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Final: A New Reading Experience

A New Reading Experience

 

Readers today have grown used to, and are comfortable with, a certain kind of narrative. With each book someone picks up, there are expectations. First there is an expectation of the physicality of the book itself: a rectangular object bound together by glue containing various amounts of pages broken up into any number of chapters. Then there is an expectation of content: that whatever story the book holds is comprised of characters that they hope to connect to, and that the actual story is engrossing enough for the reader to become lost in, longing for more once they re-emerge at its finish.

However, there are books that don’t follow exactly from a typical reading experience. In the past century, authors have been writing novels that challenge the norm, which in turn challenge the reader. Books like Tree of Codes and A Clockwork Orange ask the reader to become much more immersed in the material, to pay more attention than the standard novel requires. These books break the standards of language, story, and even the simple task of reading itself to provide an experience that most other books lack.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes was the first book I’ve ever encountered that puzzled me. Not in storyline or character development, but due to the pages themselves. To come across a book with the pages intentionally cut was confusing and surreal. My first thought was, “How on earth do I read this?” In class we discussed how readers are accustomed to a linear story, which is why is was so jarring to see these pages mutilated. Upon reading it, however, I found a story deeper than most I had read before.

Yes, Tree of Codes is riddled with holes, but it adds literal and figurative depth to the story. The story is about the narrator’s father and his struggle to keep a hold on reality. The cut outs on every page stood out to me as a device to illustrate the father’s descent into senility or madness. Broken up and scattered, as the mind tends to become with age. Beyond that, the words on the pages capture the experience as well:

“During this winter, my father would spend hours in corners as if searching for Mother and emerge covered with dust and cobwebs, his eyes froze for long periods. he plunged deeper beyond our understanding and with flushes on his cheeks did not notice us anymore” (Foer 32-33).

I believe this accurately describes how most readers feel on their first attempt on Tree of Codes. Lost, with our eyes frozen to each page, each word. Then, once we understand the narrative, spend so much time in it that we get lost in a different way. I believe Foer intended for the reader to be lost, as proven by one of his constructed quotes: “I ran rather than walked, anxious to lose my way. All I wanted was to be unsure. I found myself lost” (Foer 80-81). He says a few lines later, “i went groping into the deep completely unknown” (Foer 82).

Understanding the narrative is another experience, as the language is very colloquial and metaphorical. Sometimes, the text doesn’t even make sense the way it is laid out: “Apart from them, mother and I ambled, guiding our shadows over a keyboard of paving stones. we passed over the chemist’s large jar of pain. we passed houses, sinking, windows and all, into their gardens. Overlooked beyond the margin of time an endless day. An enormous last day of life” (Foer 10-11). Just as he wants a first time reader to be lost in the construction of the novel, he purposefully cut words out to create a language that would require readers to explore more deeply than a regular book. It’s radically different from anything I’ve ever read, a new kind of print culture.

A Clockwork Orange is a similar, yet altogether different experience. While the narrative is a linear one, the language is hard to navigate at first, making the story more difficult to understand. The themes in A Clockwork Orange are vastly different from the ones in Tree of Codes (except for a vague similarity in regards to madness) but the experience is similar, because the reader is exploring a new way of reading.

From the very first paragraph, I found myself completely perplexed at words like droogs, rassoodocks, mesto, skorry, veshches and horrorshow. The second paragraph, which is one long sentence, went like this:

“Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need from the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchok some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey-haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till’s guts” (Burgess 4).

After that, I started keeping a running reference list of slang words that Alex and his droogs, meaning friends, liked to use. This slang is a language Burgess invented for his younger characters called Nadsat, which is comprised of “a mix of modified Slavic words, rhyming slang, derived Russian (like baboochka), and words invented by Burgess himself” (Wikipedia). It was meant to set people of Alex’s age group, teenagers, apart from the adults (SparkNotes).

Once you figure out how to read the slang, the novel becomes more interesting to read and can be appreciated for the messages it contains about society and free will. As suggested in class and on A Clockwork Orange‘s Wikipedia page, Burgess uses a form of brainwashing to make sure the reader comprehends Nadsat as he meant us to. Readers could have just as easily given up on the book, but chose to learn the slang instead so they could read the story just like any other. The same process was involved in Tree of Codes; instead of being “brainwashed” to understand the words, we were motivated to look past the literal holes in the narrative and find a new story within it.

