Mr. Earbrass is here to console you.

Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp; or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel (Bloomsbury 2000) includes an instructive description of the revision process. When in the throes of revision, I suggest consoling yourself by returning to Mr. Earbrass.

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Marble Hornets: Research Subject

In the summer of 2013, I became infatuated with the found footage genre of horror films.  I found that 99% of these films were made low-budget, had the same recurring plot, and provided cheap scares, if any at all. One of my friends then showed me Marble Hornets. I had never watched a youtube or web series, but I was intrigued. The first few episodes were short, low budget, and had little acting skill. However, the brief episodes were laden with a tone of the uncanny as I slowly began to sink into the universe of the series.

You have to know, my interest in the horror/ found footage genre was superficial at best. I began watching all those movies because they were so bad, and in that particular summer I had a lot of time on my hands, had just finished three graduate classes, and was looking to take a break from in-depth readings, analysis, theory, and Derrida. What I found in Marble Hornets and totheark, an accompanying youtube channel that weaves into the series, was something that extended all the skills I had honed in my first three graduate classes.

Marble Hornets begins as a horror series, but after the first season where the horror/mystery genre is prominent comes to an end, it launches into a post-modern, genre bending chronicle exploring the fragility of the human mind. Most of you have heard the story from me: a group of individuals get endlessly stalked by a mysterious entity known as the Operator, an antagonist based off of Slenderman, which you may have come in contact with since its creation over internet forums in 2009 (wasn’t much of a fanboy/forum guy until I did some investigative work into the series either).

In short, what I thought would be another cheap thrill, was an artful, challenging, evolving narrative that would one day become the subject of a research paper. Sometimes I think I’m wrong; maybe a youtube series is not something on which someone should do their graduate coursework. Maybe none of this is applicable, or it’s possible I just want to make it work to validate many hours of watching and thinking about the piece.

Then I think about this: A college film student named Alex Kralie is working on a film project called Marble Hornets about a college student who goes back to his home town. Alex hires Jay as a cameraman, and Brian and Tim as actors. In the course of filming, he notices as tall, suit wearing figure in a lot of the shots. When he begins taping himself and realizing that the figure is following him, he passes the tapes to Jay, and asks him never to broach the subject again. Three years later, Jay begins reviewing the tapes, and after being confounded by Alex’s increasingly paranoid and strange behavior, launches his own investigation, tries to locate Alex and solve the mystery of The Operator.

What follows is masked men with enigmatic motives, gun-toting surprise antagonists, coded clues from another youtube channel totheark, tales of revenge, double identities, bouts of months-long amnesia, epileptic seizures, and the loaded question of why this is all happening.

Maybe all these characteristics are too convenient to apply to a Consciousness and Literary Experiment course.

In any event, for those of you with the interest and time I implore you to enjoy Marble Hornets.

 

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The Unconsoled

Reading The Unconsoled I found Ryder had all of this anxiety around his piano performance. Like whenever anyone would talk about the performance specifically he would always start worrying about it. So, I was thinking about this quote from Slavoj Zizek where he is talking about what Lacan said about anxiety. “…anxiety is the only emotion that does not deceive: all other emotions, from sorrow to love, are based on deceit. […T]he feeling of guilt is a fake enabling us to give ourselves over to pleasure—when this frame falls away, anxiety arises.” (Zizek, Puppet and the Dwarf, 57). So, when I think in terms of The Unconsoled, I think of how people come up to Ryder and ask if Boris is his son and he never quite answers it directly or how everyone complements him for being such a great musician, but when it comes to performing he is really uncomfortable.

Also I was thinking about how in the scenes that take place in the hotel and with Gustav talking about tradition I thought it could be a tradition of trauma, like what Ryder is going through is actually a long family history of I don’t know if it was abuse or neglect but something.

I’m not sure if this gives any answers to what the book is about, but I don’t to know about the author’s intentions for writing this book. There seems to be a message but not a meaning and I think that’s what makes the book successful.

I think we were talking about in class how this is like Kafka, but I disagree. I think The Unconsoled is too personal for Kafka. If this is Ryder’s unconscious or something to do with him that is different from Kafka, who the characters serve some other purpose instead of in The Unconsoled were it seems like the reader is getting what Ryder is going through. Also Kafka’s characters are dropped into mysteries that are never explained or developed, but in The Unconsoled even though the whole book might be a mystery it seems like somethings add up. Like Ryder can effect the world.

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Revised Schedule

Hi everybody. It seems that many of you are scrambling with your drafts, so I’ve decided to revise the schedule.

