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Text-Image Relationship Comparison Between Two Early Surreal Paintings by Magritte

In his painting "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (1926) Magritte uses contradictory text to negate the image of a familiar object. In his "Personnage marchant vers I'horizon"(1928/9) Magritte uses text to label amorphous blobs as familiar objects. Although these seem like opposite techniques, Magritte accomplishes the same task in each: he forces the reader/viewer to process the images and text in the same space and time. This leads the reader to question the close relationships between the words and their corresponding images. In the two paintings, the text and images cause tension in different ways, which subsequently causes the reader to synthesize textual and visual clues in the two paintings in different ways. The declarative script in "Ceci..." prompts the disbelieving reader to analyze the text to determine what the artist intended the subject of the painting to be, while the object labels in "Personnage..." challenge the reader in a game of assigning both specific images and general visual concepts to each of the amorphous shapes. To focus the discussion of these two paintings I have chosen to compare the effectiveness of words in each--at changing the way the viewer sees visual form. I make comparative observations about the overall effects of the word/textual relationship in each painting. I argue that the text in Magritte's second painting is more effective at impacting the way the viewer /reader visually conceptualizes objects.

Amanda Barnum

(posted: 5/13/98)


Mao II: A Combination of Theory and Application

In Mao II, Don DeLillo plays the role of scholar and writer. He explains to his readers his theory of how novels work as he is developing his own novel. As a result, DeLillo's readers are constantly trying to analyze how the theory and application work together. DeLillo spends part of his novel exploring the reasons why writers create novels, and then he discusses how writers use language and what messages writers communicate through their language. In the end, DeLillo provides interesting insight into the relationship between the author and the text as well as a thought provoking piece of literature.

Claire Carman

(posted: 5/12/98)


In Toni Morrison's Beloved, the title character is more than just a vengeful ghost. Morrison also uses the character of Beloved to stand for the collective memory of the slave experience. Additionally, Beloved has a drive to "join" with people; this joining causes, in the people she unites with, a reliving of the past which, although it may cause them initial pain, creates a more solid person after the experience.

Seema Chandra

(posted: 5/13/98)

Selection From:

Animal Imagery and Body Violence in Beloved

Regarded as property, as chattel, as mere animal, Sethe's ma'am is branded by her master. In a poignant scene depicting the sole motherly interaction between Sethe and her mother, Sethe recalls the day her ma'am carries her behind the smokehouse and points to "a circle and a cross burnt right in the skin." She says, " 'This your ma'am. This,' and she pointed. 'I am the only one got this mark now. The rest dead. If something happens to me and you can't tell me by my face, you can know me by this mark' " (61). Sethe's ma'am refuses to recognize the iron-branding as a mark of oppression, of cruelty and ownership, but rather redefines it as an emblem of motherhood, a means in which her own daughter may recognize her. Thus the mark of terror is transformed into something sacred, a symbol of maternal love. The theft of Sethe's milk is the most outrageous violation of Sethe's maternal right. The nephews' violence against Sethe symbolizes the slave owner's perception of the black woman as a cow to be milked, a breeder of livestock. "They handled me like I was a cow, no, the goat, back behind the stable because it was too nasty to stay in with the horses" (200). But far worse than the violation of the body is the violation of motherhood. This is a concept Paul D cannot comprehend when Sethe attempts to explain the trauma she experiences when the schoolteacher's nephews hold her down and suck milk from her breasts - milk that belongs to her baby.

'They used cowhide on you?'

'And they took my milk.'

'They beat you and you was pregnant?'

'And they took my milk!"' (I 7)

Paul D keeps interrupting because he is revolted by the violent beating Sethe endured, by the marks that serve as evidence of the nightmarish incident. Sethe, however, is concerned with the fact that her maternal right was violated. Denied the right to raise her child and the security of knowing her daughter will not be sold down the river, the only gift Sethe can give her child is her milk and even that right is stripped away from her. As the dialogue abruptly shifts between Paul D and Sethe, this revelation suddenly becomes lucid and horrifying. Paul D's persistent questions illustrate his inability to see beyond the physical injury to the more devastating emotional ones. The change of punctuation in Sethe's response from a solemn period to an emphatic exclamation mark highlights this chasm of understanding. She seems to be screaming, 'No! I am just as strong as you are. I can endure the most blood-curdling beating, but do not steal my milk. I have to get milk to my baby girl.'

