Category Archives: genre


To open, I wanted to vent a genre-related concern… What else? In response to some previously enumerated concerns, I think Shteyngart isn’t writing romance or necessarily just satire. I think he’s writing really competent (possibly good) science fiction.

It is the duty of science fiction to show us how our world would change in the face of technological/scientific alterations. Sometimes these alterations are sharply noticeable and immense (e.g. faster-than-light space travel, sentient nonhumanoid races, multiverses, etc.) and other times, they’re just probable extensions of the technologies and sciences available to us today (e.g. cloning, genetic engineering, electronic communications, etc.). Super Sad True Love Story falls into the second category, and the only thing holding me back from calling Shteyngart’s novel good science fiction is purely personal: Lenny Abramov gets on my nerves something awful. What’s worse—I think that’s a sign of solid writing.

Let me explain.

Sequoia brings up the element of race in the book, something I also noticed, specifically in reference to Latinos, those who Lenny might refer to as the “vaguely Hispanish” (80). As I can remember, the first inkling we get of any sort of Spanish-speaking people or Lenny’s awareness of them does not come in the form of an actual person or community; it comes in the form of “a poster showing a plucky little otter in a sombrero trying to jump onto a crammed dinghy under the tagline ‘The Boat Is Full, Amigo” (7). This “Mexican otter” immediately sets the tone for Lenny’s own perception of various minorities in the world of äppäräts and chemical immortality and credit poles. Latinos, though physically present in the neighborhoods that Lenny’s parents drove through to feel better when he was a boy, are essentially in a state of para-invisibility. This effect is furthered by Noah Weinberg’s repeated use of Spanish slang during his webcast; much like the movie Blade Runner, the English of the urban future contains elements of various languages. This change, amusingly enough, doesn’t denote any kind of improvement in race relations. It’s just an aggressive form of appropriation for profit–in this case, the rendering cooler of Noah Weinberg through hip-sounding slang.

This para-invisibility that Latinos and blacks and other minorities have in Super Sad True Love Story is, in my opinion, the rather impressive manifestation of Shteyngart trying to write with a sort of futuristic verisimilitude. In the world that Lenny inhabits, he doesn’t have to deal with groups disenfranchised by the privatized surveillance state he works for. Does that make sense?

Abramov’s racism has even stronger ties to the privatized system of government that he supports, but I’m running out of room in this post, so I’ll save those observations for class, but I’ll list them briefly below:

  • The commodification of abuse (e.g. Lenny’s history of dating abused women, the abused woman running a multimedia broadcast of her abuse flashbacks)
  • The racialized commodification/diminution of the Asian female body (e.g. Lenny makes a point of repeatedly describing Eunice as small, he does the same for Vishnu’s girlfriend, Grace)

A Postmodern, Posthuman, Post-American Future

Even though perhaps we are in the “beyond” section of our postmodern forays, I find Super Sad True Love Story fitting well into a number of postmodern classifications, both formally and thematically.  Shteyngart merges the “post-human” with the “post-American.”  His fictitious yet all-too-real future in which human interaction has been digitized, sexual looseness has advanced into transparent clothing, and a person’s social network ratings define who they are, corresponds with the United States’ fall from international prominence.  Shteyngart extends the historical moment of 2010 and the very real, threatening economic recession into a full America bankruptcy.  Chinese finance dominates the globe, while the fallen Americans struggle to impress their Chinese creditors.  Immigration and the cross-cultural, cross-generational intermingling of forms that makes his work postmodern and post-human also highlight the irony of this dismal American future as Lenny and Eunice consider the hardships their parents endured in order to move to America for better opportunities against the bitter fact that now their home countries are safer and richer than America.  At the U.S. embassy in Rome, “The consular line for the visa section was nearly empty.  Only a few of the saddest, most destitute Albanians still wanted to emigrate to the States” (7).  The landscape assumes this melancholy tone of mourning for a lost country, a crumbling culture, and a vanished home.  Even in the idyllic Central Park, a quaint log cabin disintegrates into the artificial and decrepit.  When Lenny and Eunice notice “someone had built a little wooden shack at the crest of the hill, adding to its rustic appeal” (105), the moment cannot last.  Lenny sees that “the cabin wasn’t wooden actually, just some corrugated metal that had lost so much texture and paint it appeared primordial” (105).  Even though this scene revolves around the developing affection between Lenny and Eunice, the presence of the crumbling American world subtly persists as the backdrop to all potential intimacy.  Adding fear to melancholy, the presence of the American police state hovers around Lenny’s movements, from his interrogation at the hands of the American Restoration Authority otter to the terror of watching a man seized off his airplane to the security checkpoints on Staten Island to the tanks in the streets and the signs demanding “consent and denial of existence” to the credit poles screening every passer-by and the threat of deportation. Shteyngart’s technologies of state control, life extension, and apparat dependency suggest that perhaps the postmodern, post-human future is necessarily post-American.

why is this a novel?

