Monday, April 16, 2012

Perec and the Excerpt of "Species of Spaces"

Georges Perec is a unique, joyful, bewildering, eccentric man. I've written on Perec in the past, specifically his novel La vie mode d'emploi or Life: A User's Manual in discussing his Oulipian approach to writing (namely his application of very specific constraints to his writing as a way of motivating himself), but I appreciate him even more after having read the excerpt from Species of Spaces.

The formatting of the novel is one of a slowly expanding frame of reference, going from the single page to the bed to the bedroom and so on all the way to the very outer reaches of the Universe, identifying the purpose of each space as he goes on. It's not a particularly restrictive form of writing (unlike the Herculean constraints of La vie mode d'emploi) but still has a specific pattern it must follow and narrative that develops as a result.

In spite of being vaguely formulaic, Perec has managed to make his piece--full of lists and schedules and various other non-literary texts--whimsical and a lot of fun to read. Letters and phrases bounce around the page in Chapter 1 in a way that predates Mark Danielewski by decades and reflects the works of Mallarme and others. It is entirely literal, but not in a way that feels dry or stale; rather, the self-conscious act of writing is for Perec a celebration (Perec calls writing "one of my principal activities" (12)) and his devious footnotes, such as the one where he reveals he actually just enjoys writing footnotes, regardless of whether they contribute to the argument at hand (11).

Could this narrative (a dream-like, nostalgic piece with a narrator that acts simultaneously as an impartial observer and a completely invested individual) have had the same effect if Perec had started at the furthest end of the macroscopic scale and worked his way down to the page? There is temptation to consider what this would mean in terms of tension, story arcs, etc. but ultimately I believe Perec's choice to go from small to large works very well; he creates an ever-larger setting from which to pull characters or memories that may inspire him to write. The memories, as they occur to him, are largely stream-of-consciousness and interrupt his personal monologue, but they don't feel intrusive; instead, they add a level of history to the rather two-dimensional map (I feel like I should say "no pun intended" but am fairly unsure why). I am exploring something similar in my zine project, though I am wary about the results.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta:" An Analysis

This story is, to say the least, off-putting to a casual reader. I know I was thrown by the seemingly inexplicable behavior of Lenny and the nameless female protagonist. To focus specifically on the narratological aspects of this work, it is a highly frenetic and multi-faceted piece, where Lenny's crisp, staccato conversation only occurs in short bursts, rapid-fire like one of the guns he used in the Mekong Delta; by comparison, the narrator has long, flowery, vivid descriptive passages that abound with references to color and flowers. They are opposite in their analysis of the world around them, with the woman playing the role of the cautious, careful recovering addict and Lenny playing the chaotic force of addiction attempting to enter her life. In the end, of course, he succeeds on a literal and symbolic level. Literally, she allows him into her life and gets caught up in what he calls "the other side" (91), and symbolically he is ultimately the demon of addiction who sends the narrator back to the bottle. As they drink just before he disappears (because his work is done and manifesting itself independently within the protagonist) she thinks to herself "when this glass was finished she would pour another. When the bottle was empty she would buy another" (107).
The story is heterodiegetic, in that the narrator is not directly involved in the story, which allows for an impartial view of the two characters, though it is also limited in only being able to follow the female protagonist's thoughts. This works well with the idea of Lenny as an avatar for addiction; his behavior is erratic and unpredictable, which would not be possible if the narrator were able to describe what he was thinking or feeling at any given moment. From a strictly aesthetic standpoint, the story would not operate as well as a homodiegetic piece, from the point of view of the woman or Lenny, because it would detract from their relationship and from the powerful descriptions given throughout. Were the female protagonist the narrator, the reader would have a hard time believing she were actively thinking and describing everything with the same intensity that we see here; even a creative writing teacher wouldn't go around describing the afternoon as "absinthe yellow and almond, burnt orange and chrysanthemum," with the sky filled by "a litany of kites" (93). Similarly, Lenny's narration of the story would become grating and hard-boiled, like a James Cain novel, very pulpy and not attractive to the same audiences that "Tall Tales" is.

Ultimately, "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta" is, to me, a parable about the perils of addiction and its inexplicable power over an individual. The protagonist gives no real reason for following Lenny as she does, and every time she stops to think about her actions he tells her "You want to." He coerces her into doing these things, just as a formerly addictive habit still lurks in the back of one's mind. The unfortunate thing for the protagonist is she is unable to get away. She can't fight back the encroaching addiction, and at the story's end it finally overwhelms her as an "infected blue enormity [...] that knows you and where you live and [is] never going to forget" (107).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Raymond Carver's "Cathedral:" An Analysis

Carver's short story is an intriguing piece in the way it is written. There are slow moments of dullness, reflecting the lives of the main character and his wife, followed by brief yet blazing verbal illustrations of high-energy moments e.g. eating dinner at the table or the end of the story with the narrator drawing a cathedral. What significance is there in having a story arranged in this way? Is this a cyclical pattern, going from high to low several times to show the ebb and flow of domestic life, or a series of events gradually increasing in intensity until reaching a final, near-religious revelation? What can be made of a story where so much (indeed, almost all) of the description is very literal and there are almost no references to the abstract? Does that affect the narrator's realization of his first true religious experience with the blind man? What is the importance of the blind man? Is he supposed to be a Biblical figure, standing ironically against a very secular household?