Bich Ngoc Dang

(posted: 5/1298)

Selection From:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Postmodern: Intertextuality and Determinism in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Guildenstern voices early on that the choices we believe we make are, in truth, no more our personal decisions than were our births, though without fully comprehending what he's stumbled on: "Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are...condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one--that is the meaning of order" It is also the meaning of life, from a postmodern perspective. Seriously entertaining the notion of endless interrelated causal systems leads directly to undermining the words "I" and "will" and the concept of individuality altogether.

This is not so implausible or extremist as it sounds at first, which can be a truly disturbing thought and certainly is to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. For example, it is a generally accepted hypothesis that the way a child turns out is more or less a direct result of his parents' genetic material and his conditioning or upbringing. But somehow we ascribe that untraceable unique quality, which manifests itself in later stages of growth, to something else. We believe that a human being is "more than the sum of his parts," as though some magic spark is added to the aforementioned two general factors which truly makes us ourselves: soul or personality or consciousness, as the "magic spark" is commonly called. Well, what if that were not the case? What if that "magic spark" that makes an adult human being complete is simply a myth, substituted for the shortcoming of our minds and our senses which are too gross and inadequate to take in the complexity of the later stages of human development? What if we could gather together all the subtler influences and all the additional factors beyond our reckoning--it would not be surprising to discover that we are in fact precisely the sum of our parts. Our simple failure to comprehend the scale of complexity leads us to think of the "spark" in our minds as divinely bestowed, self-made, or spontaneously generated. And if that is the case--that our very minds are predetermined and not free in any sense--it follows that any action we perform or any choice we make is also completely predetermined. We cannot act outside the system, for the system is fixed within us. In the following line this begins to dawn on Guildenstern, but he is clearly not ready for its implications. "If we start being arbitrary it'll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we'd know that we are lost" (42). In Act II, however, both characters have begun to realize that they are lost indeed. Rosencrantz's humorous but pathetic attempt to thwart "Them" is an illustration of the permanent uncertainty of trying to second-guess a system of which one is a part.

Ros: I wish I was dead ... I could jump over the side. That would put a spoke in their wheel.

Guil: Unless they're counting on it.

Ros: I shall remain on board. That']] put a spoke in their wheel. (The futility of it, the fury.) All right! We don't question, we don't doubt. We perform. But a line must be drawn somewhere, and I would like to put it on record that I have no confidence in England. Thank you. (80)

Camille DePrang

(posted: 5/13/98)

Selection From:

"Blue Wall"

There it was: the conflict. Mrs. Ramsay or Oedipa, Pynchon or Woolf. Mandy needed to know which she was. Her modernist inclinations demanded that she choose: was she a modernist or postmodernist, come on baby, pick a side. To identify by absolute truth, which was the manner in which she related with Mrs. Ramsay, excluded the proposal of Pynchon (and of "postmodernism) that there were infinite possibilities--no one truth but a web of similar, somewhat equal truths. She felt so ridiculed. She had been lured into a sort of comfort with the characters of To the Lighthouse, she had believed that the reason that she could understand them so was because there was a common thread throughout mankind--human nature--which made it possible to understand anyone, only to be mocked by the unfamiliarity of Pynchon's characters. She didn't know why, but Oedipa Maas had a sense, or more accurately, a lack of a sense about her that made Mandy anxious. She was just a person. She wasn't the type of person that Lillie Briscoe was--she was even less, because there was no aura to her being. Pynchon had thrown a wrench into the security of truth. "Either Trystero did exist, in its own right, or it was being presumed, perhaps fantasized by Oedipa .... Here in San Francisco, away from all tangible assets of that [dead man's] estate, there might still be a chance of getting the whole thing to go away and disintegrate quietly. She had only to drift tonight, at random, and watch nothing happen, to be convinced it was purely nervous, a little something for her shrink to fix." The possibility that he proposed, its freedom, its depth, chilled her to the bone.

