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"What is this I don't even

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Title: "What is this I don't even An Investigation of Postmodern Fiction
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Marazzi, Michael
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011

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Subjects / Keywords: Postmodernism
Literature
Semiotics
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This thesis explores the relationship between three American postmodernist texts: Thomas Pynchon�s The Crying of Lot 49, Don DeLillo�s White Noise, and Mark Danielewski�s House of Leaves. Using the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and Brian McHale, I argue that each of these novels offers a different manifestation of the struggle to find �the real�, which can be understood as objective truth, meaning, or an existence external to physical reality. Furthermore, these novels progressively reflect an increasing concern with media and its ability to create, define, and manipulate diegetic relationships. I argue that these three works are milestones in a trend that demonstrates how ingrained in the American cultural consciousness their type of ontological complexity has become.
Statement of Responsibility: by Michael Marazzi
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Wallace, Miriam

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 M3
System ID: NCFE004404:00001

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004404/00001

Material Information

Title: "What is this I don't even An Investigation of Postmodern Fiction
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Marazzi, Michael
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Postmodernism
Literature
Semiotics
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This thesis explores the relationship between three American postmodernist texts: Thomas Pynchon�s The Crying of Lot 49, Don DeLillo�s White Noise, and Mark Danielewski�s House of Leaves. Using the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and Brian McHale, I argue that each of these novels offers a different manifestation of the struggle to find �the real�, which can be understood as objective truth, meaning, or an existence external to physical reality. Furthermore, these novels progressively reflect an increasing concern with media and its ability to create, define, and manipulate diegetic relationships. I argue that these three works are milestones in a trend that demonstrates how ingrained in the American cultural consciousness their type of ontological complexity has become.
Statement of Responsibility: by Michael Marazzi
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Wallace, Miriam

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 M3
System ID: NCFE004404:00001


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What Is This I Dont Even: An Investigation of Postmodern Fiction by Michael Marazzi A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts in English Under the sponsorship of Miriam Wallace Sarasota, Florida April 2011

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This thesis is dedicated to anyone who ever helped m e in any capacity. You owed me nothing and yet you acted. In return I can offer only the same courtesy and this gesture, which you may or may not find meaningful. ii

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In no particular order: I would lik e to thank Professor Wallace, Professor Andrea Dimino, and Professor Robert Zamsky for acting as my committee members and providing years of intriguing classes. Thank you to Professor Wallace and my thesis group for sending me out of every meeting with a new optimism. Lucy, thank you for taking me to FedEx the night before my committee copy was due. Thank you to Seco nd Court and the BFC for fostering me as a lowly first-year. All of you know who you are. To all th e W girls, I couldnt ask for better lazy Chinese food Sundays. All of you mean so much to me. Thank you to Z fortress and all the N64. Thank you Katie for all the sushi and Pane ra. Leah, Ill never forget our conversations and New York was th e best trip Ive ever had; remember that there is hope for the future. Stef, youve always pushed me in the right direction and I emulate you whenever possible. I can only hope to be as successful as you some day. Stu, thank you for keeping it in the familyIm still amazed at our combined existences. Jeremy, I dont even need to put the words he re because they wouldnt do it justice: I communicate with you on a higher level than an yone else Ive ever met. Finally, I would like to thank every person at New College for being exactly who they are. You have shown the world that a rigid, practical di sposition and penchant for following the laws rules are not necessary to be good thi nkers, and especially not good humans. iii

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Table of Contents Dedication ..ii Acknowledgements...iii Table of Contents......iv Abstract............. ............................................. .................... ................v Introduction: When Was Postmodernism?.1 Chapter 1: The Failed Detective.7 Chapter 2: Techno-construction of Self.22 Chapter 3: Stacking Ontologies.36 Figure 1 (example of concrete prose)..42 Figure 2 (example of atypical typesetting)......48 Conclusion: The Postmodern Narrative.52 iv

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What Is This I Dont Even: An Investigation of Postmodern Fiction Michael Marazzi New College of Florida, 2011 ABSTRACT This thesis explores the relationship between three American postmodernist texts: Thomas Pynchon s The Crying of Lot 49 Don DeLillos White Noise and Mark Danielewskis House of Leaves Using the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and Brian McHale, I argue that each of these novels offers a different manifestation of the struggle to find the real, which can be understood as objective truth, meaning, or an existe nce external to physical reality. Furthermore, these novels progressively reflect an increasing concern with media and its ability to create, define, and manipulate diegetic relationships. I ar gue that these three works are milestones in a trend that demonstrates how ingrained in the American cultural consci ousness their type of ontological complexity has become. Miriam Wallace Division of Humanities

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Introductio n: When was Postmodernism? While academia seems to have reached a point at which theorists can definitively say that Postmodernism as a literary movement has happened, debate still exists as to how or when such a thing can or will end. In a 2001 article framing the rise and suggested fall of the movement as a historical narrative, Robert Murray Davis concludes, Literary Postmodernism, at least as a visibl e force, at least in the U.S., is over. The writers are dead or professors emeriti, or s oon will be (Davis 298). Similarly, as early as 1987 De Villo Sloan both lambasts Postmodern fi ction and declares its fall, writing, The decline of the postmodern novel can be tr aced through an increasing self reflection without the benefit of useful subject mate riala discourse of impotence that does nothing but comment on itself (Sloan 37). Important here is that these critics rec ognize a distinct litera ry movement where others have questioned its existence to begin with; Elizabeth Flynn in particular notes that some versions of postmodernism are simply extensions of modernism or antimodernism while others seem to be radical departures from them (Flynn 543), while Jean-Franois Lyotard writes that the postmodern is t hat which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself (cited in Flynn, 544). While the divisions between the two are not always clearly defined, theo rist Brian McHale supposes a significant split in the world of fiction which will be explained shortly. The critics I have cited are centrally concerned with literary Postmode rnisms pervasiveness and longevity; they claim that authors once did but now no longer write postmodern novels and that postmodernity has analyzed itself into oblivion where it belongs. Where these writers analyses fall short, I argue is in their limited definiti ons of postmodern literature 1

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whether they focus purely on explicitly expe rim ental elements that permeate postmodern writing, or on the tendency of such literature to address its own theorization. Indeed, these elements are typically indicative of postmodern writing. But simply because radical experimentation of a work such as Italo Calvinos If On a Winters Night a Traveler (1979) has faded in popularity does not mean Postmodernism is over. These critics conclusions asserting the end of Postmodern ism stem either from the cessation of particular forms (specifically, works in whic h a large postmodern subversion is central to and dominates to the text, such as Martin Amiss Times Arrow (1991) or the aforementioned Calvino) or a belief that Postmodernism has been demonstrated to be useless or merely self-indulgent The shortcoming of each of these cases is plain: these theorists fail to demonstrate that literature as a whole has abandoned postmodern ways of thinking and by extension, they fail to define literary Postmodernism adequately in the first place. What exactly is meant by a clai m that an era with such wide and diverse embodiments has ended? In direct contradiction to their argume nts, critics who attempt to demonstrate that end neglect the wealth of current and popular literature that either employs postmodern literary techniques, interro gates issues in a postmodern fashion, or both. Those two criteria cover a vast expanse of formal elements, narrative structures, and metaphysical issues that have become more engrained in the American literary tradition than some might be willing to accept. The most useful next step would be to act where they have failed and establish a working understanding of postmode rnist literature or literary elements clarifying these ways of thinking in both the literary field and society at large. In his now canonical Postmodernist Fiction Brian McHale presents a simp le yet astonishingly useful 2

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conceptualization of postm odern fiction. He writes that in contrast to modernisms epistemological dominant, the dominant of postmodernist fiction is ontological. That is, postmodernist fiction deploys strate gies which engage and foreground questions like Which world is this ? What is to be done in it? Which of my selves is to do it? Other typical postmodernist questions bear either on the ontology of the literary text itse lf or on the ontology of the world which it projects. (McHale 10) McHale contrasts this to his proposition concerning modernist fiction, established just prior in his text. This pr eceding analysis states, The do minant of modernist fiction is epistemological. That is, modernist fiction depl oys strategies which engage and foreground questions such as What is th ere to be known?; Who knows it?; How do they know it, and with what degree of certa inty? (McHale 9). The contrast McHale establishes is subtle when manifested in literary works but nevertheless crucial to understanding the differences in the type s of questions asked by predominantly postmodernist texts as opposed to modernist ones. McHale limits his thesis to its applicability in fictional writings; however the ab ility of a text to present multiple internal realities in tension but also to point outside of itself is by no means restricted to fictional works; such a postmodern approach to reality and knowledge is prevalent across all types and genres of literature, and in fact all media. McHale limits his analysis to fiction, as that category is his intended scope, but the myriad mani festations of ontology as a focusing principle stretch far beyond the realms he suggests. 3

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Throughout the three literary texts th is thesis discusses (Thomas Pynchons The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Don DeLillos White Noise (1985), and Mark Danielewskis House of Leaves (2000), subjects experience anxiety as a result of or in combination with the different ways in which reality is mediate d. Each instance of this anxiety is informed by and contributes to the auxiliary concerns of the book, creating distin ct situations which all reflect the same core tension. Essentiall y, each of these works engages the postmodern ontological dominant by demonstrating the ex istence of an impassable gap between the characters and the knowledge of their world. Characters in these books are unable to fi nd some truth due to some fundamental disconnection between their sensory perception and reality itself. In The Crying of Lot 49 Oedipa Maas (as well as several other character s) is in a constant state of paranoia and even fear. Oedipa attempts throughout the novel to uncover the truth of a supposed conspiracy involving an alternative postal sy stem, Tristero, and unde rstand what is going on in her world, but this becomes a near im possible task wrought with ambiguity. In a parody of the traditional detective narrative, Oedipa is unable to compile truth from the multiple signifying clues which should lead her to it. As seen in the latter two works as well, Oedipa questions her own thought and ev en sanity as a result of this radical subversion of logic. Additionally, Lot 49 appropriately foregrounds a particular type of mediation: one that is not as concerned with visual media as White Noise or with ontological hierarchy like House of Leaves DeLillos White Noise, by contrast, presents a media-saturated worl d in which no thought is free of influence from the now Godlike TV. As a result, it acts as an arbiter of the real, bombarding the middle-class Gladney fa mily with images and words designed to 4

