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In this post, I will reflect on my experience of the MA in Modernities at UCC. Drawing upon previous blog entries, I will discuss various experiences of the past year such as that of working on this blog, attending research seminars and preparing for my thesis.

When assigned to compose a student blog, I decided to focus mine on popular culture. I took the theories and ideas introduced in the more contemporary course modules such as American Modernities and applied them to works of recent cinema, current television series and video games. For example, among the topics explored in American Modernities was metafiction in short stories such as John Barth’s ‘Lost in the Funhouse’ and in the blog, I examined the ways in which certain television series similarly foreground their artifice and acknowledge their own status as ‘aesthetic artifacts’ (Nicol xvi).

In this post, for instance, I wrote about Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and the ways in which it constantly makes references to its own fan base:

Sherlock is somewhat metafictional in that it increasingly appears to make reference to the viewers watching it. For example, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’, Sherlock’s Series Two finale ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ ends with Sherlock Holmes throwing himself from the roof of St Bartholomew’s hospital and the next scene showing him to be alive as he watches John Watson visiting his grave. In the months leading up to Series Three, the fan forums were filled with speculations as to how Sherlock faked his death. For instance, a production source revealed that ‘Sherlock fans are known for their penchant for coming up with theories to solve mysteries we set’ while Moffat noted the ‘many people theorising about Sherlock’s death online’. This fact is overtly referred to in the opening episode of Series Three, ‘The Empty Hearse’, in that the character Anderson appears to be a stand in for the Sherlock fan base. After Sherlock’s ‘death’, Anderson is certain he survived the fall and forms a fan club obsessively dedicated to figuring out how. The group share theories similar to those one sees online and wear deerstalker caps resembling those worn by fans at conventions.

Sherlock is metafictional then because characters within the show appear to be cosplaying the fans.

I also discussed how David Lynch’s Rabbits foregrounds the techniques employed in comedy to generate laughter:

Sitcoms … order their audience to laugh. [They] are constructed in that a character will say something ‘amusing’ and then pause while a laugh track plays. This is the audiences’ cue to laugh.

David Lynch’s Rabbits draws attention to comedy as something constructed. … The lines are punctuated by a laugh track. However, the laugh track challenges the sitcom formula because it … plays when a character delivers a line that is not inherently funny, as if, according to the article ‘Making sense of David Lynch’, ‘to say that the audience of a sitcom will laugh regardless of what they are seeing’. Loud laughter is heard, for example, when one [character] … asks ‘What time is it?’ Also, the duration of the … typical ‘applause’ heard when a character enters a room is played for too long. [Characters] stand eerily still and it becomes obvious that they are waiting for it to pass.

Therefore, the viewer’s laugh is just as constructed as the sitcom.

Also examined in this module was the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges and mutually exclusive narrative possibilities. I discussed this in relation to video games because the way such postmodernist texts offer the reader conflicting narratives is similar to playing a game:

A feature of postmodern narratives is transforming our position from passive readers unquestioningly receiving the narrative to more active participants with a degree of control over the text. For instance, postmodern narratives often … present us with multiple endings and thereby grant us the power to choose how the story ends.

In this sense, we can see video games as postmodernist texts. However, they take this idea of reader participation even further in that the player literally controls the narrative. Indeed, video games involve a combination of both narrative and gameplay as the player alternates between viewing cutscenes or reading text on screen and controlling the character’s actions. This is apparent in games such as The Last of Us because it appears to … blur the boundaries between literature and gaming. The high quality of graphics in the gameplay is identical to that of the cutscenes so there is a seamless transition between watching what is happening on … screen and controlling it.

Moreover, some games oblige the player to make moral choices and their decision will have a direct impact on the outcome of the narrative. In Bioshock, for example, the player can decide whether to kill or save certain characters and the ending will differ depending on which they choose.

Because of the level of participation … involved in video games, they can therefore be seen as postmodernist texts.

Additionally, postmodernism’s relationship with the visual arts was explored. When looking at the impact of the arts on popular culture, I considered contemporary cinema in relation to collage:

Cinema often blurs several genres into one narrative … and results in a work that resembles a collage, that is, an artwork made from an assemblage of different forms.

This is … evident in works such as … Edward Scissorhands. The film incorporates elements of advertising, for example, [as] the character Peg Boggs, an Avon representative, often faces the camera, holds up products and describes them loudly. … The exaggerated performances of the residents and the pastel-coloured 1950s suburban setting [of the film] also liken it to an American daytime soap opera. Furthermore, Edward Scissorhands [also draws upon] … the horror [genre], specifically the German silent horror film. For example, at the end of the brightly coloured cul-de-sac is an enormous haphazard-looking mansion where Edward resides, resulting in a bizarre juxtaposition of the suburban and the gothic. Indeed, it is like a strange crossover of Desperate Housewives and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Moreover, the juxtaposition between these genres is further pronounced in the film when Edward moves into the suburban estate. Indeed, Edward seems to be in the wrong film. In contrast to the neon-dressed, melodramatic suburbanites, he looks and behaves like a character of silent cinema. For instance, he is completely devoid of colour in that he dresses in black, white and grey. Also, Edward barely speaks. He generally relies on facial expressions as a means of communication and his exaggerated physical gestures recall performances such as those of Charlie Chaplin.

Therefore, by blurring [different types of cinema] into one narrative, [Edward Scissorhands] appears to be drawing on collage in that it cuts and pastes a range of genres into one [film] and results in something completely new and unrecognizable.

