Saturday, April 26, 2008
The first Greek mythological reference made in House of Leaves is that of the Minotaur and the labyrinth. “Hic labor ille domus et inextricabilis error”, “laboriosus exitus domus”, and “laboriosa ad entrandum” are the three quotations that are used to open up chapter IX. They translate into “Here is the toil of that house, and the inextricable wandering”, “the house difficult to exit”, and “difficult to enter” (p.107). All of these refer to the labyrinth that continuously grows in the Navidson household, as well as the labyrinth that Daedalus constructed for King Minos that served as a prison for the Minotaur. Pasiphae, King Minos’ wife, had a son, the Minotaur, as a result of an illegitimate relationship with the Cretan Bull. King Minos was ashamed of the Minotaur’s appearance of a man’s body with the face of a bull, so he had an extremely complicated labyrinth created, so that the Minotaur, or anyone for that matter, could never escape it.
This labyrinth, as mentioned in the Greek myth, can be compared to the labyrinth in House of Leaves. The labyrinth that begins to develop in the Navidson home starts out as a closet sized hallway, and eventually becomes a never-ending maze. Interestingly enough, as the Navidson home increases in size, and becomes more complex and dark, so does the relationship between Karen and Will Navidson. Karen intimated that “their home was supposed to bring them closer together. The appearance of the hallway, however, tests those informal vows. Navidson finds himself constantly itching to leave his family for that place just as Karen discovers old patterns surfacing in herself” (p.82). The labyrinth creates an opportunity for Will, a photojournalist, to explore an unknown place and learn about what it is. Karen, on the other hand, does not share the same interests as Will and wants to move their family out of the house as quickly as possible. This conflict of interest creates emotional stress and darkness in Karen and Will’s relationship, which parallels the darkness of the labyrinth.
The labyrinth is a scary place, not necessarily because anything exceptionally dangerous occurs, but solely because of its impossible existence that does abide by the laws of physics. It seems as if there is an evil manifesting itself inside it due to the darkness, the cold, the constant shifting of the walls, and the creepy sounds that cannot be identified. What makes the labyrinth exceptionally frightening is that once inside, there is no concept of time. “On the twelfth of thirteenth day (it is very difficult to tell which), after sleeping for what Navidson estimates must have been well over 18 hours, he again sets off down the hallway” (p. 432). He even goes on to say that “direction no longer matters” (p. 433). Navidson’s obsession with this labyrinth has completely encompassed all of his time, which is why his relationship with Karen suffers.
When talking to Tom on the radio, Karen emphasizes how fed up she is with this maze that is destroying their family.
“Tom: They heard someone crying. I didn’t get it all ‘cause the reception was so poor. From what I can gather, they’re fine.
Radio (Karen): Well, I’m not. I don’t like being here alone, Tom. In fact I’m fucking fed up with being alone. [She starts crying] I don’t like being scared all the time. Wondering if he’s going to be alright, then wondering if I’m going to be alright if he’s not, knowing I won’t be. I’m so tired of being frightened like this. I’ve had enough Tom. I really have. After this, I’m leaving. I’m taking the kids and I’m going. This wasn’t necessary. It could have been avoided. We didn’t need to go through all this” (p.269).
The darkness in Karen and Will’s relationship could very well have been avoided if he had not been behaving selfishly. Will searches the labyrinth for a discovery of some sort for days at a time and never gives up searching in spite of how his wife, children, and friends are affected. He cares more about the discovery of this labyrinth and what it entails than he does about saving his marriage.
Not only does the labyrinth in the Greek myth compare to the labyrinth in the Navidson household, but a comparison can also be drawn between how King Minos feels guilty after his son is slain to how Will should feel about treating his family. King Minos realizes that the Minotaur, who he had been ashamed of for so long, is a kind-hearted creature. “The King slowly sees past his son’s deformities, eventually discovering an elegiac spirit, an artistic sentiment and most importantly a visionary understanding of the world. Soon a deep paternal love grows in the King’s heart and he begins to conceive of a way to reintroduce the Minotaur back into society” (p.111). The King however is too late, and the Minotaur is killed by Theseus, who becomes a hero to all the people because they believed the Minotaur was a dangerous creature. If Will does not soon realize that his family is more important than the labyrinth, he too will end up like King Minos, regretful and lonely. Just as the King regrets not being a better father to the Minotaur, Will will regret not being a better father to Chad and Daisy, as well as a better husband to Karen. Karen discusses leaving with the kids, and if that happens, it will be too late for Will to decide what he wants his priorities to be.
Similarly, Johnny Truant becomes obsessed with compiling Zampano’s notes about the Navidson Record into a complete story, and this begins to drive Truant crazy. He spends endless hours locked in his apartment and isolates himself from the outside world. His obsession with assembling Zampano’s book to make it coherent is very similar to Will’s obsession with navigating the labyrinth and trying to comprehend what it is and where it leads to. Truant is a dark character to begin with due to his life growing up with an abusive father and a mother who is in a mental institution, however as he gets more involved in the Navidson Record, he becomes more obsessive, eats hardly anything, and never leaves the room.
The Greek myth of the Minotaur continues to compare to the labyrinth that Will navigates through. The word “labor” in Latin, means “to slip or slide backwards” (p.114). Due to the complexity of the labyrinth, navigating through the maze is difficult and much effort is required to make any sense of it. “We cannot relax within those walls, we have to struggle past them” (p.114). In order to keep track of their path, Holloway sprays neon paint onto the walls and uses fishing line to keep track of their path, especially when it becomes exceptionally complicated. According to Greek myth, “Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, supplied Theseus with a thread which he used to escape the labyrinth” (p.119). This fishing line that Holloway uses compares directly to the thread that Theseus used to get out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. Without this thread, Theseus would have never managed to get out of the labyrinth, just as Holloway would most likely not find his way back without the fishing line.
Interestingly enough, the thread has “served as a metaphor for an umbilical cord, for life, and for destiny” (p.119). The umbilical cord is what separates a mother from her newborn child. If the fishing line used by Holloway was to break, or the thread used by Theseus was to break, there would most likely be no way to find a way out of the labyrinth, and back to their place of origin, or “mother”.
According to Greek Mythology, Orpheus was known to be an exceptionally good poet and musician, and Eurydice was Orpheus’ wife, who was killed by a nest of snakes. After her death, Orpheus swore never to love women again, and only to take young individuals as lovers. Orpheus is like Johnny Truant in many ways. Orpheus was an exceptional poet, while Johnny compiles hundreds of pages of text into a book which was written by Zampano. He is clearly talented and creative in order to do this. Johnny also does not have meaningful, long- lasting, relationships with women. He forms an obsession over Thumper, the stripper, but he never actually forms a relationship. This could also be due to the way his own parents raised him. Since his father was abusive and his mom ended up in a mental institution, he is probably too frightened to be in a relationship and experience more misfortunes.
