Final Post (Blog 15)

As I’m about to write my response paper and final paper, I could just copy and paste something from that venue and post it here. But the repetitionwould be such a waste, I think. So instead I want to talk about works not associated with this class, but tied into the whole wonderful experimentation with structure. Narratives within narratives, with flash forwards and flashbacks and flash sideways are all awesome, so I’d like to list a few works I think do wonderful and unusual things with narratological structure.

Christopher Nolan: If you have not heard of this man, climb out from under the rock you’ve been living under for the past ten years. He’s one of the greatest directors working today. All his movies play with structure in some way, even his Batman films. I’ve mentioned Inception in a previous post, so here are two others:

First is Memento. The story is told backwards (5-4-3-2-1):

Second is the Prestige, where, as it was perfectly stated in a review I once read about the movie, the storyline was basically put in a woodchipper, scattering different scenes in the chronological order all over the place:

Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles are about a hero telling his own tale in the first person at a later time in his life: Talk about an unreliable narrator.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower gets all sorts of twisted in the fifth/sixth books, where the characters must find the real Stephen King and persuade him to finish writing The Dark Tower lest the world be destroyed.

There are many others, but I’ll leave you all, and this blog, with the following book that I read a few months back that will completely alter the way you look at all of literature and its many critical facets:

Here is the Review. If you have not read this book, and you especially enjoy structure and the way in which stories are told, you must read this:

A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carriedmarks a subtle but definitive line of demarcation between Tim O’Brien’s earlier works about Vietnam, the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone and the fictional Going After Cacciato, and this sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. Vietnam is still O’Brien’s theme, but in this book he seems less interested in the war itself than in the myriad different perspectives from which he depicts it. Whereas Going After Cacciato played with reality, The Things They Carried plays with truth. The narrator of most of these stories is “Tim”; yet O’Brien freely admits that many of the events he chronicles in this collection never really happened. He never killed a man as “Tim” does in “The Man I Killed,” and unlike Tim in “Ambush,” he has no daughter named Kathleen. But just because a thing never happened doesn’t make it any less true. In “On the Rainy River,” the character Tim O’Brien responds to his draft notice by driving north, to the Canadian border where he spends six days in a deserted lodge in the company of an old man named Elroy while he wrestles with the choice between dodging the draft or going to war. The real Tim O’Brien never drove north, never found himself in a fishing boat 20 yards off the Canadian shore with a decision to make. The real Tim O’Brien quietly boarded the bus to Sioux Falls and was inducted into the United States Army. But the truth of “On the Rainy River” lies not in facts but in the genuineness of the experience it depicts: both Tims went to a war they didn’t believe in; both considered themselves cowards for doing so. Every story in The Things They Carried speaks another truth that Tim O’Brien learned in Vietnam; it is this blurred line between truth and reality, fact and fiction, that makes his book unforgettable.


A Layered Review of Omaha (Blog 14)

I think the concept of having a character in the story call the author and begin to dictate terms in simply marvelous. The vulgarity and filthy humor and abundance of sexual activities is a bit overblown, but overall pretty funny and enjoyable. But if the author had butted in one more time to present his pretentious views on how dumb people are and what proper literature should be I was going to burn the book (Huh! Blasphemy!). He stops the story dead in its tracks so many times that he basically destroys all narrative flow. His writing style is fluid and reads really nicely and quickly, but his freaking intrusiveness ruined any chance this story had of being good. What a waste! And for that I assign this book (**).

-I totally agree with your review. The amount of stars is a bit low cause I’ve enjoyed the story. It’s true the sexuality was a bit much, but in its excessiveness I found humor. You’re totally right the narrator gave his opinion way too many times, it became annoying.

-His intrusiveness was completely insane and a killer for me too. Most of the time I just wanted him to go away as I felt his presence just put a stop to the book and just ended up being a tedious ranting session for him.

-I agree. Two stars is generous. The story was just a shallow excuse for his fifth grade psychology. Did this guy minor in psych in college? I was uninterested in the ending when it finally arrived.


Review of DQ (Blog 13)

The book starts out pretty well, with a guy who loves books (who doesn’t like such a character?) attempting to live out the fantasies he’s encountered in the narratives. There’s a lot of fun humor, with slapstick jokes and outlandish speeches; his squire, Sancho, is a very good counterpoint to DQ’s craziness, and turns the novel into a really fun “stoner” comedy of sorts with two playing excellently off each other. And there are also a lot of fun adventures and misadventures, with some vicious beatings for the heroes. Eventually, however, the book starts to grow repetitive, recycling the same idea that he’s a madman and a poor knight and a fool that’s lost grips with reality and doesn’t know what he’s doing or even what Age he’s living in. And, of course, every chapter seems to end with his getting beat up. The writing is definitely very enjoyable, and the journey is a lot of fun, but I think it could have been accomplished in half the pages by doing some good hard editing. (***1/2)

This is like the DQ scene where they throw up on each other. Warning: bad language!