Throughout the year, I also attended a number of research seminars. Two which were of particular interest to me were Dr Orla Murphy’s ‘Paradigmatic Shifts: Narrative and Semantics Now’ and Prof Graham Allen’s ‘The Unempty Wasps’ Nest and Kubrick’s The Shining: Rethinking Adaptation’ because they dealt with contemporary issues and were therefore more in line with the interests of my blog. For instance, Dr Murphy’s seminar explored research in the digital age and the phenomenon of online personas while Prof Allen’s focused on the process of adaptation and character perspective in film. Similar to my engagement with the course modules, I considered these seminars in relation to popular culture. I chose to discuss them in light of contemporary science fiction and horror because both appeared to tie in with the fears and anxieties usually expressed in these genres.

For example, Dr Murphy’s seminar expressed concern over online personas and the increasing standardisation of human identity on the web:

Also discussed was our increasing dependence on technology to the extent that new ways of representing the subject have emerged. Indeed, we have various online identities such as Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles. The web then appears to be a space in which we are free to express ourselves. However, there is an extent to which that freedom is limited. A representation of a person is reduced to ticking particular boxes. We claim to create ‘individual’ profiles on Facebook, for example, but our identity is reduced to a number of basic facts such as name, birthday and nationality. … Scan through enough profiles and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish one from another.

I saw this concern with social media taking over a subject’s individuality as very much in line with the fear of technology that is typical of the sci-fi horror genre:

Major technological advances have always been documented in fiction. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, for instance, reflects the profound fear of science current in that era. Contemporary culture is no different as popular sci-fi and horror … demonstrates a similar concern with the technological. This is often represented by the figure of the robot in science-fiction films such as I Robot and 9 which express a hysterical fear of the machine ‘taking over the world’. However, there is another major preoccupation in sci-fi that appears to stem specifically from society’s increasing dependence on social media and the phenomenon of standardised online identities, that is, the cyborg, the idea that technology takes over not only the world but also those that inhabit it, the fusion of the human and the technological. In the series Battlestar Galactica, for example, characters fear they may unknowingly be Cylons programmed to think they are human. Similarly, one of the most persistent enemies of Doctor Who are the Cybermen, a race of cybornetically-augmented humanoids seeking to increase their numbers by converting humans into fellow cybermen. This process involves removing a human’s brain and personality, resulting in a uniform group of beings. We can read this as representative of society’s increasingly uniform online identities because their sense of individuality is literally removed as they succumb to the technological. Moreover, Doctor Who takes its critique of social media further in ‘The Bells of Saint John’ because the ‘monster of the week’ in this episode is the Internet itself as the plot centres on a planetary epidemic of people getting trapped inside their computers and literally taking on their online identities.

Similarly, Prof Allen’s seminar was concerned with how Stanley Kubrick chose to represent the most frightening aspect of Stephen King’s The Shining in his adaptation, the interior monologue of characters:

While the internal monologue of characters is central to the horror of King’s novel, it is not possible to show it in the medium of cinema and Kubrick had to remove it from his adaptation. However, Kubrick compensates for this by bringing something new and just as frightening to it. In order to represent the interiority of characters, Kubrick instead emphasises characters’ vision and point of view. … A typical technique of representing what characters can see in film is to show their face before focusing on what they are looking at and Kubrick’s emphasis on characters’ perspective in the film is frightening because he unsettles this technique. For example, the scene where Jack and Wendy are discussing whether to leave the hotel cuts to a shot of Danny with his eyes wide open while their voices can be heard. Because we are accustomed to this technique of representing characters’ perspective, we as an audience assume he can hear them and this is what is disturbing him. However, this scene then cuts to a phantasmic scene of blood spilling through one of the halls in the hotel. Here, it is difficult to determine what exactly Danny is seeing and the distinction between the imaginary and reality is confused. This is frightening because it makes the viewer distrust what they are seeing and loose confidence in the reliance of their eyes. Indeed, Freud says in ‘The ‘Uncanny’’ that an uncanny effect is produced when ‘the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced’ (244). If the horror of King’s novel lies in his representation of the interiority of characters then, the horror of the film is the reverse of this in that it lies in our uncertainty as to what is going on in characters’ minds, whether they are seeing or imagining.

This suggestion that the horror of Kubrick’s The Shining lies in the unstable perception of its characters prompted me to consider how contemporary horror takes the idea of blurring the boundary between the real and imaginary a step further because of its increasing preoccupation with drug addiction and psychological disorders:

The boundary between reality and imagination is further confused when the protagonist engages in substance abuse or suffers from mental illness because their altered perception of reality has to be taken into account as well.

In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, for example, Laura Palmer is a cocaine addict [and] … a victim of childhood abuse from her father Leland who is regularly possessed by a demon called BOB. Whenever Leland hurts Laura, she sees him as the demon. … Because of the introduction of substance abuse into the narrative, it is difficult to distinguish between the real and imaginary because we are offered conflicting explanations of events. Because Laura is on drugs, it is implied that she is hallucinating. … At the same time, BOB’s existence is confirmed in that he is seen by other characters.

