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Old 04-19-2014, 11:15 AM View Post #1 (Link) 2. Don Delillo (1936-), The Art of the Novel in 'Mao II'
lostbookworm (Offline)
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2. Don Delillo (1936-), The Art of the Novel in 'Mao II'

I only recently came to Delillo. He wasn't like Murakami, who has been a major part of my literaryt landscape for years. He was something of an intruder. I came across a pile of his books and picked them all up to take home, having heard vague things about his work. They sat there for a while until I picked up Mao II to read (I read it simply because Mao is a person I had prior knowledge of and it seemed like a good place as any to start reading Delillo's work). Thus, Delillo slowly snuck into my mind.

Before delving any deeper into the book, I'll talk a little about Delillo himself. He was born to working-class Italian immigrants in New York City in 1936. He only began reading in his teens when he worked as a parking attendant and had hours to kill. Delillo read Joyce, Faulkner and Hemingway, as well as listening to jazz and watching films by Kubrick and Scorsese. He published his first short story in 1964 at the age of 28, and published his first novel, 'Americana', in 1971, after working on it for four years. Since then he has published 16 more novels, a short story collection, 5 plays, 1 screenplay, alongside 6 essays and many more individual short stories.

It is easy to draw many comparisons with Murakami. Influenced by many of the same writers, listening to jazz, coming to writing late and being hugely prolific since then. Both writers have a sense of the surreal, but they go about them in incredibly different ways. Whereas Murakami focuses on a minuscule moment and explains it in a simple language that places emphasis upon the surrealness of that moment, Delillo paints absurd pictures with his words. In Underworld, he describes the surreal baseball game as though all the events occurring are interlinked, there are no individuals at the game, only the crowd, and that crowd is one huge being with many outlets and mouths. The same can be seen in Mao II.

Upon Mao II

Mao II lives, breathes and exists in the idea of crowds. It seems to me to be a study of crowds and individuals, as well as writers and terrorists. And that is all I can truly say about this book. All that follows is not an authoritive study of Mao II, only my opinion that is meant to incite further discussion. As Tom LeClair points out in his lecture upon Mao II, 'a novel is a collection of voices, not a chant or even a chorale, but a discussion group, a small crowd of differences.' I honestly hope that is what we are achieving with this book club, and what I am attempting to create here.

I only intend to discuss one point before giving you a chapter to read and giving you some questions to ponder, and these will focused upon the major subject in Mao II – the role of the novel.

The novel looks at a reclusive writer, Bill Gray. His is perhaps the most singular voice in the book. At first, he complains about how terrorists and their use of terror has dominated the public eye, taking the power out of books. To him, a novel should alter the 'consciousness of its time' (I am focusing mainly upon Tom LeClair's essay here, please forgive me for not referring to other sources). This is his view, one that he has cultivated over time. As such, his work has stagnated and he cannot add any more voices to his novel.

However, this changes once he joins the crowd of people of the outside world. He begins to believe that novels should put more voices out into the world, expanding the crowd. He changes form from an individual to a part of the crowd. He becomes part of the 'democratic shout'.

The below excerpt is the first chapter of the Mao II, and hopefully it will give you an insight into the style of Delillo, even if you've never read any of his work previously.

Spoiler:
Here they come, marching into American sunlight. They are grouped in twos, eternal boy-girl, stepping out of the runway beyond the fence in left-center field. The music draws them across the grass, dozens, hundreds, already too many to count. They assemble themselves so tightly, crossing the vast arc of the outfield, that the effect is one of transformation. From a series of linked couples they become one continuous wave, larger all the time, covering the open spaces in navy and white.

Karen’s daddy, watching from the grandstand, can’t help thinking this is the point. They’re one body now, an undifferentiated mass, and this makes him uneasy. He focuses his binoculars on a young woman, another, still another. So many columns set so closely. He has never seen anything like this or ever imagined it could happen. He hasn’t come here for the spectacle but it is starting to astonish him. They’re in the thousands now, approaching division strength, and the old seemly tear-jerk music begins to sound sardonic. Wife Maureen is sitting next to him. She is bold and bright today, wearing candy colors to offset the damp she feels in her heart. Rodge understands completely. They had almost no warning. Grabbed a flight, got a hotel, took the subway, passed through the metal detector and here they are, trying to comprehend. Rodge is not unequipped for the rude turns of normal fraught experience. He’s got a degree and a business and a tax attorney and a cardiologist and a mutual fund and whole life and major medical. But do the assurances always apply? There is a strangeness down there that he never thought he’d see in a ballpark. They take a time-honored event and repeat it, repeat it, repeat it until something new enters the world.

Look at the girl in the front row, about twenty couples in from the left. He adjusts the eyepiece lever and zooms to max power, hoping to see her features through the bridal veil.

There are still more couples coming out of the runway and folding into the crowd, although “crowd” is not the right word. He doesn’t know what to call them. He imagines they are uniformly smiling, showing the face they squeeze out with the toothpaste every morning. The bridegrooms in identical blue suits, the brides in lace-and-satin gowns. Maureen looks around at the people in the stands. Parents are easy enough to spot and there are curiosity seekers scattered about, ordinary slouchers and loiterers, others deeper in the mystery, dark-eyed and separate, secretly alert, people who seem to be wearing everything they own, layered and mounded in garments with missing parts, city nomads more strange to her than herdsmen in the Sahel, who at least turn up on the documentary channel. There is no admission fee and gangs of boys roam the far reaches, setting off firecrackers that carry a robust acoustical wallop, barrel bombs and ash cans booming along the concrete ramps and sending people into self-protective spasms. Maureen concentrates on the parents and other relatives, some of the women done up touchingly in best dress and white corsage, staring dead-eyed out of tinted faces. She reports to Rodge that there’s a lot of looking back and forth. Nobody knows how to feel and they’re checking around for hints. Rodge stays fixed to his binoculars. Six thousand five hundred couples and their daughter is down there somewhere about to marry a man she met two days ago. He’s either Japanese or Korean. Rodge didn’t get it straight. And he knows about eight words of English. He and Karen spoke through an interpreter, who taught them how to say Hello, it is Tuesday, here is my passport. Fifteen minutes in a bare room and they’re chain-linked for life.

He works his glasses across the mass, the crowd, the movement, the membership, the flock, the following. It would make him feel a little better if he could find her.

“You know what it’s as though?” Maureen says. “Let me concentrate.”

“It’s as though they designed this to the maximum degree of let the relatives squirm.”

“We can do our moaning at the hotel.” “I’m simply stating.”

“I did suggest, did I not, that you stay at home.” “How could I not come? What’s my excuse?” “I see a lot of faces that don’t look American. They send them out in missionary teams. Maybe they think we’ve sunk to the status of less developed country. They’re here to show us the way and the light.”

