Hayles, Hayles, Hayles

I would say I am pretty familiar with N. Katherine Hayles’ as I am using her essays “How We Read” and “Deep and Hyperattention,” as well as her book How We Became Posthuman, in my final research project.  In the essay assigned for this week, “The Future of Literature,” I saw many connections to her other works.  In “How We Read,” Hayles discusses, obviously, the shifting notion of how we read, and “The future of Lit” directly correlates to that earlier essay in that here she is interested in the changing nature of what we read (aka we need to change how we read because what we read is changing, way to lay it all out for us single handedly, Hayles!).  Within her other texts I have become familiar with, Hayles typically doesn’t ask her reader to choose one polarized camp over another, instead she always encourages us to open up our minds and examine what is being expanded, not left behind — which is exactly what she proposes in “The Future of Lit” as well: interactions between digital and print texts rather than trying to distance the two (structured similarly to her arguments on the human/posthuman and close reading/hyperreading).  For instance, in “How We Read,” Hayles poses a synergy of reading strategies and an end to a reading strategy hierarchy, and likewise, she is asking us in “The Future of Lit” to consider how “print and electronic textuality deeply interpenetrate one another” (86), as opposed to believing that print is dead and books will simply disappear.  In this current essay, she brings up her theory on hyperattention in “The Future of Lit,” which I have read more extensively about in her essay dedicated to the subject where she discusses both the benefits and drawbacks of hyper and deep attention and why the shift in cognitive modes is occurring.  In the essay that we read for this week, I found it interesting that she was talking about the way in which digital and print texts are changing to appeal simultaneously to both deep attention and hyperattention.

I also found her point about “embodied experiences” compelling because it signals back to my suggestion of the “posthuman reader” in my research paper.  I’ve suggested this notion out of two others of Hayles’, both her idea of what it means to read in the 21st century as well as what it means to be human in the 21st century, where the posthuman reader doesn’t necessarily have to possess nonbiological components, but, by extension, embodies attributes that have most commonly have come to be associated with ‘machine.’  In “The Future of Lit,” Hayles is providing us with examples of virtual, computer simulation texts, and says that “embodied experiences inform our perceptions and actively constitute the complex meanings we derive from computational surfaces” (87).  I think that ’embodied experiences’ are signalling the posthuman reader by extension of embodying the machine.  Hayles writes that this engagement of “human and machine cognizers shakes us out of our accustomed place of reading to an active encounter that hints the place of the human in the contemporary world” (88), in other words the ‘era of the posthuman’ that Hayles takes an entire book to discuss.

Chronic City: Reaffirming the Real

While reading Chronic City, a passage that truly stuck out to me was Chapter 7.  This short chapter, at only 3 pages, gives the reader insight into Chase’s mind.  Chase admits that aside from looking at his own face in the mirror, the church spire outside of his window is “the sole thing I look at deliberately, consciously, every single day” (124).  As I started reading this passage, I at first did not think it all too strange.  Okay, so he has a landmark he sees outside his living space each day, big deal.  What is weird about Chase’s relationship with this spire, however, is that he has to look at it every day to prove to himself that it is real.  When he is convinced that the spire does exist, he then deduces that “buildings do persist, Manhattan does exist, things are relentlessly what they seem even if they serve as hosts, as homes, for other phenomena” (124).  Another interesting aspect to his relationship with the spire is that when it is in view, he cannot find words to describe it, “language dies” (124).  He writes that the words that he conjures in his brain are in “deranged juxtaposition,” confessing that “often all language seems this way: a monstrous compendium of embedded histories I’m helpless to understand,” finishing the thought up with the example that he employs language the way dogs drive cars, and they don’t, yet he “go[es] around forming sentences” (125).  So, why does Chase feel the need to reaffirm the real?  Consequently, why does he lose the ability to define or describe the real?

In a review of the book, Daniel Hamilton provides an explanation for this passage: “Through his apartment window there is a sliver of empty sky—some small evidence that the world is continuous beyond the island of Manhattan. The window view, only partly blocked by the neighboring Dorfll Tower, affords Chase… a momentary glimpse of a layered world: a flock of birds moves in instinctive patterns around an unknown church spire that is the single structure rising into the sky. In the blue space beyond, an airplane passes through the frame. And in the black void beyond that, a space station with Chase’s astronaut fiancée trapped on board continues its perpetual orbit around the earth. These objects, Chase understands, move according to their own laws, each oblivious and inconsequential to the other, their stories linked only to a single nexus—to Chase and the narrative he creates.”