[Similarly], in Donnie Darko, the protagonist Donnie suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and it is suggested that he is on medication. Throughout the film, Donnie sees and converses with Frank, a time traveller wearing a horrific rabbit costume. Once again, it is difficult to discern whether these encounters are actually happening and we are offered conflicting explanations of events because of the protagonist’s altered perception. For instance, we can take it that Donnie is a schizophrenic and is hallucinating Frank. In the scene where Donnie is in his therapist’s office, the therapist says she cannot see Frank while he menacingly stands behind her. However, it is simultaneously suggested here that Frank is real. As in The Shining, the camera focuses on Donnie’s face and eyes in this scene and then cuts to Frank thereby letting us know that this is what Donnie is seeing. However, when Donnie turns away, the scene is still intercut with shots of Frank which suggests that he is not a figment of Donnie’s imagination. … Viewers are thereby uncertain as to whether the film is depicting reality or Donnie’s altered perception of it.

Therefore, horror in film, in contrast to novels, derives from the form’s inability to clearly represent the inner workings of the mind.

During the year, I was also preparing for the thesis. I plan to write on representations of trauma in postmodernist texts such as Twin Peaks and the module Postmodernism in Literature and Film was essential to my research. For instance, trauma theory was discussed in relation to novels such as Slaughterhouse-Five but I could take these ideas and apply them to my chosen text:

Twin Peaks can be read as a postmodern trauma narrative of childhood abuse. … It centres on … a high school student named Laura Palmer … and narrates her struggle with her abusive father [Leland].

A common reaction to a traumatic episode is the inability to process it and in turn replace it with something more tolerable (Melley 126). In Slaughterhouse-Five for instance, in order to protect himself from his traumatic memories of the Dresden bombings, Billy Pilgrim imagines he is a time traveller abducted by an alien race known as the Tralfamadorians who inform him to ‘Ignore awful times, and concentrate on the good ones’ (85). In Twin Peaks, there is a similar displacement of traumatic events onto the supernatural. … Whenever Leland enters Laura’s room at night, she does not recognise him as her father but as BOB, an aging demon from another dimension, because the idea that her father is her abuser is too horrific to confront directly.

Also discussed in this module was the ‘trauma of postmodernism’ and when I considered this idea in conjunction with what I had learned about metafiction in American Modernities, I came up with an interesting idea that I can bring into the thesis as to how postmodern trauma is represented in Twin Peaks:

Postmodernism is characterised by an incredulity towards metanarratives (Lyotard xxxiv), that is, a distrust of any large scale explanation of how the world works such as history or religion. … This postmodernist view of discourses produces a type of trauma itself, that is, the trauma of postmodernism, because it undermines previously held certainties of how the world works.

This is often represented by what I call a symbolic space. … Often a text can feature a piece of architecture … that is representative of the theme of the narrative. … John Barth’s ‘Lost in the Funhouse’, for instance, is a metafictional short story and … the protagonist enters … a hall of mirrors, so this space is symbolic of the story because it reflects itself. My suggestion is that we can take this idea of symbolic spaces and apply it to texts that deal with the trauma of postmodernism. … Twin Peaks, for example, features a space [called the Black Lodge] in which the structures we place on the world … such as language [and geography] seem to disappear thereby representing … the increasing decline of metanarratives. When Dale Cooper enters this space, … rational language does not occur [because] … the figures he encounters here … utter nonsensical phrases and make illegible gestures. Navigation and any sense of direction is similarly pointless. Wandering this space, Cooper finds himself continuously returning to the same room no matter which direction he takes.

Reflecting on my experience of the MA, I believe that the combination of modules, research seminars and blogging in the course ultimately prepared me for writing the thesis. The seminars gave me the opportunity to see how research is carried out, the modules provided me with theories that I can draw upon and the blog enabled me to explore these in relation to my own research interests and in the process generate ideas for the thesis. Having completed the MA then, I am now ready to begin independent research.

 

Works Cited

Allen, Graham. ‘The Unempty Wasps’ Nest and Kubrick’s The Shining: Rethinking Adaptation.’ University College Cork. 4 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Barth, John. ‘Lost in the Funhouse.’ Lost in the Funhouse. New York: Doubleday, 1968. Print.

Battlestar Galactica. Ronald D. Moore. Universal Television, 2004-2009. Television.

Bioshock. Ken Levine and Alyssa Finley. 2k Games, 2007. Game.

Borges, Jorge Luis. ‘The Garden of Forking Paths.’ Ficciones. New York: Grove Press, 1962. Print.

Davenport, Randi. ‘The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence.’ Literature Film Quarterly 4 (1993): 255-259. Print.

Desperate Housewives. Prod. Marc Cherry. Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 2004-2012. Television.

Donnie Darko. Dir. Richard Kelly. Newmarket Films, 2001. Film.

Edward Scissorhands. Dir. Tim Burton. 20th Century Fox, 1990. Film.

‘End result for Jim Cunningham: motivational speaker.’ Movies & TV. Nov 29. 2014. Accessed Mar. 2015. Web.

‘Exclusive: Sherlock’s The Reichenbach Fall ‘fake death’ mystery revealed.’ Metro, 1 Apr. 2013. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Freud, Sigmund. ‘The ‘Uncanny.’’ The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1955. 219-252. Print.

Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Ed. David Lavery. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1998. Print.

I robot. Dir. Alex Proyas. 20th Century Fox, 2004. Film.

Leys, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983. Print.

‘Making Sense of David Lynch: A Rabbits Tale.’ The Artifice, 14 June. 2014. Accessed 13 Feb. 2015. Web.

Melley, Timothy. ‘Postmodern Amnesia: Trauma and Forgetting in Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods.Contemporary Literature 44:1 (2003): 106-131. Print.

Murphy, Orla. ‘Paradigmatic Shifts: Narrative and Semantics Now.’ University College Cork. 30 Nov. 2014. Lecture.

Nicol, Bran. The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.