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influence, even construct, their understand ings of their own lives. The family lives through a variety of disturbing ly twenty-first cen tury situations, su ch as a poisonous chemical spill and pharmacological abuse, while they are increasingly influenced by what can only be termed a culture of postmodernity. Like Oedipa, Jack and his wife Babette also come to experience overwhelming fear and anxiety, in this cas e of death. For Jack, this fear begins or is heightened by medi ated representations of his own body and health following his possible exposure to dangerous chemicals. Th e central concern ultimately becomes one of self as media-driven cons tructs combine with issues of mind-body dualism, and leave characters in the novel questioning their access to a real and true self. House of Leaves takes the ideas which DeLillo and Pynchon keep contained and adds a third dimension to the idea that seem ingly incompatible realities inform each other. This postmodern superwork combin es the media-driven complexity found in White Noise with an ontological frame narrative that bl urs and rejects its own boundaries. In the lowest frame, Will Navidson, his long-term pa rtner Karen, and their two children move into a new house and decide to record th eir lives on camera. The mediation problem found in House arrives when the house suddenly and inexplicably grows new and fantastic interior chambers without changing its exterior appearance or dimensions. The instantaneous and random changes mean that the house simply cannot be measured by empirical means. As Will and his family e xplore the house, it defi es every attempt to quantify its physical properties through the me diation of empirical measurement. In this place, A does not equal A, and there is no me thod that will offer a conclusive answer as to how a place with that tension can be allowed even to exist. 5

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These thre e works, spanning nearly 40 years of literature, seem worlds apart considering the rapidly changing mediascape of each of their time periods. The world in which The Crying of Lot 49 was written mostly lacks what would become, by 1985s White Noise a major focus for postmodern theory: rampant and ubiquitous television use. While televisions were important during th e 1960s, the cultural world surrounding their use was paltry compared to the commercialized and consumer-driven frenzy that typified the late 1980s. Further still, White Noise maintains a similar relationship to Danielewskis House of Leaves the latter written in an era where not only was the television ubiquitous, media intake expanded to unfathomable leve ls, but an entirely new and unpredictable factor was added: the internet. Despite th ese sharp distinctions in mediascape and Postmodernisms explicit concern with issues related to these changes, the novels each approach McHales ontologica l quandaries in fundamenta lly the same manner. Each work posits a world in which characters find themselves disconnected from reality and strive to obtain access to it. Their methods vary, but in each instance the final and most desired pursuit is a dire ct experience of truth. This historical analysis suggests that what is known as literary Postmodernism, at least in the realm of ficti on, manifests itself in myriad ways depending on the media dominance of its historical moment. The on tological quandaries and questions that McHale claims are characteristic of the genr e morph and evolve according to the culture surrounding them. Thus I argue that the potenti al to explore and create postmodern works is nowhere near exhausted. For critics to s uggest that such a ge nre has died requires demonstration that literature foregrounding ontological complexity is no longer written. 6

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The works discussed here as exemplary offer only a few potential avenues for that com plexity to present itself in three different decades. Chapter 1: The Failed Detective In his introduction to New Essays on the Crying of Lot 49 (1992), editor Patrick ODonnell asserts, The Crying of Lot 49 speculates upon the whole idea of connection, or the activity of connecting, as the characteristic human endeavor (ODonnell 1). He goes on to qualify this activity as one that s eeks to make sense and perceive patterns of significance in text, life, a nd history (ODonnell 1). The essential concept which his analysis points toward, but stops short of proposing, is that of knowing and understanding truth itself. The activity of a ssigning narrative to a set of facts or episodes (as we do in composing a text, a life, or a history) poses as a search for the truth of a text (divining what it is really saying) or the reality of a given world (what really happened, etc). In The Crying of Lot 49 Oedipa Maas begins her story by responding to the demands of a cryptic will left by her former lover, Pierce Inverarity, who has made her executor. In her efforts to sort out his will, Oedipa is suck ed into the quest to uncover what may or may not be a centuries-old plot involving a subversive posta l system (known only as Tristero) which may or may not have existed, and may or may not still work today to undermine government-run mail systems. Rephrased, Oedi pa seeks to uncover truth and to know reality itself: does Tristero exist, and if so to what extent is it used? Do all of the people she encounters know of it and its supposed hist ory? Is this a world with a purpose ordered to culminate with her as its focal point, or is Oedipa simply projec ting that world outward from herself in paranoid self-delusion? Is her problem one of epistemologywho knows and how she knows or one of ontology which kind of world does sh e inhabit, one of 7

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purpose and plots or one of paranoid m ega lomania? Ultimately, she seeks to know whether or not there is a plot, a conn ected series of meaningful events. By the end of the novel, however, Oedipa (and the reader) is left unsatisfied by answers to her inquiries and st ill does not know the truth of in which reality she exists. Is this a world of conspiracy, coincidence, or is it all just a prank by her ex-lover? Furthermore, this lack of understanding arouses anxiety and paranoia in Oedipa: she fears those from whom she must gain information because they might be her enemies, and she questions her own sanity when she cannot loca te a clear and rationa l conclusion to her searches. McHales analysis suggests that he r inability to know he r world stems from a fundamental gap between it and her: Oedipa Maas experiences only a mediated relationship to the truth and reality of the potential Triste ro plot, causing paranoia and anxiety at her inability to truly know her world. This mediated relationship is best unders tood in a framework of semiotic thought, that is, the linguistic theory proposed by Ferd inand de Saussure to describe reality. For Saussure, language is a semiotic system made up of signs, which can in turn be divided into the signifier: the material object, the sounds that words make, the letters on a page, etc. and the signified: the concept or ment al image to which the signifier gives rise (Ward 92). Following Saussure, structuralist and poststructuralist theorists understand Saussures linguistic structure to be applicab le to other kinds of signifying systems from the psyche and its unconscious to the wo rlds of advertising or fashion. For poststructuralists, the signified becomes elusive, forever sl ipping away beneath the chain of signifiers that poi nt only to each other. In Oedi pas world, the various mediums through which she gains information about the Tr istero system act as signifiers, while the 8

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elusive truth of her reality is th e longed for but elusive si gnified those mediums attempt to reflect. However, just as linguistic semiotic s finds this relationship problematic in that signifier and signified do not have a simple, direct connec tion, the truth of Oedipas reality is not readily gleaned through the clues she encounters. To explore the effect of this disconnect on Oedipa, it is necessary to first devise exactly what comprises her mental state th roughout the novel. In his essay Toward the Schizo-Text: Paranoia as Semiotic Regime in The Crying of Lot 49 John Johnston proposes that Oedipa experiences a range of perceptions he refers to as sensitizing (though Pynchon originated the term); moments during which Oedipa seems to glean some uncanny understanding of the world around her (Johnston 48). The first of these occurs as she enters San Narciso valley a nd compares the housing layout to that of a circuit, recalling that The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpect ed, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward pattern s a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate a revelation trembled just past the threshold of her understanding As if, on some other frequency, or out of the eye of some whirlwind rotating too slow for her heated skin even to feel the centrifugal coolness of, wo rds were being spoken. (Pynchon 25) Interesting to note here is Oedipas in tense perception of revelation despite any textual evidence that this a rray of houses conveys any meaning other than a resemblance 9

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to a circuit. In essence, Oedipa is enga ging in the fundam entally paranoiac act of ascribing a very deep and intense meaning to a set of objects that may or may not actually express anything other than themselves. This sensitizing of Oedipas becomes a trend throughout the book; on multiple occasions she seems to pause under the weight of some revelation, piecing new information into a constructed narrative and ultimately connecting events or objects that seem to hold no inherent meaning. In this way, ODonnells notion of connecting and meani ng-making becomes intimately tied to the notion of paranoia, defined by Pynchon himself as the reflex of seeking other orders behind the visible throughout th e novel (cited in Bersani, 100). However, because her question as to the true connectedness of ev ents remains unanswered at the end of the novel, something is clearly preventing Oedipa from completing this act and ultimately understanding this regime of si gns, a term Johnston uses earl y in his essay to describe a world where the signifying pot ential is dominant (Johnston 47). This statement, though perhaps abstract, offers an intriguing path in to Oedipas mind when a world like that of Lot 49 s is presented. San Narciso, as Oedipa so on discovers, is a city rife with potential plots, conspiracies, and meaning. Cryptic symbols abound while different organizations and information sets reference each other reflexively. Given this infinitude of potential, her ascription of meaning becomes unde rstandable, perhaps even believable. More important than Oedipas paranoia, how ever, are the effects of her failure to produce a conclusive narrative for the events and objects she encounters. Indeed, Oedipas fear throughout the novel is tangible, and almost invariably a result of the absolute impossibility of conclusion. No matter how she arranges the information, there is no definitive answer to the problem of mu ltiple signifying possibilities. Specifically, as 10

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Oedipa paces Inverarity s office and near s the moment when the anonymous bidder will stake a claim to Lot 49, she reflects on the multitude of realities in which she may exist and laments, thinking: Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of dream; onto a network by which X number of Americ ans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody Ameri can you know, and you too, sweetie. Or you are hallucinating it. Or a pl ot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate, involving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books, constant surveillance of your movements, planting of post horn images all over San Francisco, bribing of librarians, hiring of professional actors and Pierce Inverari ty only knows what-all besides, all financed out of the estate in a way either too secret or too involved for your non-legal mind to know about ev en though you are co-executor, so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in wh ich case you are a nut Oedipa, out of your skull. Those, now that she was looking at them, she saw to be the alternatives. Those symmetrical four. She didnt like any of them, but hoped she was mentally ill; that thats all it was. That night she sat for 11

