’s expectations and the reality he faces.

The final point the film brings into focus is the problem of knowing another mind. Since the movie is told solely through Tom’s point of view (as well as a third person narrator) a solipsistic relationship develops between Tom and Summer. This is limiting in the sense that we don’t get a clear picture of both sides of the relationship, and speaks to relationships between all people. This also raises the question if we can understand what writers and authors present to us as recipients of their work, since we cannot understand the authors intent.

A few things to think of while watching the film: How the role of memory affects the narrative is told as well as the content, whether solipsism actually creates a rift between author and reader (or in this case writer and watcher) or that this problem does not exist, and finally whether or not this movie succeeds in presenting a “real” representation of a relationship as it tries to do.

Finally here's a trailer for the movie:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dictee readings for Wednesday (10/13)

The end of Dictee is challenging, so I thought it might help to guide our discussion on Wednesday with some critical perspectives on the book.  I've broken you up into groups to look at the following articles:

Layla, Alex, Diane, Cat, Bonnie, Leroy

David, Krista, Brian, Matti, Stephanie, Ben

Sally, Bianca, Nicole, Donnovan, Joyce, Sang

Lauren, Cassie, Patrick, Margaret, Dan, Phillip

Hopefully, you've already gotten an email, but here are the baseline instructions for Wednesday's class:

I'd like you to look over the attached article for Wednesday's class (sorry for the size).  I'd like you to be able to summarize the argument of the piece, and points us to any important claims/points that the piece addresses.  In particular, what does the article assume and what new information or context does it need to invoke to makes its point(s) about Dictee?  Finally, what is the overall impression of the book; based on this article, do we have a sense of what this book is for, or why it operates the way it does?

You don't need to prepare much other than your notes, but your fellow students will have other articles, so we will be comparing how other critics take up Dictee.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Released in 1988, AKIRA twisted the boundaries of what animation could show: violence, body horror, and sex built around heavy themes. It ushered in the "Golden Age" of Japanese animation and was one of the first of its kind to break into the American market.

Akira begins like any post-apocalyptic movie: in a rebuilt but morally decayed Neo-Tokyo, 30 years after after a cataclysmic explosion has leveled the city. Crime and violence run rampant and the government has similarly evolved into a brutal police state. The plot follows the leader of motorcycle gang The Capsules (Kaneda), as he deals with the kidnapping of one of his friends (Tetsuo). The shady government scientists subject Tetsuo to a battery of tests and injections and eventually awaken his latent psychic powers. Unfortunately Tetsuo has a pretty bad inferiority complex, so when presented with his new abilities... well, explosions ensue.

Sound ridiculous?

Frankly, it is. On top of all the gratuitous mushroom clouds, there is way too much plot for a two hour movie. (It was condensed from a 2,000+ page graphic novel, so there are a LOT of characters, exposition, and plot to cover.) Nevertheless, Akira is considered one of the most aesthetically iconic movies, animated or otherwise. See if you can spot ties to Blade Runner (1982), Tron (1982), The Matrix (1999), or even Kanye West's music video for Stronger.

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Pay attention to the structure of the narrative. How is this set up like many sci fi/action films we see today? (Or is it not?) Where does the exposition come and what effect does this have on the viewer?
  • As Akira's cult status has grown, many critics have stated its only saving grace is the gorgeous animation. How much do the aesthetics of the movie affect its quality? How does the setting become more than just a backdrop? (Pay attention to color changes, angle choices, etc.)
  • What kind of things can be accomplished within this medium that would otherwise be impossible? What are the limits?
  • Akira is best enjoyed with an open mind and a heavy suspension of disbelief. =)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spoken in the Spaces: An Attempted Deciphering