“And make sharp investments. After, can we take in a play?” “Let me look, okay. I want to find her.” “We’re here. We may as well avail ourselves.” “It’s hard for the mind to conceive. Thirteen thousand people.” “What are you going to do when you find her?” “Who the hell thought it up? What does it mean?” “What are you going to do when you find her? Wave goodbye?” “I just need to know she’s here,” Rodge says. “I want to document it, okay.”

“Because that’s what it is. If it hasn’t been goodbye up to this point, it certainly is now.” “Hey, Maureen? Shut up.” From the bandstand at home plate the Mendelssohn march carries a stadium echo, with lost notes drifting back from the recesses between tiers. Flags and bunting everywhere. The blessed couples face the infield, where their true father, Master Moon, stands in three dimensions. He looks down at them from a railed pulpit that rides above a platform of silver and crimson. He wears a white silk robe and a high crown figured with stylized irises. They know him at molecular level. He lives in them like chains of matter that determine who they are. This is a man of chunky build who saw Jesus on a mountainside. He spent nine years praying and wept so long and hard his tears formed puddles and soaked through the floor and dripped into the room below and filtered through the foundation of the house into the earth. The couples know there are things he must leave unsaid, words whose planetary impact no one could bear. He is the messianic secret, ordinary-looking, his skin a weathered bronze. When the communists sent him to a labor camp the other inmates knew who he was because they’d dreamed about him before he got there. He gave away half his food but never grew weak. He worked seventeen hours a day in the mines but always found time to pray, to keep his body clean and tuck in his shirt. The blessed couples eat kiddie food and use baby names because they feel so small in his presence. This is a man who lived in a hut made of U.S. Army ration tins and now he is here, in American light, come to lead them to the end of human history.

The brides and grooms exchange rings and vows and many people in the grandstand are taking pictures, standing in the aisles and crowding the rails, whole families snapping anxiously, trying to shape a response or organize a memory, trying to neutralize the event, drain it of eeriness and power. Master chants the ritual in Korean. The couples file past the platform and he sprinkles water on their heads. Rodge sees the brides lift their veils and he zooms in urgently, feeling at the same moment a growing distance from events, a sorriness of spirit. But he watches and muses.

When the Old God leaves the world, what happens to all the unexpended faith? He looks at each sweet face, round face, long, wrong, darkish, plain. They are a nation, he supposes, founded on the principle of easy belief. A unit fueled by credulousness. They speak a half language, a set of ready-made terms and empty repetitions. All things, the sum of the knowable, everything true, it all comes down to a few simple formulas copied and memorized and passed on. And here is the drama of mechanical routine played out with living figures. It knocks him back in awe, the loss of scale and intimacy, the way love and sex are multiplied out, the numbers and shaped crowd. This really scares him, a mass of people turned into a sculptured object. It is like a toy with thirteen thousand parts, just tootling along, an innocent and menacing thing. He keeps the glasses trained, feeling a slight desperation now, a need to find her and remind himself who she is. Healthy, intelligent, twenty-one, serious-sided, possessed of a selfness, a teeming soul, nuance and shadow, grids of pinpoint singularities they will never drill out of her. Or so he hopes and prays, wondering about the power of their own massed prayer. When the Old God goes, they pray to flies and bottletops. The terrible thing is they follow the man because he gives them what they need. He answers their yearning, unburdens them of free will and independent thought. See how happy they look.

Around the great stadium the tenement barrens stretch, miles of delirium, men sitting in tipped-back chairs against the walls of hollow buildings, sofas burning in the lots, and there is a sense these chanting thousands have, wincing in the sun, that the future is pressing in, collapsing toward them, that they are everywhere surrounded by signs of the fated landscape and human struggle of the Last Days, and here in the middle of their columned body, lank-haired and up-close, stands Karen Janney, holding a cluster of starry jasmine and thinking of the bloodstorm to come. She is waiting to file past Master and sees him with the single floating eye of the crowd, inseparable from her own apparatus of vision but sharper-sighted, able to perceive more deeply. She feels intact, rayed with well-being. They all feel the same, young people from fifty countries, immunized against the language of self. They’re forgetting who they are under their clothes, leaving behind all the small banes and body woes, the daylong list of sore gums and sweaty nape and need to pee, ancient rumbles in the gut, momentary chills and tics, the fungoid dampness between the toes, the deep spasm near the shoulder blade that’s charged with mortal reckoning. All gone now. They stand and chant, fortified by the blood of numbers.

Karen glances
over at Kim Jo Pak, soft-eyed and plump in his nice new suit and boxy shoes, husband-for-eternity.

She knows her flesh parents are in the stands somewhere. Knows what they’re saying, sees the gestures and expressions. Dad trying to use old college logic to make sense of it all. Mom wearing the haunted stare that means she was put on earth strictly to suffer. They’re all around us, parents in the thousands, afraid of our intensity. This is what frightens them. We really believe. They bring us up to believe but when we show them true belief they call out psychiatrists and police. We know who God is. This makes us crazy in the world.

Karen’s mindstream sometimes slows down, veering into sets of whole words. They take a funny snub-nosed form, the rudimentary English spoken by some of Master’s chief assistants.

They have God once-week. Do not understand. Must sacrifice together. Build with hands God’s home on earth.

Karen says to Kim, “This is where the Yankees play.”

He nods and smiles, blankly. Nothing about him strikes her so forcefully as his hair, which is shiny and fine and ink-black, with a Sunday-comics look. It is the thing that makes him real to her.

“Baseball,” she says, using the word to sum up a hundred happy abstractions, themes that flare to life in the crowd shout and diamond symmetry, in the details of a dusty slide. The word has resonance if you’re American, a sense of shared heart and untranslatable lore. But she only means to suggest the democratic clamor, a history of sweat and play on sun-dazed afternoons, an openness of form that makes the game a kind of welcome to my country.

The other word is “cult.” How they love to use it against us. Gives them the false term they need to define us as eerie-eyed children. And how they hate our willingness to work and struggle. They want to snatch us back to the land of lawns. That we are willing to live on the road, sleep on the floor, crowd into vans and drive all night, fund-raising, serving Master. That our true father is a foreigner and nonwhite. How they silently despise. They keep our rooms ready. They have our names on their lips. But we’re a lifetime away, weeping through hours of fist-pounding prayer.

World in pieces. It is shock of shocks. But there is plan. Pali-pali. Bring hurry-up time to all man.

She does not dream anymore except about Master. They all dream about him. They see him in visions. He stands in the room with them when his three-dimensional body is thousands of miles away. They talk about him and weep. The tears roll down their faces and form puddles on the floor and drip into the room below. He is part of the structure of their protein. He lifts them out of ordinary strips of space and time and then shows them the blessedness of lives devoted to the ordinary, to work, prayer and obedience.

Rodge offers the binoculars to Maureen. She shakes her head firmly. It is like looking for the body of a loved one after a typhoon.