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hours, too num b to even drink, teac hing herself to breathe in a vacuum. For this, oh God, was the void. There was nobody who could help her. Nobody in the world. They were all on something, mad, possible enemies, dead. (Pynchon 171) This realization arrives as a direct result of the consideration of four distinct possibilities of reality, ranging from a subversive and centu ries-deep plot to simple paranoid madness. For Oedipa, the uncertainty of reality is absolute terror; she refers to her purgatorial position as the void, preceding it with an interjection indicating the terror such a position yields her. She rambles to the point of delirium, positing each and every facet necessary to construct each supposed conspira cy and then rejects th ose lines of thought entirely with single sentences. She speaks to herself as would someone in crisis, attempting to navigate the myriad possibilitie s of existence before her. Here Oedipas abject horror is at its most concrete, founded in the conclusi on that no other person exists capable of understanding this signifying system as complete ly as her, that there is nobody to trust, and that she is ultimately alone in he r task of unraveling this semiotic mystery. Having established that Oedipa is certain ly undergoing some kind of crisis, the question remains as to its exact nature. Ho w or why can these potential worlds be different, yet indistinguishable to Oedipas perception? Simply worded, Oedipa is divorced from the real through a relationship to her envi ronment that precludes full understanding of its meaning. Throughout Lot 49 Oedipa Maas trav els across California finding objects, people, and documents whic h she hopes will aid her in uncovering a conspiracy or definitively disprove the existence of one. She interviews, follows, sneaks 12

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and spies to obtain the information she needs a nd attempts to piece it all together to form some sort of coherent narrative. In this way, Oe dipa Maas acts very mu ch in the role of a traditional detectivea hallmark of an em pirical philosophy that demonstrates the importance of rationality, logi c, and the idea th at one can ultimately know the world around them. Both Glenn Ward and critic Elizabeth Flynn tie this type of philosophy to a Modernist aesthetic. Flynn in particular characterizes it so: Modernism is often seen as synonymous with Enlightenment rationality, a belief in the objectivity of scientific investigation and of the neutrality of the investigator in processes of obs ervation Language is described as a transparent medium that plays a relati vely minor role in the process of scientific investigation, and communication is seen as a relatively unproblematic process of transmitting information. Communicators are seen has having relatively stable identities and as producing and transmitting relatively stable meanings. (Flynn 541-42) This emphasis on transmissible truth and the belief that the world is ultimately knowable presents a somewhat controversial version of Modernism in that it essentializes the movement and glosses over inte rnal conflicts. To claim th at any literary period has universal constants is dubious, but in the ca ses of theorists such as McHale and Flynn such characterization is necessary in orde r to make substantial statements about preceding or consequential movements. Oedipa attempts to gain an understanding of this potential plot through the clues she is given, from cryptic symbols and acr onyms to conversations with those who claim 13

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to know that Tristero exists. These clues act as signifiers, pointing toward yet never truly revealing the ultim ate signified of reality Just as language is a medium by which signifier and signified are crea ted, reality too finds itself mediated in various forms to Oedipa who in turn can know only the signi fiers. However, Pynchon offers a strange postmodern twist to the concept of the modern ist detective by making that which Oedipa seeks intangible and by denying the clos ure of an objective final explanation. Oedipa, like any detective in a work that deals with epistemological concerns, seeks to know the truth of a situation: who murdered whom who stole the treasure, and where the kidnapper is hiding. It is central to these instances that th ere is proof of their existence: a murder mystery needs a body, th e treasure needs to be missing, and so on. For Lot 49 however, that which Oedipa seeks is not an answer to a presented mystery. Instead, Oedipa questions whether or not there is a mystery in the first place. Pynchon moves the question of knowledge from the tangi ble to the intangible to questions of knowledge to questions of existence (from the epistemological to the ontological) by refusing to resolve whether Oedipa is actually approaching the truth of what would be a traditional conspiracy or if, behind all of th e symbols and conversations, nothing actually exists. Pynchon further subverts the traditi onal Modernist structure by ending Lot 49 s narrative short of providing Oedi pa any satisfactory answers to her mystery. As the novel ends and Oedipa awaits the auctioning of Inveraritys stamp collection, she scans the crowd looking for her target, her en emy, perhaps her proof (Pynchon 183). Here, several elements are left in the air to cement the idea that the truth is ultimately unknowable. Not only does Oedipa have no idea who she is looking for, she also lacks 14

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any inform ation that tells her whether to fear this person. Though having speculated with Cohen that their mysterious bidder may be fr om Tristero And [he] saw the description of the lot in the auction catal ogue. And wants to keep evidence that Tristero exists out of unauthorized hands, there is no factual indication that any of this is true or that meeting this person will bring her any closer to knowing the existence or nonexistence of the supposed plot (Pynchon 176). In a sense, then, Lot 49 can best be defined not by those concrete and factual elements that it includes, but rather those wh ich it excludes. Far from an optimistic model of the ability of a signifier to point to its final signified, mediums throughout Lot 49 often convey little if any larger truth. In Oedipas world, knowledge of reality is consistently denied by proliferation of possibility, specifically by a se miotic system in which any given signifier has a multitude of potential refere nts, but in the end only leads to yet more signifiers. Having established that Oedipa s relationship to reality is analogous to that which a typical detective has to truth, the question remains as to why for Oedipa, that truth remains elusive: what prevents Oedipa from understanding reality in the way she wishes? After all, she encounters seve ral different people and objects which seem like they should signify a truth, but she is ultimately left unsatisfied and without answers. Critic Christopher McKenna frames Oedipas relations hip to the Tristero in terms of the men she encounters, listing that men like Metz ger Mike Fallopian and Jesus Arribal all seem to have access to a piece of the Tristero and tend to act as co-interpreters of the semiotic regime Pynchon establishes in th e novel, adding that Oedipas confusion arises from these disparate elements refusal to fit neatly together (McKenna 35). More 15

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im portant than McKennas analysis of Oedipa s relationship to men is his phrasing here; his invocation of semiotics emphasizes the sign ifier-signified relationship which the clues Oedipa finds have to Tristero itself. Put simply, the semiotic regime which she encounters is insufficient even in its totality to convey reality, and she is left unable to know the truth of her world. The clues which Oedipa encounters vary in their medium, yet each of them itself acts as a mediator. That is, each clue serves as a type of signifier, attempting to reflect truth to Oedipa just as the medium of language attempts to convey ideas through words. Furthermore, though these clues take many form s (both traditional, discrete signs, such as words and images, and more abstract and ag gregated systems which in their totality act as a single sign), all of them act as the same signifier unit that constructs one-half of the semiotic sign. As weve seen, however, no si ngle piece of evidence which she encounters stands alone in its ability to signify truth, which indicates ag ain that Oedipas relationship to reality is characteristic of a semiotic sy stem. For example, a suspiciously placed bin with the acronym W.A.S.T.E. means not hing without a sufficient number of clues surrounding it. The most effective method to demonstrate the total inadequacy of this semiotic regime is an analysis of th e major signifiers Oedipa enc ounters. Of these, the most striking and ubiquitous throughout the novel is the muted posthorn which she repeatedly encounters. Oedipa first finds it graffitie d on a latrine wall along with a message mentioning the W.A.S.T.E. communication sy stem at The Scope, a bar near the Yoyodyne plant. Describing it in itially as simply a loop, tria ngle, and trapezoid, then 16

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later seeing it drawn by Stanley Koteks at the plant itse lf, Oedipa initially has no idea as to its significance, thinking: God, hieroglyphics (Pynchon 52). Even after multiple encounters with the symbol, however, Oedipa still lacks a clear idea of its signified, pleading with a member of Inamorati Anonymous, a group for those who are abstaining from love, who sports the symbol on a pin to tell me where you got your lapel pin you have to help me. B ecause I really think I am going out of my head (Pynchon 111). The man seems to have no knowledge of the Tristero history she cites to him and can offer her no explanation other than an appare ntly unrelated story involving stamps. Clearly, despite the persis tence of the muted post-horn, it fails to connect substantially to any real meaning. Even having seen the symbol in urban windows, chalked on streets, and watermarked on forged U.S. postage stamps, its referent is so vague and nebulous that Oedipa cannot conclude anyt hing about it, and thus cannot conclude anything about the existence or none xistence of the Triste ro conspiracy, and by extension the multitude of possibilities c oncerning Inverarity, hoaxes, and delusion. Beyond the horn, Oedipa encounters numerous instances of the word Tristero itself, both in its natural form as well as several derivatives. Although the word is mentioned several times throughout the novel Oedipa first enc ounters it used in Driblettes Jacobean revenge play, The Couriers Tragedy. Beginning what turns into a lengthy textual and historical analysis of th e words origin (it supposedly refers to a subversive postal system in seve nteenth-century Europe with a detailed political history), Oedipa finds it ingrained in childrens limeric ks, attributed to the ever-present WASTE acronym, and written in suspiciously coin cidental places throughout her search. 17