In Orphism, which is a religion based on Orpheus, people practice vegetarianism and abstention from sex, which are related to purification. Johnny, clearly is not purified by abstention from sex or vegetarianism, but he does develop habits in both the fields of sex and food consumption, which is most likely not coincidental. He pretty much stops eating when he becomes obsessed with Zampano’s text, and has sex with numerous women throughout the book, which is the opposite of abstaining from sex. However, all of the sexual relations that Truant encounters are not meaningful, just as Orpheus’ are not after his wife Eurydice dies. After a one night stand with an Australian girl that he met at a bar, he thinks to himself, “I didn’t even know where I was, who she was, or how we’d done what she said we’d done. I had to get out” (p.118). Truant has one night stands often, and is not at all phased by any women that he meets.
Eurydice died, leaving Orpheus all alone. Pelafina, Johnny’s mother, did not die, however she did end up in a mental institution. Although she was physically there, her head was not in the same place as everyone else’s, so in a way, a part of her died. In her letters to Johnny, she emphasizes how proud of him he is and how much she loves him. “It’s a rare and stupendous gift and yet you’ve absolutely no idea you have it. You’ve listened to tyrants and lost faith in your qualities” (p.605). Pelafina definitely thinks a lot of her son and is very proud of who he is. Orpheus loved Eurydice that much, if not more, and the feeling on Eurydice’s side was mutual. In this way parallels can be made between that of Johnny’s relationship with his mother and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Throughout the House of Leaves, struck passages in red emerge, which signify different Greek myths that relate to the text. The myths of the Minotaur, Theseus, and Orpheus and Eurydice all play significant parts in the book, and they are all relatable to the characters and events. It was an extremely creative and intelligent way for Danielewski to portray certain events, and made it possible for the reader to enjoy a parallel story at the same time he or she is reading House of Leaves. The Greek mythology portrayed in this novel added an important element to it, and without it, something would have been noticeably missing.
"addiction" and "lack of free will" at times in the House of Leaves. Let me know what you guys think. BTW this is *not* my final. Let me know what you guys think...since we know there are a lot of references to Greek literature, especially.
“Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods.
From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,
But they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
Compounds their pains beyond their proper share.”
- Odyssey 1.37-40
The concept of “Fate vs. Free Will” is very prominent in a lot of ancient literature, especially in Greek antiquity. Zeus, during the Odyssey 1.37-40, describes his opinion on this very idea, explaining how it is from Gods alone that human suffering and misery comes. He further elaborates to explain people even manage to worsen their share of suffering with their reckless behavior. The apparent lack of free will, and fate being the determinant of everyone’s lives can be seen in three examples of ancient Greco-Roman literature: The Odyssey (Homer), Oedipus (Sophocles) and Metamorphoses (Ovid). Major protagonists in these old texts all suffer at the hand of their fates which they are unable to dodge.
When young Oedipus approached the Oracle of Apollo at
One may wonder how this story supports the notion of fate being the determinant of everything, after all nobody coerced Oedipus into going to
The question of “Fate Vs. Free Will” is also approached and answered in The Odyssey by Homer. Odysseus was lost at sea for many years where he had encountered many quests for glory and kleos. However, the best example which shows his fate and the ultimate return to his homeland,
It appears almost as though everything in Odysseus’ life is due to fate and the will of the gods (not really his own will). Calypso manages to keep Odysseus against his obvious will for years and it is decided amongst the gods for him to be allowed to make the decision to leave. Athena knew that Odysseus would leave, given the opportunity and so it is decided amongst the gods that he would be allowed to leave (or make the decision thereof). Suppose, Zeus would have declined Athena’s request and not sent Hermes to have Calypso “pardon” Odysseus he could have remained her “slave” for eternity and he would have never found his way home to Ithaca. Also, it was Poseidon’s storm which took Odysseus raft to Phaecia which was his ticket home – so even that part of his journey was divinely influenced. Odysseus almost seems like a toy to the gods with the decision’s they make concerning his life and what he can and cannot do and what does and does not happen to him.
The Roman poet, Ovid, shows the worst case of recklessness on the behalf of the gods and their influence, which they exert upon people, in his famous work the Metamorphoses. In this case, Io is the victim of the fate which the gods have “decided” for her. After Zeus deceives Io and changes himself into her husband to lull her into a sexual relationship all sorts of problems arise. Hera soon finds out that Zeus is not being a loyal husband and in order to save Io from Hera’s wrath, Zeus turns her into a cow. For a long time Io is kept away from Zeus by Argus Panoptes who is later slain by Hermes upon the direction of Zeus. Hera, in order to keep her away from Zeus then forces her to wander for a long time until she finally ends up in
To gain a further understanding of Io and her lack of choice a few events have to be considered. She was only engaged in sexual contact with Zeus because she was deceived by Zeus to think he was her husband and it was all because of her ignorance and lack of knowledge that she was tricked into making decisions which were not really her will – very similarly to Oedipus. Io was more or less an object to the Gods and they did with her what they wanted to and unfortunately for her Hera and Zeus had very different intentions with her and she was caught in-between a conflict which brought a lot of suffering to her. The gods turned her into different things, chased her around the world and kept her as a slave, essentially, for years. There was nothing Io could have done to have a better future – her fate was sealed as soon as she was caught between the will of the gods.
As Zeus said in the Odyssey, people do have free will, but their decisions are empty because their fate is predetermined by the gods – although people do have the power to make things a lot worse. Zeus only explains that people can make things worse, but they are not really able to avoid their fate, that is what the Gods have decided for them. This idea becomes obvious in many works of antiquity and seems to be a running theme throughout much of ancient literature. In Oedipus, Metamorpheses and The Odyssey the main human characters are sometimes able to make conscious decisions but the entire system is “rigged” and the Gods have already predetermined the outcome of what they want to happen to the characters in question. People’s decisions are weightless because of their ignorance and sometimes they are not even able to make decisions as even their conscious thought can be controlled by the Gods and the Gods can exert their will on people through such coercion. Free will in the literature of antiquity is an illusion – people are slaves to the god’s will and their predetermined fates.
Friday, April 25, 2008
I learned a lot in this class, and I have to admit I have a new found respect for video games and their purpose. Thanks Dr. John's and my fellow classmates for a great semester!!!
Enjoy your vacation!!!!
Have a great Summer everyone
Thursday, April 24, 2008
One of the most impressive features of the exhibition was the White City, specially built for this occasion. The White City, that was build at the Jackson Park, took two years to construct. The main buildings were in the Beaux-Arts style, which accentuates logic, harmony, and uniformity. In the words of Henry Demarest Lloyd, the White City “…revealed to the people possibilities of social beauty, utility, and harmony of which they had not even been able to dream.”[iii] However, all these buildings were just empty shells inside. Some of the most beautiful frames in Jimmy are drawings of white buildings of the World’s Faire.[iv] Nonetheless, Ware often reminds us that these buildings were not meant to last and he often depicts their internal emptiness. Just before he reveals to us that these neoclassical buildings were steel and iron constructions, Ware offers us a project of making a paper house to emphasize the fact that the White City was basically just like a paper house project only on a much larger scale. The buildings were not real and their beauty was an illusion. In reality they were just frameworks of steel and iron rails that were covered with “staff” (plaster-like material) and later painted white to look like marble.[v] Ware accentuated the emptiness of these buildings in order to show that the World’s Fair’s promises of “social beauty, utility, and harmony” were short-lived, similarly to the grand buildings of the exhibition that were breathtaking but never meant to last. In Jimmy we see a critique of values promoted during the World’s Columbian Exhibition that in many ways influenced and determined the direction of society in twentieth century.