Tree of Codes and A Clockwork Orange are just two of many books that are asking readers to expand their imaginations and be a part of something new. Whether it’s reading a book filled with cut outs, new slang, a non-linear story or something completely different, authors are becoming more creative and more complex to keep reading fresh in our always changing world. I, for one, would rather read an experimental novel than another rehash of the same tired storyline. Maybe it’s not such a good thing that readers have expectations of a book before they even crack the spine or finish the first chapter. It’s better to be taken by surprise and discover a new found love for the unknown, to take a little joy in becoming lost.

 

Bibliography

 

“A Clockwork Orange.” SparkNotes. Ed. SparkNotes Editors. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. <http://www.sparknotes.com/film/clockworkorange/themes.html&gt;.

 

“A Clockwork Orange.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clockwork_Orange&gt;.

 

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.

 

Foer, Jonathan Safran, and Bruno Schulz. Tree of Codes. [London]: Visual Editions, 2010. Print.

 

“Tree of Codes.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_Codes&gt;.

 

 

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Final Project Proposal

I would like to use Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley as my texts for the final project. Foer’s work was an inspiration to me and I feel Frankenstein juxtaposes nicely with what I want to explore in this final. Using these texts, I want to compare and contrast the themes contained within both. These themes will include such as the nature present in each text, the idea and reality of a descent into madness and the theme of creation. My project will be submitted in the form of a written essay.

Mrs. Reed Tweets

These days everybody wants to express themselves and make sure their opinions are heard. Luckily for them, there are numerous social platforms on the web which allow people to do just that- say whatever they want, whenever they want. Websites such as MySpace (before its popularity plunged), Facebook and Tumblr offer anyone the chance to speak their mind. However, there is one site that masses of people have been rushing to the past few years, a site called Twitter. Twitter is somewhat different than other social networking pages in that one is only given 140 characters to say what’s on their mind. It seems to work though, as millions frequent the site including musicians, actors and actresses, authors and comedians.

While it’s no surprise that people love Twitter because they can follow their friends as well as their favorite celebrities, just imagine how much more popular the site would become if characters from beloved books could tweet their thoughts. This idea sparked someone’s interest, who began tweeting as Jane from Jane Eyre, which became the inspiration for this project.

Tweeting as Mrs. Reed from Jane Eyre was an interesting, sometimes frustrating endeavor. An appropriate feeling, as Mrs. Reed was not a pleasant woman to anyone save her horrid children in the novel. I chose to modernize Jane’s aunt before tweeting as her, but keeping her nineteenth century mindset that most things going on around her were trivial and not as important as the tasks she needed to accomplish. Imagine Mrs. Reed as a “Real Housewife” with a blase attitude and a permanent sneer. She is a very disapproving individual and, small as her parts in the novel were, I imagined Mrs. Reed to be incredibly snarky and thought it would be fun to tweet her innermost thoughts.

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For her inaugural tweet, Mrs. Reed is bothered by her daughters to start tweeting. A woman like Mrs. Reed definitely would not spend her time informing other people how she feels or what she’s thinking, but because her children want her to she gives it a try. It’s clear in the novel that Eliza, Georgiana and John are the only people who she cares for and would try to make happy in her own way.

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However, her niece Jane could not bring her more shame or agitation. While Mrs. Reed promised her dying husband that she would care for Jane as her own, she doesn’t keep her word and treats Jane as a recalcitrant child. In a modern view, Mrs. Reed would be Jane’s “evil stepmother”, barely tolerating her and forcing her to take care of herself.

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While Mrs. Reed did not reside at Thornfield Manor with Mr. Rochester and his crazy wife Bertha, she would have been appalled at any noise emanating from the latter. She responded to Bertha’s tweet by telling her to be quiet, which is what Mrs. Reed would have done, trying to keep her household quiet and orderly, not to be disrupted by any nonsense or ruckus.

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In the novel, Jane believes that she sees the ghost of her uncle while she is locked in an upstairs room as punishment. Her aunt tells her she is being ridiculous and to calm down. In this tweet, Mrs. Reed the modern housewife is tired of her niece’s shenanigans, especially since her hysterics have brought up memories of her late husband that she would rather forget. Mrs. Reed is a cold woman and I believe a majority of that can be contributed to her husband’s passing. If he were alive, Jane would not be as much of a problem for her since he would be there to care for her as well. 

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Here, Mrs. Reed is responding to a tweet from Alice Fairfax, a housekeeper at Thornfield, who has been rebuffed by Georgiana about appearing on her television show. While her children are her only reprise from her tiresome life, Mrs. Reed can still be embarrassed by them. So, she apologizes to Alice on behalf of her daughter, who would never be kind enough to do so herself.