Balloons in clusters rise by the thousands, sailing past the rim of the upper deck. Karen lifts her veil and passes below the pulpit, which is rimmed on three sides by bulletproof panels. She feels the blast of Master’s being, the solar force of a charismatic soul. Never so close before. He sprinkles mist from a holy bottle in her face. She sees Kim move his lips, following Master’s chant word for word. She’s close enough to the grandstand to see people crowding the rails, standing everywhere to take pictures. Did she ever think she’d find herself in a stadium in New York, photographed by thousands of people? There may be as many people taking pictures as there are brides and grooms. One of them for every one of us. Clickety-click. The thought makes the couples a little giddy. They feel that space is contagious. They’re here but also there, already in the albums and slide projectors, filling picture frames with their microcosmic bodies, the minikin selves they are trying to become.

They veer back to the outfield grass to resume formation. There are folk troupes near both dugouts dancing to gongs and drums. Karen fades into the thousands, the columned mass. She feels the meter of their breathing. They’re a world family now, each marriage a channel to salvation. Master chooses every mate, seeing in a vision how backgrounds and characters match. It is a mandate from heaven, preordained, each person put here to meet the perfect other. Forty days of separation before they’re alone in a room, allowed to touch and love. Or longer. Or years if Master sees the need. Take cold showers. It is this rigor that draws the strong. Their self-control cuts deep against the age, against the private ciphers, the systems of isolated craving. Husband and wife agree to live in different countries, doing missionary work, extending the breadth of the body common. Satan hates cold showers.

The crowd-eye hangs brightly above them like the triangle eye on a dollar bill.

A firecracker goes off, another M-8o banging out of an exit ramp with a hard flat impact that drives people’s heads into their torsos. Maureen looks battle-stunned. There are lines of boys wending through empty rows high in the upper deck, some of them only ten or twelve years old, moving with the princely swagger of famous street-felons. She decides she doesn’t see them.

“I’ll tell you this,” Rodge says. “I fully intend to examine this organization. Hit the libraries, get on the phone, contact parents, truly delve. You hear about support groups that people call for all kinds of things.”

“We need support. I grant you that. But you’re light-years too late.”

“I think we ought to change our flight as soon as we get back to the hotel and then check out and get going.”

“They’ll charge us for the room for tonight anyway. We may as well get tickets to something.”

“The sooner we get started on this.”

“Raring to go. Oh boy. What fun.”

“I want to read everything I can get my hands on. Only did some skimming but that’s because I didn’t know she was involved in something so grandiose. We ought to get some hotline numbers and see who’s out there that we can talk to.”

“You sound like one of those people, you know, when they get struck down by some rare disease they learn every inch of material they can find in the medical books and phone up doctors on three continents and hunt day and night for people with the same awful thing.”

“Makes good sense, Maureen.”

“They fly to Houston to see the top man. The top man is always in Houston.”

“What’s wrong with learning everything you can?”

“You don’t have to enjoy it.”

“It’s not a question of enjoy it. It’s our responsibility to Karen.”

“Where is she, by the way?”

“I fully intend.”

“You were scanning so duteously. What, bored already?”

A wind springs up, causing veils to rustle and lift. Couples cry out, surprised, caught in a sudden lightsome glide, a buoyancy. They remember they are kids, mostly, and not altogether done with infections of glee. They have a shared past after all. Karen thinks of all those nights she slept in a van or crowded room, rising at five for prayer condition, then into the streets with her flower team. There was a girl named June who felt she was shrinking, falling back to child size. They called her Junette. Her hands could not grip the midget bars of soap in the motel toilets of America. This did not seem unreasonable to the rest of the team. She was only seeing what was really there, the slinking shape of eternity beneath the paint layers and glutamates of physical earth.

All those lost landscapes. Nights downtown, live nude shows in cinder-block bunkers, slums with their dumpster garbage. All those depopulated streets in subdivisions at the edge of Metroplex, waist-high trees and fresh tar smoking in the driveways and nice-size rattlers that cozy out of the rocks behind the last split-level. Karen worked to make the four-hundred-dollar-a-day standard, peddling mainly bud roses and sweet williams. Just dream-walking into places and dashing out. Rows of neat homes in crashing rain. People drooped over tables at five a.m. at casinos in the desert. Progressive Slot Jackpots. Welcome Teamsters. She fasted on liquids for a week, then fell upon a stack of Big Macs. Through revolving doors into hotel lobbies and department stores until security came scurrying with their walkie-talkies and beepers and combat magnums.

They prayed kneeling with hands crossed at forehead, bowed deep, folded like unborn young.

In the van everything mattered, every word counted, sometimes fifteen, sixteen sisters packed in tight, singing you are my sunshine, row row row, chanting their monetary goal. Satan owns the fallen world.

She stacked bundles of baby yellows in groups of seven, the number-symbol of perfection. There were times when she not only thought in broken English but spoke aloud in the voices of the workshops and training sessions, lecturing the sisters in the van, pressing them to sell, make the goal, grab the cash, and they didn’t know whether to be inspired by the uncanny mimicry or report her for disrespect.

Junette was a whirlwind of awe. Everything was too much for her, too large and living. The sisters prayed with her and wept. Water rocked in the flower buckets. They had twenty-one-day selling contests, three hours’ sleep. When a sister ran off, they holy-salted the clothes she’d left behind. They chanted, We’re the greatest, there’s no doubt; heavenly father, we’ll sell out.

After midnight in some bar in that winter stillness called the inner city. God’s own lonely call. Buy a carnation, sir. Karen welcomed the chance to walk among the lower-downs, the sort of legions of the night. She slipped into semi-trance, detached and martyrish, passing through
those bare-looking storefronts, the air jangly with other-mindedness. A number of dug-in drinkers bought a flower or two, men with long flat fingers and pearly nails, awake to the novelty, or hat-wearing men with looks of high scruple, staring hard at the rain-slickered girl. What new harassment they pushing in off the street? An old hoocher told her funny things, a line of sweat sitting on his upper lip. She got the bum’s rush fairly often. Don’t be so subjective, sir. Then scanned the street for another weary saloon.

Team leader said, Gotta get goin’, kids. Pali-pali.

In the van every truth was magnified, everything they said and did separated them from the misery jig going on out there. They looked through the windows and saw the faces of fallen-world people. It totalized their attachment to true father. Pray all night at times, all of them, chanting, shouting out, leaping up from prayer stance, lovely moaning prayers to Master, oh please, oh yes, huddled in motel room in nowhere part of Denver.

Karen said to them, Which you like to sleep, five hour or four?

FOUR.

She said, Which you like to sleep, four hour or three?

THREE.

She said, Which you like to sleep, three hour or none?

NONE.

In the van every rule counted double, every sister was subject to routine scrutiny in the way she dressed, prayed, brushed her hair, brushed her teeth. They knew there was only one way to leave the van without risking the horror of lifetime drift and guilt. Follow the wrist-slashing fad. Or walk out a high-rise window. It’s better to enter gray space than disappoint Master.

Team leader said, Prethink your total day. Then jump it, jump it, jump it.

