Authorship Shaped by the Behavior of the Crowds in Mao II

I will base my paper on Mao II. I aim to connect two of the major issues addressed in the book relevant to our analysis of the post-print fiction: authorship, and crowds as transformers of the act of authoring. The book dedicates a great deal of time setting in separate, if not opposite directions, these two situations within the story. On his part, Bill Gray not only struggles with redefining the place and role of the author, but he insists on isolating him by isolating himself. On a parallel line, the book is full of images of crowds, like snapshots of a world that no longer functions at an individual level.

I will rely, among other works, on Crowds and power by Elias Canetti and The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes to argue that there is a relationship between authorship and the behavior of crowds, and this relationship directly determines the role authors will perform in an overpopulated world transformed by technology. While Bill sees only terrorism as a new form of authorship, just as powerful is the crowd to redefine and usurp the identity of the author. One way to incorporate terrorism in my analysis is to look at it as a contributor of the formation of a mass in fear helping shape a world that behaves in mass.

Barthes in his essay says, “Mallarme was doubtless the first to see and to foresee in its full extent the necessity to substitute language itself for the person who until then had been supposed to be its owner. For him, for us too, it is language which speaks, not the author; to write is, through a prerequisite impersonality…to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs,’ and not ‘me.’” This theory seems to be in direct opposition of Bill’s romantic views of the role of the author. He and Scott seem to give more value and importance to the person of the writer than to the work itself. As a result Bill rebels against this disfranchising of the writers who become less powerful as they incorporate and as they become absorbed by the mass media. The next step in mass production of writers is the collective authorship, the act of collaborating works and authors incorporating its mass-audience, so inherent of the post-print authorship.


Playing Braid

After playing  braid a few times, I can see a clear narrative at the same time that immerses me into interacting with the quest of the main character. Because this is one my first experiences with video games, I know I was slower to figure out what kind of things I should try in order to move forward with the game. I am sure more experienced players can instinctively see clues that I missed over and over, e.g. if I press shift longer I can make things go back in time. For a while I only pressed shift to bring Tim back from the hole.

The game is designed to involve the players in several goals at once. On the one hand we want to help Tim get to the Princess, we want to reach to the next level, and we want to collect the pieces of the paintings and put them together. On the other hand, we have to pay attention to how the story evolves and what we are contributing to.

I also noticed that while the game goes around a story that seems simple, the characters are complex. From the first moment we become acquainted with Tim’s dilemma, we can see he is not simply a good guy, a perfect hero that will always be right. I was skeptical from the beginning of his motivations and the real appreciation he had for the princess and their relationship. I, however, could not say why I was being skeptical and that duality carried through my involvement in his quest.

One characteristic of the game is that has several layers and therefore more than one issue to solve but not all of them necessarily have to be finished in order to move to another world.  For example, I found that even if I didn’t collect the piece of painting, or got the key and opened the locked box, I still could pass to the next level or world. This reminded me the database versus narrative discourse where the story is not told in a sequence, but the player can take some now and then come back to it later, and kind of create a different experience each time.  However my brain is too well programed to do things in sequences so even when I could jump to another world I felt that I had to go back and finish before moving on or else I would be cheating.

Speaking of cheating, I looked for clues online about how to get out of the pit in world 3 because I still had not discovered how to move back on time. After this first clue I felt more confident to experiment possibilities on my own and wished I was more experience player to beat this thing. Whenever I was able to figure out something on my own I felt like a winner and inventive. My biggest frustration with it was my inability to think and move quickly to not get killed. While I can’t compare this game to another because I never played before, I understand now what is that engage people to stay playing for hours.

I agree with my classmates about certain themes throughout the game such as manipulation, returning back in time, redoing things so that they work better for you, correcting mistakes. I think these are engaging elements because they deal with creating a new reality. In this game we are capable of overcoming things that are irremediable in the real world. In other games I understand that when you get killed you must start over again, but here you just hit a button and you can go back to the moment when you failed. In the real world we find ourselves saying many times: “if only I knew then what I know now,” well here once you learn what you were supposed to learn from your failure you can go back and do it again. If only were like that in real life.

I have not finished the game. I am still fighting the pink bunnies and the shooting cannons, but what I still can’t figure out is the issue of collecting pieces. For once, at some point I could get the key to open the box and got to the box alive but then still couldn’t open the box to get the piece of painting. In some occasions, I moved to the next level without collecting the pieces because they seem to be related to different obstacles, or they were placed in areas that Tim had not access to. This is an example of the game evolving in different layers at once. Even when I got the pieces to collect I wasn’t sure if I was putting them in the right way inside the canvas.

