Plascencia: Traditionalist or Innovator?

For my final paper, I plan to write about Salvador Plascencia’s novel People of Paper. I want to concentrate on Plascencia’s internal struggle between being traditionalist and innovate while focusing on Barthe’s article The Death of the Author. Barthes states that the author must remove him or herself from the work in order for the reader to be born. To do so the author must allow for the words in the work to perform for themselves, and he or she must be born simultaneously with the work as opposed it being a retelling of the author’s past. Although People of Paper breaks the rules of conventional codex novels with its various blacked out passages, cut out names, and sideways text, Plascencia is traditionalist in the sense that he embraces the author, Plascencia himself, as opposed to suppressing him. Whereas Barthes writes that the destination of the modern novel can no longer be personal – in People of Paper, Plascencia is quick to personalize the novel by not only including himself, but also by basing the background of the story on his own Mexican heritage and experiences of living in El Monte, California. Whether Plascencia’s relationship with Liz and Cameroon is fictitious or not, Plascencia still brings enough of his personal life into the novel that he is able to personalize it. Aside from not removing himself from the work, Plascencia is also very traditional in how he describes women and the Hispanic community more specifically Mexican-Americans.

Once the author in a novel is identified the text is “explained”, therefore, when we discover that Salvador Plascencia is Saturn suddenly we come to understand that the novel is based on the pursuit of the reader to liberate him or herself from the author. At the same time by not including a deeper meaning into the text either with the plot or the mechanical turtles, Plascencia “liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity.” Along with Plascencia’s presence in the novel, I want to further explore readers’ mission to free themselves from the author.  Two of the ways of achieving this is through post-print works such as Interactive Fiction and Interactive YouTube videos where users have the opportunity to interact with the work and become his or her own author.

The Power of Manipulation

After spending a few hours playing Braid, I have to admit that while it frustrated me a few times, I did enjoy it mainly because of the graphics, music, and users’ interactivity. On another note, I noticed that throughout the game there is an overwhelming presence of manipulation from Tim, himself, to the pink rabbits in the third world. From the very beginning of the game Blow manipulates users to believe that Tim is an innocent and apologetic man in search of his lost princess who is being held captive by a “horrible evil monster”, yet at the end of the game we discover that Tim is actually the monster whom the princess has escaped from. (I did not reach the end of the game – I looked it up on Wikipedia)

The books in the cloud worlds help manipulate users further into believing Tim’s innocence because, to a certain extent, they portray him as a lovable and concerned partner – for example, the books read the following about Tim: “For a long time, he thought they had been cultivating the perfect relationship, and “He had been fiercely protective, reversing all his mistakes so they would not touch her.” (Braid, World 3) Users are manipulated into trusting Tim and helping him in his mission to rescue the princess, after reading these quotes, because as we had discussed in class we sympathize with characters that are the underdogs, and have a heroic mission ahead of them. Knowing this, Blow created a perfect plot and character to manipulate users. Blow, however, does provide users with hints of Tim’s true persona in the same books –some of the books read: “The princess’s eyes grew narrower. She became more distant”, “Now his journey to find her again, to show he knows how sad it was, but also to tell her how it was good.” (Braid, World 3) In yet another book Tim claims to regret his decision to leave the princess “to a degree” – this fact alone suggests that Tim and the princess had troubles even before he left her and vice versa.

Judging from Tim’s outfit and appearance, it is also hard to depict him as a monster when he does not have any of the conventional physical traits that a monster would have such as a disfigured face and body, or even quite possibly being part human and part animal. Considering that the game is based on traditional tales of a lost princess and her savior, I expected a literal monster not a metaphorical one – I can say that Blow, in this regard, deceived me. Aside from Tim, I found it interesting that while playing the game users have the capability to manipulate time and go back into the past. Before I caught on to this ability, I was at a point where I was growing increasing aggravated with the game because I could not get myself out of certain situations without pressing the “shift” key, and going back to my past movements. I appreciate that Blow made this ability an important feature of the game because, whereas with the last games that we played for class I could not connect them to an overarching theme, with Braid, I could see the connection that Blow draws between this ability and the fact that Tim wants to go back into time to erase his mistakes.