Rabbits. Dir. David Lynch. 2002. Television.

Robinson, Joanna. ‘Do Sherlock and Doctor Who Really Have a ‘Bad Fan’ Problem?’ Vanity Fair’s Hollywood, 10 Nov. 2008. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Smith, Dan. ‘Alternative Explanations.’ Donnie Darko: The Tangent Universe. Oct 1. 2009. Accessed Mar. 2015. Web.

Solana, Michael. ‘Dystopian sci-fi is making us fear all new technology.’ Wired, 15 August. 2014. Accessed 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

‘The Bells of Saint John.’ Dir. Colm McCarthy. Writ. Steven Moffat. Doctor Who. BBC, 30 Mar. 2013. Television.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dir. Robert Wiene. Decla-Bioscop, 1920. Film.

‘The Empty Hearse.’ Dir. Jeremy Lovering. Prod. Steven Moffat. Sherlock. BBC, 1 Jan. 2014. Television.

The Last of Us. Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann. Naughty Dog, 2013. Game.

‘The Reichenbach Fall.’ Dir. Toby Haynes. 15 Jan. 2012.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Berthold Schoene-Harwood. Cambridge: Icon, 2000. Print.

The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros, 1980. Film.

Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Ed. Cathy Caruth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Print.

Twin Peaks. Prod. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Van Der Ster, Jelle. ‘Lost in the Funhouse: Postmodern meta-reflections in videogames.’ Uni>ersia. 24 Sept. 2009. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. London: Vintage Books, 2002. Print.

9. Dir. Shane Acker. Focus Features, 2009. Film.

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Literature Review

House of Leavescoffee

For the thesis, I am writing on representations of trauma in three postmodern texts: Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I will examine the ways in which each of these texts engages with both the popular conceptions of trauma and the trauma of postmodernism.

I am going to divide the thesis into three chapters and discuss one text per chapter. In Chapter One, I will introduce the various trauma theories that I will examine throughout the thesis. To do this, I will draw upon Cathy Caruth’s Trauma: Explorations in Memory, in particular Caruth’s introductory chapter entitled ‘Trauma and Experience’ for her discussion on trauma as belated and Shoshana Felman’s chapter ‘Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching’ for her examination of recovery through writing. I will also look at the first chapter of Laurie Vickroy’s Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction entitled ‘Representing Trauma: Issues, Contexts, Narrative Tools’ because this chapter outlines Judith Herman’s theory of recovery through discussion. Additionally, I will refer to Alan Gibbs’ introductory chapter of Contemporary American Trauma Narratives, ‘The Trauma Paradigm and Its Discontents’, because it introduces Kalí Tal’s writings on perpetrator trauma and Ann Kaplan’s idea of traumatic memories as affected by fantasy.

Having outlined the theories of Caruth, Felman, Herman, Tal and Kaplan, I will then discuss them in relation to In the Lake of the Woods. For my examination of this novel, I will consult the second chapter of Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery entitled ‘Terror’ and Mark Heberle’s A Trauma Artist: Tim O’Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam, focusing specifically on its introductory chapter ‘The Fiction of Vietnam’ and chapters One ‘Fabricating Trauma’, Two ‘A Bad War’ and Seven ‘The People We Kill’. I will also refer to articles such as Timothy Lustig’s ‘‘Moments of Punctuation’: Metonymy and Ellipsis in Tim O’Brien’, Timothy Melley’s ‘Postmodern Amnesia: Trauma and Forgetting in Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods’ and Kalí Tal’s ‘Speaking the Language of Pain: Vietnam War Literature in the Context of a Literature of Trauma’ in Fourteen Landing Zones: Approaches to Vietnam War Literature. These texts are useful because each of them look in detail at O’Brien’s exploration of the traumatised mind and his postmodernist or experimental representation of it.

In Chapter Two of the thesis, I will discuss House of Leaves and the ways in which it not only engages with but also undermines the trauma theories I introduced in the first chapter. The articles I will look at here include Katherine Cox’s ‘What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves’, Katherine N. Hayles’ ‘Saving the Subject: Remediation in House of Leaves’ in addition to an interview with Danielewski conducted by Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory entitled ‘Haunted House: An Interview with Mark Z. Danielewski’ because each of these explores traumatic memory and repression in Danielewski’s text. In addition, I will draw upon Susannah Radstone’s ‘Trauma Theory: Contexts, Politics, Ethics’. This text is essential to my discussion on how Danielewski challenges popular conceptions of trauma because Radstone examines the unreliability of trauma theory.

In this chapter, I will also look at how Danielewski represents the trauma of postmodernism. For this, I will draw upon Linda Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism as well as Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge for his discussion of the ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ (Lyotard xxxiv) and undermining of previously held certainties that characterises the postmodern condition. I will refer to these texts again in the next chapter when I am discussing the representation of postmodern trauma in Twin Peaks.

In Chapter Three of the thesis, I will discuss Twin Peaks and the ways in which the trauma theories I outlined in Chapter One appear in this television series and are literalised. For this chapter, I will consult Randi Davenport’s article ‘The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence’ for its analysis of Twin Peaks’ representation of child abuse, Michel Chion’s David Lynch for its examination of the repetition of the series’ central crime and Sheli Ayers’ essay ‘Twin Peaks, Weak Language and the Resurrection of Affect’ from Erica Sheen and Annette Davison’s The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams for its discussion of the doubling of the series’ murderer. For further discussion of these topics, I will also refer to a number of essays in David Lavery’s Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. In addition to Lavery’s introductory chapter ‘The Semiotics of Cobbler: Twin Peaks’ Interpretive Community’, the essays I will refer to include Christy Desmet’s ‘The Canonization of Laura Palmer’, Diana Hume George’s ‘Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks’, Alice Kuzniar’s ‘Double Talk in Twin Peaks’, Martha Nochimson’s ‘Desire Under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks’, Diane Stevenson’s ‘Family Romance, Family Violence, and the Fantastic in Twin Peaks’ and J. P. Telotte’s ‘The Dis-order of Things in Twin Peaks’.