1. I’m extending the due date for drafts to Tuesday—in class. Bring a hard copy with you.

2. This means your writing group won’t have read your draft in advance. That’s okay. We’ll do a workshop in class that won’t require you to have read each other’s drafts.

3. You will then send SECOND DRAFTS to your writing groups and to me by the end of the day on Saturday, December 13.

4. I will give you instructions for responding to the drafts written by members of your writing group. You will be required to respond to those drafts in writing (in order to receive credit for your own essay) by Monday, December 15.

5. I will do my best to respond to all your second drafts by Tuesday, December 16.

6. If you get a second draft done early, send it along. That will give me a headstart.

7. Your final essays will be due by the end of the day on Monday, December 23 (to me, via email).

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Reflections on Conciousness: No Party Trick After All

When I read the course description for this class I was very intrigued, but also intimidated. And it turns out that there was good reason. I had anticipated that we would talk about what it means to be conscious, how we look at the world in different ways, what make up the processes of perception and how these processes are reflected in literature. Well, we DID talk about those things! Yet the conversations in class were so different from the conversations in my head! I think that was perhaps my favorite aspect of this class, hearing the different reactions to the texts we read from all my fellow classmates. My expectations were exceeded by their deep perceptions and insights, and I may have learned more from them than from Damasio or Noë. I also thought that I would come out of this class knowing so much more, (quantifiably, definitively, absolutely) about consciousness. I was actually looking forward to pulling out this knowledge as an impressive party trick. “Well if you really want to understand consciousness…” I would say. But the thing is, I feel like I know less than ever, simply because now I know how much I DIDN’T know and how much is still unknowable!

I was surprised by the diversity of texts that we read as well as the relative accessibility of texts on neurology. I am glad we started with Thinks, because it gave a base for the discussion of the mind, even if I thought Ralph was a phony. But I think that my favorite book from the whole semester was Epileptic. I had never actually read a graphic novel, despite the fact that my husband designs their book covers for a living. I had always thought that the surfeit of images and words would jumble up in my mind, making me crazy. I thought that it would be to slow, that I would get distracted by the drawings and spend too much time analyzing technique and color rather than being drawn into the narrative. I was so wrong. Instead of being a distraction, the artwork served to flush out the words in a way that was totally unexpected. The style, rather than being abrasive, left an impression in my mind of a colorless existence that somehow managed to come alive. I think this is a prime example of how our own expectations of the representations of experience, and consciousness can and often are thwarted. Epileptic changed my conscious experience of reading a book. That is a pretty neat party trick.

Lastly, an observation…I hosted thanksgiving at my house this year. Among the family and friends (15 people!) who were my guests, was a Pd.D student in in neurology. This was the perfect opportunity for me to share some of the things that we have talked about in this class right? Well, I began discussing some of the foundational texts with him, Damasio, Noë, etc. (the people next to me were rolling their eyes)  in order to see what he thought of the whole consciousness debate and its contribution to the creation of art. The process of consciousness as it affects art didn’t even make a blip on his radar. Instead he was much more interested minutia of the way the brain communicates, of all things, pain. He was totally nonplussed when I asked him if he had anything to say about the way the mind is reflected in culture or literature. I think this reaction is very interesting. Obviously he is only one case, maybe he is particularly right brained (haha) or maybe he was unprepared for my crazy eagerness to talk with him, but perhaps it says something about the potential for interdisciplinary scholarship. I read this very interesting article the other day called “Through the Looking Glass: What Western Historians and Literary Critics Can Learn from Each Other” by Blake Allmendinger (you can find it on JSTOR). It was all about the need for cross-disciplinary scholarship. Allmendinger argues that historians and literary critics share some fundamental characteristics and as such, both groups should make more of an effort to accept (perhaps embrace) each other’s methods. Historians can often be dismissive of the literary critics interpretations and speculations. Literary critics, on the other hand, often feel that historians don’t go far enough in their analysis of fact. I bring this up because while speaking to my neurology friend over turkey, I felt a similar sense of dismissal, from my side, caused by confusion about how my friend even does his work, and from his side, the dismissal of the importance of studying literature through lenses like neurology etc. (Although I don’t think he understood what I meant by lens). It made me ask myself, what would a class like ours look like if it were comprised of neurology students and English students? Has such a thing ever been done? Would any one sign up for it?