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In attem pting to trace the lite rary use of the word to understand Driblettes use of it, however, she is ultimately told by Bortz that these instances are Misprints. Gah. Corrupt. He dropped the book on the grass and looked at it with loathing (Pynchon 151). Here again, Oedipa runs into a dead en d in attempting to discern some sort of concrete meaning to usages of the word sh e encounters. While she supposes she has a good idea of the actual system that Tristero re fers to, she is unable to gain insight as to what the usages of it she encounters are poi nting toward. In essenc e, what Oedipa has found is the text, but what she lacks is its significance. Indeed, she understands the nature of this relationship, having discussed with both Driblette and Bortz the disconnect between an analysis of words and any break through to truth to which they might be imagined to point. Assuming she is a scholar, Driblette remarks that she and her kind are like Puritans about the Bible. So hung up with words, words You know where that play exists, not in that file cabinet, not in any paperback youre looking for, buta hand emerged from the veil of shower-steam to indicate his suspended h eadin here. ...The words, who cares? Theyre rote noises to hold line ba shes with ... (Pynchon 79) Here again the idea is clear: In Oedipas world, a one-to-one relationship between thought and action, text and meaning, representa tion and reality is simply untenable. As Driblette implies and Oedipas experiences (especially with the word Tristero) demonstrate, mediating elements in the world of Lot 49 are not connected to the apparent meaning behind them. 18

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A reading of The Crying of Lot 49 which allow s this type of semiotic framework doesnt seem unfamiliar given the current common understanding that the novel is confronting postmodern issues of meaning and signification, but in order to argue that this work is defining a postm odern tradition that can be tr aced through the twenty-first century, a more historical approach will be useful to determine to what extent these notions were entertained at the time of its release. Though the term postmodern can be traced as far back as the 1870s (Ward 7), its us age as a reference to a significant, nuanced shift in the arts arises in the mid 1960s fr om critics such as Leslie Fiedler and Leo Steinberg (Ward 9). While these instances are not nearly as laden with theoretical implications (including the 1980s theory wars ) as current usage, they do demonstrate what Ward claims is a shift from traditional re presentation to the flat representation of man-made images, supporting his next claim that popular art of the time was interested in artificiality (Ward 9). This emphasis on ar tificiality is crucial in aiming toward what eventually became a central concern of postmodern thought: the problem of the real and arts capacity to succ essfully represent it. Considering the relatively contemporary emer gence of this mode of thinking with The Crying of Lot 49, it is not surprising that relatively few entertainment critics provided an analysis that recognizes the novels depth. Such an unders tanding is greatly aided by a familiarity with Postmodernisms notions of tr uth and knowledge as well as the benefit of other postmodern works to provide intertex tual signification of ideas. In 1966, Oscar Handlin of Atlantic Monthly writes that Pynchons work is a waste of considerable talent, and goes on to claim that whatever meaning Pynchon may have intended to impart to the story simply fails to come through (Handlin 128). 19

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While Handlins reading understandably lacks the type of analysis current postm odern critics find, the i ssue is more that he finds no meaning whatsoever in Pynchons work. This sentiment, one which often remarks that the book is humorous yet fails to find any significant depth, is prevalent throughout early reviews of Lot 49 and seems to indicate a general inability to con ceptualize now commonlyheld ideas about the novels attitudes toward meaning, literature and truth. However, as early as 1972, academic analyses of Lot 49 discussing definitively postmodern ideas and theories became prevalent in academic journals, suggesting a shift concerning ideas of representation, reality, and artificiality. Speci fically, in a 1972 essay discussing the issue of entropy throughout Lot 49 Peter L. Abernethy propose s that communication is a central theme of the novel, and the communi cative failures throughout the work leave the characters intellectually and spiritually dead at the core (Abernethy 411). He continues: Pynchon pictures America as a series of closed systems in which the meaning of life, like the receding imag e of the cow on the pet milk can, is echoing itself into nothingness. Like the nymph, Echo, the redundancy ultimately results in a failure in the abili ty to love, for love is the ability of one human being to communicateto make meaningful contactwith another human being at a sp iritual as well as at a physical level. Without such contact, we can bring identity neither to our situation nor to ourselves. The irony for America, which Pynchon brings out so well, is that our human ability to communicate seems to decrease in proportion to the increase in our tec hnical ability to comm unicate. (Abernethy 411) 20

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W hile not tying these concepts specifically back to a unified set of theories by referring to them as postmodern, Aberne thys analysis is suggestive of postmodern ways of thinking. Most prominently, he invoke s the self-referential ity associated with postmodern thought through his use of the mise en abyme imagery seen on a milk can. Further, he draws a relations hip between the ability to meaningfully communicate with the ability to understand the se lf and the world, suggesting in more articulate terms that the inadequacies of the semiotic process of signification are related to and indeed the cause of an inability to unde rstand the self and the world. Another early criticism of the work by F. S. Schwarzbach more bluntly discusses the world of signs Lot 49 presents, positing that The Crying of Lot 49 is also a book about the way American society has become an information machine, in which communications are manufactured and propagated faster than they can be absorbed Paranoids sift the endless number of signs bombarding us, and use them to create structures of meaning. Th ey re-interpret empty data into complete, coherent systems. Paranoids are therefore not only creative, they are the true heroes of our time. We abdicate in the face of overwhelming oddsthey fight back. (Schwarzbach 444) Whether criticisms such as these are feedi ng from an existing discourse that unites paranoia and postmodern ideas of meaning or inventing that discour se is unclear. These early analyses, which demonstrate critics conc erns with the semio tic making of meaning within the novel, indicate that even early in the novels lifetime it struck at major 21

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postm odern notions and was found engaging very specific type of literary investigation, one that would be found throughout postmodern works for decades to come. Chapter 2: Techno-Construction of Self As compelling as the ideas suggested by The Crying of Lot 49 may be, they are merely one way of viewing the relationship be tween the self and the real, one of many windows through which one can observe the na ture of a postmodern philosophy. In fact, Lot 49 s particular location historically renders it unable (or only retrospectively able) to connect with many other seminal postmodernist works. Lot 49 differs primarily in its relatively minimal concern with technolog ical diegesis; the work focuses on the possibility of worlds and altere d states rather than ways in which they can be created and manipulated. Lot 49 embodies a particular way in which mediation can cause ontological instability, but it lacks focus on technology and the ways in which worlds can be manipulated. In order to address that which Lot 49 does not cover, one must look forward to another key postmodernist work, Don DeLillos White Noise White Noise embodies a number of postmodern concerns, not all of wh ich are necessarily tied to technological advancements but many which are mo re easily understood through them. The foremost technological presence throughout White Noise is the television; its existence dominates large swaths of the book w ith whole scenes dedicated to the Gladney familys use of it and its influence permeates interactions and dialogues even while it is absent. Its function throughout the novel vari es, but as an object, almost its own character, it persists with both intensity and subtlety, constantly a dding to scenes as a 22

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voice from another room, as a jingle in Jack Gladneys consciousness, or as a name brand muttered in a childs sleep. In many ways, television in White Noise takes on the whole of postmodern technological meaning, wrapping the breadth of changes in media ontology which occurred between Pynchons era and De Lillos into one conve nient (and literal) box. Though television held a particular cultural position in the 1960s, color broadcasting had only recently come about a nd a country increasingly fascinated with television was limited to watching almost excl usively what appeared on the three major networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC (Stephens). The television of Jack Gladneys era represents technologys ability to create a new world, but even more, to present multiple immersive worlds side by side, hour by hour. Though not as ontologically complex as it would eventually become, television now ga ve American cultural consciousness a fuller understanding of medias abil ity to reflect, construct, and even redefine reality. The increasing commercial presence in American life meant that these new worlds were now juxtaposed with advertis ements, perhaps even filled with them, and audiences were flooded with types of informa tion never before imagined: toothpastes, car models, improved soft drink recipes, and entire new vocabularies grounded purely in the merits and features of products they never kn ew they wanted. In short, the ubiquitous television of White Noise was revolutionizing the ways Americans thought about both their own lives and the world around them The television not only provided a new context of commoditization, but that presentation was in turn w ithin a larger revolution of media ontology. In the 1991 New Essays on White Noise theorist Michael Valdez Moses articulates how this cultural re volution manifests in the novel: 23

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White Noise is DeLillos exploration of an America in which technology has not merely become a pervasive and mortal threat to each of its citizens, but also, and more importa ntly, a deeply ingrained mode of existing and way of thinking that is the characteristic feature of the republic The technological understanding of the world, what Heidegger calls the essence of technology, is so deeply ingrained in the minds of DeLillos characters that it comes to seem unremarkable, merely the necessary expression of the way things are. (Moses 63, 67) For the world of White Noise the lines between fiction, truth, entertainment, and information were blurring in a manner impossi ble before these several different elements aligned to allow this pastiche of ideas to exist. In Lot 49 Oedipa searches for the truth of he r situation in the same manner as a detective, attempting to piece together the signs which seem like they ought to refer back to some definite meaning. In this way, Oedipa s relationship to truth can be thought of in revelatory terms; she seeks to expose or reveal a state of existence. However, no analogue to Oedipas type of character exists in White Noise. Jack Gladney, the first-person narrator of White Noise, mimics her in prominence but s eems complacent in his world; he is neither on a quest nor ques tioning his reality. In fact, he vehemently defends sensory perception as a metric of truth, evidenced by his half -mocking argument with his teenaged son, Heinrich. Jack asks Is it ra ining, or isnt it? Heinrich continually deflects the questions, invoking all manner of linguistic and epistemological uncertainties to contend that he cannot truthfully answer Their conversation continues: I wouldnt 24