Along with the idea of manipulation of time comes the reality that time cannot be reversed, and if this were to be an option it would by no means be effortless – which is highlighted in the game. As the game progresses each level becomes more and more difficult, and along with that it becomes harder to manipulate time in order to obtain either a key or puzzle piece. When I first started to play the game, I thought that it was not very difficult but then it suddenly changed and I had to reverse time. Similarly, it is hard for Tim go back in time and erase all of the mistakes he made with the princess. I am not sure if Blow structured the game this way to manipulate users into believing that the game is not as hard as it could seem, or if he was simply following standard game protocols of constructing games from easy to hard.

I also found it interesting that Blow would make pink rabbits the enemies when traditionally they are associated with happiness and sweetness. I think that Blow purposely did this to manipulate users and perhaps even Tim because no one would expect for pink rabbits to be the enemies. There is an element of surprise and manipulation on the rabbit’s part when users discover that they are not friendly and sweet, but evil. This is the same type of feeling that users get when they discover that Tim is the monster that the princess is running away from.

Interactive Fiction vs. Electronic Literature

While I was browsing through the electronic literature websites it was hard for me to understand or attempt to make sense of the games when at every angle I was being distracted by videos, moving text, and the games themselves. Though I realize that the websites are considered to be electronic literature, I question whether the creator’s approach to embedding meaning within a game is effective. I came into each website with the idea that there is a significant meaning behind the games, but what ended up happening was that I became so involved in continuing each level and ending the game that I forgot that there was even a storyline in the first place. Looking back at Interactive Fiction, I thought that the games were extremely frustrating and somewhat dull, but at least I had an idea of the characters and of where the plot was heading whereas with such websites as “Game, Game, Game, Again Game”, and “I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies”, I was unsure of their point. Instead, I was overwhelmed with all the graphics and videos that the websites contain.

The closest website that I came to understanding is “This Is How You Will Die”, I tried to understand the poems in “Taroko Gorge and its remixes”, but the phrases passed by so rapidly that I was unable to make sense of the poems. It also did not help that I could not scroll back to the top of each individual poem. To a certain extent, I also encountered the same problem with the website “Weather Visualizer”. Every time I selected the “Prose: Poetics” tab, I found myself becoming so distracted by the sounds and background of the page that I was unable to focus on the narrative.

I feel as though the creators of these websites do not want for their viewers (players) to understand the significance behind their games which could explain why they place more emphasis on the graphics and sounds rather than on the main storyline. In the game “I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies” the fourth direction writes “stop trying to “get it” – the creator, himself, throughout the game also tells you to not try to make sense of the game.

Interestingly, after I finished a certain level in “I Made This. You Play This. We are Enemies” and “Game, Game, Game, Again Game”, I was told to e-mail the creator telling him that I reached that particular level which lead me to believe that the creators want you to e-mail them after you reach a certain level because you were not intended to get up to that point. The intention of the creators is for you to give up before reaching that point, therefore, preventing you from ever reaching the last level and discovering the underlying storyline of the game. I also noticed that with each level the game becomes harder, as I expected; once again the creator does this to prevent their players from reaching the end of the game.

The graphics combined with videos and sounds, more in respect to the games such as “I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies”, “Evidence of Everything Exploding”, and “Game, Game, Game, Again Game”, brings me to an ultimate conclusion – where is the distinction drawn between pure game and electronic literature? Each video game has a storyline and significance behind it, therefore, what sets apart the Tales game franchise from electronic literature? As I mentioned in my Interactive Fiction blog, I am not a gamer which might explain my difficulty in differentiating the two, but from an outside perspective while I was playing “Evidence of Everything Exploding”, I cannot distinguish the differences between electronic literature websites from pure games. Pure meaning a game that was intended to solely be a game and not electronic literature.

The only website that I felt could truly be categorized as electronic literature is “Taroko Gorge and its remixes, while the other four websites fall somewhere between pure game, electronic literature, and indescribable. The games that I mentioned above assert to the statement that was made by Richard Bartle in the documentary “Get Lamp” – “text will always be inferior to graphics.” After having played these games, I have a new found appreciation for Interactive Fiction because it is more direct and consequently easier to understand. Electronic literature is scattered minded and distracting with its graphics, videos and sounds, therefore, making it easier to become lost within the game that is on the surface – neglecting its meaning.