I agree with Hamilton that Chronic City presents a layered world, or “worlds within worlds,” but I’m not exactly convinced that Chase creates it as opposed to succumbs to it, succumbing to everybody else’s narratives (we all see that Chase can hardly think for himself, a fact even he frequently asserts).  I think that the key in thinking about this passage lies in the “Yet Another World” game that continues to pop up throughout the narrative.  On page 228, Oona, Chase, and Perkus discuss their “simulated worlds theory,” and debate upon whether they, in fact, are simulations in a virtual world themselves (ironically, Perkus ultimately finds out that even with the iconic chaldron, he could not determine a real chaldron from a virtual chaldron right in front of his own eyes).  In this way, with characters questioning whether or not they themselves are simulated, Chronic City almost reminds me of Melancholia and kind of that perspective of what does a singular life really matter in the big scheme of things when everything is going to (excuse my language) shit (i.e. the “tiger,” the fog, the strange smells, Noteless’ destruction of city streets, the world of lies created).  If I could explain it using one quote, I think that the revelation that the book leads Chase to make in the end is this:  “Daring to attempt to absolutely sort fake from real was a folly that would call down tigers or hiccups to cure us of our recklessness” (449).  So I think, returning to my earlier questions, the fact that Chase constantly needed to affirm the real, and the fact that he didn’t have language for it, is just testament to the fact that the real is unfamiliar territory for Chase, who is constantly under various “conspiracies of distraction” that dominate his attention.  I’m thinking that the church spire was just one small battle won for Chase.

I’m not sure if I exactly made any sense, but nonetheless, as a side note, this book made me think a lot about our digital culture and our “digital identities” and “digital communities” that we make even within the realms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  To me, these platforms are enough of a simulated world without talking necessarily the parameters of “Yet Another World.”  I just feel like, when you truly think about it, all of these platforms are bizarre, hard to “absolutely sort fake from real,” and in that way I do think that many people create their own narratives and fictions of their lives, similar to that discussion going on in Chronic City.

First Draft Check-In

One of the main sources that I am using in my essay is N. Katherine Hayles’ “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.”  In her essay, Hayles argues for a broader sense of reading strategies and their interrelation, as opposed to the continued favoring of one reading approach (close reading) to any other in what resembles a reading strategy hierarchy.   For Hayles, the stakes of literacy for the 21st century reader depend upon the synergy of close, hyper-, and machine reading practices.  Here is one of my working intro/thesis paragraphs:

Hayles is signaling towards a new, “evolved” reader, posthuman in that the reader’s 21st century reading skills must involve all three types (close, hyper-, and machine) of reading skills.  Sherlock, from BBC’s television series Sherlock, is in many ways representative of Hayles’ notion of the posthuman reader.  Though his “reading” practices are criticized by many within the show, Sherlock shows off his new skills, his close reading skills only one methodology among several, in this 2010 take on the fictional character originally published in 1880.  Made contemporary, Sherlock asks viewers to reflect upon the interrelations between the different components of Sherlock’s reading practices and to weigh what is gained and lost in his re-imagination of what it means to read.

I’m using the initial crime scene from “A Study In Pink” to demonstrate how Sherlock employs his posthuman reading skills as well as to set up how Sherlock is positioned against other “readers” (i.e. the detectives) within the show.  The part of my draft that is under the most construction right now is what I see as the last part, where I am discussing how Sherlock’s reading skills are positioned via the audience.  In this section I am attempting to discuss the ways in which Sherlock encourages the participation of the viewer in ways such as visual text clues, Sherlock’s use of common technology, and even the way that the viewer gets Watson as a sort of go-between for Sherlock.  I am trying to round up this part of my paper about participation by talking about Jonathan Gray and the Sherlock universe and how this, in and of itself, encourages viewers to exercise their posthuman, 21st century reading skills, practicing various reading strategies more or less similar to Sherlock (the series’ posthuman model) himself.

