Is it a hard-Nox life if you know to read it?

For my paper, I would like to explore Anne Carson’s Nox under the lenses of Lev Manovich’s “The Database” and Roland Barthes’s “The Death of the Author.” I would like to probe the topic of absence versus presence in the novel and how that influences its role as a literary database. While the novel is about the death of Carson’s brother, Michael, his absence in her life is overcompensated by his presence in her novel. Consequently, his presence in the novel eclipses hers. Barthes notes in his article, “Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place here this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author.” Is the presentation of this book to be construed as a DIY spectacle or to assist Carson in transitioning from her grieving period? Nox becomes the paradigm of Barthes’s statement through Carson’s juxtaposition of various memories, interactions, and experiences of Michael. Some other questions I would like to consider: In a novel about her brother, how does Carson maintain a sense of identity/voice? Is the accordion codex employed for Carson’s benefit, Michael’s benefit, or the reader’s benefit? Would the execution of this poignant novel be as successful if it was presented in a more linear and conventionally crafted codex?

Carson treats lamenting as it should be, as a scrapbook. The level of poignancy this topic holds transcends the boundaries of a linear narrative. Because the reader is exposed to Carson’s grieving period, the reader is forced to rifle through a box interspersed connections (e.g. redundancy, letters, photos, etc.) and create his or her own course. As Manovich’s article suggests, “The world appears to us as an end less and unstructured collection of images, texts, and other data records, it is only appropriate that we will be moved to model it as a database.” Since the novel is presented as an elegy for the brother, his overarching presence allows Carson to freely place his artifacts into the database of this book. I would essentially like to explore how Carson’s authorship dictated the presentation of her novel.

A Braid Without Split Ends

Just as the name suggests, Braid is a labyrinth of twists and turns that are held together by the protagonist, Tim. Similar to Laura and Laurens’ experiences, I was also reminded of other role-playing games. Specifically in accordance with Zelda, the player has to explore a landscape dotted with puzzles, questing, and of course, a monster. I would definitely argue that Braid is a reflection of a Green World, as the game centers on Tim’s quest to save the princess. The interruptions caused by these obstacles become a theme in video games as they increase a propensity for vigilance and further, invoke new perspectives. I do not want to upset Sam’s earlier blogged distaste for these, but I do believe that Braid is another example of love story. The relationship between Tim and the princess is the motivation and, thus, the point of Tim’s quest. This similarity between Braid and other games made me see the popularity in these role-playing tropes. They provide an escape from a reality, a utopia that has continuity over the time and space of moral dimensions. I equated this game a lot with the interactive/electronic fiction we have read/played in class, as Braid’s premise reflects a readerly idealism. While Tim has a sense of agency, the meaning of his actions are manufactured by the game’s designer. I would agree with Lauren’s point that Braid is trying to tell a story. Like an ergodic text, Tim is a character in search of an author. Yes, the game designers created this “world,” however, the player is in charge of how it is executed. The player is allowed to discover and explore the game’s boundaries through the chaos of puzzles, colors, shadows, etc. The designer cannot select the moral decisions for us, as it would only presume a familiarity. The game’s authorship becomes a product of the player’s decisions.

Prior to playing the game, I read Braid’s Wikipedia article to find that Jonathan Blow was criticized for his minimal text in the game. I found that interesting as it reminded me of our class discussion on story vs. plot. Braid is not a novel. Braid is game. It is a database, not a narrative. Therefore, the minimal text seems accurate as it reinforces that a game is a story and does not have a lined sequence of events. I think Blow did a phenomenal job at conflating text with action.

I have to also applaud Blow’s conceptualizing of the six different worlds and his ability to link the fragmentation of the worlds into the unity of the game’s story. This dedication to the preserving or surpassing of time was an evocative foundation. At times, I was reminded of Dante’s Inferno with the various rings and rounds that Tim had to associate with (as well as the heavy themes of hesitance, mystery, decision, etc.). I’m sure this is a leap, but isn’t it ironic that the protagonist’s name is one letter away from spelling out time? Just as we discussed earlier in the semester also, a name is truly a living host of its own.