I associate the collectible pieces with the idea of a prize that surrounds the relationship between Tim and the Princess. I don’t know for sure how much really Tim has learned from his mistakes despite that the game is basically all about second chances and correcting mistakes. It appears that his quest is very much about earning and collecting prizes and getting things to work his way. But whether this idea is correct or not I will only know when I finish figuring out the entire game which I must say I am looking forward to it.

Digital Works

I found that electronic writing that combine gaming lose narrative power—as we understand it— while those that don’t involve so much gaming have a stronger narrative. For example: the Taroko Gorge and the Bomar Gene have a storyline that is easier to follow than those with more games. The important factor in the creation of these works is the emphasis on incorporating graphic arts and design for the web while delivering a story which not necessarily has to follow a sequence. I think the incorporation of digital technology into the narrative can be compared with prose poetry where freestyle poems lose the rigidity of the genre but still conserve its beauty and sensitivity. In this case the meshing of art, literature, and games presents a context for the developer and programmer that transforms into a challenge for the reader-gamer-explorer. While the artist/author Nelson, tells us not to try to make sense of it, he also tells us to explore, explore, explore. And I wonder is it possible to explore without trying to make sense or arriving to it regardless?

By not trying to make sense, we simply put on hold our preconceived ideas of making sense of things in the way we usually do. And exploring with an open mind we will get to an understanding of the work if not different from what we would arrive to otherwise, at least we would get there in a different way. Is that what this digital or electronic literature is all about, developing a new approach to the genres?

I think that the difference between a regular game and these games is that in a regular game the objective is more focused on beating the opponent or even the creator of the game, to conquer. In these games the stops along the way delivering pieces of literary stimuli create a journey within the game that allows the player construct a storyline parallel to the game which will modify the game experience but will also be modified by it.

Because we are so trained to make sense of things, we will either way arrive to a conclusion after the exploration. These works can’t be figured out completely after a few engagements but a familiarity with them will eventually create a concept and all the confusion that now overwhelms us will go away and we will be able to appreciate the paths that connect graphics, lines, text, and colors, or where they are not supposed to connect.

No…Just Women of Paper!


After I forced myself to get over the fact that this is a women-bashing story of a little man who just can’t get over the fact that a girl left him, I tried to look for the ways in which this book qualifies as a post-print fiction book.

I think the book incorporates a lot of the elements of the new media into the traditional print form. Starting with the presentation and the physical structure of the text, we see similarities with digital works presentations. There is a lot of use of white space, different fonts, and the format changes from columns to uninterrupted text, definitely separating from “Gutenberg’s archetype of the unmarked text.” (Drucker 95)

Another incorporation of new media is the way in which the story is delivered as a compilation of characters’ points of view of an incident instead of using dialogues and an all-powerful narrator to which traditional narrative has accustomed us. This approach reminds me of the idea of databases explained by Lev Manovich and where the sequence of a beginning to the end is less important to make sense of the story. This gives a reader a much greater power of interaction with the book, for example one could chose to read all the pieces of a character from beginning to end and then another, and so forth. This way the experience could be a different one in each read or to each reader.

The coolest approach is the interaction of the characters with the author, who is himself a character of his own story, diffusing the line between what the author is going through while writing his novel and the story of the novel itself. Suddenly he loses control over the characters of his books—which has been admitted by many an author in the past— but also people from his own life seem to find the way into his novel apparently without his permission. I think this is the most fascinating part of the story, when he appears to be looking down in his backyard and see those characters interacting at their own will instead of him writing about them, and then to his surprise, real people from his real world show up to the village and there is nothing he can do about it. This enhances the element of virtual experiences so in vogue through the digital and interactive narratives of today.