If you allow a possibility in this world, without the security of an underlying truth--well--she looked at her clock in desperation and prayed that she was in fact, still a modernist thinker--you might go mad. Because there was vector calculus, and there was physics, and after these history, and between them all, between the infinite possibilities that they create for life and order, and importance, was there room for a girl in a room in the middle of the night? What did it matter in the great web of things anyway? Did postmodernism describe only the existence of things, and ignore their need of being? Was her mother her mother only because she wasn't her father or her sister, or her nephew or anything else, and for no special purpose? Mandy's thoughts wandered like Oedipa Maas' body, through places in which surely there would be connections, even if those connections were constructed by her own mind. And it was so hopeless a gesture. Every chapter of The C[ying of Lot 49, Mao II, and Beloved had ended in a mystery that was never promised to be unveiled. Yet no human could help but turn to the next page. Mandy's clock struck 4:44 a.m. and she turned another page, not because she wasn't utterly worn out, but because the row of 4's seemed to her an undeniable coincidence. Because the night was so quiet, and the lighthouse seemed so very far away.

Amanda Gor

(posted: 5/13/98)

Selection From:

The Television Moment: How DeLillo Figures Reality in the Technological Age

The next task in demonstrating how nature has given way to aura in the DeLillian postmodern landscape is to illustrate how the mechanical mode of seeing has been first, internalized and, secondly, personified. Internalization occurs in a myriad of ways. For example, as Gladney drives his son to school in the rain, a security guard steps out into traffic to allow the children to cross. He envisions her "in a soup commercial taking off her oilskin hat as she entered the cheerful kitchen where her husband stood over a pot ofsmoky lobster bisque" (White Noise, 22). Television ads, DeLillo seems to say, have become so pervasive in our culture that not only do they constitute our every daydream and our subconscious wanderings, but they become the way we visualize the environment. Likewise, in the Yankee Stadium wedding scene of Mao II, Karen conceives of her groom in a similar fashion: "Nothing about him strikes her so forcefully as his hair, which is shiny and fine and ink-black, with a Sunday-comics look" (9) How paradoxical that in order to authenticate one's being he must be compared to an inanimate object from popular culture! This phenomenon is equally self-referential as can be seen in the teller-machine encounter: "In the morning I walked to the bank. I went to ... check my balance. I inserted my card, entered my secret code, tapped my request. The figure on the screen corresponded to my independent estimate" (White Noise, 46). Gladney goes on to describe the euphoric pleasure of having one's life thus confirmed. In this sense, to exist is to appear and to be registered on the public, electronic database. This database creates a network or a family in which a neighbor or "city nomads [can be] more strange to [us] than herdsmen in the Sahel, who at least turn up on the documentary channel" (Mao II, 4). Alas, one final example. Murray describes his living arrangements in the following fashion: "There is a smell about the place of unhappy lives in the movies that I really respond to" (White Noise, 10). Everything finds its meaning in relation to mass-produced, fictional or mechanized ways of recording.

Nate Hester

(posted: 5/12/98)

Selection From:

The Truth About Truth

Virginia Woolf is usually classified as a modernist writer. In her novel, To The Lighthouse, she uses her characters to explore the modernist idea of truth in art. Mrs. Ramsay was able to bring everyone together in a peaceful way in the one shining moment of the dinner party and its denouement. Lily Briscoe was able to bring all of the elements in her painting into perfect balance of form and meaning. Through the thoughts and works of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe, Woolf suggests that art, and, by extension, life, has one central truth, one central theme which ties all of its pieces together. However, Woolf's writing itself suggests something very different about the nature of art and truth. She presents her characters and their actions from many perspectives, producing a fractured point of view of the world of the summer house. The presence in the narrative of many different thoughts, minds, and versions of reality (each of which is true to the individual who espouses it) suggests that art does not reveal one central theme to be uncovered by the artist but instead hides many different truths. This multiplicity gives Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse an element which can now be termed postmodern.

Mariah Anne Johnson

(posted: 5/12/98)

Selection From:

Modernism and Postmodernism in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Paul D has a tenuous conception of self. For most of his life, his entire identity has depended upon the judgments of others. At Sweet Home, Mr. Garner, and later, schoolteacher, functioned almost as directors of a play, arbitrarily assigning him a role. While Mr. Garner is alive, the four Pauls are "cast" as men, though Paul D is fully aware of the precariousness of this role. Though they were full-fledged men at Sweet Home, "one step off that ground and they were trespassers among the human race." This point is driven home by the arrival of schoolteacher, who whips Sixo to show that definitions "belong to the definers, not the defined." For Paul D, this casts doubt on the role he had come to believe was permanent

Oh, he did manly things, but was that Garner's gift or his own will? What would he have been anyway--before Sweet Home--without Garner? Did a whiteman saying it make it so? Suppose Garner woke up one morning and changed his mind? Took the word away. Would they have run then?

