Galatea 2.2 .2

Let me just say that, as my 37th year speeds toward the platform and is due to arrive in a paltry seven days, I’m not crazy about this novel’s claim about the 35th year:

You begin to think, ‘Well, I more or less understand how things work. Do I really want to disassemble tens of thousands of semi accurate beliefs on the off chance that I might be able to bring one small receptor field into better focus?’ (111)

With a projected 50 years left, give or take a decade, that’s a long time to sit on my ass and give up the quest. Let the disassembly continue… Full Speed Ahead!

That said, let’s move on to pages 48-153 of the novel.


One would generally assume that children would have a stronger imagination than adults, the ability to create their own reality and imaginary friends, but that isn’t what is being said in this novel. As I mentioned in a previous post, “something between childhood and becoming an adult shifts the understanding of language, makes it less literal, less real.” I found this idea interesting when Powers described a book that permanently influenced him while he was still young (19). This same type of reference appears later, when Lentz and Hartrick dupe Powers about Imp C’s ability:

A babe in the woods would have seen through this… I myself would never have bitten, had I still been a child. Yet I’d believed. I’d wanted to. (123)

Powers can no longer see the real, but why? Perhaps, as our narrator describes, it is his adult desire to want to believe.

In childhood, facts are collected much like William and Peter Hartrick’s alphabet and international flags. Conceptual meaning hasn’t yet been assigned, as Hutcheon would point out. Unlike the boys, Powers associates everything with narrative rather than fact. When speaking about their mother, Diane, Powers says “I didn’t know the first thing about her” (136) but “I recognized this woman… from a book I read once as a novice adult” (137). This referential knowing is not real. It stems from a concept learned elsewhere during Powers’ early adulthood rather than from what actually stands in front of him in the moment.

Powers recognizes the impact of narrative on his thoughts and the ways in which those thoughts then shape his reality. “Here was the home I would never have. Shaped by a book, I’d made sure I wouldn’t. I’d forced my heart’s reading matter to come true” (138). To deny himself access to Diane or a home based on a particular book leads me to believe that, had he read another book (or no book), things might have turned out differently. Like ideology, the story has the power to order Powers’? houghts, but also to confine him within that story.


Confinement within the story becomes problematic for all the main characters in this novel. Diane, Lentz, C. and even Powers become splintered identities in terms of subject/object. As said above, Diane is a stereotype in Powers’ internal narrative. First she is scientist, then mother, then “she became a different woman” (136) after she put her children to bed and sat in her living room. None of these images allow access to the real Diane, for Powers or the reader. Lentz too is seen solely as mad scientist until Powers recognizes him as husband and father thanks to the calendar on the door. Still, he doesn’t know who Lenz truly is or why he’s such a sad, angry man. These characters are nothing more than objects seen through the one limited lens of the narrator.

Powers and C. are special cases in the subject/object dichotomy. Powers, when proofing his latest book, says:

My eleventh-hour triage demoralized me even more than the first writing. I felt a despair I had not felt while still the teller… What lost me, while listening to my own news account, was learning that I didn’t have the first idea who I was. Or of how I had gone so emptied. (117)

Is Powers really so emptied and lost within his own identity? The word “emptied” implies that Powers was once full. When he writes about himself as the subject, he is unaware that this identity crises exists because it doesn’t yet. It is when he no longer writes but reads, making the switch from subject to object, that he feels some sort of self identity loss. It is the mechanism of narrative that induces the loss, unable to capture the whole of who Powers is, even in his own attempt to portray himself.

Perhaps Powers has stopped disassembling his “tens of thousands of semi accurate beliefs” at 35, having learned little since his relationship’s end with C. Prior to this autobiographical fiction, Powers becomes the subject of C’s story and she becomes the object, driving the wedge of death into their relationship. Powers knows this to be true when C. says, “It’s your story… It makes me feel worthless” (108). He begins to question:

What did the finished thing mean? That book was no more than a structured pastiche … One that by accident ate her alive… She would never again listen to a word I wrote without suspicion. (108-109)

Even after living the consequence of setting the divisive dichotomy of subject/object in motion with C., Powers inflicts that same divide within himself and feels the power and pain from both sides.

Of course, objectification is okay when you’re Powers, the author of this novel, portraying the narrator as the author and narrator of his own novel. Only by making this move does narrative no longer mean objectification alone. Narrative, in this manner, becomes self-reflexivity, or has… self-reflexive Powers. (Insert “bad joke” groan here.)

PS: If C was with Powers in U., E., and B., who do you think A. is in her 22nd year? Son of [a] B!! I can’t seem to work it out yet but I sure do sound like a mathematician when I try.

Self Analysis

ANALYSIS PART I: I am the One Trick Pony

As I wrestle with what postmodernism means, how it functions, and what I’ve written about it, I’ve discovered that I am absolutely obsessed with limits. Reading through my blog I see frustration with and examination of:

  • language as limitation on thought
  • the subject’s limited ability to represent
  • limits on history as merely one version of truth
  • limits on context within postmodern fiction
  • and limits of form when representing the real.

