Genre-Bending

 


I believe that this is in response to prompt 2.

I had read Invisible Man once before I ventured into it for this class.  It struck me then as a confusing science fiction novel about social justice; an important book to read, but a very dense one, nonetheless.  While re-reading Ellison, I noticed that Ellison “genre-bent” a good deal, so to speak.  I cannot believe how much of the piece was lost on me, simply because I looked at this book from a single lens.

The book originally began to lose me when it spoke of the “battle royale”.  Until this point, I had been taking the book very literally.  I thought it highly unlikely that a young person would be put in a situation where he would be tortured physically and mentally in order to have his voice heard.  I then realized that I was looking for science fiction when I should have been looking for race.  From that moment forth, the book was extremely engaging, especially in moments of dischord with reality.

Another moment of confusion to me was at the factory, where the protagonist made white paint.  He suffers an accident, and is then taken to a hospital where he undergoes a strange and never explained procedure.  I still don’t know quite what to make of it.  Ellison’s protagonist was held against his will, experimented on in a way reminiscent of Schuyler’s Black No More, and speaks of a man being hypnotized and losing his identity by having another shoved into him.  This moment seems to me to be an internal identity crisis brought on by the clashing of his “home” identity with his “city” identity.  The lab coats sort of just made this crisis physical and a bit disconcerting.  Was Ellison trying to make his readers uncomfortable by conjuring up white lab coats?  Is this meant to be taken literally?  I find that this book is most readily understandable when the science friction elements are treated as ways to get the audience to understand that something is wrong with a certain image.  In this way, Ellison makes way for social justice with science fiction.

I’m the kind of person who can read a book filled with sex and violence and all of it passes quietly over my head.  I usually don’t realize that something is up until someone else points out the blatant thing that I’ve somehow missed.  Ellison has no patience for people like me.  Everything from the University with its mysterious “Founder” to the “Brotherhood” seemed to scream at me to recognize the satire.  I don’t know what these things are meant to be, but I don’t doubt that I’m missing out on some huge joke.  I feel as if Ellison writes for an inside crowd, and doesn’t give two cents about what anyone else thinks about the novel.  He doesn’t pander to the audience, which I can appreciate, and not appreciate at the same time.

I think that the fast pace of events works well to capture the attention of anyone reading this work   The quick shifts into and out of reality serve to keep readers on their toes   This is not what I would call a subtle book   Everything is stated but what the author deems too obvious to illuminate on.

Am I implying that Ellison is not without an ego?  Perhaps.  I think it’s more that Ellison is unapologetic, which is rare in a novel about race and possibly science fiction.  Though Ellison’s protagonist claims not to be a “spook”(3), many elements of science fiction are woven into his character.  He is nameless, lives underground, and manages to go unnoticed in crowds.  Again, I wonder if this is science fiction or political allegory.

By taking the sections that confused me most about this book and looking at them through a new lens, I have been able to read this book in a way that does it more justice.  I feel as if I’m still rather lost while trying to read this book, which is a new sensation for me as a person who considers herself to be a decent close-reader.  I can only imagine what else this novel is offering that still eludes me.  I look forward to trying to figure it out in another read!


 

Dr. Frankenstein: A (Horrified) Look into Dehaene’s Brain

I want to start out with a confession: I enjoy reading academic literature.  Embarrassing, I know.  I like finding the voices hidden in the jargon, and if it’s a voice that I like, then the reading is enjoyable.  Damasio’s voice is one that is just asking to be revealed, but I had to dig a little deeper to find Dehaene.  I beleive that the subject matter and stances discussed probably had something to do with my accessibility to the texts, and thereby the authors (or the people I imagine to be sitting behind their laptops writing these texts.  While I agree most with Damasio, I feel as if I should address Dehaene’s piece, as the ideas and stances were more foreign to me, and therefore gave my brain some more to chew on.

While reading Dehaene, I noted his descriptions of neurons and dendrites and axons and such, which remided me a great deal of Neurocomic.  In fact, as I read, I couldn’t help but conjure images from Neurocomic to help my poor brain attempt to synthesize the images and ideas being proposed.  I was grateful for the clear images Dehaene wove with his words and occasional illustration.  I thoroughly enjoyed his use of early historical views of the brain, but don’t feel as if they did his argument any good.  After all, if minds are simply products of computing brains, why does ancient history even matter?  If we are simply computers, what is the point of attempting to experience human emotions?  What would be the purpose in living if there is no more to me than a whole bunch of ones and zeros?  Dehaene has a unique voice, but to him, this is simply a variation on a complex theme that we are all instruments of and in.