Electron-lit: The Codex of the Future

Similar to Jon’s concerns with Electronic Literature, I was also taken aback by the busyness of the majority of Jason Nelson’s pieces. I had this same frustration as I navigated through the complexities of House of Leaves. Am I supposed to focus more on the novel’s plot or the idea of the novel serving as a spectacle? The level of distractions seems to almost be a consistent theme, one that is to be highlighted. With all of Danielewski’s ramped typography, colors, and footnotes, it was challenging to digest the plot without coddling the distractions first. In Nelson’s case, his mixing of text, images, and sounds leaves no room for the reader’s imagination. If the reader can see and hear everything all at once, the piece invokes more vacancy than engagement. Are those distractions part of the plot? There is almost a depersonalization in employing such “loud” colors, arrows, flashing lights, etc. With so many distractions, the reader cannot identify with what he or she is playing/reading. I have a hard enough time reading Mrs. Dalloway with music in the background let alone playing Evidence of Everything Exploding. I became more concerned with navigating my arrow through the dashed walls than actually reading what was exploding on my screen. See, there is that binary between playing and reading again! How is it that some of Nelson’s pieces are to be played, but others are to be read? On the main page of Everything Exploding, I noticed that at the bottom, in parentheses reads “an art game creature / digital poem.” Is electronic literature only to be presented in a slashed identity? Can it not thrive as separate entities?

With this question in mind, I chose the most “static” of Nelson’s literature, “reading” his electronic poem Sydney’s Siberia. I don’t think I actually finished the poem, as I kept being presented with redundant tiles. I think that was the poem’s biggest limitation. Because it was so set on the electronic aspect of the piece, it lacked in the actual literature of it. As for the content, I thought it was counterintuitive toward the presentation of the poem. The message of the poem seemed to represent irritancy with society’s favor of consumerism/materialism over organics/minimalism. However, the manipulation of text and color (and further, the electronic presentation of the poem) seemed to deflect or dissuade the reader from appropriating that mindset. Also, because there was no distinguishable end to the poem, I felt like it was a hollow experience. I felt dissatisfied quitting instead of finishing. Therein lies the answer to my slashed identity question. When presented as two types of avenues, one has to be minimized to empower the other. Because this genre is entitled electronic literature, the electronic aspect has to be dominant. Nick Montfort’s Taroko Gorge and its remixes could not just be online poetry to be considered “electronic”, but had to incorporate an automatic descending to be considered electronic. For those who want literature electronically, that is where the Kindle or Nook would be more appropriate.

Presto Chango: Magical Realism in The People of Paper

After tackling the complexities of House of Leaves for three weeks, Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper reads like a children’s book. I suppose I’m using “children’s book” as a double entendre. I mean that I do not have to spend a majority of the book coddling harsh typography, footnotes, and other “features,” but I can focus more on the plot. I also want to indicate that the novel features strong tinges of magical realism or when imagination/fantasy is paralleled with reality in a casual manner. Though I have only read up to the middle of Section Two, I have already encountered a multitude of instances where the reality of the narrative is intertwined with fantasy. At first glance, I assumed the title, The People of Paper, would reflect a novel chronicling novelists, poets, and the like, or people obsessed with money (“paper”). However, Little Merced quickly challenged my metaphor-seeking tendencies and introduced that there are certainly people made of paper in the book, “I looked at her newsprint arms and at the green construction paper wrapped around her ankles and asked if I could touch her…I put my hand on her arm…expecting it to crumple and collapse” (25). As Rabinowitz’s “Before Reading” article suggests, readers have to view fiction, “…as a contract designed by an intending author who invites his or her audience to adopt certain paradigms for understanding reality” (23). The readers of Plascencia’s book have to adopt these arrangements of transformative textuality in order to accurately perceive the fantasy.