Is this supposed to be therapeutic? I’m just asking. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy, although I don’t recall seeing it on the ENG377 syllabus.


2007.09.02 Modern or Postmodern? That is the Question.
2007.09.06 So, What’s the Difference?
2007.09.07 Written WITH the Body
2007.09.09 ‘I’ – Thinking
2007.09.14 Where the Story Starts
2007.09.17 Post Modo Condition
2007.09.19 Fight Club – The Movie
2007.09.20  Futurism in Fight Club (add-on to previous post)
2007.09.25 Why Jameson’s Piece is Postmodern
2007.09.29 Life in Dying
2007.10.02 Fight Club Environmentalism
2007.10.05 Making Sense (???)
2007.10.08 Cindy Sherman
2007.10.10 Linda Hutcheon (expertise project)
2007.10.15 Nikki Lee

2007.09.01 To Esther on Post/Modern Stance
2007.09.01 To Misty on Post/Modern Stance
2007.09.07 To Kim H. on Winterson
2007.09.07 To Alex on Winterson
2007.09.17 To Michael on Winterson
2007.09.17 To Christine on Winterson
2007.09.23 To Marina on Fight Club, the film
2007.09.23 To the Class Experts on Lyotard
2007.09.29 To Hannah on Fight Club, the book
2007.09.29 To Esther on Jameson
2007.10.04 To Zena on Fight Club, the book
2007.10.04 To Tammy on Fight Club, the book
2007.10.15 To Aliya on Cindy Sherman
2007.10.15 To Melissa on Hutcheon

Postmodernism has revealed the ways in which I’m confined within the ideological prison of my own thought, AND it has simultaneously slipped me the key to freedom. Now that I understand how postmodernism functions, I see it in fiction, film, magazines and photography. It has become relevant in my other classes and has even jumped out at me while watching television. I love that ideology is being exploited all over the place, but still, I have one question burning deep within my soul. It’s the one that everyone in class either fully?understands or isn’t asking.

When Lyotard says:

“The artist and the writer , then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done” (Lyotard, 81)

I still need to know… What the Hell does this mean?!?!

Moving on, the following passage from “‘I’-Thinking” shows my concern for the limits of language and subject:

I found what Winterson hasn’t written is most important. Where power exists and determines what is “acceptable,” or at least “attributable,” lies in our perception of how the masculine and feminine are defined by language. (Hello Saussure, my old friend.) Winterson’s brilliance demonstrates the subversive by using that very device. The notion of the free-“thinking I” is exposed for all its cultural baggage.

Here I refer to Cixous’ idea that language shapes our thoughts along problematic dichotomies such a masculine/feminine, strong/weak, etc. Winterson challenges the reader’s need to assign a male or female identity to her genderless narrator, pointing out the limitation of “thought dichotomies” in practice. Rereading this passage surprises me after just having just presented on Hutcheon. While my language here isn’t quite right, the idea of the self-reflexive operation is interesting. Both the power of language to define, and the limitations as it confines are revealed simultaneously. Perhaps we discussed this idea in class that day, but prior to reading Hutcheon (my hero) I didn’t think I understood. Apparently I did. Go me.

Don’t you worry. I’m not getting all high and mighty over this one small victory. I continually struggle with other issues, particularly the end result of mixing fact and fiction in historeographic metafiction. All across my blog and strewn about comments to classmates are references to the movie The Last King of Scotland. Apologies “for bringing it up once again” generally accompany the post because I can’t seem to let it go. In “Why Jameson’s Piece is Postmodern” it appears for the third time:

This movie is … about a very real Ugandan dictator, but his life is revealed through the perception of a fictional doctor… the main character with significant influence on very disturbing events within the film… Then, in the DVD special features, Ugandan extras said they are glad children can watch this film and finally learn about Ugandan history. (BIG) PROBLEM! This isn’t history!… Will Ugandan children know? I think not.

Here is where I get stuck between Jameson and Hutcheon. Like Jameson, I have this engrained notion that context is important. As I say later in the same post, I attribute my discomfort with this specific historical fiction to the fact that this film will likely be the only access Ugandan children have to their country’s history. Since they have no background in postmodern analysis, they will surely mistake this representation (one portrayed through the lens of white culture) for the real. This is the result of Third World, culture consuming capitalism that Jameson talks about.

On the other hand, when it comes to my personal consumption of the postmodern, I want the veil lifted from the powerful ideology that orders my world. To understand that there is no one absolute truth, as far as I can see, is the only way to open the door to new ideas… without limitation (ha!). Hutcheon, with her positive spin on the postmodern and its power to reveal, is – quite frankly- my hero, as I’ve already stated above. I’m not sure if I will ever resolve this internal conflict. I fully believe there is value to both sides of this coin.

