Drupal blog posts https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/ en Fifty Years with The Crying of Lot 49 https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/blogs/admin-0 <span>Fifty Years with The Crying of Lot 49</span> <div class="blog_post__author">By Jeffrey Severs</div> <span><span lang="" about="/users/sitn-blogger" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">SITN Blogger</span></span> <span>Mon, 11/23/2015 - 20:42</span> <div class="blog_post__body"><p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="829cf0fe-efda-406d-bb57-a9ae874f5f31" height="426" src="/sites/default/files/Severs_blog_on_pynchon_CoL49_cover.jpg" width="275" loading="lazy" /></p> <p>This December marks the fiftieth anniversary of Oedipa Maas’s first appearance in print, as part of “The World (This One), the Flesh (Mrs. Oedipa Maas), and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity,” a story Thomas Pynchon published in the December 1965 issue of <em>Esquire</em>. Oedipa’s novel, <em>The Crying of Lot 49</em>, would be published in full in March 1966. Where would postmodern literature be without her? Where would critical definitions of postmodernism be? And why does this slim novel continue to exert such power over us? As a ubiquitous book turns a half-century old, these are questions worth reflecting on anew.</p> <p>From Borges to Gaddis and Barth, there are other sources besides <em>Lot 49 </em>for the figure of the metaphysical detective, other heady ruminations on entropy and conspiracy, other renderings of failed communication and hegemonic control. But it is difficult to imagine distilling an explanation of literary postmodernism—whether in synopses of the field or in an undergraduate syllabus moving quickly along—without a discussion of those crystalline final lines from Pynchon’s book: “Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.” That readers reach this tense deferral of revelation after 183 pages and not 776 (<em>Gravity’s Rainbow </em>[1973]), 750 (<em>Giles Goat-Boy </em>[1966]), or 1079 (<em>Infinite Jest </em>[1996]) is key to the staying power of Pynchon’s novelette. In a period populated by memorable mega-books, <em>Lot 49 </em>has the advantage of not blowing a syllabus (or a conference paper, or an encyclopedia entry) out of the water.</p> <p>A North American English major, or a non-humanities student fulfilling a survey requirement, is almost bound to encounter <em>Lot 49</em> on one of those syllabi, a ready example of postwar US fiction, black humor, Cold War culture, or the contingencies of interpreting literary art at all. Somewhere the writer who in 2030 will be crowned the heir to David Foster Wallace (who couldn’t have written <em>The Broom of the System </em>[1987] without the model of <em>Lot 49</em>) is reading Pynchon’s book for a college class, right before moving on to <em>White Noise </em>(1985). In figures no doubt fueled by campus bookstores, <em>Lot 49</em> still sells (<a href="https://books.google.ca/books?id=s3atiqlECBIC&amp;pg=PR7&amp;lpg=PR7&amp;dq=the+crying+of+lot+49+number+of+copies+sold&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=HSXilkUFTm&amp;sig=hikHNX2yQhmgPa8cJRpN_x-M3o0&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CFYQ6AEwCWoVChMI4L2Z8YOMyQIVwaSICh0Ijgvn#v=onepage&amp;q=twenty%20thousand&amp;f=false">according to J. Kerry Grant</a>, author of a guide to the novel’s allusions) between fifteen and twenty thousand copies a year. The MLA database counts, from the early 1970s to 2015, 330 articles, books, and dissertations that list <em>Lot 49 </em>among their subjects (for comparison, <em>Lolita</em>’s number, since 1958, is 185). Those stats may seem to represent critical saturation, but <em>Lot 49</em>, having accommodated readings from the deconstructive to the Deleuzean, may well be able to maintain a perennial resilience as it makes the turn into its sixth decade. It is the first of what <a href="http://www.uiowapress.org/books/2014-fall/pynchon%E2%80%99s-california.htm">a recent collection edited by Scott McClintock and John Miller</a> calls Pynchon’s “California novels,” a new way of distinguishing the slighter novels—<em>Lot 49</em>, <em>Vineland </em>(1990), and <em>Inherent Vice </em>(2008)—from the bigger books. Historicized readings (such as <a href="http://www.cambridge.org/ca/academic/subjects/literature/american-literature/thomas-pynchon-and-american-counterculture">Joanna Freer’s linking of Oedipa to the 1960s and the women’s movement</a>) are still relatively rare and due to grow. While Doc Sportello in <em>Inherent Vice </em>launched a few more dissertation chapters by revitalizing Pynchon’s intersections with detective fiction, Maxine Tarnow, the tough forensic accountant investigating 9/11 in <em>Bleeding Edge </em>(2013), gives critics still more reasons to connect the twenty-first century back to 1966: Maxine in some ways revises Oedipa’s quest to find “Silent Tristero’s Empire” for an age of globalization, terrorism, neoliberalism, and the postal networks known as the Internet and the “Deep Web.”</p> <p>But it’s not only the teachers and critics who have kept <em>Lot 49 </em>alive (indeed, I’m sure there are some who will say they’ve killed it). When NBC’s hit comedy <em>Parks and Recreation</em> set its 2009 pilot episode around a “Lot 48,” a pit that might be turned into a public park, the joke nodded to Pynchon’s pop-cultural ownership of 49, second only in the literary world perhaps to Joseph Heller’s lock on 22. Pynchon himself, with his wacky touch, injected the book into the simulacral TV world it once anatomized when, in a 2004 episode of <em>The Simpsons </em>(in <a href="https://twitter.com/mattselman/status/505082780561051649">jokes he apparently wrote for himself</a>), he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ds4OLUDIvg">judged Marge’s chicken wings</a> “V-licious!” and said he would place the recipe alongside “the Frying of Latke 49” (har har) in his “<em>Gravity’s Rainbow Cookbook</em>.” The band Radiohead, the film <em>The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai</em> (1984), and the novels of William Gibson all pay homage to <em>Lot 49 </em>with references large and small. If there are five hundred Pynchon-inspired tattoos on the world’s bodies (give or take?), I’d wager that at least four hundred of them are of a muted posthorn. And if you’ve read only one Pynchon book, this is almost undoubtedly it. As <em>Gravity’s Rainbow</em> says of a magazine’s secret title, “Those Who Know, know,” and <em>Lot 49</em>, while too academically central now to ever be a cult novel, calls out to its readership to form mysterious Tristero-like communication networks of their own, one insider allusion to Yoyodyne or forged stamps at a time.</p> <p>Speculating about what we would do without <em>Lot 49 </em>becomes more than an interesting thought experiment when we consider that Pynchon came close to not giving it to us at all. Scholars (at least those who acknowledge the challenge) have had to square the book’s role in defining Pynchon with his apparently low opinion of it, glimpsed in an elliptical remark at the end of the preface to <em>Slow Learner</em>, his 1984 reflection on his early career: <em>Lot 49</em>, he writes, was a “story,” “marketed as a novel,” “in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up till then.” Some (such as <a href="http://www.vheissu.net/sl/">Terry Reilly</a>) think Pynchon’s confessional voice in <em>Slow Learner </em>is a put-on, one more layer of masking for a paranoid recluse. Boris Kachka, though, <a href="http://www.vulture.com/2013/08/thomas-pynchon-bleeding-edge.html">in a rich 2013 investigation</a>, describes Pynchon after his first novel as “eager to break with” Lippincott (publishers of <em>V. </em>[1963]) “and rejoin [editor] Cork Smith, since departed to Viking.” Letters by Pynchon from 1962 to 1964, <a href="http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00442">available at the Harry Ransom Center</a>, support claims about his dissatisfaction with Lippincott. Pynchon, Kachka continues, “saw <em>Lot 49</em>” not as his next major work but “as a quickie ‘potboiler’ meant to break his option with the house—forcing them to either reject it, liberating him, or pay him $10,000.”