Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blog Assignment / Reading Assignment

Just one prompt for next week, modeled off of what we did in class last time:

Take some small fragment of Danielewski's text -- a paragraph at most. It should be something we have not discussed in class, _or_ you should have a completely different take on it. It must be a passage which has some larger significance, hopefully one not immediately noticed or understood. Follow that passage (or shape, or symbol, or whatever) in detail, using it to formulate an argument that _just_ looking at that passage, we can/should understand the book as a whole in at least a subtly different way. In other words, you should begin to perform the sort of in-depth treatment both of a passage and its overall resonance within the book that we did with Danielewksi/Borges/Cervantes last time.

Reading Assignment: Read through page 312 next time. The page count is longer, but the assignment is probably a little less time-consuming than the first 106 pages.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Amanda Kern--option 2

Both Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves prove to be complex tales with several similarities with one another. Both exist as a type of frame narrative, telling multiple stories at once, where an introductory story is first composed to frame the other stories within the tale. To help the readers comprehend the complexity of this type of writing, and also to provide an interesting element to their works, Ware and Danielewski deliberately designed these works to be pieces of interactive fiction. Present in both Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves, the reader is able to become actively involved in the plots of the stories being told.

In addition to the abundance of footnotes, varying fonts, colors, and formatting, and changes in author, House of Leaves incorporates several appendices, which are briefly referenced throughout the book. As these extra appendices are not included within the story where they would be relevant, footnotes insinuate that reading such additions will give the reader a better understanding of the story. For example, one particular footnote written by the editor states, “Those, however, who feel they would profit from a better understanding of his past may wish to proceed ahead and read his father’s obituary in Appendix II-D as well as those letters written by his institutionalized mother in Appendix II-E” (Danielewski 72). This slight coaxing requires the reader to take a pause in the reading, and further investigate this additional information, which, upon reading, does indeed provide a better understanding of the story and of the demeanor of this character. The reader can personally decide if he/she would like to learn more about the character, and if so, they have the option to do so.

In addition to helping the reader understand the complex storyline that unfolds in House of Leaves, Danielewski uses the narrator himself to further draw the reader into the frightening story. As Truant is having one of his first “episodes” in the hallway outside the tattoo parlor, he begins to speak directly to the reader, and does a superb job of allowing the reader to get a glimpse of what intense feelings were coursing through him. Truant instructs, “To get a better idea…now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of your, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can’t see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence” (Danielewski 72). Not only does this passage effectively describe the torment that Truant is facing, but it also allows the reader to feel a bit of the same. Perhaps I am not the only reader who quickly glanced around the room before continuing on with the story.

In Jimmy Corrigan, many interactive aspects are also very pertinent throughout the story of this family’s unfortunate past and present. Throughout the story Ware requires to treat the book as an object, rather than simply a book, as he provides the reader with various interactive opportunities. Most obvious of this are the “craft” pages, where the reader can deface his or her book and create paper models that directly relate to the story at that time. Ware also uses the comic book frames to his advantage, as he sees these illustrated frames as additional opportunities to engage the reader in the story. The first page of Jimmy Corrigan displays the world, and the zooming in of such, similar to that of frames of a movie. The reader is able to personally determine how quickly time is moving throughout these frames, and must turn the book accordingly to view the illustrations in correct sequence.

Ware’s and Danielewski’s ability to actively involve the reader throughout their stories allows a better understanding of the material and provides for a more enjoyable read. Whether the reader is able to mentally control the speed at which time of the story passes, or can personally feel the emotions of the speaking character, the interactive aspect of these authors’ works effectively improve these complex tales.

Unfortunately this might all be for not, but I'll explain myself. Due to the whims of reality the house of leaves has eluded me. The internet, from what I gather, cannot do it justice, the library system is oblivious of it, and I don't have it. In searching aimlessly through the intensely focused atmosphere with the hopeless knowledge printed on a piece of paper with letter and number codes in which we confide in said labyrinth of confident despair, I stumble on another one of Danielewski's novels, Only Revolutions. Again, as with Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves, this piece of textual printed media seems to defy technological advancement seeming looses something, whether it's something as superficial and insignificant and its novelty or the physical sensation of actually feeling the pages, or weather some deeper transcendence. These authors/artists have created (or utilized) a medium so easily and readily digitalized in a way that, for now, appears timeless. Jimmy Corrigan, of course, has intricately designed frames of existence brilliantly colored printed on firm off white pulp paper smooth but not glossy, smelling of old and ink is something un-reproducible digitally.
Now, this is without going into the whole semantics of how digital media works and the subsequent arguments that ensue. The other side is whether because the medium is inherently different it's interpretation
necessarily different; or, if only the original can be properly interpreted and recreations (even identical ones) loose expressive power so to speak; or, if there is no difference, if a reproduction identical it will always be authentic and preserve its creative expression. As far as Only Revolutions in particular, I would find it incredibly awkward due to the relatively fixed possession of any visual representation of data (a screen) being as it is written to be read front to back as well as back to front, and it's important to take in an entire page both ways while being able to continue in a more traditional progression through text.

I can feel Danielewski 's apparent empathy in sharing the epic struggles of humanity through a period of history. On each page (in each passion that you can read) is a date and a flow of historical information and fellings revolvion around those events/moments. (again as with Jimmy Corrigan, capturing moments and emotions in similarly executed styles but one using images (predominatly to provide context while Only Revolutions uses side notes and creative t3xt m@nipul@ti0n to set context), and one using only text.

Anywho I would imagine if House of Leaves simulated you so would Only Revolutions.

Jimmy and the House - Option 2

Before starting this blog I ruled out the possibility of finding any connection in form between Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves. Didn't think I'd be able to do it. So I read House of Leaves with the intent to write on a 'hard' passage. But after finally getting used to the very unique writing style I couldn't really find anything in this first reading. I mulled over Option 2 again and found out that there is actually a very blatant connection between the two, and quite possible other more difficult connections that I don't know about. Essentially, both books (or as far as I've read into House of Leaves) tell two stories at the same time.

In Jimmy Corrigan we have an account of Jimmy's present day life and the life of his grandfather as a child. The story goes back and forth between the present and past, between REAL time and replayed time. And as we glean more and more from the Jimmy's grandfather's past, our knowledge of Jimmy's present is enhanced and more complete.

Similarly we have House of Leaves. The story is told first person by Johnny Truant. Part of the book contains Johnny telling the reader about his everyday live, it's almost like reading his personal diary. On the other hand the book also contains some sort of documentary film script called The Navidson Record being read by Johnny. Sometimes the diary type story of Johnny doesn't appear to have any connection to what he is reading, while at other times he draws directly from the reading. These two 'story lines' are often written on the same page, half of the page is about The Navidson Record while the other half is about Johnny - indeed, one is reading two stories at the exact same time.

So clearly the forms nearly parallel each other, two stories being told in one book. But going a slight step beyond the physical appearance of the story telling is what is being told. I emphasized that Jimmy's life represents REAL time, contrasted by flashbacks of his grandfather. His life parallels the structure of Johnny's 'diary'. The life of Johnny is the REAL portion of House of Leaves, it is supposed to be taken as a real person's life, in contrast to the fictitious Navidson Record.