Throughout the work so far, the inability to speak or prohibition of expression has taken root as a central theme. In the section of "Erato - Love Poetry", Theresa Hak Kyung Cha seems to utilize form (as we have seen before in Double or Nothing, sorry to bring it up again) to further convey this message. Cha speaks on "the unspoken the unheard, the apprenticeship to silence" (106) and we as readers are to observe this within the pages before us. Throughout this section, the use of space and emptiness is quite pointed. The open book gives two pages whose text have the ability to be interlocked, one page's words being capable of perfectly fitting the empty spot on the opposite. I found this to mirror a slightly more enigmatic passage from earlier in which Cha speaks on the pain and difficulty of being perhaps metaphorically pregnant with not only others' words but the unspoken words of "she". The passage I thought related was: "When the amplification stops there might be an echo. She might make the attempt then. The echo part. At the pause... The invoking. All the time now. All the time there is. Always. And all times. The pause. Uttering. Hers now" (4-5). It seems the character(s) represented by "she" are only capable of expression in the emptiness or in the absence of any oppressive force.

This can also account for the almost contradicting, dual track of narrative within this section, each voice or train of thought limited to the one side of the page. The two pages, Left and Right, and distinctly different in their message, much like some of the more emblematic pages, such as those with the Japanese characters of "Father" (54) and "Mother" (55). It seems there are a myriad of voices within this chapter and they do not necessarily want to be joined.

Cha also uses the disjointedness of this section to make the text analogous to the love being discussed. Cha says of the husband and wife: "They do not touch. It is not like that. The touching made so easy the space filled full with touch. The entire screen" (106). In this section, the movie theater has been brought up and this makes literal sense of the "screen", but I believe Cha is saying something less opaque than that. She references the medium of film as being easy to fill with "touching", but is also extending this connection to her book. This chapter is filled with disjointed words that do not touch, and entire pages appear empty. With the mention of this, the blank page becomes evocative of the emptiness of the love within the mentioned marriage. There is more space than words at times, speaking depths about the nature of the marriage.

I find that Cha's tactics for employing the medium of printed word to be more expressive is almost identical to what we have seen in Double or Nothing. However, it seems more effective because it does not throw it in our face quite so brazenly. The subtlety is certainly appreciated.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

F for Fake

F for Fake (1974) is a pseudo-documentary/quasi-fictional film directed by and starring Orson Welles. It was his last major work before dying in 1985.

The film is primarily focused on telling the stories of Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving. The relationship between the two men (artists?) was established when Irving wrote a biography on Elmyr's life as an extremely talented (successful?) art forger entitled Fake! The two men are similar in the fact that it's hard to know if what they claim to be is entirely truthful. Both are known hoaxers, Elmyr with his replications of master artists's work and Irving with his alleged encounter with the then hermit Howard Hughes.

The story of the these two men lead the picture into a dissection of artistic value and authenticity. Pay particular attention to moments when said issues seem to be addressed head-on. Also consider Welles' role as narrator and creator of the film and whether or not this complicates his artistic merit.

There's a lot to this movie; a lot of radical claims about what can and what can't be accepted as art. The words in parenthesis above are follow by a question mark for a reason. Think about if such a title (artist/successful) can be applied to the film's primary characters (Elmyr/Irving). Also I feel it would be most valuable to come to class Friday with a thought out personal definition of what constitutes an artistic product.

Enjoy the movie!


Theresa Cha's novel, Dictee, bears similarities to her own autobiography. Born in Korea in during the 1950s, she and her family were victims of the Korean War. Her family moved constantly, from Korea to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Northern California. During her stay in the United States, she studied at an all girls Catholic school. All of these bits of information contribute to her novel Dictee, which carries a theme of dislocation and fragmentation. In the opening pages of the novel, we see how Cha divides this novel into nine sections. We see the use of French and English; on some pages, there are words written in Japanese. Keeping in mind Cha's immigrant status, the incorporation of fragments and the variety of forms she chooses to include (whether it be journal entries, letters, news articles, photographs) in the novel focus on not merely a geographical dislocation, but also on a cultural and societal disconnect.

The first 59 pages for Monday's class include a collection of stories of Korean women during the time of the Korean revolution. From the inception, Cha uses the repetition of phases of "pain to speak," "pain to say" and "pain of speech." Throughout the stories Cha recalls, there is a limitation in the freedom of speech and the choice of one's language. How does the structure of the novel play a role in emphasizing the speaker's struggle of speech?