My paper started to take a more substantive shape when I began to lock down the definitions of the terms that I was working with (i.e. close reading, posthuman reader).  This was Dr. K’s suggestion for my exploratory draft, and when I sat down to work on my rough draft, this is really what got the ball moving.  I had to read the Hayles article over a few times to really understand both her terms and implications, and her implications about what it takes to be literate in the 21st century is what I am trying to bring back full circle at the end of my paper.  Locking down a specific scene that could do a lot of work was also helpful because then I had a pinpointed a full scene that I wanted to close read, rather than trying to work with a bunch of scattered and often unconnected examples that I had initially pulled from memory for my first draft.  I also think a turning point for me was when I started realizing how Gray fit into my argument.  I think that in the way that Hayles suggests the literary discipline is becoming increasingly thwarted by maintaining a narrow view of what it means to close read, Gray is expressing the similar pitfalls of ignoring hype, synergy, promos, and peripherals, asserting that to have one medium designating the boundaries of the discipline is “assuming a certain stability in what is actually a mutable technological apparatus” (4).  An important quote I am working with from Gray is his claim that given their extended presence,

“any filmic or televisual text and its cultural impact, value, and meaning cannot be adequately analyzed without taking into account the film or program’s many proliferations” (2)

To use the language of our Twitter prompts, one of my “epiphanies” was when I realized that  Sherlock exemplifies Gray’s point and takes it to the next level as not only does Sherlock’s paratextual material provide additional layers of meaning, but the cultural implications of the show are the show’s proliferations, encouraging readers to engage with it and apply reading practices in ways that are more or less like Sherlock himself.

As I go forward, I am trying to keep an outline of my paper to help with my organization and to make sure that I am hitting all the points that I have attempted to lay out.  In my draft, I can see three distinct sections that make sense to me, but I know I am going to have to make sure that I work on my transitions to keep a clear thread running through them.

History of Sadness

After watching Beginners, I was reminded of Kelly’s blog post “Blurred Vision: The Picture of Mental Health.”  In her post, Kelly makes a  connection between Justine (Melancholia) and Simon (Seven Types) and the idea of depression not as an illness or disability, but instead as a “normal response to the ambiguous and often conflicting, tension-filled environment of contemporary society.”  Kelly writes that Simon, like Justine, sees the world as it really is, which is why Alex is captivated by Simon, writing in his journal about those who are “burdened by the clarity with which they see the world and those who are not.”  In contrast to these two texts, I think that Oliver presents a flexible view on the world’s miserable “clarity,”  fighting against Justine and Simon’s fixed interpretation or construction of their worlds, able to reconstruct his world after a series of losses and serious disruptions of his understanding of his world that could have easily left him in the “normal response,” depression.  While I don’t doubt that at times Oliver is depressed or on the brink of depression, this text does not result in the world’s end (such as an end via a collision with another planet) and does not keep his interpretation a fixed one that, while it at first  doesn’t work, is appeased in the end (by a crappy ending where the mother gets together with the kidnapper).

history of sadnessI found the images of Oliver’s “History of Sadness” to be particularly interesting, especially since he had been giving us a different type of history all along with his interjections of pictures ranging from images of historical events to images of the sun or advertisements.  In an interview I found online, Mike Mills talks about the “History of Sadness” scene (which I could not find a clip of online but there was actually a book created with the images, who knew!).  In the scene, Oliver, a graphic designer, is working on a CD cover for a band called The Sads. Mills says that he has done lots of record covers, and yes, he draws like this, and yes, there is a real band called The Sads. Mills admits that “confusing all these things, and having Ewan do the drawings, and having some dopplegangers play The Sads felt—well, yes, so wonderfully wrong,” yet “blurring the lines between what is real and what is fiction in a film that is in many ways exploring what is real—I just couldn’t pass it up.”  I think that exploring what is real in this film is the idea that the hard part of being in the world means change and means that there is a need to re-evaluate and reinterpret what you know.  Oliver gives us this history of sadness, and you can see alcohol in his history and he knows what depression means, but it isn’t what he ultimately turns to and remains in… he learns even more from his father than he had before (when he had thought he knew from his parents what love looked like), and learns to function within his new understanding arguably better than in his old one (he can now have a working relationship).

Two Perspectives in Melancholia?