Similar to Calvino’s postmodernist If on a winter’s night a traveler, the multiplicity and metaphysical shape of the narrative presence have to be appropriated in order to properly navigate through the novel. The magical realism in Plascencia’s novel is not to be taken as a digression, but as a contributing detail to the overall digestion of the plot. This can be especially seen through Little Merced’s experience with the fortune teller, as the blister’s pus attempts to transmit fluidity through Merced’s past, present, and future, “The outer lines of my palm became tributaries feeding into the main river. I lifted my hand toward my face and saw that I was holding the river of Las Tortugas” (61). As the pus travels through Merced’s hand (timeline) it as almost as if Merced’s presence has transcended numerous generations. As Ashley’s post also addresses, the characters can be seen pushing their narratives through the novel as a way to overarch Saturn. I think this could also be seen as a type of texual/magical realism as Saturn’s narratives begin to divide themselves into smaller and smaller columns as Merced has more authority and as Federido de la Fe becomes more prepared for the attack on Saturn.

Interestingly enough, the only other novel I have read with such strong pings of magical realism was entitled Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. This novel was also Mexican-American, like The People of Paper. I have to wonder if the presence of this narrative technique is predominantly a Spanish approach or if it is one that is familiar to authors of other regional locations.

> X the Purpose of This Genre.

You have to write a blog post for your Post Print Fiction class. This week’s readings and assignments surrounded the phenomenon of interactive fiction. You know nothing about interactive fiction. Do you X the articles before delving into the interactive “games” or do you play the games before reading the articles?

> Play the games.

You selected “play the games” first. While this may have seemed like the best way to immerse yourself, this was not the most ideal. Because you were unfamiliar with how to play them, your naïveté solicited sardonic responses such as this:


Frustrated, you decide to consult the articles and redirect the voice of this post to the first person.

Similar to discussions we have previously had in class, interactive fiction is a self-aware genre that more or less has a predictable existence. After fiddling around with these three games for a good half hour each (before reading the articles), I started to succumb to pattern recognition. While there were times when I wanted to commit to insensitive reading, embodying Rabinowitz’s idea of launching attacks on stock responses, I tried to adjust myself to this paradigm and understand how to interact with them correctly. However, with games with more nebulous directions such as Varicella‘s “Write a thousand words,” I was in need of more instruction. I was not sure exactly what to type. I tried to be clever and merely type “a thousand words,” but that did not leave me with a fruitful response. While these games are ones that fall under a textual/literary context, they require the individual to play by certain rules in order to progress.

Referring back to the discussion we had on September 21st about the differences between paradigmatic and syntagmatic genres, this type of fiction would fall under paradigmatic as the individual is given options that work to reinforce a larger syntactic role. According to Nick Montfort’s video, Exploring Interactive Fiction, the user has to interact “pleasingly symmetrical” in order to make his or her way through the fiction. Therefore, as much freedom as he or she thinks is available, is actually manipulated within the framework of the creator’s story line. I often got responses such as “That’s not a verb I recognize” or “You can’t see any such thing” which forced me to read into the context clues of the preface. As Andrew Plotkin implies in his “How to Play Interactive Fiction” website, the preface and answers the individual receives act as a pattern to provide insight on how to progress, “It’s not trying to teach everything an IF expert would know; it’s just conveying the pattern.” These “novels” are condensed into databases that reflect one of Rabinowitz’s four pillars of reading, as this type of reading calls upon the rules of signification, or, drawing significance from various elements.

Then, I have to ask, are the individuals who experience this type of fiction readers or players within this genre? To consult Lauren’s post, to be the latter of the two roles is to reflect a goal of winning or finality to the fiction. The genre becomes more objective than a statically published novel. Montfort refers to interactive fiction as a “literary riddle” and one that affords the reader/players with different perspectives. However, I do not feel this gives the reader/player a different perspective if this fiction has various parts that only support one viable outcome. In a class discussion we had regarding Calvino’s book, we brought up the question: is the “you” a character in search of an author? This question could be as equally applicable to interactive fiction, as the individuals are the characters who push through all these options in search for the desired (or “right”) outcome.

