October 03, 2005

Turner, Mark. “Double Scope Stories” (2003)

  • Turner continues his investigation into narrative conceptual blending; here, he breaks with his (and Fauconnier’s) usual accounts of character and thematic fixations and moves into the ways in which conflicting, counterfactual narratives can occur simultaneously and, within this simultaneity, a new, projected blend is formed through seemingly irrevocable strands
  • Turner offers little in the way of biological cognitive structures like Joseph Tabbi’s Cognitive Fictions does; however, this essay is quite a bit like Tabbi’s book in that it attempts to detail the small, often indistinguishable structures that certain narratives take on in order to account for larger systems—of human relations, of cosmic significance, of connections to history and space

    Turner mentions the case of a wedding party member who, while taking part in a friend’s wedding, is also imagining himself with a girlfriend on vacation and then, in projection, imagines them getting married at the same place as the wedding he is participating in

    According to Turner, this paradoxical simultaneity of consciousness, of time and place, is a feature unique to human cognition

    Uses the example of Racine’s Phedre as a story which involves double–scope blending—Phaedra, in conversation with Hippolytus, calls up her memory of Theseus and also the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Phaedra, in conversation with Hippolytus, blends the roles of Theseus and Hippolytus (Theseus’s son) and, in doing so, betrays her affections for him. According to Turner, this story is a true narrative blend, replete with meanings both belonging to previous narratives and evolving from their combination.

  • Three features of blended stories:

    Mapping between elements of the two stories:

    “Blending two stories usually involves at least a provisional mapping between them. The mapping typically involves connections of identity, analogy, similarity, causality, change, time, intentionality, space, role, part-whole, or representation. In Phedre, the mapping involves analogy and time. There is a casual link as well, because Phaedra’s existence in Theseus’s household is a result of his earlier trip to Crete and his vanquishing of the Minotaur.” (127)

    Selective projection:

    “Different elements of the stories are projected to the blended story. In Phedre, we take from the historical story of the myth of the scene of the labyrinth, the Minotaur and the roles of both the hero and the daughter of Minos who helps him, but now we bring Hippolytus and Phaedra in from the other story as the values of those roles. In the story of the Minotaur, the daughter of Minos who helps Theseus is Ariadne, not Phaedra.” (127)

    Emergent structure:

    “In the blended story of Pahedra and Hippolytus as lovers, we have the astonishing emergent structure. Now it is Hippolytus who conquers the Minotaur, and it is Phaedra who helps him. Moreover, Phaedra goes into the labyrinth because of great love. Emergent structure in integrating stories comes from three sources: composition, completion, and elaboration. Composition is putting together elements from different conceptual arrays. Completion is the filling in of partial patterns in the blend. Elaborating the blended story occurs when we develop it according to its principles. In the case of Phaedra, elaboration of the blend leads to a great range of new meaning.” (127)

  • Turner’s theories seem to work on two levels: how a narrative is constructed and why certain features of the narrative appear as they do. What they do not account for, however, is any sort of Jamesonian consciousness of media. Tabbi pronounces media at this stage of capitalism as something that he feels, like Jameson, that disrupts a sort of unifying impulse in the human mind for completion and comprehensiveness of the systematic awareness of language and cognitive structures (artifacts included).

  • A couple of questions on this point:

    How can we begin to incorporate specific media into a theory of blending?
    What impact would medium-specific and transmedial narrative theories have on the projections of this blend? For instance, do we draw out certain materialities in mapping and projection? What happens if the emergent structure is multimedial?
    Again, Turner works out the hows and whys of a single (print) medium—does this necessarily mean that say, in a film which is as infinitely subject to emergent meaning as a book, we can detach the narrative from the medium and focus solely on the mapped/ projected/ emergent story?

    Posted by marcusrp at 12:30 AM | Comments (0)

    September 26, 2005

    In the Beginning, There Were Words....

    Welcome to Triggers and Traces: Narrative, Media and Consciousness in 20th Century American Literature. Over the course of the next two months, I'll be using this site as a means to work through various issues related to my upcoming Comprehensive Exams in the English Dept. at the University of Maryland College Park. My current focus in the readings is the ways that media, or an awareness of media, serve to shape and structure the narratives of each work. What sorts of connections are there between, say, an awareness of the materialities of print and the narrative scope of a given work? Can we attribute the presence of certain modes of consciousness (i.e. perceptual, action-based, etc.) to an understanding (or lack of understanding) into the workings of a larger medial ecology? In what ways can we begin to chart the presence of various media in narratives (in content, in remediation, in transmediation) as we move towards increasing media convergence? How does one medium work to accomodate/ destabilize another?