From the argument above, my question becomes, what is real or contextual anyway? Hutcheon says that “history” has only ever been a representation and access to “reality” has only ever been an assumption. To follow this thought into the realm of photography, as I understate when summing up my “Cindy Sherman” post:

Interestingly, using a doll as an unrealistic representation of a human being, although it seems to be a drastic difference of subject/object from the first [human] pictured above, is no different in concept. Sherman brilliantly exposes photographic “realism” as equally flawed in all.

Sherman offers a quick and dirty example of Hutcheon’s self-reflexive form. Her photography is used to demonstrate the power of historic photo documentation and realism as it influences our perception of reality, to subvert it using the very form we trust to be real, and to reveal the ways in which photography fails to grant access to the real at all. By subverting or turning the medium in on itself, the limitations of ideology implode. Sherman is at once artist/actress, subject/object, woman/cliche. When I see this mental back flip in action, it makes my heart soar. I want to scream “THAT’S A PERFECT TEN!”

And yet… there is still The Last King of Scotland playing to children in Ugandan theaters. Thanks to Hutcheon and Sherman I’m left to wonder whether concepts are more or less important than the events that actually happened. Is the insertion of a fictional narrator within an historical setting really any different than the history written by a textbook author with an eye toward patriotism? The more I grasp how little we’ve learned from a history we’ve assumed was real, perhaps this fictionalized account of a real dictator bears less negative impact than the lessons learned from such a story. I suppose the best we can do is handle postmodernism with care, limiting its political and capitalist consumption of culture in the Third World… whatever that means.

PART II: Old Tricks, New Tricks

And the award for best posts to date goes to:

  • Life in Dying
    I felt I made a new connection in Fight Club between body, as the limited modern form striving to achieve a real experience, and the soul or idea of legend as postmodern form struggling to break free from the limitations of form. I spent FAR more time on this than any other post, engaging with the narrative as well as narrative- through- the- lens- of- theory, and organizing these thoughts into essay form. Yeah, I was home alone for two days.
  • Making Sense (???)
    Here I was able to follow several significant threads discussed in class, applying one aspect of a particular theory to every text. Addressing issues from the complication of all our narrators, to the problematic concept of gender, I was able to beat these topics into submission, taming my unruly, jumbled thoughts.

The award for best comment to date:

  • To Zena on Butt- Wipe
    This comment engaged with Zena’s question, recounted a class comment, brought in textual evidence, and also taught me a thing or two in writing it.

The award for best classmate post goes to:

  • Esther’s “I Can Spell Jameson, So It’s Not a Bad Start”
    This post came along right when I needed it, particularly since Esther posts early, if not on time. She summarizes the highlights of Jameson’s theory, adds visuals to demonstrate her argument of lacking historical reference in architecture against Jameson’s need for context, and poses a few questions for comment. You just can’t ask for more.

Based on my previous accomplishments, these next three goals?are what I plan to strive toward for the remainder of my blogging career:

  • Increased engagement with comments
  • I should get over my need to be original and address some class topics already. I’m always pushing so hard to move beyond what has already been discussed. The alternative would be to “go deep.” Wait, I do that.
  • More humor. I used to be funny.
  • More silly pictures. That used to be fun too.
  • Oddly, perhaps I need to spend LESS time banging out these marathon posts and more time on other classwork – or just living life.

How to achieve these things? I could just relax. The problem is that I find this class so darn interesting. Yeah. I happen to like taking our shiny, new information out for a spin through the informal blog, particularly where a little misjudgment and hitting the guard rail is allowed. Sue me.

Linda Hutcheon


by Michael Bastian & Kim Clune


Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.


Theorist Linda Hutcheon finally offers a clear definition of postmodernism as compared to the somewhat slippery and “indefineable” definitions offered thus far. “Postmodern representation is self consciously all of these – image, narrative, product of (and producer of) ideology” (28). She combines several concepts which all work together in the following way:


For our purposes, mimesis is the assumption that representation is, in some way, a duplication of “the real” and also that there is a “real” to represent. (To trace the morphing philosophy of mimesis since the time of ancient Greece, visit the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, University of Virginia.)


Using this definition of mimesis, Hutcheon then says, “Postmodernism challenges our mimetic assumptions about representation” (30). This is called dedoxification.


Ideology constructs and naturalizes the way a culture presents itself to itself. To de-doxify this representation is to denaturalize the contrived reality that ideology assumes as truth. Postmodernism simultaneously inscribes and subverts the convention of narrative to this end.


An Example:
Hutcheon uses Angela Carter’s The Loves of Lady Purple to exemplify the dedoxification of femininity. A marionette is made to represent the image of the woman prostitute in the construct of male erotic fantasy. We are left to question, “Had the marionette all the time parodied the living or was she, now living, to parody her own performance as a marionette?” and, “to what extent are all representations of women the ‘simulacra of the living’?”(31).