</p> <p>Lippincott paid, and the so-called quickie potboiler became indispensable to American literature. Some may say, justifiably, that indulging the counterfactual of a <em>Lot 49­</em>-less world, or one where we critically consider Pynchon’s dismissal of his work, just expands fallacious thinking about authorial intention—for the world we have does include <em>Lot 49</em>, as well as the prodigious academic infrastructure that has been built around it, along with a lasting collective judgment of its high-cultural value. Trust the tale, and all its resonances, not the teller. But here the image in the mirror that Oedipa has long held up to readers gains further definition: by thinking about how <em>Lot 49 </em>could have been withheld from us altogether in 1966, we become even more like the Oedipa who, tracking clues in <em>The Courier’s Tragedy</em>, traces the definitive text of the play from a director’s edited script to a dissolute scholar and finally to a used book store where she hears she can get a copy—now burned to the ground for insurance money and, anyway, owned by the ex-lover of hers who may be orchestrating this whole charade. Where do we find what <em>Gravity’s Rainbow</em> later calls “the Real Text,” while still acknowledging the interdeterminacy and contingency of its origins?</p> <p>Luckily, unlike Oedipa, we are obsessed with a sign system that, while it reflects our solipsistic interpretations, we can still hold in common around the seminar table. There’s ultimately nothing to be done except get together and talk some more about the book. Many of the ideas in this essay will be subjects at <a href="https://apps.mla.org/program_details?prog_id=746&amp;year=2016">a roundtable I will chair at MLA 2016 in Austin, “<em>The Crying of Lot 49 </em>at Fifty.”</a> David Cowart, Brian McHale, Angus Fletcher, Ali Chetwynd, Katie Muth, and I will unpack the novel’s history, reception, and critical omnipresence, wondering over how Pynchon’s Boeing work influenced the book, how postmodernism’s relationship to indeterminacy may depend on it, and how Paul Thomas Anderson’s compelling adaptation of <em>Inherent Vice </em>(2014) changes our thoughts about <em>Lot 49</em>’s own cinematic possibilities. We’ll clear our throats and spread our arms in gestures that belong to the priesthood of critical culture, but final revelations will be duly deferred. Hope to see you there. For more info on this gathering, write by WASTE.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Jeffrey Severs is assistant professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He co-edited (with Christopher Leise) <em>Pynchon’s </em>Against the Day<em>: A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide </em>(U of Delaware P, 2011), and he has written essays on <em>Vineland </em>(for <em>Pynchon Notes</em>) and <em>Gravity’s Rainbow </em>(forthcoming in <em>Twentieth-Century Literature</em>). His book, <em>David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value</em>, will be published by Columbia University Press in 2016.</strong></p> <p> </p> </div> <section class="comments"> <h2 class="title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=166&amp;2=field_blog_comments&amp;3=comment" token="kJCj_6vMOgxG_QroxdVzZHFH2FhMwYxeB8W1jwW5-j0"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:42:00 +0000 SITN Blogger 166 at https://www.studiesinthenovel.org Alternative Lives: Reflections on an Interview with Aleksandar Hemon https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/blogs/admin-1 <span>Alternative Lives: Reflections on an Interview with Aleksandar Hemon</span> <div class="blog_post__author">By Tim Boswell</div> <span><span lang="" about="/users/sitn-blogger" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">SITN Blogger</span></span> <span>Thu, 07/16/2015 - 17:05</span> <div class="blog_post__body"><p align="left"><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="" height="324" src="/sites/default/files/2014_hemon-aleksandar.jpg" width="240" /></p> <p align="left"><mediawrapper data=""></mediawrapper>“I think a condition of writing or storytelling,” Aleksandar Hemon recently told me, “is to be able to occupy all of your characters, to inhabit the world that emerges between them.”</p> <p align="left">Hemon, a National Book Award finalist, two-time National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, and recipient of both a MacArthur “genius” grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship, was gracious enough to share a couple of hours of his time for an interview for <em>Studies in the Novel. </em>I provided the office and the muffins, he offered perspectives on topics ranging from translation to photography, multilingualism to discursive power. Sasha, as he likes to be called, is a Bosnian American writer who came to Chicago in 1992 and became stranded when his native Sarajevo came under siege. He is serious, thoughtful, and intellectually daunting. As Zadie Smith once said of Hemon’s collection <em>The Question of Bruno</em>, his writing is “all right I suppose if you appreciate multilingual genius types who learn the language in six months, write with great humor and style and then get compared to Nabokov in the <em>New York Times</em>.”</p> <p align="left">“In other words,” Sasha continues, discussing his characters’ viewpoints, “I cannot pick the right characters, or more valid positions, over the others, because in that case it would all be sliding toward propaganda. To me, that is not interesting….The advantage of writing is that you can occupy all those positions. I am everyone in my books.”</p> <p align="left">One of the many comments that sticks with me from our conversation is that, through his writing, he “imagines alternative lives” for himself. His books blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction, and indeed he has observed that there are no such distinctions in Bosnian literature, nor even words in the language to denote them. His stories, then—many of which share biographical elements with their author’s history—represent what has happened in his life, but also what might have happened and what never will. One set of potentialities is not more inherently true than another. Isn’t this the great pull and the enduring promise of literature? That we can imagine alternative lives, see through another’s perspective, explore the could-have-been and never-will-be?</p> <p align="left">When I was a child, this promise mainly encompassed tumbles down rabbit holes to new worlds, enjoying a shared viewpoint that went beyond the vicarious—as if merged with the protagonist à la Cameron’s <em>Avatar</em>. Seeing with another’s eyes. Neverland by proxy. The escapism endured, and I was trained to value others’ perspectives long before I saw “other” capitalized. I learned that imagining alternative lives is not a sign of ineffectual disregard of reality in favor of fantasy, like Thurber’s Walter Mitty, but rather a prerequisite for empathetic engagement with the world.</p> <p align="left">A quote from Hemon’s <em>Nowhere Man</em> summons this condition of inhabiting multiple worlds, one’s own and another’s: “Why couldn’t he be more than one person? Why was he stuck in the middle of himself, hungry and tired?” (198). Through telling or receiving a story, through inhabiting it imaginatively, we are able to be far more than one person. In my office, Sasha points out that this makes writing an inherently democratic project because you have to give everyone a voice. On the part of the writer, he says, this involves a necessary suspension of selfhood. In a sense, I suppose this indicates an inward turn not toward finding oneself through the act of creative effort, but toward finding others—embracing the perspectives and experiences denied us by the boundaries of lived identity.  </p> <p align="left">“This is the release from the chains of selfhood that we experience as writers, and as readers. Every day of my life in this real world I deal with the fact I can’t be anyone other than myself—indeed it is illegal to be someone else. You’re chained by and to your identity, to your legal or cultural parameters of identity, just by your daily practices, or your limited wardrobe….” Sasha leans back and smiles. “But in literature there’s this liberation of the self, or the possibility thereof, an imaginative possibility I can become someone I would never want to be or try to be in real life.”</p> <p align="left">There’s a scene near the beginning of Henry James’s novel <em>Roderick Hudson</em> where Rowland Mallet, an affluent bachelor and art connoisseur lacking artistic talent himself, states: “I’m clever enough to want more than I’ve got. I’m tired of myself, my own thoughts, my own affairs, my own eternal company. True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out—you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.” That absorbing errand for myself, and others I suspect, as Sasha’s comments throw into relief, is writing stories. And for still others, it is reading them. </p> <p align="left">Sasha’s stories often feature Bosnians who come to America, sometimes to Chicago, and they work many of the same jobs—e.g., Greenpeace canvasser—that Sasha did himself. It is tempting to read their experiences, reflections, and observations as indicative of the author’s own outlook and history. I found myself puzzled when I read the story “Blind Jozef Pronek &amp; Dead Souls,” out of his collection <em>The Question of Bruno</em>, at a moment when the eponymous protagonist is waiting in line to buy a hot dog and has Garth Brooks pointed out to him. Pronek, a Bosnian visiting the United States, has no idea who he is. The narrator then wryly informs the reader, “Garth Brooks, of course, is one of our finest country musicians.”