The White City was built to demonstrate how far America had come and what it became since its discovery 400 years ago. Its empty buildings displayed marvels of new technology, and thousands of exhibitions offered evidence of progress. They were there to offer hope and promise of a better tomorrow while at the same time encourage the American pride. “Pride in American goods and business, they felt, would be part of the overall plan of encouraging pride in America--and as we will see later, would inspire confidence in the new group of corporate leaders who would shape America in the twentieth century.“[vi] “Leo Tolstoy, who didn't personally attend, but read about the Exposition in Russian papers, found that the "Chicago exhibition, like all exhibitions, is a striking example of imprudence and hypocrisy: everything is done for profit and amusement--from boredom--but noble aims of the people are ascribed to it. Orgies are better." (qtd. in Rydell, 8) Ironically, Edward Bellamy, the very well-respected man whose utopian ideas were gestured to in theWhite City, believed that the "underlying motive of the whole exhibition, under a sham pretense of patriotism is business, advertising with a view to individual money-making."[vii] For historian David Nasaw, the fairs “ were paeans to progress, concrete demonstrations of how order and organization, high culture and art, science and technology, commerce and industry, all brought under the wise administration of business and government, would lead inevitable to a brighter, more prosperous future.”[viii]
Chris Ware draws our attention to the role of corporations in the World’s Columbian Exhibition by bordering the story about Jimmy’s granddad with images of famous McDonalds arches. The frames of the corporation are at the beginning and at the end of the story. In a way, it seems as if Ware was trying to tell as that are personal stories are not important. For me, this bordering with the McDonalds arches meant that our individual lives, happy or sad, have no meaning and no influence on the ruling force of our society, the corporations. Society run by corporations does not have an individual’s well being in mind. Bellamy, one of the earliest critics of the World’s Fair, wrote “…humanity was never confronted with a fate more sordid and hideous than would have been the era of corporate tyranny…”[ix] The only purpose that corporate run society has is the profit. Corporations are the alpha and the omega that will exploit our noble human emotions for the profit, as they did during the World’s Fair. Interest of the corporations, which was hidden behind the Exhibition’s motto “Not Matter, But Mind; Not Things, But Men”[x] was the main reason for the Fair. Exhibitions of the Fair were divided into twelve sections (transportation, machinery, mining, and so on) with categories of corporate business, such as General Electric, Westinghouse, and many others. “The substance of the exhibition offered, then, not simple matter and things, but matter and things as commercial products.”[xi]
In the summer of 1893, when the World’s Columbian Exhibition with its White City opened, many factories and banks went out of business, and fear of economic instability was sweeping the nation. Only a year after the World’s Exhibition, the great railroad strike began and would eventually result “in the most destructive civil violence since the Civil War”.[xii] However, the World’s Exhibition was not there to address social divide of the time, it was there, in the words of Chauncy M. Depew, “to celebrate the evolution of man”. In Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware contrasted the “evolution of man” celebrated in the World’s Fair with the vicious cycle of abandonment and the lack of “evolution” in Jimmy’s family. Generation after generation Corrigans have left their sons behind. Scars of rejection and insecurity culminated in Jimmy, leaving him incapable to have a relationship with a woman. At the age of 36, Jimmy has never been kissed and probably the cycle of abandonment would end with him, because he could never find the courage to ask a girl out. In a case of a Jimmy’s family, Ware presented deterioration rather than evolution of man and it all started when Jimmy’ s granddad was “thrown from the largest building in the world” at the World’s Fair.
For some, “The evolution of man” that was celebrated in the World’s Columbian Exhibition was only for the white Americans. As Jimmy’s granddad remembered, for his adopted African – American granddaughter’s family history project, “ Well they only let coloreds in for one day or so I think…”[xiii] . In a view of Frederick Douglass, a former slave, author, and statesman, the White City was “ a whited sepulcher.” In his opinion the difference between the Court of Honor, with its symmetrical plan and white buildings, and the Old World customs and folkways, with numerous people in their traditional costumes, among them the African-Americans, Asian, and Indian, served to “… shame of the Negro, the Dahomians are here to exhibit the Negro as a repulsive savage.” However, the civilization celebrated in the White City that was contrasted against the “repulsive savage” was build by hard work of African-Americans. They were excluded form the Exhibition. “American blacks stood beyond the gates, petitions for an exhibition, a building, or a separate department all rejected. They were denied participation in the Fair, in its administration, on the National Commission, even on the construction force and ground crews.”[xiv]
Because of the media in which Chris Ware is telling Jimmy’s story, we can see what Frederic Douglas was talking about. The frames that guide us through the White City are large, sometimes taking up the whole page. People are minuscule compared to the magnificent ‘marble” buildings. However, once we leave the White City, we are entering into completely different world. The organized and harmonious White City is behind us and we venture into “Dwellings of the Cannibals[xv]”. Frames depicting this part of the Exhibition are small, twenty squeezed on one page, but unlike the White City frames that were focused on the buildings, on this page our attention is draw to people. The Old World customs and folkways is a place in which Jimmy’s granddad experienced rare act of kindness in his life. An Italian immigrant, a father of his school friend, gave him a little lead horse as a gift. This is the only time, in the whole World’s Exhibition sequence, that Jimmy’s granddad is fully dressed. In all other frames that depict his visit to the exhibition Jimmy’s granddad wears a nightgown, symbolizing his feelings of insecurity and insignificancy. Manly, he feels like this because of his father, but at the same time we cannot deny that in the White City, and in the society it represents, there is no niche for a lost soul like Jimmy’s granddad. “Dwellings of the cannibals”, that was meant to represent the inferior societies was a more friendly place than the White City. The Exhibition contrasted these two worlds as places of superior and inferior progress, but Ware contrasted them on a human scale. In Ware’s context, the White City becomes cold and heartless world.
In Chris Ware’s comic book, the World’s Columbian Exhibition was revaluated. The “evolution of men” glorified in this Fair acquires a new meaning when we look at the life of Jimmy Corrigan. The White City was build for white men. It celebrated their achievements in technology, agriculture, and machinery. All the roads to success were open for them. Even though, Jimmy is rather an extreme example, and we cannot consider him as a typical example of white men in America, he represents a significant number of men that are lost in this society, who have no sense of purpose and direction. The better life promised by the World’s Exhibition did not come true for them. Jimmy’s family situation can be explanation for many of his problems, but the role of the society concerned only with profit, where individual lives do not matter can not be ignored.
