Blog Post 12: Medium and Monstrosity

Hi everyone,

From one perspective, moving from House of Leaves to Atwood and Alderman’s The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home seems like a dramatic shift in the tone of our reading, and in many ways, it is — it’s more linear and readable, to take perhaps the most obvious point of difference. But  there are similarities as well as differences: after all, this is another multiauthorial (for real this time), highly mediated novel about the emergence of something inhuman and perhaps incomprehensible. And we’re moving from a novel that uses form to think about the rise of new technology in the twenty-first century to a novel that’s by its very nature formally embedded in the technology of the twenty-first century.

So just as we close-read House of Leaves to think about that dynamic, perhaps it makes sense to do the same with The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home. So for this blog post, you should do some reflecting on how this text uses and engages with technology, whether in terms of form, of narrative, or both. How does the collaborative work between Atwood and Alderman shape the nature of the narrative? Does it make sense to consider which author is writing which pieces? Why or why not? How do those inferences change how we read the novel? How does reading this online (as opposed to in print or on an e-reader, say) change how we read it, in terms of interpretation, attention, anticipation, etc? What do we make of all the technology in the novel — both the use of digital communication and the well-placed presence of some key print books? Why use this form in particular to write a zombie novel, with all of the questions of genre and high and low culture that it raises? A number of people have started to float ideas around some of these issues on Twitter, and Atwood and Alderman have taken them up as well — let’s see how we can extend that conversation through some close attention to the text.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, April 14, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.





Blog Post 11: Outside the House

Hi everyone,

Over our discussions of House of Leaves, we’ve returned a number of times to questions of textuality in the novel, from how Danielewski plays with layers of materiality in the text to how the footnotes and other features of the novel point to a complex textual world (both real and imagined) outside the cover of the book itself. And these questions become even more important and integral to the last section of the novel, as we’ll see in reading for this coming week. But there’s also a range of texts that exist alongside House of Leaves that give us clues to decoding it and perspectives for interpreting it.

So for our last blog post, I’d like everyone to consider what one particular related text tells us about the novel, and how it adds to our understanding of it. I’ve listed three related texts below, with a group of people assigned to each — once you’ve done some more reading towards the end of the novel, your job here is to spend some time exploring this related text and to do some writing that begins to analyze it in light of our work with the novel so far: think about how it relates to the novel (particularly the final section for this week), what it reveals to us, how it might change or add to our interpretations, and how it does these things in terms of form, medium, etc. Our final paper for the course will ask you to put one of our readings alongside another cultural text, so think of this as an initial brief try at that kind of 

There’s a good amount of material here in each of these options — with that in mind, a few thoughts: first, while I’ve divided us up above in terms of responsibility for posting and being able to talk about one of these in class, I encourage everyone to read and listen as widely in these as you like and as you can manage. But at the same time, you should prioritize reading the novel — while you don’t have to finish everything to do this post, you should try to get a good ways into this week’s reading, and you should be sure to think about the novel as well as your assigned related text in your post.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, April 7, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.

Groups are below — enjoy, and I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks!

Bethany, Stef, Jeena, Kate, Jessie, Kyle, Gabi, and Mitch should focus on Haunted, the album by Poe, aka Annie Danielewski. Here are links to individual songs:

1. Exploration B
2. Haunted
3. Control
4. Terrible Thought
5. Walk the Walk
6. Terrified Heart
7. Wild
8. 5 &1/2 Minute Hallway
9. Not a Virgin
10. Hey Pretty
11. Dear Johnny
12. Could’ve Gone Mad
13. Lemon Meringue
14. Spanish Doll
15. House of Leaves
16. Amazed
17. If You Were Here
18. Hey Pretty (Drive By 2001 Mix) (Bonus Track)

And one for the whole album:

And two versions of a song that might be relevant from Poe’s earlier album, Hello:

Angry Johnny:

Angry Johnny:

Gordon, Matt, Rachel, Chris, Brittany, Jordan, Shakar, and Erin should focus on House of Leaves of Grass, a work of electronic literature by Mark Sample, a professor of English at George Mason University: This piece mixes language from House of Leaves and Walt Whitman’s poem Leaves of Grass — see the link in blue at the bottom of the screen for some instructions on reading this piece. Sample knows we’ll be looking at this and is pretty active on Twitter at @samplereality — let him know what you think.

