If for a Mid Year Paper

I plan to write about Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler for my analytic paper. I will draw on some of the earlier readings we had for class and discuss how the novel both plays with authorship and the readers themselves. One thing I wish to cover in detail is the novel’s self conscious and self referential nature; the novel constantly draws attention to itself, and I wish to explore the idea of meta fiction as seen in A Winter’s Night. For the purposes of my paper, this will cover the novels use of print as a plot device itself, the narrative structure of the work, and espescially how those portions of the text not explicitly self referential still figure into the broader theme in question.

ELit up. Well. Most of it.


So I’ve figured out how to host my IF game. Which is still not finished of course. You’ll notice dialogue options may end conversation’s abruptly. In this case, type undo to go to the last action to get back into the conversation again.. Well hey, there’s a meta explanation for that in game! Or cop out depending on how you see it. I feel however you can get a pretty good idea of what I was going for with what I have posted.

What I learned from this is that branching dialogue snowballs really quick. Among other things.

Time and Chronology’s Impact on Narrative Perspective; Gameplay as Subtext

(Spoilers Ahoy)

Before writing this post I was prepared to discuss how the narrative provided by the books before each level was divorced from Braid’s game play; that is there the player/reader experiences little or no narrative development through the act of actual play. Reflecting on the whole narrative I no longer hold this position. The opposite is true, and in fact gameplay is an integral part of the narrative.

The text at the beginning of each world/room/what-have-you is exposition. Gameplay, specifically the time manipulation mechanic, is subtext. As the player progresses linearly, we are first at led to believe that Tim is a protagonist when the opposite is true. Prior to the game we learn through the expository text that Tim has already used time manipulation to change things about his relationship with the princess. Through play the player comes to rely on this mechanic to progress Tim came to rely on it to define his relationship with the princess.  This leads to a skewed prospective on the part of both the player and Tim the character. Right up until the final moments of the game, the player is led to believe they are working to save the princess, when in reality they are inadvertently thwarting the Princesses attempts to escape the game’s true antagonist, Tim. Braid‘s central gameplay mechanic has distorted the narrative, and what delivers the narrative’s conclusion.

Only a two lines of dialogue are given during Braid‘s climax; the rest of the narrative is furthered by watching events happening in reverse, then in proper chronological order. The player is left figure out for themselves what is happening instead of having it described to them through exposition. The simple difference in what occurs when drastically impacts how the narrative is perceived. When the final level beings, it seems that the Princess is asking for help from the knight’s demands for her to “come down here!”. But in simply changing the order these two lines of dialogue are given the context of the situation is greatly changed. Instead the princess is soliciting the help of the knight who then provides it. And in reversing the chronology, the princess efforts to aid Tim and the player become attempts to hinder them.

This reminds me of our class discussions of the difference between narrative and plot. Perhaps the gameplay is divorced from Braid’s plot – that is it doesn’t affect the situations described by the various expository books littered throughout the game. But it is inextricable from the games narrative, as discussed above. Braid is probably not the first work to play with the idea of presenting the plot in a certain chronological order to shape the audiences perception of narrative, but it is certainly a great example of how to do it successfully.

Structured Choas; Toroko Gorge and Variations

One thing that appeals to me about the format of Toroko Gorge is its capacity to offer consistent, partially original lines based only on a selection of vocabulary on the part of the author. I’m reminded of Barthes’ article The Death of the Author. In the case of these text’s, the author provides a loose framework, while the actual poem is composed independently by an algorithm. Our experience as readers is only indirectly shaped by the author, and in this case shifts with each reading. In fact, this text may represent the most literal manifestation of what Barthes described as “multiple writings”. While in his essay he was referring to the use of subtext and double meanings, in the case of Toroko Gorge the text is rewritten with each reading. Of course, these varied writings are all confined by the framework provided by the author; the text cannot expand beyond the input of the author and is limited to different combinations of words and syntax.

But it is possible nonetheless for the occurrence of certain combinations in a given order to provide differing interpretation, including ones diverged from the author’s intent. When looking at the source code of these text we can see dozens of words and phrases are used to seed the algorithm used to form these poems. While these can certainly be limited to the themes and motifs the author has in mind, it would be impossible to predict all the combinations that an algorithm might produce.  For example in “Gorge”, a variation by J.R. Carpenter, one line generated was “Mandibles char the bowls.” I wasn’t aware mandibles could char anything, let alone bowls. I can’t say that Mr. Carpenter didn’t predict this permutation but of all those this particular poem generated it seems one of the more likely ones to have evolved independently of the author’s intent.

This particular example, and I would hazard any example taken from one of these poems, can still make a degree of sense in the broader context of a given poem. This reflects the limitations imposed on by the author, who with regard to these texts can be said to be imposing order on chaos. To me this suggests that no work can entirely shake the author. But when I read these poems I think to myself, “I wonder what this thing will come up with next?” The author conversely is far from my thoughts. As Barthes writes the author’s only power is to “mix writings”, at least in this context.