I figured it out … I think (Blog 12)

The Lamentable Journey if Omaha Bigelow has been bugging me since the first time “I” appeared. Then the “I,” which identifies himself as Vega, annoyingly takes over much of the novel and intrudes every other line with his general thoughts and spoilers. The “I” is Vega the real person and author of this story, and I can prove it. Because the thing bothering me most about the story was my confusion about who was telling the story. Is it a third-person narrative with first-person authorial inputs? Is the author a character or the author himself? This is where it gets confusing, but after several hard-fought days I believe (still got forty pages left, but I don’t imagine it will change) I’ve figured out the story’s narratological structure:

1. “I”: The I is the real author Vega, who is the omni-whatever that overlooks the whole story and narrates the whole thing—able to switch from character to character and see into their minds and present their thoughts. You have to remember that this story is something that’s already occurred: “The night that Omaha Bigelow’s life changed forever …” (9). When the “I” gives his thoughts and tells you about story elements, he’s writing at a later time than the events of the story takes place.

2. Even though Omaha and all the other characters’ storylines are taking place on what would be known as the primary storyline, they occur on a different level than the “I” commentary. There are multiple levels that branch off this (the play, lots of stories being told by other characters).

3. The tricky part is what to do with the author M calls throughout the book, because he is referred to as “he” and not “I” in those segments. This “he” is the author Vega—but because of the overlord that is “I,” this “he” Vega is a charter version of himself in the lower level while the upper Vega, the “I,” is a real person—blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction in this book.

It’s confusing, but it looks something like this:

–Story Viewing Deck: Real Vega, “I,” Narrator; fiction/nonfiction

–Primary Storyline: Omaha, Winifred, Vega (author): all characters; fiction

CORRECTION: “I” (real Vega)—->he (character/author Vega)—-> Everyone else.


Final Return to this Terrible Story About Almost Dying, this time with some narratalogical tinkering (Blog 11)

Lucas’s there, teetering on the edge; a light breeze, a falling leaf, and he’ll drop to the raging (okay, not raging) river (okay, maybe a stream) and be dashed on the massive row of boulders (okay, maybe loose formation of small rocks) a hundred feet (okay, maybe only fifteen or twenty feet) below. Holy smokes, this is not going to have a happy ending. It’s hard to believe his stupidity had driven him to this point, but in the fuzzy remembrances associated with imminent demise he seems to recall this all somehow being his fault. Damn, if only he had someone else to blame. He remembers biking for the park with his sister. There was a house along the way; he remembers that too. And a dog. Yes, a dog! A vicious dog with monstrous teeth. He can see him now, the dog, up on his hind legs, right before him, as if watching with bated breath to see if he would fall. The bastard! This was entirely the dog’s fault. The dog went after his sister. Yes, that sounds familiar. He ran at her and she freaked out. And then Lucas decided to be brave, and he barked to catch the dog’s attention. Really and truly idiotic, in hindsight. The dog just ran at him. And then Lucas biked away. But the dog was fast. He was gaining on Lucas. So Lucas got off his bike and ran for the bridge over the water running through the park. But … But it’s blurry, the remembrance. His balance is failing. He lunged at Lucas, but missed. Lucas dodged him, like a football player avoiding a tackle. Lunge and a miss! See you later! The dog lunged again, and he missed again. Lucas kicked him in the head getting out of the way. And then Lucas saw the brick divider. The divider he’s now on. He jumped onto it. A great jump. Maybe eight or ten feet (possibly three or four). The brick divider with the stones mortared unevenly together; with moss and cracks and all sorts of deadly things meant to disrupt balance. Lucas thought he was safe, but he wasn’t. The dog, the bastard, he tried to jump after him. The dog only got his forepaws up. But Lucas thought he was going to make it. White light! Lucas thought the dog would tackle him. A long tunnel! And Lucas stumbled. A golden gate! He reeled. He’s still reeling. He’s about to fall.

But he doesn’t. Light receding … Lucas regains his balance, kicks the dog in the nose, and the dog runs away (or maybe there was five or ten minutes where his life still hung in the balance).


Characterization (Blog 10)

Characterization (Jahn N7) seems quite complex, and something I’m rather interested in, so let’s give a shove, shall we? As this is really intricate, let’s try and tackle this in several blogs.

