Final Reflection Assignment: Anti-foundationalim and the Experimental Novel
Final Reflection Assignment
For each of the books we’ve read this semester, I was painfully aware of how I had previously had superficial understanding of language theory, and this course made me want to know more about how language evolves. Before this course I understood in theory what these great thinkers like Derrida, Wittgenstein, and de Man were talking about, but these projects suites made me focus my reading, and made me think about how people were communicating, or not. I saw these aspects of language in every book, and how each author chose to portray language in these experimental terms. As English students, we learn about Deconstruction and Jacques Derrida in English 290, but that was one of the only language theories I had encountered before I took an English Topics of Literary Theory course on Pragmatism; and even then we discussed Pragmatism and Neo-Pragmatic philosophers—only a handful of authors. One of the many things this experimental novels class has accomplished is the discussion between philosophy and literature in a less abstract way; and has proven the theories that discuss the contradictory nature of language.
As influenced by the growing anxiety in Western civilization, our language theories have evolved with our texts, and these same texts perform the language theories they are representing. In short, these books made me think about the culpability of language and if this was something that is an aspect of experimental literature, or all contemporary literature. On the second day of class when we were talking about House of Leaves, I was in the Twitter/Storify group, and one of the things that I remember typing was, “Some people think that Lit. Movements expire like milk in the refrigerator. This is not the case.” Another tweet that I remember writing was in reference to Danielewski’s irreverence for his predecessors: “One thing Danielewski does appreciate is Derrida’s theory of language.” This was the project that made me start thinking about literary movements and language theory. The way that we were recording the class discussion folded us into the text along with the turning of the pages. I got a lot out of creating the Storify document because I still remember the majority of the things that I tweeted about, but even if I did not remember, there is a record on Storify of the discussion. I guess the tweeting was worthwhile because I know what I find important when we are discussing a novel, but I got to document what other people thought was important too, and that was something that I wish we could do in every class. In this novel, the reader becomes a part of the book; even more so when you are documenting a discussion of it. After the first few days of tweeting I realized that we were collecting scraps just like Zampano, and we were organizing Zampano’s scraps like Johnny Truant.
In most instances House of Leaves is not a book about restriction but in one chapter when the Navidson Record begins to morph along with the house and the text area gets smaller and smaller, the words get cut off and moved to the next line, and I was struck by the restriction that Danielewski uses. It mirrored what we were doing in class with the class tweeting. Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet, so some things had to either be split between two tweets, or you had to think of another word. This project suite kept building upon itself like Danielewski’s language theory. The text itself begins as its own set of definitions, but then as we keep reading ourselves into the novel we also pile the rest of our definitions on top of Danielewski’s. Our first discussion day of House of Leaves, we also had our first introduction to a version of Deconstruction: “Language is always bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.”
Likewise, these novels were also vocally bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. All of these novels discuss isolation, and the anxiety or comfort of solitude, yet for all of this time spent on being alone, there were multiple characters being alone, together. The term that we gave this aspect of experimental literature was “poly-vocal.” Not surprisingly the project suite that most clearly demonstrates this aspect of language and its isolating qualities was Stephan Graham Jones’ Demon Theory. I had a really difficult time distinguishing between the shifting characters from parts 16-18, and until the third part of the “three part novelization” I was stuck trying to distinguish who lived and died in the first and third part because the third is an attempted repeat of the first. I think I ended up getting a lot more out of the book because of the podcast that our group made. When our group first started discussing what we should do for our podcast, the idea for a “movie trailer—minus video” was in jest, but the more we thought about it the stronger the idea became because it helped us discuss the horror genre as a mnemonic device. We wanted to show the formulaic journey that occurs within horror movies, and how Jones moves away from this in some ways to show an experimental version of the horror genre. When we first met to start putting a script together we had to assign people to characters, and the novel was so poly-vocal each person had to read for multiple characters. This allowed us to place ourselves within the novel yet again, and added our own voices to the narrative in another layer to the “three part novelization of the film trilogy: The Devil Inside…etc.”
What this book showed me with regards to how our culture treats serialized, and movie versions of novels was that whenever a film version is created after the novel people are always nostalgic for the “original.” Though in this case the layers are so convoluted that we are unable to be nostalgic about the “original.” This was another version of how all of the experimental novels dealt with language: through secondary information. Of the books that we’ve read, House of Leaves, In the Lake of the Woods, The Tattooed Map and Demon Theory, all have separate secondary material that forces a re-contextualization of the primary text. Eunoia, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close all have secondary material, but it is more a part of the narrative and does not have distinguishing appendices, or marginalia. What this shows is that the experimental nature of language constantly forces us to attempt to find a foundation or an origin, and these authors are attempting to show the contradiction of foundationalism.
What these books have taught me is to embrace the anti-foundational aspect of experimental literature because they represent the important shift away from metaphysical truth and ideals. Though this also sounds like subjectivity and relativism, I think that these authors represent a spectrum of hopefulness of language and its evolution. The novels with secondary materials that are somewhat separate from the narrative tend to fall more towards the claim that language is our only medium to communicate, and is often futile (with the exception of The Tattooed Map). What the other four novels represent to me is the Pragmatism term, coined by Richard Rorty: liberal ironist, and is an autonomous person who values language as a tool. For a liberal ironist, though our attempts at understanding each other may be futile, it is the only available tool to do so, and one ought to keep trying to understand humanity through language and narrative. This is what the project suites allowed me to see in all of the novels, and I would not have come to the same conclusions without the experimental aspect of this course.