Oatmeal and water. Bread and jelly. Row row row your boat. Karen said to them, Lose sleep, it is for sins. Lose weight, it is for sins. Lose hair, lose nail off finger, lose whole hand, whole arm, it go on scale to stand against sins.

The man in Indiana who ate the rose she sold him.

Racing through malls at sundown to reach the daily goal. Blitzing the coin laundries and bus terminals. Door to door in police-dog projects, saying the money’s for drug centers ma’am. Junette kidnapped by her parents in Skokie, Illinois. Scotch-taping limp flowers to make them halfway salable. Crazy weather on the plains. Falling asleep at meals, heavy-eyed, dozing on the toilet, sneaking some Z’s, catching forty winks, nodding off, hitting the hay, crashing where you can, flaked out, dead to the world, sleep like a top, like a log, desperate for some shut-eye, some sack time, anything for beddy-bye, a cat nap, a snooze, a minute with the sandman. Prayer condition helped them jump it to the limit, got the sorry blood pounding. Aware of all the nego media, which multiplied a ton of doubt for less committed sisters. Doing the hokey-pokey. Coldest winter in these parts since they started keeping records. Chanting the monetary goal.

Team leader said, Gotta hurry hurry hurry. Pali-pali, kids.

Rodge sits there in his rumpled sport coat, pockets crammed with traveler’s checks, credit cards and subway maps, and he looks through the precision glasses, and looks and looks, and all he sees is repetition and despair. They are chanting again, one word this time, over and over, and he can’t tell if it is English or some other known language or some football holler from heaven. No sign of Karen. He puts down the binoculars. People are still taking pictures. He half expects the chanting mass of bodies to rise in the air, all thirteen thousand ascending slowly to the height of the stadium roof, lifted by the picture-taking, the forming of aura, radiant brides clutching their bouquets, grooms showing sunny teeth. A smoke bomb sails out of the bleachers, releasing a trail of Day-Glo fog.

Master leads the chant, Mansei, ten thousand years of victory. The blessed couples move their lips in unison, matching the echo of his amplified voice. There is stark awareness in their faces, a near pain of rapt adoration. He is Lord of the Second Advent, the unriddling of many ills. His voice leads them out past love and joy, past the beauty of their mission, out past miracles and surrendered self. There is something in the chant, the fact of chanting, the being-one, that transports them with its power. Their voices grow in intensity. They are carried on the sound, the soar and fall. The chant becomes the boundaries of the world. They see their Master frozen in his whiteness against the patches and shadows, the towering sweep of the stadium. He raises his arms and the chant grows louder and the young arms rise. He leads them out past religion and history, thousands weeping now, all arms high. They are gripped by the force of a longing. They know at once, they feel it, all of them together, a longing deep in time, running in the earthly blood. This is what people have wanted since consciousness became corrupt. The chant brings the End Time closer. The chant is the End Time. They feel the power of the human voice, the power of a single word repeated as it moves them deeper into oneness. They chant for world-shattering rapture, for the truth of prophecies and astonishments. They chant for new life, peace eternal, the end of soul-lonely pain. Someone on the bandstand beats a massive drum. They chant for one language, one word, for the time when names are lost.

Karen, strangely, is daydreaming. It will take some getting used to, a husband named Kim. She has known girls named Kim since she was a squirt in a sunsuit. Quite a few really. Kimberleys and plain Kims. Look at his hair gleaming in the sun. My husband, weird as it sounds. They will pray together, whole-skinned, and memorize every word of Master’s teaching.

The thousands stand and chant. Around them in the world, people ride escalators going up and sneak secret glances at the faces coming down. People dangle teabags over hot water in white cups. Cars run silently on the autobahns, streaks of painted light. People sit at desks and stare at office walls. They smell their shirts and drop them in the hamper. People bind themselves into numbered seats and fly across time zones and high cirrus and deep night, knowing there is something they’ve forgotten to do.

The future belongs to crowds



For Discussion

1. Delillo said that when writing a story, the first thing that comes to mind is 'the scene..., and idea of a character in a place'. Furthermore, his sentences have a rhythm. 'They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look.' Are these feature noticable in his work? Can you think of any other writers that have this same kind of rhythm to their work? (Bonus Question: Is a sense of rhythm required for writing at all? Remember, Vladimir Nabokov detested music but wrote one of the greatest novels of the English language.)

2. Another thing to look at in Delillo's writing is his take on dialogue. He says that he changes the way he writes dialogue from novel to novel, and you can see this in the contrast between Underworld and Mao II. Whereas Underworld looks at how humans converse on a day-to-day basis, all very choppy and realistic, while the characters in Mao II talk in an incredibly intellectualised language, rife with secret meanings. How do you as a writer see dialouge? How do you prefer to write it?

3. What are your views on postmodernism? Is it a concept that is no longer needed? Delillo said that he doesn't like being labelled as any kind of novelist other than an American one. This raises another question. Which is more important when writing, your nationality and beliefs, or the style and ideas you consciously project into your writing. Can we class all writers into American, African, Vietnamese, Korean, English, etc, and use these as viable descriptions of their writing?

4. Finally, do you agree with Bill Gray's view about the novel, either before or after his view change? Is a novel meant to alter people and the world around them, or simply expand the world?

I admit this is a rather short piece, and that's because I would much prefer this to be a general discussion of postmodernism and Delillo's work than about the novel.

As I said before, if you guys have absolutely any points you want to bring up, bring them up.

Links

Paris Review Interview

Tom LeClair Lecture upon Mao II
__________________
and he saw himself nailed to the cross of his own cradle and coffin
  
						Last edited by lostbookworm; 04-21-2014 at 08:19 PM.
					
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Old 04-19-2014, 02:35 PM View Post #2 (Link)
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Before I even get onto reading the chapter you posted, I must say DeLillo is someone that has always been an interesting writer to me even though I've never actually read any of his work. I borrowed Falling Man from the library since twas the only DeLillo they had so will probably start from a bit of an odd perspective into his work.

But question 3, I just had to pen a few things down first. My first point is bout postmodernism, and whether it's a useful point of classification. I think its lack of a concrete definition is its main virtues as well as a problem. I think we still need the term postmodernism, but it needs to not be as loosely thrown about as it has done. What comes after? Postpostmodernism? What does that term even mean?

And the problem is, by just throwing together a number of basic characteristics of postmodernism together you can find examples of many different writers throughout history. Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author is metafictional, perhaps proto-postmodernist, even though it was written before The Waste-Land, Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway. Can you have postmodernist literature before modernist literature even existed? And if you go even further back, a lot of critics note that Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759) contains many elements of a postmodernist novel. This amongst other examples highlights the difficulty with classifying postmodernist writing. Indeed, by blanketing a whole type of literature under that group, you lose all the different nuances between such genres like satire, pastiche etc.