Salvador Plascencia: El Machista

I found it interesting that while in most novels the Hispanic, Asian, and African American communities are scrutinized, in The People of Paper it is the Caucasian community, more specifically the Caucasian man that is viewed in a negative light. Saturn (Salvador Plascencia), Federico De La Fe, and the lettuce pickers were all left by the women that they loved in favor of a Caucasian man, and as a result the men resented their past lovers for it.  It seems to me that the men are more angered by the fact that they were left for a Caucasian man rather for having been left in the first place. Angered by Liz’s betrayal, Saturn writes to her: “You weren’t supposed to spill out of the dedication page. But then you fucked everything. Made holes in my ceiling, cracks in my ribs, my whole wardrobe to dust. All for a white boy. (117)

Similarly, Federico De La Fe and the lettuce pickers share the same sentiment. The lettuce pickers told Rita Hayworth to “go fuck her Hollywood white boys”(211), and even went as far as to call her a sellout and a whore for leaving her Mexican roots behind in exchange for a life of glamorous in Hollywood. Interestingly, however, Rita Hayworth was the daughter of a Spanish man and an Irish and English woman – Rita was by no means Mexican. On page 138, Liz confronts Plascencia for labeling her as a “sellout” in his book, after she had left him for a Caucasian man all while Plascencia, himself, had “delivered all this (the novel) into their (the readers) hands, and for what? For fourteen dollars and the vanity of your name on the book cover” (138).

This brings me to question whether Plascencia is a sellout much like he claims Rita Hayworth is. Unlike Rita Hayworth, who left Mexico to pursue a career in Hollywood, Plascencia left El Monte and the world of picking flowers for a career in writing. In contrast to the lettuce pickers, Plascencia not only received his undergraduate and graduate degrees, but he also wrote The People of Paper. Based on these accomplishments alone, if Plascencia were to be examined under the same microscope as Rita Hayworth, he would be considered a “sellout.” Perhaps, Plascencia included Rita Hayworth into the novel to allude to his own sellout.

The allusion of Rita Hayworth and Plascencia both being sellouts are one of the examples of the double standards that exist in The People of Paper. Rita is called “the sellout, the faithless one, the Malinche, the whore (137).Yet nothing is mentioned throughout the novel, besides Liz’s confrontation towards Plascencia, of Plascencia’s own success as a writer and departure from El Monte. Why was there the need to call Hayworth a sellout and whore when Plascencia is obliviously no longer living in Mexico or in El Monte picking flowers? Additionally, throughout the novel the women characters are described as promiscuous, deceiving, man-eaters, and so forth which not only alludes to the stereotypical characteristics of the female gender, but it is also another example of the double standards in the novel. Rita, Merced, Merced de Papel, and Maricela are all made out to appear as whores, but once again nothing is mentioned of the various relationships and women that Saturn and Froggy have.

The People of Paper might be considered a “post-modern” novel but it is more traditional, if not out dated, in the way that women are perceived. Rather than creating strong and independent female characters, Plascencia relies on stereotypical female traits to create his female characters. The problem that the male characters have with the Rita, Liz, and Merced is not only grounded on their exchange for a Caucasian man, but also in that the men have had a hard time accepting that the women left them, where traditionally it is the men that leave women. The men are angered by the switch of gender roles, and are also sensitive to having been left for Caucasian men whom are believed to be more educated and successful than flower pickers. Their manhood was hurt and as a result the men, especially Plascencia, fought back by calling the women derogatory terms and including them in People of Paper in a less than a flattering manner.

As a side note, personally being of Hispanic descent, Plascencia’s perception of the Hispanic community is also outdated (though I realize that the book is based on Plascencia’s own experience) because whereas in The People of Paper, Rita Hayworth is criticized for being successful, if she were in fact Mexican, today she would be celebrated much like other famous Latinas like Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Sofia Vergara, Christina Aguilera, and so on – the list is endless.


Is there a market for Interactive Fiction?

Towards the end of the documentary Get Lamp the question of whether there is a market for IF (Interactive Fiction) was brought up which after having finished the documentary and played three different IF games, I think it is an important question to explore further. In an age where society is consumed with graphics, 3D and overall technological advancements, I find it hard to believe that there could be a market for Interactive Fiction which would be a considerable downgrade from the games that  Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii now offer. I have never been a fan of either video or computer games so I am completely clueless when it comes to games, but from watching my brother play his games in modern game consoles I can see that in comparison to IF games these new games are a lot more developed, have more elaborate graphics that are intriguing to the human eye, and the puzzles and riddles that are embedded within these games are a lot more complex.

