Books

BLEEDING EDGE by Thomas Pynchon | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

Often when talking about quantum theory in the context of literature we take note of language or structure that feels granular or quantized. Resembling the feel of particles, these quantized aspects of literature feel isolated from the rest of its context; however, the reader is still aware that these tiny elements are nevertheless part of the larger whole. I struggle to find a better way to articulate the experience of reading Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge. Each interaction between characters felt weighed down in detail: Pynchon would set up the scene with specific descriptions of venues, clothing, personalities, and atmospheres before launching into pages of sharp, fast-moving dialogue. Because the cast of characters in this novel is so large I often found myself confused, forgetting who exactly was married to who or who worked for which boss. This sense of constantly being one step behind also contributed to the quantized nature of the novel as the reader tries to determine how all of these seemingly independent scenes connect.

One example of a passage that feels particularly quantized is when Maxine is at a party and remembers partying when she was a teenager:

Not everybody benefits from a misspent youth. Teen contemporaries of Maxine’s got lost in the club toilets of the eighties, went in, never came out, some with luck grew too hip or not hip enough to appreciate the scene at all, others, like Maxine, went on only ot flash back to it now and then, epileptigogic lighting, Quaaludes for sale on the floor, outerborough hair statements… the Aqua Net fogs! The girl-hours lost sitting in front of mirrors! The strange disconnects between dance music and lyrics, “Copacabana,” “What a Fool Believes,” heartbreaking stories, even tragic, set to these strangely bouncy tunes… (Pynchon 308).

Not only does this passage show the density of the novel in terms of details, but it also reflects the specificity and obscurity of those details. The use of references that many readers may not understand creates a certain distance between the reader and the novel, since such a reader will not be able to fully understand the perspective of or point that a character is trying to make. This disconnect between reader and text reflects the levels of reality that the characters experience with their journeying through the Deep Web. I felt like I could never really go below the surface of this novel because there were so many details to wade through first. However, I would venture to say that this sense of layering was Pynchon’s goal in structuring the novel this way. From learning the inner workings of the Deep Web to grappling with life in New York City after 9/11, there are numerous instances of reality and illusion being blurred, many of which have to do with different levels of understanding one’s surroundings. By including a plethora of obscure references and creating a sense of disconnected quantization in the novel, Pynchon forces the reader to confront the feeling of not fully understanding reality–in this case, reality as we understand it in Maxine’s world.

Thoughts on Bleeding EdgeHave you ever read a book that feels granular or “quantized” in this way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Books

BOOK OF ILLUSIONS by Paul Auster | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

While watching what is deemed to be Hector Mann’s last film known to the public, David remarks that “we are looking at him as he looks at himself, and in this eerie doubling of perspectives, we watch him confront the fact of his own annihilation. Double or nothing” (Auster 53). This latter phrase struck me as both interesting and important: interesting because it is strange to think of a human identity as being something that can be doubled or reduced to nothing, and important because of the implications of this very contradiction. One could read this statement as it appears to be most obviously written–something is either double or nothing–or, I would argue, one could read this as something being simultaneously double and nothing. Here is where we can see a connection with the basic tenets of quantum theory: conceptually we understand that light is both a particle and a wave, but it could also be observed as either/or depending on how it is measured.

Paul Auster’s novel The Book of Illusions is riddled with instances of “double or nothing,” from names and puns to women, fathers, and actions. For instance, Frieda Spelling also writes her name as Mrs. Hector Mann in her letters to David. Is she both of these identities? One of them? Neither? Furthermore, when David describes the multiple ways Hector portrayed himself to the media he remarks: “Put these contradictions together, and you wind up with nothing, the portrait of a man with so many personalities and family histories that he is reduced to a pile of fragments, a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces no longer connect” (Auster 83). This statement offers another way to look at the phrase “double or nothing,” for David seems to suggest that too much multiplicity can lead to a blurring or even loss of meaning. In other words, more than two options may lead to nothingness, to an ambiguous mess of possibilities too numerous to keep track of.

Perhaps this is Auster’s way of commenting on the seemingly arbitrariness of language: puns are intelligible when a word has two meanings, but what if it has more than two? What if a metaphor can be interpreted in multiple ways? Does it have multiple meanings? Or does it have no meaning at all, since it is left up to so much interpretation? These are the sort of questions and ideas that haunted my reading of The Book of Illusions, a novel that once again plays with themes and problems that quantum theory also endeavors to address.

Thoughts on The Book of IllusionsHave you ever read a book that plays with the multiplicity of language in a similar way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

CITY OF GLASS by Paul Auster | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

Self-referentiality is a cornerstone of postmodernism; even so, I did not expect to find so many layers of it throughout Paul Auster’s City of Glass. The novel’s self-referential nature raises some interesting and important questions about narration, particularly regarding how to classify the narrator’s position in relation to the text. The beginning of the novel appears to be written from a third person perspective, as suggested by the very first sentence: “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not” (Auster 7). While there are often references to some sort of plural collective (“As for Quinn, there is little that need detain us […] We know, for example, that he was thirty-five years old” (Auster 7)), the narration style nevertheless has the feel of a third person perspective, someone omnisciently looking on at these events as a mere observer.

Yet the narration takes an entirely different course at the end of the novel when the story itself is brought into the content of the novel. For instance, the narrator states that “the story grows obscure” because “the information has run out, and the events that follow this last sentence will never be known” (Auster 200-1). Even more startling is the sudden switch to first person at the novel’s conclusion when the narrator says: “I returned home from my trip to Africa in February, just hours before a snowstorm began to fall on New York. I called my friend Auster that evening, and he urged me to come over to see him as soon as I could” (Auster 201). Here we have a striking paradox: how can this narrator speak with his friend Auster if Auster is also the name of the person writing this novel? Is this switch from third person to first person really a switch, or has this unknown narrator been narrating in the first person all along?