Regarding my use of IT for the thesis, I will access all articles from the Boole Library website, JSTOR and Project Muse.

 

Works Cited

Ayers, Sheli. ‘Twin Peaks, Weak Language and the Ressurrection of Affect.’ The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams. Eds. Erica Sheen and Annette Davison. London: Wallflower Press, 2004. 93-106. Print.

Caruth, Cathy. ‘Trauma and Experience.’ Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Ed. Cathy Caruth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 3-12. Print.

Chion, Michel. David Lynch. Trans. Robert Julian. London: BFI, 2006. Print.

Cox, Katherine. ‘What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Critical Survey 18.2 (2006): 4-15. Print.

Danielewski, Mark Z. ‘Haunted House: An Interview with Mark Z. Danielewski.’ Conducted by Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.2 (2003): 99-135. Print.

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Doubleday, 2000. Print.

Davenport, Randi. ‘The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence.’ Literature Film Quarterly 4 (1993): 255-259. Print.

Desmet, Christy. ‘The Canonization of Laura Palmer.’ Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Ed. David Lavery. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. 93-108. Print.

Felman, Shoshana. ‘Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching.’ Caruth 13-60.

Gibbs, Alan. Contemporary American Trauma Narratives. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. Print.

Hayles, Katherine N. ‘Saving the Subject: Remediation in House of Leaves. American Literature 74.4 (2002): 779-806. Print.

Heberle, Mark. A Trauma Artist: Tim O’Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001. Print.

Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery. New York: BasicBooks, 1997. Print.

Hume George, Diana. ‘Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks.’ Lavery 109-119.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Kuzniar, Alice. ‘Double Talk in Twin Peaks.’ Lavery 120-129.

Lavery, David. ‘Introduction: The Semiotics of Cobbler: Twin Peaks’ Interpretive Community.’ Lavery 1-21.

Lustig, Timothy. ‘‘Moments of Punctuation’: Metonymy and Ellipsis in Tim O’Brien.’ The Yearbook of English Studies 31 (2001): 74-92. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983. Print.

Melley, Timothy. ‘Postmodern Amnesia: Trauma and Forgetting in Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods.Contemporary Literature 44:1 (2003): 106-131. Print.

Nochimson, Martha. ‘Desire Under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks.’ Lavery 144-159.

O’Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods. London: Flamingo, 1995. Print.

Radstone, Susannah. ‘Trauma Theory: Contexts, Politics, Ethics.’ Paragraph 30.1 (2007): 9-29. Print.

Stevenson, Diane. ‘Family Romance, Family Violence, and the Fantastic in Twin Peaks.’ Lavery 70-81.

Tal, Kalí. ‘Speaking the Language of Pain: Vietnam War Literature in the Context of a Literature of Trauma.’ Fourteen Landing Zones: Approaches to Vietnam War Literature. Ed. Philip K. Jason. Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1991. 217-50. Print.

Telotte, J. P. ‘The Dis-order of Things in Twin Peaks.’ Lavery 160-172.

Twin Peaks. Prod. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.

Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. Print.

‘The Unempty Wasps’ Nest and Kubrick’s The Shining: Rethinking Adaptation.’

The ShiningDD

Today I attended the seminar ‘The Unempty Wasps’ Nest and Kubrick’s The Shining: Rethinking Adaptation’. The focus was on adaptation and the way in which a director chooses to exclude some content from the novel they are adapting while simultaneously adding new material to it. This process was likened to the figure of the ‘Wasps’ Nest’ then in that it involves both an emptying and a refilling and it was discussed specifically in relation to how Stanley Kubrick chose to represent the interior monologue of Stephen King’s novel in the film. While the internal monologue of characters is central to the horror of King’s novel, it is not possible to show it in the medium of cinema and Kubrick had to remove it from his adaptation (emptying). However, he compensates for this by bringing something new and just as frightening to it (refilling). In order to represent interiority of characters, Kubrick instead emphasises characters’ vision and point of view (the metaphor of the wasps’ nest is furthered here in that wasps have lidless eyes and therefore perpetual vision like a camera). A typical technique of representing what characters can see in film is to show their face before focusing on what they are looking at. Kubrick’s emphasis on characters’ perspective in the film is frightening because he unsettles this technique. For example, the scene where Jack and Wendy are discussing about whether to leave the hotel cuts to a shot of Danny with his eyes wide open while their voices can be heard. Because we are used to the technique of representing characters’ perspective, we as an audience assume he can hear them and this is what is disturbing him. However, this scene cuts to a phantasmic or illusory scene of blood spilling through one of the halls in the hotel. Here, it is difficult to determine what exactly Danny is seeing and the distinction between imaginary and reality is confused. This is frightening because it makes the viewer distrust what they are seeing and loose confidence in the reliance of their eyes. Indeed, Freud says in ‘The ‘Uncanny’’ that an uncanny effect is produced when ‘the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced’. If the horror of King’s novel lies in his representation of the interiority of characters then, the horror of the film is the reverse of this in that it lies in our uncertainty as to what is going on in characters’ minds, whether they are seeing or imagining.