While the story is not as self-aware as that of Italo Calvino or that of Danielewski, Plascencia focuses his attention on the relationship of the writer and his characters and how he is a character also manipulated by the others in the story. The story proclaims itself as a “war on omniscient narration.” (218)

Text Games

After attempting to figure out how to play interactive fiction, I realized that my role with fiction has always been an inactive one. Used to having the story told and solved for me for so many years, I got frustrated with having to find it. I had mixed feelings about how I would approach this style. On the one hand, it requires imagination and to put yourself in the place of the author and the characters all at once to fill in the spaces so that you can contribute to the story. You have to make the story happen. On the other hand, you have to learn how to ask questions that will move the story forward. That was what I fount most difficult. I found that even following the rules of the game, paying attention to the surroundings and the characters, still I lacked the ability to ask the right questions. In Violet for example, I knew exactly what I wanted to know but every time I asked, it was the wrong question. I found Violet’s hints really useful and sometimes the “SIDE” stories provided some clues, but in general I could not figure out how to actually start writing. As much as the game tells you to write, whenever I attempted to do it, it would take me to some distraction. I concluded that the real objective was not to write but that can’t be it because then the game would be deceiving. I experienced about the same with the Bronze game but I found it easier or maybe just made more sense to me. I was aware that when I got to a dead end, I simply had to find another direction and so it wasn’t so frustrating.


As for the Get Lamp documentary, I really enjoyed seeing those people who were part of that moment of excitement when things happened for the first time. How addictive it was from the moment it came out. Two things grabbed my attention the most: One, the idea of making such adventure happen with pure text, forcing the player bring in all the movements and images on their own. Two, the idea that it is a maze. One of the speakers in the documentary mentioned that many people were turn off buy the fact that it was just another maze. Another speaker was raving about how great mazes are. Some players developed maps and kept notes and drawings in order to figure out the game. I guess what goes on in this type of fiction is a parallel of narrative and the maze idea is what makes it interactive. Then instead of reading a story, pieces of it have been scattered all over the maze and we are supposed to find them and put them together to complete the story.  While I am not a maze person, nor do I become addicted easily, I still would love to be able to figure out how to complete some interactive fiction games.

Letter to Mrs. Sample

Dear Mrs. Sample,

I think you got a very good first impression of the book House of Leave. This is one of the main issues of the story, the author makes a realistic representation of the subject in the narrative to make us wonder whether this is fiction or not.

The truth is that the entire thing is made up and yes the main objective is to create a very unusual work although its uncanny nature is very well disguise. In other words, we don’t really know yet what he is trying to prove with this unusual approach to telling a story. We are working on figuring that out although the author itself tells us not to worry too much trying to find out what is the purpose or meaning of it. Basically he said to just have fun with it.

I can tell you this is the best time to start reading this book because it is very Hallowing friendly so you jumped at it just on time. And that is all I can tell you for now because I don’t want to spoil it for you, just be prepare for some good old scare.

Enjoy your book and be brave,


In a search of Karen

Through Karen, DeLillo exposes the reader to the suffering of the masses. Karen seems to be the only character interested in others apart from herself. Yet, she remains incapable of following through. Her explorations and attempts to make a connection with the masses and crowds, which allure her so grandly, lead her to nowhere.  Chapter 12 could be considered the last significant appearance of Karen’s character in the novel and we learn a lot about her cares and how “She was trying out the voices in her head” (176).

In chapter 12, Karen tries to absorb the world, or the part of the world that interests her while staying in NYC. During her stay at Brita’s loft, she chooses to follow some characters in the streets of New York that allows us to see the complexities that torment her and an almost climatic moment occurs at the end of this chapter that suggests Karen has made a decision or transformed from a passive observer into a believer all over again, or a crazy for that matter. Then, of course, DeLillo must come in and kill it all with the anti-climatic Karen of chapter 14, the real final scene of her character.

I chose to speak of both chapters as her last appearance because it seems to me that DeLillo didn’t follow the rule of privilege, her appearance in chapter 14 diminishes her. Her last appearance is better analyzed in the light of her previous performance in other chapters especially in opposition with her chapter 12 development.

Karen is attracted to the ordinary, non-celebrity, untalented, anonymous masses. She seeks that “discharge” spoken by Canetti in the essay Crows and Power. She seeks unity under one guidance. To achieve it, she first denies herself and becomes one in a mass through her religion, then, when forcefully removed from it, she drifts into living a life without a purpose, barely there, seeking communion with the only two figures around her. In seek of that unity; she becomes the lover of two men who just allow her to hang around there. But she remains allured by the news in the way that allows her to envision a larger crow; it captures humanity as a mass of suffering.