I’m thinking a lot about My Year of Meats in relation to what, generically, it is not. Although it is about television/film, it’s a book. Although it informs the reader about a variety of historical events and contemporary controversies, and contains a bibliography to help us check its veracity and learn more, it’s fiction. So, what does this book do that film and nonfiction couldn’t? While this book is certainly highly descriptive and cinematic, and a lot of movies have been made about factory farming and food production, maybe there’s something here about visibility and the visual, about showing things that couldn’t be shown on film? In an interview in the Reading Group Guide in the back of my book, Ruth Ozeki tells us that she began this novel hoping to share the more “anecdotal” side of her work in TV, what happened “behind the camera or when the camera was turned off.” It also allows her to write about social and political issues without exactly using human subjects in her research, and to keep questions open that a journalist might be expected to answer.

Although I have concerns about how some characters in this book might be kind of stereotypical/one-dimensional (especially John Ueno), it seem more ethical to employ fictional characters, rather than living people, to exemplify different issues. A writer is freer to depict whatever aspects of the characters’ lives she likes, without having to send them the tape, which in a lot of cases in this book allows us a fuller glimpse of those lives.

I’m also concerned, or at least curious, about how credible the more “factual” parts of this book are. They’re always filtered through characters, presented as Jane’s research or in dialogue from other characters. I’ve been researching a bit, because the idea that a man’s voice can change due to exposure to hormones seemed weird to me, since I know that the hormone therapy people undergo to transition from male to female does not usually change your voice. I was unable to find conclusive information about whether this is different with the kinds of hormones used by farmers in the book (although I found a lot of message board discussions about whether or not male bodybuilders should take lutalyse. Don’t do it. Ew.) Maybe there is a bit of artistic license going on here, making something visible/audible that is hypothetical or might be hard to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt. I’d also suspect that a lot more scientific studies have been done on hormones and antibiotics since 1998.

By marking this book as fiction and foregrounding its epistemological uncertainties, Ozeki is able to effectively persuade readers to be conscientious about a huge nexus of issues (food, the environment, reproduction, cultural exchange, marriage…) without having to defend the information’s credibility as much as she would if MYOM were presented as nonfiction. For example, Jane’s Ma never exactly confirms that she took DES, and any records that might confirm or deny Jane’s allegations burned up in the doctor’s office fire. Another question that’s never really answered is, what’s up with Akiko’s sexuality? The possibility that she might be attracted to women arises several times, without a definitive answer.

Echoes & Paratext in Bechdel’s FUN HOME

Where to begin for Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home? It’s easily one of the best comics I’ve ever read. Perhaps I’ll start there. Comic. The term “graphic novel” grates on my ears. Hard. As a lifelong comics fan, I’ve always seen the term “graphic novel” as a ploy developed by marketing departments looking to liken a unique chimera of a medium to something that can be sold in chain bookstores (and NOT just on magazine racks/at newsstands/in specialty shops) or academics who think a difference in nomenclature immediately separates your Bechdels and Crumbs and Pekars from your McDuffies and Simones and Jimenezes, and boy oh boy does it royally tick me right off. That last sentence may have royally ticked you right off, as is your right. We can fight about it after/outside class.

[For the ease of my own citation purposes and to help out folks who might be confused as to citing comics, might I humbly propose a format: (Page #.Panel #). That’s how it works in the majority of the comic scripts I’ve read and I think it’s in keeping with Dark Horse Comics’s in-house style guide, so there you have it.]

Moving right along…

Two things preoccupied me while reading Fun Home: paratext and echoes. The comics medium is great for both, as exemplified by countless predecessors (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key, examples abound).

It occurred to me when I hit page 39, panel 4 that Bechdel’s indicative captions with arrows were mostly being used to point out background objects/context from an editorial/commentating level, rather than those of her narrative captions, which seem to occur at the level of the storyteller. What intrigues me about this is whether or not these specific arrowed-indicative captions should count as paratext or not?

