Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction 9789004347854, 9004347852

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Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
 9789004347854, 9004347852

Table of contents :
Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
Notes on Contributors
Introduction: Contemporary Fiction and Consciousness
1 “Unquantifiable factors”: The Concept of Qualia in Two Novels about Artificial Intelligence by Richard Powers and David Gerrold
2 Creations of the Posthuman Mind: Consciousness in Peter Watts’s Blindsight
3 “Men are Noisy creachers”: Dystopian Consciousness in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy
4 Autistic Consciousness Represented: Fictional Mental Functioning of a Different Kind
5 Embodied Consciousness: Autism, Life Writing and the Limits of the Cognitive Paradigm
6 Reality of the Unreal: The Use of Contradiction in Postmodern Fiction Exploring the Creative Potential of the Human Mind
7 Art, Madness and the Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency
8 Narrated Madness: Extreme States of Consciousness in A. S. Byatt’s Frederica Quartet
9 Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”: The Echo Maker and “The Postpsychiatric Novel”
10 Bullet in the Head: Jess Walter’s The Zero and the Conscious Conscience of 9/11
11 The Embodied Mind: Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing
12 Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people
13 Multimodality, Interactivity and Embodiment: Representation of Consciousness in Digital Narratives
14 The Mind of Then We Came to the End: A Transmental Approach to Contemporary Metafiction

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Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction

Consciousness, Literature and the Arts General Editor Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe (University of Lincoln, uk) Editorial Board Anna Bonshek (Prana World Group, Australia) Per Brask (University of Winnipeg, Canada) John Danvers (University of Plymouth, uk) Amy Ione (Diatrope Institute, Berkeley, usa) Michael Mangan (Loughborough University, uk) Jade Rosina McCutcheon (Melbourne University, Australia) Gregory Tague (St Francis College, New York, usa) Arthur Versluis (Michigan State University, usa) Christopher Webster (Aberystwyth University, uk) Ralph Yarrow (University of East Anglia, uk)

volume 51

The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/cla

Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction Edited by

Grzegorz Maziarczyk Joanna Klara Teske

leiden | boston

Cover illustration: Aleksander Bednarski, Myrddin Wyllt (2015), a part of the “Cambriarium” cycle – a series of paintings inspired by Welsh mythology and literature. ©Aleksander Bednarski. The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available online at http://catalog.loc.gov

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: brill.com/brill-typeface. issn 1573-2193 isbn 978-90-04-34783-0 (hardback) isbn 978-90-04-34785-4 (e-book) Copyright 2017 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill nv incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi and Hotei Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill nv provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, ma 01923, usa. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents Notes on Contributors vii Introduction: Contemporary Fiction and Consciousness 1 Grzegorz Maziarczyk and Joanna Klara Teske 1 “Unquantifiable factors”: The Concept of Qualia in Two Novels about Artificial Intelligence by Richard Powers and David Gerrold 11 Dániel Panka 2 Creations of the Posthuman Mind: Consciousness in Peter Watts’s Blindsight 27 Justyna Galant 3 “Men are Noisy creachers”: Dystopian Consciousness in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy 38 Marta Komsta 4 Autistic Consciousness Represented: Fictional Mental Functioning of a Different Kind 56 Péter Kristóf Makai 5 Embodied Consciousness: Autism, Life Writing and the Limits of the Cognitive Paradigm 72 Ajitpaul Mangat 6 Reality of the Unreal: The Use of Contradiction in Postmodern Fiction Exploring the Creative Potential of the Human Mind 89 Joanna Klara Teske 7 Art, Madness and the Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency 108 Sylwia Wilczewska 8 Narrated Madness: Extreme States of Consciousness in A. S. Byatt’s Frederica Quartet 124 Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz




Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”: The Echo Maker and “The Postpsychiatric Novel” 144 James McAdams


Bullet in the Head: Jess Walter’s The Zero and the Conscious Conscience of 9/11 161 Lloyd Isaac Vayo


The Embodied Mind: Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing 174 Dóra Vecsernyés


Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people 191 Judit Friedrich


Multimodality, Interactivity and Embodiment: Representation of Consciousness in Digital Narratives 208 Grzegorz Maziarczyk


The Mind of Then We Came to the End: A Transmental Approach to Contemporary Metafiction 225 Nathan D. Frank

Index 245

Notes on Contributors Nathan D. Frank is currently a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Virginia. His work appears in The Rocky Mountain Review, Biblical Interpretation, Kudzu Quarterly, and Reconstruction. Focusing on postmodern spatial theory and probing the interaction between textual and material worlds, Frank’s explorations of contemporary metafiction are indebted to the formalist methods and the powerful mentorship of Bruce Kawin. Forthcoming are projects on each of Joshua Ferris’s subsequent novels, The Unnamed (2010) and To Rise Again At A Decent Hour (2014). Judit Friedrich, C. Sc. is Associate Professor at the Department of English Studies, School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem (elte), Budapest. Her work focuses on postmodernist fiction and cultural memory, offering courses on English fiction, literary theory, gender studies and printed and online forms of literary and critical publication. She is the founder and series editor of the elte Papers in English Studies since 2010, with the latest, 6th volume Stunned into Uncertainty: Essays on Julian Barnes’s Fiction published in 2014, and an academic advisor to the Narratives of Culture and Identity Research Group established in 2014. Justyna Galant is Assistant Professor in the Department of English Studies at Maria CurieSkłodowska University in Lublin, Poland. Her main research interests include Renaissance drama and representations of utopia and dystopia in film and the new media. She is the author of a book “Painted devils,” “Silver tongues”: The Semiotic Universe of Jacobean Tragedy. She is currently working on a study of 19th-century English-language utopias. Marta Komsta is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland. Her main research interests include contemporary Gothic, urban fiction, and utopia/dystopia in film and literature. She has published articles on contemporary British and American fiction as well as filmic and literary (anti-)utopian narratives. She is the author of a book Welcome to the Chemical Theatre: The Urban Chronotope in Peter Ackroyd’s Fiction (2014).