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want to have to say. What if someone held a gun to your head? Either its raining or it isnt, I said. Exactly. Thats my whol e point. Youd be guessing. Six of one, half dozen of the other. But you see its raining. (DeLillo 23-4 ). Here, Jack insists on a philosophy which privileges simple and direct observation to reach truth. He dismisses Heinrichs attempts to complicate the parame ters of the question by repeating it over and over again, without elaboration. Unlike Oedipa Jack does not believe that truth is something elusive that must be sought and revealed. What, then, is truth in White Noise ? In keeping with the relationships established in the earlier analysis of Lot 49 it may be useful also simultaneously to ask What is reality in White Noise, and What does it mean to exist in White Noise ? Framing the original question with these auxiliary inqui ries uncovers further connotations and opens possibilities for meaning. In White Noise reality, and by extens ion truth, is in fact constructed rather than reveal ed. None of the characters ou twardly display any conviction that truth and reality are eluding them, but for th e most part each firmly believe that he or she understands the world around him or hers elf. Truth for them is constructed in multiple ways, but one of the foremost sources for this reality is the television. The television in White Noise acts as a mediator between the real and unreal, constructing a relationship in which what is seen on TV is not realextravagant, far away, and distinctly separate from the viewerwhile the lives of the audience, here the Gladney family, are realtruthful, ever yday, and immediate. The manner in which White Noise treats catastrophe and disaster is indicativ e of this split; in multiple scenarios the media is the arbitrating force that defines real ity for the characters. In this way, it is in 25

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fact the m edium through which they access realitytruth is mediated by force of construction. This relationship is established early in the novel, right after Denise finds an empty Dylar bottle and info rms Jack that Babette is taking the medication. The characters discussion is interrupted by He inrich as he comes running down the hall, burst into the room. Come on, hurry up, plane crash footage- (DeLillo 64). The scene continues as the family piles into th e living room. Jack narrates that, That night, a Friday, we gathered in front of the set, as was the custom and the rule, with take-out Chinese. There were floods, earthquakes, mud slides, erupting volcanoes. Wed never before been so attentive to our duty, our Friday assembly. Heinrich was not sullen, I was not bored Steffie, brought close to tears by a sitcom husband arguing with his wife, appeared totally absorbed in th ese documentary clips of calamity and death We were otherwise silent, wa tching houses slide into the ocean, whole villages crackle and ignite in a mass of advancing lava. Every disaster made us wish for more, something bigger, grander, more sweeping. (DeLillo 64) Here the family engages in their ritu alized television wa tching, but there are several key indications that watc hing this disaster footage is something distinct from the real of their everyday lives. Jack notes that on this night, unlike others, the family is unusually fascinated by the televisions disp lay; they are mesmerized by these images 26

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and rem ain silent, as if viewing something th ey have never seen before. Further, this silence stands in opposition to several othe r constructions of truth and reality found throughout the novel. For the Gladney family, the everyday is filled with communication. Every car ride, kitchen conversation, and fam ily dinner is filled w ith chatter and idle discussions of random trivia. To them, real life is permeated by the white noise of information; it is always present and rarely quiets down. This unnervin g shift to absolute silence is then indicative of the unreal, of a witnessing of things th at are distinctly not their own (and theref ore real) lives. Such a scene, though, is only one part of the novels countless instances that work to build this television-media ted binary. The Gladneys them selves uphold this division by insisting in argument that it exists; Jack main tains that the images he sees on TV are not and cannot be part of his reality. He is most emphatic about this bi nary when discussing how concerned he and Babette need be during the airborne toxic event. A key plot turn occurs when there is a disaster in whic h a thick, heavy cloud of toxic gas (with an uncertain chemical makeup) is released by a train accident. In the ensuing emergency, exposed people gain symptoms only as the radio and television announce them and Jack is forced to stand in close proximity to it as he fills the family car with gas during their evacuation. Babette suggests near the beginning of the event that perhaps they need an emergency plan; although they both know no things going to happen, we ought to think about it anyway, just in case- (DeLillo 114). Jack ha stily replies in a way that highlights his world viewhow he understands reality: 27

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These things happen to poor people w ho live in exposed areas. Society is set up in such a way that its the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters. People in low-lying areas get the floods, people in shanties ge t the hurricanes and tornados. Im a college professor. Did you ever see a college professor rowing a boat down his own street in one of thos e TV floods? We live in a neat and pleasant town near a college with a quaint name. These things dont happen in places like Blacksmith. (DeLillo 114) It is important to note here the emphasis of Jacks argument; he is unconcerned about the disaster not solely based on optim ism or ignorance, but because of a deepseated belief in the way reality works. He is convinced of the binary which the television has constructed: that the things he sees on TV (such as floods hurricanes, and other catastrophes) cannot happen to him because he ex ists in a different world than they do. He continues his argument based on the pleas antness of his hometown, insisting that undesirable events dont happen in small quiet locales. Here, Jack invokes the image or idea of the quaint suburb, suggest ing that the Gladney family lives in an idealized and invulnerable world. To construct his idea of the world, he relies in turn on a construction: that of the peaceful and undisturbed town, free of upset and calamity. The final instance which demonstrates the extent to which the Gladney family possesses a binary construction of their worl d arrives at the very end of Waves and Radiation, when Murray visits the house to spend time with Jack and the kids while 28

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Babette teaches her posture class. A s Jack gives Murray his coffe e, the group at once notices that Babette herself is on th e television screen. Jack narrates: The face on the screen was Babettes. Ou t of our mouths came a silence as wary and deep as an animal growl. Confusion, fear, astonishment spilled from our faces. What did it mean? What was she doing there, in black and white, framed in formal borders? Was she dead, missing, disembodied? Was this her spirit, her secret self, some two-dimensional facsimile released by the power of technology, se t free to glide th rough wavebands, through energy levels, pausing to say good-bye to us from the fluorescent screen? A strangeness gripped me, a sense of psychic disorientation. her appearance on the screen made me thi nk of her as some distant figure from the past, some ex-wife and absentee mother, a walker in the mists of the dead. If she was not d ead, was I? I felt a cert ain disquiet. I tried to tell myself it was only televisi onwhatever that was, however it workedand not some journey out of life or death, not some mysterious separation (DeLillo 104-5) The familys reaction to the sight of Babette on the television screen works much in the same way as their experience with the disaster footage from earlier in the novel, but is furthered both by Jacks more in-depth narration of his thoughts as well as by the subject now being a piece of their own world. Th ey engage in the same silent stare, an eerie and hypnotic gaze that jars harshly with the trivial banter Jack had just engaged in moments ago with both Heinrich and Denise. Now, however, Jack is unsettled by the 29

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ontological shift that his wife has undergone. Unable to fathom a connection between the two realities the TV has constructed, he imagin es that she is dead or perhaps a spirit, or even that he is dead, but certainly that she is no longer a part of his reality. Television, however, is not the only ma nner by which charac ters experience mediation in White Noise Though multiple sections of the novel are dedicated to it, television works primarily to construct only one of several ways in which the characters of White Noise define their reality, one which sets the real of everyday opposite the unreal of the worlds the television projects. In a way, this binary is self-contingent; the Gladneys lives are real because they are on this side of the television mediation, while what they watch on TV is unreal because it is not not on television. Another construction of the real occurring in White Noise is the construction of the self. Similar to the real which is cons tructed by the television, the characters set their sense of self in opposition to what they consider to be representations of that self. These representations take several forms, su ch as medical signifi ers and even physical biology itself. Jack, for example, finds himself represented both as numbers on a computer screen immediately following exposur e to a chemical spill event and as reams of data on his doctors printout after a series of tests. Further, the notion of physical being and its consequences are prevalent throughout the novel as the charac ters struggle with their fear of death, the aging of the familys youngest child, and the notion of desire and fear. Each of these is a signifier that expresses something about being, but is not be ing itself. To use a familiar paradigm, these characters are stuck in a secondary relationship to the r eal and truth, having to pass through various avenues of mediation to glimpse it. Despite having access to this 30

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supposed self only through this m ediated cons truction, they maintain a strong belief that they fundamentally understand th emselves, that they possess a core self. However, as the novel reveals, this understandi ng is conflicted, subject to doubt as the characters find themselves in situations that either question their conception of a real self or demonstrate their inability to access it. The topic of the self ar ises most prominently ea rly in the novel, during a conversation between Jack and Heinrich about Heinrichs correspondence chess game with a prison inmate. Jack asks Heinrich whether he wants to go visit his biological mother the next summer, and Heinrich launches into a speculation on the nature of his mind as it relates to his sense of desire, asking Jack in turn Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something lik e that? Isnt it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back a nd forth, electric al energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impuls e in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I dont want to go to Montana. How do I know I really want to go and isnt just some neurons firing or something? I can t control what happens in my brain, so how can I be sure what I want to do ten seconds from now, much less Montana next summer? Its all this activity in the brain and you dont know whats you as a person and whats some neuron that just happens to fire or just happens to misfire. (DeLillo 46) 31

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Whereas Heinrich was earlier engaging in rhetorical gam es in order to undermine Jacks worldview, he here posits his own beli ef in the existence of a deep and stable identity. He dismisses the biological represen tation, his neurons firing, in favor of some immaterial (and more real or truthful) source to which his physical self stands in opposition. Heinrichs longing to find the desire s of a core, true self, separate from biological processes, is cons istent with a Cart esian conception of identity, I think, therefore I am. Theorist Glenn Ward descri bes this as a Modernist assumption that there is a real, innate self under the public roles you play, but the struggle is in finding it and being true to it (Ward 119). However, in White Noise the instability of this presumed core-self becomes much clearer through its multiple presentations, each one demonstrating the futility of attempting to bypass representation to access the self more directly. Perhaps the most prominent de piction of the self as representation rather than preexisting essence arrives during Jacks encounter with the SIM UVAC agent during the airborne toxic event. The agent measures Ja cks levels of exposure to the cloud and generates a wealth of symbols that he claims represent Jacks data, telling Jack that Youre generating big numbers. Its your whole data profile. I tapped into your history. Im getting bracketed numbers with pulsing stars (DeLillo 140). The agent discusses the implications of these signifiers wi th Jack, explaining to him that in the next thirty years, Jack may or ma y not experience health complications that may or may not be related to this chemical exposure. In a postmodern semiotic twist, Jack has been shown a set of alarming signifiers with no final signified; the data expressed as a result of his 32

