When I take a class, I am arrogant enough, especially when I’ve taken a one with an instructor I’ve had before, to think I know what to expect. I always hope that my expectations are blasted to bits. I came to school to be challenged, turned on to new things–new ways of looking at the same old things. Seeing things in ways I’ve never thought of, or wanted to think of. I needed to be exposed to artists I’ve never heard of, writers I’ve never read, thoughts I’ve never had. Worlds I’ve never imagined.
Writing this I should go back to the tiny works we read at the very beginning, but they didn’t make an impression– at least one I am recalling now. What I am remembering now is the brief history of fiction, probably from the very first class. There were very delineated movements, or Ages, of fiction going back as far as the written word. I remembering sitting in class, with fellow students that I had shared this instructor with, some I had not, and thinking that this was an austere beginning to a class about Modern Fiction. By the end of that first hour and fifteen minutes I knew that this class was going to show me how what has been written before influences what is being written now. However, we didn’t read anything old. It was understood that a certain amount of familiarity with what had been set down before rears it’s ugly head now.
I have a problem with Postmodernism. I don’t get it, don’t understand it. On an intellectual, visceral level I kind of have a left-handed view of what it’s supposed to look like. Pulp Fiction has been held up as an example of Postmodernism– with it’s fragmented, out of linear time-line storytelling style of telling a tale. Is that all it is? My classmates tell me no, no that is not all it is, but cannot give me the definition that satisfies me. It’s this, it’s that, it’s how you perceive it. Nobody can give me a “nuts and bolts follow the directions” answer to how Postmodernism works in contemporary fiction. I need to know how to construct something with the materials I’ve been given, with some kind of direction to get the job done. All this semester I have struggled with this Postmodernism conundrum.
Here, at the end of this semester, I think the key for me may have been Sanders’ Tenth of December. On it’s face, the yarns spun by Sanders are really very simple tales where, for the most part, nothing extraordinary happens– if you know human nature. But is it in how he tells his stories that, maybe, made me understand– even a little bit– how Postmodernism works?
The idea of the different voices in Victory Lap that eventually converge to a denouement, with their different viewpoints, has multiple endings that really has no ending. These things that have happened to Allison, Kyle and The Potential Rapist/Serial Killer(I can’t find his name in the text) will go on, and on, and on. The story doesn’t end with the writer’s prose, but goes on in the reader’s imagination.
The Semplica Diaries, is, from what I get, is the ultimate Postmodern tale we studied. The Diarist is totally removed from what should be, from my perspective, important. Totally indulging in his children’s wants and needs, at the expense of his family’s greater good. The narrator needs to learn to say “No”. His youngest daughter makes his Weenie-ism all the more acute when she sets free the very thing that will cripple her family. The little shit. Doesn’t she realize her parents are on the hook for that? Nope— neither does she care or want to. In her mind it was the right thing to do. The writer ponders all of these things
…and Sanders write this in a curt, short-hand like a diary would have been written like a Man. Full of angst and worry and guilt. Because it’s a diary, or written as so, we assume it’s the truth– or a version of the truth– the writer’s version of the truth. But… it is the truth! as far as the writer believes it.
Chang Rae Lee wrote a book. According to Mark’s questions, he let the narrative meander and grow. He had certain themes he wanted to explore, and not necessarily ones about heroics, but ones about how in times of perceived trouble the masses will latch on to symbols. When things got tough in B-Mor, a so-called Savoiur was needed to give the lower classes hope. A successful part of their society leaving, apparently for no reason, is the perfect template to impose whatever Hope they need.
Lee circumvents this in the book by fragmenting the telling. It jumps from the adventure that Fan is having to the real everyday bullshit that happens. When things get tough, really tough, people look for simple answers– leaders– symbols of rebellion. Even though no one is privvy to what happened to Fan on her journey, for some reason the masses took it to heart, and did nothing with it when things got better. They told the story, got what they wanted from it, and went to work the next day. Fan rode off into the sunset.
Then there is Amy. Again, told in fractured time by Flynn, the story is told by the character’s point of view. As the mystery unfolds it dovetails into the center of the book, where the victim all of a sudden becomes the villain. This turns a run-of-the-mill Dateline Murder Mystery on it’s head. And Flynn does it by changing the voice of the so-called victim. A brilliant sociopath– but not a perfect one– she makes mistakes We all know what they are,
One mistake, I think, Flynn makes at the finale of the novel, is she abandons the conceit of the diary– at least on Amy’s part–Nick’s story is told mostly from inside his head– the last entry is from Amy, but it’s more like one of her lists. Lists Lists Lists. This is how Flynn defines her killer.
So, the point I am trying to make here, and I could be wrong, and this is the Through Line that is my title– is that nothing is what it seems. Perception is everything. The Kid with his over-heated imagination who gets saved by a dying old man, the pretty rich girl who turns out to be a wicked sociopath, a dad who wants to just please his kid. Heroes that come from weakness.
Is Postmodernism in literature just playing off expected norms? Is the fractured (sorry for using this word so much) nature of how these tales are told natant Postmodernism?
I am not a fan continuity. Perception, in reading, in Art, in Film and in choices, is suspect.
Nothing is what it seems.