Death of the Author

For my final paper I want to examine Italo Calvino’s role as an author in his novel If on a winter’s night a traveler.  Unlike Roland Barthes article, “The Death of the Author,” I think that Calvino is still in control to manipulate the text and how his readers read.  Because of this, the readers only have a limited authority over the text.  I will reference an article by Inge Fink, “The Power behind the Pronoun: Narrative Games in Calino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler which  looks at Calvino’s power through his choice of narrating in the second person.  It also references back to Roland Barthes article “The Death of the Author.”

So many pieces to the puzzle

I loved all the different interactions that Braid uses to engage players.  You’re trying to get through each level without getting killed, there’s text to read, and puzzle pieces to find and put together.  It keeps you busy and for the most part not doing something right away does not hinder you from exploring the game further; even if you can’t get all the puzzle pieces in World 1, you can still push ahead and play in the second world.  Of course, there came the point where I had to go back and finish what I had left off doing.  The text is also vague (like not knowing Tim’s mistake) but I like how this allows the players to come to their own conclusion.

Not only is the text vague, but it is far from linear.  The text switches between Tim’s experience after the princess is gone and when he is still with the princess.  It also switches from the third to second person point of view which makes me wonder who is narrating the story.  In the actually worlds, time isn’t linear either and is affected by what Tim does in the past and present time.  Being able to reverse Tim’s actions is not only helpful to you as a player when Tim gets killed, but it becomes a key element to obtaining the puzzle pieces.  Moving left can reverse time while moving right time progresses. Sometimes after going back in time, Tim’s “shadow” can repeat Tim’s actions.  Later in the game you can also slow down time.  Some things are not affected by changes in time at all, like objects that glow green.  The text gives you a clues on how time will be affected in each level as well.  In level 5, the text says that Tim’s ring causes people to be “slow to approach.”  In that level, that sentence is translated literally and time slows down if Tim uses the ring.  The music also incorporates the different places in time.  Sometimes the music will stop if time is stopped or will speed up if time speeds up as well.  Being able to manipulate time, I think, shows how much Tim is affected by the past and how he wishes to reverse the mistakes he has made.


Layers upon Layers

Interacting with I made this.  You play this.  We are enemies by Jason Nelson really reminded me of House of Leaves and all of layers the novel had.  Everything was connected to something else.  Even the layout of the screen reminded me of Pelafina’s letter asking for forgiveness where the words just piled on top of each other.  The same thing happened in this electronic literature.  It is not just a game where you get to use controls to get from point A to point B.  The background is a web capture of a website, for instance, in level 5 it is The Walt Disney webpage.  The space where you can travel has been drawn over top of the web capture.  Once you jump from one place to the next, he indicates the new spot you have gone to.  There are also characters moving rapidly across the screen.  You have to figure out not to hit them or they’ll send you back to the beginning.  Level 5 is time sensitive and there is a “Death by Dalmatian” where the puppies from 101 Dalmatian crowd onto the screen.

However, although I thought the different layers added to the game, I found them to be a little distracting and at times overwhelming.  When we talk about what is significant to notice, in this electronic literature I was not sure what was important.  Should I only focus on how to get from one place to the next?  For The Walt Disney page, he creates arrows and bright circles that direct you to where you are supposed to go.  Besides poking fun at Disney by saying it is a “super earned lawsuit club,” is that the most important thing we should be focusing on?  Why did he choose to highlight this instead of something else on the page?  I wonder if there was a deliberate choice and what he choose us not to see.

Authors and their control over the text

Salvador Plascencia makes us aware of his role as the author in The People of Paper.  He is not a separate entity from the text but is inside the text.  Federico de la Fe always feels “the weight of a distant force looking down on him” and this turns out to be Saturn, the character Plascencia embodies (18).  So not only are we aware of Plascencia as the author, but the characters themselves are aware of him.  Salvador Plascencia gives himself a passive role however, because the characters only seem to think that Saturn is watching them, not controlling them.  At time, Plascencia cannot even do this.   The characters try to manipulate the text by living in lead shells, thinking only of the flowers, and finally overpowering Plascencia through their voices.  We see this through Saturn’s text getting smaller and pushed to the corner of the page as Little Merced, Smiley, Federico de la Fe, and others tell their own stories.  The characters break away from the convention of the novels by writing sideways, something we’ve already seen in House of Leaves.  Little Merced even finds a way to hide her and other stories so that even we cannot see it with blocks of black ink.