Danielewski v. Ware

House of Leaves consists of more than simply moving one’s eyes along lines of text, turning pages and mentally interpreting what one reads. According to my Lit textbook from my high school AP lit class, this is referred to as ergodic literature. Ergodic literature refers to texts that require a reader to make a different or greater than normal effort. This is usually because they are non-linear in some way, which theoreticians relate to the possibilities of hypertext. An ergodic text re-interprets the idea of 'plot', plays with layout or typography, requires the reader to find a 'key' to unlock the meanings of the text or introduces an unreliable narrator or digression.

The construction of Danielewski’s narrative is similar to that of Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan in that both authors are trying to control the rate in which their story is consumed. Both storytellers are applying the concepts of filmmaking to their storytelling only they are using an entirely different medium to do so. Directors can stretch a sequence of shots as long as they want or curtail it to be as short as they want. They can take a conversation between two people and make the actors place long bouts of silence between comments, or have them fluidly speak with no pauses. The concept of time in this way has never really been introduced into the art of novels. Whether graphic or not, this insistence on the reader consuming the story at a rate which the teller sets is a highly unique form.

House of Leaves contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, and some of which reference books that do not exist. Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways. Danielewski succeeds in making you feel certain ways, affected not simply by the content of the story but by the placement of the words on the page, or lack there of. Thus, the reader feels not simply sadness, love, grief, remorse, doubt, etc. But they feel a more complex expression such as uncomfortable love such as in the part on page 12 when he talks about Karen’s response to Navidson’s return home. “Strangely enough, by the time Karen reaches Navidson in the foyer, she has quite effectively masked all her eagerness to see him. Her indifference is highly instructive. In that peculiar contradiction that serves as connective tissue in so many relationships, it is possible to see that she loves Navidson almost as much as she has no room for him.” From there the reader jumps to some seemingly non-connected story about a boy fighting in a bar in Texas.

For me, the leap from something that I have never verbalized but most definitely feel in my own relationship to something so bizarrely nonlinear twists the initially tapped into feeling which was original already, into something very hard to describe or even label.

In Ware’s story, there are a lot of flash backs, and also tidbits of information that need to be gathered in the frames that lack narration. This is similar to Danielewski’s ergodic style in that War is forcing the reader to slow their consumption of the story. His frames are so intricately drawn, the details are so minute, that the frames with no words actually take longer to read than the ones with words and on the frames with words, you can read and look, but then you must simply look. Reading Jimmy Corrigan is almost like watching a foreign film, you need to be watching the complex action but also reading the subtitles to fully understand the story. For example in the beginning, when you’re not used to the way in which the story is told, the part where Jimmy is eating Cap’n Crunch and Superman is leaving his mom’s room, the frames immediately following are almost like one of those puzzles you find on the Denny’s kids menus where you have to find what’s different. You have to look at each from for a few seconds to realize they are the passing of time. That game of discovering what’s different is Ware’s way of slowing the reader’s intake of the story down.

Danielewski’s use of the color blue for the word house is something that can be directly related to the form of Ware’s graphic novel. Ware's novel, is heavy with symbolism and visual storytelling, exploring and demonstrating the potential of the comics medium. Notable leitmotifs in Jimmy Corrigan include the robot, the bird, the peach, the miniature horse, and the flawed Super-man figure. In Danielewski’s novel, there are literary symbols but (as I have not finished the book yet, I have yet to discover what they are, though I’m going to guess that the configuration of the text is also symbolic). So far, the use of the color blue every time the word house appears, reminds the reader what the Navidson Report is all about. It also helps the reader to recall the description of the short film from the beginning of the novel, maintaining the image consistently, something that is pretty hard to do with no graphics. Ware’s leitmotifs do the same.

Both books can be considered mockeries of academia. In Ware’s case his extremely complex narrative and precise illustration is proof to academia that comics are not the ghetto of literature, and that a great American novel can be in picture form. Danielewski’s novel is basically describing a satire of academic criticism in the way that the Navidson Report is analyzed and delved into almost to an unnecessary degree.

The Other

Chapter V of The Navidson Record discusses echoes both in mythic and scientific terms. Zampano explains how echoes can return words with a different meaning than what they are echoing, and also how echoes can be comforting, as well as their use in terms of echolocation and relation to other senses. All of this seems very unrelated to the previous chapters, until after the discussion of echolocation, towards the end of the chapter. This passage returns the chapter to the focus of previous ones: "Unfortunately, humans lack the sophisticated neural hardware present in bats and whales. The blind must rely on the feeble light of fingertips and the painful shape of a cracked shin. Echolocation comes down to the crude assessment of simple sound modulations, whether in the dull reply of a tapping cane or the low, eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight."

In his notes, Truant says that he would have recommended skipping the entire chapter were it not for that part, noting how personal the subject must have been for Zampano and how the passage seems to attack you after the preceding part of the chapter. Indeed, considering his blindness does seem to add a sense that the old man was speaking from experience here. But despite this, something about the passage is more sinister than the mere experience of blindness. In particular, the last few phrases are haunting: "... or the low eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight." The first part of the phrase seems to recount how echoes can change words, reflecting only a part of a word, or otherwise changing the meaning entirely. The echo is no longer a mere repetition (though repetition itself can be terrifying), it is the voice of the unknown, the Other, who dwells in the darkness seeking to devour. Though unseen, its presence is felt. This in particular recalls Truant's experience in the shop of some nameless and invisible horror stalking him, only to disappear back into the darkness. Another thing to consider is the nature of the word; how is it yours? Is it simply the word you have uttered, or is it something more? It could be the word spoken by someone else to you, or a word that holds meaning for you. Though perhaps these would not be encountered in empty hallways. What moreover, would such a word be? "Hello"? Or perhaps something else? Either way the word is a weapon; it is 'flung' at the darkness. Is it a shout, violent so as to merit being flung? No, shouts do not have low eerie flutters. It seems to be a reluctant word, thrust quietly in an attempt to drive back the Other.

Why is this strange passage here, and why is it more than it seems? It is here to bring things back on track, to make sure we have not forgotten about the Other; to show that even in a discussion of such innocuous things as echoes, it is still there, waiting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Silent Echoes

 “House of Leaves” presents its readers with plenty of opportunity for confusion. The confusion is there for several reasons, some explainable while others are just unknown. One of the most confusing passages I read was written during the chapter on Echoes.

          During the Echoes chapter, Zampano gives entirely too many references and definitions of the echo effect and its deeper meanings. The passage I want to evaluate can be found starting on page forty-six. The paragraph that reads “Ironically, hollowness only increases … face of nothingness,” is what really boggles me. The main point in this paragraph is a description of “echoes” while I read it to more describe the blackness. I feel by using this definition it correlates two underlying themes present in the story: the echoes and the unknown hallways. There are several points when referring to the black hallways that it can only be described in size by the strength of the echoes that bounce around. Without this echo effect, the hallways would be forever dimensionless and unchanging, two aspects of the darkness we want to be able to spot. There may be more in depth reasoning for using this explanation that I may have missed, but I believe this one passage will ultimately define the hallways.