[iii] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
[iv] Chris Ware Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth
[ix] Edward Bellamy Looking Backward
[x] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
[xi] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
[xii] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
[xiii] Chris Ware Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth
[xiv] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
[xv] Chris Ware Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth
and the analysis can be found here
Follow the directions on the title page of the story and having both .pdf files open at the same time will help follow footnotes.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Have a good summer!
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
- I'm now done reading rough drafts, unless we've made some kind of prior arrangements, or unless I've emailed you an offer to read another draft.
- My grade book is now all nice and tidy, and I can't remember to whom I've sent recent blog grades. So if you want me to send your grades, send me an email.
- Guidelines for self-evaluations on informal blogs:
- Give yourself a 5 if you always post a page or so a week of useful material.
- A 4 if you average close to a page, but sometimes fall short.
- A 3 if you regularly post informal blogs, but their total length is something like half what they should be.
- A 2 if you occasionally post something, but it's nothing to be proud of.
- A 1 if you simply don't do it.
- Guidelines for self-evaluations on in-class participation
- Give yourself a 5 if you have several productive things to say every class.
- A 4 is appropriate if you speak more than most people, but you're not entirely consistent.
- A 3 is appropriate if you say something useful every class, but seldom go beyond the minimum.
- A 2 if you occasionally have something to say.
- A 1 if you don't speak in class.
- DUE DATES (you've heard it before, but it's important, so I'm reminding you):
- Your projects need to be posted by noon on Thursday if you want comments (which in any case are likely to be less detailed than they were for drafts)
- If you don't need comments of any sort, I'll accept them by noon on Saturday.
- Anything beyond noon on Saturday needs to be negotiated individually and in advance.
Monday, April 21, 2008
“Little solace comes to those who grieve when thoughts keep drifting as walls keep shifting and this great blue world of ours seems a House of leaves moments before the wind.” ( )
“The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality) the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center”( )
House of leaves is a book embedded in layers upon layers of obscurity that cannot be completely explained. It embodies multiple layers overlapping narratives with infinite interpretations. Upon close examination, one is quick to realize that the complexity House of leaves presents within its very core challenges our expectations right from the start- “this is not for you”(). This convolution is the beauty of the book itself.
One can examine some of these intricacies philosophically through Derrida, one of the many cited sources in the book. Derrida was a prominent philosopher who coined the idiom Deconstructivism, a term (beyond lay-man definition) that failed even in Derrida hands to meet a satisfactory definition. However, it can be defined as (but not limited to) “the process through which a subject or text undergoing examination appears to shift and complicate in meaning when read in the light of the assumptions and absences.”(1) This definition is the foundation on which House of leaves is built. Danielewski’s use of Derrida’s text, Structure Sign and Play we are offered as readers an insight to possible ways of raking through (Deconstructing) some of the structural layers in House of leaves.
The basis of Deconstruction is the investigation of the underlying meaning offered by a text. Understanding this innate meaning requires that the text is viewed as presentation of limitless multiplicities. Derrida states that “deconstruction cannot limit itself or proceed immediately to neutralization: it must, by means of double gesture, double science, a double writing practice an overturning of the classical opposition and general displacement of the system. It is on that condition alone that deconstruction will provide the means of intervening in the field of oppositions it criticizes.”( )
As Derrida suggests deconstruction is an ‘event’ within a text that when investigated offers an understanding of the structural internal logic of the text. ( ) Many such events occur throughout the book. These events are loosely compartmentalized here into two fundamental subtexts: Logocentrism and mythology. In the book, these are devices used individually as evidence of the cornerstones on which House of leaves rests.
The term Logocentrism stems from the word logos translated as word. In a broader context, Logocentrism refers to the idea that there is a central unchanging meaning, which also means that the context in which it is used shares the same center. Derrida criticizes this idea because the center is nonexistent, it is a preconceived notion that is thought to be the foundational support to every textual composition and is sought after as the hinge that holds everything within the text in place. He states:
“The function of this center [is] not only to orient, balance and organize the structure…but above all to make sure that the unorganizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call the play of the structure…. the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself…. Thus it has always been thought that the center which by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which while governing the structure escapes it structurally… The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality) the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center.”
Furthermore, it is a preconception that within every studied text or subject there has to be a center, and deconstruction ought to hub around this central idea. Derrida also argues that the deconstructor must look within the text itself as “there is nothing outside the text”( ). In a more critical view of Logocentrism, it can be put forth as a philosophical principle of reason or thought as expressed in language.
Language in this context according to Derrida is not only an intricate aspect of deconstruction but the construction of the text that is to undergo such deconstruction “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique”. Language is an instrument used to extend our understanding of the un-understandable. Literarily, language becomes intensive because of the infinite possibilities of it translation. Danielewski language is a bricolage engineered to convey the complexity and nonconformity of House of leaves.
The absence of a fixed locus is not accidental; this is an intentional construction of Danielewski. He craftily shifts every element in the novel as a challenge to the average reader trained expectations. We are taken through a fictional account of a movie by a blind man in a house that is architecturally impractical narrated by Johnny a drug addict. Even amongst the characters there is no central figure, “how can I know where to go when I don’t know where we are? I mean, really, where is that place in relation to here, to us, to everything? Where?” This is also evidenced by the compass that Karen bought that offers not cardninal poles.
One could argue that the House itself is the center however a rebuttal can be made that the sporadic spiral shift of the House causes it to lose that property, “they’ve found the stair case in the center which is over two hundred feet in diameter and spirals down into nothing… it’s so deep, man, it almost dreamlike”. This is the dreamlike quality that runs through the text and it characters making it even harder to make such an argument.
Another argument can be made that God is the center, examining the gospel of John an association can be drawn between the house representing God and the leaves the word. Logos can be translated as God and according to the gospel of john “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God.” From this point of view, just like the House God is everywhere, everything, lacking a center in every meaning of the word another reason for the continual shift.
In his book, Derrida cited the work of anthropologist Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss discusses in Raw and the cooked the function and structural study of mythology in textual analysis. A myth, according to Levi-Strauss, is both historically and ahistorical but above all it is timeless, it's langue. He argues that myths are implored in texts to convey underlying translations of the text itself. “As the myth themselves are based on secondary codes(the primary codes being those that provide the substance of language), the present work is put forward as a tentative draft of a tertiary code which is intended to ensure the reciprocal translatability of several myth.”( ) One can deduce that “this is why it would not be wrong to consider this book [HOL] itself as a myth: it is as it were the myth of mythology…. Myths are anonymous.”( )
Levi-Strauss in the book Raw and the cooked, cited by Derrida discussed the Bororo myth which he referred to as the key myth. This is a story of the origins of wind and rain ( ) this conveys the idea that a myth cannot be understood in isolation but as a part of the entire contextwithin which it is used. ( ) Derrida states
1. the Bororo myth, which he employs in the book as the “reference myth” does not merit this name and this treatment…this myth deserves more than a referential privilege: “in fact, the Bororo myth, which I shall refer to from now on as the key myth, is, as I shall try to show simply a transformation to a greater or lesser extent, of other myths originating either in the same society or in neighboring or remote societies. I could, therefore, have legitimately taken as my starting point any one representative myth of the group. From this point of view, the key myth is interesting not because it is typical, but rather because of its irregular position within the group
2. There is no unity or absolute source of the myth. The focus or the source of the myth always shadows and virtualties which are elusive, unactualizable, and nonexistent in the first place. Everything begins with structure, configuration, or relationship. The discourse on the acentric structure that myth itself is cannot itself have an absolute subject or an absolute center.