</p> <p align="left">An American reader would not need this pointed out; a Bosnian narrator would not say “our finest.” I had to wonder, exactly what position is the author occupying in all of this?</p> <p align="left">The answer, it seems, would be “all of them.”</p> <p align="left">“One aspect of writing is accepting the loss of control, not in the sense of unconscious writing,” Sasha goes on, “but rather in the sense that your plans will not work out. You will have to adjust, and it’s part of the abandonment of the self. These people will not recite your lines you wanted them to.”</p> <p align="left">How often have I, as a reader, mistakenly thought I intuited an author’s perspective from a character’s words? How often have I, as a writer, attempted to bend a character’s will to my own? Of course deeper questions and greater minds than mine have delved into the intricacies of this subject. Yet the real magic of literature, of this remarkable interaction between author, reader, and text, endlessly multifarious and ephemeral, lies in this liminal space between intentional, individual creation on one hand and the relinquishment of self and determinacy on the other.</p> <p align="left">“The one who started the whole process,” Sasha says, “the planner, ‘the artist,’ the talked-up writer, the awarded author—is the one who loses control, and that’s fucking great. If he didn’t, it would all fail terribly…."</p> <p align="left">As readers, we must also relinquish a certain amount of control, and accept a kind of pleasurable cognitive dissonance in embracing two contrary positions at once: I know this story is made up, yet I believe that it happened. Sasha calls this a “beautiful intellectual somersault.” We are perhaps more flexible mental gymnasts as children, yet with regular activity, we can still pull off a passable tumble as the years drift by.</p> <p align="left">The muffins long gone, he answers the question of whether he sees himself in his books when he reads them. He does not, he insists—the moment these people and events enter a narrative, a world built through imagination, that’s not him.</p> <p align="left">“And it’s not even ‘not me’ in a sense of denying that I would say or do these things, it’s not me the way that this chair is not me. I can sit here, I can touch it, it’s attached to my ass as we speak….” He laughs. “But it’s not me. It’s a chair. So it’s a book, it’s a story, it’s a novel, it’s a character.”</p> <p align="left">“And this doesn’t make it less true to me,” he continues, “it makes it more true. I imagine alternative lives for myself, and it provides great pleasure."</p> <p align="left">Indeed it does.</p> <p align="left">For the full interview, see the summer issue of <em>Studies in the Novel</em>, out now.</p> <p align="left"> </p> <p align="left"><em><strong>Photo © Velibor Božović.</strong></em></p> <p><strong>Tim Boswell is managing editor of <em>Studies in the Novel</em>. He holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of North Texas and works as a ghostwriter and book editor. He also blogs at <a href="http://www.bookexpeditions.com/" target="_blank">www.bookexpeditions.com</a>.</strong></p> </div> <section class="comments"> <h2 class="title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=133&amp;2=field_blog_comments&amp;3=comment" token="xZw5fWe-PK5zDogOZiO5glKgQFhaR2eDSrMQ9H9Bx4U"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Thu, 16 Jul 2015 17:05:27 +0000 SITN Blogger 133 at https://www.studiesinthenovel.org Against Technological Monoculture: Infinite Jest in Legos https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/blogs/admin-2 <span>Against Technological Monoculture: Infinite Jest in Legos</span> <div class="blog_post__author">By Kevin Griffith</div> <span><span lang="" about="/users/sitn-blogger" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">SITN Blogger</span></span> <span>Tue, 04/07/2015 - 21:51</span> <div class="blog_post__body"><p>Though published in 1996, David Foster Wallace’s <em>Infinite Jest</em> appears to be the defining novel of the twenty-first century, both in the questions it raises and in the way it attempts to answer them.  <em>Infinite Jest</em> arrived on the scene just as a dominant cultural narrative began to take hold with a vise grip, strangling all other ways of approaching human meaning.  In her book <em>Monoculture:  How One Story is Changing Everything</em>, F. S. Michaels points to the story of economic efficiency as the central narrative of our time, one that is supplanting all other ways of understanding human meaning and worth:  “in the economic story, your best choice is always the most efficient choice” (11). In his essay “Farther Away,” fellow novelist and Wallace’s friend Jonathan Franzen also alludes to this all-encompassing narrative, arguing that Wallace’s purpose in <em>Infinite Jest</em> was to battle the “the monocultural specter” that haunts our age.  But neither Michaels nor Franzen hits the target precisely when it comes to why this monoculture thrives:  The driver of monoculture—the narrative of efficiency—is technology.  Technology is the essential lifeblood in the pursuit of efficiency in the service of nothing but efficiency. Technological monoculture, the narrative of efficiency fueled by the Internet, threatens to eliminate our very reasons to be human if we do not recognize and embrace alternative narratives—and soon. Though <em>Infinite Jest</em> encompasses many topics, its lasting value lies in its attempt to provide alternative narratives to technological monoculture, the dominant narrative of the early twenty-first century.</p> <p>Our best thinking has brought us technological monoculture—with all its consequences: surveillance, trolls, cyberbullies, obsession with efficiency, concentration of wealth, loss of gainful employment, loss of meaning.  In their book <em>All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age</em>, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, in their analysis of Wallace’s works, as well as others, reach the same conclusion: “...the improvements of technology are impoverishments as well.  To have a skill is to know what counts as worthwhile in a certain domain....To the extent that it takes away the need for skill, technology flattens out human life” (213).  They argue throughout the book that this flattening of life leads to nihilism, because “when we lose our knowledge of craft, the world looks increasingly devoid of distinctions of worth” (213).  Their solution is a return to a mentored learning of craft (207), classically termed “poiesis” (206).  This poiesis can manifest itself in many forms, one of which the reader will witness throughout this essay.  Beginning in the spring of 2014, my eleven-year-old son, Sebastian, and I embarked on a five-month project in which we translated <em>Infinite Jest</em> into Legos.  The project brought us back to craft, a way to immerse ourselves in a pursuit that was not based on a computer screen.  The larger purpose was to make this tome of a novel more inviting to readers, who, even if they are part of a sympathetic crew of English majors, find the novel’s heft and intricacy daunting.  We needed to do something a computer could not do—reconstruct a narrative using the language of actual things. We were, in a sense, following the imperative of Nicholas Carr, author of <em>The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains</em>:  “We must have the self-awareness and the courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities...particularly those tasks that demand wisdom” (208).</p> <p>The result, <strong><a href="http://www.brickjest.com"><em>Brickjest.com</em></a></strong>, succeeded beyond even our wildest expectations, as media outlets such as the <strong><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/aug/27/david-foster-wallace-infinite-jest-lego"><em>Guardian</em></a></strong>, <strong><a href="http://www.salon.com/2014/09/05/11_year_old_builds_lego_version_of_david_foster_wallaces_infinite_jest_partner/"><em>Salon.com</em></a></strong>, and hundreds of others picked up on the story. At one point, our website was getting over fifteen thousand hits a day.  Two theories emerge to explain this viral explosion of interest.  