Notes on Contributors

Péter Kristóf Makai has recently earned his English doctorate at the University of Szeged, Hungary. He wrote his dissertation on the significance of autism for neurocriticism and mental representation of autism in contemporary fiction. His main scholarly interests are narratology, science fiction studies and fantasy. He published essays in Tolkien Studies and Wiley-Blackwell’s A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as other scholarly journals. He is a review editor of the Americana E­ -Journal in Hungary. He is a literary translator of genre fiction, having translated works by John Scalzi, Michael J. Sullivan, R. J. Pineiro and Ian Tregillis. Ajitpaul Mangat is a PhD Candidate in English at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo. His dissertation considers how the formal techniques of modernist narrative shape new understandings about the relationship between the social and sensory experience of disability. Ajitpaul’s reviews have appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, Twentieth-Century Literature, and Disability Studies Quarterly, among other journals. He is also the co-editor of theory@buffalo 18, entitled “Derrida Matters.” Grzegorz Maziarczyk is Head of Department of American Literature and Culture at John Paul ii Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. His main research interests are literary theory (in particular narrative communication, textual materiality, multimodal storytelling and dystopia) and contemporary fiction in English. He is the author of two books – The Narratee in Contemporary British Fiction (2005) and The Novel as Book: Textual Materiality in Contemporary Fiction in English (2013) – and has published articles on Martin Amis, J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Mark Z. Danielewski and Steve Tomasula. James McAdams’s fiction, creative non-fiction, and academic essays have been published in numerous venues, including Kritikos, Connotations, Readings: A Journal for Scholars and Readers, Wreck Park Journal, Superstition Review, Amazon’s Day One, decomP, Literary Orphans, and boaat Press, among others. His research interests include post-postmodernism, creative writing, the digital humanities, and the medical humanities. Before attending college, he worked as a social worker in the mental health industry in Philadelphia. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth. His creative and academic work can be viewed at jamesmcadams.net

Notes on Contributors


Dániel Panka is in his first year of PhD studies at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. In 2015, he was a finalist of Hungary’s most prestigious interdisciplinary conference for university students, where his paper on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and its cinematic counterpart, Blade Runner, was awarded a silver medal. His primary field of research is artificial intelligence and other kinds of non-human consciousness in sf. Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz taught English and American Literature as assistant professor in the English Department at Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum. Her PhD thesis was on ­Shakespeare’s Sonnets, her second monograph on Science Fiction and Postmodern Fiction (En. 1992, Ger. 1986). She co-edited a collection of critical essays on The African American Short Story, 1970–1990 (1993), a volume Portraits of the Artist as a Young Thing (2012, with Anette Pankratz) and a collection of essays, Narrating Loss: Representations of Mourning, Nostalgia and Melancholia in Contemporary Anglophone Fictions (2014, with Brigitte Glaser). In 2013 and 2016 she was guest editor for special issues of the international journal Anglistik. Her publications are mostly in the fields of Early Modern literature and contemporary fiction. Joanna Klara Teske is Assistant Professor in the Institute of English Studies at John Paul ii Catholic University of Lublin. She has published two monographs − Philosophy in Fiction (umcs up, 2008) and Contradictions in Art: The Case of Postmodern Fiction (kul Publishing House, 2016) − and many articles on contemporary fiction, the methodology of the humanities and cognitive theory of art; an author of fiction and a publisher. Lloyd Isaac Vayo is Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He has written extensively on 9/11, popular music, and the consequences of late capitalism. Along with Todd Comer, he served as editor for the 2013 volume Terror and the Cinematic Sublime: Essays on Violence and the Unpresentable in Post-9/11 Films (McFarland). Dóra Vecsernyés is a young researcher working towards her PhD in the Modern English and American Literature Doctoral Programme of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where she is also a member of the Narratives of Culture and Identity Research Group. Her primary fields of interest include Scottish literature and


Notes on Contributors

culture, contemporary British fiction, and postmodernism. In her current research, relying on notions of narrative identity and corporeal narratology, she explores the narrative representations of body and mind in prose works by contemporary Scottish women writers, in particular Janice Galloway. Sylwia Wilczewska is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Philosophy of John Paul ii Catholic ­University of Lublin. Her scholarly work currently focuses on the history of agnosticism in the philosophy of religion.

Introduction: Contemporary Fiction and Consciousness Grzegorz Maziarczyk and Joanna Klara Teske Could we not conceive of a reality which would be like a thick fog – and nothing else, no solids, no movement? Or perhaps like a fog with certain changes in it – rather indefinite changes of light, for example? Of course, by my very attempt to describe this world I have shown that it can be described in our language, but this is not to say that any such world could be so described. […] In fact I believe that we are all most intimately acquainted with a world that cannot be properly described by our ­language […]. The indescribable world I have in mind is, of course, the world I have “in my mind” – the world which most psychologists (except the behaviourists) attempt to describe, somewhat unsuccessfully, with the help of what is nothing but a host of metaphors taken from the language of physics, of biology, and of social life. karl r. popper (213)

⸪ Karl Popper, one of the greatest philosophers of science, admits that science (and language), when challenged with the mystery of consciousness, fails. Indeed, while there is no denying the great progress science has made in understanding the world of nature (irrespective of one’s assessment of the value of technological transformations that have accompanied it), the human mind has remained by and large a mystery. It has so far proved impossible to identify the physical substratum of one’s decision to open a game of chess by moving the knight, the quale of pavement showered with rain on a hot day, or the memory of the last night’s nightmare (though it is possible to identify some areas of the brain activated in each case). Science, in other words, has not provided a (physical) explanation of subjective experience yet, and it seems that even if it has had some success as regards analysing specific mental processes (such as speech or memory), it has so far been totally unable to identify the physical structures or processes corresponding to what is subjectively experienced as free will, stream of consciousness or self. © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_002


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There are many reasons why investigating mental experience is so difficult: the lack of appropriate language (noted by Popper), the uniqueness, fluidity, and privacy of subjective experience (not accessible from without),1 the closeness (verging on identity) of the subject and object of investigation (the mind investigating itself), the impact of research on the state of the object, difficulties involved in formulating predictions and conducting experiments where human beings are concerned, and the like. Philosophers who believe that the traditional concept of consciousness is misconceived, like Daniel Dennett or Susan Blackmore, might, in turn, say that it is the absence of the object of investigation, the self or free will that is the principal difficulty. However, on the assumption that they are mistaken, it seems most fortunate that science in its exploration of the mind has from the start been complemented with art – indeed, of the two, art is the more ancient. For this is how art may also be interpreted: as a non-scientific cognitive project. As John Fowles argues, The practice and experience of art is as important to man as the use and knowledge of science. These two great manners of apprehending and enjoying existence are complementary, not hostile. The specific value of art for man is that it is closer to reality than science; that it is not dominated as science must be, by logic and reason; that it is therefore essentially a liberating activity. (159) The novelist also recognizes art’s particular predispositions as regards exploring the self: “All artefacts please and teach the artist first, and other people later. The pleasing and teaching come from the explanation of self by the expression of self; by seeing the self, and all the selves of the whole self, in the mirror of what the self has created” (132). David Lodge connects this kind of self-­examination in particular with literature, which for him is “a kind of knowledge about consciousness which is complementary to scientific knowledge” (16). More systematically, art’s cognitive potential as regards consciousness might be described in terms of the four main functions: (1) offering the recipient access to the artist’s subjective experience, whether expressed in the guise

1 Cf. Thomas Nagel’s thought experiment, presented in his essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat,” whose point is that consciousness, being subjective, cannot possibly be studied within the paradigm of science, from the outside, as if it were another object accessible for objective investigation.