Marquez Much?

As LLauzon pointed out in her post, The People of Paper smacks of magical realism. By the prologue’s conclusion I was already thinking of how much this book reminded me of 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Marquez, who helped popularize the style. It’s been some time since I read Marquez’s work, so the MR elements stand out more  in People than in 100 Years to me, however without actually checking I feel the elements are more prominent in this text. It’s uncanny how disinterestedly people react to a woman made out of paper walking about.

What is important about the magical realism in this text seems to be its relationship to romance, or perhaps more accurately sex. Sexual betrayal seems to be a heavy theme in this book. Federico’s wife left him for her lover, Ramon Barreto was abusing Merced de Papal (paper lady) for his own satisfaction, and Froggy killed Sandra’s father while they (that is Froggy and Sandra) were sleeping in bed. Invariably this leads to a the woman in a given case leaving their lover, and while the man in question tries to deal with their grief through some exploration of the magical.  I’m 100% sure what Plascencia is trying to communicate her but I do feel there is a pattern.

In the examples given we have various destructive relationships. In the first example it is Merced the elder who is the destructive force in her relationship with Federico. Her affair and abandonment of the family leads the distraught Federico to scar himself and flee his sorrow and go to America. The book goes so far as to say this is what is driving the narrative; not Saturn’s machinations but rather Federico’s grief. As far as magical realism is concerned, Federico’s grief is chiefly where this theme exhibits itself. His sorrow is presented as some kind of ailment,  one with peculiar symptoms such as his itchy hand, and is solved through illogical act of self mutilation.

The Second relationship is a mutually destructive one. Both Merced de Papal and Ramon end up hurting one another when the have sex. Usually it is a lopsided relation where one party experiences pleasure at the expense of another; either Paper Merced cuts badly cuts Ramon when the two engage in intercourse, or in an attempt to make sex more palatable for Ramon,  he ends up literally destroying and consuming parts of Merced (which was just weird to read). Here neither actor is intentionally malicious to the other, with the effected party brushing off what ever abuse they suffer. Her magical realism presents itself as the means by which the two damage each other. Were it not for the suspension of disbelief over the fact that a character like Paper Merced is impossible, this episode could not transpire. The apparent implication that there is something “magical” about a mutually destructive relationship is unsettling, and as I said earlier, I’m not at all sure hoe that figures into the narrative.

Finally in Froggy and Sandra’s relationship it is the man who is the sole force of destruction. Again, in this case Froggy was not acting maliciously, in fact he was only acting out of good intent to protect his lover, but in doing so destroyed something that was dear to her (despite all common sense). Though this particular episode is not overtly sexual, it is implied by Plascencia that Sandra ends the relationship because she can longer bear to have sex with Froggy. Romantic feelings have nothing to do with her decision, she simply “…could not sleep in the same room with the man who had killed my father.” In his attempts to deal with his loss, Froggy nearly goes so far as to bring back Sandra’s father from the dead. What prevents him from doing so is not the absurdity of such an endeavor, but the moral realization that this would not absolve him of the act that destroyed his relation with Sandra.



That’s a command I often used. I bounced back and forth Varicella and Violet, spending most of my time with the former. I found the entertainment I got from these games to be peculiar. Even though these are ostensibly stories and works of fiction, much of the satisfaction I got from these works was when I choose an action that yielded tangible results. Often I was frustrated by trying to do something the constraints of the game or something that did not advance the story, for example using the verb “wait” in Varicella. Doing so only prompts the response “Time Passes” Ah, sweet progress, what a fine thing you are! But when I did do something of consequence in a game, for example finding the airplane tickets, I felt a sense of accomplishment. This is something I usually associate with “conventional” games more than with interactive fiction. When you’re reading a choose your own adventure story, I think the enjoyment stems from exploring the various storyline. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, just different narrative conclusions. I immediately think of the game shown in our last class. With these games however my enjoyment was more along the lines of just “playing correctly.” That is to say, when I did something like find the tickets, it was like preforming a fatality for the first time in mortal combat. SEARCH JACKET!!! Oh man I found the tickets! Sooo dope.

I think this might stem because I never spent much time with these games and for all practical purposes am still a novice, so when I attempt to do something it is usually ineffectual, those increasing the satisfaction from typing in an action that pays off. I think this hampered my experience of these games. As many have pointed out in their own posts, the role of the gamer with these games is storyteller. Since I’m having trouble conforming to the rules of these games, my capacity to act as story teller is impaired. I found this frustrating when I wanted to find out if anyone was coming up the stairs in violet are when I wanted to investigate what scuffed my foot in Varicella. But I couldn’t figure out how. Whether I used the command “x” or “search” or “find”. It was these points I instructed my character to explode. Or kill, though much to my dissatisfaction I could not kill the peanut butter in my apartment.