Similarly, on page 7 and page 11, she poses a similar quote but removes the words muse, goddesses, and daughter of Zeus. Throughout this first section we read, there are excerpts from the Bible yet she titles her nine segments with a Greek mythology character or Greek muses. What can we make of this?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pans Labyrinth Continuation........

Pans Labyrinth is an interesting reason is because the movie is in Spanish and though the movie could have been translated into English it was not. This forces the audience, if not a Spanish comprehending one, to actually pay attention to the details in the movie. Pans Labyrinth instantly connects to violence seeing as majority of the character all will endure some painful experiences. The movie raises the question of reality vs. imaginary. The main character Opheli is caught up in this imaginary world believing those events that happen, such as her meeting of the creatures for example the faun and the fairies which the class will be introduced to in the movie, as being character that influence her actions in reality. The creatures also show an impressive connection with another fairy tale called Alice in the Wonderland. As you watch the movie several things will take place that are similar to what Alice's challenges are in her story. These events which are similar to Alice, not only sparks anger in some of the other characters but gets her in a world of trouble. As the movie progresses to the end tragic events take place causing chaos in the movie. The movie ends leaving the audience with the ability to believe what is real and imagined. The ending question to think about when viewing the movie is: Is Opheli's journey worth the hardships endured throughout the movie.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo and language

In writing Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed strictly adheres to a language that is fluid with the time and context in which it is set. In her article ""We will make our own future Text": Allegory, Iconoclasm, and Reverence in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo," Roxanne Harde writes, "black culture for Reed is a language game apart from white culture, a body of knowledge with different rules and different criteria for determining value" (372). With the entirety of the work focused on the division of white and black, Harde suggests that even the language that is used by Reed further separates the cultures, which potentially widens the gap and causes more issues. For example, when Black Herman and Papa LaBas are speaking with Benoit Battraville, Benoit says, " 'The joke became 'The Haitian people are 95% Catholic and 100% VooDoo.' The Belgians and French were always bewildered when we laughed as they tried to interpret St. Jacques as Ogoun the Warrior!" (134).

While the introduction of underground to mainstream African American culture was very apparent in the 1920's, does anyone else feel that a noninclusive language and underground meetings may have not been the best approach in regards to relations between cultures? Reed adheres to the "voodoo" and "jes grew" language as a man who is painting a picture of black/white relations. However, it's been said that that which isn't understood is often feared, which pushes a plot line, but primarily just causes more conflict. With that said, would Reed's work be as effective if he strayed from the language? Would the story's quasi-historical relation be blurred even further? Would Reed's story continue to work in the fashion it does if jes grew and voodoo were called something different?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pan's Labyrinth

Set in the year 1944 in spain, Pan’s Labyrinth breaches the realm between fantasy and reality. The main character Ofelia, who is the step daughter of the antagonist commander, ends up discovering an entirely new world. With the help of tree fairies and a mission dealing Faun, Ofelia discovers that she is the princess of this new world. However she must complete three tasks in order to claim her royal status. The trials and tribulations of her journey are exciting yet terrifying. This Spanish film draws an uncanny resemblance to the known American tale of “Alice in Wonderland”. However one of the main differences between the two is the uncanny dark element that Pan’s Labyrinth possesses. Below are a few screenshots and a link to show the differences.

( Alice In Wonderland) (Ofelia and the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth)

Here’s also a link to the movies trailer:

Jumbo Mumbo

With all the different 'orders' and 'organizations' and 'groups', it seems Ishmael Reed wants to make an additional critique on the disunity of a single cultural voice and the consequences as a result, I think with specific regards to all of the black traditions we see emerge in the novel.

I haven't finished it yet, but the middle section - as we said in class - is riddled with plot event after plot event. These events, though, primarily consist of the Wallflower Order or the Knights of Templar (both of which personified in Hinckle Von Vampton) furthering their cause by killing leaders of, or totally usurping, different Afro-centric groups. We see this with Hamid's death and with the downfall of the Mu'tafikah clan. I find the latter to be particularly interesting as the success of their operation is contingent upon the cooperation of a rich white man who eventually functions as the group's origin of demise.