**this is another rough draft. i have not cited my sources. please any feedback will be helpful.
I am turning in my final project. In these links, I have the .bas file, .exe file, the informal essay, and the concept map for the story.
I am turning in everything pretty early! I hope to end my finals week early this week, so that is why.
Thanks for everything y'all! The class was a good time, and I hope everyone has a fantastic summer. Good luck in finals!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
- I have finally finished reading all the drafts I have received. A couple are still outstanding; since I'll be checking the blog less often for the next couple days, those of you remaining should email me in addition to posting your draft on the blog. The same goes for anyone hoping that I'll have a look at one more version before you post the final draft (it might happen, it might not, but it never hurts to ask).
- If you want comments, I need to have the final versions by noon next Thursday. If you don't care, as late as noon on Saturday will be fine. But remember - no comments means no comments, for real. Just a grade.
- Everyone (except Chris, as a conscientious objector) should evaluate themselves a second time on participation - one score for in-class participation, a second for informal blog entries in the second half of the semester (on a scale of 1 to 5). The guidelines are the same as last time - I'll post them again when I get around to it. This is also due by noon on Saturday. I'll grade you if you don't evaluate yourself, but again, you just need to accept your grade then - no questions or second-guessing if you don't feel like doing a self evaluation.
- If you want to do each other a favor, and be able to justify a good self-evaluation in the process, you should spend some time adding your insight to people's rough drafts. You showed in class on Thursday that most of you can do this well - so do it! If enough people do it, most of you will probably end up with better grades as a result.
- Good luck on your finals!
Friday, April 18, 2008
So I just finished my final project and compiled it, and I am going to post it now along with the text.
After I receive some comments on it, I will make any necessary corrections and post it next week with a short informal essay.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
One of the most impressive features of the exhibition was the White City, specially built for this occasion. The White City, that was build at the Jackson Park, took two years to construct. The main buildings were in the Beaux-Arts style, which accentuates logic, harmony, and uniformity. However, all these building were just empty shells inside. Some of the most beautiful frames in Jimmy are drawings of white buildings of the World’s Faire. Nonetheless, Ware often reminds us that these buildings were not meant to last and he often depicts their internal emptiness. Just before he reveals to us that these neoclassical buildings were steel and iron constructions, Ware offers us a project of making a paper house to emphasize the fact that the White City was basically just like a paper house project only on a much larger scale. The buildings were not real and their beauty was an illusion. In reality they were just frameworks of steel and iron rails that were covered with “staff”(plaster-like material) and later painted white to look like marble. The promise of the World’s Fair was short-lived, similarly to the grand buildings of the exhibition that were breathtaking but never meant to last. In Jimmy we see a critique of values promoted during the World’s Columbian Exhibition, that in many ways influenced and determined the direction of society in twentieth century. Keeping all this in mind, the motives for organizing the World’s Exhibition should be reevaluated. Behind all the pride for American achievements, glorification of technology and progress, were “they” just trying to find ways to earn more money?
In the summer of 1893, when the World’s Columbian Exhibition with its White City opened, many factories and banks went out of business, and fear of economic instability was sweeping the nation. Only a year after the World’s Exhibition, the great railroad strike began and would eventually result “in the most destructive civil violence since the Civil War”.[i] However, the World’s Exhibition was not there to address social divide of the time, it was there, in the words of Chauncy M. Depew, “ to celebrate the evolution of man”. The White City was built to demonstrate how far America had come and what it became since its discovery 400 years ago. Its empty buildings displayed marvels of new technology, and thousands of exhibitions offered evidence of progress. They were there to offer hope and promise of a better tomorrow while at the same time encourage the American pride. “Pride in American goods and business, they felt, would be part of the overall plan of encouraging pride in America--and as we will see later, would inspire confidence in the new group of corporate leaders who would shape America in the twentieth century.“[ii]
“Leo Tolstoy, who didn't personally attend, but read about the Exposition in Russian papers, found that the "Chicago exhibition, like all exhibitions, is a striking example of imprudence and hypocrisy: everything is done for profit and amusement--from boredom--but noble aims of the people are ascribed to it. Orgies are better." (qtd. in Rydell, 8) Ironically, Edward Bellamy, the very well-respected man whose utopian ideas were gestured to in theWhite City, believed that the "underlying motive of the whole exhibition, under a sham pretense of patriotism is business, advertising with a view to individual money-making."[iii] For historian David Nasaw, the fairs “ were paeans to progress, concrete demonstrations of how order and organization, high culture and art, science and technology, commerce and industry, all brought under the wise administration of business and government, would lead inevitable to a brighter, more prosperous future.”
Who would not believe that a better future is around the corner when faced with the beauty of white “marble” illuminated with thousands of light bulbs? Can we imagine how an average worker from 1893 felt in a White City? Wouldn’t we feel pride for our nation’s achievements? America managed to reach the standards of Old World in just 400 years; it was no longer a little brother. America became an equal, if not better, and was ready to display its superiority at the World’s Exhibition.
For some, the Exhibition represented only the white part of the America. In a view of Frederick Douglass, a former slave, author, and statesman, the White City was “ a whited sepulcher.” In his opinion the difference between the Court of Honor, with its symmetrical plan and white buildings, and the Old World customs and folkways, with numerous people in their traditional costumes, among them the African-Americans, Asian, and Indian, served to “… shame of the Negro, the Dahomians are here to exhibit the Negro as a repulsive savage.” However, the civilization celebrated in the White City that was contrasted against the “ repulsive savage” was build by hard work of African-Americans. Nonetheless, they were excluded form the Exhibition. “American blacks stood beyond the gates, petitions for an exhibition, a building, or a separate department all rejected. They were denied participation in the Fair, in its administration, on the National Commission, even on the construction force and ground crews.”[iv] “The evolution of man” that was celebrated in the World’s Columbian Exhibition was only for the white Americans.
[i] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
[iv] Alan Trachtenberg The Incorporation of America
This is the text version of my project. It includes a big portion of the outline for the 2nd half of the project, but just ignore that if you are comparing it to the .exe file I turned in yesterday.
For those of you playing at home, if you remember, I wanted to write a story about programming, and try to explain the more complicated parts in layman's terms, so that a normal person could be able to understand the complexity that was going on. I wrote my proposal, and I thought it was pretty sweet. I really liked how it was going, and was excited to try the idea out with a different story.