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Consciousness: A Question for Which There is No Consolation

As we progressed each week, moving from work to work, following the words to try to pry out some useful and substantial knowledge regarding consciousness, I tried to follow patterns within the text. Earlier in the semester, after reading Siri Hustvedt, it became rather clear that what consciousness is, is truly whatever an individual makes of it. Damasio, Noe, and Hustvedt all brought their prospective perspectives to what makes mind, but it wasn’t until we delved into fiction that I began to marvel at how truly infinite and enigmatic our consciousness is. In my personal journey through our shared coursework I met a man who walked miles with no recollection, a victim of trauma who swore his sister was an impostor planted in some large conspiracy, a young boy who couldn’t hug but understand love molecularly, a “creature” who was hated when all he desired was love, and, finally, a man so deep in the ocean of expectation he could find no consolation for either himself. This may be a mistake, but often when I read I look for solace. In many ways my predilection for reading is rife with paradox; I believe a good book should provide no answers only questions, but every time I read I hope that somewhere in the pages the author will provide me with some answer, some clue as to how I should live. No, none of what we read this semester provided such answers for me, and, truly, I never expected any. However, in this journey we all have taken through these various attempts by writers to render consciousness I have learned one thing. The following is what I have learned.

My rather obvious obsession, as I have applied to each novel in the latter classes, is that by nature human consciousness is fragmented. Our thoughts, our actions, our speech all of what we experience and fathom is a part that individuals often mistakenly see as a whole. When in The Echo Maker the comparison of “wider than the sky” is used, I accept it as a close description of the grandiosity of our minds. The Creature seems to have the greatest grasp of this concept as he articulates how truly wondrous it is to grow into the human experience of human nature and pines to be accepted by other as a part of that wide sky. However, I realized what ails all the characters which inhabit the novels this semester is there is a disconnection, a gap that one wishes to traverse and will almost by any means necessary do so in order to feel a sense of completion of wholeness. This phenomenon is what stupefies Weber in his minor breakdown during the events of The Echo Maker, falling into an affair because it provides some consolation for the emptiness he feels. The most extreme case of this feeling of incompleteness is by Victor Frankenstein’s Creature who resorts to violence, vowing to destroy all around him to let others know how cut off he is from the world of which he so longs to be a part.

However, in The Unconsoled this idea of consciousness being fragmented manifests in a new, interesting way. The numerous characters which follow and in a certain manner terrorize Mr. Ryder act like unconsoled specters, demanding he fulfill the numerous demands a person of his stature commands. The whole novel, in my eyes, becomes a metaphor, and all the characters which haunt Ryder are pieces of the protagonist’s conscious, scraping at his insides for him to resolve them into completion. I view these characters less as beings of the outside world, but parts of Ryder himself, pieces of himself he ignores or of which he is unaware, but components of his consciousness which yearn to be made whole. In this way, the consciousness is the great unconsolable creature of all these texts, that part protagonist, part antagonistic who drives each character, but ultimately fights against them to meet an unachievable demand. Ryder can never console the entire populace of this town, no human possesses the talents to assuage the indecipherable shortcomings of their own humanity, and so the questions of consciousness remain just that, questions. Searching for answers here, leaves one longing for an eternity. No words can make one whole, and maybe the first step for character and reader alike is to accept that somewhere beyond our comprehension there is a border we cannot cross.

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Reflections: Part 1

Exploring literary experimentation dealing with consciousness has been an illuminating and awe inspiring experience. Illuminating in the way that many of the works that we have read for class expand the scope of what is considered literature, or part of the English canon, or genre. Awe inspiring in the sense that literature has come quite far, yet exhibits a humility and uncertainty about it’s ontology, quite apropos for the contemporary novel. There seems to be so many dialogues and debates that are intertwined in the texts, throughout the course I found it that so much of the literary theory I have been learning speak directly to the methods, structure, technique, as well as the subject matter of what we were reading for this class.

It feels like we have come a long way since David Lodge’s work, which I think was an excellent foundation in terms of helping ground some of the types of scientific questions and idiosyncratic thinking that goes into thought experiments, even exhibiting a level of absurdity. This was the first novel that I have read that incorporated so many layers of techniques of not only conveying the story, but also a plethora of binaries and dichotomies, between the genders, humanities and the sciences, fidelity vs. infidelity etc. Reading Mrs. Dalloway afterwards, however, allowed me to see where Lodge may have drawn inspiration from. Reading Zunshine’s work on the Theory of Mind, further complicated an already complex text, adding more meaning, and allowing for a different kind of lens when reading literature. And then comes Demasio.

Self Comes to Mind was one of my favorite texts in the course, not only because Demasio references Spinoza and Hume, but because Demasio provides for an authoritative expert in neuroscience who created a text that is able to explain the complexities of the most contemporary scientific observations and analysis of the brain and the self to a non scientific audience. Reading Siri Hustvedt’s work, cemented the importance of Demasio’s contribution to elucidating consciousnesses, and also served as an example of the applicability of his ideas. It is around this section that the class begins it’s focus on disorders. A topic that is quite central to my essay, it has captivated me the role disorder can play in a way of kind of catalyzing philosophical activity. But ultimately at least for the works we have read, no solution is found, instead a coping mechanism is learned…  I’m going to elaborate on this in relation to the rest of the works in the class in the next post.