    On this blog, I plan to post notes, quotes, thoughts and questions. By no means should this blog be viewed as a comprehensive list of everything I've read, as my methods for studying often take on less than tradtional means. Please feel free to comment, and contest, elaborate and abbreviate my ramblings as I record my push towards the exam. As always, your thoughts are very much appreciated.

    Posted by marcusrp at 09:19 PM | Comments (1)

    Baker, Nicholson. Vox (1992)

  • A story of technologically assisted sexuality via the remediation of a phone line (through text)

  • Jim and Abby’s relationship depends on the distance enabled through the phone—the ability to assume another identity, to elaborate and obfuscate, to control and be controlled without any physical contact become cornerstones in the procession towards climax

  • A novel that in many ways, reflects and anticipates the growing World Wide Web in that it’s reliance on text—in orality/aurality and the actual text of the novel
    Many critics comment that the dialogue is unrealistic and, in many ways, it is—the spontaneity of the conversations, the complexity of their fictional narratives (involving, among things, bent sliver forks, paint rollers and cityscapes in the FM dial) smack of contrivance, but only because we attribute to them the characteristics of orality and, by extension, the typical phone conversation; that these conversations take place on the plane of the page, unbroken by the insertion of narrative markers of time, space and traditional, oppositional conflict, render them multi-dimensional
    Page-->words-->phone exist simultaneously

    Their connection is one built entirely on language, on words, on neologisms and metaphors; language is given an extended material presence, becoming, much like the language of the chatroom, an extension of the body
    Jenny Sunden’s Material Virtualities refers to this process (in chatrooms) as textual embodiment and, indeed, by the time we reach the inevitable building climax, both voices have become embodied
    Upon reaching climax, this embodiment subsides, and all they are left with is the telling hum of fibre optic phone line

  • Similarly, one might also say that this conversation is, in many ways, a co-authoring in the truest sense of the word; much like an emergent, web-based story, the components of the narrative are exchanged between the participants; a co-authoring enabled by technology (at least in theory, this sounds quite familiar)

  • In the end, though, for all the talk about the “pornographic” dimensions of this novel, we have to remember that we’re removed by several degrees from the actual act—word represents deed, deed is transmitted through the page of the codex, codex remediates the phone, Jim and Abby transmit the spoken word through electronic approximations in a phone line

    Once sexual tension is released, all that is left is the technology, the medium of the phone, and the time to “absorb the strangeness” (165) of the newness of electronic embodiment

    Posted by marcusrp at 09:10 PM | Comments (0)

    Twain, Mark. Puddn'head Wilson (1894)

  • Characters:
    David Wilson
    Tom Driscoll (aka Thomas a Becket)
    Valet a Chambers (aka Chambers)
    Roxana (aka Roxy)
    Judge Driscoll
    Luigi and Angelo

  • “She gathered up her baby once more; but when her eye fell upon its miserably short little gray tow-linen shirt and noted the contrast between its pauper shabbiness and her own volcanic irruption of infernal splendors, her mother-heart was touched, and she was ashamed.” (314) [see also: McLuhan, clothing as the extension of the skin]

  • “A person who is ignorant of legal mattes is always liable to make mistakes when he tries to photograph a court scene with his pen; and so I was not willing to let the law chapters in this book go to press without first subjecting them to rigid and exhausting revision corrected by a trained barrister—if that is what they are called.” (299) [contrast between the seeming plasticity of print, its authority scorched by the advent of the photographic image]

  • “’Why, a man’s own hand is his deadliest enemy! Just think of that—a man’s own hand keeps a record of the deepest and fatalest secrets of his life, and is treacherously ready to expose him to any black magic stranger that comes along. But what do you let a person look at your hand for, with that awful thing printed in it?” (362) [print has little or no authority in this novel; we can witness the ways in which print is made subservient and dishonest in comparison to other media—the fingerprint glass, the palm, the photograph, the pantograph (?)]

  • “Tom forged a bill of sale and sold his mother to an Arkansas cotton-planter for a trifle over six-hundred dollars.” (398)

  • “She was panting with excitement, and there was a disky glow in her eyes that Tom could not translate with certainty, but there seemed to be something threatening about it. The handbill had the usual rude woodcut of a turbaned negro woman running, with the customary bundle on a stick over his shoulder, and the heading in bold type, ‘$100 REWARD’. Tom read the bill aloud—at least the part that described Roxana and maed the master his St. Louis address and the address of the Fourth-street agency; but he left out the item that applicants for the reward might also apply to Mr. Thomas Driscoll.” (409) [literacy‡ ignorance, even in Twain’s era of reduced print dominance; woodcut as example of distributed, mass-produced prints as a metaphor for the reduction and depersonalization of slaves as fugitives]