This story raised a lot of questions, but I'd like to focus specifically on some of the questions raised above. I think that, rather than the story being a cyclical piece (though there is evidence of that) it is instead acting much like a graph of exponential increase, which is to say the events become more heightened in their intensity as the story progresses, reaching a peak with the narrator's decision to keep his eyes closed while drawing, as though he has achieved some profound realization. This increase in tension is tied to the narrator discovering more and more about himself, his wife, and Robert the blind man. He realizes something profound may occur after the three of them voraciously inhale their suppers, which is described with very vivid imagery.

The imagery is almost entirely descriptive, as said before; there is little abstraction. This reflects the narrator's tone as a very literal, down-to-earth individual. He is no-nonsense and finds himself literally at a loss when attempting to describe the cathedral to Robert. One of the only moments where his descriptions aren't either of something physical within or outside of him is at the very end, when he says, regarding having his eyes closed, "I thought I'd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do." (124) Does this revelation mean that the narrator has transcended the literal interpretation of the world he previously had? By keeping his eyes closed he is blocking one of his most significant portals for sensory exploration and has to rely instead on guesswork, on faith.

Speaking of faith, there are of course multiple references to the blind in the Bible, which may or may not hold significance to "Cathedral." One is reminded in the final pages of the phrase "the blind leading the blind" which becomes rather overt when Robert instructs the narrator to draw a cathedral and leads him, even without the capacity of sight. This would be an ironic inversion of the original intention of the phrase "blind leading the blind" because in this case both parties gain from such leadership: Robert learns what a cathedral looks like (which has obvious religious connotations) and the narrator has a religious experience of self-realization.

A very dense, yet effortless-to-read story.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Three Descriptive Writings


The suede couch is far too small for me. My legs jut off the side and dangle above the floor. The entire house smells like green peppers. It is quiet. Once in the while the refrigerator makes a loud buzzing noise, and every time it does I jump slightly.

Three of the five bedrooms in this house are occupied by family members in various states of sleep. I hear my sister's television playing from her room. She uses it as a way of falling asleep, and infomercials will bleed through her bedroom door well into the early morning.

Something in the kitchen just fell over. The sound was soft, like a plastic bag falling to the linoleum floor. The ceiling creaks as somebody upstairs walks around. The footsteps are slow and heavy. The house is not so quiet after all.


The boxer is barking loudly as the realtor opens the door to the apartment. The boxer's owner holds him by the collar though he still struggles to get closer to me. His heavy panting becomes a wheeze as the collar presses against his windpipe. His owners apologize with slightly embarrassed smiles. Hopping on his hind legs grants him momentary freedom as his owner's hand slips from around the collar. He leaps against my leg and huffs my coat. I reach down and scratch his head. His short brown hair is coarse, like beard stubble. My hand is suddenly warm and wet as he sniffs, then licks it.

As I come back through the living room on my way out he has settled down and is sitting between his owners, staring at the television. He cocks his head toward me, but barely makes a sound. He rests his head on his front paws.

Character Sketch

It was hard to figure out where the question came from, because she was so short. We just heard the disembodied question "Were you just talking about Bono?" float into the deli. Turning around I saw a short woman, not much taller than the deli counter. She was looking at me and smiling. I told her we were, and her eyes widened slightly. Her smile was full of yellowed teeth as she began to discuss Bono's work in her favorite movie, Across the Universe. Her perfectly flat-ironed but thin hair shook as she spoke of this movie and of The Beatles. A surprisingly harsh voice for such a quaint-looking woman, who may as well be mid-level management at a retail store with her nondescript, inoffensive appearance. Bono was great in that movie, she said, but she wished he acted more. He has a pretty face, she said. She stopped her discussion as abruptly as she began it. She ordered a pound of ham, which I served to her. Taking the bag, she looked at me and winked, saying "I am the walrus" before turning and walking away.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Three Poems


Ramble on, talk, banter,
pander with candor as you trim.

The barbershop is us;
my mother, and my brother, and
another, and another.

My mother, clearly weary,
watches her Rapunzel bundle
land in angles on the floor.

Ding dong, hair gone.
The barber says to us
"Sleep creeps, rest now,"
and slowly starts to sweep.


I see myself in the bathroom mirror,
pink and smooth as a baby, naked
as a sphynx and just as old. I'm cold
and shaking, quietly crying.

The doctor said it was more than likely
that I would end up like this.
They said I'd no longer be Rapunzel;
they didn't tell me I'd be an ogre.