Other definitions try to focus on the 'post,' which I think is a much better form of definition. Postmodern literature is literature written in response to the atomic bomb, the Cold War, 9/11, the alienation and fear that begins with the rise of the computer, television, digitalisation. Obviously all of these things are very present, from what I've gathered, in DeLillo's work. This segues into your next point about global lit. Almost concurrently with the postmodernist novel comes the surreal or magical realist novel in other parts of the world. Where is the boundary between those two different types of surreal - one based on technology, and one based on fantasy? If the technocultural characteristics of postmodernism are largely a Western phenomenon, then can we call out other global writers as being postmodernist? And I think this is largely the question you were asking about: about the act of applying literary terms to other cultures. (I also think that by always implying postmodernism as a kind of dynamic, 'forward'ness, you subconsciously imply that literature that isn't postmodern as backwards - which in itself, when applied to continents like Africa and Asia is very problematic.)

Sorry for the essay below, but I just love talking about nationalities and global literature <3 My little project this year was spurred on by Harold Bloom's goal of creating a world canon, and although I love Bloom he only focused on the non-Asian world (citing Asia's inability to be translated as the reason for his inadequacy), so along with a friend I have been trying to create a much more inclusive and researched list for every country and their 'canon,' which obviously brings me into a lot of struggle with the issues mentioned below of defining nationalities.

Your second point is whether we can and should classify people based on their nationalities. This poses a lot of interesting points. Would you classify Colonial writers who conquered and formed 'New Spain,' Spanish or Mexican? Should Sophocles be counted within 'Greek literature'? What do you do for countries that have changed and shifted their boundaries, or turned into various other countries: can a writer be a Yugoslavian writer based on cultural context? Or does dramatic shifts in a country still necessitate a difference in definition, for example, USSR and current Russia? Or to take another point of view, is it okay for continental boundaries to exist: most people would be averse to the term European Literature but comfortable with using African Literature as a term. You may see Welsh or Scottish fiction as subdivisions within British literature, but would the term Californian or Texan literature have such a foundation? Obviously geographical definitions are tricky in a post-modern climate where those boundaries are being dissolved, or made easier to navigate with travel, and looking through the most recent laureates of the Nobel Prize, we see more and more writers from dual nationalities.

A lot of people argue that language can be equally a valid form of definition and I would, again, agree in part. But then not all French-language literature is the same as each other, and lumping together writing from Quebec, Belgium and Senegal seems a little odd to me. But in fact a lot of people do lump together Francophone literature together, in the same way that they lump Achebe and Rushdie often in the same Anglophonic bracket. And conversely most people when talking about Canadian literature talk about non-Quebec/English literature. Furthermore you have writers who write in multiple languages: is Nabokov a Russian or American writer even though he wrote in both languages? Or what about Kundera, an author who self imposed his exile from Czech Republic and started writing in French, and says he should be counted under 'French literature'?

The next logical step seems to be seeing from where an author gets their influence from/writes about but that seems highly subjective and counterintuitive: Henry James, very few would question as American, spent most of his time and subject matter travelling in Europe, and most of his writings reflect that. Equally where an author gets their influence from can be highly ambiguous: many classical authors had a working knowledge of most (Western) European languages and literature, and that influence can be keenly felt in their writings. Sterne's Tristam Shandy is a huge intertext on Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel. Ezra Pound through 'appropriating' a lot from Japanese and Chinese poetry, thus created the Imagist movement we know toady. Obviously these aren't adequate definitions, but if nothing, this proves that literature rarely acts in isolation and Goethe's idea of weltliterature is a more important idea than has previously been considered. But surely if everything is intertextual, that must work against the idea of a national type of literature?

I will say however that it is important to distinguish, nationally, a sense of an identity. These differences do exist. Fiction from Colombia does differ from fiction from Korea, and to class writers under those headings is a good thing if it brings into the spotlight that country. Again, it's about visibility, of showing that literature hasn't always come out of Europe, and more recently, from America. Of course the difficulty is that the publishing world likes to take these 'definitions' and go crazy with them to the point that they risk stereotyping an entire nation on one form of literature *ahem Murakami, Japan* In the same way that Harold Bloom when talking about the four greatest living American writing now - Pynchon, Roth, McCarthy and DeLillo - unintentionally limits the entirety of contemporary American fiction to four men *ahem, 'Great American Novels'* But even in Murakami's case his popularity has allowed a whole legion of Japanese literature to be published and recognised, and we are beginning to become more global and receptive to literature from around the world - albeit in a very faddish, commercial way: writing from Korea is very vogue right now.

The question that I've kind of touched upon, and you imply, is whether nationality is enough of a definition for literature; by asking that you are saying that there is something inherent to ones backgrounds that can be picked up on in their writing. There is an old thread on YWO that, to this day, keeps getting hits and it was whether there is a difference between American and British fiction - in my naive youth, I wrote some stupid things for that and have always wanted to respond to it again. At the time I think I said you couldn't tell the difference but now in retrospect I think there is a distinct quality - other than linguistic and cultural differences of course - in American fiction. Culturally I think there are specific markers that define the national condition of a country, which typically presents itself in its literature. For America, I think the beginning was the idea of the Colonies giving way to 'American dream,' then something about insularity and minimalism, and now postmodernity. The very fact that DeLillo calls himself an 'American' novelist both supposes the postmodernity that defines, a part of, contemporary American literature.

Yeah, that was a big brain-fart. Can I get a medal now for the essay above? Totally derailed-ish myself from poor DeLillo, but I promise I will go come to him when I read him.
  
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Old 04-21-2014, 08:26 PM View Post #3 (Link)
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Wow. You certainly deserve a medal for all that. I'll do my best to reply to you, but don't hope for anything near the level you've written at.

First, postmoderism. Admittedly, it's not my area of expertise, so most of what I'll be writing is personal opinion and not professional study or anything of the sort. Now, I've always found the term problem problematic in the sense you bring up. What comes after 'postmodernism'? If it is meant to define literature that deals with certain issues, how come books like Ulysses and the like are classified under it? I personally find it is used to describe a book that is 'post' the ideas of the 'modern' period of that time. A general term used to define a book that, not exactly challenges, but certainly sets out on its own in terms of style or the like. Like you said, it is very vague and thus problematic to use. Perhaps we should develop a term, 'modern postmodernism', to describe Delillo's kind of literature. (Apparently there is such a thing as 'post-postmodernism'.)

Now, onto the relation between magical realism and postmodernism. Now, I honestly wasn't trying to tackle the difficulty of attaching different literary terms to different cultures, but it is certainly something that should be discussed. (In honor of Marquez, I intend on doing 100 Years of Solitude next month, so hopefully we can have some more fun with the subject then.) My basic view right now is that both are of equal value - neither presupposes the other, at least if you use your definition. My own definition is more difficult, as magical realism seems to have grown out of the cultures it tends to be associated with rather than as a counter-current. Thus, we segue into your 'brain fart'.

Before I begin, I must applaud you on your effort to make a 'Non-Western Canon', and I would be more than delighted to read it if you ever manage to finish it, as I'm sure would the rest of the site.