In a way, it seems as though the author is poking fun at the reader’s instinctual expectations that a first person narrator automatically equates to the author himself in the absence of a clearly identified narrating protagonist. This paradox seems like a continuation of the name-play the author partakes in throughout the novel, from the Quinn/Max Work/William Wilson trio to the father/son duo of Peter Stillman. Perhaps the author also endeavors to break down the meaning of names, suggesting that names are not as significant as we believe them to be if the same name can refer to several different people. The Paul Auster that is a character in the novel may have absolutely no relation to the Paul Auster who wrote City of Glass; rather, they simply have the same name. Not only does language lose meaning here, but the position of the narrator becomes so tangled and muddled that it almost seems arbitrary.

Thoughts on City of Glass? Have you ever read a book with a similar paradox of names or layering of narration? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

While reading The Crying of Lot 49 I was often a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of times Thomas Pynchon plays with language. From names of people (“Mucho” Maas, Dr. Hilarius, Mike Fallopian, etc.) to the names of cities (San Narcisco), acronyms, and Trystero itself, it seems as though hardly any words have just one meaning. Considering this novel’s haphazard, rambling writing style and its blurry timeline and structure, it is not surprising that Pynchon would also want to apply this same level of complexity and depth to the language he uses. As the paranoia sets in and the characters begin to break down, the meanings of the words used seems to multiply. This plethora of meanings did not quite hit me until reading the very last line of the novel: “Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49” (Pynchon 152). All along I wondered what the title was about: was someone crying? Where was lot 49? Did it have something to do with the used car lot that Mucho worked at? Yet the answer was somehow much simpler: it refers to the auction of a book or set of stamps. In this way, playing with words is a way of instilling a sort of “linguistic paranoia” in the reader, causing them to question the meaning of language the more they read and thereby mimicking the paranoia experienced by the characters.

It has occurred to me that sometimes authors may write books that are deliberately confusing, how sometimes a confused reader is precisely the result that the writer was hoping for. I think this deliberate confusion is exactly what Thomas Pynchon was trying to achieve in The Crying of Lot 49. I have many questions that were left unanswered (or perhaps the answer is there and I just was not able to see it): What ended up happening to Pierce’s will? Why did Pierce name Oedipa in his will to the first place? What kind of relationship did Oedipa and Pierce used to have? Why did Mucho suddenly lose his sense of identity towards the end of the novel? What is Trystero exactly? What is the difference between Trystero and Tristero? I feel as though Pynchon purposefully wrote this book to be confusing and muddled; otherwise, why bother to write something that readers could not firmly grasp? What point would he be making?

Thoughts on The Crying of Lot 49? Have you ever read a book a similar sense of “linguistic paranoia”? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Discussion

Looking Back on 2017

For the past few years I’ve made one of these posts reflecting on the concluding year. After reading what I wrote at the end of 2015 and 2016, it hit me just how much has happened in 2017.

I got accepted to study abroad for an academic year at Oxford University. My friends and I went to NerdCon in Boston on that same weekend, where I saw John and Hank Green speak and actually had a conversation with Watsky (honestly, amazing weekend). I wrote and performed my own monologue in the annual Wheaton Words production at my college. I visited the Met in New York City for the first time. I visited Willa Cather’s grave in Jeffrey, New Hampshire and took some very rainy photos (thanks, mom!). I watched my brother graduate from high school and start college in the fall. I said far too many goodbyes in September before traveling outside of the United States for the first time to begin my first term at Mansfield College in England. I visited so many incredible places, met even more incredible friends, and did things I never thought I would do (join my college’s soccer team at Oxford!). I ate in a chapel every day that was fit to be the Great Hall at Hogwarts, wore a gowns (short wizard capes) to formal dinners, and danced for hours at bops. I spent hours and hours in libraries and lecture halls studying my favorite subject in the world. I turned 21. I flew on a plane by myself for the first time. I said goodbyes to new friends and hello to so many old ones. I marveled at how much I did that I never, ever expected to achieve.

As always, I am grateful to everyone who made 2017 one of my best years yet despite the tumultuous world we live in. {And thank YOU for sticking with this little blog of mine!} Happy New Year!!

How was 2017 for you? Highlights? Things you’re looking forward to in 2018? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Rambles

Looking Back at 2015

LOOKING BACK ON 2015

2015 was a crazy year.

College acceptance letters arrived in my mailbox. I found out that I possibly have exercised induced anaphylaxis (it’s a long story). I decided to attend Wheaton College in Norton, MA. I saw Walk the Moon perform at the House of Blues in Boston. I survived (and passed!) 4 AP exams. I danced the night away at prom. I graduated high school (FINALLY!). My family and I took a road trip to West Virginia, which I will hopefully never have to do again. I interned at my local county attorney’s office during the summer. I had my last day of work at my local public library, which was one of the saddest days of my summer. I experienced my very first semester of college (!!!). My mom and I sat in the front row at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. I turned nineteen.

 

2015

2015 has been a year of ups and downs, new experiences, and a lot of change. So much has happened in the past year that I hardly even know how to describe it. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for each and every person who helped me along the way and for all of the amazing things I’ve had the opportunity to experience.

As always, I’d like to thank you all for reading this blog of mine! It means the world to me! ❤

Happy New Year! May 2016 be a great one!

Yours,

HOLLY