“Characterization  analysis focuses on three basic parameters”:

1. narrational vs. figural characterization—who is doing the describing? The narrator, or a character? (Are they mutually exclusive?)

2. explicit vs. implicit—are character traits specifically told (“he’s fat”; “he’s stupid”) or are they implied (“he had difficulty getting through the narrow bus door”; “he dove headfirst off a roof because he thought it would be fun”)

3. self-characterization (auto-characterization) vs. altero-characterization—does the character characterize himself or somebody else (this is a little tricky …)

Check on Jahn’s useful diagram (N7.2).

Let’s try a fictional paragraph to see how this works:

John was a man of substantial weight [this would be narrational, explicit, alterocharacterization]. He didn’t think much of Billy, who was far too skinny to still be alive [figural, explicit, altero]. John was always telling his friends that one day the wind was just going to carry Billy away [figural, implicit, verbal]. John thought he could stand to shed a few, but overall felt comfortable with his appearance [figural, explicit, autoch, private].


The Who? The What? (Blog 9)

Dear old Jahn says that a narrative text can be subdivided into the narrator’s discourse and the characters’ discourse: The narrator’s discourse comprises all the telling of nonverbal events and, if applicable, “evaluative or commentatorial statements”; (as an aside, many of the phrases Jahn uses aren’t English. He’s making them up. Can anyone do that?) the characters’ discourse is made of “verbal events/words” (Jahn N8.1). An example of both types can be found in pretty much any story. In the brain tank that is Don Quixote, the following is such an example: “[1] By now, Don Quixote had come to his senses and, in the same tone of voice that he’d used the day before to call his squire when lying in the Vale of Staffs, he called out to him with the words: [2] ‘Sancho, friend, do you sleep? Do you sleep, friend Sancho?’ ‘How am I supposed to sleep, damn it,’ retorted Sancho boiling with fury, ‘when anyone would think all the devils in hell have been messing with me?’” (Cervantes 129). [1] would be an example of the narrator’s discourse, where a nonverbal telling of events is taking place, and [2] would be an example of the characters’ discourses, where the characters are engaging in verbal communication.


Action! (Blog 8, 6/16)

I’ve recently started listening to music (instrumental only) while reading books, trying to pick a good tone for each particular book. You’d be surprised how much better it makes the experience. Here’s the kind of thing I’ve been listening to with DQ:

There’s a really interesting and confusing section in Jahn’s narratology called “Action, story analysis, tellability.” While this isn’t going to be a standard PIE Paragraph, nor appropriately quoted, I hope to try and make sense of the key terms in the section so that next time I’ll be able to link it with DQ or the next story. “Action” is a sequence of events and acts “constituting a story line” and an “action unit” is a “small segment” on the story line (like: Bill walked home in the context of Bill’s story of becoming a tennis player). But something like “Bill walked home” can also be called a minimal narrative, or a narrative unit. But these simple action or narrative units don’t “boast of a high degree of tellabilty.”

“Tellability” is the idea that normally a story is required to have a point, teach a lesson, present an interesting experience (“experientiality”), and arrange its episodes in an interesting progression. Jerome Bruner: Story must construct two landscapes: (1) landscape of action (agent, goal, situation, instrument—Bill walked home); (2) landscape of consciousness (what those involved in the action know, think, feel—Bill needed to get home to get to practicing his serve).

Hayakawa: relates “Tellabilty” to possible identification by self-recognition (where you see the character as more or less a representation of yourself, going through similar experiences) or identification for wish-fulfillment (where you see the character and what they do as everything you’re not and wish you could; personally, my favorite kind of story).

An “episode” is a group of action units consisting of three parts: exposition (John had always dreamed of becoming a published writer), complication (John cannot find anyone to publish his book), resolution (John finds someone, or not, to publish his book). Jahn goes through the triangle formula of rising and falling action; not crazy about the formula myself—I like Poe because he cuts out at the climax, skipping the resolution.

Story: the chronological sequence of events (1914-1915-1916): (What happens next?), in the discourse, with flashbacks and flash-forwards, the story does not have to happen in order (1916-1914-1915)…

Plot: the logical and casual structure of a story (Why does this happen? Forster: The King died, then the queen died of grief). There are linear plots—straightforward reasoning (John wants to find treasure in the Sahara; John gathers a crew; John pays off African officials, etc.), and there are mosaic plots, where the reasoning is not perfectly clear at first (John is lost in the Sahara; Bill is wealthy and living on an island; Bill had robbed John in the Sahara and left him there to die). Other plots: loosely plotted (Stuff happening, not necessarily interrelated; The Hours), episodic (John finds treasure in the Sahara; John climbs K2; John plays shuffleboard in Florida with his folks); accident-driven (the saga of Jack Reacher’s life, where stuff keeps dragging him in against his will); and no plot at all (character driven Canne award winners, usually).