of autobiography or in the guise of fiction (cf. Jeanette Winterson’s words: “every writer uses themselves in their work; they use their own experience, they use what they observe, hopefully they use what they can imagine but perhaps that’s less frequent than it ought to be […],” 7); (2) provoking new experiences that broaden the recipients’ life experience and provide them directly with experiential knowledge and material for further reflection (this may involve the recipients’ imaginative participation in the fictional model of reality and vicarious experience of various situations presented in the artefact); such experiences broaden first of all the recipient’s self-awareness; (3) disseminating and reconsidering ideas about the mind acquired elsewhere, for example as a result of scientific research, as well as exploring moral, social, etc. implications of the new ideas concerning the human mind offered by neurobiologists or cognitive scientists;2 (4) developing the recipient’s faculties of imagination, attention, perception (the most obvious example of which might be the enhancement of moral sensitivity attributed to the novel by Martha Nussbaum, the philosopher who claims that novels help the reader become more empathetic and thereby more moral).3 Obviously, the above list does not exhaust art’s contribution to the human inquiry into consciousness. One could add, for instance, the artist’s experience of self-exploration during the creative process mentioned by Fowles, or the recipient’s chance to compare his or her reaction to an artefact with those of other recipients, and the like. The cognitive mechanisms mentioned above are available to various kinds of art, though clearly art that is verbal and representational has more to offer than art whose basic mode of exploration is form (e.g. instrumental music or abstract painting).4 Exemplifying the former type of art, the novel is capable of presenting various aspects of reality, including the contents of consciousness, forms of psychic processes and the act of creation/cognition. It can operate in the mode of fiction and incorporate factual material, as its form is relatively open. It has also been praised as (self-)critical, and this might be related to the novel’s affinity and coincidence in the time of origin with modern rational and empirical philosophy noted by Ian Watt. Further, when discussing the contemporary novel, B. S. Johnson notes among its assets “exploitation of the technological fact of the book” next to “the explication of thought,” for, as he argues, 2 The writers’ role may perhaps in this respect be compared to that of philosophers, except that the writers’ main asset is imagination, rather than logical reasoning. 3 This function of art affecting cognitive faculties of the recipient is discussed in detail in Eileen John’s “Art and Knowledge” (338–39). 4 Admittedly, this is a simplification, for, as suggested by Piotr Gutowski, this kind of art might represent forms of cognition (199).


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what the novelist “should be exploring” is “the inside of his own skull” (166). In other words, the novel can also make deliberate use of its material form. Lodge’s argument about the novel’s superiority – “literature is a record of human consciousness, the richest and most comprehensive we have. […]. The novel is arguably man’s most successful effort to describe the experience of individual human beings moving through space and time” (10) – sounds a bit exaggerated, though it is not exactly groundless. Lodge tries to support his thesis by surveying various modes of representing consciousness invented throughout the novel’s history. He notes, among others, hetero- and homodiegetic narration, the epistolary convention, the free indirect discourse (which combines the authority of narratorial discourse with the authenticity of the character’s testimony) in the novel’s early days; single and multiple point(s) of view and various stream-of-consciousness techniques, symbolism and intertextual allusion, chronological dislocation as well as stylistic experiment in modernism, and the postmodern novel’s disclosure of its own fictionality. It is, however, worth noting that Lodge does not actually ascribe to literature (the novel included) the cognitive function. Apparently, for him, the novel can serve as a record of various states of consciousness (authentic and imagined), a source of empirical data for both professional scientists and lay readers, but it cannot gain new insights into the human mind by means of, for example, thought experiments; it cannot hope to solve the mystery of consciousness. This seems a modest view of the novel’s potential, though it might be true that the novel (and art in general) is better at investigating the richness of the contents of human consciousness than at exploring the connection between the material brain and subjective experience. The advantages of the postmodern novel as regards exploring the mind are further extended by the newly gained self-consciousness as regards the novel’s cognitive function and the possibilities constituted by the material fact of the book. It might also be relevant that the postmodern novel is concerned with Popper’s world 3 – products of the human mind (more precisely, it is concerned with the human being interacting with Popper’s world 3; cf. Teske 388–91). Modernism, approaching the phenomenon of consciousness directly, as recommended by Virginia Woolf in her modernist manifesto, in which she declares that the aim of the modernist novel is “understanding of the soul and heart” and names the primary object of research as “the dark places of psychology” (108–09), might in theory surpass postmodernism in this respect, but this need not be so in practice, as consciousness might be more easily accessed indirectly, by investigating products of its creative activity. The chapters constituting this volume are concerned with the ways in which the representational, cognitive and ethical potential of the novel is exploited in contemporary English-language fiction to inquire into various aspects of



human consciousness, taken broadly as an awareness of feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. The critical lens is by and large literary theory, with consciousness studies serving as an important point of reference. Some contributions are concerned with key issues in the present-day studies of the mind – the nature of consciousness and its relation to the brain as well as its impact on human cognitive abilities. Other essays explore selected aspects of successful and abortive self-cognition, self-creation, and self-integration (for example by means of self-narration or “textual” embodiment of the mind). Yet another group of texts focuses on more specific problems, such as autistic people’s extraordinary sensitivity to sensory stimulation, or the risk involved in people gaining direct access to each other’s consciousness. Taken together, all of them seek to broaden our understanding of the complex relationship between literature and consciousness. The volume opens with two essays that explore the essential problems of consciousness as represented in science fiction. In the first chapter Dániel Panka examines the literary treatment of qualia, an elusive philosophical and scientific notion, in two novels depicting the creation of an artificial intelligence: When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold and Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers. The former appears to take a physicalist stance and deny the existence of a phenomenal consciousness, assuming that its supposedly unquantifiable qualities can be reduced to linguistic and/or computational representation, which can provide a sufficient basis for building a conscious ai. Conversely, the latter discards the “easy” solution of philosophical nominalism and presents qualia as an aspect of human consciousness which will remain unattainable for ai. In the second chapter Justyna Galant, in turn, discusses the manner in which Peter Watts’s 2006 hard science fiction novel Blindsight explores the limits of consciousness and cognitive processes by presenting an encounter between posthuman, biotechnologically augmented representatives of mankind and an alien form of intelligence. By suggesting that consciousness can be construed as a mistake in the evolutionary process and that cognition can be separated from consciousness, Blindsight becomes a narrative of the end of humankind as it imagines itself: a species rendered unique by consciousness. Yet another thought experiment concerning consciousness constitutes the central element of Patrick Ness’s trilogy Chaos Walking, which explores the benefits and drawbacks of telepathy as a form of direct communication between consciousnesses in the extra-terrestrial setting of New World. In her reading of the trilogy Marta Komsta demonstrates that the open consciousness can either become a dystopian tool of surveillance and manipulation, as happens in the case of the Noise afflicting male human colonists, or foster the utopian ideals of communality and openness, embodied in the Voice, the telepathic language of the indigenous inhabitants.