One, people are still interested in narratives that provide alternatives to technological monoculture. Clearly, the story of a father and son laboring through a project for no other reward than the love of just doing something together is a compelling narrative.  Two, as Philip Sayers pointed out in his essay “Representing Entertainment in <em>Infinite Jest</em>,” the novel, ekphrastic in its own right, demands an artistic response. Once again, Wallace was ahead of the curve in his work, compelling us to be active creators, rather than submit to the passivity of the screen.    </p> <p>The success of <em>Brickjest.com</em> suggests that there is a craving for alternative narratives, approaches that paradoxically incorporate technology themselves as a way to fight the dominance of technology.  But first, what is a narrative, and what is its relationship to technology?  Media analyst Neil Postman defines it as “a story of human history that gives meaning to the past, explains the present, and provides guidance for the future” (173).  In his book <em>Technopoly</em>, published way back in 1992 (a date that predates the Web and seems like something out of a technological Pliocene Epoch), Postman was the first to argue passionately for alternatives to the monocultural narrative, with “its implicit assumption that efficiency is the principal aim of all social institutions” (87).  His term for the monocultural narrative is technopoly, in which “the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology” (71). Technopoly works aggressively “to eliminate alternatives to itself...” (57) by making those alternatives irrelevant. “And it does so by redefining what we mean by art, by family, by politics, by history, by truth, by privacy, by intelligence, so that our new definitions fit its new requirements” (57).  Technology is a Bed of Procrustes, so to speak, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his book of the same name, cutting or stretching us, and forcing people to “[adjust] themselves to make a program look smarter” (Lanier, <em>Who Owns</em> 114). We must now stretch our definition of privacy because of social networks and their implicit assumption that they can take liberties with our personal data. We must redefine education by eliminating teachers and replacing them with an online alternative, and so on.</p> <p>So how do we avoid lying in this terrible bed that our technological monoculture has made for us?  And where does the novel fit in?  Again, Postman:  “A novelist…documents the behavior and feelings of people as they confront the problems posed by their culture” (153).  Literature, especially novels of ideas like <em>Infinite Jest</em>, deals in “diversity, complexity, and ambiguity...” (Postman 158), traits that are “the enemies of technique.  They mock statistics and polls and standardized tests and bureaucracies” (Postman 158).  Whether novels will continue to matter, though, is not certain, as technological monoculture is rapidly rendering them irrelevant, especially novels of ideas.  As Jordan Weissmann points out in his article “The Decline of the American Book Lover,” “The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.” (Note that the Apple II was launched in 1977.) The decline in reading, though, is just a symptom of a larger disease, the cancerous effects of technological monoculture on any discipline or mode of thinking that resists using numerical data as a way to achieve meaning and results.  Not surprisingly, along with the rise of social networking, with its complicated algorithmic metrics; and online education, with its tracking capabilities (Barnes), came increasing attacks on the viability and value of the humanities.  Search “Humanities in Decline” and you will receive over four million hits, one of the first being the headline “Humanities’ Decline Makes Economic Sense.”  (Could we have a clearer articulation of what technological monoculture is all about?)</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="5035a613-146f-4972-a05c-3da238f5dbbf" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_1_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" /><em>Infinite Jest</em> grapples with the existential boredom created by technology, what Wallace biographer J. T. Max calls the “sad, senseless attempts by Americans to amuse themselves in the absence of any larger spiritual idea” (218). Max points out that “<em>Infinite Jest</em> is a brilliant extension of that preoccupation into the era of the Internet, with its manifold, overwhelming sources of image and information” (218).  Remember that the central plot of <em>Infinite Jest</em>, if there is a central plot, is the attempt by Quebecois terrorists to obtain a copy of a film cartridge called <em>Infinite Jest</em>, a film so entertaining that the viewer becomes obsessed with watching it, refusing food and drink, enduring incredible pain when inflicted, until they literally die in front of the screen. The Quebecois terrorists are driven in their mission by hatred of the United States, now part of the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N.  Mainly, the terrorists’ desire to destroy the US arises from US president Johnny Gentle’s “territorial redeploying” (Wallace 93) of a massive toxic waste site, The Great Concavity, onto the Canadian map, thus imposing most of its hazards, including hordes of feral hamsters (“they mean business” [Wallace 93]) and toxic garbage flung by enormous trebuchets (Wallace 241). The northernmost edge of the concavity lies at the Quebec border, and the toxins produced have caused a host of maladies, including gigantism and anencephaly (babies born with no skull). Thus the concavity is a void, but one in which maladies and disease rush to fill.</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="14d2ac48-2092-4ed7-b90b-9a1152949989" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_2_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-left" loading="lazy" />The concavity is also, in my view, Wallace’s metaphor for the lacuna of meaning at the heart of technological monoculture. We see this emptiness all around. As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a former consultant with Microsoft, writes in his book <em>Addicted to Distraction</em>:  “Living with computers changes how we think about ourselves, our intelligence, and our memories. And these changes have, by and large, been for the worse” (111).  He asserts that “...chronic distractions erode your sense of having control over your life.  They don’t just derail your train of thought.  They make you lose yourself” (47).  Undoubtedly, just as feral hamsters and giant babies roam Wallace’s concavity, malicious forces transverse the wasteland at the heart of our technological monoculture, threatening to make us lose ourselves: addiction, greed, and narcissism.</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="0866b463-29f0-456f-b265-7061ad904b4f" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_3_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" /><em>Infinite Jest</em> concerns many forms of addiction, one of them being technology addiction.  Recently, the<em> New York Times</em> revealed that major players in the tech field, including Steve Jobs himself, prohibited or strictly limited their children’s technology use, knowing full well of the dangers of addiction (Bolton).  Digital addiction in South Korea, one of the world’s early adopters of wireless technology, has been a problem of epidemic proportions for years.  In 2010, PBS released the documentary <em>Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier</em>, which investigated the growing computer addiction problems among South Korean teenage boys, who in the most serious cases must attend digital detox camps. And long before computers, there was television, the seductive power of which has been well documented over the past forty years, perhaps most notably so in Marie Winn’s polemic against television, <em>The Plug-In Drug </em>(1977). Interestingly, Wallace alludes to this arc of addictive viewing from television to the computer through his portrayal of the character Steeply’s reminiscence of his father’s obsession with M*A*S*H: “He died just before his birthday.  He died in his easy chair, set at full Recline [<em>sic</em>], watching an episode in which Alda’s Hawkeye can’t stop sleepwalking...” (646). Steeply’s father’s demise (the character Marathe refers to it as “the final enclosing isolation of obsession” [645]), though it occurs much later in the book, previews how the <em>Infinite Jest</em> cartridge will provide the catalyst for mass-suicide-through-viewing.