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exposure does not tell him its definite impact on his body or lifespan. Its meaning is variable and unstable. The agent goes on to explain the specifics of his wording that Jack has a situation, telling him that I didnt say it. The computer did. The w hole system says it. Its what we call a massive data-base tally. Gladney, J.A.K. I punch in the name, the substance, the exposure time and then I tap into your computer history. Your genetics, your personals, your medicals, your psychologicals, your police-and-hospitals. It comes back pulsing stars. This doesnt mean anything is going to happen to you as such, at least not today or tomorrow. It just means you are the sum total of your data. No man escapes that. (DeLillo 141) The agents phrasing here implies a distinct understanding of the self as composite; rather than being core and immutable, identity is built from an amalgam of data and information. Jack in this scene is not himself as he understands it, but instead a combination of his genetic, psychological, and medical profiles visible on a computer screen that is external to his own body. Jacks incredulit y throughout this dialogue is quite telling; he wants simple, definite answ ers as to what these medical signifiers mean for the singular entity Jack, despite the agents insistence that the self is a variable construction, to which these signifiers have merely added. Though these are not the only instances in the novel that call the real self into question, they are the most precise in their delineation of the binary in which these 33

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charac ters believe. In their totality, the scenes contribute to a simp le and general thesis concerning the relationship of thes e characters to thei r real selves: If this supposed self does in fact exist (a hypothetical for which the events of the novel offer no support other than a nostalgic longing for that self) there is absolutely no way to know it directly. Therefore, the binary un derstanding of self in White Noise is either falsely constructed (as with the televisions creation of real and unreal) or, the charac ters are stuck in a mediated relationship to truth, but in this case a truth of internal self rather than external reality as seen in Lot 49 This is evidenced by the fact that throughout the entire novel, the characters can only conceive of a truthful and immediate self through the lens of representation. These characters only have access to the windows or signifiers, such as bracketed numbers, and not the thing th at those signifiers claim to represent This relationship, wherein the representa tions both conflate with and obscure the reality from which they supposedly arise, is not an unfamiliar one in the world of White Noise. The novel is exceedingly concerned with simulation and the problematic nature of relationships that claim to be mimetic. Ea rly in the novel, Murray plainly states the tendency of representation to obfuscate its or iginating object, preventing access to the real by jamming itself into a mediatory posi tion. As Jack and Murray observe the dozens of tourists photographing and purchasing postcards of The Most Photographed Barn in America, Murray calmly posits that No one sees the barn, and begi ns to describe the experience slowly, explaining that, Once youve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn. Were not here to capture an image, were here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. What was the barn like 34

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before it was photographed? W hat did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it simila r to other barns? We cant answer those questions because weve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We cant get outside of the aura. (DeLillo 13) Here Murray articulates the particular way in which White Noise s world engages in the same mediation found throughout all th ree of the novels addressed in this work. Indeed the real barn is inaccessible to the patrons, but unlike the world of Lot 49 in which the signifiers were simply insuffi cient to convey the imagined reality behind them, in this instance the aura of the barn works actively to supplan t the experience of the original. This aura is, if not wholly created, greatly supporte d by the use of technology to mass-produce images of the barn. This notion of aura and mass-production hear kens directly to th e ideas originated by Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay The Wo rk of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Benjamin finds a significant loss in the new ability of art to be removed from its original situation and ritual signi ficance, and instead disseminated through recordings or photogra phs; he feels that an aura is lost by ar t losing connection to tradition (Norton 1169). This should rightfully be compared to a more thoroughly postmodern celebration of multiplicity a nd simulation, the eschewing of traditional reverence in favor of inserting masterpi ece art-objects into happy meals and onto billboards. The barn of White Noise offers an interesting para dox to this theory, being at once an object still in its origin al site that attracts visitors to stand in awe, creating an aura, but also relying on reproduction to maintain and advertise it. One can imagine 35

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stacks of hundreds of postcards from all angles and years, m atched only by the neverending flicker of flash photography. This ab ility to effortlessly and instantaneously reaffirm and propagate the idea of the barn is essential in creati ng an impassable barrier between the subject a nd the real barn. Chapter 3: Stacking Ontologies Given the extent to which both The Crying of Lot 49 and White Noise have explored the mediation of reality, one might wonder what territory remains for postmodern fiction to explore. It would seem there are only a limited number of ways to demonstrate the inaccessibility of truth and m eaning; shouldnt this genre be out of steam and ideas by the twenty-first century? In one respect, the innovative life that House of Leaves breathes into literary Postmodernism is its ability to add another dimension to the dynamics already established as typical of the genre. In the two works previously discussed, ont ological uncertainty was limited to characters abili ties to know their own singular world: Oedipa acted like a detective or like a paranoid conspiracy theori st, projecting a world where all signifiers point to a single deep struct ure of meaning, while the Gla dneys lived in a world where TV, photographs, and computer printouts medi ated their ability to know that world directly. All of their attention was focused on their individual reality and how it could be known, which might be imagined as a horizon tal plane in space, one level in the archetypal frame narrative. Howeve r, the postmodern style that House of Leaves embodies adds a vertical component, suggesting other ontologies, additional horizontal planes of existence or worlding above and be low any given world of a text. This is a 36

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f amiliar technique; even Shakespeare utilized the play-within-a-play as a device, thereby suggesting multiple levels of real ity. However, the postmodern twist in House of Leaves comes from the extent to which these worlds are projected and the way in which it stems from earlier ontological quandaries. Brain McHale suggests that this structure can be visualized as a set of Chinese boxes or Russian babushka dolls, explaining: For example, take a film, which projec ts a fictional world; within that world, place actors and a film crew who make a film which in turn projects its own fictional world; then within that world place another film crew, who make another film, and so on. Hofstadters dialogue projects a primary world, or diegesis to which Achilles and the Tortoise belong. Within that world they read a story which projects a hypodiegetic world, one level down from th eir own. The characters of that world, in turn, enter the hypo-hypodiegetic world of the Escher print; and so on, an additional hypo being prefixed for each level as we descend deeper into what Hofstadter calls the sta ck of narrative levels. (McHale 113) Similarly to ontologys relationship to epistemology, this investigation of new worlds is the logical extension implied by the uncertainty of a single world. Although other postmodernist works have engaged in this type of ex perimentation, the degree to which House of Leaves thrusts into and interm ingles with readers reality is unparalleled, mixing fictitious and factual information side-by-side. 37

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The novel accomplishes this end thr ough a multitude of techniques, each with a certain air of authen ticity and truth that compli cate the ontological boundaries presented. House of Leaves is presented to the reader as multiply mediated, recounting the story of a film made by Will Navidson of his familys experiences in renovating and living in a house located in the Virginia c ountryside. The house and the film about the house seem to participate in a long tradition of haunted hous es because the house changes in impossible ways, adding rooms and developi ng corridors that lead into spaces that cannot exist. This story, however, is presented as a r ecord made by a mysterious and missing man known as Zampan (whose comments occur throughout as footno tes in times roman font), and that document is further mediated by the man who sent it to the publisher, Johnny Truant. Truants trickster voice is also included in fo otnotes, this time in courier font. The film itself is missing, although Zamp ans text documents not only the various versions and shorts from the film, but a plethora of academic and artistic commentaries on themsome by critics who will be known to many readers such as Camille Paglia, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Harold Bloom, and Andrew Ross. As the text progresses, its graphic elements become more pronounced, with words crossed out, the word house (in multiple languages) printed always in blue, entire pages with a single word or with multiple columns of text in different fonts r unning in different directions, and even film stills. Intertwined into the novel its elf, an ever-present voice pervades in the background of both Johnny Truants text as well as Zampan's. Under the guise of The Editors, this voice corrects, translates, and edits the mu ltitude of inaccuracies, typographical errors, 38

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foreign text, and unclear references that collect throughout the text. T he Editors first appear in a foreword, preceding the opening chap ter but within the confines of the table of contents and title and copyrig ht pages. Their note reads: The first edition of House of Leaves was privately distributed and did not contain Chapter 21, Appendix II, Appendi x III, or the index. Every effort has been made to provide appropriate translations and accurately credit all sources. If we have failed in this endeavor, we apologize in advance and will gladly correct in subsequent printings all errors or omissions brought to our attention. ( Leaves vii) In this way, what is a piece of the text se ems to in fact be out side of itself; The Editors suggest that they inhabit the same ont ological plane as the reader and thus one in which House of Leaves is a printed, bound book. At the same time, however, The Editors possess a claim to inhabit the same ontological plane as Johnny Trua nt, establishing early in the novel that We also wish to note here that we have never actually met Mr. Truant. All matters regarding the publication were addressed in letters or in rare instances over the phone. The Editors ( Leaves 4). What this creates then is an instability in the readers effort to draw a line that clearly di vides characters in the world of the reader from characters in the worl d of the novel. In this way, the text actually includes the readers ontological level into the novels layers of fictional worlds. The reader is forced to question the relationship of characters in the text to herself, and therefore her relationship to the projected worlds of the text. The reader is in effect made a part of the fiction by becoming just another level of the frame. Additionally, a late chapter in the 39