Historiographic Metafiction:
Ultimately, the job of postmodernism is to question “reality” and how we come to know it. It forces us to examine the ways in which we’ve chosen (or have been made to choose) to represent ourselves. Historiographic metafiction dedoxifies assumptions of ideology by consciously and self-reflexively working to accomplish two things:


  1. bringing historical context into the text in recognition of history’s authority and power, and
  2. simultaneously calls into question?historical limitations


By inserting elements of fiction within historical context, “fact” is exposed as an author’s assigned meaning or subjective interpretation of an event. Historical representation is revealed to be inconclusive, one more narrative employing the same devices used in fiction. As we understand it, this functions the same way through all mediums of postmodern expression whether fiction, photography or painting.


For more on Hutcheon’s historiographic metafiction, visit Victoria Orlowski’s explanation (last entry at the bottom) at




  • Michaels’ Observation: Photographic Discourse as Evident in the Work of Cindy Sherman


    • What is happening in this photo? Let’s create a narrative. We see this woman’s bathing suit floating next to her. We can assume she doesn’t have a spare. She’s naked, nude, in the skinny. The only articles of clothing she’s wearing are the goggles (spy goggles) and a mask (a spy’s mask). Sherman is mimicking the actions of a spy approaching an enemy’s territory. This woman doesn’t want to be seen. The pool is lit up. At the same time she is a naked woman swimming in a pool that someone could be spying on. She’s acting the part of a spy and sexually promiscuous woman. Those are antique goggles; they help to represent the historical representation of a spy. Although this spy does not represent one historical event we can narrate one. Mixing the story of the naked woman and the spy together does not work. Who is she looking at? What is she looking at? These are all questions in creating the narrative. The black and white photograph makes it seem like this photograph is representative of a historical “real.” The move to de-doxify the reflex we have to link black and white to old is uncovered because of the use of fiction (the naked spy-woman). Uncovering this not only brings to question the power that black and white photography has over us, but reifies the power it does because of the reflexes it’s bringing out of us. This is called historiographic metafiction; examining the history of representing history through the use of fiction to pivot it against.


    Male erotic fantasy led me to believe that Sherman was swimming naked; her bathing suit swimming next to her. Kim pointed out, after sharing my analysis with her, that Sherman isn’t actually naked at all. The bathing suit is just distorted by the water. I created a narrative based on an ideology that I subscribe to. I assigned her femininity, false femininity, based on the image presented. The history, male erotic fantastical history, associates woman in pool with sexually promiscuous woman. We now have three fictions with which to work from, that all work to subvert the control of the form and emphasize its control over our reflexes as cattle grazing on the fields of ideologies. – Michael


    (Well, Michael’s cattle reflex anyway. – Kim, who finds this all very amusing.)


    • Kim’s Observation: Fiction and History as Demonstrated?in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club


    Fight Club demonstrates Hutcheon’s theory well. Historical assumptions about the subject are called into question alongside those of historical representation, and each are de-doxified through self-reflexive construction of this historiographic metafiction. Although one human body acts out the events of the novel, that body is complicated by the presence of two identities or subjects housed within it. Each has a very different perspective and thus drastically different representation of the same chronological events. Tyler collects his events and assigns meaning via his conscious state while the narrator, when he is awake and occupying the body, assigns different meaning to the same events. In this way, perspective is limited and skewed depending upon who is in charge at the time. Additionally, because the narrator is the reader’s only source of information about Tyler, his limited scope of understanding filters out aspects of his alter-ego. In this way, the narrator unknowingly skews the telling of his own history until the end when he fully realizes that he has become a split identity and thus the bigger picture is finally revealed to the reader. Our ideological notions about how naturally subjectivity represents history are challenged once we realize the power the narrator has over representation as well as his limitations in revealing all sides.


    Palahniuk also explores society’s historical context through capitalism. By placing fictitious characters within a backdrop specific to the 90’s, we are better able to examine various concepts and perceptions of capitalism from two perspectives than we are from one. Interestingly, neither is verifiable truth, nor are they together, but…


    (I had a train of thought to explore here, but Michael just stole my copy of Hutcheon and left campus.)




    We find that Hutcheon offers a logical answer to several theoretical questions. Disputing negative generalizations of postmodern disorder, incoherence, and Jameson’s accusation of “depthlessness,” Hutcheon says postmodernism has the specific function to reflexively question history by employing it’s own narrative in order to reveal the holes in such perceived truth. This specificity is new from what we’ve seen this semester. She argues that Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra, representation as a copy of a copy, and media’s neutralization of the “real” assumes that there was a “real” to begin with. She counters that “there is nothing natural about the ‘real’ and there never was — even before the existence of mass media” (31). According to Hutcheon, we have not slipped into a false world because we have postmodernism.


    Rather than postmodernism being a departure from contextualized history, or what Jameson calls “a ‘revolutionary’ break with the repressive ideology of storytelling generally,” (47) the postmodern relies upon that very device to decenter the ideological notions of authenticity and subjectivity. In the moment in which the center is questioned through narrative, postmodern stories of the oppressed “other” rise to the surface, no longer suppressed by ideology and past historical influence.  Postmodernism contradicts this notion of the real and accepts that everything has always been culturally represented.