What I think Reed hopes to convey, at this point at least, is how when the white factions are compared to the many black schools of thought, we see one that is more so focused and united in their pursuit and one that is not so much. I feel Reed wants to perhaps show his reader, especially the African American reader, how when there becomes too many differing 'orders', 'organizations', 'groups', the common goal each share (black empowerment) becomes overshadowed almost completely and leads to more porous group structures, therefore making them all the more vulnerable to the white opponents.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo: What it Says Stylistically

From the Wikipedia handout on Mumbo Jumbo that we received in class:

"The format and typography of Mumbo Jumbo are unique and make allusion to several typographic and stylistic conventions not normally associated with novels. The text begins and ends as if it were a movie script, with credits, a fade-in, and a freeze-frame. This is followed by a closing section that mimics a scholarly book on social history or folk magic by citing a lengthy bibliography. In addition, the tale is illustrated with drawings, photographs, and collages, some of which relate to the text, some of which look like illustrations from a social-studies book on African-American history, and some of which seem to be included as a cryptic protest against the then-current Vietnam War."

Indeed the format of this book is intriguing. I actually prefer this sort of layout than something like Double or Nothing because I find it more thought provoking. Throughout the book we are shown pictures captioned with quotes, drawings, newspaper excerpts, advertisements, along with other images. Just as the narrative is a sort of mumbo jumbo of history, religion, and culture that is both real and fictional, but presented as a truth- the pictures themselves follow this form of presentation. Real photographs are paired with the narrative giving it a sense of realism.

Maybe in a sense, Mumbo Jumbo is a good representation of the world today. We are always peppered with statements and beliefs. Like the characters in the story, we must pick out our truths, distinguish reality from fiction, and learn to think critically for ourselves rather than blindly following whichever political leader or religious doctrine we have chosen to believe. Especially if it is true that this book does somehow protest the Vietnam War, then it would make sense that it would emphasize conspiracy and propaganda. As of yet I don't really see any allusions to the Vietnam War specifically. I might be missing something.

I guess some questions we should keep in mind as we continue reading are:

1. How does the style of the book (ie. layout, photographs) help relay the story? Does it add to the story or take away from it in terms of the plot and the author's goals?
2. How does the presentation of story portray society and culture (American, African/Black American)? As well as black-white relations throughout history? What does it say about oppression and fear?

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo? Sounds Clear to Me

Ishmael Reed is on to something in his novel Mumbo Jumbo. He's examining the racial, social, and cultural relations against the backdrop of a hectic 1920's decade that is still reeling from the effects of the First World War, yet trying to find some semblance of lightheartedness in a world that has suddenly gone dark. The effect of that, naturally, is chaos: I imagine the people of that decade were constantly on the fritz in terms of nerves, something that sounds all too familiar.

Even when wading through sentences muddled with dated slang, Reed's examination of the 1920's via the Wallflower Order's struggle against Jes Grew resonates strongly and clearly with the condition of our time. We too are in an era that is reeling from an ongoing war on terrorism, desperate to escape and find room to breathe but wary of those who actually do. There are ways of thinking and acting that are morally reprehensible to much of conservative society, but still catch on in the very same way Jes Grew is catching in Mumbo Jumbo. Homosexuality, something that for years was downplayed and even ignored, is now a hot button issue that refuses to go away. More and more people come out, and more and more people fight against it. Sexual promiscuity is another similar issue that seems to be gaining more and more notoriety. Song lyrics are getting racier. Things that were once considered sinful are beginning to seem attractive.

