Is this the end or the beginning? On mobius strips and katherine hayles

Hi, All. We’ve made it to the final, few, fantastic weeks of the semester and I can’t help but feel like we (ENG 576ers) are back to where we started. We’ve been caught in a mobius strip.

We started out talking about Mr. Peanut and I was beside myself trying to figure out what was going on and feeling uncomfortable not knowing what to think about the twisting plot and the so very meta fictional elements present in the novel. And here we are reading Katherine Hayles and about to see her in person. I didn’t quite realize how full circle we had come until I got to the section about the future of the novel in her article “The Future of Literature: Complex Surfaces of Electronic Texts and Print Books.” In this section, she narrows in on her thesis regarding the growing connection between the electronic and print world. A comparison she makes, like that of a mobius strip, two seemingly opposing sides conjoined. “Digital technologies have completely interpenetrated the printing process,” says Hayles (96). Digital technology is no longer separate from print. The two have become one, so to speak. And that is the future of the novel.

I see it. At least I can see the metamorphosing , to use a Hayles’ word, of the novel in our readings for this class. The novels we’ve read aren’t quite as technologically advanced as perhaps a novel with pages of code, like Hayles example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but there are elements of technology present in ways that I know I haven’t spent as much time focusing on since this class began. Maybe it was viewing Sherlock and seeing so many technological elements at work or the playful use of footnotes in Oscar Wao that would have been a bear to typeset before computers. Now, I’m seeing how much we need to be plugged in to be in the know. Electronic texts are everywhere and my experience with technology is so much a part of the way I read that I never noticed it prior to this class. Now it’s in everything I’m reading or watching.

Hayles spends some time discussing the CAVE, an immersive virtual reality environment (87). Since Hayles is much more scientifically equipped than I am, I could be completely missing her point in mentioning this, but I think her inclusion of this all comes down to how we are reading in the 21st century. The way I read is entirely different than the way my mother reads or her mother because of the exposure I have had to digital technologies. I do find myself searching for patience when I have to explain “simple” computer commands to my mom (Love you, Mom!), but it makes sense, really. Consider this quote: “Studies indicate that children exposed to long hours of interactions with computers show distinctively different cognitive styles than their parents who were raised largely with print” (93). There’s a reason my Aunt turned to me and my little sister this past weekend when she couldn’t figure out her phone. We just get it even though we’ve never see her phone before (Except we couldn’t actually help her. The point being, she assumed we could and we felt a certain amount of comfort in trying.) Hayles continues in her article to explain two different modes of thinking: hyperattention v. deep attention. She notes that computers enhance hyperattention, aka minds that crave stimuli, and that of intense concentration of the deep attention minds, aka ability to read a long, Victorian novels. I see both in myself and so might Hayles, because she states that the contemporary world is caught between the two.

What ended up standing out the most to me was that this Hayles article was published in 2006, which wasn’t that long ago. I graduated high school in 2006. It was only seven years ago. But then I realized how quickly my environment and daily interaction with technology has changed since. I barely spent time on the computer in high school, granted we were the family that still had dial-up. Twitter? Come again? Facebook? Only cool college kids knew what that was. E-readers wouldn’t become popularized until the following year with the release of the first Kindle. Whoa. 2006 IS outdated! Given the hyperattention of the younger generation, change is happening fast and I’m curious to hear a contemporary Katherine Hayles take on it.



#10. Rough Draft Update

When I started this project, I was drawn to Sherlock because it rocks. But seriously, I loved how the series incorporated so many different forms of information. So I tweeted about it: “Information comes in different forms.” It wasn’t earth shattering, but it got the ball rolling. In my exploratory draft I expressed interest in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Uses of Enchantment in addition to Sherlock. I felt these texts were good examples of the notion of narrative reconstruction. I picked up the phrase from Oscar Wao and clung to it. The idea of the narrative of these texts being more than just a confusing trip down the rabbit hole appealed to me. What do I mean by that? Well, suddenly their ambiguity makes sense. If they are indeed retelling another’s story than loose ends could be expected or at least forgiven. How this is done in the series and in the novels greatly impacted my reading of the texts. I couldn’t look at the material without considering how the material was presented. Back to information and its different forms of dissemination. What I hadn’t accomplished by the end of the exploratory draft was decide which text to closely work with. I was seeing the benefits and interests of all three, but after some thought I decided to look at Oscar Wao. In my mind, I wrestled with whether I should work with a visual text, like Sherlock, or a written one. It came down to what I felt most comfortable pursuing. Despite the super helpful Yale Film Analysis Site, I continued to struggle with proper terminology and techniques in my blog posts. Because Oscar Wao contains the phrase “narrative reconstruction” in its pages was just part of the reason I wanted to focus my attention on it.