          Although I think I know what it represents, it is altogether harder to come up with an explanation of this. Before I start, I want to revisit “Which is exactly when Karen screams” (40). I found this very ironic that the last line before the echo chapter is someone screaming, as the black hallway is open. In some cases, an author will say how the scream causes someone to jump or how it reverberates through the entire house; Zampano however leaves us with silence. The explanation of this that I developed was that he was already hinting at the extraordinary size of the hallways, even when we only have the small passage way between rooms to look into. The sentence “delay and fragmented repetition create a sense of another inhabiting,” also offers up much interpretation. I think this foreshadows a couple things we eventually find out such as the growls in the hallways, as well as (more importantly) the break-up of Karen and Navidson. There separation can be linked directly with delayed and fragmented communication.

Another line from this paragraph I think I can explain would be “Strange that something so uncanny and outside of the self, even ghostly as some have suggested, can at the same time also contain a resilient comfort.” At first, I skimmed over this sentence and quickly pushed it to the back of my mind, but upon further reading I think the “something” refers to the hallways. From the start, Karen and Navidson never see eye to eye on what to do with the hallways. Karen thinks it is “ghostly” and wants to do nothing with it, while Navidson feels “resilient comfort.” He has always had the passion to brave the unknown. Their differing thoughts on the hallways will be the eventual downfall in their relationship.

In general, Zampano’s over explanation of the echo confusion can lead to confusion when read in context. After reading more of the novel, and re-reading this section, it is evident that all the definitions somehow pertain to other aspects of the story… one just has to think very hard to see the relationship.


On page 42, Zampano is in the midst of a discussion on echoes and their importance in the Navidson Record. In footnote 49, he uses two Spanish passages to make his point – seemingly identical passages, the second of which he describes as an “exquisite variation” to the original. This frustrates Johnny Truant a lot, as he tries to figure out the difference. In his footnote, the following passage is found:

“I’m sure the late hour has helped, add to that the dim light in my room, or how poorly I’ve been sleeping, going to sleep but not really resting, if that’s possible, though let me tell you, sitting alone, awake to nothing else but this odd murmuring, like listening to the penitent pray – you know it’s a prayer but you miss the words – or better yet listening to a bitter curse, realizing a whole lot wrong’s being ushered into the world but still missing the words, me like that listening to the way by comparing in his way both Spanish fragments written out on brown leaves of paper, or no, that’s not right, not brown, more like, oh I don’t know, yes brown but in the failing light appearing almost colored or the memory of a color, somehow violently close to that, or not at all, as I just keep reading both pieces over and over again, trying to detect at least one differing accent letter, wanting to detect at least one differing accent or letter, getting almost desperate in that pursuit, only to repeatedly discover perfect similitude, though how can that be, right? If it were perfect it wouldn’t be similar it would be identical, and you know what? I’ve lost this sentence, I can’t even finish it, don’t know how – ”

We get the feeling that in this moment, Truant is trying to channel Zampano, and by “comparing in his way” he hopes to find the difference that he was referring to. A brief mention of the past when he describes the paper as “in the failing light appearing almost colored or the memory of a color” also works to highlight this relationship, of Truant and Zampano being somehow connected. It is almost as if Truant is becoming an echo of Zampano himself, or at least trying to. He cannot, however, truly tap into this connection, which is seen in the difficulty that he has with Zampano’s words and the effects that they begin to have on him.

Truant keeps rereading both fragments, trying to find a physical difference between the two. What Truant seems to miss is the importance of the emotion behind the words. In the Greek story of Echo, “Echo colours the words with faint traces of sorrow (The Narcissus myth) or accusation (The Pan myth) never present in the original” (41). This is what Truant should be looking for. Rather than looking for the “exquisite difference” between the physical words of the Spanish pieces, he should be examining the emotion underneath, for here lies the real difference. The question of course becomes how the second author put the “sorrow, accusation, and sarcasm” in, if there are no additional words. Zampano sees these emotions, and sees the second as an echo of the first. It seems as if Truant doesn’t notice this at all, until he makes an important comment – “perfect similitude, though how can that be, right? If it were perfect it wouldn’t be similar it would be identical…” So it does seem that Truant is picking up on a very subtle difference between the two fragments, one that cannot be found within the physical text of the authors. He can’t seem to wrap his mind on it though, as here he loses his train of thought and begins to really lose it.

Like the hallways in Navidson’s house, Zampano’s words are leaving Truant lost. The closer he becomes to figuring them out, the more he physically begins to feel their effects – by smelling the rotten smell, tasting the bitter taste, or having the impression that he’s gagging, vomiting, or soiling his pants. Perhaps his reaction to the Spanish fragments shows us the reason why this is happening. Perhaps he is missing something very important about Zampano’s writing, and it is therefore rejecting him, which is executed in a very strange psycho-physical way. He hasn’t been allowed to fully comprehend the words of the old man, and neither are we as readers. The difficulty of the passage that we encounter mirrors the difficulty that Truant is dealing with in Zampano’s words.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shortened Reading Assignment

Just read through 106 for Thursday.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Poor Jimmy

There is a series of images depicted shortly after the initial childhood images that begin the novel. The series shows a grown Jimmy Corrigan enjoying a quiet, solitaire breakfast in his home prior to his day at work.

The significance of these scenes and more specifically a image of jimmy pouring his milk onto his Cap’n Crunch cereal is the parallels that can be drawn between Jimmy’s adult life and that of his childhood. Assuming the author is attempting to show us that Jimmy, a now middle aged man, is still continuing a routine that has been the same ever since his childhood is rather disturbing. This is disturbing to me mainly because it shows a lack of maturity through out the many years that are missing between the initial young Jimmy and the modern “now” Jimmy. In fact the scene is nearly identical bar the appearance of Superman the morning after sleeping with Jimmy’s mother, and Jimmy’s mother entering the room. Though it should be noted that Jimmy’s mother does call him at the end of the series of frames and is also significant because it shows the lack of development caused by the overprotection of his mother.

After the series of frames ends Jimmy is seen walking to work and picking up an answering machine symbolizing his passive, yet effective attempt to cut the constant communication between him and his mother. Conveniently following those set of images there is a series of two frames depicting Peggy, Jimmy’s then crush petting his head and sitting above him. Signifying Jimmy’s ideal woman is a woman that is a mother figure to him. This infatuation with his mother is quite disturbing and a continuing theme within the book, striking me as an Oedipus complex.

Finally Jimmy is seen interacting with Peggy and the harsh reality that is their relationship. Peggy is completely uninterested with Jimmy and it is visible because of her frustration with Jimmy and her overall inattention to anything Jimmy has to say.

What I believe is the takeaway message from the frame with the Cap’n Crunch is Jimmy’s lack of independence and his inability to cope with adulthood due to his mother constantly “checking up” on him and hindering his ability to grow into a man. Instead Jimmy lives in this pseudo-manhood state where he appears as an old balding man but has a laundry list of insecurities that constantly are holding him back from achieving anything of sustenance that would help build his now dwindling confidence. This definition of Jimmy really can be applied down the road and is a main theme throughout the novel. Jimmy truly is depressed and it shows. It should also be noted that the author did a fantastic job in choosing the color palette for the novel. The bland, dark colors truly show a depressing hopeless image that is Jimmy’s life. Unfortunately.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jimmy's VIsion

A series of frames depicted near the end of Jimmy Corrigan sum up a lot of reoccurring thems of the story. In this scene Jimmy and his sister are awaiting the doctors news about their father. Simultaneously Jimmy gets a “vision” of his mother in the waiting room, she starts talking about how disappointed she is and how she can’t believe Jimmy.  This connects a theme throughout the story, Jimmy is an emotionally impaired human castaway envisioning a struggle between his mother and reconnecting with his father.