    • Hutcheon says events have no meaning until certain facts are selected and meaning is assigned. Do you agree? Why?
    • Since history can be fictional and fiction can reveal certain truths,?is there?a line of distinction between history and fiction at present?


    From the scholar-sphere:



    From the blog-o-sphere:?


    Two posts from the Derivative Blog: Thoughts on Hutcheon by a graduate student of English literature and culture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.


    Making Sense (???)

    So far this semester, our class has covered:

    • John Barth’s short story, “Lost in the Fun House”
    • Jeannette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body
    • and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club.

    To help define what postmodern means we have explored excerpts from:

    • Simon Malpas’ book, The Postmodern (2005)
    • H l ne Cixous critique “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays” (1975)
    • Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979)
    • Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991)
    • and Linda Hutcheon’s Poetics of Postmodernism (1988)

    How do I cohesively make sense of all this? Having drank fully from the fire hose for weeks on end, I wonder… Will I digest or blow? This post is where I just vomit in my mouth a little.

    As Malpas explains, “at the heart of identity there is a ‘thinking I’ that experiences, conceptualizes and interacts with the world” (Malpas, 57). Consequently, running rampant throughout postmodern fiction is the question of this subject’s reliability as an authority representing truth.

    • Barth’s narrator, Ambrose, is at once a child and an adult, interweaving the blind?experience of “living in the moment” with 20/20 hindsight and calling attention, through various narrative devices, to the limitations of the narrating subject both as child and adult, in other words, as narrator looking in at the main character and main character being himself.
    • Winterson complicates her narrator by creating a nongender-specific bisexual who objectifies the beloved, Louise, pitting the power of subject vs. object, one against the other, both creating and destroying the linguistic barrier to fully realizing true love.
    • Palahniuk splits his narrator’s identity into two dueling subjects within the same body who both objectify not only Marla, but each other, creating a power triangle rather than a single identifiable power source.

    By complicating the subject, these authors use fiction to turn the subject in on itself and reveal its limitations. The point for the reader is that perspective and representation are not natural ways of reaching some sort of truth, but are cultural devices?that, until postmodernism hit the stage, were accepted as natural. The most we can hope for, as Stephen Colbert often points out, is mere “truthiness” (or “falsiness” as the following parody explains), which is called into question each time subjectivity becomes decentered by an alternate version of the traditional subject. (Hello, Derrida!) 

    Sexuality is also addressed in each piece, not just in terms of masculinity or femininity, but where the two overlap. According to theorist Hélène Cixouss:

    Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition — a culture’s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and hierarchy. (Malpas, 72)

    Lyotard says that metanarratives order the world for a particular culture and not all cultures order the world in the same way. Because of this he believes reality is not real, that it is rather “simplicity, communicability” (75) in the name of the “unity of experience” (72) and that the postmodern “puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself” (81).

    • Barth calls masculinity into question by addressing the subservience of women in the ’50s and how that defines the angered narrator’s role as he matures socially in contrast with what he feels differently internally.
    • Winterson’s non-specifically gendered and bisexual narrator draws attention to the dysfunction of defining through opposition, creating a world of confusion for the reader while, at the same time, pointing out the problem.
    • Palahniuk’s split identity, one masculinized and one feminized, are embodied within one male person which shows that neither masculinity nor femininity encompass fully what comprises the essence of a human being.

    These narrators struggle with the idea that identity is formed through the constriction of language and social mapping according to opposing genders. Each illustrates that society provides no useful language or ordering of our world to address these grey areas. Postmodern work obviously strives to draw attention to the gap between the grand narrative and what actually exists.

    And, although there are many more threads to follow, the HUGE question of history (revered by Jameson as fact of lived experience) versus historicity (truthiness and the closest we can get to truth) is the last item I have time to discuss. Jameson argues that the democratization of art subjects it to the corruption of marketing and capitalism. They are inseparable to the detriment of world cultures and history through depthless representation and pastiche unless we map how the depthless came to be, “in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion” (54). SOOO, the question of historical validity appears repeatedly in our fiction selections.

    • Barth criticizes history by describing the role of generations of copulation in constructing social understanding of sexuality.
    • Winterson explores the narrator’s serial monogamy and only in breaking the tradition does he/she find love.
    • Palahniuk creates Tyler Durden who desperately wants to break free from history to redefine it from his point of view.

    According to Malpas, Hutcheon argues that parody is not dead, it is now focused to use form to reveal a failure of form. She also finds great value studying the unrepresentable in fiction, as much as that which has been represented as “history,” because both employ the same narrative devices (Malpas, 25-26). In the fiction we have read, we can see this parody in action, where our authors provide recognition of the power forms hold, and turn around to employ these forms to point out the flaws within them. We’ll talk more about this next week when we read more of Hutcheon.