Dehaene presented himself as an avid anti-dualist.  If given the right sort of software, Dehaene believes that a working brain could be created.  He speaks of the “c” word, but his explanations of what consciousness is and isn’t were rather bewildering for me.  I was strangely upset by his idea that qualia can be replicated with a complex enough computer.  It’s almost insulting, to be honest.  I mean, as much as I believe in science, the brain cannot be a puzzle that can be solved as quickly as Dehaene hopes.  I wonder what will happen once the human brain is entirely mapped.  Will anyone actually be happy to know how their mind works?

I realized how biased I am as a religious person, who believes in a soul and a Supreme Being, but even without this bias, I find it hard to believe that the range of human emotions and interactions could be synthesized by a smart computer.  In the Jewish commentaries on Elijah raising a dead boy (Old Testament.  Exact location: Cannot be recalled at current time), the act of bringing a body to life is a power that G-d can give to people, but the ability to make these beings (similar to zombies, I suppose) human, G-d must give them a soul.  A computer may be able to create something that resembles life, but without that extra something that makes us individuals, I don’t believe the results would be life.  Like the brain programs Dehaene describes, we might be able to map the mind, but to propose making a mind is the epitome of scientific hubris.

In The Freedom of the Garden: A Dialogue

Setting: The garden of the Mitchell Asylum.  The woman known as Jane is getting some fresh air.  She is supervised by a tall female attendant.  Siri Hustvedt has just finished giving a writing lecture.  The two sit together, looking out at the well-manicured hills of the facility.

Jane:     I find it easier to think when I’m outside.  I’m a city girl, but there’s something irresistible about a lush garden.  This is my favorite part of the facility.  The gardener is not as young as he once was, and tends to leave the flowers a bit on the wild side.

Siri:         I can see the appeal.  Listen.  Your piece about the woman in the yellow room was absolutely fantastic.  I’m so pleased that you decided to share it with the group.

Jane:     It needed to be shared almost as much as it needed to get written.  I write to make my voice heard.  If I don’t write, I am powerless.  Isn’t that why you write?

Siri:         Well, um, I write for a number of reasons.  I suppose every author writes because they need to be heard.  I write to inform the public, and yes.   I do find it to be empowering.

Jane:     I can’t understand you.  I’ve read your book— no, let me finish— and you write not to free yourself, but to allow yourself to be ill.  I wrote because writing was the one bit of me left after The Woman took everything from me.  She took my daughter, my husband, and my freedom.  I wrote to keep track of myself.  A string in the maze so I wouldn’t get lost.  And yes, my string broke, but I tried.  That’s the purpose of writing.  You are free, Siri, but you confine yourself by writing and writing and writing about your illness, which has no effect on your brain until you think about it.  Why torture yourself by writing about your shaking—which only effects your body when you speak— when you could write about yourself to save yourself from the Shaking Woman?  You embrace her as if she is a part of you.  She isn’t.  This is a war of identity, Siri, and you surrendered.  You are her prisoner.

Siri:         I can’t believe this.  I’m being attacked for being a researcher?  You…you sat there and let your husband make you ill when you knew better.  You knew the wallpaper was making you ill, but you let them.  You became a prisoner— not only of the illness— but of your husband and his sister.  How dare you lecture me? You gave up your freedom the moment you decided to let your husband treat you.  I may be one with the Shaking Woman, but I am not her prisoner.  She is part of me.  I am not a part of her.  My writing documented scientific advances in order to find the root of my shaking.  What did you do to free yourself?

Jane:     I am not free.  I didn’t have the luxury of freedom. Even this garden is just an illusion of freedom.  The asylum is behind me.  I can’t see it, but I know that it’s there.  I know that in around half an hour, Sarah is going to walk me back inside, where I will be given my medicine and dinner and sent to bed.  Hospitals really are the opposite of freedom, aren’t they?  You are in prison as well, Siri, but your prison is yours to control.  You researched your illness not to find a cure, but out of some internal need.  Why did you write about your shaking?  Why not just leave well-enough alone?  The more you think about an illness, the more ill you become.  That’s what Sarah and the doctors tell me.

Siri:         It’s true that I did not expect to find a cure, but to be both patient and doctor—to humanize illness and those afflicted by it— seemed to give my pain a purpose.  I wanted to give the Shaking Woman a human face. To make others less afraid.  To make me less afraid.  Maybe thinking about it does cause it to manifest, but I have made peace with my illnesses.