Along with the question of whether there is a market for Interactive Fiction or not, I also think that it is important to consider if text is in fact dead or lost. In Get Lamp, famous game researcher Richard Bartle states that “text is lost because people just expect computer games to have graphics. And if you want them to play a game that does not have graphics then you have to give them a very good reason not to.” While I do not believe that text is lost, I do think that it is disappearing especially within the new world of the video and computer games. Whereas in Interactive Fiction text commands the game, in these modern games it is the graphics and the voice of the characters that take command of the game. Do I think that Interactive Fiction is a good reason for people not play games with graphics  –  my answer would have to be no because in this modern age as Bartle earlier states “text will always be inferior to graphics.”

Later on in the documentary Rob Griffiths’ mentions that he believes that Interactive Fiction could sell, but I disagree with this statement considering that Interactive Fiction has already attempted to enter the market of the modern video and computer games and miserably failed at least it did when former Infocom implementer, Mike Berlyn tried to invest in it. Also not to mention the fact that people are more interested in 3D and modern graphics more so than they are in text.

Having played three Interactive Fictions games, I am more interested in modern games because I find them to be less frustrating. While I was playing Violet and Varicella, a lot of the times I would get the same types of messages telling me that the game did not recognize the verb that I used or that it did not see what I was talking about. It took for me to write several of the same commands for the game to continue but even then in Violet, I was never able to continue writing or to fully ignore Julia. While in Varicella, I was unable to find a cup of water or any other type of drink for my supposed dehydrated body. I did, however, find Bronze to be interesting and could see why anyone would become engulfed in it. The reason why I primarily liked this game is because I knew that after I found the 55 rooms that I would find the beast. In other words, I liked that I could I foresee the end to the game much like in modern games. I did not like the ambiguity of the other two games.

I think that modern games will always be and are more successful than Interactive Fiction because today society does not appreciate the element of surprise. Rather than imagining a character such as a beast, we prefer to be able to see it and to some extend have our characters in the game have some sort of physical interaction with the beast. We are afraid of involving ourselves with the unknown. It is also customary for society today to link an image to almost everything especially now where our ability to see images is a lot more advanced, and the images themselves are more intricate and detailed.  In general as Bartle states “So when you’re dealing with text it’s really for people who’ve got strong imaginations. The tragedy is that people have strong imaginations; it’s just that they never get to play the text because they went for the graphics first.” Moreover, as I had mentioned above, society is also concerned with knowing that there is an obvious end to something which I feel that certain IF games such as Violet cannot provide gamers a clear ending.

The Search for an “Author”

From the start of the epilogue where Karen is in the midst of her wedding ceremony to Kim in Yankee Stadium, to her last scene in the novel where she ends up together with Scott, one thing can be said about Karen – she lacks as Mark Osteen would describe “a singular identity”. “Instead acting as what Mark Edmundson calls a “conductor, a relay point for currents of (penetrating) force”. (656) Although through such witty comments as “I just had enough money for the taxi and the tip and I wanted to arrive totally broke” (219), and the fact that she cried and admitted to missing Scott, we see a more vulnerable and open Karen, she is still the same woman she was before she came into Bill’s and Scott’s life.

Prior, to joining Scott and Bill, Karen was a person who looked into men such as Moon of the Unification Church for guidance. She was and is a person who relies on others to make decisions for her, and to give her life authorship. In the article Becoming Incorporated: Spectacular Authorship and DeLillo’s Mao II, Osteen writes that “But with Bill gone, she (Karen) is a character in search of an author, and so travels to New York City, stays in Brita’s apartment, and roams the streets around Tompkins Square Park, mingling with the homeless and disenfranchised”(656) .While it can be argued that Karen is capable of being an independent individual as she was able to live in Brita’s apartment alone, it is important to acknowledge that during the time that she stayed in New York, Karen relied on and was emotionally invested in Omar, although he is only fourteen years old. Karen even grew to love Omar as she felt jealously towards the woman that he was having a child with.

After Bill left, Karen transferred the responsibility of authoring her life from Bill to Omar, and then back to Scott. She had already given Scott this responsibility before when she chose to get in the car with him in Kansas. Throughout the novel, Karen develops an emotional and/or sexual relationship with each of the men including Kim, Bill, Scott, and Omar in an attempt to find the right author of her life. Karen, eventually, decides to come back to Scott because she knows that he is the one person that would not leave her unlike Bill, Kim, and Omar. She is so armament about remaining in the house because she is scared of the possibility of living alone, and subsequently without Scott. Scott and Bill’s house provide a safe haven for Karen where she is protected from the outside world, and where she can easily have someone author her life without feeling that sooner or later someone will come to “deprogram” her.