From the beginning of the book there is clues that give reason to why Jimmy has such a troubled life. His childhood and the childhood of his grandfather and great-grandfather become clear as flashbacks and huge portions of the story describe the troubled life. Also, Jimmy’s mother is a faceless and nameless character who constantly calls and nags Jimmy throughout the day. This sad and lonely depiction of Jimmy dealing with these things explains the significance of these series of frames. 

When looking at the specific scene I chose this background information gives a clue to why Jimmy has this vision of his mother while in the waiting room. We abruptly see the faceless character of his mother scolding Jimmy and almost seemingly intimidating Jimmy. She clearly wants Jimmy to have nothing to do with his father or sister, demonstrating her control over her son. The symbolism here is obvious from the depiction of the mother without a face, simply a voice or a power figure. This is highlighted in a later frame where we see Jimmy on the phone with his mother and the cord essentially attached to his mother’s body. We see the facial expression and cowardly position that Jimmy takes while speaking with his mother in his fantasy. Many strange occurrences happen as the frames continue, Jimmy is no longer in the waiting room but sitting at a train station. This whole page takes place at the train station except for one frame, which is a tiny picture of the waiting room with the doctor and his sister. I understand this to be Jimmy’s small attempt to escape his mother’s “grip” to try and focus back into the reality. However, the next frames focus back on his mother, proving his inability to escape.

 Showing the attachment of Jimmy and his mother using the phone cord symbolizes how they will always be connected despite the events that happen. That is how flawed and lonely Jimmy is from his own reality. The fact that Jimmy’s mother appears to him in the first place means that she has such a bearing on his life and despite Jimmy always trying to distance himself from her phone calls he cannot actually escape her. Pathetically the “vision” ends with her leaving Jimmy and him reaching out to try and bring her back, this is such a sad and depressing moment because not only does Jimmy feel blame for something that is not his fault but he actually has visions that are of abandonment. His dreams cannot even be positive. 

Another thing that I noticed was one specific frame of what appears to be Jimmy’s father on a stretcher or bed. It appears his father is dying or already dead and then immediately the next frame is a just Jimmy’s eye looking back. Each frame is very important and I feel every detail is important and symbolic for something. The fact Jimmy sees his father rolling by is another depressing and sad vision followed by his mother’s criticism.  Jimmy seems so worried and scared in these frames because he cannot help but always think the worst. These stems from his brutal childhood and neglect from his father, hence the one frame of his fathers lifeless body being shown and immediately being distracted by his mother, the other parental figure.  It is clear that Jimmy’s mother wants Jimmy to have nothing to do with his father or sister from her dialogue. The control she displays is frightening and it is hard not to sympathize with Jimmy in his situation. 

Final Projects

Regarding Project Proposals

Your final project proposals are due by next April 9 - let's say by noon (I recommend getting started on this early, though). Everyone must post a project proposal. If you're proposing a creative project, you should explain in a paragraph or two both what you want to do and why. If you wanted to write a detective story in Danielewski's style (this is an idea someone had last semester), you would perhaps spend a paragraph or so explaining the story, characters, and how you want to use Danielewski's style (footnotes, etc), then another paragraph or two explaining what the project is for: that is, what you're trying to prove or show.

If you're proposing an essay, you should describe the project in a paragraph or two, including these elements.
  1. You should give a version of your thesis, that is, your argument. What do you want the reader to believe after having read the essay?
  2. You should give a counterargument to your thesis. In other words, if your assignment was to argue against the thesis, how would you go about doing it? This demonstrates that your argument is not trivial -- intelligent people aren't going to necessarily agree with you, which demonstrates that the argument is worth making.
  3. You should briefly explain what research you intend to use; ideally, you'd have a short bibliography, although you might not have progressed that far.
In this class, of course, it's possible to have a project which is neither purely creative nor purely an essay; in that case, be guided by the spirit of the material above, and not by the letter.

Second, Example Projects

I do not require, nor do I necessarily recommend, that you do one of the following options, but you may, if you wish, choose to do so. In any case, they can still serve as models. You are welcome to use either prompt; if you wish to do so, you should still post a brief project proposal detailing the particulars of your argument.

These prompts are meant to be challenging but feasible, and to give you some degree of flexibility within them.

Prompt #1

In House of Leaves, Danielewski references a very large number of books, as well as other source materials. He even gives us an index, which is at least somewhat helpful when trying to figure out what works are cited where. Our discussion of Don Quixote and "Pierre Menard" can serve as a model of what it's possible to do by tracking down the novel's sources. (Note: You're welcome to use Borges or Cervantes here, as long as you aren't repeating what we discussed in class)

Your assignment is to pick an author cited/used by Danielewski, read the relevant book (or several essay/stories, as appropriate), and then develop an argument that goes something like this: "By paying attention to Danielewski's use of author x, we can see that we should read the novel differently, as follows..." In other words, your argument should show how we should understand House of Leaves differently once we understand Danielewski's citations.

Example authors: Herman Melville, Jacques Derrida (someone did this project last year, rather effectively).

Prompt #2

Much of the action in Jimmy Corrigan occurs not in the present day, but at the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893. We spent some time in class sketching out rather broadly the significance of the Exhibition in Ware's work. Your assignment is to make this general outline precise and detailed. Begin by researching the World's Columbian Exhibition: I don't mean by reading the Wikipedia entry, but by reading at least one scholarly book or a number of scholarly articles on the subject. Then, focusing on a precise subject (for instance, the conflict between Tesla and Eddison, or the significance of the Ferris Wheel), argue that either

a) We should read Jimmy Corrigan (focusing, as always, on a limited set of images) in a different way given a thorough understanding of the World's Columbian Exhibition.

b) Jimmy Corrigan presents an argument of its own about particular details of the World's Columbian Exhibition; you will explain and respond to Ware's argument.

"Prompt" #3

I put "Prompt" in quotes to emphasize that I don't know the subject well enough to even write a good prompt for it. But I'd be very interested in seeing an essay on the internet community which has grown up around House of Leaves - you could become interested in what the community has to say about the book, or in the community itself. I haven't spent enough time on this topic myself to offer any further suggestions at this time, but it at least gives you a starting point.

Final Comments

I'm not going to give any prompts for creative projects: if you want to do one, I want to see your ideas, not some variation on my own. Other topics I'd be interested in for a research-based essay would be some further contextualization of Jimmy Corrigan within the history of early comics (Little Nemo in Slumberland, the Yellow Kid), an essay on the relationship between "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" and the U.S. intelligence community, and an essay relating House of Leaves to the films of Danielewski's father (I don't know whether this is practical or not, but it is interesting).

Example Projects

There are, of course, many good ones on the blog by this point. Here are a couple that might interest you:

Here's Kevin's ambitious attempt to talk about Lyotard scientifically.

Nick's awesome interactive essay, in convenient blog form.