Jane:     And that’s the problem.  The moment you are content to try to stop escaping— the moment you give up on getting better, getting out— that’s when you know you aren’t getting better.  Me?  I tried to escape both physically and mentally.  I try that here sometimes.  That’s why Sarah is here with me.  But you?  You just let the illness become you.  You are Siri Hustvedt—a mother.  An author.  A wife.  Why do you need to make yourself into the Migraine Woman? The Woman Who Hears Voices?  The Shaking Woman?  The Hypoch—

Siri:         Don’t you say it.  My illnesses areas real as any organic illness.  The pain I feel is just as real—and as painful— as any illness that can be seen on an MRI or an X-ray.  I don’t need my illnesses to feel special, but they are a part of me.  I am shaped by my experiences.

Jane:     You may be shaped by them, but you are not them.  Sarah is standing up.  She’ll take one minute to stretch her bad ankle, and then will be here to accompany me back.  I don’t have much time.  I wish you well, and I hope that you can stop writing for long enough to realize that you are a woman with a name and a story outside of your illness.

Siri:         But you barely gave yourself a name.  You are your story.  There’s nothing more to you than that.

Sarah:   Jane, dear, it’s time to go back.  It’s time for your medicine.

Jane:     One minute, Sarah.  You’re right, Siri.  That story confined me to an illness, but come back next week, and I’ll have a new piece for you.  I’m working on one now, you see.  About a mother separated from her daughter.  They get reunited seventy years later and…

[Jane’s voice fades as Sarah wheels her back towards the asylum.  Siri is left alone in the garden]

Siri: [to herself] I’ll have a new piece next week as well.  I shall document this encounter and use it as part of my series on women with disassociation and post-partum depression.  It will be beautiful.  I’ll make it beautiful.

[Siri stands and walks away slowly, away from the asylum.]

 

 

Neurocomic Through a Lens of Starr: A Happy Medium

A Happy Medium

Every artist believes his or her craft to be superior to all other forms.  Starr addresses the historical “ordering or ranking” of poetry, music, and visual art.  Instead of pitting music, poetry, and art against each other, humanity should simply embrace that all forms of artistic expression are valid and effective, albeit with different outlets with which to reach human emotion.  In this week’s works, I read prose and poetry, a novel which was a mixture of art and prose, and watched kinesthetic and rhythmic art in the form of Sense8, a television series.  All of these pieces had to do with interpretations of the human brain, and all were received by my brain in different ways.

I’m not very good at understanding two-dimensional art, so the graphic novel form was a bit of a challenge for me.  I had to read each panel, analyze each drawing, trying to understand the connections between the two.  Neuronovel, while visually gorgeous and stimulating, seemed to be a lot more work to get the scientific knowledge across than by simply stating it, textbook fashion.  I understand the urge to try to make science into an art form, as seen last week in Lodge’s Thinks…, as well as in Sense8 and I’m guessing pretty much every work we will review this semester.  While Starr believes that all forms of art are equal in their impact on the human brain, I would disagree.  Everyone thinks in extremely individual ways, and for me, certain forms of art are more effective than others.

I have seen the flip-side of my reaction to Neuronovel.  When a family friend visited a couple of years ago, I had been researching graphic novels, as I believed (and still believe) that they can be of use in an ELA classroom to better educate students who are visual learners.  The family friend claimed that he was “not a reader”, yet once he discovered the graphic novels I had taken out from the library, he digested them at such a rapid pace that he ran out of reading material within a couple of hours.  It had taken me that long to get through half of one of the books.  We held a complete conversation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  He had synthesized the pot, was capable of arguing points of view, and understood many of the underlying themes and motifs.  I was shocked; the graphic text was almost incomprehensible to me, yet to him, it had opened a door.

Starr asserts that the “Sister Arts” are similar in that they elicit similar aesthetic responses.  One can read Frankenstein in print and feel the plight of the monster.  A person watching a film adaptation would most likely feel the same way.  If I were to make a short movie out of Neuronovel, the result might be extremely basic, but some people would probably be able to synthesize it better than a psychology textbook.  I believe the graphic novel can be the form that unites visual arts and poetry.  I understand that this still leaves out music, but music is present wherever there is poetry.  In creating such a text, Roz and Farinella created a work that was comprehensible to most, though at times it felt like a bit of a compromise.  While Starr praises moments where the “Sister Arts” work in unison, such as in Keats, I tend to find such multidisciplinary works to be overwhelming and slightly confusing.  Give me a textbook any day.  Let art speak where it speaks best.  While I agree with Starr that all art is equal, some pieces are better expressed in one medium than in another.