...now that I've started doing that...I hate it. I think what I've written comes across as very forced, boring, and bland. I'm not sure if I'm just not as inspired now as I was then, or maybe that this story is just a boring one compared to the last one, or that maybe the whole idea for my project sucks.
So, that's what I have so far. I'd like to know what you all think, really. Check it out compared to my proposal a few days ago...I'm giving serious thought to building my final draft off of that rather than this. Which is also why it sorta is just cut off. I don't want to write more crap for the sake of writing it...if this is a bad path to go down, I'd rather just do it now.
Just out of the blue... one thing we haven't discussed is as a method of narration is music videos. So, I think this one may be worthy of checking out.
It's Swedish pop techno. It's been stuck in my head for the past week... enjoy.
Keep in mind, it has to get a story across in 3-4 minutes. It's also a strange medium because it's so short... but so much effort can be put into music videos.
Only three colors are used throughout the video... with obvious references to terrorism and torture.
Just food for thought.
As far as the actual story goes
I've fleshed out some characters and their role in the story:
(probably in this order)
Various friends of John (the character... not the teacher... but essentially friend of mine)
The Mad Hatter
John Wayne Gacy
Various musical artist will be interjected through lyrics
Al The Killer (from Coheed and Cambria's story The Amory Wars)
Paul Tibbets (I dunno why the font just changed but I'm not going to mess with it)
God (Irvine Welsh's God in the Acid House)
You have to first download the file I published... change the extension from txt to zip (you can thank google for this). If somehow the formatting gets messed up... email me email@example.com and I'll send you the files.
The script is written in such a manner that (#) the # being a number before a line is a time out (in seconds - it has to be a whole number).
If (action) starts the line you can interject various (#) through out the line to change the speed of the text. (doesn't have to be a whole number)
If (read) is placed at the start of a line... then the line looks like it's being printed out.
If (c) is placed in the file... it will clear the screen.
(img:[name of the image in the img directory]) will print out an image to the terminal in ASCII format
(movie:[folder name of the sequence of images you want to display in the movie directory]) will print out a sequence of images to create a motion sequence.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Mark Twain writes about the use of technology as a direct way of shaping a civilization in his book A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he writes about a society that is already formed and is completely shaped by technologies of control. When in our world Huxley is attempting to use his book as a technology to inform people of the dangers that he believes the government and the powerful upper class can impose upon us using technologies similar to the ones he describes in his fictional work. By contrasting the extremeness of both of these books, an analysis of what is really going on in our world can be seen. Twain’s book revolves around a civilization where almost everyone is born completely ignorant and open to shaping as they grow up, whereas Huxley writes of people who are born completely shaped into the roles they will play throughout the rest of their lives. The meaning of technology should also be analyzed to gain a fuller understanding of what is happening in these worlds and our own.
Technology can be view as a means of preforming a task differently, which corresponds to some benefit. At the beginning of this course we discussed the meaning of the word technology. Technology can be broken down into its Greek roots techné, technique, and logos, word or discourse. “ology” is often used to describe the study or use of a discipline. Therefore it is possible to look at technology as study or use of technique to produce a result. Techniques can be thought of as arising from the evolution of how something is done over time. It is possible to believe that most technologies are the result of humans shaping processes and objects into something new and possibly beneficial. In a few books and essays that were read during this class, along with a few select others, the process of technological evolution is altered slightly. Technology is used as a means of shaping people into objects that can be manipulated and exploited. It is also used as a means of control over others.
Huxley’s fiction world is a dystopian society where people have lost their individuality. People are preprogrammed from “birth” to do a certain task and be happy doing it. Everyone in the civilized area of the world is not born; they are grown. They are genetically modified from fertilization to become a specific unit of society. The lower classes are not even individual units of society; they are multiplied, Bokanovskified, to upwards of seventy identical units. Bokanovskification is a technology that has been developed that has allowed a society to grow in a radically different way.
The means of building a desired civilization is radical different between Twain’s world and that of Huxley’s. Hank Morgan, the main character of A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court, begins his manipulation of people once they have been naturally born or takes preexisting individuals. Whereas in Brave New World the individuals are first genetically manipulated by this technology to produce a body designed to carry on specific tasks. The mind is then further manipulated to produce an individual that is happy and willing to preform the desired tasks. The concept of birth into a designed class is well expressed during a conversation between Henry, the main character of Huxley’s story who tries to escape the system, and Lenina, Henry’s companion.
"Every one works for every one else. We can't do without any one. Even Epsilons are useful. I suppose Epsilons don't really mind being Epsilons," she said aloud.
"Of course they don't. How can they? They don't know what it's like being anything else. We'd mind, of course. But then we've been differently conditioned. Besides, we start with a different heredity."
"I'm glad I'm not an Epsilon," said Lenina, with conviction.
"And if you were an Epsilon," said Henry, "your conditioning would have made you no less thankful that you weren't a Beta or an Alpha" (Huxley 77).
The conditioning that has been preformed on these inhabitants of Huxley’s world has produced lower classes that are content.
Huxley’s Bokanovskification may seem like a creative imagination at work, when in reality advances in cloning have produced similar results. Until 1997 cloning seemed like a idea out of a science fiction novel; all of that changed when Dolly the sheep was cloned. Just sixty years after Huxley writes about cloning massive numbers of humans, the first mammalian creature is successfully cloned. The advances in cloning have grown exponentially in the past ten years. Since 1997 a Rhesus monkey, cat and a horse, along with many others, have been cloned. In 2004 a group of scientists at the Seoul National University in South Korea reported in Science that they were able to successfully grow 30 cloned human embryos. This is not the only report of being able to clone humans. Also in 2004, Dr. Boisselier sent a letter to all UN Ambassadors proclaiming that he cloned thirteen children (www.clonaid.com). In 1932 Huxley writes,
One egg, one embryo, one adult--normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress (Huxley 17).
Only seventy-two years later we are able to clone about thirty identical embryos and thirteen twins. This is a very staggering and somewhat troubling advancement science has made. It is troubling because if in a little over seventy years since Brave New World was written, the human race has developed the technology to replicate its race in a laboratory. If science continues to advance at its current rate, it may not be far off before cloning and genetically engineering our offspring is a common practice. Huxley’s ideas may seem far off form anything imaginable to us, but his bokanovskification is where it all begins. Once bokanovskification has taken place, hypnopædia begins.
Hypnopædia is the means of shaping the mind, to match the character the body is to become. Children are subjected to hypnopædia as soon as possible, and every day at regular intervals. This forms the other half of the understanding of the quote above about being happy in a certain class. Beta children listen to the following sixty four thousand times when they are young.
"… all wear green," said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, "and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."
This form of control is most directly related to what is know as brain washing, a practice that most psychologists reject it having any effect of people. As is true with listening to information as on sleeps in order to prepare for a speech, exam, etc. What hypnopædia can be related to is our television, printed media and the radio. Instead of shaping our minds into perfectly conforming to society, this types of media lead us to the desire to consume as a society. Huxley gives an example of how hypnopædia influenced consumption, while discussing why people at one point loved the country and flowers.
Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers–flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport (Huxley 31).
Before discussing how the television, radio, and written media influence our society, we should look at the different techniques that Hank Morgan uses to reach similar goals.
Now that the means of producing a society to be shaped has been outlined in Huxley’s world, we will look at Twain’s. In A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court Hank Morgan uses technologies of the nineteenth century in the sixth. He is able to gain remarkable amounts of power quickly with his use of these technologies and his knowledge of the world and its events. Once he has gained power he quickly establishes plans for sixth century Europe. “...I had the beginnings of all sorts of industries under way--nuclei of future vast factories, the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization. I was training a crowd of ignorant folk into experts--experts in every sort of handiwork and scientific calling” (Twain 101). He plans to take these ignorant people of the sixth century and shape them into beings that will work for him and continue his take over of the country. They will run his factors and a few will even fight beside him till the end.
Lyotard in his essay “Can Thought go on without a Body” he analyzes what an action or object must possess in order to be considered a technology. “Any material system is technological if it filters information useful to its survival, if it memorizes and processes that information useful to its survival, if it memorizes and processes that information and makes inferences based on the regulating effect of behavior, that is, if it intervenes on and impacts its environment so as to assure its perpetuation at least” (Lyotard 12). What Hank is doing can be viewed as a means of perpetuating himself in this society. He wishes to produce a lasting impact on the sixth century.
Hank takes advantage of his position that he obtains and uses it to produce forms of marketing. He uses these forms of marketing to help drive his goal of consumption, and ultimately the result of consumption.
As we approached each other, I saw that he wore a plumed helmet, and seemed to be otherwise clothed in steel, but bore a curious addition also -- a stiff square garment like a herald's tabard. However, I had to smile at my own forgetfulness when I got nearer and read this sign on his tabard:
" Persimmon's Soap -- All the Prime-Donna Use It."
That was a little idea of my own, and had several wholesome purposes in view toward the civilizing and uplifting of this nation. In the first place, it was a furtive, underhand blow at this nonsense of knight errantry, though nobody suspected that but me. I had started a number of these people out -- the bravest knights I could get -- each sandwiched between bulletin-boards bearing one device or another, and I judged that by and by when they got to be numerous enough they would begin to look ridiculous; and then, even the steel-clad ass that hadn't any board would himself begin to look ridiculous because he was out of the fashion.
Hank’s hope is to use these early forms of advertisement as a means to cause change. Hank also uses the publication of a newspaper to also help his quest for change.
What is happening us today can be related to the techniques that both Twain and Huxley write about. The media for many years has been influencing what we buy and even how we buy it. In 1957 the world saw the birth of the subliminal projection. A subliminal image is an image or sounds that occur on a level that cannot be interpreted by the conscious mind. The subconscious mind can interpret these images. “Repeated at regular intervals during the showing of a picture in a movie theater, the command to buy more popcorn was said to have resulted in a 50 percent increase in popcorn sales during the intermission” (Huxley 306). As Huxley points out in this case of the use of subliminal persuasion, people can be influenced to consume by a subconscious means.
The use of subliminal images has been outlawed in the United States and other countries because of its ability to influence a person’s mind. But many things were learned from the short times that subliminal images lived. Psychologists learned that “the lower the level of a person’s psychological resistance, the greater will be the effectiveness of strobonically injected suggestions”(Huxley 307). A person’s psychological resistance can be lowered by stress, fatigue and depression. Playing on a person’s psychological resistance has been the center for which the media has based it’s commercials.
Today’s media without the use of subliminal images has had to develop new techniques to sell more products. Large corporations will pay large amounts of money to gain a commercial spot in the evening. Why would they do this? By the time typical daytime worker gets home from a long day of work they are ready to relax. A large portion of America is dissatisfied with their current working condition, so when these people get home for the night their minds are very open to suggestion. When these workers that are in a state of psychological distress caused by their job, watch the latest reality show or a new and exciting game show, they are bombarded with commercials. These commercials are strategically placed at certain times throughout the night in order to successfully immerse the view into the product. Most teachers will repeat their lectures to the class three different times, in different ways, to insure the maximum understanding and provide for a longer retention. Big companies will often display the same commercial three or more times throughout the viewing of a single one hour long program. They do this for the same reason that teachers repeat their lecture three times; to provide a better understanding and provide a longer retention time. The reason that commercial spots during the Super Bowl are so expensive is that there is a large number of people with similar interests, most of these people are drinking, and it is later in the evening. Being later in the evening and the fact that a large majority of people watching are under the effect of a depressant, alcohol, causes the susceptibility of the subconscious to be exploited. Although time slots are very expensive, it doesn’t mean that the companies paying for them are losing money; this cost is justified by the enormous number of people these commercials reach.
The point of showing the public these commercials is to inform them that their lives could be better with this product. The media has convinced us that we need to consume. By consuming we will find happiness. The reason that people will spend billions of dollars a year on weight loss drugs is that they feel that losing a little weight will bring them happiness. Its true that the drugs will help people loose a few pounds, and they will most likely feel happy because of this. But the results are never enough; the commercials show “success” stories where a person’s life is completely turned around by using this weight loss drug. Our society has been conditioned by the media to want to be in shape, and so the desire to buy these drugs to get these results continues to grow.
The consumption of weight loss drugs is only one example of the many things that we have been conditioned to buy by the media. Other items include, two dollar bottles of water, sixty to seventy dollar jeans, nine dollar tickets to see the newest movie and the latest, greatest electronics costing thousands of dollars. The conditioning that the media has done to us is quite similar to the conditioning in Brave New World and A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court.
‘We condition the masses to hate the country,’ concluded the Director. ‘But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport (Huxley 31).’
Unlike in Brave New World we are conditioned to hate being left out. The media has trained us to want to have the same things that other people have. It has taught us that if we consume we will be happy. This same idea applies to the knights of the sixth century. If they didn’t wear the odd looking advertisements they eventually became the odd ones out. Consumption and the relief that it provides is a major driving force of how our society and the societies of Huxley and Twain are influenced into conforming. By taking these two opposing views of how to cause a society to conform, the methods that are used in our society can be seen.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited.
Happer Perennial Modern Classics, 2004.
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court. Penguin Classics
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Can Thought go on without a Body?”.
I used wikipedia as a refresher for some points but I have played all 3 games that i discussed (and beaten each of them) so all the information I have used is available in the game and on wikipedia...what should I cite and what requires citation?
Secondly, the last paragraph which is not really a conclusion but an analysis of the earlier paragraphs may have some stuff in it that I should like to add to my thesis - what does everyone think? It seems to be a stronger point that has developed upon me thinking everything through.
lastly, Dr Johns:
Do you still request I talk more about game play? If so - what else should I include?
Thanks for reading and sorry for some of the sentences being a bit strange and some of the spelling errors!