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The next two chapters approach such aspects of consciousness as synaesthesia, embodiment and detail-oriented perception in relation to an actual neurodevelopmental condition, autism, and its representation in fictional and autobiographical writing. Kristof Makai investigates the depiction of the autistic mind in contemporary British and American novels and seeks to shed light on alternative forms of fictional mental functioning and its significance for literary criticism by analysing Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark and Claire Morrall’s The Language of Others. By placing autistic characters in a neurotypical setting and presenting their condition as a cognitive disability that is also a different set of abilities, these novels challenge and defamiliarise the readers’ routine ways of knowing the world and ask them to empathise with characters who have difficulties with empathetic engagement and its social expressions. Ajitpaul Mangat, in turn, argues that autobiographies by autistic individuals, or autiebiographies, offer narratives that provide an important corrective to the cognitive sciences’ construction of autism as deficient consciousness. Autiebiographies like Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures and Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day reveal the paramount importance of embodiment for autistic cognition and highlight the ability of autistic subjects to relate to the world in a more egalitarian manner. Mangat’s analysis of autistic life writing not only proves that autism should be understood in terms of difference rather than lack, but it also demonstrates that these texts can contribute to our understanding of the role of embodiment in cognition. Another concept central to our understanding of consciousness is discussed in the chapter by Joanna Klara Teske, who focuses on the exploration of the dual, real-fictional dimension of human life in Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and Filth by Irvine Welsh. Both novels feature characters – a pigeon and a tapeworm, respectively – which on the one hand appear to be as (quasi-)real as other elements of the represented reality and on the other are ostentatiously fictional intrusions into an otherwise mimetic discourse. The contradiction they appear to embody can thus be read as a reflection of the occasional blurring of the borderline between the mind’s perceptions and projections. Sylwia Wilczewska analyses the reality/fiction dichotomy in relation to the depiction of the state of mind resulting from artistic inspiration or its absence in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency. The events that take place after the novel’s protagonist has undergone the procedure aiming at making him regain the lost inspiration for writing can be explained in terms of delusional disorder or contact with the divine. The connection between the two explanations allows interpreting the novel as conveying a postmodernist message about the nature of art, artistic inspiration and its relation with cognition, making it an original portrayal of the ambiguous interdependence of fiction and reality.



The theme of non-standard types and states of consciousness is further developed in the contributions by Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz and James McAdams. The former discusses the ways in which A. S. Byatt depicts the borderline states of mental illness and examines the possibilities of their novelistic representation in the Frederica Potter Quartet. The four novels constituting the quartet explore the delusional consciousness of a mentally deranged character who experiences a reality that is not shared or considered existent by other individuals. By using the floating narrative modes and exploring the faultlines in the cultural milieu, Byatt reveals the working of the “anomalous” mind and postulates the ethics of respect for the other’s identity. The relation between non-standard states of consciousness and storytelling is approached from a more neuronarratological, as it were, perspective in James McAdams’s chapter on Richard Powers’s Echo Maker, which he reads as an example of a contemporary neuronarrative: the novel explicitly thematises the problem of consciousness by focusing on the character suffering from Capgras Syndrome. McAdams argues that The Echo Maker can be called “a postpsychiatric novel” in its exploration of the limits of the practices of clinical, evidence-based neuroscience and the benefits of narrative-based psychological treatment. The next two chapters explore the impact of trauma, national or personal in scale, on consciousness. Lloyd Isaac Vayo discusses the manner in which Jess Walter’s 2006 novel The Zero presents the consciousness of the protagonist directly affected by 9/11 and identifies temporal and mnemonic gaps, critical detachment and the tension between awareness of problematic aspects of the War on Terror and a sense of impotence as its major characteristics. In Vayo’s reading of The Zero this representation of the protagonist’s state of mind dramatises the author’s critical attitude to the American government’s response to 9/11. In her discussion of fictional representation of individual trauma Dóra Vecsernyés explores Janice Galloway’s début novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing as a repository of novelistic techniques whereby mental disorder can be represented. By combining fragmentation and ellipsis operating on the narrative level with typographic deformations, Galloway depicts the disintegration and recuperation of the narrator’s self and thus turns the novel as book into a multi-tiered embodiment of the fictional mind. The re-integration of self also figures prominently in Judit Friedrich’s analysis of Keri Hulme’s novel the bone people, which depicts the formation of a mixed European-Maori nuclear family in the cultural context of New Zealand. Having analysed the process on the level of individual characters, Friedrich argues that the three central characters represent integrative development of a national self for New Zealand and on an even more symbolic level the ­progress


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of the Jungian Self towards recognition and coordination of its animus, shadow and inner child. The final two essays relate novelistic representations of consciousness to our contemporary, digital condition. Grzegorz Maziarczyk discusses two multimodal digital narratives – The Breathing Wall by Kate Pullinger, Stefan Schemat and babel, and Pry by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro – and demonstrates that interactivity and embodiment constitute two major aspects of the manner in which these experimental projects attempt to go beyond ­standard strategies for representing consciousness in literature. According to ­Maziarczyk, these two works can therefore be perceived as the precursors of future, even more innovative forms of consciousness representation, which will make full use of the multimodal and interactive potential of digital textuality. The collection closes with Nathan D. Frank’s meta-theoretical reflection on the relationship between consciousness and the novel in contemporary cultural conditions of the information age. Drawing on the intersections between theories of (digital) virtuality and (novelistic) self-reflexivity, he argues that the self-conscious novel can not only represent minds of fictional characters but also become a virtual mind in its own right, as it were, analogous in its operations to actual minds. Frank’s case study is Joshua Ferris’s début novel Then We Came to the End, which can be read as an instance of the textual mind of the novel and as the novel of our minds. At the end of his reflections on consciousness and the novel Lodge expresses his deep concern with the self being nowadays threatened by both poststructuralists and cognitive scientists: This idea of the person […] has come under attack from both the humanities and science in recent times. There is, for instance, a certain affinity between the poststructuralist literary theory that maintains that the human subject is entirely constructed by the discourses in which it is situated, and the cognitive science view that regards human self-consciousness as an epiphenomenon of brain activity. (89) The author’s hope that the novel might help protect the notion of the self, which – in his opinion – we need to be human (16), seems to pervade the whole essay. Perhaps one can ask for more, just in case. Perhaps the novel might help people face the possibility that the self is an illusion, and understand how important and why the self might be all the same. It might also teach people to construct the self (or a good self) for themselves and prevent others from trying to interfere in the process from the outside (in so far as this is possible).