    Other pan drippings, grey in color, that deserve to make it into the gravy bowl are

    • body/soul connections
    • bodily parts in gender definition,
    • disease: death in life and life in death
    • and many, many more.

    Sadly, the repair man is here and I have to supervise the fixing of shit.

    Life in Dying

    An obvious theme throughout Fight Club is the partnering perceptions of death between the narrator and his alter ego, Tyler Durden. Obvious though it may be, the intricacies challenge our own perceptions, making us ask which is right. Either? Elements of both? None? And how does this relate to the shift from the modern to the postmodern?

    In response to the narrator’s living death, his doctor rejects the plea for chemical escape from the emptiness of the waking dream. He says, “Insomnia is just the symptom of something larger. Find out what’s actually wrong. Listen to your body” (9). From this advice comes the equation of the narrator’s empty soul with his ailing physical form. (Consider the connection of modern form and function.) The narrator recognizes this in himself when he says “the bruised, old fruit way my face had collapsed, you would’ve thought I was dead” (9). This idea of the body and soul as inextricably connected, the former a symptom of the latter, is echoed in the support groups for the diseased. The narrator finds it “easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will either reject you or die.” Crying cures his insomnia because, for him, “losing all hope [is] freedom” (12). For the narrator, dying bodies, if only in part, are a release from the meaningless empty space between birth and death. Through oblivion and destruction the ultimate end becomes the beautiful freedom of escape from society and all its rules.

    Tyler sees things differently. For him, death is not the end. In chapter 1, the opening scene, a gun is jammed in the mouth of the one body that makes his conscious self possible, and the Parker Morris building he stands on is about to slam down on the national museum. Flanked by death on all sides, Tyler says, “We really won’t die … This isn’t really death. We’ll be legend. We won’t grow old” (1). For Tyler, death is a merely the transition of being. He is enamored with becoming legend. To eradicate previous history, that which is trapped in statistic data, financial?records, and even old literature and art is not the true essence of what makes life worth living. He wants to replace the old and dead with the realization of his own legend, “This is our world, now, our world … and those ancient people are dead” (4). The ancient dead he refers to are the living museum legends he is about to obliterate, destroying all historical record of old ways of thinking. For Tyler, oblivion and destruction are not the ultimate end, but a way for him to live forever. In fact, through Fight Club, he endeavors to destroy his own body or form, to find the true meaning of what he is made of, a notion unachievable through the material world.

    Recognizing the insanity within Fight Club, there are obviously deep seated issues with both approaches. The narrator, by using other people’s dark, dying bodies in order to recognize the sweetness of life, is cheating and he feels it most when Marla enters the support group scene. “Marla’s lie reflects my lie, and all I can see are lies … and all of a sudden even death and dying rank right down there with plastic flowers on a video as a non-event” (12). His death and rebirth are copies of a non-event. He experienced neither as something tangible or real. He avoids connecting deeply with his own mortality and must return for a nightly fix of something he has yet to internalize himself. This offers no escape from the emotionally barren life he continues to fill with material goods. Without making fundamental life changes (abandoning the goods, living in the moment and relinquishing the desire of dying to escape) he cannot fully escape his nightmare.

    Tyler, while fascinated with the idea of legacy and legend, is simultaneously repulsed by it. He finds himself in a catch 22. As with his log arrangement, creating a shadow hand at the beach where “for one perfect minute Tyler had seated himself in the palm of perfection he’d created himself,” he goes on to say, “a person has to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection [is] worth the effort” (22). The question one must ask is would sitting in the palm of perfection have been so sweet had the narrator not marked the moment by bearing witness to it? Moving forward to the high rise scene, how will Tyler survive death without tracking his new chaotic moment in a historical context the very likes which he wants to destroy? History is the very vehicle that transcends death, giving people life long after their bodies fail. (C’mon, Esther. This is where your first chapter Jesus reference enters in.)

    We’re left with the utopic idea that one must give up both history and the material while embracing death to appreciate life. This is the path to living freely in the perfection of the moment. But what is perfection exactly? According to the second law of thermodynamics, all systems tend toward a state of disorder. Tyler is stuck between believing that disorder is the natural, perfect state and yet he is lost as to how to create meaning within that chaotic state. According to his actions, perfection is not natural but something to work toward, a human creation subject to individual perspective and impossible to recognize without context. He is at once modern and postmodern.

    Wrestling with what death means, whether as an end or a new beginning, challenges us to think about how we order meaning in this world. I turn to the theoretical debate between Lyotard and Jameson on what the postmodern can do after the death of the modern period, in the temporal sense. Lyotard says in Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?:

    Under the general demand for slackening and for appeasement [of postmodern experimentation], we can hear the mutterings of the desire for a return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let us wage war on totality; let us be witness to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name. (82)

    This sounds much like Tyler’s symbolic eradication of a capital institution (the narrator’s disdain for the body) imprisoning and terrorizing the old meanings of the past (the narrator’s waking nightmare). It is the recognition of and attempt to break free from the modern idea that perfection is a form inextricable from function. Tyler wants a new form, or no form, or maybe just reference to old forms to create new meaning. He wants access to the freedom that lies within the grey areas, the presentation of the unrepresentable. Whatever form this takes in the end, he first and foremost requires a (the) narrator.