You bring up a fascinating point with your discussion of changing national boundries and 'weltliterature'. Like you said, there are difficulties when discussing any national literature. One writer I point my finger toward is the sci-fi writer Alliette de Botard, a French/Vietnmese author. Simply put, you cannot define her as either French or Vietnamese, thus it seems that we may see sub-divisions of literature to try defining dual nationality work. This of course sounds like a futile effort, but I'm sure someone will try in vain to create these divisions.

Here we turn to your ideas on language and subject matter. As you pointed out, there is a terrible amount of difference between writers of the same language, especially with the scope of the English language. For example, Murakami wrote his first novel in English then translated into Japanese, yet he is a Japanese novelist. The same with his choice of subject matters. Borges was influenced by old English and Norse tales towards the end of his life. Like you said, 'weltliterature' should be given a lot more thought. I am certain many of the writers on this site can quote one or two writers outside of their own nationality, language or continent that has influenced their work in some way or another.

But I do agree that nationality tends to define a writer, more than they think. You have writers like Delillo, who react to their nation and thus feel very connected to it. Or you have a writer who reacts against their culture and nation, thus reflecting a part of that nation, such as Murakami. Both can be called American and Japanese writers, respectively. I agree pretty much with everything you said about blowing things up, things being vogue, etc, but you can sometimes define currents in the literature of a country, giving some slight weight to the notion of cultural relativism, or subjectivism at least. People brought up in a certain culture, even if exposed to different things, will still have a similar mindset to those in that culture.

Thus it seems that we can use nationality as a vague definition of a writer's work, much like we use post-moderism. All of this is very intellectual and written late at night, so you must excuse any parts that may not make sense.
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Old 04-22-2014, 07:36 AM View Post #4 (Link)
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Originally Posted by lostbookworm
1. Delillo said that when writing a story, the first thing that comes to mind is 'the scene..., and idea of a character in a place'. Furthermore, his sentences have a rhythm. 'They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look.' Are these feature noticable in his work? Can you think of any other writers that have this same kind of rhythm to their work? (Bonus Question: Is a sense of rhythm required for writing at all? Remember, Vladimir Nabokov detested music but wrote one of the greatest novels of the English language.)
I didn't quote look for rhythm in the stuff of his that I've read. If it reads well, it probably has a fine rhythm, as I'd figure a poor rhythm would draw a lot of attention. A certain rhythm is needed in crafting a sentence, and by that I mean each sentence demands a different rhythm to fit it's specific needs. It's not something I really consciously think about when writing, unless something sounds very off. It's kind of inevitable, whether you like music or not.

Originally Posted by lostbookworm
2. Another thing to look at in Delillo's writing is his take on dialogue. He says that he changes the way he writes dialogue from novel to novel, and you can see this in the contrast between Underworld and Mao II. Whereas Underworld looks at how humans converse on a day-to-day basis, all very choppy and realistic, while the characters in Mao II talk in an incredibly intellectualised language, rife with secret meanings. How do you as a writer see dialouge? How do you prefer to write it?
How do I see dialog? That's an odd question. It's essential, I think. It consists of a large portion of my pieces, typically. The way we reveal ourselves to others, and what we reveal, says a lot about how we project ourselves compared to who we really are. In terms of how I write it, I prefer to keep it closer to the realistic side of things. I don't like dialog that sounds like it's from a TV show or a movie. I get why dialog sounds a certain way in hollywood productions, what with time constraints and focusing on keeping the masses' attention. I just don't see a reason for it in books, though, when you have the space to give it a more natural feel. Yes, fiction is reality distilled, but it shouldn't be distilled to the point it tastes like cheeze-wiz.

To me one of the worst dialog writers living today is John Green. I like The Fault in Our Stars and whatnot, but Jesus the dialog is so goddamn contrived. I got a similar feel (albeit in a different way) while reading the first book of the Dresden Files. Good book, but it's just... WHY ARE YOU WRITING LIKE IT'S A TV SHOW? There's no need to hyper-saturate your dialog.

In terms of DeLilo's alternate takes on dialog, like the kind he uses in Cosmopolis, I'm okay with that. It's not great, but it strikes me as having a greater purpose than projecting the characters like sappy Hollywood caricatures. (If you can't tell I'm really passionate about this lol)

Originally Posted by lostbookworm
3. What are your views on postmodernism? Is it a concept that is no longer needed? Delillo said that he doesn't like being labelled as any kind of novelist other than an American one. This raises another question. Which is more important when writing, your nationality and beliefs, or the style and ideas you consciously project into your writing. Can we class all writers into American, African, Vietnamese, Korean, English, etc, and use these as viable descriptions of their writing?
This question deserves a very extensive answer, but I don't much feel like giving one.

I have mixed feelings about post-modernism. But I have mixed feelings about all movements on genres. There are only so many people who are going to strike a chord with me. Some of my favorite authors and books fit into this category, and I think it's helped literature expand and experiment in considerable ways. At the same time I think it's been a vehicle for pretentious assholes more interested in how they say things than in human nature. To me, writing is an act of compassion above all else, so to bury oneself in technical exercises and attempting to push the reader away from the story, is, to put it very bluntly, a fucking affront to art. I think DeLillo sometimes does the latter (I haven't read enough of him to comment on whether or not he does the former), which irks me, but he isn't as dense as, say, David Foster Wallace, so I'm more able to forgive and enjoy him.

Of course, these negatives aren't just limited to the post-modern movement. It just exists differently in this movement, in such a way that I suppose I find it more offensive than in other movements. Yeah yeah, very subjective and whatnot.

It's lasted for a quite a while, too, which I find kind of strange. I'm wondering when we'll move on from it.

As Spacepirate said, pinning down a definition for post-modernism is difficult when understanding it from a stylistic perspective. I use the word plenty when talking with other lit majors, but I'm aware that it's definition is, at best, vague. I don't much care about it. I don't put much faith in terms and movements. They're labels. They're not really needed, but they help when you're trying to talk about a certain, broad group of writers and their works.

I sometimes categorize people by country. When you think of an author in his or her national or cultural (or other) context it helps you understand where the work is coming from. Or, if you don't understand, say, the context of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, since you know nothing of Nigeria (hypothetical "you", of course) you can at least make sure you aren't attempting to understand the novel from a perspective that isn't applicable or from one that may be counterintuitive to what the author was trying to achieve (this is important mostly in post-colonial literature where certain voices have been silenced by Westerners).

Originally Posted by lostbookworm
4. Finally, do you agree with Bill Gray's view about the novel, either before or after his view change? Is a novel meant to alter people and the world around them, or simply expand the world?
I'll be honest, it's 2:30 AM and I didn't read that excerpt. But I'll say this: The novel does both, and the novel expands by altering and alters by expanding.
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Old 04-27-2014, 09:33 PM View Post #5 (Link)
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Finally, I have found time to reply.