Dear Mrs. Sample

In response to the email your son showed us, I would have to say that the answer to your question “[is] the Navidson Record real or is the whole thing made up just to write an unusual book.” I would have to say “kind of.” Certainly the Navidson Record is an invention of Danielewski, but I’d have to say that he created it for reasons other than writing a weird book, though certainly that played a role in it. One possible reading of House of Leaves is that it is a criticism of media’s ability to portray reality factually or accurately. By making up a crazy video thing he’s contributing to this theme; the fact that the Navidson record is engaging doesn’t lessen the fact that it’s fictional, much like stories that might be invented in the media.

In a different direction,  by inventing the Navidson Record, he is raising questions of authorship. Even though it is credited to “Zampano” we know it is really authored by Danielewski. Who do we trust as the real author? And if there is no way to discern who is more trustworthy than the other, what does that say about the credibility of the text? I’m less sure about this reading/inturpretation but what-eves yo.

Anyway that’s what I have to say about that. Enjoy the book!

An anti-climactic but appropriate ending.

Launching into part 2 of the text I was somewhat worried about the ending given Professor Sample’s characterization of it being “anti-climactic,” and while after finishing the novel I feel that certainly holds true, I think it holds up in light of some of the novel’s themes. The idea of author’s being replaced as shapers of public or societal narrative is well served in Bill’s unceremonious death, and particularly Brita’s decision by the novel’s photograph “the interesting things” (229) instead of photographers – who are distinct from the former subject  – is the culmination of this theme. Terrorists don’t literally replace authors, but figuratively, in the context of our understanding of the narrative of our world. If this is the case, I can better understand why the author chose Mao II as the title for this novel, especially considering the many allusions to that man.

In fact this idea is made explicitly clear during Bill’s discussions with George Haddad. As George states, “In China the narrative belonged to Mao. People memorized it, and recited it to assert the destiny of their revolution.” (162). When we think of narrative, we may instantly think of a story in a book or something of the like, but DeLillo and George use it discuss how revolutionaries use it to shape their own ideal culture. This theme is reinforced by DeLillo’s recurrent allusions to Ayatollah Kohmeni, who in the middle east could be seen as a figure analogous to Mao. Kohmeini and the terrorists however do not frame the narrative as Mao did with his Little Red Book of Quotations. Instead, they use the media. Abu Rashid had originally planned to release the captured author after Bill attended a press conference where he affirmed the goals and ideals of Rashid’s group. And we see that Karen’s whole outlook on the world is informed by what she watches on television, from the football riot earlier in the novel to the televised burial of Kohmeini. Where are the authors, meanwhile? The two writers of Mao II meanwhile? Dead and all but forgotten.

The captive dies in captivity, and it is implied by Brita’s discussion with Rashid and his interpreter that the world has forgotten the terrorist had even held him, while Bill dies on a boat completely unknown to those present. When Bill meets with the British veterinarians he never gives his identity, and insists that they’ve never read anything by him or seen him in passing on television appearances (that point being fairly likely given Bill is a recluse). He is, to the vets, an unknown quantity, more importantly one that has had no impact on their lives. Finally, in his conversations with them, he constructs a situation that seemingly mirrors the absurdity of his insistence to continue on to Beirut. His hypothetical character hit by a car should, by the all testimony given by the vets, go see a doctor, and certainly not go on a cruise or journey as Bill suggests. In spite of all the injuries Bill wants his character to carry on, as he does to Beirut. It seems to me that Bill is trying to lay himself to rest, or to hide from the grotesque specter of his novel which seems to be dogging him throughout the novel.

Authorship Myth and the Author as a Source

I read Cawelti’s essay between my readings of Mao II. As soon as I started reading the novel again I started jumping back to what Cawelti had written particularly with in the final portion of his essay regarding what he defined as “interpreter” and “representative” roles of the author-celebrity. I automatically associated the character Bill to the examples Salinger and Pynchon Cawelti gave, and Scott’s description of how he felt when he read a novel seemed to match exactly the experience a reader would have when reading something written by what they perceive as a “representative” author. “That book was about me somehow… I saw myself. It was my book. Something about the way I think and feel.” (DeLillo, 51) That seems to be pretty close to Calweti’s definition, and definition of vicarious.  When discussing the Bill’s writing dilemma on the following page, one (I had a hard time following who Scott was talking with) the mention that should the author publish, it would be the end of his myth, that is the end of Bill’s mythical persona, which sounded exactly like the mythic celebrity persona of some actual writer’s that Cawelti described.