The question of definitions and one's role has far-reaching and profound implications. It is not merely the difference between being bit players in someone else's story and the lead characters in your own; as in Rosencraniz and Guildenstern are Dead. Rather, it determines whether one is treated as a human being or an animal, an individual with infinite worth, or a piece of chattel with a price in dollars.

Marissa Lackey

(posted: 5/13/98)


Individuation and Identity in the Novels of Don DeLillo

If a dichotomy may be set up between modernists and postmodernists based on mood (the "somber modernist" versus the "happy postmodernist"), it would not apply to Don DeLillo. In dealing with themes that are distinctively postmodern, such as the difficulty of individuation in a commodified mass society, DeLillo maintains a rather grim, if sometimes satirical, outlook on the state of the contemporary world. DeLillo's sense of the fragility of individual identity and self-definition is clear in three of his novels: Americana, his first novel, White Noise, for which he received a National Book Award, and Mao II, one of his most recent works. Central characters in each of these novels struggle to define an identity for themselves while being confronted with a barrage of mass images from the media and consumer society. DeLillo's also uses the city (specifically, New York) as the center of the crisis of identity and the paradigm of mass consumerism and commodification.

Jett McAlister

(posted: 5/12/98)

Selection From:
Pychon's Way of Things and the Way Things Are

In The Crying of Lot 49 Pynchon voices his corrected and reined dualism, the incorporation of a personal Cartesian barrier into a new question, with and without Oedipa Mass. Oedipa tries not to be Rapunzel; she makes attempts to reach out from her lonely tower but at once recognizes that all there is to her world is the tower. She and her suitors, perhaps too confident to admit to a tower of their own, experience a closed universe. She spies a painting in Mexico City which reminds her of her condition. The painting describes

prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into the void: for all other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world. (21)

This painting describes a new problem, the post-modern one. The world, for Oepida, is a constructed one, one filled with representations turned similitudes. It is one-dimensional in the sense that it is all qualitatively made of the same thing: her perceptions. Any actuality, beyond the void her "most gossamer microelectrode" searches for, still belongs to this tapestry of woven objects, ideas and meanings. What Oepida seeks is a movement beyond this tapestry, maybe with a TV or modem through which she can look into-and-past the void. Oepida knows of something greater than what she can see. Whether or not she realizes her conceptualizations are themselves limited is left unstated until the end of the book. But she has this image of the Sea, beyond the one she looks over on trips to the beach that she wishes she could tear a hole through.

Oedipa had believed...in some principle of the sea as redemption, ... in some unvoiced idea that no matter what you did to its edges the true Pacific stayed inviolate and integrated or assumed the ugliness at any edge into some more general truth." (55)

In this quote lies an image of the "truth" beyond what is immediately present and recognizable. In its absoluteness and totality, like a fully-completed library, it encompasses everything that has ever been conceived of, and more. It is what lies in the void, what may not have any meaning we have ascribed to it, and operates by some mechanism unknown to us. But it is unconditionally true, and then is woven and layered into a blanketed reality. Because it is alien, we don't recognize its hold on us. It embodies the truth, a Holy Grail, both absolute and unquestionable, like scripture spelled out and tangible amidst the vast matrix of things. Oedipa can only observe what it isn't, and then speculate about what it is. And from this sea emanate our actions, which differ from our perceptions of them, like some passive, haphazard, but evolved mechanism.