James, Dominique, Cameron, Oksana, Emily, Joe, Barry, and Geena should focus on “Haunted House: An Interview with Mark Z. Danielewski” by Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory from the Winter 2003 volume of the literary journal Critique.

Blog Post 10: Domestic Psychology

Hi everyone,

After the narrative layerings of our first week of House of Leaves and the formal experimentation of this past week, this next section seems to read much more conventionally,  in terms of both form and content — for much of it, Danielewski focuses on relatively straight narration of the Expedition and the interior psychology and emotion of a number of central characters.

So we have to ask why–if nothing in this book is incidental, we have to wonder what’s at stake in Danielewski making this kind of shift at this moment in the text. What do we learn about various characters in this section of the text, and how? What seems to be important about the information and insight we get, and the ways in which we get it? Are there moments where Danielewski shifts from the overall more conventional mode of this section? If so, where and why? For this post, you should focus on one character and think carefully about the way Danielewski renders him or her in a specific moment or two in the text.

Reminder, with a timing change: since this post is going up a little later than usual, I’m changing the deadline to be midnight on MONDAY, April 1, with the same usual length of at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.

Blog Post 9: Form and Function in the Labyrinth

Hi everyone,

Welcome to our second week with House of Leaves. First, note that I’ve changed up the schedule for the rest of the book and the rest of the course—hopefully this will give us all a little more breathing room to do justice to all the material ahead. There’s a revised document up on Blackboard under “Information,” and I’ll bring copies to class next week as well.

This second chunk of the novel, which includes what’s often referred to as the “labyrinth” section of Chapter IX, asks us to read in yet more new ways—if we had to figure out how to negotiate and navigate the network of footnotes and the coding of Pelafina’s letters this past week, here we have to figure out a whole new array of techniques and effects. So for this week I’d like you to focus on one formal effect of your choosing in this section. It can be something that occurs just once, or something that repeats and/or extends across multiple pages—just be specific in describing and locating what you choose to write about, so that we can all make sure we know what you’re referring to.

In your post, you should discuss what your chosen technique does within the novel: what effect does it have on the narrative? What effect does it have on the experience of reading? How do we have to read differently in order to absorb or digest what your technique does to the text, and what larger differences do those practical differences make in how we understand and come to terms with this piece of the novel? There’s lots to discuss here (to say the least), so if possible, try not to reiterate what people who have posted before you have covered or said.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, March 24, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.

Blog Post 8: Whose House?

Hi everyone — hope you’ve been having a good spring break.

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, our second text in this section of the course on media, materiality, and narrative, is an infamously complex, twisty, and slippery novel — in many ways it’s unlike just about any other novel. Perhaps the most immediately apparent feature of the novel is the array of differing typefaces, footnotes, and page orientations that Danielewski uses for various different effects throughout the book. We’ll have a lot to say about those over the course of our discussions, but for this first blog engagement with the text let’s start with an element of the novel that’s somewhat more conventional, namely Danielewski’s use of multiple narrative voices.

Following from the list below, everyone should focus on discussing and analyzing one narrative voice from this first chunk of the reading. In your post, you should go beyond a basic character portrait to think about the larger role your narrator plays in the novel so far. Refer to the text carefully and closely and think about some of the larger issues your voice raises. Here are a few questions/issues you might think about: how do/does he/she/they fit into the world of the novel? What’s his/her/their relation to other narrating characters and narrative voices in the text so far? What seems strange, suspect, or otherwise unusual about your voice? What does Danielewski seem to be trying to do with that voice within the larger thinking of the novel?

Warning: For at least some of these voices, there are substantial spoilers and secrets to be revealed in our first section of reading for this week. While everyone should tie their analysis to the text closely, try if at all possible to avoid revealing things that others might not have read, found, or figured out yet.

Gordon, Barry, Oksana, Jordan, and Mitch should discuss Zampano

Emily, Jeena, Kyle, Katherine, and Rachel should discuss Johnny

Dominique, Geena, Shakar, Brittany, and Matt should discuss Pelafina

Chris, Bethany, James, and Cameron should discuss The Editors

Joe, Stef, Jessie, Erin, and Gabi should discuss Navidson

Reminder: your response  should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, March 17th, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.

