Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Danielewski and Marcuse

By incorporating fictitious footnotes and narrators who debate the authenticity of the documentary, Danielewski questions the meaning of historical truth in society, and “with the advent of digital technology,” the role of manipulated language, which has “forsaken its once unimpeachable hold on the truth” (Danielewski 1). Further into the text, Danielewski compares fictional narrative with documentary filmmaking, and in a Marcusian world, we see the importance of historical reason as a refusal of language or images manipulated to reinforce established society. While Danielewski never openly grapples with Marcusian terms, he does present language as corruptible, depicts a society that “reproduces and protects the human existence always with the exception of the existence of those who are the declared outcasts, enemy-aliens, and other victims of the system),” and establishes an argument for individual, human need to use historical truth (unmanipulated by society), as negative thought—the only way, Marcuse claims, to combat repression.

Marcuse argues that society uses universals to drain the meaning out of history, to present a unified, false consciousness: “Such universals thus appear as conceptual instruments for understanding the particular conditions of things in the light of their potentialities. They are historical and supra-historical; they conceptualize the stuff of which the experienced world consists, and they conceptualize it with a view of its possibilities, in the light of their actual limitation, suppression, and denial” (Marcuse). With Marcuse explaining in the 1960’s that language and images could be changed from representing “the physical” to representing only “the historical,” surely he would take Danielewski’s position, that “[c]urrently, the greatest threat comes from the area of digital manipulation” (Danielewski 141). In a one-dimensional society, these technological tools easily aid in the warping of historical understanding. On page 142, Danielewski refers to the NPPA’s quote vowing never to distort images for journalistic purposes based on their ethical principles. On the adjacent page, we see the “retranslation” of this logic into a discussion of the usefulness of technology in “expos[ing] the aporias in photography’s construction of the visual world, to deconstruct the very ideas of photographic objectivity and closure, and to resist what has become an increasingly sclerotic pictorial tradition.” This is heavily technocratic language from a highly academic/bureaucratic source immediately contradicting the previous statement that embraced historical representations. Here we see a distortion of logic in favor of technology based on social reasoning.

Zampano separates The Navidson Report from Hollywood productions because of its lack of reliance on fictional plot conventions: “Production value coupled with cultural saturation of trade gossip help ensure a modicum of disbelief, thus reaffirming for the audience, that no matter how moving, riveting or terrifying a film may be, it is still only entertainment. Documentaries, however, rely on interview, inferior equipment, and virtually no effects to document real events. Audiences are not allowed the safety net of disbelief and so must turn to more challenging mechanisms of interpretation which, as is sometimes, case, may lead to denial and aversion” (Danielewski 139). Language that aims to entertain is one that intends to unify, to allow the acceptance of concepts as universals, rather than true experiences that contain true meaning in a society. While individuals possessing negative thought “would synthesize the data of experience in concepts which reflect, as fully and adequately as possible, the given society in the given facts” (Marcuse), digital technology only contributes to the further obliteration of historical truth in the discussion of individual needs. Marcuse would argue, along with Danielewski, that universals aim to repress meaning, advocating instead for society’s needs, and the attainment of “the substantive universal…[which] intends qualities that surpass all particular experience, but persist in the mind, not as a figment of imagination, nor as more logical possibilities, but as the stuff which our world consists” (Marcuse). This is a world of instrumentalities, where people are a part of the whole. In Johnny Truant, we see a character who recognizes the will of society’s language to repress in order to continue its cyclical reign of power: although Truant doesn’t need medication, he pays for it because society prescribed it to him, despite the fact that it is his own lack of agency in the face of his attempts to achieve societal success that cause him mental instability in the first place.

In Danielewski’s discussion of authenticity, he draws our attention to the often superficial representations in fiction compared to the heavier, and often more terrifying due to lack of agency in reality: “Where narratives in film and fiction often rely on virtually immediate reactions, reality is far more insistent and infinitely (literally) more patient” (Danielewski 30). By using the house’s immeasurable space as a metaphor for society’s repressed meaning, Danielewski draws our attention to Like the king who buried his disfigured son (the Minotaur), in the labyrinth in hopes of repressing his existence, the house’s immeasurable space seems to contain society’s repressed meaning. Danielewski draws our attention to the formation of language as representations of concepts, the formation of which “is tantamount to an academic confinement of experience, a restriction of meaning” (Marcuse). It is real experience (reality causes negative thought), that stands the test of historical truth, while repressed universals only mask meaning in a way that poses a threat the pacification of space by masquerading society’s needs in language that represses the needs of the individuals, locking them inside a metaphorical labyrinth as an outcast. With the layering of narrators, this text riffs on the use of universals by pointing out the deceptive nature of the language of a repressed society, and need for historical fact (or perhaps the layering of viewpoints), to counter manipulated social thought.

1 comment:

Adam said...

My first impression of this essay is that it's dense, which is neither good nor bad in itself, just an observation. Then, as I pay attention to its components, I realize that important parts of it are really very transparent: "This is heavily technocratic language from a highly academic/bureaucratic source immediately contradicting the previous statement that embraced historical representations. Here we see a distortion of logic in favor of technology based on social reasoning."

This moment in your essay is an interesting eruption, where you understand Danielewski as engaging in a critique of academia (not just a satire of it) - not just as a passing joke, but as an important part of his text.

Just this moment in your essay could be the basis of an 8 or 10 page essay. Parsing out a critique of academia which is often couched in academic language is going to be tough, but you have lots of material to work with.

But you're not just doing this; you're doing this, and you're working with many other places in the novel at once, trying to conduct a broad investigation of how we can understand the novel through Marcuse's critical theory.

All well and good, and an interesting beginning. But it would have been better, for instance, to take that one passage I quoted and turn *that* into the whole essay - you're trying to do too much here, and although you do very well *given* how much you're trying to tackle, trying to do less and focus more narrowly would only have done good things for this essay.