</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="23601753-207b-47f2-b3f6-202b6dd177ea" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_4_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-left" loading="lazy" />Death-by-viewing is a metaphor for the loss of self.  Though the word “narcissism” never appears in <em>Infinite Jest</em>, as unbelievable as that sounds, the novel deals with it implicitly through the “videophony” section. Anticipating Skype and FaceTime, Wallace includes a cautionary tale in the novel about the advent of “VIDEO-TELEPHONING (A.K.A. ‘VIDEOPHONY’) (144), which, though initially popular, “SUDDENLY COLLAPSED LIKE A KICKED TENT (145), when callers became dismayed at how their own faces looked on the screen. In an absurd twist, “vanity-related stress” (148) compels consumers to wear increasingly life-like and attractive masks to hide their appearance, until they forgo the masks completely and use what are called Tableaux: “high-quality transmission-ready photographs [of attractive yet minor celebrities], scaled down to diorama-like proportions and fitted with a plastic holder over the videophone camera, not unlike a lens cap” (149). <img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="68173a52-0290-4335-87a8-70c18a7b30e7" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_5_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" /> In a case of life imitating art to the most grotesque degree, in a way that even Wallace couldn’t comprehend, the<em> Huffington Post</em> noted in 2012 the phenomenon of the “FaceTime Facelift: The Plastic Surgery Procedure For iPhone Users Who Don’t Like How They Look On FaceTime.”  Forget masks. People are willing to alter their very flesh for the sake of the computer’s eye.</p> <p>Does <em>Infinite Jest</em> offer a way out from the concavity at the center of technological monoculture? Three possible exits emerge: Consumer Recidivism, Empathy, and God. </p> <p><strong>Consumer Recidivism</strong></p> <p>Capitalism cannot survive without consumers, and no matter how concentrated wealth becomes, there still must be those who buy products and services.  As the cliché goes, the market is subject to consumers’ tastes and whims, so one possible salvation from computer-driven technological monoculture lies in consumers’ tastes shifting. Though, as Postman has pointed out, “Everyone is inclined to be enthusiastic about technological change, believing that its benefits will spread throughout the culture” (11), all enthusiasm dwindles over time.  The “videophony” section in <em>Infinite Jest</em> (144-51) provides much insight into how the ebb and flow of consumer demand may allow an escape. To summarize, video-telephoning, or “videophony” was developed in the “early days of Interlace’s internet computers” (Wallace 144) to huge popularity.  But, because of “(1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the micro-economics of consumer high-tech” (145), the popularity fades rapidly, and most consumers return to the retro voice-only phones. What we are interested in here is the “self-obliterating logic” of consumer high-tech that Wallace refers to.  Wallace eloquently describes the rise and fall of tech advances, the fall inevitably caused by “consumer-recidivism.”  His analysis of videophony’s rise and fall is worth quoting in full:</p> <p>But there’s some sort of revealing lesson here in the beyond-short-term viability-curve of advances in consumer technology.  The career of videophony conforms neatly to this curve’s classically annular shape:  First there’s some sort of terrific, sci-fi like advance in consumer tech—like from aural to video phoning—which advance always, however, has certain unforeseen disadvantages for the consumer; and then but the market niches created by those disadvantages—like people’s stressfully vain repulsion at their own videophonic appearance—are ingeniously filled via sheer entrepreneurial verve; and yet the very advantages of these ingenious disadvantage compensations seem all too often to undercut the original high-tech advantage, resulting in consumer-recidivism and curve closure and massive shirt loss for precipitant investors. (150) </p> <p>We find examples of this “short-term viability curve” with many “sci-fi like advances” in technology.  Consider eBooks—initially they were championed as the next big thing, the most seismic shift in literacy since Gutenberg.  In fact, business consultant Michael Hyatt predicted in 2007 that print books would die and included a Photoshopped rendition of a tombstone with the inscription, “Rest in Peace/The Book/1463-2008.”  Yet <em>Forbes</em> reported in 2013 that sales of hardcover books were outpacing eBooks (Greenfield). </p> <p>And online education? Unforeseen disadvantages are now driving the main consumers of online education—colleges and universities—out of the game.  What is truly sad is that “MOOCs have yet to demonstrate much benefit at all, even on their own terms” (Deresiewicz 187).  For instance, Ithaka S+R, one of the leading consulting firms in integrating online learning—an agency with an implicit stake in promoting the virtues of online learning—reached the following conclusions in recent studies:  “We do not have conclusive evidence of how use of these technologies on a large scale would impact costs” (Griffiths, et al 29).  Sebastian Thurn, founder and CEO of Udacity, has admitted that his online classes are often a “lousy product” (Schuman) and is moving on to other projects.</p> <p><strong>Empathy</strong></p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="69b3a398-52e7-45af-8721-99f04215b2a1" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_6_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" />Consumer Recidivism can put a stop to tech fetishing, but it doesn’t do much for meaning. Empathy is at the heart of <em>Infinite Jest</em>:  “Since reader’s empathy depends heavily on identification with a narrative, it is perhaps not surprising that...Wallace frequently embeds representations of empathizing characters” (Staes 414).   Recent studies in neuroscience confirm that increased empathy is at the heart of novels in general: “Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined” (Paul). Technological monoculture works very hard to erase empathy—as it is almost always the enemy of efficiency.  If we can reduce people to numbers on a prepopulated form or assimilate nuanced human understanding into “big data,” we are one step closer to erasing empathy. As Lanier states, “The first big tenet of this new culture is that all of reality, including humans, is one big information system” (<em>You are Not a Gadget</em> 27). He further asserts that in this technological monoculture we must work hard “to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others” (<em>You are Not a Gadget</em> 21).</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="8f95ad33-0422-43c5-8c39-8caa1da06667" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_7_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-left" loading="lazy" />In <em>Infinite Jest</em>, the members of Ennet House, the recovery center, are required to attend area AA meetings, in which they must “Identify, instead of Compare.  Again, Identify means empathize” (345).  The AA meetings offer up one example after another of characters who force readers to “engage intellectually and emotionally with the text” (Keen, qtd. In Staes 415).   And the human condition is not pretty.  Two former strippers tell tales of such grotesque abuse and addiction that readers’ credulity may be strained. The first tells of being forced to be a stripper and crack addict at sixteen to escape a situation in which her abusive father repeatedly sexually molested her adopted sister, severely disabled and defenseless, by placing a rubber Raquel Welch mask over her head and having intercourse with her (371).  Former stripper number two tells the story of “being pregnant at twenty and smoking Eightballs of freebase cocaine like a fiend all through her pregnancy” (376) and then giving birth on the rug in a welfare-hotel room to a dead faceless infant that she carries around in a blanket for weeks until “word that there was a serious infant-and-Denial problem here got around the streets” (377). At the end of her confession, Wallace notes that the audience listening to the stripper “all sat still and listened without blinking, looking not just at the speaker’s face but into it...” (379).</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="a0b7a9b2-2501-4a05-83ff-eff81968bfd4" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_8_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" />One doesn’t have to look hard to find other characters who are all-too-human in their addictions, disabilities, and failings.  