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novel finds one of the m ain ch aracters conducting in terviews with a host of intellectual figures, including Jacques Derri da, Stephen King, Harold Bl oom, Hunter S. Thompson, and Stanley Kubrick. Each responds to the inquiries in a reasonable and appropriate manner, offering interpretations and advice relevant to his or her field. This inclusion of real-life personalities in a work of fiction is not an unfamiliar postmodern technique, and traditionally might not cause much concern for the ontologically-minded reader; it is easy to assume these are fictionalized encounters. The twist arrives, surprisingly, well before these transcriptions in th e novels introduction by Johnny Truant. He describes his attempts to determine the authenticity of the text in which these interviews take place, The Navidson Record but finds that most of whats said by famous people has been made up. I tried contacting all of them. Those th at took the time to respond told me they had never heard of Will Navidson let alone Zampan ( Leaves xx). By addressing their inclusion up front and dismissing the quotes as falsified, Johnny actually emphasizes the possibility of his own existen ce, suggesting that he must i nhabit the same world as the reader because he can unveil fictionalizatio ns. Johnny engages in th e same analytical behavior expected of readers of postmodern texts and directly addresses the reader concerning his findings. In this way, the readers world is further intermingled with the fictionalized world of the novel. House of Leaves also offers an embodiment of many other techniques that Brian McHale sees as characteristic of the ont ologically unstable nove l. In Chapter 7 of Postmodernist Fiction Worlds Under Erasure, McHale discusses the possibility that, much in the same way that postmodern authors can often un-narrat e a narrated event, projected existentslocales, objects, characters, and so oncan have their existence 40

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revoked (McHale 103). Helpfu l to associate this with House of L eaves is McHales section titled, Something exists The struck words connot e a simultaneous being and not-being, evocative of the instability of th e houses chambers. McHale discusses the ability of postmodern texts not only to do and undo in the ca se of characters performing actions but to be and un-be when describing the construction of the world itself. House of Leaves is a particularly appropriate embodiment of this concept; the house is in a constant state of re-creating itself, offering empty space or perhaps a wall where an instant ago was a room or hallway. No sooner can one state that something exists in this novel than it does not, or at the very least has altered size and shape so radically that it is a different thing altogether. The novels textual medium fac ilitates this instabilit y; the possibility of simultaneous or instantaneous transformation and reconfiguration is aided by the texts utilization of elements reminiscent of conc rete poetry or play with font and layout. In fact, House of Leaves utilizes its textual medium in a radically postmodern manner that highlights both the material nature of printed text and also the impossible referential nature of fiction itself. Th rough a synthesis of the idea of ontological hierarchies and the novels playfulness of me dium, the novel is able to actually extend influence upward, out of itself and into the worl d of the reader. This is an inversion of the typical dynamic in which worlds have ontolog ical superiority downward into sub-worlds but cannot extend that influen ce upward out of their own. This becomes most evident in the novels experimentation with elements re miniscent of concrete poetry, spanning reams of pages in which the textual layout is representative of the action or state it describes. Consider for example the disorien ting and labyrinthine layout of Chapter IX, during which an exploration team is becoming increasingly lost and confused (Figure 1). 41

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Here the text becomes arranged in multiple competing spaces, capable of being read sideways and upside-down as well as tradit ionally. More importantly, the alignment is such that no clear order exists; one can conti nue the narrative from the previous page or begin any number of new footnot es and side-paths. In part, th e effect is evocative of the multiple options and paths available to th e explorers in the house. Ontologically, however, the layout forces the reader physically to reorient either herself or the novel in order to read the text. In a strange turn, th e text thus exerts power over actors in an ontological world above itself, further entrench ing the reader as part of an ontological hierarchy and foregrounding the physical me dia itself as part of the story. (Figure 1): Further exploring the relationship between liter ature and visual media established in White Noise, House of Leaves yet again amps up the presence. House is a 42

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m edia-laden work, a text obsessed with media s supposed ability to reflect and construct reality. Each ontological layer of the text adopts a visual medium as its central concern, creating a multi-frame narrative. Outermost is Johnny Truant, a midtwenties tattoo artist whose narrative voice is assumed to be occurring in same world that the reader inhabits. Truant comments on and edits a manuscript he recovers that is written by a blind man, Zampan. This manuscript comprises the next lowest ontological layer; it is a written text within Truant and Zampans world. The manuscript in turn describes and analyzes a documentary, The Navidson Record alleged to have gained worldwide critical and academic notoriety. Zampan includes psychoanal ytic, structuralist, post-structuralist, and formal criticism of the people, events, and cinematics of the film. The documentary itself is a feature-length production detailin g the lives of Will Navidson, his long-term partner Karen, their two child ren, and their new house which suddenly and inexplicably changes its interior dimensi ons. Further, Navidson himself is a Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist, capable of te lling emotional and captivating stories in a single frame. The question remains, then, of how these descriptions play out in the text itself. Whereas Lot 49 concerned itself with mediation of truth through clues that functioned as signifiers stripped of their signifieds, and White Noise adopted a mediation of self through technology, House of Leaves might best be said to posit a mediation of empiricism. The central plot of the novel involves a house wh ich has no stable floor plan, size, or discernable shape, and the characters continually attempt to define or delimit it. This search for descriptive knowledge combines with the books obsession with recording media to define the central focus: House is overwhelmingly concerned with 43

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hum anitys attempts to understand the worl d through objective modes of recording and measurement. The first instance of this occurs in th e Navidsons documentary when, after a new room simply appears in an upstairs closet, Will Navidson attempts with a variety of highcaliber measuring equipment to record the dimensions of his house. Using everything from a Stanley Power Lock to a Cowl ey level mirror transit, a Stanley Beacon level and a laser distance meter, a Leica, Will, his brother Tom, and their friend Billy Reston all attempt to mitigate what seems to be a 5/16 discrepancy between the house as measured from its exterior and as from its interior ( Leaves 31-8). Though they take into account the walls, the slope of the floor, and every other con ceivable factor, they cannot seem to find an explanation for this logi cal impossibility. Though Navidsons wife and Billy initially react with de rision to Wills obsession with what seems such a miniscule and easily ignored phenomenon, the principle is valid; Will is unashamed in his search for an answer to a question that defies the way he understands truth. Measurement is supposed to be an objective and repeatable method of describing reality; to undermine that is not just unsettling, but impossible. How can one know their world if its physical expression is mutable or inconsistent? The anxiety of failed measurement con tinues as the house grows new and more unstable additions, none of which contain windo ws or any source of light, creating vast rooms of incalculable size and darkness fo r Navidson and a hired team of expert mountain climbers to explore. Impossibl y, none of these additions changes the appearance or dimensions of the house as view ed from the outside. A brief excerpt from Zampans text reflecting on all of their missi ons reminds the reader of the insufficiency 44

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of photographic im age, explaining that Un til Exploration #5 there was never a true visual meditation on the house itself, its terrifying proportion s and the palpable darkness inhabiting it. In [Navidsons] opinion, very few of the imageseven those he was personally responsible forretained any of t hose fantastic dimensions intrinsic to that place ( Leaves 418). Even the lead explorer, Ho lloway Roberts, framed by the documentary as well as the accompanying analysis as threatened by Navidsons fame and legacy even while Navidson feels usurped by Holloways exploration, discusses the immensity in terms of Navidsons realm. Zampan provides an analysis, citing that Holloway [adds] only that the e xperience is beyond the power of any Hi-8 or 35mm camera: Its impossi ble to photograph what we saw.97 Even after seeing Navidsons accomplishe d shots, it is hard to disagree with Holloway. The darkness recreated in a lab or television set does not begin to tell the true story. Whether chemical clots determining black or video grey approximating absence, the images still remain two dimensional ( Leaves 86-7) The text goes on to describe their attempts to illuminate chambers and spiral stairways with mile-length dimensions in hopes of capturing telling photographs. The ultimate failure of film is clear. The house represents the ultimate defiance of the tools that have become definitive of the ability to capture and depict truth. Its immensity of size, darkness, and emptine ss render these technologies ob solete and insufficient; the sheer overwhelming blackness cannot be captured on camera. 45

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As the novel continues, it becom es evident that this in sufficiency flies in the face of some deep-seated desire to know and understand the world. The very fact that Navidson and these men risk their lives and sanity multiple times in hopes of finding some answer to the labyrinth buried with in seems telling enough, but especially in the face of its rebuffs of objectivity this become s apparent. Holloway in particular becomes obsessed with hunting not solely measuremen ts, but hints of consciousness within the house. There is a deep growl that permeates almost male volently when the labyrinth changes its shape, and claw marks tear dow n and disintegrate neon markers the team places on the walls. Whereas th e group had set out with prof essional calm and measure in their exploration, Holloway s oon leads the group frantically in search of the growls source, forgoing their previous meticulousness in keeping them oriented and their food rationed. When his companions, Jed and Wax, protest on the grounds that they arent getting any closer and are r unning out of supplies, he snaps into a rage and his monomania becomes evident as he first res orts to goading, calling them anything from fucking pussies and cowards to jack-holes, and soon begins screaming I will not abort this missionjabbing an a ngry finger at [Wax]. The implication in abort is the failure to attain a goalthe prey not killed, th e peak not climbed. As if there could have been a final objective in that place ( Leaves 124). The militaristic tone of his language reveals his now aggressive attitude toward their trek. The objective Holloway has taken on for the exploration, finding the source of the mysterious growl, is representative of his desire to find any logic or reason to the never-ending emp tiness the house k eeps creating. Holloway thought he understood his world; that it was one in which physics held true and interiors were bound by exte riors. The houses existence directly undermines that 46

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understanding, and his obsession with the only potential answer to it is therefore an obsession w ith the fundamentals of existence. As illustrative as the dynamic between im age and reality is of the houses ability to defy understanding, it become s almost insignificant given th e implications of the house itself. As Navidsons documentary progresses, various parties offe r their scientific analyses of the house, collecting as much empirical data as ca n be had in such a place and compiling it in an attempt at explanation. A list of incontrovertib le facts about the house yields this tabled list, whic h uses the relevant chapters of House of Leaves as citations: 9.0 Size and depth vary enormously I, IV-VII, IX-XIII 9.1 The entire place can instantly and without I, IV-VII, IX-XIII apparent difficulty change its geometry 9.2 Some have suggested the dull roar or growl VII is caused by these metamorphoses (See 5.1) 9.3 No end has been found there V-XIII ( Leaves 371) This ordered, scientific presentation of information works to emphasize the variable formatting of text in the novel, able to be configured bot h for disorientation as well as efficient conveyance. This effici ency of organization is at once undercut, however, as the information it contains tell s of a place that defies that order. The scientific discourse continues as more and more the house becomes framed in terms of empirical data alluding to its immensity of di mensions. Just before the appearance of the 47