Above Scott is Bill, who she views his images and manuscript as sacred. To Karen, Bill is almost god like. She proclaims in the last scene while talking to Scott that Bill’s family “can own the house, but they should let us live here. And we keep the manuscript and we keep the pictures.”(223) For Karen the images and the creation that Bill created are more important than anything else because there is where Bill manifests himself. In holding on to the images and manuscript, Karen is able to hold on to the Bill that she knew, and to the person that she looked up for guidance and authorship in not only novels, but also her life. Being that Karen and Scott live in Bill’s household, they are consumed with his image, however, whereas Scott is able to distance himself from Bill, the same cannot be said about Karen as while she is New York she chases a man that resembles Bill and in the fact she “sort of kept seeing Bill.”(219) Bill is the ultimate author of Karen’s life, and part of the reason why she chooses to come back to Scott is because he is the closest person that she has to Bill.

DeLillo concludes Karen’s and Scott’s final scene by writing, “the nice thing about life is that it’s filled with second chances. Quoting Bill” (224). Now, Karen and Scott are able to start a new chapter in their lives where Scott does not have to worry about Karen having an intimate and sexual relationship with Bill. Instead, they can focus on being exclusive to each other. Also whereas in the epilogue, Karen marries Kim and he leaves her to work abroad, in her last chapter, Karen has the opportunity to start a new live with someone else – in this case, Scott. Even though, Kim and Scott were chosen at random, with Scott things are different as their relationship is more genuine, and has the potential to make it last. The relationship between Scott and Karen comes to a full circle when “they drove twenty-two miles to buy a light box and magnifier, and twenty-two miles back” (220) because it is similar to how they started their relationship, only with the exception that this is their second time at doing this – their second chance.

The Rise of the Pseudo Authors














While the original source of public fascination may be the celebrity’s creations, there is a tendency for public interest to fasten increasingly on the person, rather than, in the case of a writer, on his works. (163)

            Normally if you were to pick up an issue of People or Vanity Fair magazine, you would find such celebrities as Kim Kardashian or Jennifer Lopez on the cover, but in an age where the author is now a celebrity you can find famed Twilight author, Stephanie Meyer, headlining TMZ (a popular celebrity gossip website), J.K Rowling on the cover of Entertainment, and Dan Brown at a red carpet event mingling with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Gisele Bundchen, and Will Smith, among others.

In his article, The Writer as a Celebrity: Some aspects of American Literature as Popular Culture, John Cawelti states that “the emergence of writers for whom celebrity has become in different ways the center of their art, have made writers in general more conscious of the problem of celebrity and its potentially deleterious effect on their work.” Contrary to this statement, though I understand the conundrum of the author of either embracing the media and the idea of “celebrity” in order to reach a higher audience, or risking the possibility of having a smaller audience by remaining relatively mysterious, I believe that today’s author’s such as Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer are more focused on being a celebrity than a writer. Although authors are not on the same the level of fame as Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, nevertheless, they are still celebrities who are making millions of dollars a year and making best dressed lists.

Instead of focusing on their craft and creating new works, J.K Rowling has become the face of numerous charities while Stephanie Meyer has gone on to create her own clothing line. Not to say that what they are doing is necessarily bad, but what about their craft? Since the release of the Harry Potter novels, J.K Rowling has not released any new works, and Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown, aside from their popular novels, have only published one other work which is coincidently or not within the same realm of the novels that made them famous.

This makes me question whether these authors are relying on their franchises and the money they made from them to live, and to hold on to their celebrity status. I feel that these authors believe that they no longer have to continue writing because of the fact that they are set for life. This type of mindset, therefore, gives the author the opportunity to become more invested in the celebrity world. Cawelti warns us of this possibility by writing “the energy and emotional investment he gives to playing the role of person-performer inevitably detracts from what he can give to his proper work.” (171)

This ultimately brings me to my last question – will the “author” ever fade? As a result of the author having been “swallowed up into the myth of his celebrity, of becoming the simplified persona of his public legend” (171), this has given rise to an innumerable amount of pseudo writers. Now that greats like J.K Rowling have taken a back seat, such celebrities as Snookie, Chelsea Handler, Kendra Wilkinson, and others have emerged as writers. Because we live in a society that is consumed with the idea of knowing the past of the author and of who he or she is, we feel confident enough to know who they are through their television shows to send them right to New York Times best sellers list, but are what these “authors” creating really art?