    Jameson, although he finds himself plagued by the postmodern, also feels that we must do it justice. In Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism he says:

    This is not then, clearly, a call to some older and more transparent national space, or some more traditional and reassuring perspectival or mimetic enclave: the new political art (if it is possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say, to its fundamental object – the world space of multinational capital – at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion. (54)

    Jameson’s conclusion is what Tyler butts up against in his execution of chaos and mayhem. Once you destroy what exists, what do you replace it with? Even when beginning anew, one desires to contextualize experience. For Jameson, cognitive mapping is the answer, tracing how we get to the new even as we eradicate the old beyond recognition. If you destroy the body to free the soul, the soul loses context, unless, of course, the path of destruction from “what was” to “what is” can be traced.

    Critical Race Theory

    Racial Inequality in Public Education through the Lens of Critical Race Theory


    Does the injustice of racism create systemic issues or do systemic issues create unjust divisions of race? A rally for both sides exists, but I believe that critical race theory, as opposed to conservative nationalism, better argues where the actual problems lie. To counter conservative assumptions that laziness or unwillingness to succeed is the cause of a minority’s failure to achieve upward mobility within a color-blind, equal opportunity system, critical race theorists convincingly offer better recognition of economic determinism and reject the notion of unbiased rights, merit and objectivity to explain why inequality in learning institutions exists, how racial influence upon social systems increases the level of difficulty for minority children to succeed, and why the entire legal system must be rebuilt from the ground up.


    To offer a brief summary of critical race theory, it is a movement which combines scholarship and activism in response to racial disparity in America. According to Critical Race Theory, An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, critical race theory’s tenets are built upon European philosophy and theory, the American radical tradition, critical legal studies and radical feminism, reaching beyond the scope of civil rights and ethnic studies by paying close attention to the broader fields of “economics, history, context, group — and self — interest, and even feelings and the unconscious” (Delgado and Stefancic, 3). Race is approached through several basic understandings embraced by the majority of critical race theorists. At the heart, race is understood to be a social construction with illusive and changing definitions that echo the societal needs of the times. If the job market finds value in one group, stereotypes of that group may wane. If the need no longer exists, oppression again becomes necessary to preserve the dominant power. This migrating level of acceptance is called “differential racialization” and its fluidity proves that characteristics of race are not based on genetic science or biology. Even in the waning stages, the all-too-common racial discrimination in society’s everyday operation makes it difficult to detect and combat subversive practices while the “color-blind equality” of liberalism allows for an end only to blatant discriminatory acts. Where black and white color lines do converge in a situation termed both “material determinism” and “interest convergence,” advancement exists for both the material interests of white elites and psychic interests of the working class, inciting few to object.


    While seemingly concerned only with a simplified black-white binary to this point, it is important to recognize that critical race theory also addresses “intersectionality,” where combinations of race, gender, sexual preference, and class overlap. In light of this, anti-essentialism recognizes that not all races share the same experience. Still, the “voice of color” provides perspective from the recipient of racism, although this concept is not fully supported when arguing that “legal storytelling” should be used to contextualize an experience in a court of law. What has yet to be mentioned as it is relatively new in study, is that race is about power and, to that end, whiteness as privilege must also be recognized as a race. While this summary cannot adequately address the depths to which critical race theory runs, the remainder of these pages will further explain those aspects which are most useful in addressing racial inequality within public education.


    Why do we suppose the poorest neighborhood schools in our country fill daily with more minority children than with whites? I turn to a critical race argument between two camps, the idealists and the realists. The idealists believe that racism is a mental perception that can be dismantled with good will, education and awareness. The realists, or economic determinists, believe that the explanation of perception is just the beginning of understanding as to where biased institutions hail from. “For realists, racism is a means by which society allocates privilege and status. Racial hierarchies determine who gets tangible benefits, including the best jobs, the best schools, and invitations to parties in people’s homes” (Delgado and Stefancic, 17). Alternately, race also relegates who has the least tangible benefits, including the worst jobs, schools and insults as opposed to invitations.


    The way in which schools are economically funded falls under the economic determinists’ point of view. Because funding is determined by the neighborhood tax base, those areas already in poverty which tend to be populated by minorities have no chance of offering better qualified teachers, current books or technology to their students. Every year a new generation of minority children becomes oppressed by a system destined to fail them. Attending such a school means falling behind even prior to walking through the door.