In your standard comic book, captions of this specific nature tend to be few and far-between, normally there so the editor can quickly supply necessary context to something provided either by the writer or the penciller (e.g. “Spidey last saw Doc Ock in Spectacular #8 –Smilin’ Stan”). While a lot of Bechdel’s indications merely flesh out the world she creates (“Permanent grease stain from my dead grandfather’s Vitalis;” “Honest to God, we had a painting of a cockatoo in the library”), some of the paratext she provides has direct bearing on the plot, such as correspondence (39.4, 83.1). Perhaps paratext isn’t the right word to describe how she uses her father’s letters to her mother, but what gives me pause about their status is their accuracy; though I’ve never read her father’s handwriting, she seems to be mimicking it to the point of making me question whether or not she scanned the letters and added them in during the inking process (62.2-3). Can anyone help me out here?

Another big element I noticed (or perhaps forced on the text, judging from Bechdel’s attitude towards literary criticism), is her repeated use of echoed images (200.2). Take her depictions of the black rat snake. Bechdel and her siblings are foregrounded with their backs to us and partially obscured by a caption in the first shot, leaving the snake to be focalized; additionally, its size relative to the children is hard to determine, due to the hut-like box (or box-like hut) it slithers out from behind (114.4). Contrarily, the children are focalized in the next shot, while the snake is at least halved and has its back to the camera; Bechdel also appears to be the tallest of her siblings in the picture, whose heights appear much more similar in the previous image (143.3). This leads me to wonder whether or not Bechdel is commenting on the tempering effect of autobiography, as depicted by the relative diminishing of the snake, or perhaps the unreliability of her own narration? She definitely comes back to that idea a whole bunch of times.

There are additional echoes in the comic, but I’ve already gone over the word limit, so I’ll save them for class. Really jazzed to be reading Fun Home for a class.

P.S. I’ve included a link to Bechdel’s own archive of her long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. It’s some really great stuff and I think the majority of it and her other work is available at the PCL.


(Image: Observation Point, Zoe Leonard)

Some Threads:

  1. I am not quite finished yet with Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, and I am not sure—at a little over halfway—just how I feel about it. I would tend, so far, to agree with Sequoia that something about its distance (and particularly insofar as the mode of writing especially seems to distance the reader from lived realities connected to race) makes me feel somewhat uneasy. Again, is this an uneasiness that others feel? I think the question of just how affecting (or not affecting) the book proves is also a compelling one. How does Gilead affect (or not affect) us as readers, especially if we are thinking about it as a sermon, a confession, an epistolary novel, a diary, etc.?
  2. Somewhat connectedly, perhaps, I have been thinking a lot lately about the questions of presence/speed/communication in contemporary culture. In Professor Cvetkovich’s keynote talk yesterday for the CWGS graduate student conference (entitled “The Feeling Body—Feeling the Body”), she spoke at length about different projects by artists that she sees as encouraging a kind of slowing down process, or that call for a more present attention to everyday sensorial experiences. (One such project that she named and discussed is Zoe Leonard’s Camera Obscura work; check out an interview with the artist here.)What I am wondering then, in connection to Gilead, is something, I think, about cadence. I find Robinson’s (or John Ames’s) writing to be slowing—maybe especially in the beginning, but also as the novel progresses. The sentences are often short and crisp, the text is often blocked off in relatively small sections, and there is a noticeable amount of repetition. Of course, to be fair, there are some longer sentences, too, and some sections of text that go on for several pages. But do those not feel somewhat exceptional?

Here is what I hope will be a useful example for what I am trying to describe:

I was struck by the way the light felt that afternoon. I have paid a good deal of attention to light, but no one could begin to do it justice. There was the feeling of a weight of light—pressing the damp out of the grass and pressing the smell of soup old sap out of the boards on the porch floor and burdening even the trees a little as a late snow would do. It was the kind of light that rests on your shoulder the way a cat lies on your lap. So familiar. Old Soapy was lying in the sun, plastered to the sidewalk. You remember Soapy. I don’t really know why you should. She is a very unremarkable animal. I’ll take a picture of her. (51-52)

Notice: the short sentences that sandwich the unusually long one that tells of the weight of light, the repeated words, the reverential tone, and (to turn to content and away from form) the attention to details of the everyday.