I loved the idea, not at first, that as readers we aren’t clear on who the narrator is and how reliable he or she is until later in the novel. For me, it was LATE in the novel. We know someone is telling the story, that it isn’t just a boring omniscient voice in the air, because the voice is so distinctive but more so because he or she says at the close of the short, opening section: “even now as I write these words…” The story that follows then, we presume, is the story being written. Skip to the end, it turns out that Yunior, our narrator, has taken information from others (namely the work of Oscar) and put it together to make his own story.  A story that includes a plethora of facts/observations/opinions on Dominican culture. By telling Oscar’s story, Yunior is telling his own.

There’s a lot I want to talk about in my paper. I’m not sure yet how it’s going to play out. I’m intrigued by the notion of form and how that is used here (i.e. footnotes) and also about authority an reliability regarding narrative. Yunior has no problem telling Oscar’s story, but at what cost? Or benefit? What I’d like to do is to incorporate both readings into the text. Form, authority. Reliability. Without one, the others are lost.

#9. Recollection and Reflection: Beginners

“I always remember him wearing a purple sweater when he told me this but actually he wore a robe.”

I love the line above because it tells us a great deal about the memory of Oliver, our narrator, and the remainder of the movie. Barely five minutes in and he’s admitting that what he remembers isn’t what actually was. But then knowing this, I can’t help but push it aside and believe every word and action that comes from here out. Does it matter what his father was wearing when he told his son he was gay? I don’t think so. What he said was more important and that’s what Oliver remembers for certain. In fact, through a series of jump cuts the filmmakers seem to support this thought. Hal, his father, explains himself and as he does so the clothes he is wearing change. From robe, to green sweater, to purple sweater, back to green, and robe, then purple, and then says “I want to do something about it” in all the outfits. As a viewer, what clothes he was wearing when he said it didn’t matter to me and I don’t think it matters to Oliver.

I like to think that what we see in the film is what Oliver remembers. I think that’s why it is so choppy. Bits of conversations like at the hotel with Anna. Or moments like at the party laughing in the kitchen or dancing. Peering into my own memory bank, I can remember parts of important conversations and on the other hand I can only remember what we did instead of what was said at different times. Cue Beginners. A movie that exists as a series of flashbacks and nonconsecutive scenes. 

I think the most interesting flashbacks that Oliver had were to his mother. For some reason, we only see him and his mother from when he was a child. Together at the museum. Driving. Her telling him about yelling for a minute in a room, aka catharsis. Pretending to shoot him dead. I’m not sure I know why these are the memories he’s chosen to share. The only thing I can think of and it sounds so uninspired is that those were the most memorable moments he had of her. Perhaps before she was sick. Or when considering his own relationship difficulties, it was the memory of his mother in those moments that make him not want to enter into what might be a loveless relationship. I also think it’s important to note the repetition of certain scenes. Following his mother down the hall. Her sadness and his confusion apparent in their body language. He leans against the wall. Her shoulders droop. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

Brain Vomit: Unlike Melancholia in which the montage of images in the beginning have some sort of significance in the movie, I can’t see the same significance in repeated stock images in Beginners. i.e. coins, sun, stars, nature. They almost seem to anchor Oliver in some way to reality, but have little else to do with the film. Oh wait, did I just stumble upon their significance? 

#8. My Ambiguous Take on Perlman’s Ambiguity

“When you kidnapped Sam, everyone’s illness was magnified” (573).

For all that Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity serves to show the different interpretations of events and relationships, ending with a question that invites readers to think, it is quite clear about one thing: everyone in the novel suffered from some sort of ailment. The event that dominates the novel, first introduced in Part One, is Simon’s abduction of Sam. Initially it is presented that Simon is the sick one and everyone else is innocent victims. But it was the abduction, that Rachel claims in the final part of the novel, that showed Simon wasn’t the only one with an issue.

Throughout the novel we see physical ailments. For example, Angelique (aka Angel; aka Angela) develops Multiple Sclerosis and Mitch suffers debilitating injuries in a work retreat accident. In addition to the physical ailments though there is a continuing conversation about mental illness. The constant presence of an psychiatrist that many of the characters have a relationship with. Plus, suicide becomes a hot button issue, particularly at the end of the novel when Mitch attempts suicide, Rachel continually brings up the stat about one in four writing notes, and we assume that the missing Sam has committed suicide. It’s pretty heavy material.