    Worse yet, many minorities do walk through the door and spend valuable time learning skills that will further them in life. These children are not unwilling or lazy as many conservatives would argue. They are simply underprivileged. Perhaps a better plan would be too ensure fund disbursement equally to all schools from a centralized source while continuing to collect resources according to individual or family tax brackets. Everyone would pay the same percentage, and the quality of educators, buildings and supplies within poverty lines would vastly improve without damage done to the already functioning schools. Unfortunately, this point is moot on several levels. First, systemic change will do nothing for the child who is still socially stigmatized, and second, states prefer to retain the right to control their own school systems, bringing me to the discussion of rights in general.


    While individual rights appear to be a unifying measure of government to assure fair and equal treatment of its citizens, critical race theorists find them a distraction from egalitarianism. “Think how our system applauds affording everyone equality of opportunity, but resists programs that offer equality of results. Moreover, rights are almost always cut back when they conflict with the interests of the powerful” (Delgado and Stefancic, 23). Improving rights to include equal education for minorities and whites not only conflicts with interests of the power dynamic, I believe a deep fear surrounds this issue. There is the perception that competition for jobs and high paying salaries would greatly increase but, more importantly, educated minorities would no longer settle for blue collar jobs that fuel the well oiled machine of late capitalism. Also, those precious distinctions that delineate the elite from everyone else would blur, and how else does one define oneself if not in contrast with the “other?” For these reasons, it is in the best interest of the wealthy white majority to hold true to the current system without adjustment for equal rights, fully preserving their appreciation for the status quo.


    To add another dimension to this argument, critical race theorists believe that rights actually alienate people rather than encouraging them to form close, respectful communities. And with civil rights, lower courts have found it easy to narrow or distinguish the broad ringing landmark decision like Brown v. Board of Education (24). The end result reminds us of the popular slogan of a constant struggle, “you can’t eat your rights.” Rights are only useful to those who make the rules as they offer little more than empty promises to appease a vocal opposition to oppression.


    What happens when a minority breaks free from systemic constraints and the prideful merit held by the elite diminishes in the face of the powerfully prescribed handicap? Perhaps critical race theorists have struck a conservative nerve by arguing that, “merit is far from the neutral principle it’s supporters imagine it to be” and that “merit is highly contextual” (Delgado and Stefancic, 105). Distribution changes within the minute details of measurement have the ability to rule out a large portion of the population. Conservatives Farber and Sherri appear to protect their own achievements by accusing critical race theorists of being anti-Semetic for judging a system to be corrupt when Asians and Jews performed well within it. Critical race theorists countered that Farber and Sherri confused criticism of a standard with criticism of a race. It seems to me that a minority group deserves more merit than their white counterpart for having to navigate additional barriers, which brings me back to this paragraph’s opening question.


    While racial disparity can be whittled down to the finest points, the biggest obstacle is the American myth of objectivity. Conservatives will argue that the democratic theory of classical liberalism is objective, neutral, and free from governmental restriction upon individual upward mobility. This is the very ideology that allows for the merit system previously in question. Within this ostensibly objective ideal, failure, as I’ve already mentioned, is credited to the individual, placing blame on the impoverished, unskilled and undereducated for their refusal to seize available opportunities within an unbiased system.


    Critical race theorists oppose this important conservative cornerstone of objectivity, declaring liberalism fundamentally flawed and criticizing it “as overly caught up in the search for universals — apt to do injustice to individuals whose experience and situation differ from the norm” (Delgado and Stefancic, 58). The only conservative rebuttal is a weak effort “to show the critical race theorists’ lack of concern for truth, [whereas] opponents point not only to critical race theorists’ open declarations that truth is socially constructed, but also to a number of allegedly misstated facts” (Delgado and Stefancic, 58).


    Perhaps this lack of retort comes from the deep seated realization that if one can never step outside the influence of culture and history to find objective truth, logic dictates that institutional laws and rights created by people within a society must bear the imprint of that society’s culture and history. The undeniable end product in America is a capitalist government requiring an underclass to function remains stable, suiting those in power well and reinforcing their permanence via the institutions of law and education.


    Since it proves far more beneficial to examine what critical race theorists propose as a solution rather than to bicker about misstated facts, I return to my main argument. In order to encourage students of every color to reach their full potential, critical race theorists propose we “‘look to the bottom’ in judging new laws. If they would not relieve the distress of the poorest group – or, worse, if they compound it — we should reject them” (Delgado and Stefancic, 22). This, the Golden Rule, would seem to prevail among both secular and religious types alike. While I continue to support the implementation of affirmative action until the collective social conscience reaches a level of general tolerance, I cannot begin to estimate how long it will take for the tide to turn and a practice like this to be put into effect. I suspect the answer is that it will not happen in my lifetime. If the main concern of those in power is to achieve equality, this would be a wonderful place to start. Of course, if that were the main goal, it would also already have been implemented. Sadly, I believe that those who hold the power cannot yet envision an America free of social barriers in the name of a greater good. Until they, not the minorities, take the initiative to reimagine what it means to be a free American, there will always be an oppressed underclass.