Marijuana addicts like Hal Incandenza, Ken Erderdy, and Kate Gompert underscore the debilitating effects of what many think a benign drug; Joelle Van Dyne, aka “Madame Psychosis,” wears a veil to reveal the paradoxical trauma of either being too beautiful—a P.G.O.A.T. (the “Prettiest Girl of All Time” [249])—or too ugly (as she may have been deformed by acid tossed into her face, she is also a member of the U.H.I.D., the “Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed” [187]);  cocaine-addict Randy Lenz compensates for the lack of his food-addicted, severely obese mother’s love by suffocating cats (541). Perhaps the most extreme case is the wife of Marathe.  Marathe, who is himself legless from an intentional run-in with a train (1058), is a quadruple agent of the Wheelchair Assassins, pretending to pretend to betray the AFR to secure medical support for his wife (who was born without a skull) from the Bureau of Unspecified Services. Late in the novel, Marathe, posing as a Swiss member of the U.H.I.D. by wearing a veil to gain access to Ennet House, has an exchange with Kate Gompert in which he discusses how he and his wife met:  “...without thinking I release my brake and I am careening down the downhill…and as we say in Switzerland I <em>schüssch </em>at enough speed to reach my wife and sweep her up into the chair...just ahead of the nose of the truck...” (778). This act of selflessness, he tries to explain to Gompert, was not above saving someone else’s life, but his own: “You are not seeing this. It was this frozen with the terror woman, she saved my life. For this saved my life. This moment broke my moribund chains, Katherine” (778).  Marathe is the narcissist’s enemy, truly trying to live out the mantra “You are what you love.” </p> <p>Marathe and the cross-dressing B.S.S. agent Steeply’s dialogues on freedom and choice comprise a good chunk of the novel. Essentially, unlimited choice has the negative consequence of turning us into “the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage” (108).  Our most fundamental choice in the technological monoculture is the self, and as Marathe says, we are all worshipers at the temple of the self:  “You are by yourself and alone.  Kneeling to yourself” (108).  Marathe literally risks his life to transcend his life.  He is willing to lay down his life for the sake of another.  Wallace does not ask readers to do the same, though he does ask us to witness human catastrophes so blatantly grotesque, nauseating, and humiliating that it is hard for us not to turn our eyes away from the page. Perhaps these grotesqueries exist for “redemptive purposes” (Nichols) to jar us out of our narcissistic shells. For remember that the economy driven by technological monoculture depends on our narcissism to provide its raw materials. </p> <p><strong>God</strong></p> <p>Of course, the elephant in the room is God. As Stephen Burns emphasized in his book <em>A Reader’s Guide to Infinite Jest</em>, one of the first academic treatments of the novel, “<em>Infinite Jest</em> may basically be a religious book.  Although this might seem unlikely, it is clear that, on one level, the novel is about belief” (63).  Burns does not pursue this idea much, perhaps because to engage in any discussion of the Bible, God, or religion is to immediately enter the ranks of the tragically academically unhip—or worse.  As D. T. Max has written, Wallace did indeed consider converting to Catholicism, and was not ashamed to pray, but “Wallace’s real religion was always language anyway” (166).  Whether Wallace, as Max argues, chose ultimately to worship at the altar of grammar is open to question, but could anyone really argue that everything Marathe says in his discussions with Steeply boils down to this: “Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but those of others” (Phil. 2:3)?  Exhortations to put others’ interests before one’s own are ubiquitous in the New Testament, and especially the Book of Matthew. </p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="98f00e5a-4abf-449c-a0dc-b47ed4b05990" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_9_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-left" loading="lazy" /><em>Brickjest.com</em> allows readers to examine the novel itself for answers. Through its disruptive rendering of key scenes in brick form, it can reposition the novel as a key medium in making meaning in our lives.  Rather than shrugging our shoulders and allowing technological monoculture to wash away novels of ideas, we can use technology as a way to invite readers back. Consider the progression of our understanding of God in the novel.  We can see the progression of belief as we navigate through the pages of <em>Infinite Jest</em>.  Early in the novel, during a nighttime discussion between Hal Incandenza and his brother Mario, Hal responds to his brother’s inquiries about his belief in God this way:  “...I have administrative bones to pick with God, Boo. I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about.  I’m pretty much anti-death.  God looks by all accounts to be pro-death” (40).  Despite his supposed genius status, Hal is more or less articulating a basic religious cliché—if God is so great, how can he allow bad things to happen to good people?  Later, the attitude expressed in the novel changes, as the previously pro-death God, the subject of jokes, now becomes the catalyst in the transformation of the addicted into the healed.  Somehow, in the context of recovery groups, praying to God matters: “…AA and NA and CA’s ‘God’ does not apparently require that you believe in Him/Her/It before He/She/It will help you” (201).  In the footnote to that quote, Wallace states that “[i]n none of these Anonymous fellowships anywhere is it possible to avoid confronting the God stuff, eventually” (998).  As snarky as that sounds, “confronting the God stuff” may be what is necessary to pull us out of the addictive narcissism at the center of technological monoculture.   </p> <p>God is “unsearchable” (Rom. 11:33). <img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="1eed2af3-0985-4505-9aa5-98eaa9e328da" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_10_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" />God is the anti-Google, the anti-distraction, allowing us the liberty to focus all our addiction on one thing—praying to him/she/it. The novel’s arc from skepticism to acceptance becomes clear during a discussion between Gately and Joelle, in which Joelle recounts the story of a counselor who “had this condition where each leg was shorter than the other” (533).  When Gately asks how this is possible, Joelle responds, “He said the point was an AA point, that it defied sense and explaining and you just had to accept it on faith” (533).  In our secular age, we want to believe that technology and logic have obviated the necessity for religious conviction, that the best and brightest among us will always figure a way out of any problem, no matter how large.  But remember that the mantra of AA is “My best thinking got me here” (1026).</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="6f98cd51-f3e0-423f-b18e-f89ae0cfdbbc" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_11_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-left" loading="lazy" />What the proponents of efficiency at all costs do not seem to understand, though, is even if their ultimate aim is achieved, then what?  Even if the proponents of technologically driven efficiency believe discussions of meaning—or lack thereof—quaint, frivolously philosophical, or irrelevant, one has to wonder whether they have considered the kind of world they will create. If because of technology we can now run a company or university with a dozen people, when in the past we needed hundreds—or even thousands—where do all those displaced workers go?  Do they cobble together three or four part-time jobs with few benefits so they can eke out an existence?  Are they employed as a part of a massive private security force whose main goal is to protect the wealthy? The kind of dystopian future we may be heading toward might not be all that different from the one portrayed in <em>Infinite Jest</em>, in which terrorists who hate our way of life—in the novel’s case, terrorists from Quebec—finish us off by exploiting our own entertainment-obsessed weaknesses.  <img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="d25cd982-6f4e-455c-9e3a-705c78c3993f" height="188" src="/sites/default/files/Griffith_image_12_0.jpg" width="250" class="align-right" loading="lazy" />Since 9/11, an event one would think would have been a major wake-up call in the whole “meaning of life” department, technological monoculture has done nothing but gain momentum.  