This blurring between the real and the imaginary is a recurring theme in horror and in contemporary horror, it is taken a step further because of the current interest in drug abuse and psychological disorders. Indeed, the boundary between reality and imagination is further confused when the protagonist engages in substance abuse or suffers from mental illness because their altered perception of reality has to be taken into account as well. In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, for example, Laura Palmer is a cocaine addict and undergoes hallucinations. She is also a victim of childhood abuse from her father Leland who is regularly possessed by a demon from another dimension called BOB. Whenever Leland hurts Laura, she sees him as the demon. It is difficult to distinguish between the real and imaginary then because we are offered two conflicting explanations of events. Because Laura is on drugs, it is strongly implied that she is hallucinating and sees BOB in place of her father. Indeed, before Leland/BOB enters her room at night, Laura is usually shown taking cocaine. At the same time, however, BOB’s existence is confirmed in that he is seen and discussed by other characters. Because of the introduction of substance abuse into the narrative then, the real and imaginary are indistinguishable.

A similar hesitation between a material and supernatural explanation of events can be found in the film Donnie Darko. The protagonist Donnie suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and it is suggested that he is on medication. Throughout the film, Donnie sees and converses with Frank, a time traveller wearing a horrific rabbit costume. Like Fire Walk with Me, it is difficult to discern whether these encounters are actually happening. Once again, we are offered conflicting explanations of events because of the protagonists’ altered perception. For instance, we can take it that Donnie is a schizophrenic and is hallucinating Frank. In the scene where Donnie is in his therapist’s office, for example, she says she cannot see him while Frank menacingly stands behind her. However, it is simultaneously suggested in the film that Frank is real. As in The Shining, the camera focuses on Donnie’s face and eyes in this scene and then cuts to Frank thereby letting us know that this is what Donnie is seeing. However, when he turns away, the scene is still intercut with shots of Frank which suggests that he is not merely a figment of Donnie’s imagination. Moreover, when Donnie meets Frank at the cinema, Frank removes his mask and he is revealed to be a young man with a bleeding eye. Then when Donnie meets his sister’s boyfriend later at a Halloween party, he is identical in appearance to Frank and wears the same rabbit costume. Also, a confrontation between the two ends in Donnie shooting Frank in the eye, thus suggesting that Frank is in fact a time traveller because he has earlier shown Donnie his bleeding eye when he met him at the cinema. Viewers are thereby uncertain as to whether the film is depicting reality or Donnie’s altered perception of it.

Therefore, horror in film, in contrast to novels, derives from the form’s inability to clearly represent the inner workings of the mind.

 

This is a scene from The Shining. It is the first time in the film that Danny experiences the vision of the blood:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeVfLOqtPR8

This is a scene from Donnie Darko in which Donnie’s therapist informs his parents of his friend Frank. Their discussion of mental illness further confuses the boundary between the real and the imaginary here because this scene is intercut with Donnie seeing, according to cinematic conventions that is, Frank in the mirror, and we as an audience are not sure whose perception to trust in this scene:

vimeo.com/25661555

A compilation of scenes from Donnie Darko’s Frank:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFmxDgNCGY8

An article that further explores this idea of altered perception in horror in relation to NBC’s Hannibal:

http://givingvoicetotheunmentionable.tumblr.com/post/51724111460/what-do-you-see-behind-closed-eyes-perception-and

 

Allen, Graham. ‘The Unempty Wasps’ Nest and Kubrick’s The Shining: Rethinking Adaptation.’ University College Cork. 4 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Donnie Darko. Dir. Richard Kelly. Newmarket Films. 2001. Film.

‘End result for Jim Cunningham: motivational speaker.’ Movies & TV. Nov 29. 2014. Accessed Mar. 2015. Web.

Freud, Sigmund. ‘The ‘Uncanny.’’ The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1955. 219-252. Print.

Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Ed. David Lavery. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. 93-108. Print.

Smith, Dan. ‘Alternative Explanations.’ Donnie Darko: The Tangent Universe. Oct 1. 2009. Accessed Mar. 2015. Web.

The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros, 1980. Film.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Mini-Conference Reflection

Mini-Conference Poster

I recently participated in the 2015 Textualities mini-conference and ultimately found that it helped to develop my communication skills. On the day, I gave a presentation entitled ‘Lynch’s Denial: Twin Peaks and Sigmund Freud’s essay ‘The ‘Uncanny’’’ and to do this, I used Pecha Kucha as a presentation tool. This involved presenting twenty slides for twenty seconds each so the overall presentation amounted to six minutes forty seconds and because of such time constraints, I found this presentation style to have enhanced my communication skills. It required me to condense large amounts of content into brief statements and thereby discuss complex ideas in a clear and concise manner. Furthermore, participating in Textualities also improved my visual communication skills. I volunteered to design the poster for the conference and because the purpose of a poster is to advertise an event, I needed to create an eye-catching design that clearly conveyed what the event was about. I eventually decided to draw four images that represented the different areas of study in the School of English; I drew a camera to represent film studies, theatrical masks for drama, a manuscript page for Old and Middle English and a book for fiction and poetry. These images were basic rather than highly detailed because they needed to be instantly recognisable to the spectator and quickly communicate to them the subject matter of the conference. Because the Pecha Kucha presentation and the poster both involved condensing information of some sort, what I ultimately learned from Textualities is that successful communication, whether it is verbal or visual, needs to be straightforward and concise.