Summaries paraphrase the plot. Story-lines break plot down into chronological order.

Incipit: the opening passage of a text

Point of attack: event chosen to begin primary action line. 3 primary options: (1) ab avo (state of non-conflict; beginning of story); (2) in media res (most common today; set close to climax of action); (3) in ultima res (after climax, near end; Benjamin Button)

Closure: the type of conclusion to end text—can really be absolutely anything.


Stories (Blog 7, 6/15)

Neil Gaiman’s series of graphic novels, collectively known as The Sandman, is a story about telling stories. It’s changed the way I look at stories and view how they can be told. And Neverwhere. Unbelievable. There is no finer pure storyteller living today than him. Don’t read fantasy, some might say. Don’t know who Neil Gaiman is, others might say. Put down the “classics” and get with it.

Hemingway’s greatest story is six words long: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

Also we were talking about Red Riding Hood; here’s a funny and interesting twist on the saga (also about stories): This is a MUST watch:

Pictures tell stories also, I guess. I came across this a few months back, and I just love it (Zelda and Link, for the unfamiliar):

It’s gotten to the point in my college career and English pursuits that I’m starting to see deep, resonating meaning in ordinary phrases that are probably meaningless. Just to be clear: this is not a good thing. But I suppose since most of academia resides in a bubble anyway, I might as well roll with it until that blessed day when I recall where I left that giant pin. So, anyway, DQ and Sancho are in the mountain range; DQ composes the letter for his beloved Dulcinea del Toboso, and speaks the words to Sancho:

“By my dear father’s bones!” cried Sancho. “That’s the very finest thing I ever did hear! Damn it all, how well you say everything you want to say, and how well it all suits the signature ‘The Knight of the Sorry Face’! To be sure you’re the devil, there isn’t anything you don’t know!”

“Everything is needed,” replied Don Quixote, “in the profession that I follow.” (217)

Good little English major that I am, I see all sorts of underlying ideas in this exchange. “Everything is needed in the profession that I follow.” He is a Knight, so in his mind DQ must be well-versed in all, but perhaps Cervantes is also referencing writers and artists? In the same way that DQ quotes from books, real and fictional, before every battle, demonstrating his knowledge of this character and that, perhaps the writer is also pointing to himself and saying that in his noble profession he must know everything. Sounds applicable to a writer, no? What’s the saying? All great writers are writing about the process of writing in some way or another in their texts? Maybe he could use a copy of Jahn’s Narratology so that he could properly label what he already knows? DQ Part Three: DQ is visited by Manfred Jahn who tells DQ that he is not a real person, or even a round character, but a hyponarrative. Sweet.


I Convince Myself I Almost Died, Again, This Time From the End (Blog 6, 6/14)

I’m there, teetering on the edge; a light breeze, a falling leaf, and I’ll drop to the raging (okay, not raging) river (okay, maybe a stream) and be dashed on the massive row of boulders (okay, maybe loose formation of small rocks) a hundred feet (okay, maybe only fifteen or twenty feet) below. It’s hard to believe my own stupidity had driven me to this point, but in the fuzzy remembrances associated with imminent demise I seem to recall this all somehow being my fault. I remember biking for the park with my sister. There was a house along the way, I remember that too. And a dog. Yes, a dog! A vicious dog with monstrous teeth. I can see him now, up on his hind legs, before me, as if watching with bated breath to see if I would fall. The bastard! This was all his fault. He went after my sister. Yes, that sounds familiar. He ran at her and she freaked out. And then I decided to be brave, and I barked to catch his attention. Really stupid thing, in hindsight. He just ran at me. And then I biked. But he was fast. He was gaining on me. So I got off my bike and ran for the bridge over the water running through the park. I … It’s blurry. My balance is failing. He lunged at me, but missed. I dodged him, like a football player avoiding a tackle. He lunged again, and he missed again. I kicked him in the head getting out of the way. And then I saw the brick divider. The divider I’m on. I jumped onto it. A great jump. Maybe eight or ten feet (possibly three or four). The brick divider with the stones mortared unevenly together; with moss and cracks and all sorts of deadly things meant to disrupt balance. I thought I was safe, but I wasn’t. The dog, the bastard, he tried to jump after me. He only got his forepaws up. But I thought he was going to make it. I thought he would tackle me. And I stumbled. I reeled. I’m still reeling. I’m about to fall.

But I don’t. I regain my balance and kick the dog in the nose and he runs away (maybe I just wait five minutes for him to wander off).


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