Technology’s efficiency “saves” us by rendering obsolete the very things that made life worth living. Infinite Jest cartridge, the samizdat the terrorists seek because it is fatally addictive, is a “crib’s-eye view” (939) of Joelle leaning over the railing, saying “I’m sorry” over and over again. Perhaps one of the lessons learned from a brick interpretation of <em>Infinite Jest</em> is that we can begin to resist technological monoculture from the inside out, using the Internet itself to display the craft of hand necessary to invite readers back into a novel that strives to make us human again. </p> <p><strong>Dr. Kevin Griffith is a professor of English at Capital University and professor of Legal Writing at Capital Law School. He is the author of three books of poetry: <em>Someone Had to Live</em> (1994), <em>Paradise Refunded </em>(1999), and <em>Denmark, Kangaroo, Orange</em> (2008). He is also the author of <em>101 Kinds of Irony</em> (2012), a collection of fiction, and the editor of <em>The Common Courage Reader: Essays for an Informed Democracy</em> (2001). He has published more than a dozen short stories in such magazines as <em>Hotel Amerika</em>, <em>Spectrum</em>, the <em>Mid-American Review</em>, the <em>Coachella Review</em>, and others. He and his son achieved worldwide fame in late 2014 with the release of www.Brickjest.com, a website featuring their recreation of David Foster Wallace’s novel <em>Infinite Jest</em> in Legos. Stories about the website have been featured in dozens of major newspapers and magazines throughout the world.</strong></p> <hr /> <p><strong>Works Cited</strong></p> <p>Barnes, Khaliah. “Student Data Collection is Out of Control.” <em>New York Times</em>. New York Times.  25 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Bolton, Nick. “Steve Jobs was a Low-Tech Parent.” <em>New York Times</em>.  New York Times. 10 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Burn, Stephen.  <em>David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest:  A Reader’s Guide</em>.  2nd ed.  New York:  Continuum, 2012. </p> <p>Carr, Nicholas.  <em>The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains</em>.  New York: Norton, 2010.</p> <p>Deresiewicz, William.  <em>Excellent Sheep:  The Miseducation of the American Elite &amp; The Way to a Meaningful Life</em>.  New York: Free Press, 2014.</p> <p>“Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier.” <em>Frontline</em>. PBS. 2 Feb. 2010. Television.</p> <p>Dreyfus, Hubert, and Sean Dorrance Kelly.  <em>All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age</em>.  New York:  Free Press, 2011.</p> <p>Franzen, Jonathan. “Farther Away:  <em>Robinson Crusoe</em>, David Foster Wallace, and the Island of Solitude.” <em>New Yorker. </em>The New Yorker. 18 April 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Gilbert, Jason. “FaceTime Facelift: The Plastic Surgery Procedure For iPhone Users Who Don’t Like How They Look On FaceTime.”  <em>Huffingtonpost.com</em>. AOL. 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Greenfield, Jeremy. “Hardcover Sales Growth Outpacing Ebooks in 2013.” <em>Forbes.com</em>. 19 Nov. 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Griffith, Kevin, and Sebastian Griffith. <em>Brickjest.com</em>. Web. March 2015.</p> <p>Griffiths, Rebecca, et al.  <em>Interactive Online Learning on Campus: Testing MOOCs and Other Platforms in Hybrid Formats in the University System of Maryland</em>. New York: Ithaka S+R.  2014.</p> <p>Hyatt, Michael.  “Why Traditional Books Will Eventually Die.”  <em>Michaelhyatt.com</em>. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Keen, Suzanne. <em>Empathy and the Novel</em>. Oxford and New York:  Oxford UP, 2007.</p> <p>Lanier, Jaron.  <em>Who Owns the Future</em>.  New York:  Simon &amp; Schuster, 2013.</p> <p>—.  <em>You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto</em>.  New York: Vintage, 2011.</p> <p>Max, D. T. <em>Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace</em>. New York:  Viking, 2012. </p> <p>Michaels, F. S. <em>Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything</em>. Canada: Red Clover Press, 2011.</p> <p>Nichols, Catherine. “Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival: David Foster Wallace’s <em>Infinite Jest</em>.”  <em>Critique </em>43:1 (2001): 3-17.</p> <p>Paul, Annie Murphy. “Your Brain on Fiction.” <em>New York Times</em>. New York Times. 17 Mar. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Postman, Neil.  <em>Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology</em>. New York: Vintage, 1993.</p> <p>Sayers, Philip.  “Representing Entertainment in <em>Infinite Jest</em>.”  <em>David Foster Wallace and ‘the Long Thing’: New Essays on the Novels.</em>  Marshall Boswell, ed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. 107-25.</p> <p>Soojung-Kim Pang, Alex.  <em>The Distraction Addiction:  Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul</em>.  New York:  Little, Brown, 2013.</p> <p>Staes, Toon.  “Rewriting the Author: A Narrative Approach to Empathy in <em>Infinite Jest</em> and <em>The Pale King</em>.  <em>Studies in the Novel</em> 44.1 (2012): 409-27.</p> <p>Taleb, Nassim Nicholas.  <em>The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms</em>. New York: Random House, 2010.</p> <p>Wallace, David Foster.  <em>Infinite Jest</em>. New York: Little, Brown, 2006. </p> <p>Weissmann, Jordan. “The Decline of the American Book Lover.” <em>The Atlantic.com</em>. Atlantic Monthly Group. Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.</p> <p>Winn, Marie. <em>The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers and Family Life</em>.  New York:  Penguin, 2002.</p> </div> <section class="comments"> <h2 class="title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=132&amp;2=field_blog_comments&amp;3=comment" token="GDX7kZn4YIrgJfli9n070FwHtG-9bwnRYyskRusrOaU"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 07 Apr 2015 21:51:16 +0000 SITN Blogger 132 at https://www.studiesinthenovel.org A Lost Novel of the Harlem Renaissance: Richard Bruce Nugent’s Gentleman Jigger https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/blogs/admin <span>A Lost Novel of the Harlem Renaissance: Richard Bruce Nugent’s Gentleman Jigger </span> <div class="blog_post__author">By Darryl Dickson-Carr</div> <span><span lang="" about="/users/sitn-blogger" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">SITN Blogger</span></span> <span>Wed, 02/04/2015 - 19:25</span> <div class="blog_post__tags"> <div><a href="/tags/1930s" hreflang="en">Harlem Renaissance</a></div> </div> <div class="blog_post__body"><p>Richard Bruce Nugent’s <em>Gentleman Jigger</em> (Da Capo Press, 2008)<em> </em>remains a curious product from the greater Harlem or “New Negro” Renaissance era (ca. 1919–1940). It is also one of the period’s few significant lost novels and best satires, one that only saw publication in 2008 thanks to Nugent’s friend and editor, Thomas Wirth. Composed from the late 1920s and early 1930s<em>, Gentleman Jigger </em>shares a curious history with Wallace Thurman’s satirical novel, <em>Infants of the Spring</em> (1932), including its basic plot, several crucial scenes, and decidedly similar characters. Each novel is a <em>roman à clef</em>; only the thinnest veils disguise primary and secondary characters from the historical figures being lampooned. Each offers revealing insights regarding the younger writers affiliated with the New Negro movement in New York—dubbed the “Niggerati” by members Thurman and author Zora Neale Hurston—particularly their ambitions, squabbles, and quirks. Both novels focus upon the struggles among the movement’s artists and writers to develop a useful or consistent aesthetic, one that would encourage better or more sustained creative work that owed less to desires to please black or white audiences and more to a will to modernity.</p> <p><img alt="" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="f5cf2f4c-09c9-4f91-9d72-6dbc75278852" height="346" src="/sites/default/files/gentleman_jigger_cover.jpg" width="233" loading="lazy" /></p> <p>Perhaps equally important, both novels unintentionally reveal their vexed authorship. Though Thurman obviously published <em>Infants of the Spring</em> during the movement, albeit after its late 1920s peak, Nugent never completed a final draft. Wirth notes in his introduction to <em>Gentleman Jigger</em> that he found several partial manuscripts in Nugent’s papers after his death and assembled the published text from the latest versions of the novel’s various sections and chapters. Despite this status, the novel generally coheres, at least to the extent that its quasi-autobiographical protagonist, Stuartt Brennan, anchors the plot.