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Nineteenth century wives didn’t have much to do besides watch over the household, raise children, and throw parties. As a modern housewife, Mrs. Reed still takes pride in being able to put together a respectable, beautiful dinner party. At the time of this tweet, the Giants were in the middle of a sweep and Halloween was just around the corner, so naturally black and orange were absolutely everywhere. If Mrs. Reed happened to be running errands, she would have seen these colors and been repulsed by the theme. She would have thought them too bright and tacky to be considered for a party.

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At this point, as in the novel, Mrs. Reed is exhausted by Jane’s insistence that she is seeing her uncle’s ghost in the house. Seeing as how she doesn’t care for Jane in the first place, Mrs. Reed prays that she can come back and be Jane’s personal poltergeist.

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This tweet was meant to poke fun at the fact that Eliza indeed grows up to become a nun due to her shame of her sister Georgiana and her despair over her mother’s death. While Mrs. Reed wholeheartedly disagrees with the whole premise of Halloween, she allows her children to go out for the night, scoffing at young Eliza’s choice of costume.

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Anyone can picture Mrs. Reed lying in the dark in her room with a bottle of Tylenol on the nightstand. She’s simply not the kind of woman to tolerate a whole night’s worth of strangers ringing her doorbell, expecting free candy to rot their teeth. While she was gracious enough to allow her daughters out, she certainly isn’t letting the neighborhood kids in.

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I imagined Mrs. Reed would be downright disgusted by the concept of No Shave November. The nineteenth century Mrs. Reed was accustomed to clean cut gentlemen in her company, and the modern version of her would expect no less. A man not shaving for a month would make him less respectable in her eyes, as well as dirty and a generally sub-par individual.

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Where others would respond with sympathy for the victims of a hurricane, Mrs. Reed thinks only of herself. She knows she’s a tough, independent, and resilient woman and is rather sure she could handle whoever this “Sandy” may be. As in the novel, Mrs. Reed doesn’t take lip or attitude from anyone and would surely be a hurricane herself if tangled with.

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Here, Mrs. Reed is all but finished with Jane. It is mirroring the point in the novel where she is ready to send Jane to Lowood to get her out of the house and, more importantly, out of her life. Jane has been something of a leech on Mrs. Reed’s life and she wants nothing more than to live in relative peace with her daughters, who are much less bothersome.

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After seeing the slew of “I Voted” pictures on her daughters’ Facebooks, Mrs. Reed feels fed up with the youth of America and offers up her two cents about it. As a modern woman with the right to vote, but with a nineteenth century mindset, she feels other young women and men should exercise their right but keep it to themselves. She doesn’t feel a need to share who she voted for (if she voted at all) and thinks everyone else should do the same.

It was a different experiment tweeting as a character from a novel, but an eye opening one. Pretending to be Mrs. Reed in the twenty first century was both interesting and silly, because one probably couldn’t see her functioning in our modern world, much less knowing how to use Twitter.

Tree of Codes and Nox: An Experience

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes was the first book I’ve ever encountered that puzzled me. Not in storyline or character development, but due to the pages themselves. To come across a book with the pages intentionally cut was confusing and surreal. My first thought was, “How on earth do I read this?” In class we discussed how readers are accustomed to a linear story, which is why is was so jarring to see these pages mutilated. Upon reading it, however, I found a story deeper than most I had read before.

Yes, Tree of Codes is riddled with holes, but it adds literal and figurative depth to the story. The story is about the narrator’s father and his struggle to keep a hold on reality. The cut outs on every page stood out to me as a device to illustrate the father’s descent into senility or madness. Broken up and scattered, as the mind tends to become with age. Beyond that, the words on the pages capture the experience as well:

“During this winter, my father would spend hours in corners as if searching for Mother and emerge covered with dust and cobwebs, his eyes froze for long periods. he plunged deeper beyond our understanding and with flushes on his cheeks did not notice us anymore” (Foer 32-33).

I believe this accurately describes how most readers feel on their first attempt on Tree of Codes. Lost, with our eyes frozen to each page, each word. Then, once we understand the narrative, spend so much time in it that we get lost in a different way. It’s radically different from anything I’ve ever read, a new kind of print culture.