The easiest way for us to conceive of the world behind the one which we readily recognize is, ironically, by keeping it ill-defined, as essentialism would necessitate. But through her occasional, perhaps-presumptuous moments of lucidity, Oedipa glimpses a world which exists for its own sake, without meaning, and perhaps ugly in its lack thereof. Maybe its ugliness by its lack of assembled meaning--its lack of beauty--fulfill a sort of divine irony for both Pynchon and evolutionists pretending to be humanists. In a cultural complement to physiological evolution, societies and their symbols can evolve in the absence of any conscious effort to mold them. Oedipa is flooded by a deluge of cultural symbols and myths that are propagated in a meaningless, haphazard manner. The Word is ill-defined; there is no answer, aside from the realization that there is no answer. Still, this is not the answer that Oedipa, or that anyone, if we are to judge Oedipa's reactions as being humankind's, can accept. Pynchon speaks through Jesus Arrabal, the anarchist; "Where revolutions break out spontaneous and leaderless, and the soul's talent for consensus allows the masses to work together without effort, automatic as the body itself..." (120). Pynchon's view is one and the same, after having removed all of Arrabal's romanticized embellishments. Pynchon would have revolutionaries and intellectuals proclaim, as their final act of reason, that there is no personal rationalization that would ever influence their actions. But, then, these same intellectuals would inevitably continue deliberating why they could not stop thinking. The Scurvhamites, originators of the Trystero symbol, felt that it could symbolize their new pantheistic God. It was the Trystero itself that eventually became a part of the "blind, souless... brute automaton that led to eternal death" (155). It was the "brute Other," that kept ... the universe running like clockwork" (156), that determined lives in inescapable fashion. The symbol itself has an innate tendency to stay alive, to resurface in other forms. But it embodied no meaning, as people would have the letters in a phrase embody. The form itself was just material, collected and rearranged like nucleotides in a DNA sequence. The Trystero comprised a small part of the passive, creedless unfolding of the universe, on down from the Scurvhamites through to the Thurn and Taxis revolutionaries and their counter revolutionaries, the "Courier's Tragedy," the WASTE system, Driblette's play, The Peter Pinguid Society, etc.... And all the while Levi-Strauss and Hamilton would assent to this new "cultural" form of entropy in a flurry of I-told-you-so's. And all the while Oepida searched for an Other that would talk to her.

Nick Patniyot

(posted: 5/12/98)


Kafka: Family and Death

A number of themes reverberate through the works of Franz Kafka. A harsh critic of society, Kafka demonstrates the horrors that exist in every day life. Through twisted and absurd tales, he provides great insight into the human condition. Many of his works focus on a central male protagonist who undergoes some amazing experience. This is perhaps a reflection of Kafka himself, and the trials of his own life. In addition, Kafka demonstrates consistent views about interactions within the family. The male protagonist is often battling against his own father in a struggle for control of the family, i.e. the women. Eventually, the father demands the death of the protagonist. Kafka portrays death as a combination of execution and suicide. The purpose of death is to find some final liberation for the protagonist, freeing him from the cruelty of his situation, the inherent cruelty of society. In his death, the other characters, the family, find a new beginning and may go on with their own lives. Specifically, The Trial, "The Judgment", and "The Metamorphosis" follow these thematic trends, perhaps contributing to the universal characterization: "kafkaesque."

Clay Reddig

(posted: 5/12/98)

Selections From:

My Dictionary of Flaubert, Barnes, and Postmodernism

Gustave Flaubert authored a Dictionnaire de idees recues, and Julian Barnes, author of Flaubert's Parrot, wrote his own dictionary of ideas on Flaubert. Or rather, Geoffrey Braithwaite, narrator of Barnes' piece of literature (it would be difficult, and probably insulting, to the author to refer to it as a novel) recounted to the reader "Braithwaite's Dictionary of Accepted Ideas." I felt sort of left out of the picture, so I decided to write a dictionary of my own. Mine concerns Flaubert, Barnes, and the text, and how those all relate to postmodernism. It was not until I began my attempts at compiling my entries that I came to realize just how difficult a task that was. So I bring you my dictionary not only with my sincerest hopes that you appreciate my entries and my twist on the final assignment, but also with a deeper admiration of Flaubert and Barnes than I felt for them when I began writing.

Authenticity: the ability of a writer to reproduce reality exactly, to make the work a believable, recognizable, and convincing picture of the world; alternatively the quality of being genuine which is seen as extremely difficult to establish in postmodernism. Which is the genuine original pipe? Which is the authentic parrot that sat on Flaubert's desk (see Parrot)? In both cases, there is no reliable means of determining the answer.

Parrot: ostensibly Flaubert's voice. It could just as easily, though, represent the absurdity of thinking that voice can be so readily found. For 'such was the rebuke offered by the second parrot" (22). It can also be read as a commentary on similitude versus representation and authenticity (see Authenticity). After all, it proves impossible to know which of the parrots in question was Flaubert's parrot (as in Flaubert's Parrot), or even which incident with the parrot inspired Loulou. The parrot might represent the elusive attempt to put together the pieces of the past.