Dear Mrs. Sample,

First and foremost, kudos to you for reading House of Leaves at your own leisure. It took me being in your son’s Post Print Fiction class for me to tackle this “book”. And even then, I wish I hadn’t!

Like you, I am confused at the authenticity of the Navidson Record and quite honestly, the book. We have spent the last three weeks of class dissecting this book and I have given myself an ulcer (figuratively speaking, of course) trying to coddle all these complexities. After reading this book and an interview with the book’s author, I am at a standstill. Would you be angry with me if I said it could go either way? I say that because Danielewski seems to inject tinges of his personal life in the upside down typography, colorful fonts, and foreign languages. His father died when he was in the midst of writing the beginning (or a segment) of the book. Johnny Truant seemed to navigate through life fatherless as well, seeking some kind of paradigm to follow through the life and work of Zampano.

On the other hand, I don’t doubt this book being an ostentatious trophy of Danielewski — one he notes that he has received high praise from. Talk about a jerk, right? Your son seems to think that there are a lot of errors in this book that are accidental. But knowing Danielewski at this point (I read his interview so we’re practically best friends at this point), I feel that this book was and is a postmodernist satire of the traditional book coda.

So, I guess my verdict is that it is utterly fabricated for the sense of creating a spectacle!

Keep reading,

Lauren Lauzon

Crowd Surfing: The Individual Among the Collective

They: a pronoun that illustrates a crowd in and of itself. Remove the t and the y and you are left with he. Or, remove the e and you are left with thy (a little archaic, but still representative of your).  Perspectives of his, yours, and theirs are evident. What’s missing? I. Mine.  A personalized sense of ownership. My point? Karen’s first and final scenes in this novel are paralleled with the involvement of they. We see her initial scenes of the novel reflecting the linking of individuality with collectivity/fragmentation with unity,“They all feel the same, young people from fifty countries, immunized against the language of self.  The stand and chant, fortified by the blood of numbers,” (8).  Karen’s final scene in the novel vocalizes a different sentiment,“They can own the house,” Karen said. “But they should let us live here. And we keep the manuscript and we keep the pictures,” (223). She finally acknowledges a desire for individual ownership. While she does include Scott in her use of the first person plural, she finally expresses a language of possession. While we were technically only supposed to interpret the final scene of the novel, I think Karen’s final scene has to be interpreted in relation to her first scene. As Rabinowitz indicates in “Before Reading,”

“…the first and last sentences of most texts are privileged; that is, any interpretation of a text that cannot account for those sentences is generally deemed  more defective than a reading that cannot account for some random sentence in the middle” (44).

Karen’s purpose in the beginning of the novel is to present the individual of the self through the context of the community. However, the end of the novel serves to show how the benefits of the community progress the individual self. Within a literal standpoint, her final scene in the novel serves as a catalyst to Bill’s legacy and her (and Scott’s) involvement in it. Although this conversation with Scott is at the end of the novel, it proves that her involvement in the novel and in Bill’s life has a continuity over time and space. In Chapter 12 of the novel, Karen’s voyeurism of the Chinese crowd provokes her to begin looking for Bill, “She followed a man who looked like Bill but he turned out on further inspection to not be a writer type at all” (178).  Through this, Karen’s involvement in the novel also introduces the issue of surveillance or crowd control that is common in within large groups of people. Even though Bill is no longer with them, Karen and Scott can still maintain Bill’s reclusion from being a public figure. This fight for reclusion within seclusion becomes cyclical with her urgency to exclude Brita from their threesome at the start of the novel. In a more evocative sense, Karen’s final scene in the novel blends the collectiveness of a crowd with the independence of an individual. The scene implies that a crowd cannot be successful without its individuals. Her desire to keep Bill’s manuscript and pictures is also interesting, as Mark Osteen’s “Becoming Incorporated: Spectacular Authorship and DeLillo’s Mao II” highlights that,

Even Karen, who thinks of marriage as a “channel to salvation” as if she were watching it on TV (10), unconsciously registers how Moon manipulates the discourse of images by diverting his children’s addiction to consumerism into his own capitalist religion.”