Anne Carson’s Nox was another such experience. While the pages in Nox are fully in tact, they are all bound together like post-it notes, and printed on those pages is something of a scrapbook. It looks like you can actually feel the edges of the taped in scraps and the stapled in strips of paper, it’s so three dimensional, but it’s actually flat. This book was a devotion to Carson’s brother, as she quotes on the back cover:

“When my brother died I made an epitaph for him in the form of a book. This is a replica of it, as close as we could get.”

Reading is not an ideal term to describe what you do with this memorial. You study it, observe it, and experience it. Many pages have lexical definitions of Grecian words, many of which deal with pain and suffering to compare how her family felt about the loss of her brother Michael.

What we learn about Michael from the fragments she includes is that he was gone for most of his life. He traveled a lot and fell in love with a girl named Anna, who died young. He never stopped loving her, even when he was married. His widow knew about Anna and had pictures of the girl that her husband had taken years before.

We get an extremely fragmented view of Carson’s relationship with her brother, which is metaphorical for the distant relationship they maintained. The same can be said of his relationship with their mother. Carson mentioned that Michael phoned her maybe 5 times in 22 years, and his mother even less. Carson writes, “It was a relief not to have him dropping through every conversation like a smell of burning hair, to be honest, from my point of view” (4.3).

Sometimes childlike drawings are pasted on the pages, and pictures that have been cut into thin frames. The entire book is broken up like this. I felt strange at times going through it, like I was reading a diary. The emotions are raw and that rawness sometimes comes out in the drawings, the creations on the pages.

Nox is a completely unique work of art. It differs from Tree of Codes in that is isn’t a narrative composed of cutting words out of someone else’s story. It is the true account of her family and their emotions in dealing with a loss. Both Foer and Carson have created a new form of print culture and literature. I look forward to experiencing more books like these.Image

 

Recreation Experiment

Recreation Experiment

Goes with previous post.

Recreation Experiment

“I love you too baby,” she replies, and although she’s said the word thousands of times, she can hear the flanneled nervousness lodged now in her throat, the effort she must make to sound natural.
“I love you” is easy enough. “I love you” has become almost ordinary, being said not only on anniversaries and birthdays but spontaneously, in bed or at the kitchen sink or even in cabs within hearing of foreign drivers.
It’s a secret only because she can’t quite think how she’d explain, well, any of it-
She draws another breath.
She accelerates through the intersection.
“Goodbye.”

I took the sections I had, and looking through them, found this new narrative. My new story is about a woman in a romantic relationship with anther woman. (Mrs Brown and Clarissa.) She’s in love with Clarissa, and has no problem expressing her love, but society’s opinion and the pressure she feels causes her to purposefully drive her car into the middle of an intersection.

Project Assessment

The first thing that worked about this project was the handling of a nineteenth century material, what the whole project was about. It was incredible to be holding 200 year old paper and see what people of the time were interested in and what they were learning about.

Another thing I think was good about the project was being able to decide what exactly we wanted to do with our given material; what our group wanted to pull from it and present to the class. It really gave us all the opportunity to explore what was happening in the 1830s that made it into a magazine.

I also enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the project. Like most people, I shy away from group projects because one person usually ends up doing most of the work. However, it was nice working with a team where my ideas and opinions were heard and not put aside. The in class time to discuss our roles and deadlines worked out well.

Learning about other teams’ materials was interesting as well. It let me see how varied published materials of the nineteenth century were and how there was something for everyone. We got to see art, comedy, literature and weekly magazines, and I know there is a lot more we didn’t touch on that might be cool to bring into the project next year.

The first thing that didn’t work for this project was a lack of structure. Our team felt lost some of the time because we weren’t sure exactly what we were supposed to be doing. The roles for each person were clearly defined, and while I enjoyed the freedom to explore what we wanted to, it was difficult to pick and choose and expand on each person’s given part.

A second issue I had was feedback. Our group discussed what was working and what wasn’t with each person’s research, but I feel this project would work even better with feedback from the professor. We didn’t know if what we came up with was weak or strong and I think that could be helpful in the future.

For our team specifically, the presentation could have used some work. We used our fifteen minutes before everyone was able to say their piece. With everyone’s schedules, it was nearly impossible to find a time we were all free to actually discuss how we were going to do the presentation. Even with regular emails and texts, it was a tad choppy.

Another team specific problem we had was connecting back to our readings, as the project intended for us to do. We started out our research with the themes of nature and creation in mind so we could connect back to Frankenstein and our other assignments. Along the way, we focused more on the theme itself than how it related to readings.

 

 

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