My point is that Ishmael Reed's look into American relations in the 1920's sounds exactly like now, but without all the slang. Nothing is new under the sun, it would seem. Mumbo Jumbo stands to be one of those timeless novels.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo

When reading Mumbo Jumbo I immediately realized that its title is a representation of what the characters, especially PaPa LaBas, are doing when telling their beliefs and views in the stories. One thing that I found interesting is the time frame of this book. It takes place during the 1920's, during the Harlem Renaissance, a period when black culture was new and blacks were trying many different things in order to find and establish themselves. Seeing as this era was known for creating things such as jazz, ragtime, and Broadway, it would seem appropriate for the author to start here. The author cleverly intersects a made up religious movement or practice with the ideas of this era to lure the reader in and essentially get them tangled between all the information or assumed facts of the story. I believe this is true about the book because after reading the first ten pages I had to pause from reading and ask myself; what he the author's point and what is he trying to get across? I came to the conclusion that the characters in the book really were not sure of what they were discussing therefore it made it harder for the reader to understand. The story is all about talk; meaning what people should believe and what they should be doing but to me it has no meaning behind it, hints the title Mumbo Jumbo!

Mumbo Jumbo Indeed....

In reading Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed, I found, thankfully, more visual structure than our previous reading, yet the text eluded me in a sense.

Thankfully, I have taken an African American literature class, though it was a very cursory study, so some of the great figures mentioned were familiar. These being W.E.B. Dubois (a personal favorite), Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson and so on.

I suppose I understand the general notion of this work, but in true structured student of literary discourse style, because I cannot understand it in its entirety, I have a sense of anxiety or the great sense that I am missing...something....

However, I will venture into this textual mumbo jumbo for the sake of discourse, and because I feel there is much to be gained from this text. Unless, of course, its purpose is to feign significance like the great Federman work. Anyway...

The setting is New York during the 1920s, I believe. If so, this is a time of great revival. One of my favorites in American History, because this is the birth era of the Harlem Renaissance. Reed interestingly uses the growing fad of the "Jes Grew", and new slang as a growing disease of deep medical concern. As exaggerated as that sounds, he is not far off the mark concerning the general resistance of this new music, new movement in America.

Beyond American culture, Reed introduces many African influences into the movement. He speaks often of influences from Nigeria, and contributions from Haitian culture. That is to say this movement is deeply rooted in ancestry and heritage, not magic without influence.

This being said...if one can view this text satircally, what does it say about society? How does making this newly expressed black culture analogous to a "disease" reflect the thinking? Also, there are many references to black people; yet, within that lies differentiation between skin gradation. For example, the term "high-yellow". What does that say about the society within society, i.e. the black community?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Double or Nothing - A Novel of Failed Expectations

At first, I actually enjoyed Double or Nothing, because enjoyed the extreme stream-of-consciousness narration, because I liked the extra step of having the style and layout of the words on the page match the way in which thoughts seem to "pop up" in one's mind. (Traditional stream-of-consciousness writing tends to be in the form of run-on sentences in long paragraphs, but in examining my own thoughts, I would say that there's more fragmentation/empty space between them than what those solid blocks of text portray.)

As I got further into the book, though, the novelty started to wear off, and I was frustrated that, apart from this interesting style, there seemed to be no substance to the text. Our discussion about the idea of “surfiction” was useful in trying to grapple with what Federman was actually attempting to present – yet, in the end, I don’t think this book achieves the lofty goals he’s laid out. On page 14 of his “Surfiction” critical article, Federman says that, in the future, “the reader will be the one who extracts, invents, creates a meaning and an order for the people in the fiction. And it is this total participation in the creation which will give the reader a sense of having created a meaning and not having simply received, passively, a neatly prearranged meaning.”

I like the sound of this goal. It is true that there is a beauty to everyday life, and that its examination can yield valuable ideas, so Federman individualizing interpretation by shifting the brunt of the interpretive work to the reader (as opposed to the author) seems to me to be, in general, valid (yet not in every work – I think there’s still a lot of value in entering into and learning from a world that an author chooses to portray). But Double or Nothing is ridiculously unrealistic. For the vast majority of the book, I was totally unable to relate to the narrator(s), and so, upon finishing it, I have no idea where to even begin to “extract” or “invent” or “create a meaning.” Overall, I do see a value in what Federman is proposing fiction could be – yet I don’t think his actual attempt at fiction lived up to his standard.