  • “He made fine and accurate reproductions of a number of his ‘records’, and then enlarged them on a scale of ten to one with his pantograph. He did these pantograph enlargements on sheets of white cardboard and made each individual line of the bewildering maze of whorls or curves or loops which constituted the ‘pattern’ of a ‘record’ stand out bold and black by reinforcing it with ink.” (428) [not only does this once again display the various media assembled against the printed word, but it also shows a large degree of understanding of textual materiality—the blank space of the white cardboard is used in conjunction with the black ink whose whorls and loops constitutes an aesthetics of authority. The fingerprint-as-image is granted power through its manipulation on the cardboard page—so it’s not only biometrics that gain authority, but also, importantly, the manipulated and scalar image]

  • “To the untrained eye the collection of delicate originals made by the human finger on glass plates looked about alike; but when enlarged ten times they resembled the markings of a block of wood that has been sawed across the grain, and the dullest eye could detect at a glance, and at a distance of many feet, that no two patterns were alike.” (428) [not only are we talking about print/page materiality here but also, crucially, pattern recognition]

  • Fingerprints as autograph (432)

  • Archetypal, Algerian story of rags to riches

    Posted by marcusrp at 09:02 PM | Comments (0)

    McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media (1964)

  • “The Medium is the Message”

  • “The personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (7)

  • “Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs.” (8)

  • “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, ‘What is the content of speech?,’ it is necessary to say, ‘It is an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal. An abstract painting represents direct manipulation of creative thought processes as they might appear in computer designs.” (8)

  • “The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical the the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” (9)

  • “For cubism substitutes all facets of an object simultaneously for the ‘point of view’ or facet of perspective illusion. Instead of the specialized illusion of the third dimension on canvas, cubism sets up an interplay of planes and contradiction or dramatic conflict of patterns, lights, textures that ‘drives home the message’ by involvement. This is held by many to be an exercise painting, not in illusion…In other words, cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top, bottom, back, and front and the rest, in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message. Is it not evident that the moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the world of the structure and of configuration?” (13)
  • “The message, it seemed, was the ‘content’, as people used to ask what a painting was about. Yet they never thought to ask what a melody was about, nor what a house or a dress was about.” (13)

  • “For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by a burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is mafe strong and intense just because it is given another medium as ‘content’. The content of a movie is a novel or play or an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program content. The ‘content’ of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech.” (18)

  • “Print created individualism and nationalism in the sixteenth century. Program and ‘content’ analysis offer no clues to the magic of these media or to their subliminal charge.” (20)

    Continue reading "McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media (1964)"

    Posted by marcusrp at 08:47 PM | Comments (0)

    McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage (1967)

  • Textuality highlighted throughout (p.4, ex)
  • “All media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical.” (26)
    The wheel is the extension of the foot.
    …electric circuitry…central nervous system
  • “…the continuum becomes the organizing principle of life.” (45)
    in reference to the discrete, unitary arrangement of the phonetic alphabet
  • Easel paintings = printed book (isolated, individualistic)
    Fixed POV
  • “Art, or the graphic translation of culture, is shaped by the way space is perceived.” (56)
  • “Electric circuitry is recreating in us the multidimensional space orientation of the primitive.” (57)
    i.e. “twists and turns” visual aspects until they reflect what she wishes is represented
  • *** Media content is always another medium (i.e. writing is immaterial thought‡ writing is alphabet‡ printed words are writing, etc.) ***
  • King Cadmus: Words are “dragon’s teeth” that incite the masses, turn peasants into soldiers

    Posted by marcusrp at 08:43 PM | Comments (0)

    Stein, Gertrude. Tender Buttons (1914)

  • An example of the attempt of Stein to remediate Cubist aesthetics in print
    A complete detachment of the sign from the signified; words are reduced to their basest syllabic and phonetic rhythm
    The resulting text is one that is both a staunch refusal to adhere to contemporary trends as well as a an attempt to create a meaning-less consciousness where the totality of the sign is irrevocably brought to bear in the present—no prior meanings are entirely attached to the signs, and the effect is more of an instinctual feeling rather than a continuous, discrete set of alphabetic phonemes (i.e. continuity is maintained, but only through cadence and oral/aural means and not direct pragmatic inference)

  • The consciousness of the present; a Cubist work tries to unfurl the unfettered whole across the canvas, to demarcate the three dimensional across a two dimensional plane

  • "Indeed, cyberspace is in many ways the logical end to an extensive project which Stein-- amongst others--began at the turn of the century; a project in which a coherent sense of time, memory and history are rejected in favour of non-narrative modes of representation. The early modernists were instrumental in developing an art of the pure sign, or an art in which the concrete materials--words, paint--become the artist's subject matter. Stein famously favoured verbs rather than nouns, because verbs can be 'mistaken', and shifters (linking words), because their meanings change depending on the context in which they are used. In her famous essay Speculations, or Post-Impressionism in Prose, Mabel Dodge praised the intuitive way in which Stein: "[chose] words for their inherent quality, rather than for their accepted meaning," a prescient observation in light of the work of Jacques Derrida, who recently proposed a science of the concrete written sign called grammatology." (Annette Rubery, The Mother of Postmodernism?)