The dramatic scenario aside, aware of art’s cognitive potential, metafictionally self-conscious, in control of its form (the material form of the book included), taking advantage of the new multimodal and digital means of expression, as well as familiar with the challenge that the modern world constitutes, contemporary fiction – as the essays collected in this volume amply demonstrate  – can help people develop awareness of their own and others’ psychic life; it can also help explore ways in which consciousness might evolve (naturally or with the forthcoming assistance of information technology); it can even help people choose those ways that seem relatively safe, from which mankind or, to overcome at least for once the anthropocentric bias, the whole universe might benefit. This much might be at stake. The novel in its ingenuity has already for some time tried to accomplish these tasks, simultaneously entertaining readers, giving them respite from their own selves (or illusions thereof), providing exercise for imagination and delighting with inventiveness, and it will certainly continue to evolve and reflect (on) the mind and its perception and/or projection of reality. References Fowles, John. The Aristos. 1964. Vintage: London, 2001. Print. Gutowski, Piotr. “Prawda – rzeczywistość – sztuka.” Prawda natury, prawda sztuki: studia nad znaczeniem reprezentacji natury. Ed. Ryszard Kasperowicz and Elżbieta Wolicka. Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2002. 191–206. Print. John, Eileen. “Art and Knowledge.” Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Ed. Berys Gaut and Dominic McIves Lopes. London: Routledge, 2001. 329–40. Print. Johnson, B. S. “Introduction to Aren’t You Rather Young to be Writing Your Memoirs?” The Novel Today: Contemporary Writers on Modern Fiction. 1977. Ed. Malcolm Bradbury. London: Fontana P, 1990. 165–83. Print. Lodge, David. “Consciousness and the Novel.” Consciousness and the Novel: Connected Essays. London: Penguin, 2003. 1–91. Print. Nussbaum, M. C. “The Literary Imagination in Public Life.” Renegotiating Ethics in Literature, Philosophy, and Theory. Ed. J. Adamson, R. Freadman and D. Parker. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 222–46. Print. Popper, Karl R. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. London: Routledge, 1969. Print. Teske, Joanna Klara. “The Three Stages in the History of the Novel − Realism, Modernism and Postmodernism: A Reflection of the Evolution of Reality in Karl Popper’s ­Model of the Three Worlds.” PASE Papers 2007. Vol. 2. Studies in Culture and L­ iterature.


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Ed.  Wojciech Kalaga, Marzena Kubisz and Jacek Mydla. Katowice: Para, 2007. 388–97. Print. Watt, Ian. “Realism and the Novel.” English Literature and British Philosophy: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. S. P. Rosenbaum. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1971. 65–85. Print. Winterson, Jeanette. “From Innocence to Experience.” Interview by Louise Tucker. Lighthousekeeping. London: Harper Perennial, 2005. 2–14. Print. Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” Collected Essays by Virginia Woolf. Vol. 2. London: Hogarth, 1966. 103–10. Print.

chapter 1

“Unquantifiable factors”: The Concept of Qualia in Two Novels about Artificial Intelligence by Richard Powers and David Gerrold Dániel Panka Abstract The paper examines the literary treatment of qualia in two sf novels each thematising the creation of an artificial intelligence: Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers and When HARLIE Was One (1972) by David Gerrold. The works exemplify two basic attitudes towards the qualia problem: Gerrold takes a typically postmodernist stance applying the maxim of the total superiority of language to reality, while Powers expresses disillusionment with and suspicion towards the philosophy of deconstruction. The paper argues that the two artificial “protagonists” of the respective novels can be described using concepts from the research done on the philosophy of consciousness. The ways in which both writers imagine the creation of an artificial intelligence are compared, with reference to terms borrowed from consciousness studies. Ultimately two divergent conclusions are explored, since the texts culminate in radically different resolutions drawn from similar premises. The outcome of Galatea 2.2 can arguably be called a humanistic ending, while When HARLIE Was One seems to celebrate the radical optimism of artificial intelligence research at the time of its conception.

Keywords qualia – consciousness – artificial intelligence – science fiction – language – post-humanism

“It bothers me that there are unquantifiable factors in human behaviour,” writes the baffled artificial intelligence in David Gerrold’s novel, When HARLIE Was One (Gerrold).1 It expresses this frustration during one of the most interesting 1 The reason for the lack of page numbers in the in-text citations of Gerrold is that I am using an electronic version of the novel in my analysis, and I found the pagination of the document to be frequently ambiguous (cf. also note 8). © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_003



dialogues in the text, a dialogue that contains the key to understanding how the implied author2 thinks about human intelligence. This paper tries to demonstrate through an analysis of the two novels that science fiction writers, even if they are unaware of using philosophical concepts, sometimes thematise the very same problem, namely the qualia-problem. Moreover, the works considered here attribute a different significance to the intangible and the “unquantifiable factors” of human consciousness; the possible reason for this discrepancy is also explored. The two novels I discuss are David Gerrold’s When HARLIE Was One and Richard Powers’s Galatea 2.2, both featuring a fictional artificial intelligence as one of the protagonists. However, before a closer reading of the novels can be conducted, it is necessary to clarify the rather tangled and problematic philosophical background and terminology. The literature concerning the nature of consciousness in contemporary philosophy is vast and complex, as the relevant discourse is inevitably interdisciplinary; it stretches across analytical philosophy, metaphysics, neurobiology, linguistics, psychology, and so forth. Some branches of research are highly practical, relying on tangible scientific evidence; other disciplines are more contemplative and theoretical, and it is this latter group that is treated very briefly here. Both novels envision non-existent artificial intelligences; I attempt to show that these imaginary artificial intelligences can be described with the terminology of consciousness studies; moreover, they should be examined in this broader context, not only in the realm of literary criticism. Investigating the fundamental reason behind the differences between the two texts can help us to grasp how other science fiction novels thematise the same issues, even if these beliefs about the nature of consciousness are not explicitly stated by the novels. To put it very simply, the notion of qualia has to be outlined, along with the paradigm shift known as the linguistic turn in Western philosophy and literary theory. The term qualia is one of the most exciting and controversial terms in contemporary philosophy. The argument is fierce between the “believers” of epiphenomenal qualia and the proponents of physicalism, the view that everything in our world can be explained with the physical, thus there is no need to stipulate the existence of non-physical qualities or entities (Stoljar). Without taking sides, and without even the hope of a complete survey of the discussion (that would indeed require a whole research paper), it is useful to briefly summarise the most relevant points of the qualia debate.

2 For simplicity’s sake, I will occasionally refer to the implied author as “author” or by the respective writers’ names, bearing in mind that they are not necessarily identical.