On rhythm, I suppose you're correct. It is effectively essential to any good writer to write well, and I would assume that a lack of rhythm can be used to great effect as well. I can't think of any writers off the top of my head who do that sort of thing, but I am certain there will be some. The main reason I asked the music question was mainly just to see if there was anyone with a greater understanding of the relationship between music and literature who might give more insight into the subject, but I highly doubt there truly is.


Ah, dialogue. It's nice to see someone as passionate about the subject as I am. One of the main reasons I stopped writing short stories and poems is that I find it difficult to write the non-dialogue parts – for example, I can't describe a scene effectively to save my life. But give me two characters and I'll do my best to create a meaningful conversation between the two.

I agree entirely with a more realistic take on dialogue – Green and Butcher, alongside many other writers, seem to see every discussion as a way to put forward their personal philosphy or make a quip. I find that Delillo also does this, but with a self-awareness not found in the other books. He knows that his dialogue would never be found in a real-life scenario, especially in Cosmopolis, which is why it worked so well in the movie. I think that is the main way of making non-realistic dialogue work, by being aware it is unrealistic and building the scene around that.

On a personal note, dialogue is the main focus of a book for me. There are times when I will fall in love with a description of a scene, or something along those lines, but for me a story is told through a characters mouth. I have a tendency to skim read most descriptions, which I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it.


Thus, we turn to postmodernism again. I hope I will expand more upon my thoughts than my previous post, which was somewhat lacking.

I think we are all agreed upon the difficulty of using postmodernism to describe a movement, especially one as vague as it does attempt to cover. I take back my previous definition, as Wikipedia tells me postmodernism is restricted to the late 20th century, thus books before that would really be considered spiritual successors. As Dabs put it, it really is just a label used for ease of use, or for academics to try describing humanity or art or the like. It might be better if it is kept that way, and we all agree just not to take it too seriously.

Dabs, you said something that fascinates me, in that writing is an act of compassion. Indeed, you can see many great works, non-fiction and fiction alike, that were pieces of compassion or artistic sentiment. However, think of this for a moment. Surely Delillo's work, even if it pushes someone away from the story, it too is a work of compassion. It is just a compassion that most people wouldn't grasp, it's a compassion towards that technical side. That too is art, no? Many would argue Leonardo's inventions, or the architecture of the Lourve, is artistic, but then at their core they are technical. Many mathematicians describe certain equations as artful, or along those lines. To define art as simply the words of a poet describing a skylark, or the like, is in itself betraying the idea of art. Art is whatever art may be. In reality, there are no affronts to art (Apart from 50 Shades of Grey).
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Old 04-27-2014, 11:28 PM View Post #6 (Link)
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I think we are all agreed upon the difficulty of using postmodernism to describe a movement, especially one as vague as it does attempt to cover. I take back my previous definition, as Wikipedia tells me postmodernism is restricted to the late 20th century, thus books before that would really be considered spiritual successors. As Dabs put it, it really is just a label used for ease of use, or for academics to try describing humanity or art or the like. It might be better if it is kept that way, and we all agree just not to take it too seriously.
As part of my course I've been doing some narrative theory, related to genre and postmodernity and would like to add to our discussion, although most of this is mindless theorising so we will see. I think at the moment in this thread we have three main postmodern definitions, at the level of the structuralist text:

1. Story - books which contain 'post-modern' elements (technoculture/hyperreality): technology; terrorism; paranoia etc.

(For the moment I'm going to argue against Magical Realism being counted as postmodernism on the basis of my previous post where to apply postmodernism onto (South American) magical realist texts is a form of literary colonialism.)

2. Narrative - books which at a narrative level transgress normal presentation of events, especially in relation to the psychological fulfilment and closure seen as a hallmark of Modernism i.e. there is no unification of narrative.

(I saw an interesting definition of postmodern fictions where the past and present become as uncertain and unresolved as the future.)

3. Narration - books which at the level of the narrator draws attention to its own constructed nature: either through irony, meta-fiction, poioumena, pastiche etc.

So I guess the question is to what extent and quantities do we think these brief definitions can apply to postmodern texts. I invite you to argue with me on these definitions, but I think they cover as much basis as possible. Not having read Mao II, would you say it would succeed in fulfilling all the definitions? I ask because I think there must be a distinction made between what someone writes on and the way it is written ... or is there? I mean I guess we can argue whether previous -isms have adhered to that edict that they all wrote in a similar fashion about similar themes. Tentatively, I would say no. Modernists are more collectively known for their style than the actual substance, in the same way that I think postmodernism - as a specific term - needs to either choose on which definition it plans to describe.

There is no way you could put in the same bracket, Isabel Allende with say Thomas Pynchon, so I am much less convinced by the idea of 'story' as being a quality that is intrinsic to postmodernism. I would much prefer a term like 'hyperrealism' or 'techoculturalism' to be picked up as a genre; indeed, we do already have those terms floating about in genre circles i.e. cyberpunk but they are far from mainstream. So if we had another -ism to describe definition 1, then postmodernism could include definitions 2 and 3 (or some other qualifier).

But equally, since we've already agreed that there are plenty of texts that have 2/3 but are old, to call them postmodern would be thoroughly strange. Now that either means we need to change the name of postmodernism because its name must chronlogically imply a time after Modernism (which is why perhaps calling Don Quixote as postmodernist seems so odd). Or we must actively include some kind of cultural definition, as in definition 1.

I have mixed feelings about post-modernism. But I have mixed feelings about all movements on genres. There are only so many people who are going to strike a chord with me. Some of my favorite authors and books fit into this category, and I think it's helped literature expand and experiment in considerable ways. At the same time I think it's been a vehicle for pretentious assholes more interested in how they say things than in human nature. To me, writing is an act of compassion above all else, so to bury oneself in technical exercises and attempting to push the reader away from the story, is, to put it very bluntly, a fucking affront to art. I think DeLillo sometimes does the latter (I haven't read enough of him to comment on whether or not he does the former), which irks me, but he isn't as dense as, say, David Foster Wallace, so I'm more able to forgive and enjoy him.
I am very interested in your thoughts on genre, and what your feelings are about movements. Because I think genre, as in the grouping of texts on the basis of certain shared features, is fundamental as a way of classifying, describing, interpreting texts. Genre acts as the norm and expectations, and only through its prescription of artistic conventions, do I think you are able to recognise when someone has subverted them. Which is why I think we do need to take the term postmodernism seriously - because unless we know what our literature 'now' is, how would we be able to describe or identify innovation? I mean, the term 'postpostmodernism' is banded around but its sheer and utter vaguness - as well as very unhelpful name - shows its weakness as a usable term.
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Old 04-28-2014, 04:16 AM View Post #7 (Link)
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As far as music and rhythm go, I see that more in poetry than in fiction. Not that it doesn't exist in fiction, but a poet might be able to give you a more informed answer, maybe?