Can we really say that Snookie, the same girl who said that she feels “like one of those pilgrims from the 1920s” while washing dishes, an author? The more that real authors are swallowed by Hollywood, more of these nonsense novels are created, therefore, over time decreasing the significance and value of the “author”, and the art of writing. Eventually less great works will be made, and the notion of the “author” will come to an end.






Is the author better off dead?

Jonathan Harris - Whale Hunt

Dan Brown - Angels and Demons 
Dan Brown

If you look at the two images above you will notice one key difference – the size of the name of the author. As we had talked about in class, society is consumed with the idea of the “author” and of discovering his or her past in order to capture the meaning of the work rather than letting the work speak for itself. These two images are two prime examples of how Jonathan Harris and Dan Brown differentiate as artists. Dan Brown feeds into the idea of the “author” as his name is written equally as large if not larger than the title of the book, while in Jonathan Harris’ work, Whale Hunt, his name is written in smaller letters so that the image (the work) can be highlighted instead.

In the Death of the Author, Barthes writes that many author’s including Mallarme, distanced themselves from the notion of the “author” because like for him and assuming Harris, and

“For us too, it is language which speaks, not the author; to write is, through a prerequisite impersonality (not at all to be confused with the castrating objectivity of the realist novelist), to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs’, and not ‘me’. (143)

Replacing written text with images, Harris allows for the images that he captured in Whale Hunt to ‘perform’ for themselves, rather than having himself be fully emerged in his work. It is through these images that we, as readers, are able to make sense of the whale hunt and of the situations, and living conditions that Harris and his team had to endure. We don’t need for Harris to walk us through the journey of the whale hunt – we are able to see it ourselves through these images. Similarly in We Feel Fine, Harris steps outside of the work and let’s several individual writers of different nations, ages, gender, emotions, and so on  take shape of the work. The website combined with these anonymous authors and images speak for themselves. Because Harris detaches himself from these two works, we are able to appreciate them for what they are rather than for being the works of the famous Jonathan Harris.

As writer, Julia Alvarez, mentions, the reader should not try to create a personal relationship with the author, but “with where the author has disappeared in the work.” The beauty about the distance that Harris establishes between himself and his works is that in doing so he gives us multiple options of how we want to view his works. There is no one set way of how to interpret the works and there is no one meaning to them. Barthes writes that “to give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.” (147) In Whale Hunt, we can either view the images from beginning to end or vice versa, we can see them in a pinwheel, mosaic, or time line, or we can select a team member of the Whale Hunt and view his or her individual experience through their personal images. All the while, in We Feel Fine, we have the option of looking at what people write depending on their emotion, gender, geographical location, age, and so forth – the range of options are endless.

Based on my reading of The Death of the Author, I interpreted that a work is not so much based on the author as it is on the work. Barthes supports this argument by writing that “the reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (148). This is to say that it is the reader who unifies the work not the author. In his works, Harris gives readers the ultimate opportunity to put the pieces of his works together to create their own interpretations. Each person views these two works differently.

I agree with Barthes when he says that “the birth of a reader must be at the cost of the death of the author” (148)  because as long as we continue to have the notion of the “author” we will continue to value proper names over works, and instead of trying to find meaning in the work through the text itself and appreciating the work for what it is, we will continue to try to have a relationship with the author in order to find meaning and understanding of his or her work.

Was Calvino a productive or tormented writer, or neither?

After having finished reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I couldn’t help but think whether Italo Calvino was a tormented or productive writer. In the scene in Chapter eight where the productive writer observes the tormented writer, the productive writes notes that he has never liked the works of the tormented writer because  “he feels that he (the tormented writer) is on the verge of grasping the decisive point, but then it eludes him and he is left with a sensation of uneasiness.” (Page 174) In the same way, towards the end of each story that is within the novel we feel that right as Calvino is about to reach a point where he provides us with answers, he suddenly cuts the story short, leaving us feeling uneasy.

Judging by Calvino’s past you can say that at around the time he wrote If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, he was in a dark place, therefore, making him a tormented writer. In 1966 his mentor, Elio Vittorini, had passed away, which left Calvino as he described in an “intellectual depression.” But Calvino is no stranger to this feeling as he struggled to write his second book, and after his first novel was published his three later books were considered to be defective. All of this on top of having experienced World War II and the Fascist Party are only slight glimpses as to why Calvino might have been a tormented writer.