Erika's essay on Mark Danielewski and Dadaism.

I apologize for only posting links to essays this time around, but the creative projects often do not, or cannot, be easily posted. Those which are (games, for instance) often disappear from the linked sites over time.

Assignment for Thursday, and Note

Option #1) This one may seem familiar! Find a very confusing passage in House of Leaves - not a slightly difficult one, but one that drives you up a wall. Hopefully that won't be too hard! Then, briefly explain both

a) What that passage seems to mean, or at least one possible explanation of it. If you're highly confident in your explanation, your passage is probably too easy (or you did some substantial research).

b) What that difficulty accomplishes; in other words, you should explain what the difficulty itself (think form, not content) is for.

Option #2) Discuss some element of the _form_ of Jimmy Corrigan in relationship to some element of the _form_ of House of Leaves. You should discover at least a tentative argument, and refer to a specific passage/panel/page from each book.

Note: Several of you didn't post the last blog entry that was due (due last week in some cases, or the week before spring break in others) - approximately four people didn't post it. If you didn't, I will accept them for partial credit, emailed to me by this Thursday. (edit: originally I had mistakenly put the deadline for late papers at Saturday)

Temporal and Spatial Ellipses::The Imagery

Throughout the book there are periodic shifts in time and space:  these are portrayed by pictures, rather than words or character interaction.  These shifts happen on a single page in a matter of one to seven distinct moments, or frames, and speed tends to be ambiguous.  This loosely structured portrayal of time allows the reader some control:  One may meander or fly at hyper-speed through the very first pages when we are neither thrust nor danced to the front door of Jimmy's house.  In the next few paragraphs, I will insert my reading of the speed of time and the accompanying shifts in space.  

{Very beginning, outer space frame}  We start in wide open space and, examining the stars or aching for some dialogue, end up with half the Earth in view.  We've already been vaguely introduced to our main character- which comes as no surprise given the cover of the book- now we must decide how fast to go.  There are few details-mostly just the universe, so let's dive right in.  Your vision is urged to the right by an arc of light blessing half the Earth, the other half is dark.  To which is our journey?  From the right, time speeds up and jars you quickly from ant to mouse to monster-sized city.  "Jimmy, come ON!" and we're home, lying sideways, on the dark half of the Earth. 

{Three pages after we find Jimmy's home.}  Still sideways, time has shifted slightly- a few hours into the evening, or years into the future?  The next three frames are introduced in the same way as the city in the previous example.  At the first our visual 'target' is not visible, but arrives and is apparently the same in the following two moments.  This is where the major temporal shift happens on this page.  Rather than getting spatially closer to our story, we are moving through time at our own determined speed.  Evidence in the next frame includes radically newer automobiles and leaves on the trees.  When followed by boarded and broken windows and then absolute destruction- our movement through time, rather than space, becomes quite obvious.  

Another drastic temporal shift, which also plays with the real time experienced by the reader is available.  {A little less than halfway through the book, right after Jimmy gets his crutch and is walking out of the Medlife Clinicare.}  We see a dirty old city, presumably Chicago.  It's colors are dark and thick, it's streets are crowded and muddy, it's architecture is antique.  Here we must turn the page... only to find that our Chicago street has turned into a charred, post-apocalyptic neighborhood.  There are no people, trolley's, or even windows.  

Through these examples, we can see that Chris Ware is grappling with time and space through art.  He's also effectively pulling his reader into his conflict, allowing us to decide or ponder over the speed and direction in which things happen.       


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Red is the color for alarm...and epiphanies

Jimmy Corrigan in its entirety proved to be an "issues" laden storyline. The multiple were confusing at first but as I got nearer to the end of the book, I knew that theJimmy/James stories were leading up to something. As James' story progressed, a young boy is in a typical stage where he starts to get thrust towards adulthood quicker than he should.His own awareness of the world around him made him much more insightful than his childlikeadult counterpart Jimmy. I wasn't quite sure where these parallel stories were headed until the family connections started to make sense.

Near the end of the book after Jimmy has met Amy, they left the hospital and went to theirgrandfather's house it happened. Jimmy looks down at a picture of his grandfather holdinghis father as a child in his arms. He looks up to his aging grandfather then Jimmy's backgroundgoes red. This sudden color change signifies some type of alarm in Jimmy. There is a closerview of his grandfather. Then another headshot of Jimmy. Then another of his grandfather. So far Jimmy's expression matches his grandfather's but in the next frame he uncharacteristicallysmiles, only to be met by the same unchanging frown of his grandfather. Then the grandfather speaks,he asks Jimmy if he's going to sleep, Jimmy takes it as a command, upon rising from his chair,his grandfather's voice stops him again with another question, this one having greater meaning thanthe previous. Jimmy pauses as if he is physically torn between listening to the meaning behindthis next question and complying with the first. This is followed by two more pages of the grandfathertalking to a frozen Jimmy. Before Jimmy leaves his grandfather stops him and tells him he is agood kid. Then Jimmy leaves to freeze outside.

It was like two worlds colliding. Everything from the fact that the two had on the same expressionto the fact that they were both sitting, even that they were both wearing blue. The monumental meeting of Jimmy and James. I realized that in those first few frames that it was as if the two characters were facing down their polar opposite and twin in the same moment. They are oppositesbecause James is the old man who grew up without a mother and no doubt hit adulthood very early. Jimmyis the thirty-six year old man raised by his mother wihtout a father who still acts as if he is a child (evident by his breakdown he had a few pages prior). They are like twins as well. James was probably having a "blast from the past" moment staring at a younger version ofhimself,although it can only be guessed as to whether Jimmy recognized his future self in the faceof his grandfather(Amy laters points out the physical resemblance between the two). They both were raised in single parent homes, being susceptible to scarring events while growing up,inevitably messing with both of their psyches. It was the last thing Jamessaid to Jimmy that really pulled everything together. When he told Jimmy that he's a good kid, it was James recognizing that shared struggle between the two. Jimmy's inability to truly attain adulthood and James' lack of chilhood. He gives him an encouraging word that was meant as a form of support and strength for the both of them.

The remainder of the book was significant in other ways but this scene did bring closure to the parallel storylines, James' life in particular.

A new family

During the snowstorm when Jimmy visits his classmates he finds what he least expected. He finds a family ready to embrace him and appreciate him. While at his classmates house there is one frame on the bottom left corner of the page where Jimmy points out how he was raised to be "quiet and fearful before his elders," but in his friend house he has quickly forgotten this and was able to escape with his friends and "shriek like animals."

In this picture you can see Jimmy thoroughly engaging with his friends and appears to be truly enjoying himself. It is obvious that this situation is preferrable to the one at his own home. The picture seem to show all of Jimmy's friends enjoying his company as well. This is very different than the previous scenes in his school where he had been sitting all alone looking solemn and sad. It seems as if the author is trying to create a place where Jimmy can escape, his friends fathers workshop. He says the "bemused face he was used to hiding behind every day of his life melted away" when he was in this shop.