I said that the characters over power Plascencia, but I can’t really say that’s correct.  Plascencia gives the illusion that the characters have agency, and I think it serves as a way to show that the author is not always in control of the story. The story can go in different directions that the author may not have anticipated at first.

I also thought it was interesting to see that Salvador Plascencia commented on how much the author’s life influences the text.  Liz and Cami are definitely not happy that they have become a part of the text.  Liz does not like the fact Plascencia has turned her “into [his] Rita Hayworth,” making her out to be some bad person that he is telling everyone about (137).  Cami feels exposed because all these people “say they know [her]” in more intimate ways than she would like (226).  Whether these two women were actually a part of Plascencia’s life or just another aspect of his character as Saturn, it still affects the novel and comments on the fact that authors are not separate from the text but weave in and out of it.

You can’t see any such thing

Since I have never played interactive fiction, I found myself frustrated many times while I played the different games.  In Violet, I got stuck trying to get the pen above the sprinkler.  With Varicella, once I got water, explored the rooms, and found the plane tickets, I did not know what to do next.  I felt like the frustrated writer in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler because I could not figure out the trigger words to keep the story going.  Indeed, in Violet, I was acting out the story of a frustrate writer.  With interactive fiction, I could not simply follow the linear path of a novel, but I had to work my way through the story.  I had to think about the story, pick up on the clues it was giving me, and piece the puzzle together.  Violet summed it up for me nicely: when I tried to “think about” something, Violet would always shoot back “we really need to focus on action today.”  I found that physically sketching a map for the castle in Bronze, helped me remember where I had and had not been which helped eliminate some of my frustration.

However, there were so many different options to choose from that finding the right verb that the program would recognize, or getting something other than “you can’t see any such thing” was difficult.  So although I was interacting with the story, I did not have complete control over it.  Violet was more than ready to tell me when I could not do something, like break the window. And even if listening to Julia in Violet was entertaining, what I really wanted to do was help this guy finish his paper.

Being able to interact with the story, however, allowed for multiple stories to unfold which is something you cannot get reading a conventional novel.  In Violet, I could have gone outside the office and my “relationship” would have been over and thus the game.  I could also leave the story with my frustrated writer falling through the floor.  The story could have possibly turned out different if I had not smashed the stool in Violet.  In this way, interactive fiction gave me the options to somewhat shape the story into the one I wanted.  And if it did not turn out the way I wanted it to, I could “undo” the last command or I could reload a save game and choose a different path.

For Mrs. Sample

I don’t think that The Navidson Record is just something made up to write an unusual book (although it certaintly is!).  However, I wouldn’t say The Navidson Record is real either, because the documentary doesn’t exist.  I think House of Leaves is trying to take the conventions of the novel and manipulate them.  This is a book analysizing a documentary, with Johnny commenting on the analysis. Everytime we read books, there are aspects of books that we don’t pay attention to: genre conventions, footnotes, decisions about font.  Danielewski takes these choices and changes them, to make us aware of how books are structured and what they mean (or could mean).  By paying attention to these details, we can gain more insight about the text and how we read.


I chose to look at Scott’s final scene in Mao II.  He remains at Bill’s house, despite the fact that Bill has gone missing.  Hurt that Bill is gone, and refusing to acknowledge that he might not come back, Scott goes through the motions of everyday life as if everything was still the same.  Scott continues to do mundane tasks of making lists and completing the items on the list.  Scott’s obsession with Bill is prevalent throughout the novel; Scott tracks Bill down when Bill does not want to be found.  Scott also keeps Bill confined to the house, wanting him to continue writing.  Mark Osteen points out that “we can’t be sure whether Scott belittles the book because it really is weak or because in writing it Gray has dared to alter the fetishized image that Scott worships” (Osteen 649).  But by keeping Bill in this state, Scott can continue to maintain the same image of Bill.  Osteen sees Scott creating Bill into a god-like figure.  Scott remaining in Bill’s house shows how Scott is “keep[ing] the faith” until Bill returns (Osteen 658).  Scott is also the only person who knows Bill’s real name, Willard Skansey, which he cherishes as his little secret.