Does the meditative quality of the writing in Gilead then translate to the reader? My instinct is yes, but I am curious to hear what other people think. (Also, any sense of Robinson’s writing as similar in this way to Carver’s? Just curious.) Also, quite broadly: what kinds of writing (or descriptive modes) offer, like Zoe Leonard’s work, an opportunity for slowness?


coolhunting = postmodern epistemology?

1898 Michelin ad, from Wikimedia Commons

I came into this novel with preconceptions about Wm. Gibson, having read his novel Neuromancer many moons ago. That novel, considered the first of the cyberpunk genre, takes place in a more clearly futuristic setting, when Japan dominates the world and the entire eastern seaboard is basically one big city. It’s full of cyborgs and cryonics and virtual reality and AIs monitored by Turing Police. Pattern Recognition, on the other hand, takes place in a totally familiar world. 9/11 happened and global economic and political networks of power are more or less recognizable (can we talk about the representations of Russians vs Asian/Americans? and what ended up happening with Boone and also Judy & Taki? Is it overly PC of me to be uncomfortable about this?). Cayce Pollard likes Starbucks and pilates. She reacts to the Michelin Man and Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton logos. She compares one barista to “Michael Stipe on steroids” (21) and Bigend’s Hummer to “a Jeep with glandular problems” (58), reference points the reader is assumed to understand.

The main difference between our world and Cayce’s is that she has this allergy to logos, and supposedly a preternatural “coolhunting” ability. The book doesn’t suggest, as speculative fiction and/or sci-fi might be wont to do, that this is the result of a mutation or an experiment. There’s no explanation, and we don’t really know if anybody else in Cayce’s world shares her condition. What is the difference between Cayce’s allergy and other people’s reactions to branding and trends? Sometimes I get hives when I go to IKEA, even though I like IKEA.

hello kitty on dean keeton 2

While reading the Tokyo section of this book (when we learn that Sanrio products don’t affect Cayce and see Taki’s Hello Kitty lighter) at the bus stop on Dean Keeton & University, I noticed this Hello Kitty window art in the dorm across the street.

It’s a truism that everyone thinks advertising doesn’t work on them, but most people I know still have opinions about it. To teach rhetorical analysis in my RHE 306 (intro rhetoric & composition) class, I often use commercials. Even when students aren’t persuaded by an ad, like this recent Facebook commercial or this one, they can still evaluate how it might be effective. They all have suggestions about “good” commercials we should watch: this Volkswagen commercial, that Budweiser one, this ad for Dollar Shave Club. Are we all coolhunters now? (isn’t that what SXSW is all about?) What genre is this book? Under which rubrics (McHale’s, Lyotard’s, Jameson’s…) would it be considered postmodern?

“…pomo bellowings,” authorial self-hauntings, and trajectories (47)

You’ll have to pardon the quote in the title. Couldn’t resist. While we’re in a confessional mood, full disclosure, I’m a William Gibson fan. I know this must come as a shock. Moving right along…

William Gibson tore up the sci-fi scene of the 80s sci-fi paperback scene with his first novel, Neuromancer, whose disgraced hacker hero is named Case and opens the book essentially allergic to computers. Pattern Recognition’s Cayce Pollard is, as we well know, allergic to all kinds of ad copy, much of which is transmitted via computers. Rather than it just being a renowned author making a winking reference to the work that launched him to sci-fi superstardom, Gibson makes the echoed name of his protagonist a conscious choice on her part; she is referred to as “Case?” by Voytek, and she goes on to explain that “it should be pronounced ‘Casey…’ But I don’t” (31). I’m not quite sure what to make of this echo, but it comes up a few more times throughout the novel, and I’m wondering whether or not Gibson is deliberately trying to link his Blue Ant trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History) with his famous Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive); if I’m not mistaken, that would be impossible, judging from the alt-history Gibson set up in the first series.

In any case, I thought it deserves some mentioning. If there are any other Gibsonites out there who are willing to speculate, then we can talk about it in class on Monday. I want to know what Gibson might gain, from a narratorial perspective, by linking Cayce Pollard with Neuromancer’s Case? Is Gibson deliberately haunting a newer novel that takes place well before an older novel that he set in the future?