Similar to Reverend Moon’s “manipulation” of photographs for his own capitalist gain, Karen’s wish for Bill’s items almost illustrates how a crowd is born. She needs Bill’s house, Bill’s manuscript and photographs, and Scott’s help to maintain Bill’s isolation. Crowds become a dependence on space, manipulation, and individuals. Thus, a crowd is not just an issue of “they”, but a combination of individual elements as Karen’s involvement in the novel suggests.

“Cult of Personality” (Living Colour ft. Don DeLillo)

“The future belongs to crowds” (16). Could it be that Mao II’s crowning point did not even make it into the first chapter? I would surmise that to be so, as Don DeLillo’s novel paints a more colorful representation of cult logic than Andy Warhol’s silkscreen painting of the Chinese Communist leader.

Writing this with only an exposing up to the 5th chapter, I can already develop the issue of crowding (and further, cults). Initially, what struck me as intriguing was not even regarding the plot itself, but the point of view. Unlike our previous novel (and thank God for that), the POV displays the third person. However, DeLillo does not just leave the POV as third, but he treats the reader to free indirect discourse. The reader gets a sense of 3rd person description told in the idiom of each character (Karen, Karen’s parents, Brita, Scott, and Bill – so far). As a book on crowds/cults, I found this extremely evocative toward the overall plot as the POV itself indicates a matter of crowding. The line between narrator and character is blurred, which allows a continual movement between the interior and exterior qualities of each viewpoint. The metaphysical nature of the novel allows the reader to exhaust his or her invisibility throughout each character’s persona and not have have to centralize a certain voice. Depicting some of the characters’ thoughts in fragments rather than complete sentences presents the characters with senses of authenticity and accessibility that breathe life into their typeface lungs. The characters seem to have a position of reality. This blending of interior/exterior qualities also becomes prevalent in chapter 4 of the book with the interaction between Brita and Bill, “Her hand on his face, how surprised he’d been to feel so affected by the gesture, the entireness of simple touch” (DeLillo 55). Bill’s dissecting of Brita’s existence in his house and his life allowed the intrusion of Rabinowitz’s Rules of Signification to reinforce the idea of crowds in my reading. This interior monlogue is significant in satisfiying a portion of Elias Canetti’s “Crowds and Power” when Brita’s touch forces Bill to a self-conscious/anxious mentality,

“Any free or large gesture of approach towards another human being is inhibited…no man can get near another, nor reach his height. In every sphere of life, firmly established hierarchies prevent him touching anyone more exalted than himself, or descending, except in appearance, to anyone lower” (Canetti 18).

Bill’s ability to let Brita “in” is what Canetti labels a “discharge”, which, removes the hierarchies within a crowd and promotes equality. The successful intimacy with an outsider forges an advancing chronology as the reader will start to see the development of the crowd and later the cult. A fair assumption, right? Unfortunately, Karen’s presence after Bill’s discharge made me question if she was the leader,

Brita: “And you hate me for leaving here with all that film.”

Karen: “It’s just a feeling of there’s something wrong. We have a life here that’s carefully balanced. There’s a lot of planning and thinking behind the way Bill lives and now there’s a crack all of a sudden” (57).

Karen’s urgency to remain secluded (geographically and communally) seemed to reflect the idea of the closed crowd, “The closed crowd renounces growth and puts the stress on permanence. The first thing to be noticed about it is that it has a boundary. It creates a space for itself which it will fill” (Canetti 17). While she lives to serve Bill, could it be that she is the epicenter for this crowd transforming into a cult? Is it because of her that the three have been secluded for so long? Karen’s dominance in the prologue and in Bill’s household will push me to consult the Rules of Signification throughout the entire novel.