Pastiching Video Games: Kill Bill, Scott Pilgrim and Persona 4

KBWhile video games are often based on films, there is an increasing reversal in this trend as the world of cinema appears to be taking inspiration from games. Indeed, the narrative structure and characterization of films are beginning to increasingly resemble what we play on our consoles. In films such as Kill Bill, for instance, battle scenes take up a large proportion of screen time while conversations between characters are brief and consist often of clichéd sentences thereby mirroring the gameplay, bosses and cutscenes of video games.

Take this scene, for example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hii2SwI39ek

And now compare it to this clip of Kingdom Hearts gameplay:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvcrEWgxxUY

In both we have the same formula: cutscene introducing the villain/boss followed by protagonist/playable character fighting the villain/boss. Note that both ‘scenes’ are set and remain in a confined space with the villain/boss looking down on the hero, contain a combination of first and third person perspectives, in addition to close ups of the weapons they use. Also, on the DVD of Kill Bill, there are subtitles and this further likens it to game cutscenes.

Moreover, the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World similarly draws on video games. Like Kill BillScott Pilgrim predominantly consists of battle scenes with shorter conversational scenes between them. The plot is similar to that of Kill Bill as well. Indeed, like Beatrix Kiddo and her take down of various members of the assassination squad, Scott Pilgrim must battle his girlfriend’s seven ‘evil exes’. However, Scott Pilgrim takes its borrowings from the world of video games further than Kill Bill. Indeed, if Kill Bill pastiches various film genres, Scott Pilgrim pastiches video games as there are direct references to gameplay throughout the film. For example, when Scott ‘kills’ enemies they vanish and coins are left in their place as a reward. He also gets ‘points’ whenever he defeats a villain. Also, at when Scott loses the battle against the villain/boss Gideon Graves at the end of the film, he does not die but is revived with an ‘extra life’ and the fight begins again. While the scene is repeated, the second time is played out faster and any mistakes he made are corrected. This mirrors the way in which a player looses a boss when playing a game, skips the cutscenes and demonstrates a better understanding of how to beat it this time around.

Furthermore, the characters in the film are largely two-dimensional. Indeed, they are often emotionless and deliver their lines in a deadpan manner. This is similar to the way in which characters in early video games were underdeveloped, when there was a stronger emphasis on gameplay rather than story/narrative.

Moreover, a series that takes this idea of putting game characters into television even further is Persona 4: The Animation. This anime is directly based on the video game Persona 4 (indeed, cutscenes were literally taken from the game and put together, we even have a ‘loading screen’ between scenes detailing characters’ status after battle) and the protagonist, Yu, literally has no personality. Throughout the series, he remains a largely bland and unresponsive character, reacting to moments of crisis with little or no emotion. This parallels the way in which game protagonists act as a stand in for the player and thereby remain silent and emotionless.

Therefore, while video games are often based on films, this trend appears to be reversing as cinema is increasingly pastiching games.

 

An insightful article that outlines why Kill Bill should be made into a game and why we need more games with female protagonists:

http://www.bustle.com/articles/29433-kill-bill-the-video-game-is-a-great-idea-for-these-reasons-video

An article that discusses Persona 4: The Golden Animation and the concept of a ‘New Game Plus’:

bservationdeck.io9.com/persona-4-the-golden-animation-is-the-weirdest-conceit-1603709431

 

Eisenbeis, Richard. ‘I Watched the Persona 4 Anime Without Ever Playing The Game.’ Kotaku, 12 Apr. 2012. Accessed 2 Mar. 2015. Web.

Kill Bill. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 2003. Film.

Kingdom Hearts. Dir. Tetsuya Nomura. Square Enix, 2002. Game.

Persona 4: The Animation. Dir. Seji Kishi. Anime Network, 2011-12. Anime.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Dir. Edgar Wright. Universal Pictures, 2010. Film.

‘Video Game References.’ Scott Pilgrim Wiki. Accessed 2 Mar. 2015. Web.

Architectural Trauma: Space and the Trauma of Postmodernism

PaperPostmodernism is characterised by an incredulity towards meta narratives (Lyotard), that is, a distrust of any large scale explanation of how the world works such as history or religion. Postmodernist literature and in particular, postmodernist trauma narratives, seek to point out that these dominant entities of our way of life that we perceive to be ‘natural’ are in fact ‘cultural’ and therefore artificial (Hutcheon). The reason this idea connects with trauma narratives is that this postmodernist view of discourses is a type of trauma itself, that is, the trauma of postmodernism, because it undermines our previously held certainties of how the world works and inspires, according to Vickroy, a loss of confidence in the social and cultural structures that are supposed to create order and safety.

This obliteration of our everyday assumptions about reality (Hayles) is frequently a focus in postmodernist texts and something I have noticed is that often it is represented by what I call a symbolic space or representative construction at the centre of the text. Often a text can feature a piece of architecture such as a room or building that is representative of the theme of the narrative as a whole. John Barth’s ‘Lost in the Funhouse’, for instance, is a metafictional short story and at the end of the story, the protagonist goes into a funhouse, that is, a hall of mirrors, so this is a space that literally reflects back onto itself and is thereby symbolic of the story’s construction because the story is metafictional and also commenting on itself. My suggestion is that we can take this idea of symbolic spaces and apply it to texts that deal with the trauma of postmodernism. Both Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, for example, feature an architectural space in which the structures we place on the world or large scale explanations of it such as language, history and time seem to disappear thereby representing the trauma of postmodernism and the increasing decline or ‘disappearance’ of meta narratives.