Once Karen comes back, however, Scott and Karen find comfort in one another and realize they need to move on without Bill.  Scott, however, only does this by freeing himself of the “real” Bill, not the Bill he has always imagined (Osteen 658).  We see this when Scott “put his face to the keys and blew,” erasing all traces of Bill from the typewriter (DeLillo 141).  Instead Scott has Bill’s books and photographs in his possession so he can manipulate Bill’s image into the one he wants. He will not let the public see Bill’s last work but he will allow Brita’s photographs to be shown to the public.  Brita’s photographs are her interpretation of Bill, not Scott’s.  Scott sees Brita as “trying to deliver her subject from every mystery that hovered over his chosen life…that erased his seclusion” (22).  That seclusion is precisely what Scott is striving to keep.  By withholding the last book from the public, Scott maintains the image he has of Bill, which will collect “aura and force,” while giving the public Brita’s interpretation instead (DeLillo 224).


Being A Celebrity

Bill, as a writer in Mao II, demonstrates the relationship audiences shape authors into celebrities like John Cawelti discusses in “The Writer as a Celebrity: Some Aspects of American Literature as Popular Culture.” Cawelti points out that, at first, the audience’s “fascination may be the celebrity’s creation” but “there is a tendency for public interest to fasten increasingly on the person” (Cawelti 163).  I think this is true for Bill.  Bill tries to reject his role as a celebrity by refusing to have his picture taken and cutting himself off from society.  He feels that “the language of [his] books has shaped [him] as a man” so, like Cawelti states, Bill wants to be “known wholly through [his] works” (DeLillo 48; Cawelti 72).  However, this proves difficult because his audience wants to know more about him.  People try in vain to find out where he even lives.  Like Brita tells him, taking his picture taken will make Bill “someone’s material” and that “the moment [his] picture appears [he’ll] be expected to look just like it” (DeLillo 43).

By increasing the mystery around him, his audience becomes more obsessed with figuring out who Bill is.  Without this knowledge, Bill fails to be the “performer-person” that audiences seek in their authors (Cawelti 173).  This means that Bill cannot provide the audience with any clues to “understand and respond to” his work (Cawelti 173).  Brita feel that there is a connection between the person and their work and so that she “out to know the person as well as the work” when she photographs authors like Bill (DeLillo 37).  However, Brita also expresses uneasiness about meeting Bill as a celebrity.  Like Ludmilla who would not meet authors in If on winter’s night, Brita knows that Bill will not be the same “man who had lived in her mind for years” (DeLillo 34).  By idealizing Bill as a celebrity that counters who he really is, Brita shows how “true celebrity is a human creation” (Cawelti 174).

Readers as Authors

I think that the two websites We Feel Fine and The Whale Hunt, are both interesting to look at how we define the author of a work, especially after reading The Death of the Author.  Like Roland Barthe suggests, we confine the author to be the person who produced the work.  However, can we really attribute the title of author to Jonathan Harris because he designed We Feel Fine and The Whale Hunt?  I think that the interactive quality of these websites between the site and the user does not make that the case.  Instead of there being the death of the author, I think there are multiple people who encompass that role.  With these websites, the user, like the reader, can also be seen as an author alongside Johnathan Harris.

In The Whale Hunt, we can certainly say that Harris provides us with all the photographs from his trip.  But instead of providing the user with one linear storyline, he manipulates the site, allowing the user to manipulate the story.  The user can decide to view the photos through a mosaic, pinwheel, or time line form.  By providing different navigations, Harris gives the user options which allow each person to view the site differently.  No one will see the photos the same way.  This in turn allows the users to make up their own stories.  Harris goes a step further by providing constraints as well.  This allows users to see photos with only Ron or Cat for example.  They restrict their view of the story by certain concepts, context, or cadence which will provide all the users with different stories.  Because of this, I think that the users can also be seen as the authors of the story.  I think this emphasizes Barthe words when he states that the text comes together “not in its origin,” from the author, “but in its destination” from the reader.