Blog Post 7: Acting, Enacting, and Re-enacting

We talked in the second half of class last night about Bechdel’s working processes — how she enacts and photographs each figural pose in Fun Home, as seen in this image of her posing as her father and in the short video below capturing her process that we looked at in class:

The second section of the book is also filled with enactments, re-enactments, and repetitions of all sorts, from Alison’s obsessive-compulsive behaviors and her mother’s theatrical work to Alison’s diary-keeping and Bechdel’s reproduction of that diary-keeping (as well as many more photos, letters, and other documents along the lines of those we discussed today). So for this post I’d like you to think about some instance or object of repetition or re-enactment in this section of the text. What’s being acted out, repeated, or re-enacted in the item you choose, and for whom? How accurate can we imagine that to be, both with regard to other characters in the narrative and for us as readers, and what effect does that accuracy or lack thereof have on the the narrative overall? What relation does your chosen object or action have not just to the plot and events of the book, but to also to the way Bechdel constructs this story in a larger sense? Are there things in this text that seem impossible or forbidden to repeat, reproduce, or re-enact in some way? If so, you might talk about one of those instead and see how it fits into this larger picture. If someone has already discussed the example you’re thinking about by the time you go to post, try to discuss something else or add to what they’ve already said about it — there’s a lot of layering to each of these pieces that it would be great to unpack as much as possible.

Reminder: your response  should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, March 3rd, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.



Blog Post 6: Fun Home, Piece by Piece

Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home is the first text in our second section of the course on media, materiality, memory, and authorship. Both of the books we’ll read in this section work to challenge our notions of what writing can do on a formal, material level. Close-reading texts like Fun Home and House of Leaves means thinking beyond language, imagery, character, theme, and other elements of a text we’re used to thinking about analytically — in order to engage these texts fully, we have to shift our perspective to read in a new and different way, paying attention to visual, textual, and spatial elements that don’t come into play in conventional print writing.

At the end of this section of the course, we’ll do an in-depth annotation of a piece of one of these books, trying to wring as much analysis out of a single unit of text as we can. So to start building towards that, and to start developing and practicing this way of reading, for this blog post I want you to choose one panel (a single frame) from what we’ll read for this week to analyze closely and carefully. Think about how all the different pieces of Bechdel’s style — image, color, text, spatial arrangement, caption, etc. — work together in the panel you choose, and what literary and aesthetic impact they seem to have together. How is she using the form of graphic narrative in your chosen panel to do the literary work that she wants to do in Fun Home?

The choice of panel for this post is up to you, with two guidelines/suggestions: first, as in the past, try not to write on what someone else has already posted on if you can avoid it — there’s lots of rich material here, and it would be great to cover as much of it as possible. Second, I encourage everyone to pick something that will give you a lot to talk about in terms of form and visuality — instead of necessarily just focusing on an image with a caption, look for places where she combines text, image, and other elements in multiple interesting ways.

Reminder: your response  should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, February 24th, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.

Blog Post 5: Perspectives on Cosmopolis, Part 2

Hi everyone,

We had a great first week’s discussion on Cosmopolis, covering a lot of ground both inside and outside the limo, within Eric and beyond. So for this second week of writing and discussion on the novel, I thought it might be useful to follow up on and/or extend some of the things we didn’t get to talk about as much this past week. So again, a range of issues to post on and think about below — but this time I’m leaving the choice up to you: pick one topic/issue from below to write on in your post, whichever strikes you as most interesting, intriguing, or central to your thinking about the second half of the novel. Lots of people did a great job last week of responding to others who had posted on the same issue earlier, so let’s try to be attentive like that again in a few ways: try to respond to others who’ve posted first, but also, if you notice looking through the comments that one of these areas seem well-covered already, be intrepid and discuss one that’s less covered.

You might write on the politics of the novel in the second half: We touched on this briefly this past Wednesday, and some people have raised ideas about this on Twitter, but there’s lots more to say about what DeLillo is suggesting around issues of politics and globalization. The politics of the protest scene at the end of Part One are fairly clear — so how does the second half of the novel pick up on these issues? What’s at stake here beyond just a critique of the rich CEO-type — what larger forces and tensions is DeLillo trying to show us as readers? How does all of this play into the dating of the novel (set in April 2000, published in 2003, and [presumably] written in between those moments)? How does this novel fit into the history of the 21st century so far?

You might write on Benno Levin: While he makes his first “appearance” in Part One, he plays a much bigger role in the second half of the novel — what’s DeLillo doing by setting him up in relation to Packer the way he does? What kinds of issues and perspectives does he seem to stand in for as a character? Why does his “voice” in the novel appear the ways it does?