The Reader: The person who reads and consumes the book. The primacy of the reader is generally well established in postmodern literature. Although the reader is an active agent in the process of understanding a book, she is not free to do exactly as she pleases. First, of course, there is the text within which bounds the reader's interpretation, understanding reaction must take place (though presumably the reader gets to choose what text she reads). Second, the language in which the book is written can only be understood in relation to what the reader knows. No book stands completely on its own; postmodernism is concerned with intertextuality. For instance, just one example of how intertextuality might come to influence one's reading is that the reader is conditioned to associate certain ideas with certain personal characteristics because that is what society does in general. This is what Barnes discusses in the chapter on Emma Bovary's eyes.

Style: "a function of theme," "not imposed on subject-matter, but arises from it," and "truth to thought" (88). This is what Braithwaite tells us anyway. Flaubert emphasized the importance of style in writing so that each word chosen was the perfect word. Only then, he believed, could an author's work stand on its own without the author - a positive thing in his mind. So for Flaubert, then, his style was not supposed to be an identifying mark of the author, but would instead reduce the importance of the author. Ironically though, Flaubert's need to always find the "perfect sentence" became the style for which he was known. His work, therefore, was easily recognizable because of his personal style.

Unwritten books: books never written. The definition is simple. What is more difficult is the question whether these books matter? The answer is not forthcoming but the question does seem to prompt more questions. Is a book that is written necessarily better than a book that is not written? If a book is not written by one author, will it be written by another author since a book is nothing all that new anyway--it is only made up a finite number of letters and words? And does a book not being written have far reaching consequences since a text can have influence on society as a whole, including what books are prompted by the original book? (Original does seem a silly word choice considering that if an original does even exist, it has been shown how difficult it is to determine which it is. No book had nothing come before it, and thus there really is no original book.) For instance, had Flaubert never written "Un coeur simple" it seems highly unlikely Barnes would ever have authored a book entitled Flaubert's Parrot.

Writers: authors. According to Flaubert, "The author in his book must be like God in his universe, everywhere present and nowhere visible" (88). Of course, we know he himself failed at this. (see Style). The writer experiences diminished importance in postmodernism (see The Reader).

Sharon Rosenberg

(posted: 5/12/98)


Reconstructing the Past: A Modern Reading of Beloved

Trying to fit Toni Morrison's Beloved neatly into a specific category presents us with many difficulties. Elements of the novel hint of postmodern ideas, while other passages offer a modernist perspective. Like Faulkner, Morrison's writing almost eludes classification. However, Morrison's primary purpose, to remember the past, indicates that Beloved is predominantly a modern novel. Unlike Absalom, Absalom!, Beloved presents us with a recoverable, tangible past. Morrison, constructing her tale in part from fact, seeks to inform her audience about the truth of slavery.

Aimee Rox

(posted: 5/12/98)

Selection From:

Toni Morrison's Beloved: Beyond Modern and Postmodern

In the beginning was the Word.

And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God;

all things were made through him,

and without him was not anything made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1: 1-5 (R.S.V.)

"They stopped praying and took a step back to the beginning. In the beginning there were no words. In the beginning was the sound, and they all knew what the sound sounded like."

Beloved, 259.

Beloved is different from the other books we read this semester. Different in that it don't fit. Don't care so much about itself. Don't care about modern . Don't care about postmodern. Just telling the story. Telling the story and then telling us not to tell. Well, it has nothing to worry about, I wouldn't even try.

We sat in class and discussed what it meant that this book was written by a black woman. Does it matter? No, we decided. She's an author. She deserves respect as one of the most brilliant novelists ever. I'd never deny her that. She's sick of being seen as a "black woman novelist." I can understand that. But,'she is black, and she is a woman, and I don't think she could have done this any other way.

I've been trying to figure out what makes this work different from the others. Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka. These were all bored men. Excuse me. Some of them were so oppressed by the weight of meaninglessness it took on meaning, others had figured out that there was no more meaning, so they should just give it up. They had to rely on being clever. Not a sin. After all, they are clever. Besides, they were right. They didn't have any new stories needing to be heard. So they wrote for people like me who go to University and know all about the past. All about ideas.