Within the same scene the productive writer admits that he admires the tormented writer because “he (the productive writer) feels how limited his own work is, how superficial compared with what the tormented writer is seeking.”(Page 174) Calvino’s works such as If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is not the conventional novel that we are accustomed to where there is a single plot within the novel; instead it is something much deeper and creative. It takes you into ten different worlds as opposed to just one, and it allows the reader to alternate between his or her self and the character of “You.” By creating the novel in such an interesting and innovating way, Calvino is clearly seeking for something more than just the average novel, therefore, further classifying him in to the category of the tormented writer.

While, I argue that Calvino was a tormented writer it could also be said that he was a productive writer as after all he was able to successfully complete this novel. How many drafts it took to him though to complete the novel? How long did it take him to write it? These are two questions that I feel that if I had the answers to would help me classify Calvino as a productive or tormented writer.

Diverging from the subject of tormented and productive writers, maybe it isn’t so much that Calvino is either or, but more so that his novels are creatively different and intricate because that is Calvino’s style of writing – it’s who he is, and as his readers we should have been able to associate his style of writing with his proper name. In What is an Author? Foucault notes that the author’s name “is a proper name” – “it has indicative functions: more than an indication, a gesture, a finger pointed at someone, it is the equivalent of a description.” (Page 105) I took this to mean that there is a certain association with the author’s name more than just simply having the name of Italo Calvino.

The name Italo Calvino has many associations with it, one being that he is known for writing different stories within one novel such as he did in Invisible Cities and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Because there is this association with Calvino’s name, there is the question of whether he wrote If on Winter’s Night a Traveler the way he did because he was truly tormented, productive, or is the way that he simply wrote. Perhaps these three alternatives helped build the ultimate composition of the novel. Will we ever know the truth behind the composition of this novel?  The answer is probably not as Calvino was also, as evidenced by the novel, associated with mysteriousness.

Parallel between Calvino and Marana

As I was about to finish reading Chapter six there was a quote on page 125 about Ermes Marana that particularly stood out to me because it helped me draw a connection between Marana and Italo Calvino. In regards to Marana and the discontinuation of novels surrounding the Sultana, “You” states the following:

“Many feelings distress you as you leaf through these letters. The book whose continuation you were already enjoying in anticipation, vicariously through a third party, breaks off again….Ermes Marana appears to you as a serpent who injects his malice into the paradise of reading…..”

This is not to say that Calvino is malicious in any way, but more so that like Marana every time we become involved in a story and its characters, Calvino suddenly stops the story as it is about to reach its climax, and as soon as we are about to unveil a mystery.  Following each novel, we are then thrown back into the principal story of You and Ludmilla, which similar to the other novels we also frequently cut off from.

Much like we are left in suspense at the end of each individual story, there is a certain mystery about its characters.  Each character appears to be hiding something whether it is information, or something tangible.  Calvino never allows us, the readers; the opportunity to uncover these mysteries and/or to gain further insight into the personal lives of these individuals. In the same way, Calvino leaves us in suspense about Ludmilla and her relationship with You. After all there is a lot that we do not know about You, but in particular there is something mysterious about Ludmilla. I was able to read up to chapter seven and I was still unable to answer such questions as, why does Ludmilla hide out between the shelves of professor’s Uzzi-Tuzzi’s office?  Is she or not involved with a man? What is her relationship with her sister, Lotaria? and so on – as these questions go unanswered we continue to be left in absolute suspense not only in each new story that we read, but also in the one story that we would expect for Calvino to complete. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I would expect for these questions to be answered by the time that the book ends. I would also want for Calvino to elaborate on why he chose to withhold personal details about Ludmilla until the end of the story, that is if ever does decide to disclose this information.

At the end of it all we are similar to You in the sense that like him who is on the pursuit of discontinued novels, and of uncovering the truth behind Marana and Ludmilla, we also desire to solve the mysteries that lies in each story, as well as to  resolve the mysteries of each character. We the readers embody You as we are enclosed in-between unfinished stories and mysterious characters, while the other characters in the novel are more of a representation of Marana – mysterious and unsolved. Judging by how the novel has progresses thus far, I would not be surprised if Calvino left us in utter suspense about You and Ludmilla, just as how he has left us in suspense in every other story.