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first aberrant hallway leading to the true depths of the house, House of Leaves (or, m ore specifically, Zampans analysis) contains an entire chapter dedicated to the physics of sound and its ability to convey information a bout, indeed describe, reality. The chapter launches into a highly technical meditation on the capabilities of s ound, explaining in one instance that Bats, for example, create frequency modulated [FM] images by producing constant-frequency signals [0.5 to 100+ ms] and FM signals [0.5 to 10 ms] in their larynx. The respondent echoes are then translated into nerve discharges in their auditory cortex, enabling the bat not only to determine an insects velocity a nd direction (through synaptic interpretation of Doppler shifts) but pinpoint its lo cation to within a fraction of a millimeter. (Leaves 47) This is all complemented with a final analysis of the formula describing the resonance frequencies [ f ] in a room with a length of L width of W and height of H where the velocity of sound equals c (see Figure 2). (Figure 2): This discourse ultimately serves to suggest an aesthetic of empiricism, as if by detailing the properties and nuances of a way of understanding the world, that understanding by necessity must be possible. It also serves as an orienting principle, 48

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providing the reader with the requ isite information to make sense of later information that provides further understanding of how immense the spaces in the labyrinth are. In some ways this meticulous scientific vocabulary is an extension of the novels tendency to list in detail the specifications of equipment and engage in precise, pragmatically informative language. These techniques produce an effect th at lends a reality to the novel, similar to the specificity and detail typical of realist fiction, and invokes the Modern ist ideal that the world is ultimately knowable. Despite this accumulation of information and theory concerning the properties of the house, it is all undercut by a postmodern tu rn which further proves the impossibility of the house in yet another way. After the ev ents involving the explorers and Holloways madness, Navidson attempts to use what information he and the party have collected to analyze the house from an exterior perspectiv e. He takes a collection of physical samples that have been chipped from the walls at va rious locations to petrologist Mel OGeery, up at the Princeton geology department, (Leaves 371) and asks to have the samples, labeled relative to the depth of the house at which they were collected, analyzed. After a lengthy analysis (most of wh ich, in an invocation of Tristram Shandy occurs on pages lost or ruined by Johnny Truant) involving radiometric dating of the carbon-14, potassium-argon, and rubidium-strontium variet ies, the doctor finally, quite unexcitedly, informs Navidson that the only interesting quali ties of these sample s is their chronology. They are relatively normal igneous, sediment ary, and metamorphic samples, but what OGeery finds worth noting is that the samples ...all fall into a very consistent scheme. Sample A is pretty young, a few thousand years old, while K is a few hundred thousand. Q over here is in 49

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the m illions and these referring to MMMM through XXXX well, in the billions. Those last bits there are clearly meteoric. XXXX your last sample, is by far the oldest and most interesting. A composite of younger material, 4.2 billion years old, combin ed with deuterium rich particles suggesting that possibly, now I want to stress possibly here, but this deuterium could indicate matter older than even our solar system. Interstellar perhaps ( Leaves 371-8) These results show that Navidsons house is, in more ways than one, otherworldly. Its impossible composition lead s those who provide later commentary on the documentary to speculate whether it exis ts in some alternate dimension or is a construct by extraterrestrial beings. In any case, the truth of the houses existe nce is ultimately not of importance. The key here is that the house has, in multiple different ways for multiple different people, upset the way they understand th e world and claim to know it. Important still is the way in which it defies and results from attempts to understand it; the house does not maliciously invade but simply defies the tr aditional empirical model of how reality is mediated. It has, returning to McHales theses that the f oundation of postmodern fiction rests on questions of ontology, caused the books characters, narrators, and even readers to question exactly in what worl d this phenomenon can take place The house renders mediation through empi rical understanding insufficient, but this is not the full exte nt of its implications. Perhaps th e most fundamental crisis arises from the houses existence in itself. At the most basic and inherent level, Navidsons 50

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house actually rejects physical expression as a m edium of exis tence. In other words, it refuses to be bound by the same phys ical laws that actually allo w existence to take place. This principle is first violated, even if onl y slightly, when Navidson first realizes that 5/16 discrepancy between his interior and exterior measurements. As Navidson and his brother Tom attempt to solve the conundrum, Zampan comments: One incontrovertible fact stands in their way: the exterior measurement must equal the internal measurement. Physics depends on a universe infinitely centered on an equal sig n. As science writer and sometime theologian David Conte wrote: God for all intents and purposes is an equal sign, and at least up until now, something humanity has always been able to believe in is that the universe adds up. ( Leaves 32) It is interesting that only a few sentences are given to this idea of equation when such large portions of the novel are dedicated to its violation. It is quite telling, however, that House of Leaves s paratext hints at a much more intimate connection between the events presented in the novel and this concep t; the front and back inside covers both hold a vertical equal sign encircle d by a thick bright line, sugg esting that this question of equality surrounds or is embodied by th is novel. Though popping up early in such a minute way, indeed the entirety of the novel is an exercise in defiance of this reality principle. Consider for example the moment when Will Navidson, after rescuing Jed and Wax from the house, finds himself trapped at th e bottom of an expanding spiral staircase. After waiting for over an hour for any change in the stairways size, he hears a coin clatter to the floor, dropped from above by hi s brother Tom. It has been falling for over 51

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50 m inutes, which, after some quick calculation, Navidson realizes describes a space far greater than the earths radi us (or even diameter) ( Leaves 378). Important to remember here is that the house as viewed from the st reet has not changed a bit during all of this expansion and contraction, the myriad labyr inthine changes occurring within. From the exterior this has remained a simple house on Ash Tree Lane, never reflecting the tumult of changes occurring within. Put technically, the mathematic identity principle simply does not hold true for this house. Despite the manifestation of a physical reality depending upon it, A does not equal A in this world. In this way, the very fabric of existence, the medium of physical space by which reality can be expressed, is made insufficient and incapable of expr essing the reality of the house. Conclusion: The Postmodern Narrative Together, these three novels present strikingly unique manifestations of the same complex thread that underwrites postmodern fiction. Across several decades and arising from disparate cultural contexts, each work offers a new conceptualization of the problems inherent in any ficti onal world. This thesis has offe red readings of three novels that highlight in what ways their character s have been unable to access some truth about their own worlds. In each instance, it is becau se the characters have only mediated access to the real that they are left in fear and confusion about it s existence. In this way, this thesis has attempted to describe in what ways these works embody McHales paradigm each novel is a different iteration of how hi s ontological tension can become dominant. Far from a stifling or self-absorbed genre, postmodern fiction can find itself addressing self, reality, fiction, technology, li terature, and theory all at once. In their own ways, they 52

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can be read as fiction about fiction, f rom the inherent self-awareness of parody found in The Crying of Lot 49 to the explicitly metafictional framework of House of Leaves Implicit in this overall analysis lies the unders tanding that these are not the only ways for this tension to manifest, and hopefully I have demonstrated that ontological playfulness is a multivariable dynamic, capable of laying underneath even those works that do not explicitly mention their own ontology. It is from that demonstration that claims concerning the end of literary postmodernism or the postmodern novel reach a complication; ontological tension, especially when concerned with the blurring or mixing of disparate worlds, has in fact become a staple of how many writers now write and many readers now read. De Villo Sloans and Robert Murray Daviss claims came in 1987 and 2001 respectively. Yet, immediately following each, one can find a wealth of literature which directly contradicts their claims. DeLillos 1985 White Noise is followed quickly by both Libra (1988) and Mao II (1991), which are primarily historiograp hic and metafictional. Also published during this era are the graphic novels Sandman (1989-1996) and Maus (1986-1991). The first is an explicit amalgama tion of worlds, presenting a pantheistic universe in which every god of every mythos exists inasmuch as they have followers and William Shakespeare makes deals with immortal beings for his inspiration. The latter reconceptualizes the Holocaust and World War II using anthropomorphic animals while maintaining an awareness of its elf as second-hand memoir. Similarly, the turn of the century saw novels such as David Foster Wallaces Infinite Jest (1996), Roberto Bolaos 2666 (2004), Bret Easton Elliss Lunar Park (2005), Thomas Pynchons Mason & Dixon (1997), Don DeLillos Underworld (1997), 53

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54 and even Seth Grahame-Smiths Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), the last of which found itself on the New York Times bestseller list. Each of these novels has found at least average amounts of criti cal acclaim if not outright ce lebration, and each offers a certain twist to the postmodern literary canon. Central to their exis tences one can find metafictional elements, faux biographi cal information, and historiographic fictionalizations in short, an infinite am ount of ontological playfulness mandating that they be read as postmodern works in a postmodern world. Of course, one would not be so arrogant as to believe that the existence of a few exemplary works defines a literary era. But these novels, havi ng found considerable success, are just thatexamples. Their existe nce speaks to the prevalence of postmodern ways of thinking now found in almost all cu ltural productions, much less fiction alone. Carrying on the torch ignited by seminal auth ors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon, fiction is now more than ever una fraid to acknowledge and transgress its own ontological boundaries as spin-offs, crossove rs, parodies, pastiches, and explicit intertextual reference transf orm from novelty and experiment ation to outright standard. Further, just as the works discussed in this thesis were shaped by their existing mediascapes, postmodern fiction continues to maintain that relationship as e-books, mixed media texts, and even interactive na rratives offer new definitions of literature itself. More than simply a set of conventi ons or radical forms, the era of postmodern fiction is one that continua lly challenges the lim its of storytelling, redefining the ways that readers conceptualiz e the worlds of text.

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