In her stay in NYC, she is fascinated by those who have lost their identity and became an anonymous representation of human decay, those without a voice, like her, just hanging out through the day. A question comes to mind: how are all these unfit characters in the novel related to one another?  Is Delillo trying to compare the main characters in the novel with those lost souls in the streets?  Karen seems to be only character not overly impressed by Bill Gray’s celebrity status. She seems to be interested in something deeper although not sure what or not firm enough to pursue it. While the last scene of chapter 12 presents a Karen who might have found a purpose, a powerful and determined Karen, “Karen came down from the stage and looked for someone who might listen. She had master’s total voice in her head”  (194). Chapter 14 presents a defeated Karen. She went back to Scott’s arms. How did that happen? DeLillo makes a great display of non-transitions all the way through this novel but this is one of the most troubling.  In her last scene, she is submissive to Scott, who is perfectly aware of their mismatch. Karen’s attitude is that of a resigned and she cares only about whether they will be able to remain in Bill’s house, not even about Bill’s well being. She who is so caring about people won’t even care about one of her lovers. While I say that DeLillo might have ignored the rule of privilege, the significance of Karen’s last appearance is interrelated to her movement through the story. She contradicts herself by remaining in the same state she has been for the past five years.

Celebrity implications

Just as Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler focuses on the role of the reader, Delillo’s Mao II focuses on the role of the writer or as Cawelti would put it, the “persona” of “the writer as a celebrity.” The main character Bill Cray has become too aware of his role as a writer and his persona outside of his work. This “conflicted writer” believes to be in conflict with the language and with his own identity but it might not be so clear that his conflict surges from his relationship with his celebrity status and his audience.

He unconsciously blames the public for turning away from fiction and becoming fixated with sensationalist news. He believes writers will become irrelevant because the fictional stories with which writers used to entertain the masses have become an everyday reality and are no longer exciting to people. He feels he has been left with nothing else to say. “News of disaster is the only narrative people need. The darker the news, the grander the narrative. News is the last addiction before—what? I don’t know. But you’re smart to trap us in your camera before we disappear.” (42)

In parallel to Bill’s self-obsession, the rest of the characters seem to be obsessed with the writer-celebrity. Brita, a free-lance photographer will only photograph writers and dedicates her work and art to create a “record,” “census,” of writers “in still pictures.” Scott, Bill’s assistant, became almost a servant and an extension of the writer himself and sometimes he even acts as Bill’s conscience.

I found interesting that neither Scott nor Bill had any faith on the work Bill had spent so much time. They both agreed that it wasn’t good in relation to his other work but from the point of view of whether it would be well accepted or not by the public. While Bill complains that “the more books they(publishers) publish, the weaker we(writers) become,” (47)  he, himself has lost his perspective for writing. His existentialist crisis was rooted on the fact that he didn’t know how to protect his work from his celebrity as a writer.

Cawelti’s piece starts by presenting how literature found its way into popular culture by creating and repeating formulaic patterns to penetrate the larger masses. The piece ended with the transformation this popular culture inflicted in the life of the writer and his work as a result of reaching such large masses.


A Tale is a Tale

I want to analyze the site We Feel Fine in the light of Marie Laure Ryan’s Avatar of Story and the opposition of narrative vs database offered by Lev Manovich because I think this website is the best example of what is happening to narrative and storytelling when it interacts with new media.

In Toward an Interactive Narratology, Ryan points out that Espen Aarseth in his book Cybertext presents us with a “communication model of classical narrative” as “a transaction involving a real author, an implied author, a narrator, a narratee, an implied reader, and a real reader” (97). He applies this model of classical narrative to digital texts such as hypertext fiction and text-based adventure games even if with adjustments.

But then Aarseth denies digital texts as a species of narrative. Such statement provokes  some questions, is he implying that if the communication model of classical narrative does not completely apply to film and theater, then these are not a narrative? Is he saying that interactive fiction being closer to movies and theater, they don’t say that something has happened but instead pretend that is currently happening? Are these forms of expression not telling us a story just the same?


The idea that narrative tells somebody that something has happened and it happened in a certain order there fore it should be told in that order is being challenged by the database nature of the new media. Manovich does a great job at explaining the place of narrative in the human experience as “a means to make sense of the world” (255). It just happens that it does it in a chronological way. Database also offers a way to make sense of the world but instead of chronological presentation it gives us a pool of clues to which we reach at our own pace and make our own sense of it. Then is not that database goes against narrative but that every individual can chose a different point of beginning and point of end for the story.


We Feel Fine comes to exemplify this ability of database to tell stories even if there is not a voice narrating, or a hand that wrote it, not a chronological order in which it happened, or even if it is still happening. Ryan’s hypertexts and games, and Harris’ websites are all database forms of story telling explained by Manovich not as substitute of narrative itself but as the forms in which it has evolved as we acquire new ways to grasp the world. Classical narrative (chronological narrative) used chronological order and the written and spoken word because that is what we had at hand. Now that new media has provided us with so many options to communicate and changed the way we view the world then we tell stories in that way too.  We have learn to see the world as a pile of options to pick from so it is only natural that we tell our stories in  a pile of versions or possibilities. Harris has mastered the art of communicating in database through all his websites.