Mary the Color Scientist: Blackbird

Blackbird

CLANK!

On Tuesday, Mary dropped her spoon into the sink along with her bowl, almost expecting her mother to tell her to quiet down or for something remarkable to happen.  She waited a few seconds, then commenced soaping down the dishes, separating the blackened oats from the white bowl.  “Blackbird singing in the dead of night,” she began to sing softly.  “Take these broken wings and learn to fly,” Mary dried her bowl and spoon, placing them in the cupboard next to an identical bowl, darkened by dust.  Mary stared at the dust coating her hand and the second bowl, and felt her eyes filling with tears. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”  Mary moved across her small pod.  It was small.  Sparse.  It was all that Mary and her mother had once the Earth disintegrated.

CLANK!

Something had hit her pod from the outside.  “Probably just some debris,” murmured Mary.  There were no windows on Mary’s pod.

“After your father died, I couldn’t bear to look at the world.  I couldn’t bear to see color.  We were painters, you see.  We painted the insides of the nuclear shelters with murals so beautiful and intricate that you could swear you were standing outside on a crisp Autumn morning with the leaves blowing yellow, red, orange, with the wind blowing on your face—oh, how I remember the wind— and the scent of the damp ground fresh upon your nose.  Color could do all of that, you see,” Mary’s mother had quietly reminisced when Mary was eleven, just growing into her body, and her mother was dying, ever so slowly, unknowingly, of radiation poisoning.

“If the colors invoked such feeling for you, why would you have the pod equipped with only black and white supplies?” said Mary.

“You have never felt loss, my darling, my Mary.  The Earth died before you were born, and your father with it.  As I painted this escape pod, I painted it with all of my emotions.  All I felt after your father died.  And what I felt wasn’t green or red or even blue, but white and black.  So that is how I decided to color our pod, our food, and even our suits,” her Mother sighed.

“So I’ll never experience color.  Isn’t that a loss, Mother?” said Mary faintly.

“I suppose it is, but I can give you color.  I shall teach you everything there is to know about color.  You shall understand it even better than someone influenced by the emotions attached to it.  You can be an artist, Mary.  A scientist of color!  Let me teach you.  Our sky on Earth was usually around 475 nanometers in wavelength— relatively short, you see, though towards the end, the frequency decreased, as the sky turned red at a wavelength of upwards of 700.” Mary’s mother explained, writing charts in a deep, mournful black upon the ghost-like pages, her hands hindered slightly by her white full-body suit.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see,” Mary sang as she pulled her first color chart out of a large box that lay silently, waiting, beneath her bed.  She took out her first drawing— a sunset labeled carefully, in a tiny hand, with frequencies, checked for accuracy by her mother.  She looked at the simple gradients she had used, and smiled in memory.

CLANK! CLANK!

The drawing fluttered gently from Mary’s hand as her pod shook from some sort of impact.  Mary heard muffled noises from outside.  There was a sound like a woman screaming— or perhaps machinery humming— and Mary felt something scraping the metal exterior of her pod.  Mary quickly returned her studies to their box, sliding the box underneath her bed.  Mary attempted to follow, to hide beneath her bed, its closeness and darkness comforting to her, but found that she wouldn’t fit.  Mary sat on the floor, knees raised beside her bed, resting her head against her legs.

CLANK! WHIRR!  CLANK!

Mary put her hands over her ears, closed her eyes and continued to sing.  “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free.  Blackbird, fly.  Blackbird fly.  Into the light of—” Mary dimly heard the door to the pod opening.  Her suit helped to combat the difference in atmospheric pressure, but there was no doubt that she had visitors. She began to rock back and forth as she continued to sing in a soft voice. A lullaby to gently return her to her mother.  “Blackbird fly.  I-Into the light of the d-d-ark black night,” she sang.  She felt something touch her shoulder and forced herself to keep her eyes closed.  She felt herself being lifted, much like a child, and carried gently.  After a minute, Mary opened her eyes, and gasped.  She was looking directly into the 471 nm-colored eyes of the man carrying her though his transparent helmet.  He smiled gently, his 623 nm hair cropped short, and sprinkled with grey.  Mary smiled back, staring at the stranger’s eyes.  The color of the sky.  The color of the sky.