So, why is Beloved new to me? I know Homer, and I know Islamic history. I know astronomy, and music. I know the Sociology of Religion, and I know the religion of the chosen people, and I know how the religion of the chosen people hurt them in Medieval Europe. I can look at a painting, or read a book, or hear a piece of music. And like the postmodernists assume, I'm flooded with references. I'm leaving this place soon with a large piece of lambskin. It says I know ideas. Toni Morrison says, you better wait on that verdict.

Those two quotes back at the top of this selection. That's me doing it again. She probably meant it. I know she meant it, in fact. That's it. That's the one reference to the Western Canon in Beloved. What a great reference. She's saying, "Look here, this is from a different canon. You who don't know this canon are free to look on in, go on ahead, but you better understand that you may get all turned around." And so I do.

This canon is not based on words. That's what she means when she says, "In the beginning was the sound." It's an emotional canon, instead. The repertoire is not one of authors, philosophers, poets, playwrights. It is one of feelings, understandings, and ways to survive. When Paul D is working on a chain gang with other caught Negro slaves, we realize that their ability to survive might be only because of this emotional canon, this understanding that can only be conveyed in the sound of the words, because the words themselves would get them killed:

They sang it out and beat it up, garbling the words so they could not be understood; tricking the words so their syllables yielded up other meanings. They sang the women they knew; the children they had been; they animals they had tamed themselves or seen others tame. They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. (108)

But perhaps there is more to it than even that. Perhaps "the sound" is not just about unspeakable words, but about a truth which words could never approach. I like that Morrison used the reference from the Gospel of John, because while she is trying to separate the two, she is also unmistakably connecting them. John is the most mystical of the Gospels. It is the Gnostic text that managed to make it into the Bible against all odds. Those who have really searched into the heart of John know that "the word" is more than words as well. "The word" is a truth that existed before there were people, before there were languages. "The word" and "the sound," then, are maybe one and the same, and they both speak of a realm outside of rational understanding.

Jonah Sirota

(posted: 5/12/98)


Postmodern Images

One of the major discrepancies between Modernism and Postmodernism is the role of images. Within Modernism, images are used to reinforce the idea of a single, absolute reality. Lily's painting in To the Lighthouse is an example of this. She does not feel that it is correct until she figures out the appropriate relation between the masses of the objects in her picture. This reflects the Modernist view that there is only one reality. In contrast to this, Mao II contains many images which either vary from reality, reproduce it multiple times, or both. Examples of this are the Warhol paintings, Bill's photographs, and the mass wedding. Each of these, along with several other examples, contribute in different ways to the triumph of the image over reality in Postmodernism.

Shanna Stein

(posted: 5/13/98)


Death and Disaster: Don DeLillo's View of Creative Mediums and Pop Culture

My paper looks at Don DeLillo's novels Mao II and White Noise. I explore the way in which DeLillo represents creative mediums such as photography, television, and radio. Specifically, my paper focuses on the connection that DeLillo creates between these vehicles for pop culture and death. I found three key links between the two that are prevalent in the novels. First, these mediums allow people to distance themselves from the death and horror that exist in our society. They reduce human pain into a mere image or sound bite. Second, DeLillo represents these forms of media and his characters fear of death in complimentary manners. Both are seen to be all--consuming and omnipresent. And third, DeLillo shows the way in which the media, and more specifically the news, are the methods people use to indulge their secret fascination with death and disaster.

Ultimately, the way in which DeLillo represents these creative mediums and the manner in which he links them closely with death shows how detrimental he feels them to be to society. DeLillo feels that our society's dependency on pop culture is eating away at our culture, and it is by linking pop culture to death that he illustrates its malignant and insidious nature.

Austin White



Modernist writers tend to focus their writing on issues that they find problematic or burdensome. In general, these issues involve difficulties they have as writers trying to communicate novel ideas to the unenlightened world. Each individual creates a distinct and singular reality different from all others, and words and language are seen as poor tools for communication. Hence, how can modernist writers effectively express their unique and complex thoughts? A profound sense of modernist isolation inevitably develops, and modernist writers are left to write about how these individual realities are constructed. In particular, Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse writes about how both Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay construct their realities but in differing fashions. Lily uses art to represent her world whereas Mrs. Ramsay uses her sense of presence to define reality. Nevertheless, in both their realities the element of time and its "virtually" unconquerable passage play a significant role in this undoubtedly modern work.

Linda Yu

(posted: 5/12/98)

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Revised: 13 May, 1998