Without Fail: A Whale of a Tale

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” We’ve all heard it. We’ve all scoffed at its banality. Though when paralleled with Jonathan Harris’s work, it becomes his mantra. Two years ago, when I was first exposed to his work in Professor Sample’s recitation, I was naïve to this idea of transformative textuality. Pictures as a story held as much relevance to me as a two-year-old’s coloring book. However, Harris’s work colors outside the lines, transcending the boundaries of reading and celebrating the idea of experiencing. Writers like Peter Rabinowitz would not necessarily agree with that, though. Rabinowitz’s “Before Reading” stresses the hierarchy between reader and author, a hierarchy that does not afford the reader with much freedom for their own interpretation,

“…treat the reader’s attempt to read as the author intended, not as a search for the author’s private psyche, but rather as the joining of a particular social/interpretive community that is, the acceptance of the author’s invitation to read in a particular socially constituted way that is shared by the author and his or her expected readers” (22).

Isn’t reading supposed to be treated as an escape from everyday social conventions? A utopia that is not demarcated and monitored by the author’s spatial dimensions? Harris seems to think so, treating the audience of his The Whale Hunt as viewers and not as readers. By viewing his work, the audience can invest more time in the emotional significance of the hunt, connecting more with the ethos of the whale hunting community. He toys with a system of aesthetics that have a subjective authority and a three-dimensional form. Harris’s Hunt allows the viewer to create their own lexicon of emotion by allowing them to arrange the journey in their own particular way,

“Each viewer will experience the whale hunt narrative differently, and not necessarily in a linear fashion, constructing his or her own understanding of the experience” (from Harris’s The Whale Hunt statement).

With this freedom of navigation, the viewer does not have the pressure of forcing an advancing chronology on the images. If he or she wants to go backwards, that can happen. If the viewers want to spin the images, they can do that. In most books where the reader is given a passive role in the development of the piece, Harris’s viewer is given an active role, or, the active role in progressing the story. Similar to the ergodic texture of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, the viewer has to make a decision where the plot begins and ends. The malleable relation of images allows the viewer an expansive potential for identification (even if they have never experienced a whale hunt). Roland Barthes’s Death of the Author notes 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). Harris does not seem to be fazed by the finality of this hunt, as the experience will be treated like a domino effect, scattering itself to new eyes and minds all over cyberspace. The tendency for continuity will be its greatest asset. The future of the piece is not premeditated by the limitations of the author’s text. These various forms could very well reveal testimonies that Harris may not have even intended. In order for The Whale Hunt to speak for itself, Harris removes himself and the lets the kaleidoscope of moments and experiences interact with the viewers.

Harris trusts that his viewers are capable of their own representations. He hands The Whale Hunt to them without so much as a “Here you go” and leaves to continue working on his next project.

Calvino Plays One Mean Accordion


After much discussion in class and further reading on my own, is it safe to stress that I still have no idea what is going on in this story? Or, is that Calvino’s motive? Just as blind people presumably hear better, is our blindness towards the plot intended to magnify the structure of the novel? It was William S. Burroughs’ The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin that made me attempt to “cut up” the novel through this didactic process:

“Cutting and rearranging a page of written words introduces a new dimension into writing enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variation. Images shift sense under the scissors smell images to sound sight to sound kinesthetic” (91).

Despite Burroughs’ focus on the written word, I thought it would be beneficial to focus on the implied word. Following our class discussion last Wednesday, I began reading this book through the navigation of the page’s structure (e.g. the importance of teeter-tottered chapters) rather than the prose itself. While Johanna Drucker’s article last week introduced the Accordion books as those that, “…have the advantage of creating a seamless continuous surface which is also broken up into discrete, page-like units (140),” I wonder if the Accordion codex has to physically resemble the Accordion instrument. Calvino’s book, composed of the dichotomous numbered chapters and titled chapters, functions just as a verbal Accordion. Calvino plays the book just as the instrument, squeezing the obscurity into the titled chapters and releasing the clarification during the numbered chapters. It is that area of breathing and clarification that allow the readers to parallel their interpretation with the narrator’s. In Chapter four, Calvino implicates that the obscurity of his text is so overwhelming due to the precision of analysis:

“During the reading there must be some who underline the reflections of production methods, others the processes of reification, others the sublimation of repression, others the sexual semantic codes, others the sublimation of repression, others the sexual semantic codes, others the metalanguages of the body, others the transgression of roles, in politics and in private life” (75).