  • Stein's declaration of cubist intentions:
    A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.
    Spreading, as in moving across the page, morphing, detaching language from its semiotic roots. Words become phonetic space in Stein, just as colors become subconscious blends in Cubist paintings.

    Posted by marcusrp at 08:26 PM | Comments (0)

    Schuyler, George. Black No More (1931)

  • A wholly successful, and entirely relevant, satire in the tradition of Swift and Locke which plays with notions of race, Nation, capitalism and aesthetic identity.
  • Max Discher, aka Matthew Fisher: protagonist who uses the system to subvert the system once undergoing the Black-No-More, Inc. electrocution treatment to turn his skin white.
    Finds white culture to be dry and dull, their liquor bland and their conversation superficial and deceptive
  • Heads home to Atlanta to chase after the girl who chastised him, calling him a nigger, at the club on New Year’s Eve 1933.
    Decides to use his knowledge (and possibly his self-hatred) as a means through which he can make money
  • Finds an ad in the local newspaper drawing attention to the Knights of Nordica, a white supremacist organization dedicated to dealing with the coming threat of BNM Inc.
    Assumes the identity of a New York Anthropologist who has studied and published on issues of white superiority and bloodline weakening
    Has a son with Helen, schemes to avert disaster when son is black
  • Bunny Brown: Max’s friend who also undergoes the BNM treatment; comes to work for Max in the Knights and acts as his secretary and spy, even going so far as burning down the Givens’ house in order to protect Max from his sure-to-be Black offspring
    Comes to keep and marry a Black woman (a “Race” woman, as he calls them)

  • Henry Givens: Grand Admiral of the Knights; former KKK head who doesn’t even know what the word Anthropology means
    Is manipulated by Max into building the org. into a massive, counter-BNM movement that appeals to the working classes
    Wife is ornery, daughter, Helen
    Runs for President on the bought Democratic ticket backed by the money and people of the Knights

  • Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard/ Santrop Licorice/ Dr. Buggerie (Anglo-Saxon agency, data collection, proves that “unemployment and poverty are principally a state of mind” [157]): All members of the NSEL—The National Social Equality League, dedicated to obtaining equal rights for Blacks (“they were never so happy and excited as when a Negro was barred from a theater or burnt to a crisp” [88]); all undergo BNM procedure, Buggerie, the statistician, is burned at the stake with Snobbcraft after concocting the Ancestry surveys to prove those who have pure ancestry

  • Dr. Junius Crookman: scientist and founder of BNM, only character in the text to not ever discuss, or have, the BNM procedure; wife might is white, children are mulatto; backs the Republican party and becomes the Surgeon General
    Announces that the whiter the person, the better chance that they are formerly Black skinned

  • Simeon Snobbcraft: Head of the Anglo-Saxon Association, nominee for VP; mastermind behind the ancestry ploy which backfires, proving that no man or woman in America can say that, past 5 generations, there is no Black in them
    Burned at the stake with Buggerie after trying to paint themselves Black with shoe polish


  • “They were all in evening dress and in their midst was a tall, slim, titian-haired girl who had seemingly stepped from heaven or the cover of a magazine.” (20)

  • “…either get out, get white or get along.”—Crookman (27)

  • “There is no such thing as Negro dialect, except in literature and drama. It is a well-known fact among informed persons that a Negro from a given section speaks in the same dialect as his white neighbors.”—Crookman (31) [except, of course, this is not true in the text—Bunny and Max talk in a heavily slanged dialect throughout the book when together]

  • “He quailed as he saw the formidable apparatus of sparkling nickel. It resembled a cross between a dentist’s chair and an electric chair.” (34)

  • “He was annoyed and a little angered. What did they want to put his picture all over the front of the paper for? Now everybody would know who he was.” (39)

  • “Everything that looks white ain’t white in this man’s country.”—Foster (56)

  • “…for the more intellectual magazines, in which he sought to prove conclusively that the plantation scouts of Southern Negro poems were superior to any of Beethoven’s symphonies and that the city of Benin was the original site of the Garden of Eden.”—Beard (93)

  • “He was engaged in the most vital and necessary work: i.e., collecting bales of data to prove satisfactorily that more money was needed to collect more data.” (97)

    Posted by marcusrp at 08:13 PM | Comments (0)