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“Unfortunately, I have something very urgent just now…”

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Unconsoled was confusing and quite verbose.  It seemed that every character that had any interaction with Mr. Ryder knew him very well, infinitely better than he knew them, and had pages and pages to say to him.  Parts of this novel felt dizzying, especially in the beginning when Ryder was trying to piece together his itinerary (which he never did, nor asked for).  Ryder was constantly interrupted and never was able muster the ability to either ask for the schedule or to say no to people.  Everything was to only take “a moment or two” and would last for much longer, even hours.  Ryder even abandons poor Boris at a cafe while goings to “quickly” meet with a newspaper journalist and photographer.  In addition, Ryder was never able to commit to obligations fully as he was always being pulled to other obligations, his popular line being variations of my post title.  Most of the niceties directed at Ryder seem rehearsed, as articulated by the journalist/photographer duo.  Why Ryder decides it is an appropriate idea to leave Boris behind, no matter how long the shoot should take, is beyond me.  I tried to understand Ryder and his perspective throughout the novel and wasn’t able to, despite his valiant efforts to help Brodsky (what prompted him to conduct after his “minor wound” is beyond me)- efforts I thought were sincere.  I thought that perhaps Ryder had a form of amnesia but I couldn’t determine what it might be or even if I was correct.  From the beginning of the novel, I tried to personally connect to Ryder’s frustrations and seemingly impromptu obligations but I found it more and more difficult as the novel went on.  At first, I had thought that since I am a professional musician as well, I’d be able to understand the nuances embedded throughout.  Perhaps I didn’t read the novel correctly or with the appropriate lens but boy did I try.  I am very curious to learn what Damasio or others might say about Ryder’s mental states and experiences and how they would (or wouldn’t) be diagnosed.

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Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be

I figured that I would start broad for this week’s reflection and narrow it for next week’s, beings as we get two shots at this.

So, I have spent most of this “vacation” doing class work. It has not all been for this class; however, I feel like that was why it was enlightening. As I journeyed through the library Databases and Amazon to purchase way more books than I can afford (half of which I will probably not even use for my upcoming projects–but that’s this biz!) I found myself entering into a world of mind-body connections, debates over the portrayal of the mind, free and indirect discourse models, and the identification of mental acuity versus the injured body in Jane Austen. In case I never mentioned it, I am taking a course on reading Austen this semester as well. I just didn’t think (despite the examples we used in Consciousness Class) that I could call Austen’s novels “experimental” or enter them into conversations alongside “Thinks…” and “The Man Who Walked Away.” I certainly didn’t think Damasio or Noë would care.

In my sources I have still not identified any reference to these specific authors, who I feel have shaped the way we studied the mind/brain/conscious thought/place inside or outside our head. Regardless, bits and pieces of these dialogues have become easily identifiable to me since coming into consciousness about how authors portray/indentify the mind and where these descriptions/depictions split into different characters. I can for example, read Persuasion and argue that Austen’s rapid and subtle changes in point of view, rather than being just a cool trick of narration, are also moments of reader access to different minds in one text. The narratives are not quite so simple. I can read Sherlock Holmes and identify places where Damasio’s ideas blend with my other final paper sources to suggest a difference in the portrayal of the mind in the stories and their film adaptations, Which in turn enters both texts into the realm of contemporary theories of consciousness.

It never occurred to me to apply neuropsychological theories to English literature. I thought I left all discussion of the finer points of psychology and the brain behind when I decided not to take Advanced Experimental Psychology. Now, suddenly English is just riddled with references. We discuss internal monologue and what characters “think and feel” all the time in classes, but it never seems to breech the surface of the implications of those words. Are all of these mind representations (the imagined mind insides of an Anne Elliot or a Sherlock Holmes) applicable metaphors for what we do unintentionally every day? Can we write (an act that relies upon revision and conscious decision making) an unbiased description of somebody else’s mind? These things didn’t matter to me before this class.

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Brain City Times Square

Hi everyone! I just wanted to share this cool thing called Brain City Time Square. I am not sure how much it has to do with consciousness but the visuals are quite lovely. It seems to be about the similarity between the workings of a city and the workings of a brain. image.aspxThere is sweet video here. You can also find out more information about the instillation here. And the artists website is here.

If anyone has already been how was it?

 

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