Is anyone else overwhelmed by all those roles? Precisely why Calvino employs the “you” POV for his numbered chapters, the tasks of analyzing a novel are too arduous for one person, or “I” (thank you for being the first author I’ve read to realize that, Calvino). The defining details for one person may be considered extraneous for another person. To consult Burroughs again, the cutting up method allows readers to interpret a piece in a way they did not or could not before.  The “you” is the knife that slices through the pages and words to present an innovative and collaborative way of perception. Chapter eleven allows the reader to explicitly see the importance of linking unity with fragmentary and individuality with collectivity,

“In the spreading expanse of the writing, the reader’s attention isolates some minimal segments, juxtapositions, of words, metaphors, syntactic nexuses, logical passages, lexical peculiarities that process to possess an extremely concentrated density of meaning” (254).

Ashley indicates in her post that, “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.” I completely agree with her. With this novel so laden in structure, setting, and character variation, the consistent “you” in the numbered chapters acts as the novel’s colander. Once the disorder from the previous titled chapter has been strained, the reader is left to digest his or her own details.

Choose Your Own Adventure. Or not.

First and foremost, I would like to revoke my “craziest book I ever read” I so unhesitatingly murmured in class and replace it with this one (that is, until I wobble over House of Leaves). I just finished reading Leaning from the steep slope, but I must admit that my bafflement started long before that. Prior to starting the novel, I was inquisitive of the translator’s note: “In Chapter Eight the passage from Crime and Punishment is quoted in the beloved translation of Constance Garnett.” As an English major, one cannot take anything at face value, right? Thus, I decided to probe the implications of Crime and Punishment in light of If on a winter’s night traveler. Would this novel reflect similarities in structure and themes? I began to wonder if I would see strings of nihilism, utilitarianism, and rationalism buried beneath Italo Calvino’s plot. In order to completely answer questions of what’s wrong here and why does it matter, I then began the novel.

The first word in chapter one is you. Calvino does not waste any time establishing a language of possession through this second-person narrative. Similar to Dostoyevsky’s duality of his third-person omniscient between Raskolnikov and other characters, Calvino’s numbered chapters are split between the thinking of you and the speaking of I. As chapter one trudged forward, I began to rely on Calvino/the narrator’s manipulation of direction for the reader. Just as Professor Sample’s The Technology of Reading recitation suggested about the Choose Your Own Adventure series, this novel reveals differences between significant or trivial decisions by selecting the moral choice for you. While the narrator allows you to chew on the more trivial options (e.g. his relationship with Ludmilla), he makes the decision that he feels best navigates through the story. Just as Lauren’s post questioned, my trust in the narrator was skim, too. Lauren’s discomfort with the several fictional authors was a concern I carried, as it issued lopsidedness in power for the reader. I felt too inferior to make decisions. I would not necessarily call this direction stifling, but I first felt uneasy being told what to observe and analyze. After reading the book-titled chapter, followed by chapter two, I began to realize that the numbered chapters did all the thinking for me. I was dumbfounded to then read Ludmilla applaud and justify my concern:

 “I prefer novels,” she adds, “that bring me immediately into a world where everything is precise, concrete, specific. I feel a special satisfaction in knowing that things are made in that certain fashion and not otherwise, even the most commonplace things that in real life seem indifferent to me” (30).

Ludmilla’s appreciation of exactness and the issue of manipulation become cyclical with my immediate reaction to themes in Crime and Punishment. Utilitarianism can be seen especially as it reflects the overall good of the society/novel (in this case the reader). Calvino employs the pronoun you in the numbered chapters to enforce a communal understanding of each previous chapter. As we also see in the bookstore, the clerk has several copies of the Bazakbal book (an indication that this is a common problem and a solution that benefits all) and responds to the narrator’s defective Calvino’s book with, “Ah, you, too?” (27). The use of pronouns, dialogue, and ambience of setting all work to achieve the greater good for the most amount of people.