It’s all about the reader

The first part of the book leads the reader to believe that the issue at stake is to solve the problem of finding the end of the stories we have started reading. But half way into the book we realize that with so many stories unfinished, it would take more than one book to develop a reasonable ending to all of them together or separate.

The second part of “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” the true story takes shape. This is the story of an ordinary reader who gets sucked into a fictitious conspiracy theory about writing and reading. He finds himself solving the mystery surrounding the counterfeiting acts of a malicious translator who besides forging the works of renowned authors also doesn’t finish the works.

At some point I was able to see that the story was about the character of the male reader and the adventures he underwent of the malfunctioning of his readings. Each unfinished story was just a step in the direction of his journey to find out about the translator and his acts, his motives and his inability to counterfeit or deceive the reader.

I couldn’t help recalling the character from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor who finds himself uncovering the mysteries and conspiracies of the Illuminati. Here, the conspiracy is not so much about knowledge and power but very much about what is considered one source of knowledge and power: reading and writing. If the source is counterfeited what is left? Everything turns a counterfeited chaos. The whole chapter 9 illustrates this state of chaos.

Despite recognizing the new direction the story was taking, I felt through the book, the nagging need to know what would finally happen with those unfinished stories. Even though I had said in my previous posting that it didn’t matter whether a story has an end or not, and although the book questions it too “‘Do you believe that every story must have a beginning and an end?’” (259) Why did the author choose to tell the story in a way that didn’t allow me to let go of those unfinished stories?

It was about an awakening of the reader, a shake to our abandonment to a passive role as readers.

“You might as well stick to this other abstraction of travel, accomplished by the anonymous uniformity of typographical characters…You realize that it takes considerable heedlessness to entrust yourself to unsure instruments, handled with approximation; or perhaps this demonstrates an invisible tendency to passivity, to regression, to infantile dependence. (but are you reflecting on the air journey or on reading?)” (210)

This role of the reader and the importance given to the “ideal reader” (189), emphasize that the reader validates or disfranchises the author/writer.



Writers-readers connection

We are used to encountering narratives that transport us to a fantasy world where we forget we are reading and become oblivious or unaware of the writer’s techniques and use of language. In fact, we need to force ourselves to go back and see how the author achieved certain effect on us; because the process was smooth, all we experienced was the ultimate result of the literary work  moving us to feel in a certain way.

In this book we experience a forced detachment from the narrative as the author constantly summons our consciousness and makes us step out of the story by addressing us as “you, reader,” referring to specific sentences and paragraphs, noting the use of certain techniques the author seems to master, and at times confusing us as of which narrator is addressing us or is it the author himself who confronts us now? At moments the work seems presumptuous by assuming that it has our complete interest, which it does (see page 12, only paragraph).

These particularities in the work leave some uncertainty as of what is the purpose of the writer. Obviously he is not just satisfied with the act of telling us a good tale. He demonstrates excellent abilities to tell a story and engage the reader. Every new story awakes a new fascination and a desire to find out more about the characters, but then the author makes us jump into the reflection on the act of writing, reading and producing books. In this situation, as a reader, I feel like addressing him also and ask: what are you doing? Are you going to leave me hanging with all these stories you have introduced and now I am dying to see developed? Is this book going to be worth anything if you don’t put it all together and give me some closure? Why are you so fixated on keeping me aware of my function as a reader and yours as a writer?

Probably that is his whole purpose: to make me reflect on the very act of writing and reading and the beauty of creating this connection among us two strangers and then among all the readers, also strangers discovering a common ground. Maybe in the end all that matters is that we establish that connection and it doesn’t matter if the stories have an ending because the mere act of reading and writing is the only basis of such connection. But it could be that precisely the opposite applies and that unless a story has a meaning and a closure then the connection is broken or has no significance.

On the other hand, I wonder how is this book different from any other collection of short stories, besides the fact that no story has an ending as far as I have read. Is this an experimental novel? And if it applies to our subject matter in Engl. 400, then this “weird writing” the professor has selected for this class is not a new thing. How does it apply to a digital and technology friendly movement in the development of the book as we know it? Maybe it is the very fact that addresses the relationship between writers and readers, and how it can be approached to maintain currency.

Seferina Liriano