</p> <p>As even the most casual reader will notice, though, <em>Gentleman Jigger </em>comprises two books. The first follows a basic plot nearly identical to <em>Infants of the Spring</em>,<em> </em>depicting many of the same events during the most crucial period for the young Harlem Literati circa 1925–27. These include the first encounters among Thurman, Nugent, Langston Hughes, Rudolph Fisher, Eric Walrond, Aaron Douglas, Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Thompson, Helene Johnson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Nella Larsen, Carl Van Vechten, Alain Locke, and W. E. B. Du Bois as they sought to invent, cement, and define the New Negro Renaissance as a foundation for black artistic expression for the twentieth century. The protagonist, Stuartt Brennan, combines elements of Nugent and Thurman’s personalities and personal histories.</p> <p>Detailing Stuartt’s evolving queer sexuality and exploits as a lover and companion both to Italian gangsters and an actress/singer, the second half departs almost entirely from the first, with the Harlem group virtually absent. If <em>Gentleman Jigger</em> had been published in the early 1930s in its current form, this portion would have been both innovative and controversial. In nearly every respect an example of erotica—albeit not an explicit one—it extends Nugent’s innovations from his earlier story “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” which was published in the lone issue of <em>Fire!!</em> magazine—the “Niggerati’s” debut—in November 1926, and edited by Thurman. “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” simultaneously analyzes sexuality, race, gender, and ethnicity in overlapping relationships drawn directly from the Harlem writers’ interactions and Nugent’s experiences. It also stands as the first work by an African American to feature an openly bisexual character. Had <em>Gentleman Jigger </em>beaten <em>Infants of the Spring </em>into print, it would have been the first novel to do the same.</p> <p>Though <em>Gentleman Jigger</em> certainly merits analysis under a queer studies or lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender aegis, its second half bears only the most tentative relationship to its first. This may be attributable to Nugent losing interest in completing and publishing his work. Thurman and Nugent roomed together for a time, and, in Nugent’s words, complemented each other artistically. Thurman would help Nugent with his writing, while Nugent would critique and edit his roommate and friend’s work. The line dividing Thurman’s authorship of <em>Infants of the Spring</em> from Nugent’s composition of <em>Gentleman Jigger</em> remains entirely fluid to this day; as Thomas Wirth notes in his introduction to <em>Gentleman Jigger</em>, “Nugent and Thurman were working on their novels at the same time; Thurman finished his first. Its appearance in 1932 effectively blocked whatever prospects for publication <em>Gentleman Jigger</em> may have had.... The fact that Thurman’s novel was published first does not necessarily mean that Nugent imitated Thurman. Indeed…Nugent alleged the opposite: that Thurman copied from him” to create a superficially similar roman à clef, but one with a different tenor and emphasis.[i] For his part, Nugent allowed that he bore no ill-will towards Thurman and any unacknowledged use of his work; according to David Levering Lewis’s notes from his 1974 interview with Nugent, both “were borrowing from one another and knew it…[Nugent] in fact suggests that [Thurman] appropriated much of his novel—but it was ok.”[ii]</p> <p>That Nugent and Thurman borrowed liberally from each other makes the exact provenance for each novel difficult to determine. It certainly seems reasonable that after Thurman published his novel, it obviated any of Nugent’s attempts to publish his own. Moreover, Nugent professed and lived a strongly Bohemian credo, which meant that he generally produced his art on his own schedule and made few concerted efforts to publish or display his work. Regardless of the point when Nugent returned to his work, the second half indicates that Nugent as author no longer seems interested in understanding the New Negro movement’s primary flaw: its members’ lopsided ratio of loquaciousness over action and artistic integrity undermined their own efforts.</p> <p>This same dilemma applies, perhaps, to Nugent himself. The fluid authorial boundaries that inspired Thurman’s work appears to have deprived the public of Nugent’s own for far too long. Now that it is available, though, we have an opportunity and obligation to place one of the twentieth century’s most intriguing novels back at the center of the New Negro movement.</p> <p><strong>Darryl Dickson-Carr is an associate professor of English at Southern Methodist University, where he teaches courses in twentieth-century American literature, African American literature, and satire. His research focuses primarily upon the “New Negro” or Harlem Renaissance and African American satirical works in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is the author of <em>Spoofing the Modern: The Role of Satire in the Harlem Renaissance</em> (forthcoming; University of South Carolina Press, 2015), <em>The Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction</em> (Columbia University Press, 2005), which won an American Book Award in 2006, and <em>African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel</em> (University of Missouri Press, 2001).</strong></p> <div>  <hr size="1" width="33%" /> <div id="edn1"> <p>[i] Thomas Wirth, “Introduction,” <em>Gentleman Jigger</em>, p. xiii.</p> </div> <div id="edn2"> <p>[ii] David Levering Lewis, Interview with Bruce Nugent, September 11, 1974. “Voices from the Renaissance,” David Levering Lewis Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.</p> </div> </div> </div> <section class="comments"> <h2 class="title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=109&amp;2=field_blog_comments&amp;3=comment" token="9b9NvBAnBOTvpfZJRk_I011bgbXiUBtZ4iPdhUzBYpI"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Wed, 04 Feb 2015 19:25:12 +0000 SITN Blogger 109 at https://www.studiesinthenovel.org https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/blogs/admin#comments Novel Discoveries https://www.studiesinthenovel.org/content/novel-discoveries <span>Novel Discoveries</span> <div class="blog_post__author">By Stephanie Hawkins</div> <span><span lang="" about="/users/sitn-blogger" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">SITN Blogger</span></span> <span>Tue, 02/03/2015 - 20:23</span> <div class="blog_post__body"><p><img alt="Novels" height="257" src="/sites/default/files/novels.jpg" width="306" /></p> <p>Welcome to the <em>Studies in the Novel</em> blog forum. We invite incisive, humorous, and intellectually speculative posts from the journal’s readers and contributors and from the novel-loving community at large. If you would like to post or guest-moderate a discussion topic on an issue of relevance to scholarship on the novel, a new and noteworthy novel, or on any other novel idea, please contact <a href="mailto:studiesinthenovel@unt.edu">studiesinthenovel@unt.edu</a>. The selection and publication of blog posts will be at the discretion of the editor and the <em>Studies in the Novel</em> editorial advisory board.</p> <p>The intellectual forum, promoted by individual blog posts and respondents, extends the journal’s mission by publicizing new directions in the scholarship and teaching of novels and by promoting intellectual exchange. While we expect the blog to reflect the evolving and varied scholarly interests of <em>Studies in the Novel</em> readers, we particularly welcome posts on the following subjects:</p> <ul> <li>Noteworthy topics or debates in novel scholarship: issues or conflicts regarding a particular text, author, or comparative approach, theoretical mode, or historical period.</li> <li>Speculative posts regarding new directions in novel scholarship or in the novel itself, including its material forms, narrative modes, or other issues concerning the writing, reading, and production of the novel.</li> <li>Memorable teaching moments in new or canonical novels, including innovative approaches to teaching a particular novel or cluster of novels in a particular course.</li> </ul> <p><strong>Guidelines</strong><br /> We will consider contributions of 500 to 1,000 words, written for a general audience and free of jargon. Contributors are encouraged to respond to comments from our online readers.</p> <p> </p> </div> <section class="comments"> <h2 class="title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=108&amp;2=field_blog_comments&amp;3=comment" token="1WTLasUTkTgC2I6N1H6ZZJoy0k9vUFt6VXF6ZYB4y9M"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 20:23:33 +0000 SITN Blogger 108 at https://www.studiesinthenovel.org