I also think there are more ailments that the characters suffer from that are less obvious. One ailment that I saw popping up again and again was the sick and crumbling marriages that are depicted. Symptom: lack of trust found in relationships. Fidelity was rare. Given the different perspectives, it’s impossible to say one point of view had more credibility than the other. They all seem valid in their own way. The stated reasons for infidelity may have been different or denied, but it permeates the novel. It is a constant theme. Is anyone not cheating on their spouse at some point during the book’s entirety?

Ironically, this theme became more real during part four, the painfully dull section out of which we get Mitch’s (aka Dennis Mitchell) story. He works with Joe Geraghty. I think it’s interesting that in this section we see how upset Mitch gets when talking with Alex, the psychiatrist, about Joe and railing him for breaking his trust. He’s also upset about his wife, but it seems to be Joe’s betrayal that resonates deeply with the man. In this back and forth exchange with the psychiatrist, the two men wind up talking a lot about his issues pertaining to trust. It’s unclear whether Mitch even really trusts Alex, because he keeps accusing him of sleeping with Angelique even though Alex rebuffs him.

It’s also noteworthy that Sam’s suicide was possibly due to a sense of betrayal. A vanishing trust once he read about the “the truth” of his abduction.

Brain Vomit:

● Obligatory statement about how long the book is…

● What a sad book

● I think there is a lot that went over my head. I don’t think I’m well read enough to catch all the literary references. I don’t know very much about Australia. Would that have helped?

#7. Melancholia. The End.

That better not be the ending, I said to the black, rumbling screen. And then Kirsten Dunst’s name appeared and I knew it was over. Closing my computer lid in disgust, I said to no one, you’ve got to be kidding me! I got out of my bed to get ready for bed. Removing my contacts, I grumbled. Changing into pajamas, I grumbled. I couldn’t think of one aspect of the film I wanted to write about, except maybe Abraham the horse. So far in this class, I’ve had a pretty good idea about what I was going to blog about before I finished the source text. Watching Melancholia? Nothing. Nothing until I read Juliet’s post. Remind me to thank you in person! I’d probably still be wondering what to write about if I didn’t read your post.

Her final lines are about Leo and the teepee. The last scene was one I couldn’t shake. I found it ridiculous that they built a crude looking teepee (And NOT just ’cause I’m an ndn! My peeps lived in longhouses after all. Okay, maybe that factored into it just a little) and then just sat there waiting for the end. I even made a meme while I was trying to work it out.


But then what Juliet wrote made it mean something. I had forgotten about Leo…

I think Leo is easy to forget. He’s a cute kid who doesn’t cause too much of a stir in the film. He obeys his parents and doesn’t complain (that I can recall). Despite his always having a presence in the film, there really isn’t any focused attention paid to him until the last few minutes of the film. That’s when he becomes Justine’s focus. Claire is losing it so Justine takes over. They build the teepee. We don’t know definitively how long it takes, but it must take some time because we see them peel the bark slowly from one branch. The final construction is at least 8 branches. I want to believe that Leo is innocent. That he doesn’t know the end is coming, but I don’t think the film supports that desire. He’s smart. He rigged up the wire device so that they were able to measure the approach of the planet and he knows it could hit them. He has to know that a few sticks aren’t going to protect them. Talking to his Aunt, he admits he’s afraid of the possibility. He says: “Dad said there’s nothing to do and nowhere to hide.” How horrific. If he were completely innocent than the reality of the planet’s approach would be far from his mind. Finally, while sitting in the “cave” he closes his eyes. An effort to shut out the impending doom? Perhaps. But if he’s trying to shut it out, then he knows it’s coming. Maybe I want to give the kid more credit than he’s due, but I can’t help it. I was a kid once after all!

#6. Oscar Wao according to…Yunior?

“…there is within the family a silence that stands monument to the generations, that sphinxes all attempts at narrative reconstruction. A whisper here and there but nothing more. Which is to say that if you’re looking for a full story, I don’t have it” (243).

The quote above is taken from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. At that point in the novel, the narrator is grappling with what happened at the end of Abelard’s life. Why this quote stands out is because of the two words at the end of the first sentence: narrative reconstruction. That is, in fact, what I believe this novel is. When I got to the point in the novel where this quote appears, I still didn’t know who the narrator was. I like to think that I was catching on to it, but I think this class might be making me a little paranoid when it comes to trusting narrators and presuming identities. I may not have known who the narrator was, but I knew what the narrator was doing. He (or she because I couldn’t be too sure) was re-telling someone else’s story. He was putting back together, reconstructing as you will, the story of a family. Spoiler: Yunior wraps it all up. He tells us what happens to Oscar leading up to his death and then even after that provides us with a neat epilogue of the family. You could even say he provides an epilogue to the epilogue with the bit about Lola’s daughter. Because the ending was so complete in it’s wrap up of the family, I instantly distrusted it after looking back at the quote above. Yunior, our narrator, admits in that passage that he doesn’t have the full story. Maybe he’s just talking about Abelard, but I don’t think so because he later says that Oscar couldn’t find it, the full story.