Originally Posted by lostbookworm View Post
Dabs, you said something that fascinates me, in that writing is an act of compassion. Indeed, you can see many great works, non-fiction and fiction alike, that were pieces of compassion or artistic sentiment. However, think of this for a moment. Surely Delillo's work, even if it pushes someone away from the story, it too is a work of compassion. It is just a compassion that most people wouldn't grasp, it's a compassion towards that technical side. That too is art, no? Many would argue Leonardo's inventions, or the architecture of the Lourve, is artistic, but then at their core they are technical. Many mathematicians describe certain equations as artful, or along those lines. To define art as simply the words of a poet describing a skylark, or the like, is in itself betraying the idea of art. Art is whatever art may be. In reality, there are no affronts to art (Apart from 50 Shades of Grey).
I agree that DeLillo writes from a compassionate place. Technicality is not bad in and of itself. Becoming so over-involved with the technical aspects that the experimentation becomes the heart of the story, to me, is harmful to the story, but I also don't think in very technical terms, so it's harder for me to appreciate that. I also see visual art as being different in a lot of ways from writing. I'm also not a visual artist so maybe I'm just not as passionate about technicality in that field? But either way something drawn by DaVinci doesn't bother me, though I think I'm more partial to emotionally driven art in general, regardless.

It may also be that I just happened to like the ideas DeLillo was playing with in Cosmopolis. I was talking about the book with a friend and even said that people who aren't interested in the ideas he was working with might not like it that much. So it may just come down to personal taste. Not that there's anything technically wrong with the novel, but I'm just trying to figure out why something that is typically outside of my tastes appealed to me in this instance.

Originally Posted by Spacepirate View Post
I am very interested in your thoughts on genre, and what your feelings are about movements. Because I think genre, as in the grouping of texts on the basis of certain shared features, is fundamental as a way of classifying, describing, interpreting texts. Genre acts as the norm and expectations, and only through its prescription of artistic conventions, do I think you are able to recognise when someone has subverted them. Which is why I think we do need to take the term postmodernism seriously - because unless we know what our literature 'now' is, how would we be able to describe or identify innovation? I mean, the term 'postpostmodernism' is banded around but its sheer and utter vaguness - as well as very unhelpful name - shows its weakness as a usable term.
My mixed feelings about genres and movements comes more from the fact that, as is the general case with reading, there are only so many authors I'm going to like. I'm more just trying to avoid using broad terms. For all the similarities between authors, when it comes down to specifics they have very different ways of going about telling their stories. In other words, it's not so much that I like satire and black humor as much as I like Vonnegut. It's not really as interesting as you think. lol
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Old 04-29-2014, 09:51 PM View Post #8 (Link)
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As I have not been studying narrative theory, apart from one book on basic play/film/story structure (and how there are really 5 acts, not 3), I have honestly no idea what I'm talking about. Therefore all that is to follow on postmodernism is my ideas on what you have written and general theory on literature.

The three points you suggest to define postmodernism are certainly interesting, and would probably deserve an entire book to studying them if there isn't already one. I think, like you, that 'Story' is too vague and wide a grouping to suitably be used. For example, if you use it, then that means that everything from 'I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream' to 'The Quantum Thief' are postmodern. In fact, the majority of science fiction would become postmodern. (I will also agree regarding magical realism, as if we can't effectively use 'Story' as a definition for postmodernism, then there is no way we can then also add in magical realism. Also, you know. Colonialism.)

I personally think that to define pre-20th century 'postmodern-like' work, it's best to use the term spiritual successor, or something along those lines. Now, would definition 2 and 3 work to suitably define postmodernism in the 20th century? I think that by combining the two definitions it gives us both a wide enough margin to encompass most work while still being quite exclusive. There will, of course, be books that slip through the definition we set, but then there will always be books that slip through every kind of -ism. I agree very much with Dabs when he said that authors work in different ways, thus some works fit more into the idea of postmodernism than others, but those others still count.

How does Mao II fit into those three categories? Well, it fits into 'Story' almost perfectly, but we already seem to have dismissed that as possibly a whole -ism. It also fits into 'Narrative', as there is a certain storyline that ends abruptly and another that never gets finished. Now, it becomes more difficult to say whether it fits into 'Narration' or not. The entire book discusses books as a whole, the idea of authors and what books effectively are. Therefore, would that be drawing attention to the structure of the book? It might change the way that the reader views the book.

You state that we need postmodernism to understand a stage in the evolution in literature, and I would nod my head at that. As humans, in every aspect of life, we need to generalise and label movements to understand. Thus, we are led to use vague terms like postmodern. Not an ideal situation, but one that is necessary.


Regards technicality and compassion. Indeed, it is very subjective as to tastes and what people prefer. I am not a huge fan of works that focus more on technique than characters, but I equally respect them as works of literature and art all the same. I suppose it's the same as preferring 'The Library of Babel' by Borges to 'Kafka On The Shore' by Murakami. One is a very technical, philosophical work, driven by words and the ideas within them, whereas the other focuses upon the characters and their struggles and ideas. I just kind of got jumpy when you mentioned 'a fucking affront to art', because that's a terribly charged phrase and one that shouldn't be used lightly, especially when the idea of art is so incredibly vague. It is all subjective, and nothing is an affront to art, really. An affront to morals, ideals, religions, feminism, etc, certainly, but it's difficult to find an affront to art.

Admittedly I haven't added much to the discussion (or anything at all, really), but I hope that whatever I have said might spark more discussion.
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Old 04-29-2014, 10:10 PM View Post #9 (Link)
Dabs (Offline)
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Originally Posted by lostbookworm View Post
Regards technicality and compassion. Indeed, it is very subjective as to tastes and what people prefer. I am not a huge fan of works that focus more on technique than characters, but I equally respect them as works of literature and art all the same.
That's a better way of saying what I was trying to say. lol

Originally Posted by lostbookworm
I just kind of got jumpy when you mentioned 'a fucking affront to art', because that's a terribly charged phrase and one that shouldn't be used lightly, especially when the idea of art is so incredibly vague.
It's not being used lightly.

Originally Posted by lostbookworm
It is all subjective, and nothing is an affront to art, really. An affront to morals, ideals, religions, feminism, etc, certainly, but it's difficult to find an affront to art.
All this considered, I still stand by my position. There are some pieces out there I find so revolting I refuse to acknowledge them as anything less than an affront.
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Old 04-29-2014, 10:47 PM View Post #10 (Link)
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I would say that calling any work of literature that you find offensive to you to be 'revolting' to the idea of art is, perhaps not using it lightly, but certainly over-reacting. Many Japanese writers consider Murakami to be an affront to art, or at very least their idea of literature. To say, 'Oh, this work is overly technical and I can't connect to the characters. Ergo, it is an affront to art.', is irresponsible.

Art is not singularly your definition of what you believe art is. As I said before, I highly doubt there are any works that are affronts, unless they are horrifyingly terrible and hold themselves up as brilliant pieces of work (which happens very, very rarely). I would still argue that there are no affronts to art, as art is an entirely subjective idea for all humans. It may be an affront to your idea of what art is, but not the entirety of art.
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