The picture in the bottom left corner of the shop, door closed, laughing children and a father figure in my opinion optimizes everything Jimmy misses in his own home. As the scene progresses, in the middle frame on the next page, Jimmy says he "began to fantasize...he shared more in common with him(his friends father) than his own son." In this picture you see Jimmy sitting, working with his friends father while his friends sit on the other side of the table looking somewhat confused. It is almost as if once he was accepted with his friends he took the first opportunity to move past them. I is not friends that Jimmy wants, it is a Father. He is as quick to leave his friends as he his to make them. In this picture, his one friend, on the left looks particularly confused. His eyebrows are raised almost to say 'why is he getting so much attention?'

Next, as the scene progresses further. Jimmy is given the seat of honor next to his friends father. Presumably this is usually his friends seat that Jimmy has now moved in on. Another example of Jimmy stepping away from his friends toward his fantacy Father. However, Jimmy's real father is not far behind to enter and ruin Jimmy's moment with a new family.

Option 2: Did you say instructions for a comic book?

Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan at first glance, appears to be a potentially entertaining comic book, or “graphic novel” as enthusiasts tend to call it.  A quick glance through the pages however reveals this not to be the case.  If taken at face value and skimmed through passively as an unserious medium of literature, Jimmy Corrigan quickly takes on the incomprehensible form of a stream of consciousness nightmare of words and pictures.  Upon reaching the end of the first of many hours of daunting confusion and false understanding of the text as a whole, one may discover the conveniently placed instructions for reading the book printed on the inner cover.  Why should reading a book, especially something as seemingly childish as a comic book, require instructions for proper understanding?  The instructions, however, answer this along with numerous other questions and concerns that certainly arise after 2 hours of reading without prior direction.  In particular, section three of the instructions, titled “Role,” gracefully dispels any presumptions regarding the outward appearance of the text in a storm of sarcasm.  Had an impatient reader started at the true beginning of the text, he would have discovered that in fact, this work is not for the emotionally shallow or self-actualized, but instead directs itself to those who can relate to grief and sexual tension and who are in potential need of a social outlet to either relate to or take comfort in.

Knowing the foundations on which this book is written, it is easier to understand the life and thought processes of Jimmy as he passes between the present and his constructed reality of the past.  Rather than flashbacks, it appears that the lapses in the continuity of the present are actually illusions brought on by both guilt and fear of the unknown.  In particular, a one page span of images depicting one such tangent blurs Jimmy’s perception of the present and constructed past together in a confusing mix of childhood, adulthood, and various locations while retaining continuity in the present.  Jimmy is situated in the hospital waiting for news of his father when the accumulated grief and guilt for his actions piles up in his mind.  Flashes between the hospital and a solitary park bench are riddled with Jimmy’s repeated descent into childhood defending his decisions against his mom’s discriminating tone.  Fear, grief, and a general lack of understanding place Jimmy in a position where he is unable to cope with the burdens of death and abandonment which he struggles with throughout the book.

As Chris Ware sarcastically declares in his instructions, consoling those with grief obviously isn’t the intention of a comic book such as this.  This is the work of something that will provide “sympathetic resonance,” like a movie, moving picture box or a cake.  Ware’s sarcasm aside, this section of the book provides this “sympathetic resonance” which he passively assigns to the role of a cake.  Confronted with the potential death of his father whom he’s sought for so many years, he’s plagued with so much grief that he reverts back to the innocent child within.  He doesn’t do this through thoughts and words alone, but instead physically transforms into his inner child while remaining in the context of the present.  With the abandonment of his father in death, he’s forced to face the other side of his guilty conscience, his mother whom he abandoned himself in pursuit of his father.  While Jimmy parts with reality and looks onto his mother in childish terror for the disappointment he’s caused, it is important to note that his responses to her are not made directly to her, but through a phone.  The disconnection between Jimmy and his mom is furthered throughout the story by losing contact with his mom during his trip, and instead he uses the phone as a way to keep in touch with her while lying through his teeth.  The importance of the phone in these images is that Jimmy cannot seem to face the accumulated guilt of his lies, and confronted subconsciously, he must still use that enabling mechanism to continue his explanations for his actions.

The role of Jimmy Corrigan as a collective work is to break the mold of comic strips and portray something more than the “most shallow of sentiments.”  The intention of this work is to provide some sort of relevant connection that creates “sympathetic resonance” with the reader such that there is some inherent value to reading a comic strip aimed at an adult demographic.  Understanding the complexity and specific aim of this work provides insight on subtle details throughout the text such as the various props like the telephone when Jimmy becomes overwhelmed with his father’s death and his disobedience to his mother.  With a better understanding of the text, small details that would be passed up such as subtle color changes or minor variations of the same image can be read as a deeper and considerably more meaningful representation of emotion which isn’t expected from such a literary medium.  In all, these elements, when taken together, provide a much more sympathetic character whom Ware’s target audience can relate to and sympathize with.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Real Men Dont Use Instructions-Josh Bowman

Real men do not use instructions. So it is ironic that Chris Wares book about a failure of man contains a complete set. The most interesting part of these general instructions is the Ease of Use section, for one reason because this book is anything but easy to use, and this section makes no attempts at making it any easier at first glance. Upon close examination of the Ease of use section however a lot of important ideas are packed into this short section. The Ease of Use section gives many clues about the purpose of the book and how to get through it for the superman dream sequence will illustrate this.

First and foremost the ease of use section clearly points out that the book has been “carefully arranged and skillfully decorated”. This could of course be casually glanced over as an author being full of himself, but really its Wares way of saying everything is in its place for a reason. Several points throughout the novel there are subtle things that he added or excluded that one could overlook but are necessary to understand the breathe of the novel. In the superman sequence it is the absence of something important that’s very hard to stop. Superman just lifted a house and sent it sputtering back to earth, in the middle of what is clearly a crowded down, and no one came outside to help. There are lights on but no ones home. Ware could have easily added a crowd but chose not to enhance the loneliness and utter despair of the scene.

The next major section of the Ease of Use instructions explains how the book can be used as a “convincing simulation of life” in a number of unpleasant situations. Ware names places like waiting rooms, bus rides, and breaks at work, places where normal people would maybe take a second out of their day to escape the real world, but Ware never mentions escaping. He very specifically says a “convincing simulation of life”, perhaps he is taking a second to comment on how miserable peoples lives actually are if he considers Jimmy a realistic simulation of life. Another reason Ware uses this phrasing is most likely how Jimmy’s fantasy “escapes” are really just ways of interpreting his terrible life. Once again examining the superman sequence using the Ease of Use section, it becomes much more then a really messed up dream. It can be interpreted that Superman symbolizes Jimmy’s dad, or even fatherhood in general, and as a result of him shrinking or failing Jimmy’s son is broken and Jimmy himself has to finish him off. So in Jimmy’s subconscious because his dad left him Jimmy’s own hopes of being a successful father are dashed. Looking at it is this way the reader gets a much deeper understanding of the dream sequence and through it the mind of Jimmy and it’s a dark one at that.