I’m also intrigued by the trajectory of heroine-versus-conspiracy novels we’ve read thus far in class, and how Pattern Recognition fits in. The Crying of Lot 49 spans California and sees Oedipa Maas, a swingin’ 60s suburbanite, negotiating secret postal services and countercultural terrain that is completely alien to her; aside from Pynchon’s perfidious and persnickety pop culture references, we don’t explicitly deal with much in the way of the commercial, since both WASTE and Thurn & Taxis are much more concerned with countercultural and subversive political organizations. The Intuitionist never leaves the Ed McBain-esque pseudo-NYC that Whitehead sets up as a much more explicitly commercial battlefield; however, Lila Mae still contends with and ultimately champions a (pseudo?) religious epistemology that guides her to some kind of victory. Here, in Pattern Recognition, Cayce begins the story completely involved in the commercial world as a “coolhunter;” the mystery surrounding footage never gets a chance to assume the sort of religious/mystical nature seen in the 2 previous novels, because Cayce only ever engaged with the footage in 2 equally commercial capacities: 1) a fan/consumer, 2) a coolhunter/investigator hired by a major corporate interest to root out the producer of a desired commodity.

good writing is like obscenity

I latched onto Lauren Berlant’s discussion of narration because it was the only part of her essay that immediately came clear and resonated with me. Berlant contends that, “These novels [The Intuitionist and Pattern Recognition] further complicate this aesthetically through the use of a wildly freestyle indirect discourse that veers around all knowledge worlds… The narrators track, they read and they judge… They are a voice in the head of the book that sublates the realist and the avant-garde without being surreal” (Berlant 849). It’s not obvious what “this” in the first quoted sentence refers to. The last sentence of the preceding paragraph states that “Crisis reveals and creates habits and genres of inhabiting the ordinary while reconstituting worlds that are never futures but presents thickly inhabited, opened up, and moved around in” (Berlant 848). So there is something about an affective present-ness in these two novels that is complicated by the way they are written.

Colson Whitehead’s prose in The Intuitionist is what I consider “good writing.” How do I explain that other than to say that I know it when I see it? That I find his sentences pleasing? This is a wildly imperfect metaphor but I’m imagining this text as a textile, maybe a piece of carpet or a rag rug, thick, tightly woven, with a complex play of color and texture. It’s got snags in it that force you to linger or turn back, bumps that trip you. What I like about Whitehead’s writing is what I like about the writing in hardboiled crime fiction of the 1930s (an obvious point of comparison here). You probably know the hardboiled style: terse and tight, full of surprising similes and metaphors–defamiliarizing the ordinary “without being surreal.” Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are the classic examples of it, although I’m personally attached to The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (and how one of the characters in that novel calls herself and her lover “a couple of Fords” and their love an “airplane engine”).

Toward the beginning of The Intuitionist, Lila Mae is driving and “The yellow tiles of the tunnel glisten and Lila Mae sees a long throat strangled by mucus” (15). This sentence does a couple of things: it positions us in Lila Mae’s consciousness, where we spend a lot of the book; it gives us a really clear visual and it creates atmosphere, giving us a sense that something is wrong. This body is sick. Probably my favorite surreal simile in the book is this one: “There was no school, but nothing else to take its place. The streets were shrinking, and she felt about the places they led to the same way she felt about her hair when she saw it on the bathroom floor after her mother cut it off” (129). It’s impossible to tell whether this is how Lila Mae herself would describe this feeling, or if the narrator is articulating her affect for her. At other moments, the narrator clearly sits temporally beyond Lila Mae’s consciousness, ominously repeating “She doesn’t know yet” in the first chapter and saying things like, “Lila Mae has forgotten this incident. But no matter. It still happened” (116).

Sometimes the narrator reaches out to us readers, assuming we are versed in the novel’s fictional elevator science: “One day toward the end of their seminar… Professor McKean brought up the Dilemma of the Phantom Passenger. (Obviously.)” (100). By presuming expectations we cannot possibly have and straightforwardly relating the history of the Elevator Inspectors’ Guild as if we already share the novel’s frame of reference, rather than doing more heavy-handed exposition, Whitehead embeds readers into the novel’s world, where elevator inspection is of the utmost political importance. The novel relies on the tension between the absurdly unfamiliar and the ordinary much like a good metaphor does, playing on the close-but-no-cigar equivalence between contrasting ideas, between our world and the fictional one. Thus the narration itself dramatizes the novel’s themes of (black/white, Intuitionist/Empiricist, up/down) difference and passing. But how this relates to Berlant’s argument about the present I am still not entirely sure.

Whitehead Meets Pynchon in “The Big Skyscraper”

Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist is a perfect successor to the postmodern mystery throne, previously held (in our class’s canon) by Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.