Something I also noticed was the use of “Bill” in place of the title of any book he might of reading. When Scott mentions reading one of Bill’s books he says “when I was reading Bill” or “something out of Bill Gray.” It’s a motif in line with the text’s obsession with the concept of the author. After all the narrative thus far seems to be centered around the aforementioned author. At this point its seems that the text is constructing the author of the source of information and experience, not the novel (generally speaking). Bill’s inability to finish a novel adds an interesting aspect to this notion; by endlessly working on his work, Bill reflects the idea that inspiration  (or experience, maybe?) is constant. This may be at odds with the nature of the book as discussed at the dinner between the characters, in which there is some debate over whether “books are never finished.”  (DeLillo, 73)

Thus far I’m not sure how this plays into the larger context of the novel. In fact I’m not really sure where the text is going at this point. As far as I’ve read, the plots about Bill’s struggle as an author, Brita’s photography of Bill, and Karen’s deprogramming haven’t impacted each other. That said the plot of photographing bill seems to play toward his “mythic” status along the lines of what is discussed by DeLillo, for example when he discusses author going on talk shows, exposing themselves to public scrutiny & etc. But I just can’t tell for certain where everything is going.

Exploritory Structure

It seemed to me that both Whale Hunt and We Feel Fine closely follow what Ryan calls an exploratory model. Where they diverge stylistically is over internal/external perspective, Whale Hunt conforming to the first, We Feel Fine the second. The difference in what I experienced was certainly noticeable. Right away I was immersed in the perspective of the hunter. This is not say I became him, in the context described by Ryan at the end of his essay. It goes without saying I wasn’t sitting at home fashioning a harpoon out of a kitchen knife and broom in excitement, but the text had captured my interest fully, I was eager to see how the narrative progressed.  Part of this was due to the the structure of the narrative, which gives the reader some agency in discovering the narrative or how to experience it. I have no impact on what happens in the narrative, but I do have a say in how it plays out. When I find myself viewing a series of uninteresting shots in someone’s home I can skip ahead to the hunt, and eventual killing of a whale. In a way, progression through the narrative mimics the author’s hunt; we’re both searching for the same thing, but the way we experience that search is different, a case of direct versus vicarious experience.

With We Feel Fine my experience was shaped far more by my own psyche. With Whale Hunt I was satisfying my curiosity over something presented to me, the titular whale hunt. With We Feel Fine my exploration was much more free form. Though what response one receives can be refined, there is a level of randomness that is retained by the engine. Regardless of whether I pick randomly from the cloud or watch a sequence of statuses streamed to me and filtered according to a set criteria, the reader always lacks total control. I don’t think it’s remotely realistic that I would discover the same status twice. What is most important here is the source of the random element, the source material; statuses and tweets pulled from the internet actively. We Feel Fine is a uniquely digital text, simply untranslatable to any other form.

Whereas Whale Hunt is more traditional in that it will inevitably follow a 1-2-3-4-5 or 7-1-2-3-4 -5-6-
(7)-8-9 chronological narrative such as those described by Ryan due to its fixed source material, We Feel Fine follows his infinite network or “plot as travel through a story-world” model on an infinite scale. Even Ryan’s “interwoven destiny line” model can be seen in we feel fine when one watches a stream of status that reflect a shared emotion or concept. Exploratory narratives can be said, perhaps, to not be successful based on “what” a reader is exploring but “how”



As I read this book I’m repeatedly struck by how self conscious the narrative is of its medium. The identification of the main characters as “Readers” is an obvious example of this, but I’m much more interested in how the act of reading is integral to the narrative. It often serves as a means to drive the plot. Each of the titled chapters have been read within the narrative, either by the protagonist or out loud by another. I was quick to notice these instances, but with chapter six I started to notice the use of reading as vehicle  for exposition in the larger narrative. For example, the protagonist and the reader learn of Marana’s “Exploits” by literally reading his letters addressed to Cavedagna.

Another thing that intrigued me was the character of the narrator. After Outside the Town of Malbork it seemed to me that the narrator is the character in the stories that the protagonist and Ludmila are reading. I base this primarily in the passages in these stories where Calvino draws attention to the fact what we and the protagonist are reading are in fact written fictional works. In the chapter  If on a winter night a traveler for instance the narrator/protagonist spends several paragraphs critiquing the author’s intent in his writing style, seemingly breaking the fourth wall to do so. This happens again in Outside the Town of Malbork and  Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo, though in these examples such occurrences are far more subtle and sporadic. In the latter for example, the narrator describes how “Several paragraphs ensue…” following his separation from Irina and his visiting Valerian.

For me these themes help shape the novel, which up until where I have read, is intently focused on the writing, reading, and the novelization. Even though the various “novels” are told from the 1st person perspective (that of single character? his voice seems to linger in the numbered chapters following the conclusion of each “novel”, there is still a great variety in the stylistics and subject matter of each novel. Furthermore the settings in the greater narrative are all tied to an involvement in literature; a bookstore, a university literature department, a book publisher, etc.