It fell out like dead leaves fall
off an aging tree. It landed everywhere
and wherever it landed it stayed,
as though it might take root.

I see myself in the bathroom mirror;
smooth as a baby, cold and shaking,
naked and crying.


Bill feels a chill, a thrill
if you will, as he spies
a customer in the lot.

Bill, in his tweed blazer,
stands to adjust his tie
and his smile. Both are

He grabs his sunglasses,
licks a spot off his shoes,
pulls out the crease in his slacks.

He throws back his shoulders
and strolls into the lot, speaking
and laughing loudly.

His laughter is matched by
the man at the car, who points
and giggles at Bill's head.

Bill's smile falters. His fingers
crawl to his crown and find
his toupee askew.

Bill feels ill, a chill
if you will, as he leaves
the customer in the lot.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Free Post ("Irises" by Li-Young Lee)

I've been going through Milosz's anthology of poetry and particularly enjoyed Li-Young Lee's poem "Irises." It's interesting how multifaceted his short poem is, and the use of repetition in the second stanza is particularly enjoyable. The entire piece has a romantic feel to it, but is still jarring in some of its description (I am thinking of the abrupt change from a meditation on beautiful flowers and the scent of a woman's hair to the line "I'd like to tear these petals with my teeth.")

I've particularly found the second section of the poem the most appealing, in its visual display (slowly dwindling into a small point) and its literary message. There's a strange juxtaposition in the second stanza talking about death and sleep, then connecting our perpetually entropic existence as humans to the aspirations of an iris, who wishes for that which is inevitable to humans. It's a really neat point to make.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Word Association Exercises

As discussed in English 233, I took some time to delve into word association and creativity exercises. Below are my exercises, and fragments of poetry in various phases of completion, with particularly striking passages bolded and italicized.

Word: "Glance"

1) glance dance
glance glaze
glance glow
glance pants
glance grow
glance grout
glance go
glance lance
glance gander
glance goose
glance stance

2) glance stare
glance look
glance impression
glance chance
glance brief
glance graze
glance hardness
glance soft

3) glance grout
grout tile
tile floor

3) glance look
look up
up high
high school
school girl
girl talk
talk about
about face
face off
off road
road trip
trip up
up stairs
stair way
way out
out side
side car

4)Initial Composition, with collaboration
paragon bygone conclusion delusion
grandeur gander grander candor
banter talk chatter ramble
ramble on top dollar
bill will shill chill
cold empty desolate dark
ark animal magnetism attraction
reaction repulsion Rapunzel bundle
trundle lumber wood forest
for rest to sleep sweep creep crest
Revision (Barbershop)

Ramble on, talk, banter.
Shill, chill; dollar, Bill?
Gander at the grandeur
of the Rapunzel bundle
on the tile floor.
Rest now, sleep creeps
and I must sweep.
4) Another attempt at associative exercise, this time as a stream-of-consciousness piece using the word association, leapfrog, connotation and alliterative methods at will. As above, interesting pieces are bolded and italicized.

grander grandeur gander candor pander panda planned a banned a brand her brander slander slammed her slammer stammer stutter butter utter udder mother other and another brother smother and another wonder blunder torn asunder up and under up and out handout tryout dry out blackout hangout hang out hang up cut up cut out pout shout layabout rout root route en route ensemble humble stumble rumble in the jungle jingle jangle I've got spurs that jingle jangle spangled newfangled angles angels mange manger stranger danger high voltage low wire high wire guy wire fire choking hazard Dukes of Hazzard has jazz jazz razzmatazz as was us trust us blunderbuss torn asunder blunderbuss delirious and serious and weary us and clearly us and clearly weary Siri us has as was because the buzz the bee the sting the wedding ring and who would sing of such a thing green ring ping pong gone ding dong ring gone bring song so long begone bygone conclusion confusion delusion intrusion Peruvian Parisian artisan Armenian bulimia septicemia no worry I believe in ya ja ja da da Dada mama drama slammer grammar stammer
My phrases of interest so far:

glance gander
gander grander candor
forest for rest to sleep sweep creep
mother other and another brother smother and another
pout shout layabout
delirious and serious and weary us and clearly us and clearly weary Siri us
ding dong ring gone

A potential poem from the above.

Ramble on, talk, banter,
pander with candor as you shill.

The barbershop is us
and mother, and a brother, and
another, and another.

Mother, clearly weary,
near delirious, quite serious,
watching her Rapunzel bundle
fall in angles to the floor
like undergrowth in an ancient forest.

Ding dong, hair gone.
The barber says to us and mother
"rest now, sleep creeps"
and starts to sweep.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

We're Back!

This blog was originally used as a point of discussion for an English class I took in the Fall of 2009. I'm taking it over now, though, and will be using it as a point to discuss art and culture as I come across anything that strikes me as interesting. All observations and criticism will obviously be my own, but feel free to comment on anything I say as I know I won't be right on a lot of things.

Anyway, stay posted!