25 May 2012

WCCL Report #7


I'm in Seattle for a CCL meeting. This conference is entitled "Belief and Unbelief in Postmodern Literature." Here is a report on the third round of papers I attended today, the second day of the conference.

Belief & Unbelief in New American Fiction

Nicole Blair on Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The narrative reflects what Truth looks like in a postmodern world. It is meta-textual, inter-textual, with blank pages, full pages, pictures, and other unconventional methods. The story is in the form of a quest-journey. The narrative enacts our desire to turn back time to before the tragedy; but then what? What would we do then?
The story builds a mythology of New York City.
The child protagonist does not believe in God, because God is an abstraction. Belief is fraught with problems, esp. when trying to establish a sense of self. He cannot return to innocence. But he can re-member (put something back together). The youth of the narrator (age 8) is essential to understanding the novel's project. His innocence & vulnerability represent the nation's inability to face tragedy.

Steven Funk on Danielewski's House of Leaves
The novel seems to mock religion and literacy, but is not that simple. Used in a narratology course. A multi-layered book with many narrators, self-reflexivity, footnotes, pictures, divided/concrete texts, various fonts, colored ink, etc. Is it a hypertext? More like Blake than like e-texts. It offers many representations of “queer failure.”
The main couple never gets married. Why not? The book offers forgetfulness of its own narration. Green fails to mother her children and is a narcissist, but the narrator asks the reader to forget this fact.
There are deliberate insults to the reader, misleading. Trying to annihilate our sense of decency.
Undoes popular notions of faith. Uses Biblical allusions, but challenges our notions of truth in many ways.
The novel challenges our idea of postmodern literature. It refuses to be successful in any of its narrative layers. The reader is left with more disappointment than resolution. The novel seeks to fail. It offers no reliability, no closure. It does not preach a need to reproduce, produce, succeed. House of Leaves believes in failure.

Walter Hesford on Alan Heathcock's Volt
A cycle of short stories. Two protagonists act as suffering servants, offering grace within the postmodern fragmented community and a context that questions “sacred violence.” Violence is not shown to be redemptive. Story cycles work well to show contemporary lives of broken communities. They are de-centric; they fragment time; they leave gaps. Volt is in the anti-transcendental tradition of Hawthorne & O'Connor.
America, post-war, has a culture of lost fathers and sons, naturalized violence against women & children. The setting of Volt is clearly postmodern, beset by disasters.
The protagonists strive to keep the peace and keep the faith. There is no postmodern worship of meaninglessness. Pain and guilt cannot redeem. A saving empathy witnesses against violence. The book offers a study of “lived religion” (Hungerford). It is “full of particular life,” full of religion's difficulties and the problem of meaninglessness in the face of suffering, and of being religious in a secular world.

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