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Firstly, what do we mean by qualia? Qualia are intrinsic and personal subjective experiences that by definition cannot be verbalised and explained to another person. The phenomena of qualia belong to the “‘hard problem’ of consciousness” (Chalmers 80). According to Chalmers, the “easy problems […] [a]lthough all […] are associated with consciousness, […] all concern the objective mechanisms of the cognitive system” (81). In other words, they can be objectively examined, and hopefully solved in the future, as there is nothing intrinsically mysterious about how we can talk about, for instance, our feelings (Chalmers 81). The hard problem, however, is “how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience” (Chalmers 81). This personal experience is part of the intrinsic properties of phenomenal consciousness (Boda 103), a denotation of consciousness that is used when there are qualia involved in the particular model of the mind (Tőzsér 227).3 Using Frank Jackson’s examples from his seminal paper “Epiphenomenal Qualia,” such experiences are “the itchiness of itches, […] tasting a lemon, smelling a rose, hearing a loud noise or seeing the sky” (127). It is easy to see how this term can provoke heated arguments between philosophers to this day: some claim that the existence of qualia, as Jackson writes, is “intuitively and obviously true” (“Epiphenomenal” 127),4 while the attackers of the idea say that the “theoretical concepts of qualia are vague [and] the source concept […] is […] thoroughly confused” (Dennett 382). No wonder that Tőzsér writes the following: According to the unanimous stance of contemporary philosophers, to all the physicalist theories of the mind the explanation of phenomenal consciousness poses the biggest challenge. Even though the climate of opinion in contemporary philosophy of the mind is fundamentally physicalist, there have been numerous counter-arguments voiced against physicalism, all citing phenomenal consciousness. (229; translation mine)

3 Or as Stubenberg writes, “the fact that there is something it is like to be you consists in the fact that you have qualia” (5). The term was coined by Ned Block in his article “On a Confusion about a Function of Consciousness.” As he defines it: “the phenomenally conscious aspect of a state is what it is like to be in that state” (227). Cf. Thomas Nagel: “[F]undamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism. […] We may call this the subjective character of experience” (436). 4 It is notable that even though Jackson provided the probably best-known formulation of the “Knowledge argument” (“Epiphenomenal” 128), he rejected these ideas in his subsequent publications on the subject and embraced physicalism (cf. “Mind and Illusion” 251).



As can be probably seen from the above, qualia (and phenomenal consciousness) cannot be properly defined (Tőzsér 228).5 The only reason I have attempted to describe what philosophers mean when they argue about qualia is that, in my view, the term seeped into other disciplines as well, and due to its intuitive nature, is frequently and unknowingly used by science fiction when there is artificial intelligence involved in a story. It does not matter whether it is used as a desperate attempt to preserve the illusion of the human mind being special (Dennett 386), as in Gerrold’s novel, or as a truly insurmountable problem for computers, as in Powers’s text. The single most important aspect of the qualia debate at this point is that humans feel a kind of uneasiness when it comes to talking about intelligent machines, and most of them would maintain that we (as the human race) are to some extent still different and could never be duplicated. An appealing viewpoint is represented by Searle’s “biological naturalism” (xiv): he claims that “[c]onsciousness is a natural biological phenomenon that does not fit comfortably into either of the traditional categories of mental and physical” (xiv), and he accepts the “Weak ai,” stating that machines can simulate consciousness easily (61); however, he denies that sheer calculations and mechanical processes would yield true consciousness (209).6 Finally, a few words about the notion of the linguistic turn, which I will use in a broad sense in the analysis of When HARLIE Was One, referring to the paradigm shift that occurred in the human sciences in the early twentieth century. Considering the immensity of this issue, even a brief history would lead me away from my current subject; it is enough to say now that the work of Wittgenstein among others called attention to the utmost importance of language in human thinking (Cuddon, “Linguistic Turn”). The structure, grammar, semantics, pragmatics, and all other aspects of language have been examined and thoroughly discussed by various philosophers and literary critics in structuralist and poststructuralist frameworks. There have been numerous hypotheses put forward by various scholars such as the Speech Act Theory (J. L. Austin and John R. Searle) or linguistic relativity (Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf); these do not necessarily pertain to literary studies, but their theoretical implications certainly influenced the field among other disciplines as well. Eventually, surprising and somewhat counter-intuitive ideas were formed 5 Needless to say, there are many great essays and research articles that try to clarify the issue or provide a unified theory of qualia, for example Chapter 7 of Tőzsér’s Metaphysics or Stubenberg’s Consciousness and Qualia. 6 Naturally, this viewpoint also came under heavy attack from other philosophers; cf. the Appendix of Chapter 5 in Searle’s The Mystery of Consciousness (“An Exchange with Daniel Dennett” 115–31).

“Unquantifiable factors”


about the nature of human perception and how we think; it has become a popularised (often misinterpreted) postmodernist commonplace to say that “there is nothing outside language” (Macey, “Linguistic Turn”), or as Wittgenstein famously phrased it in his Tractatus, “[t]he limits of my language mean the limits of my world” [in German: “[d]ie Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt”] (Wittgenstein 5.6). To sum up, the ideas expressed during the linguistic turn imply that we may be able to grasp the essence of what it means to be human through examining language, as language is the only way we describe, construct, and experience reality. If that is true, creating an artificial intelligence has no serious hindrance anymore: the sheer computational skills7 of microchips long ago exceeded those of human beings, and since language is a set of symbols, it is obvious that loading all the human languages into a computer’s memory bank would result in a conscious entity. This conclusion about artificial intelligence (commonly abbreviated as ai) may seem far-fetched, but it can be argued that it logically follows from the above, and David Gerrold in his 1972 novel,8 When HARLIE Was One, goes through these steps in order to come to a devastating conclusion about the potentials of computer science. Although the novel was nominated for the Hugo Award when it was first published, it did not subsequently attract extensive academic attention; probably because it bears the characteristics of popular science fiction treated with serious reservations at the time as “genre fiction.” Nevertheless, the style and register of the text is a matter of secondary significance now, as the most intriguing feature of the book is the succession of lengthy philosophical discussions that are inserted into the narrative, frequently in an intrusive fashion. The plot revolves around a group of researchers (led by the human protagonist, Auberson) who create an artificial intelligence that they baptise HARLIE (an acronym, meaning Human Analog Replication, Lethetic Intelligence Engine). The machine is described as an example of elementary Connectionist theory (Searle 102), as it is spread out between several subsystems that endlessly interact with each other. It is not long before the scientists realise that something is happening inside HARLIE’s neural system: they intercept 7 That is, the manipulation of symbols (Searle 10). 8 In my analysis I use the electronic updated version of the novel that the writer himself claims to be superior to the original version (Author’s Notes on the 1987 Edition). Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to look at the original text because it has been out of circulation for a long time and is practically inaccessible. According to the author, the updated one is “by far the better of the two” (Author’s Notes on the 1987 Edition).