This was just one moment in the novel that the narrator reveals he is telling a story which I think makes the novel an excellent example of metafiction. Thanks to footnote #17, my antennas were already attuned to looking at Oscar Wao in that way. In the footnote, the narrator (I would strongly argue that the footnotes are not Junot Diaz, but are those of Yunior) notes the existence of a first draft. That he changed details from his first draft to what we are reading now. He’s exposing the craft. He’s talking about writing.  

Not only does this footnote raise the concept of metafiction, but it brings me back to the quote and a question that is left lingering on my mind: how much can I trust Yunior as a narrator? If he changed the details about a place and a dance for his own pleasure, what else did he change just because it sounded better? How much is this a story about Oscar and really a story about Yunior and his writing?

#5. I hear you, Sherlock. Loud and clear.

Season 2 of my new favorite BBC show continues to reverberate in my ears long after the credits roll. From music choice to sound effects to the carefully timed one liners that flow from the characters mouths. All caused my sense of hearing to kick into gear.

The music in Season 2 is tight. Moriarty’s ringtone breaking the suspense of the pool scene: Staying Alive . How obviously ironic given the life or death circumstances on the line. The song reappears in the final episode, again at a crucial point in the narrative. Framing scenes with music is a trend. Sherlock plays his violin often in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” or perhaps what would be more appropriately dubbed “The Woman,” the one with Irene Adler. There is one time in particular where we see Sherlock playing his violin to a tune familiar to Americans as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” but likely intended as “God Save the Queen” from Sherlock. That scene fades out and into another scene, clearly Christmas. Colorful lights. Ugly sweaters. Sherlock playing a familiar Christmas tune on his violin. Music setting the scene and helping viewers catch on to the time jump. The final episode gets quite into the music scene with as I’ve already mentioned, the Bee Gees, but also it caught my attention with a robust overture from Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). I had to search for that one. It seemed familiar. Still does. But as of this moment, I’m not sure from what. The beauty of the piece, the excitement of the drums, fits nicely with Moriarty’s break in to the Tower of London. The timing of Moriarty’s actions to certain places in the piece, is spot on. I assume that Moriarty is listening to the song through his headphones. Thanks to @middlemiddlek who pointed out the switch, after that explosive scene, to jazz music.

But the music was just part of what I heard. I also heard sound effects. I plugged my ears against them in “The Hounds of Baskerville” and turned down the volume (I’ve always had sensitive ears). A gruesome attack opens the episode. Snarling. Screaming. And then calm. Light hearted banter between Sherlock and Watson. The rest of the episode can be heard from these two extremes. Loud and violent versus quiet and peaceful. When Sherlock and Watson leave the hubbub of London and chat around the quaint, country restaurant, there are obvious bird songs in the background. It is pleasant and elicits a certain carefree emotion in this viewer at least. It is daytime. They are in town, away from the wilds of the moor. Once night sets in, the sounds change. Gone are the soothing sounds of songbirds. Present are the piercing, shrieks likely that of a fox. I was able to place the sound when my heart beat slowed. It effectively scares me and conjures up something much more sinister and spooky than a fox. Later in the episode, we learn the effect that sounds can have on a mind that has lost the ability to trust its senses. I am fascinated by Sherlock’s struggle with his senses and how sound played a part in that for me as I was watching and for him as he experienced it.

Finally, who knows why, but the amount of quotable lines seems to have doubled between this season and the last. Here’s a few for fun.

“Shame on you, John. Mrs. Hudson leave Baker Street? England would fall.”-S

“Love is a dangerous disadvantage.”-S

“Initially, he wanted to be a pirate.”-Mycroft on S

“Mr. Holmes. They were footprints of a gigantic hound.”-line Henry repeats at S request

“Did we just break into a military base to investigate a rabbit?”-W

“I didn’t see anything.”-S with great emphasis.

The way they are presented. Emphasized by the actor. So often followed by Sherlock’s theme. They stand out. They are important, but that is not always apparent until the end.

There is definitely more to be explored hear. I mean here.