While Pynchon’s novel sort of engaged modernism’s epistemological shift to postmodernism’s ontological focus, Whitehead does it better—as well as crafting a world that cleverly straddles the borders of genre and literary fiction. Unlike Oedipa, who was a perfect model of out-of-touch whiteness in the turbulent 60s, Whitehead’s Lila Mae manages to be more relevant while inhabiting a pre-60s (or, at the very least, earlier 60s) world. While Oedipa was more of a cipher where readers could project questions and anxieties, Lila Mae is a character with her own, who we have no choice but to follow. I don’t know if I’d be audacious enough to call this novel a flat-out response to Pynchon’s novel, but it sure as hell reads like one.

It also seems like Whitehead’s use of pop culture references are more structured than those we’ve encountered in past novels. The semi-fictionalized New York City setting (“…the most famous city in the world… The Big Skyscraper” is as close as we get) descends from the Isola of Ed McBain’s 87th precinct novels. Sly reporter Ben Urich and fumbling thug Jim Corrigan receive their names from a reporter in Marvel Comics’s Daredevil and a cop/thug/ghostly detective in DC Comics’s The Spectre, respectively. Both the names suit the characters too perfectly for these to be acts of coincidental naming. Whitehead wrote a great article for the New Yorker on his own background in the world of genre fiction that makes an interesting companion piece to The Intuitionist.

The significance of these references, for me as a geeky reader, is that they add to the novel’s reaction to/resistance of Pynchon’s work in The Crying of Lot 49. Whitehead does give us a slew of genre references wrapped in a narrative that operates (VERY self-consciously) within the bounds of a noir-era mystery, but the presence of these tropes and allusions doesn’t eclipse his deconstruction of race. Instead, the tropes and allusions work as a sort of meta-construction! Whitehead has to contend with literary/genre divide legacies, as well as expectations of a minority author, while Lila Mae must contend with a Kafkaesque racial-political bureaucracy in the novel.

“It didn’t have a number then, because Cincinnati didn’t stretch that far.”

Everyone’s posts this week are really thought provoking over here. I had to stop reading so I can join the conversation in time!  My copy of Beloved is from high school. It’s underlined pretty thoroughly for about the first two-thirds of the text–the last always reads like lightning–and has, scattered throughout, such marginal gems as “memory” and “thresholds.” Oh, mandatory annotation.

This time around, I’m paying special attention to the book’s geographic movements.  In high school, it appears I was reading it like a mystery novel; I was trying to puzzle it out (figured that’s worth a mention, as several of you have brought up the question of genre). But it always seems significant to me that this book takes place, for the most part, in Ohio. It exists in a liminal regional zone (which, isn’t the midwest almost always defined by its liminal status?). And, as Valerie puts it, “law placed geographical freedom at odds with legal bondage.” The story moves the reader back and forth across the line between enslavement and freedom, in time and in space. The territory it maps is one that history has trouble dealing with–transitions, in-betweens are so often elided in historical narratives, excising the aftermath of violence, the memory and the rememory of it, the haunted places. The book is so much about inhabited transitional space. And, in a way, about movement. Paul D. walks. The phrase that sticks with me is “make tracks.” To move is never abstract in the novel’s world. You do not go, or leave, or travel. You make tracks. You leave traces. You map your path as you take it.

Sethe’s attachment to 124 is as much an attachment to place as it is a need to remember. Memory is necessarily implaced. She tells Denver that she doesn’t believe in time, only in place: “Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head” (43). Sethe’s description is one way to come to terms with a plot that seems to hinge on mysticism. If we read the book as a remapping, does it perform something akin to Jameson’s cognitive mapping? Or, am I really talking about something else when I say that by reading Beloved, the reader’s imagined geography (and geography is only ever imagined, perceived, refracted through an individual’s perspective, colored by all previously ingested representations and characterizations) shifts, is redefined, and, as the map is redrawn, so the reader’s historical narrative must also accommodate and reconcile a new layer? Whoa, convoluted question!

Finally, I want to throw the (annoying) question out there: is this postmodern? If so, how? How does it fit or require that we adjust our definition of postmodern lit? Maybe another way to address this is: what does it have in common with other texts we’ve read? (Pynchon, Reed, and DeLillo come to mind as good comparisons.) Also: Anne, Rebecca, Laura, and Sequoia all touch on the book’s mixing of history, biography, autobiography, fiction, and poetry. Let’s talk about that!