We Feel Fine adds another potential “author” to the site.  There is Jonathan Harris who has created the website, and the user of the site.  Constraints have been applied here as well; users can view only certain feelings, different types of weather, or gender.  But the website also includes quotes that people have written on the web.  They should be included as author as well.

Why do we read?

Throughout Italo Calvino’s novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler, he contemplates and tries to understand is what is important about books and why people continue to read.  He does not just emphasize that what is inside a book is important but he also looks at the actually book itself.  As the short stories continue to change titles and authors, Ermes Marana asks “does the name of an author…matter?” (101).  Ludmilla goes so far to say that authors themselves do not matter either because she finds that “the real [author] never corresponds to the image” she has formed in her mind (186).  Other characters also suggests that writing a book in a different language can alter the power of the text like Ukko Ahti who supposedly found “the Cimbric language” gave him “his genuine inspiration for [his] novel” that the Cimmerian language did not (75).

Not only are the books important, but why people read, the different reason why they do so, is also important.  In the novel, Professor Uzzi-Tuzii, suggests that reading “is always this:…a solid material object which cannot be changed” (72).  However, I do not think that the other characters view books as unchangeable, for they all get something different out of it, which may not be what the author intended.  Silas Flanner believes Lotaria has only read books “to find in them what she was already convinced of before heading them” (186).  Lotaria also explains that she see books only as “the recording of certain thematic recurrences, certain insistences of forms and meaning” (186).  She does not have to read the entire book to understand it but counts the number of times certain words appear to gain an overall idea of what the book is conveying.

Readers at the end of the novel all have different ideas about reading as well.  One reader actively reads and can only be interested in books if he “cannot follow it for more than a few lines” because “the text suggests” to new thoughts (254).  Another reader finds reading as a way to find “revelations and illuminations” (254).  They read because they desire something that they are trying to find.  It may be that all their books lead “to a single book” or they search for “a book that perhaps does not exist” (256).  What are main reader realizes through his journey of novels that never end is something different.  He wants to “read only what is written…to connect the details with the whole” but he “especially likes books to be read from beginning to end” (256-257).  One reader suggests to him that stories end in either death or marriage.  And after the main reader has gone through his journey, he decides to end his story by marrying Ludmilla.

Authorial audience in If on a winter’s night a traveler

I read “Who is Reading” before If on a winter’s night a traveler, so I really connected the idea of the authorial audience in the narration of Italo Calvino’s novel.  Calvino opens the novel by addressing his audience with second person narration.  He shapes his hypothetical audience by actually writing how they are acting, stating how “you” is sitting or acting at the bookstore.   He is even aware that different people are reading his novel and provides multiple possibilities.  However, Calvino also proposes another way to look at his audience.  He also implies that he does not need to understand his audience because to know who his reader is, “would be indiscreet to ask” (32).  What he believes counts is “the state of your spirit now” which he could never be able to articulate for his entire audience (32).  I think by assuming certain things about the audience allow Calvino to manipulate and direct us throughout the novel.

One of the ways he manipulates us is by ending the stories at their climax.  It always left me wanting more, just like the reader in the novel.  Even after Calvino set up the pattern, going in-between the two readers and the stories they were reading, I always became entranced by the stories that I almost forgot they were going to leave me hanging.  But by leaving the stories at their climax and not finishing them, I think it also allows the reader to fill in their own ending of each story.

I also connected the first story, If on a winter’s night a traveler, as how I was beginning the novel.  The character is at a railway station where the tracks go on “as far as the eye can see” like the reader is starting a new journey into the novel (10).  And you as the reader do not know where the story is going to lead.  The people at the station “close the fans of cards against their chest” because they are not going to tell you were the story is going (10).  The only way to find out is to continue reading where Calvino directs you.