In House of Leaves, for instance, this trauma of postmodernism is represented in the labyrinth at the centre of the house and in particular the scene where Navidson enters the it and encounters a ‘grotesque vision of absence’ (464). All of the structures and discourses one uses to make sense of the world such as time, space, history, geography and even gravity, literally start to disappear from the ‘space’ he has entered:

the window has vanished along with the room … All that remains is … darkness … Navidson’s watch stopped functioning … he no longer cares about the meaning of a minute or even a week … The first flare drops straight down … never reaching the bottom … he is slowly becoming more disorientated … Is he floating, falling or rising? Is he right side up, upside down or on his right side? … the questions are sadly irrelevant. (464-465)

The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks is similarly representative of the trauma of postmodernism. When Dale Cooper enters this space, all structures used to make sense of the world are likewise non-existent. Rational language does not occur, for example, as the figures Cooper encounters here speak backwards, utter nonsensical phrases and make illegible gestures. This is particularly evident in the third episode of the series, when we are introduced to this bizarre space:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujHWq5y9-8Q

Navigation and any sense of direction is similarly pointless. In the series finale, Cooper returns to the Black Lodge and wandering this space, he finds himself continuously returning to the same room no matter which direction he takes. A sense of time is also dissolved here in that Cooper enters the Black Lodge in the final episode of the series yet in the prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, we learn that he is there at that moment even though it apparently happens much later on in the series.

Another text that represents the trauma of postmodernism through a particular space is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumyia. In line with films such as The Matrix, the protagonist comes to realize that his everyday assumptions about reality are false when he is informed that one of his classmates, Haruhi Suzumyia, is God and has the ability to literally shape and rewrite the world as we know it and this is represented in the series by closed space, that is, an alternate reality created when Haruhi becomes angry or bored. This closed space is grey in appearance and empty and in this area, Haruhi can permanently alter reality so all of the discourses used to make sense of the world can either be rewritten or eradicated completely. This idea is fully explained in this scene from the series:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CgUDLhR5Xc

And in this scene, the characters enter closed space:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vivAfAu6hi0

While Haruhi Suzumyia is not necessarily a trauma narrative, however, the trauma of postmodernism, as we can see in these scenes, is nevertheless evident. The trauma of postmodernism can be incorporated into current sci-fi, fantasy or horror because a more contemporary idea of something frightening is more often the fear of nothing rather than something, the fear of reality being destroyed rather than something unknown disrupting it and ultimately, that what we think we know of reality is merely a construction.

 

For further examples of Haruhi Suzumyia‘s postmodernist themes and techniques, see here:

http://plotshield.blogspot.ie/2009/06/suzumiya-haruhi-case-for-defence.html

An article that discusses House of Leaves and reality:

http://www.lvc.edu/vhr/articles/jones.pdf

 

Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse. New York: Doubleday, 1968. Print.

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. Doubleday: New York, 2000. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Leys, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester U.P., 1983. Print.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumyia. Dir. Tatsuya Ishihara. Kyoto Animation, 2009. Anime.

Twin Peaks. Dir. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. Print.

Eliminating the Fourth Wall: Metafiction and Moonlighting

Moonlighting

In my last post, I discussed Twin Peaks and its subversion of the detective genre through the incorporation of supernatural elements. Another series that does something similar is Moonlighting, an American detective series that follows the investigations of Maddy Hayes and David Addison. However, Moonlighting subverts the conventional detective series differently in that it subverts it through the use of metafiction. Metafiction is when a text foregrounds its own artifice and indeed, there are many instances in which Moonlighting ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and makes references to itself as a television program.

For instance, direct reference is made to the structure of the detective series. When investigating a case, Maddy asks David: ‘What do we do now?’ to which he replies ‘Wrap this up in about twelve minutes so another show can come on the air’.

Similarly, in the Christmas special, David asks Maddy ‘Do you think this is the Christmas episode?’ However, this scene takes the idea of breaking the fourth wall a step further in that it is followed by Maddy and David walking off set to find the production crew singing Christmas carols. Such scenes have led critics to describe the series as eliminating the fourth wall completely. Indeed, there are even episodes in the series that include sequences which show the production crew dismantling sets. In the Season Two finale, for example, Maddy and David walk off the set and into the studio parking lot. Similarly, the last episode of the series is interrupted by the news that the series has been cancelled and the set starts being dismantled around them before they have solved the typical ‘case of the week’. Therefore, not only does Moonlighting break the forth wall but the series seems to dismantle it completely.

 

Here is a particularly metafictional scene. In it Maddy and David introduce the episode and discuss how the content of it needs to be stretched out in order to fill the required sixty minutes of airtime:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ieKjVKtOi4

This article provides a further analysis of metafiction and how it operates in film, television and the novel:

http://www.litkicks.com/FourthWall#.VOoyjFOsXMM

 

Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse. New York: Doubleday, 1968. Print.

Horowitz, Joy. ‘The Madcap Behind Moonlighting.’ The New York Times, Mar. 1986. Accessed 22 Feb. 2015. Web.

Moonlighting. Glenn Gordon Caron. Picturemaker Productions, 1985-1989. Television.

‘Moonlighting’. tvtropes. Accessed 22 Feb. 2015. Web.

Paskin, Willa. ‘Rewind: Celebrating the brilliance of Moonlighting.’ Salon, 9 Mar. 2013. Accessed 22 Feb. 2015. Web.