The Ease of Use explains one more useful piece of information; it is not so useful in explaining any sequence in particular but more the contents of the book in general. It explains why the cover of the book looks the way it does: “to prevent embarrassment, all gaudiness and indication of contents have been shrewdly left from the exterior”. Ware is making a couple of statements here. Primarily it is a graphic novel its not main stream like a book, or a magazine and should be approached as a graphic novel and not any conventional literature. Next when looking at the phrase a different way he is also offering a slight warning to the taboo content of the book, it’s dark, it covers heavy subject material, and it’s depressing, but its worth reading even though on the surface it looks like a comic. Lastly he’s offering another a clue to interpreting the novel, look deeper beyond what’s on the surface of the strip, what exactly do the aesthetics mean. Look for a deeper meaning like the mice in the superman sequence all waiting for Jimmy to deliver the final blow, where are they from? What do they mean? It requires research to find out that the mouse was from a comic strip that Ware was one of the original in the genre, and further that the mouse was an antagonistic figure that through a brick at an innocent cat, like Jimmy throwing the brick at his son. Without the Ease of Use instructions highlighting these facts the book would be infinitely more difficult then it already is, and even through real men do not use instructions for this book it fits the emasculating feeling fits.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Assignment for the Thursday after break...

Just use the previous assignment - the wording is the same, but expectations will be different, since you'll have had the benefit of more discussion and having read the full book. In short: do the same assignment as the previous group, but with the whole book in mind.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I can remember from my childhood a strange and fun sequences of fames of time that moved around the page in interesting ways sliding around the pages. I was young and inattentive, but I could follow the flow of time and appreciate being an invisible observer of social situations. I was admittedly perplexed by some of the graphic representations and models I could follow quite avidly the story. At this point I don't believe I was aware of any instructions or guide to enjoying this artful communication,
and becoming aware of them hasn't had any profound influence on my
interpretation of the content. Although I hadn't realized in the past that the content incorporates interactive crafts and now having had to rent it from the library I cant fully construct the world the author envisions, but it does help clear up the confusion. The words and images are very carefully ambiguous so that individuals interpreting the piece can perceive intention based on personal experience and able to change with time. When examining individual frames and series of frames one must
imagine each cut as a scene (like a .gif), with small amounts of time passing even in a still picture. This is apparent with the dialog and various text representations of sounds, which mechanisms require time to operate (sound traveling in waves over space-time). The instructions implore readers to open their mind to not see static images or artwork rather see a slice of time, a small captured portion of a characters life. This idea is to be applied to the entire volume. It was a cutting edge piece of artistic expression for the time and indeed into the present.

On to Jimmy. Who is he, what is he? Is he a representation of himself through imagination as a young boy, is he just a young boy in a mind so complex and distorted throurgh experience that he represents himself as his father, of as his fathers son at his fathers age and a dieing father. Is it an oedepus complex? Is he a bord middle aged man with a violent psychotic breaks in his imagined life? Perhaps he is his father, the man responsible for his brothers brutal beating, desiring himself to be dead thearfor metaphorically killing himself as his father in imagination? Is he in love with his mom, or is it his wife, is his father himself, is he old or young? Delighfully ambiguous.

"You look just like Grandpa"

It was difficult to select just one meaningful scene from Jimmy Corrigan’s story; however, one frame in particular seemed to sum up the entire plot. Near the end of the book, Jimmy’s African American sister is driving them to their father’s apartment to pick up some of his clothes. The previous frames are studded with, as usual, long uncomfortable silences as Jimmy proves to be unhappy, socially inept, and emotionally damaged throughout the tale. As Jimmy sits in the passenger seat of his father’s station wagon, Amy attempts to make polite conversation with her seemingly stupid brother. She then looks at Jimmy, wearing his father’s old boots, hat, and coat, and states, “You look just like Grandpa.”

To further explain what I believe to be the significance of this statement, we must first reflect on Grandpa Jimmy’s experiences as a child. His childhood is portrayed through extensive flashbacks throughout the story, which illustrate life with his physically and verbally abusive father. His mother was absent from his childhood, he was unable to make or maintain friendships, and he hit rock bottom at a young age when his father abandoned him at the fair. James’ character was shaped by these unfortunate circumstances and events, and many of his traits were inherited by young Jimmy.

Though Amy recognizes the physical similarities between Jimmy and his grandfather, unbeknownst to her she has also drawn attention to the internal similarities that they share. Both have vivid, violent daydreams where their introverted personalities become nonexistent and they can seek revenge on those who have hurt them: often, members of their family. Parental abandonment also runs in the Corrigan family, as both Grandpa Jimmy and young Jimmy have experienced estrangement from their fathers. It doesn’t take a psychologist to diagnose these men: their anger issues, inability to hold conversation, unhappiness, and lack of self-confidence are direct results of their respective pathetic childhood upbringings. In contrast to the Corrigan males, Amy’s personable demeanor greatly conflicts with the norm of Corrigan family, as does her physical appearance and her introduction into the family. Perhaps because she was adopted Amy has avoided the Corrigan curse that seems to be passed down through generations.

Ware’s usage of reoccurring flashbacks throughout the story effectively parallel Amy’s thoughts in this particular illustrated frame: Grandpa’s childhood experiences ultimately explain how Jimmy has become the person that he is. The Corrigan family history portrays the passing down of dysfunctional parent-child relationships, which in turn have affected every child involved in nearly identical ways. Same in name, appearance, and persona, young Jimmy Corrigan indeed “looks just like grandpa.”

Jimmy is not a Man

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth details the nothingness of Jimmy, a depressing middle aged man who meets his father for the first time. It has a very unique style of story telling and can be at times hard to read. As I first started reading the book I had the feeling for the longest time that this would be like one of those movies where the main character is at the point of breaking with everything that's happening in his life…and then he wakes up and everything was just a dream. But as I read more into the novel I became more accepting of the book as being this man's real life when I started reading it through a child's eye.

There is a scene very early on that has stuck out more than any other for me. Jimmy has just been yelled at by Peggy (after working up the courage to talk to her), received a note from his apparently new found father with a plane ticket to come visit him, and is talking on the phone with his very annoying mother. Needless to say it's a stressful day for him. On his desk sits a little toy or stuffed animal of some sort. It looks like a yellow Pillsbury Doughboy with a top hat. The first two pictures it's in it just acts as decoration sitting on his desk. But a few pictures later and Jimmy starts playing with it. As he rereads his dad's note he starts playing with the top hat and progresses to pick it up and rub it against his face. In the following two pictures he rubs the thing over his head and then simply grasps it firmly in the following three pictures during which his annoying and frustrating mother calls again.

Had this been any other man, I would simply brush this scene off as just being his somewhat odd way of dealing with stress. However, as the story unfolds it becomes apparent to me that this is the first piece of solid evidence that Jimmy isn't quite right in the head. Although Jimmy has grown up and has become a middles aged 'man', he is really still a child at heart. And I don't mean that in the way most people do when they say that, that he still has that urge for adventure. Rather, he really seems to have not really mentally matured, his actions and speech resemble that of a child's. In this scene he looks to a little stuffed animal for comfort, soothing himself and rubbing it against his face, just as a child does with his little 'blanky'.

Even as I read this for the first time, before I had any real idea that Jimmy is very much like a child, I was disturbed to a degree seeing a grown man use a doll in such a child-like way. There are countless flashbacks, at times for no apparent reason, random daydreams, and dreams about being a robot(?). And he continually shows no confidence in anything, he always stutters when he talks and is at one point afraid that his dad will kill him. These things beg us to ask the question: What the heck is wrong with this guy? But I think that all of these things make much more sense when treating Jimmy as more of a child than a man, as his scene with the yellow creature suggests.