Or you might continue thinking about the body: We get lots more thinking about the body (and lots more bodies) in the second half of the novel (like some of the topics we looked at in the second half of class Wednesday, some of this material refers to actual events as well — poke around and see what you can figure out). What (if anything) changes or emerges anew from what we’ve seen and discussed already? Whose body/bodies become(s) important, and what’s important about that, and in what way?

While you should focus primarily on one of these areas, as with last week, the questions here are just starting points and suggestions — I’m interested to see where people take these topics.

Reminder: your response  should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, February 17th, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.


Blog Post 4: Perspectives on Cosmopolis

Hi everyone,

DeLillo’s Cosmopolis is our second and final text in this first section of the course on technology, globalization, capitalism, and narrative. Although it shares a number of common concerns with Transmission, it approaches these issues in different ways, and the tone and style of DeLillo’s language are different from Kunzru’s in significant ways.

Particularly in this first half, the novel seems almost deceptively simple — not much “happens” in a convention sense of plot or character development. But DeLillo’s writing raises all sorts of issues that are vital to some of the conversations we’ve been having so far. So to get us ready to talk about it on Wednesday, I want you guys to split up and cover a range of issues and areas in the novel:

Matt, Jordan, Gabi, Dominique, Jeena, Gordon, Jessie, Jian, and Erin should focus on language, technology, and money: what is DeLillo showing us or saying about these issues within contemporary culture? How are they connected within the world of the novel and the minds of the characters, and what’s important about those connections? What seems significant to you about DeLillo’s own language and/or the language of his characters?

Joe, Oksana, Kyle, Cameron, Rachel, Chris H., Hau, Shakar, and Brittany should focus on the body: what place does the body have in the 21st century world of this novel? What powers and limitations do various bodies have, and what seems important about that? What kind of issues seem related to how DeLillo represents the body so far?

Barry, Bethany, Stefanie, Emily, Kate, Mitch, Jasmine, James, and Geena should focus on the car: What kind of space is this? What seems significant about it, and where do you see that within the text of the novel so far? Why is DeLillo focusing this novel primarily in and around a white stretch limousine — what role does that play in the overall themes and questions of the novel?

I mean the questions for each topic here as starting points — don’t feel as if you have to answer all of them. Instead, use them to situate some incisive thinking and writing on the issues your section raises. And as you read through the comments that have already been posted before you post yours, pay particular attention to what your groupmates have said—let’s try to develop a few focused mini-conversations that we can build on and connect to one another in class.

Reminder: your response  should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, February 10th, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email or Twitter.


Blog Post 3: Viral Contagions

Hi all,

We started our first class on Transmission this Wednesday by talking about the different kinds of digital actions and communications we engage in as members of contemporary culture, and ended   with the idea that what was so far a narrative of immigration, labor, and culture clash in a globalized world would shift to be something else in the second half of the novel. One piece of the novel that ties those two thoughts together is certainly the Leela virus, which plays a major role in the second half of the text.

Nyex email virus circulation, 2006

So for this blog post I’d like everyone to do some thinking and writing about the virus in whatever way makes most sense to you. Ultimately we want to get a collective sense of what it’s doing in the book and what its larger meaning is, but there are all sorts of ways to get at that: why does Kunzru describe the virus and its impact the way he does? Why (other than the literal surface plot reasons) does Arjun create it and put it out there? Why construct it around Leela in particular (again, beyond the literal fact of Arjun’s fandom)? What issues does she raise as an image? What does the reaction of various people and organizations to the virus tell us about the global world of the novel? What might we say about the relation between the virus and how Kunzru resolves the novel?

These are only some of the things you might think about — I can imagine lots of other directions to take your response in as well, so don’t feel bound to answering all (or even any) of these, as long as you make specific reference to Kunzru’s writing in the second half of the novel in your response and use your post to raise some sort of larger issue or argument about the virus in the novel. Some people have started raising questions about this already on Twitter — feel free to take those ideas up in what you write as well. We had a great amount of breadth and diversity in what people wrote about last week, so let’s try to keep that up!

Reminder: your response  should go in the comments section for this post. It is due by midnight on Sunday, February 3rd, and should be at least 250 words. If you have any questions, let me know via email.