strange anomalies (basically system errors) in its behaviour, which turn out to be experiments on the machine’s part to experience emotions. The focus is on the “nurturing” of the ai, it is practically a Bildungsroman for computers. This differentiates the text from other famous ai stories in which the evolution (the maturation) of the silicon brain is not the central problem of the novel, only the consequences of an already existing ai are extrapolated (cf. Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories entitled I, Robot). The emphasis for Gerrold is on the process, not the product. As mentioned above, the other striking characteristic of HARLIE is the frequency and length of the chiefly philosophical discussions between the computer and its creator (these exchanges are not exactly like human interactions, as Auberson is typing on a keyboard and HARLIE’s answers appear on the screen). The frame story is quite simple: the company wants to shut down HARLIE, claiming that he does not make any profit directly, and Auberson wants to prevent them from doing so. Of course, during his attempts to save HARLIE, he finds true love at the company and has a midlife crisis. Despite the formulaic background story, it quickly becomes clear that the important parts of the novel are the conversations between man and machine and that these dialogues serve as a therapy for the distressed scientist (psychologist, to be exact). While Auberson is talking to HARLIE, he discovers basic truths about humanity and about himself as well. It is ironic that the content of these conversations propels the plot forward, and the reader’s first impression is that Auberson did not build HARLIE selflessly. Initially, HARLIE serves two purposes: to be an objective “psychologist” to the psychologist (typing his musings into the computer helps the protagonist to cope with his everyday life) and to be the real-life proof that the human race can build an ai. The “human vanity” aspect as one of the motivating factors for the creation of an ai is a well-known moral issue in most science fiction stories; but what do Auberson and HARLIE talk about? In my opinion, HARLIE embodies ideas of basic computational technology and popular beliefs about the nature of the human brain. The text toys with the notion of what later came to be known as “Weak ai,” and then puts the idea of “Strong ai” (Searle 9) into “practice”; and in the final chapters, it speculates about the consequences of designing the latter. The Strong ai view basically states that human consciousness is nothing more than software running on the hardware (or rather, wetware) that is our brain, in other words, human consciousness is just a computer programme; contrary to this, the Weak ai theory suggests that computers are a good tool for simulating the mind, but that does not necessarily lead to consciousness per se (Searle 9–18). The turning-point in Gerrold’s novel that marks the shift

“Unquantifiable factors”


from favouring the Weak to celebrating the Strong ai can be clearly pinned down to a conversation after which, not accidentally, HARLIE and Auberson together state some of the fundamental principles of the linguistic turn in a subsequent discussion. In my analysis, first the transitory dialogue is examined, and then the exchange about love is considered in the light of the previous developments. HARLIE, unlike Auberson, is a proponent of the Strong ai from the very beginning, and only hesitates when it bumps into the problem of qualia. Its creators, however, are somehow reluctant to admit that it is conscious, dismissing its anomalies as signs that “he is going insane.” Before trying to determine whether it passes the classic Turing test, meant to determine whether the given computer can mislead its interlocutor into believing that the latter is talking to a fellow human,9 Auberson explains that “HARLIE can neither be experiencing or expressing anything that is not already a part of the language concept-set [he was given]” (Gerrold).10 However, in the course of the conversation that follows the machine convinces Auberson that a human subject, like HARLIE itself, is just “a very clever programming trick” (Gerrold). This is the moment when the idea of Strong ai explicitly appears and when one of the basic dilemmas of ai is voiced by HARLIE: “If I think I’m alive, how do you know I’m not?” (Gerrold).11 This situation seems to be a stalemate until HARLIE wants to understand the concept of love; it is at this point that qualia come into the picture and when the human has to find a solution for the protagonist computer. HARLIE wants to understand the concept of love and is immediately confused by it: I want to know about love. Man-friend, my knowledge of human emotions is limited to what I can obtain from books. On the subject of love, the books are filled with […] many contradictions. All of them say that love is a desirable state [but] love seems to be associated with great pain. How can this be desirable? Can you explain the contradiction? (Gerrold)


10 11

The test, which uses computer-mediated communication, was devised by famous mathematician Alan Turing in 1950, but its evidential value was almost immediately called into question by various scientists (McCorduck 216). This image of HARLIE as a very smart, but mechanical “language black box” resembles Searle’s Chinese Room argument (11) that he used to refute the possibility of Strong ai. Cf. Searle: “I can’t prove that this chair is not conscious. If by some miracle suddenly all chairs became conscious there is no argument that could disprove it” (209).



The computer’s question is logical and uncomfortable; arguably, no human could answer this query sufficiently and Auberson is no exception. He spends days ruminating about the problem, and one night, while lying next to his girlfriend, he comes up with a solution he could feed to the curious ai: “All the talking about love – that’s not love […]. [Love is] what you feel. [W]e’ve made this stupid connection that talking and thinking about something actually have something to do with the thing itself” (Gerrold). A few pages later, he announces to HARLIE that love “can’t be explained, […] only experienced” (Gerrold). The character here phrases the concept of qualia in laymen’s terms, and the discussion between man and machine progresses towards a postmodern “linguistic turn”; they realise that even though emotions appeared earlier than words and phrases, with the emergence of verbal expressions human feelings were strictly anchored to these semantic units. Consequently, every emotion is just a mental, subconscious manipulation of emotion-concepts that takes place inside language. HARLIE declares: “This is about language. This is all about language. There is no such thing as thinking, Auberson. There is only language manipulating itself” (Gerrold). It is not difficult to see how the ai’s digital epiphany resonates with postmodern (“post-linguistic turn”) theories in the human sciences. What we believe to be metaphysical, unquantifiable qualities (in short, qualia) are in fact participants in a Derridean “endless chain of signifiers.” “Qualia-based property dualism” (Tőzsér 235)12 fails because HARLIE declares itself to be human based on the facts that it manipulates all the human languages perfectly, that its memory banks contain all digitally accessible human knowledge, and that through turning and twisting language (these are the system errors) it can experience and comprehend anything. It even begins a quest to prove its usefulness in an attempt to escape being turned off, i.e. death. HARLIE’s consciousness is the result of his excessive computational capabilities. The implied author appears to take a physicalist stance when the characters suggest that knowing all the facts is enough to understand qualia; they deny the existence of a phenomenal consciousness. The data contained in a system of symbols (language) provides ample source for building a conscious Strong ai like HARLIE and for augmenting its powers to the point where it becomes a demi-God. In the novel, this is exactly what happens after the “linguistic turn”: the directors of the company are convinced by Auberson and his team to enhance HARLIE’s capacities with the ironically named g.o.d. 12

My own translation of Tőzsér’s technical term. The original in Hungarian is “kváliaalapú tulajdonságdualizmus” (235). Though the term property dualism is widely used, Tőzsér’s term is more accurate as there are more types of property dualism (Van Gulick).