Many societal trends have shaped various aspects of our entertainment, ranging from music to the television and even video games. These changes are more prominent in certain forms of entertain than in others and cause and effect is not always clear – whether society has changed because of entertainment or whether entertainment has changed because of society. However, what is clear is that video games have undergone significant changes in the past two decades, not in concerns with technology and visual complexity but in theme and content. Adventure games have been decreasing in popularity while FPS games have underground radical evolutionary changes (meanwhile sports games and “fun” games like Mario have maintained a steady place in popularity). These changes in video games are mimicking some of the major trends in society, the increase of violence. The decline of adventure games, such as Monkey Island, and the infusion of their narrative elements into contemporary FPS games such as Doom shows us that narrative maintained a steady popularity, although the medium and, genre, in which it is used has greatly changed and the emphasis of the video game industry mirrors the progressive perversion of contemporary society. While adventure games have become all but extinct and old FPS games which had no narrative elements have changed into modern FPS games do have narrative elements but no other characteristics of the long gone adventure games.
Adventure games concern themselves with riddle solving and narrative. This type of game was very popular in the early 1990’s. A prime example of this genre of games is the Monkey Island series, by Lucas Arts. These games revolved around a major protagonist and his respective quests for glory. For Guybrush Threepwood, in Monkey Island, it was becoming a pirate and marrying the local town’s governor. The player in these types of video games always went about the quests in the same way, by solving riddles, puzzles and by communicating with computer controlled (scripted) events. These riddles would include things such as finding certain items and using said items to progress or get out of certain problematic situations, i.e. as being stuck in a jail cell or being able to find ingredients required for certain tasks like winning a spitting contest. Communication in adventure games always was important, as the right things had to be said (using a drop down menu) for progression throughout the game. These types of games were filled with subtle humor, too, and a large part of the entertainment can be attributed to the many jokes found in the game. Finally upon conclusion of these games a clear narrative element had become apparent: A fictional story had unfolded in front of the player’s eyes. However, unfortunately this type of game is now almost all but extinct with no new games being in production.
Concerning the game play, Monkey Island, starts off with a regular guy in his early twenties, Guybrush Threepwood, walking past a lookout post and engaging in a conversation with the local guard about becoming a pirate (the player is Guybrush Threepwood, from a third person perspective). His shy personality becomes obvious very early as he gets made fun of by everyone for his silly name. The guard informs Guybrush that in order to become a pirate he has to talk to three major pirate leaders at the locak pub…the Scum Bar. After the player journeys there he engages in conversation with the pirates who inform Guybrush he has to pass three trials in order to become a full fledged pirate and so the quest begins…with a slight complication. An undead pirate, LeChuck, is in love with the local Governor of Melee Island (where the beginning of the story takes place) and a feud quickly begins alongside the trials. Having around twelve actions available (which are not text based, but one has to click on them to activate said actions) and some inventory space to pick up certain materials the players starts his adventures to becoming a Pirate, solving riddles and puzzles and ultimate marrying the woman of Guybrush’s dreams – the Governor.
Adventure games, such as Monkey Island competed with early FPS games, like one of the most famous examples: Doom, in the early 1990’s. Games like Doom were almost a polar opposite in nearly every regard. There are no narrative elements in the game itselfnd the entire game consists of running through a maze and slaughtering whatever crosses ones path, may it be soldiers some sort of human soldiers or aliens, everything had to be destroyed in ones path in order to progress (or the player himself would be killed by whatever was left alive). Everything in the environment was hostile and would attack the player immediately. Narrative elements are almost completely absent in the game, although some understanding of what has happened can be attained from the game manual which explains that the character, who remains unnamed, which the player controls is some sort of space marine having been sent to Mars as a result of a court marshal due to insubordination. While guarding scientists who are experimenting with a teleportation device “something” goes wrong and a portal opens with demons coming out of it. Quickly the space station is overrun by demons and the player has to kill his way back to earth. During actual game play (which is what most people engaged in, as in most people do not read the manual for the background story) player receives is very limited information, usually a sentence or two where the player learns that he has reached a place closer to hell, etc. The narrative elements are next to non-existent, only some sort of locational information is gained. The game itself, as in game play, consists of nothing more than hitting an occasional switch and seeing your weapon from a first person view (including a small arsenal of armaments like guns and machine guns, even a chain saw). The game revolves around running through a maze for its entire duration. There is no interaction with anything friendly – everything that moves is trying to kill the player and if the player is not quick to kill whatever is encountered the game will be over. Eventually, after several bosses have been slain the player arrives back at earth and presumably lives a more desirable life than slaying demons from hell.
After the decline of Adventure Games, modern FPS games have taken over the narrative elements and fused them with the perspective of old FPS games – a strange hybrid that has perhaps caused the extinction of adventure games and the old type of FPS games. Today’s FPS games such as Doom 3 have very strong narrative elements and they even have some riddle/puzzle solving – however they remain in the first person perspective and progression throughout the games is impossible without a bloodbath and violent slaughter. In Doom 3 the story is presented in a nonlinear fashion where the players put bits and pieces together from things that are witnessed such as the initial demon invasion, journals, voice mails and abandoned experiments. The player finds himself arriving at the Mars Space station. However at this point the player is unarmed and a senior marine officer welcomes the player to his new job. After a quick walk through and encountered some very bored soldiers one realizes how boring it must have been on that space station. Soon however the game becomes creepy as upon closer inspections people are mumbling and hallucinating. Eventually the player is armed with a pistol and dispatched to find a scientist who has gone missing – before the player is able to reach him an explosion occurs and the demonic infestation starts. Throughout the game all information is learned through talking to friendly survivors and the various mediums of media that the player is able to find. The players quickly learn how the teleportation device had apparently opened a gate to a place that resembles hell and the player figures out his primary objective: Closing this portal before the demonic invasion reaches earth. The game play, aside from all the scattered bits of information remains simple and shooting things is still the primary action needed for progression, although, the player does have to solve some simple puzzles like finding out ways of using physics within the game to progress. However, the major difference between this new generation of FPS games is that the player is exposed to narrative within the game not only in an abstract manual. There is no way of avoiding the story, the labs with the experiments (and some of the journals) simply cannot be avoided and the player upon beating the game will have learned a little story where he was able to save the world. This is very different from old FPS games where there was almost no narrative in the game and very little in the manual and the story that the player learns upon the conclusion of the game is only his personal escape, nothing else.
What can be learned from this fusion and evolution of video games? One might wonder about narrative, violence, communication and problem solving and the significance our society places on these factors. For one it appears that narrative is very important since narrative based adventure games used to compete with a genre of FPS games that had no narrative elements. As these types of games have become extinct, their emphasis on the story line was absorbed by FPS games. Today, where adventure games are virtually extinct people still need to get some sort of story from a video game so the FPS games have taken over what was once unique to adventure games. Violence accompanies narrative today and perhaps the lack of violence in adventure games is what caused adventure games to disappeared from the mainstream. The emphasis on thinking and the arts of communication have also become less popular and nearly every game today features excessive violence and fighting without which progress is impossible while adventure games had almost no violence but required a lot of problem solving and communication. These changes in the video the video game industry illustrate the perversion of modern society very well.