In many of my previous blog posts, I wanted to talk about the reliability of the narrator and the truth within/outside of the text.  When it comes to Melancholia, however, these topics weren’t necessarily as in-my-face as the other narratives.  Anyhow, having completed the viewing, I am finding these themes still useful to work through!

First, let me think about the “reliability” of the narrator.  As I mentioned in a tweet, many of the shots from Part I, the wedding scene within the home, reminded me of the style of Paranormal Activity.  I think, in both instances, these movies chose this style of filming, where the camera is less steady and more documentary-like, in an attempt to connect with the viewer more so than more polished edits might do.  Many of the shots in Melancholia, mainly those in which characters are interacting, are filmed to what closely resembles a normal vision path, as if the viewer was in the home and amongst the guests following the conversation.  Giving us the impression that we are a part of the party helps us trust the narrative as it makes it seem like we are there experiencing the drama first-hand.

Another device I find interesting is the fact that the film is constructed as two parts, Part I Justine and Part II Claire.  Though each section is labeled with a character, I would argue that we are seeing that character from the other sister’s point of view (i.e. in Part I we see Justine through Claire’s eyes, in Part II we see Claire through Justine’s eyes).  Now bear with me; for my interpretation that follows, it is essential to believe that the two parts are different perspectives (which I think is credible, considering the two parts give very different outlooks on the same characters).  I think that this division of the text, whether my interpretation of who is “narrating” each part is right or wrong, works both for and against the “validity” of the text.  On the one hand, I feel validated in that it seems as though I am given two different perspectives of their world, like getting two sides of the story.  On the other hand, while the two halves of the story do mesh, the changing representations of the characters are very distinct, making me question the ability of either perspective to narrow in on the truth.

Informality & Repetition in Oscar Wao

What I find refreshing about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is the manner in which the narrator speaks to us and at us, the readers, and his informality in doing so as well.  Maybe it’s just that I have not done much extra-curricular reading, but this isn’t a style that I have encountered often.  Though the text is written diary-style, with an informal and changing narrator, this text stands separate for me from the others we have read in that I did not have trouble trusting the narrator(s).  In thinking about how the text creates its conventions of reality for us, there are a couple of different strategies that come to my mind.

First of all, I think that the repetitive nature of the narrator and his lengthy (sometimes too lengthy) descriptions and examples, focused on very specific facets of each character, made what I was reading come across as undeniably true.  The first instance I can think of in relation to the text’s repetitive feature is the focus from the outset on Oscar’s virginity and the innumerable examples we are given of how he repeatedly fails in his conquests and his subsequent revels in self-pity.  Sadie tweeted, “There is no end to the characterization in this book. Is there any plot?,and while I sympathize with her frustration, I think it is the constant circling around very specific character traits that give us such a clear and immovable notion of who these characters are, something that I don’t think we always get in narratives.  I think that the representation of the characters, so (developed as) stuck and ingrained in their ways, in addition to the cyclical way in which they are written about, reveals the idea of what tragedy means in the novel: history repeats itself; the struggle in trying to escape history; never-ending curses (fuku).

Secondly, although the text is informal, it still gives us historical accounts with such extensive detail (hundreds of names we can’t keep track of, for example) that I also think adds to the validity of the narrator.  Much of the text fills the reader in on history not only of the characters but of countries and time periods.  It seems to me like a fun history lesson in addition to a fictional story, and history lessons, in my experience, were always laid out with facts that I accepted and trusted in those giant textbooks.  In addition, footnotes, while informal in this novel as well, are a graphic device I think we typically associate with academic texts, also working to give us some kind of impression of the text’s attempt at historicizing.  Therefore, though our narrator gives us thoughts and feelings that are not his own, speaking of events that he didn’t actually witness, I still find myself believing that I am getting a factual set of events.

On a side note, I think one of the narrative points that I am interested in hearing what others have to say about is the idea of both Oscar and Abelard’s manuscripts disappearing.  Maybe some of the class thinks that the main character is actually Yunior and not Oscar, but I refuse to believe that!  Poor Oscar, he was finally coming around and coming to all of these new revelations, writing them all down to save Lola and whatnot, even throws himself to the dogs in the end… and then the manuscript never comes?? All of his hard work for what?  Am I just supposed to believe that the family (culture?) is cursed with no hope of a way out?