Jimmy Corrigan the Man-Child

Escapism is something many of us suffer from, at one time or another. Whether it be immersing oneself in an activity, or simple day-dreaming, we often do not wish to face our current situation. In Jimmy Corrigan, after the dream Jimmy has about shooting the miniature horse, he awakes to find himself in an unfamiliar place. His reaction identifies the sort of person he is, and thus sheds light on the rest of the book.

His first obvious reaction is his reluctance to wake up. He immediately covers his eyes; perhaps he even prefers his dream to the torment of reality. The way he goes from staring into space in one panel and covering his eyes the next makes it seem like a knee-jerk reaction, and give one the impression of fear. It makes him seem to hate his life or current situation or be afraid of the unknown.

The next few panels feature close-ups of an open popcorn bag and a vhs tape, and the pattern on his pillow. The way these images contrast with him covering his eyes give them a sense of being menacing; as though these unfamiliar yet innocuous images have scared him out of his mind. They almost seem like something out of a crime scene, which ties into Jimmy's imaginings that his 'dad' is actually some sort of homicidal maniac.

Throughout the series of panels, Jimmy and his surroundings appear to be returning to his childhood. As he finishes his transformation, he gets up and is immediately thrust back into reality. These images could be interpreted in a variety of ways. First, it could be seen as Jimmy trying to calm himself by thinking of something familiar in order to get on with his day. In this case, Jimmy would be trying not to think of his surroundings. Second, it could be that he is trying to wish away his present circumstances, as though waking up from a bad dream. Then his reaction would be construed as disbelief and panic. Third, it could be that Jimmy still sees himself as a child. In that case his reaction would be of no real consequence; we would simply be seeing the way he views himself. Finally, it could be that his circumstances have frightened him and made him revert to a fearful, helpless, childlike state. If that is so, then he could be seen as a rather fragile individual unable to cope with his surroundings.

All of these interpretations are probably true to some extent. In light of these observations, we can interpret Jimmy Corrigan as a person who never really grew up. He is a child living in an adult world, unable to keep up with things happening around him. He is a dreamer, and resorts to all sorts of imaginings and daydreams to avoid the reality of his life. He seeks to escape and wishes he were still a child, free from responsibility. He is an interesting character, in that he is so normal. And yet, on the pages of the book his normal life becomes something fantastical (albeit rather depressing) through his vivid imagination.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Do You Feel Sorry for the Cat Head?

In the general instructions on the inside cover of Jimmy Corrigan, the reader is presented with section 4, “Technical Explanations of the Language, Developing Skills,” where he learns whether he is capable of reading comic strip language. A series of questions is presented alongside two frames showing a mouse hitting a “cat head” with a hammer. The last question is --- did you a) feel sorry for the cat head, or b) not? The author then informs the reader that if he answered “b” to all of the previous questions he is ready to continue in his reading, suggesting that he was not supposed to feel bad for the cat head. This may not seem like a big deal, as a lot of the inside cover is plain silly anyway, but flash forward several pages and a very similar image reappears in one of Jimmy Corrigan’s dreams, as he sobs over his child’s crying head on the ground and smashes it over the head with a cinder block. This connection brings an important point about how we as readers are supposed to view Jimmy’s character.

The timing of this dream is extremely important. Jimmy has this dream the night that he meets his father, after the awkward dinner at the fast food joint. He is pretty unsure about the situation, and rightly so, noting the juxtaposition of the father and the crafty car salesman (granted, we can be pretty sure that Jimmy has not picked up on this). The dream he has highlights his na├»ve optimism – he is reminiscing and telling his child a fairytale version of the night that he met his grandfather (“Scared? Ha Ha… oh no I wasn’t scared.” Liar). Something is clearly already not right here, as Superman again appears, standing this time on the windowsill, and literally shakes everything up. Jimmy’s second dream in the sequence, where his father forces him to shoot his miniature horse, further shows his worries about a father figure, who in the dream is emotionally doing him harm.

Jimmy is worried about getting hurt. The child’s head is not literally a child that he wishes he had, but is a deeper symbol of himself. Though in his dream he is the one with the cinder block, he is also the father figure in the dream. In real life, his is the child, and so he is meant to be the head. This is magnified by the diagram to the right of the directions on the inner cover. In one section there is the sketch of the cat head, with two arrows pointing to it. One leads from a man’s head, and one leaves it from the child’s head. Throughout the book, Jimmy is presented as both a child and a man, and so he is the cat head (In my opinion, the cat head looks absolutely nothing like a cat, and looks a lot more like a bird or chicken. This brings about the image of Jimmy as a “chicken head” from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Jimmy is the one constantly getting hit, and the symbolism of the head on the ground brings back the question from the inner cover --- do you a) feel sorry for him or b) not? More importantly, are we supposed to feel sorry for him?

For the entire first half of the book the reader watches as he gets pummeled. Nothing good ever seems to happen to Jimmy, and he never seems to be intelligent enough to realize what’s going on around him. Feeling sorry for him is not exactly a hard thing to do. In a summary-like page the author points out three obvious reasons that we could feel sorry for Jimmy: Jimmy can’t meet girls, Jimmy wears old-fashioned pants, and Jimmy calls his mom at least once a day. This isn’t to mention the constant, mocking “JIMMY CORRIGAN – THE SMARTEST KID ON EARTH” frame that is scattered among the pages. It’s pretty easy for the reader to think “Poor Jimmy, what a loser…” However, Ware also uses the inside cover to turn the sarcasm on the reader – “Most of the purchasers of this book, however, are likely to be sexually confident, attractive go-getters for whom grief is merely an abstraction, or at worst, an annoyance treatable by expensive medication.” Translation: don’t fool yourself, you are all just as pathetic as my main character.

He doesn’t want us to feel sorry for Jimmy, but rather, he seems to want us to recognize the parallels between Jimmy’s life and our own. The London Review of Books wrote that Jimmy Corrigan was “A meticulous record of the minutiae of nothing happening: eating, waiting, being disappointed.” Perhaps, then, we are supposed to see our own lives in this way too.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Final Groups & Assignment for this week (Group one)

Groups: I'm listing you by pairs, with those in group one first, those in group two second. Those of you in a stable pairing remain in one; for those of you for whom there has been some confusion (due mostly to people entering and leaving the class), there may be something new.


For the time being, I'll be commenting on Dan's drafts. If you have any questions or difficulties, let me know.

Assignment (for group one, due Thursday): This one, for a change, isn't precisely an essay.

Option one: Do a close reading/viewing of an image, or brief series of images in Jimmy Corrigan. This means that you should select a single image (probably in a single frame or short sequence of frames, although it might be a repeating image), examine it as closely as you can, and explain in detail how it can help us understand either the book as a whole, or a particular section of it. For instance - you could analyze the significance of the details of Jimmy's apartment as he works up his courage to call Peggy, or you could analyze the details of the appearance of the "dream-robot."

Option two: Pick some part of the "general instructions" on the inside cover of Jimmy Corrigan, and use those instructions (which are simultaneously serious and funny, very complicated and silly - this isn't easy material) to explain how we ought to read some section of the book (as short as an image, or as long as a few pages).