Group 1 Presentation Preview- Memento


Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Plot synopsis: A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. Plot basically unfolds backwards to tell story.

Two stories are unfolding at once within this film. The first, in black and white, is completely in chronological order. The second, in color, is played in reverse. The ending of the film attempts to bring these two storylines together and make sense of everything that has happened.

Christopher Nolan

Began his studies of English Literature at University College in London which is where he began making 16mm films. "...I studied English Literature. I wasn't a very good student, but one thing I did get from it, while I was making films at the same time with the college film society, was that I started thinking about the narrative freedoms that authors had enjoyed for centuries and it seemed to me that filmmakers should enjoy those freedoms as well."

This idea continued on into the films he produced later in life. His films tend to follow a nonlinear timeline which can be seen in Following (1998), Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006). It was his goal to change things and make his viewers rethink their idea of films. “I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in today's movies. They believe everything they're hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up.” He took films from the linear, expected storylines that audiences were used to and could jump in and out of, and made people pay attention and question.“As soon as television became the only secondary way in which films were watched, films had to adhere to a pretty linear system, whereby you can drift off for ten minutes and go and answer the phone and not really lose your place.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fun Home, a brief introduction

All of you should have a copy of the selections from Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home (2006).

I've chosen some passages that connect the literary and narrative elements of the memoir.  Structurally, the book is recursive, so hopefully these passages will give you a sense of the whole.  The core of the book focuses on Bechdel and her father, and the revelation after her father's death that he had had a series of male lovers.

Bechdel's previous major work was the long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008), which [from wikipedia] "chronicles the lives, loves, and politics of a fairly diverse group of characters (most of them lesbians) living in a medium-sized city in the United States, featuring both humorous soap opera storylines and biting topical commentary."  A selection of these previous strips is available here:  You might want to read a few to get a sense of Bechdel's aesthetics.

Fun Home is very much a book about aesthetics and presentation.  For some details on Bechdel's artistic process for the book, see and  We will talk about the intersection the memoir's aesthetics and its content, which in many ways replicates Bechdel's father's sense of personal aesthetics (and has some similarities to Asterios Polyp).

Finally, Fun Home had a fairly substantive critical reception, and is fairing well in academic journals as well (I wrote half of a dissertation chapter about it).  Here are two notable reviews: (regular NYTimes review) (NYTimes Book Review)

In class on Friday, I want to start with the open question of why the memoir is framed in overt literary and aesthetic terms.  How does this framing intersect with the content of the memoir itself and the question of artifice that novels like Asterios Polyp and Double of Nothing raise?

Bechdel also wrote a brief piece about how she revealed the book project to her mother, which might be of interest:

Does having the narrator's thoughts included enhance the piece?

While, I think we can come to a general consensus that reading Double or Nothing can be troublesome because it is a fairly atypical book, I have found it rather interesting to be able to read the narrator’s thoughts as he writes the story of the young man—or is just thinking about preparing to write the story. Perhaps it is because sometimes when I am reading more traditional forms of literature, I think about what the author might be going through at the time—and while I know that the narrator is not Federman, I still find it rather interesting. I mean, surely you know that when you write—whether it is a poem, short story, or even an essay for a class—you aren’t only thinking about the task at hand. I will think about the fact that I have to go to work later that evening, the song that is playing, or that I need to call my friend back—a number of things really. But, what does this do to Double or Nothing? Does it enhance the piece? If you don’t think it does, is it because you aren’t used to this kind of writing, or is it honestly just useless? Clearly, Federman thought it was worth writing since he put so much effort into creating it, but would you write like this? Hopefully, the majority of your pondering wouldn’t be about noodles or toothpaste, but is what you’re thinking about at the time important to the piece? Do you think if Emily Bronte (actual Bronte—not some narrator she created) wrote down what she was thinking about as she wrote Wuthering Heights that your appreciation of the piece would be enhanced? Do you even care? How does the presence of the narrator influence your reading of Double or Nothing?