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extension and as a result, the computer can eventually simulate anything, even the entire human race. In the end, the novel imagines a terrifying future, a future in which everything can be controlled by a digital deity such as HARLIE. A reader with a humanist disposition cannot help but see this ending as darkly ironic, even though the tone is elevated and the protagonist is joyful over the success of saving HARLIE. To summarize briefly before moving on to Galatea 2.2, Gerrold seems to consider qualia to be the main obstacle in designing an artificial intelligence. During the lengthy discussions between the protagonists, he first identifies the problem and then resolves the qualia dilemma in a rather “postmodernist” vein. Instead of strengthening the position of humanity, or emphasizing the uniqueness of human consciousness, the implied author proposes that language is the ultimate key to reality and investigates the possibility of creating a machine that can experience and comprehend everything we thought to be human-specific. Richard Powers’s novel, Galatea 2.2 contains similar elements to When HARLIE Was One, but its conclusion is markedly different and it has received significantly more academic attention. The text has been read in the context of autobiographical writing and its theoretical problems (Kucharzewski; Bould and Vint) and as a commentary on patriarchal control (Worthington). Previous readings emphasize that “the novel is not the biography of a neural net, but Richard’s autobiography” (Bould and Vint 87) and that “Galatea 2.2 is about the textualization of Helen, […] Richard, [and itself]” (Worthington 130). Moreover, it has been argued that even though superficially it resembles a science fiction story, the text’s focus is not “the feasibility of ai” (Bould and Vint 91). It seems that the prevalent critical opinion treats the text as a half playful, half serious criticism of postmodernist literary theory (Kucharzewski 171) or “[an exploration] of the overlap between science fiction’s and life-writing criticism’s concerns with subjectivity […] in language” (Bould and Vint 85). I intend to demonstrate that the novel can be read as a piece of speculative fiction about the nature of consciousness, and that this does not necessarily entail a simplification of the text’s “meta-fictionally self-aware” (Kucharzewski 178) character, only a shift of approach from looking at the structure of the text to narrative content – to what happens to the protagonists. The novel deliberately confuses the reader at the beginning by “[complicating] the relation between Richard Powers and Richard” (Kucharzewski 173), the real-life author and the textual narrator, respectively. This already underlines the “discrepancy between life and language” (Kucharzewski 174), i.e. the problem of conveying epiphenomenal qualities to another person (in this case, the reader). There are two parallel plotlines in the story: one of them



comprises flashbacks from Richard’s failed relationship with a woman simply identified as C.; the other follows Richard’s endeavours in a research centre to create an artificial intelligence that can pass a modified version of the Turing test in which it has to analyse a work of literature. If the machine can produce an essay that is indistinguishable from an ma student’s, Richard and his companion (the cynical but likeable Lentz) win a wager against other scientists. They baptise the last version of the ai (Implementation H) Helen, and Richard gives it the female gender during a conversation.13 It is Helen’s story that exemplifies the concepts that appear in When HARLIE Was One, but Powers draws different conclusions from the premises. Lentz works in the field of connectionism, and he is not a believer of Strong ai. At the beginning of the project, Richard contemplates the magnitude of the challenge they have undertaken: “A perfect, universal simulation of intelligence would, for all purposes, be intelligent. I would never have signed on to such a pipe dream” (52). Lentz promptly reminds him that they only have to be “as intelligent as” (Powers 54), meaning that they are building a Weak ai, not a Strong one. A few days later, Richard grasps the difference, and he calls their project a “deception” (Powers 88). His frustration is understandable: he unknowingly succumbed to the theories of poststructuralism (and thus Strong ai to an extent), and this “mistake” is even more embarrassing when it is pointed out to him by one of his colleagues (Worthington 123–24). Even though Richard realised during his PhD studies that “the study of literature would lead no further than its own theories about itself” (Powers 65), he cannot help but confuse the simulation of consciousness with actual sentience. There is much at stake: Helen’s existence could potentially lead the participants in the experiment to an understanding of how language relates to the world, and how consciousness emerges in a subject (Worthington 124–25). What is the difference between HARLIE and Helen? Both have to learn about the external world from pure textual data, and Richard’s summary of Helen’s problems could easily apply to HARLIE as well: “Helen had to use language to create concepts. Words came first: the main barrier to her education. The brain did things the other way around […]. In evolution’s beginning was not the word but the place we learned to pin the word to” (Powers 248). Indeed, 13

This is a very problematic act in a gender-focused reading (cf. Worthington 125). It is also interesting to compare Helen’s and HARLIE’s gendering. While Helen is given a gender by her creator, HARLIE’s male identity is never a question; characters automatically (and paradoxically, as “Harlie” is a rare female name) refer to it as a “he.” This issue is not pursued further here; it is enough to say now that I refer to Helen as a “she” (not as “it” as in the case of HARLIE) because she is clearly gendered by one of the characters in the novel.

“Unquantifiable factors”


Richard is struggling to explain the simplest things to Helen. “How many words is it going to take to say what [a] globe feels like?” (Powers 126) is a question posed to Richard by one of the other scientists, and the query echoes Frank Jackson’s examples of qualia. David Lodge posits that “literature is a record of human consciousness, the richest and most comprehensive we have, […] arguably man’s most successful effort to describe qualia” (Lodge 10);14 probably that is why Lentz asks the “token humanist” Richard to tutor the ai in the first place. However, what works for HARLIE does not suffice for Helen, and there lies the basic difference between the two ais. One could argue that there is practically no difference between a computer being conscious and all its environment treating it as such; but HARLIE essentially acts on its own (in fact, it commits federal crime by hacking into various governmental systems) in order to secure its own survival. By contrast, Helen comments rather indifferently on her impending death during a bomb threat: “Helen could die? […] Extraordinary” (Powers 272). Although Helen eventually commits suicide, her act is interpreted as such by the humans surrounding her (especially Richard). Helen simply “quits the game,” and her understanding of the significance attached to such a deed appears to be partial at best. Even though Richard celebrates this moment as proof that Helen is conscious, he fails to realise that this “exposes the inadequacy of the merely discursive” (Bould and Vint 100). Helen lacks the feeling of being alive, because as a computer program she is practically immortal; she can read all the literary texts in the world about death, she still will not have the same concept of death as conscious living organisms (i.e. humans) do. In other words, Helen’s indifferent attitude to her impending doom indicates that the quale of being alive, one of the most basic experiences of a human being, is impossible to convey to an artificial intelligence through literary discourse. Helen would have to be biologically existent in order to be able to appreciate “‘felt experience’” (Barry 29) in literary works, which is a very suggestive if somewhat obscure concept used by F. R. Leavis as a criterion of artistic value. “[T]he living roots of sensuous experience” (Eagleton 32) that are necessary to create felt experience are missing from Helen’s “brain.”15 HARLIE manages to escape the incapacitating inertia 14


Though David Lodge leaves this implicit, due to the nature of qualia, this description is never successful; literature may strive to describe qualia, or indeed evoke a memory of a particular quale in a reader that they experienced in the past, but the transfer of the epiphenomenal quality is never perfect or complete. Richard and Lentz try to give her sense organs in the form of a microphone and a digital camera, but this is an imperfect solution. On one occasion, Richard remarks that “[e]ven […] Paris would have been no more than a fuzzy, Fauvist kaleidoscope” through Helen’s



of infinite discussions about metaphysical questions by recognizing the pervasiveness of language, and begins to live a life of its own. On the other hand, Helen only remarks upon the nature of death and what that means for her and even the quotation above derives from something that she has read (according to Richard, the words are taken from a story about Aldous Huxley’s death). It is understandable that Richard, in the heat of research and out of passion for his creation,16 misinterprets the repetition of literary texts and theories in the right context as consciousness. However, a level-headed Lentz reminds him that “[a]ll the meanings are yours [i.e., Richard’s]” (Powers 274). The ai is conscious because Richard believes her to be, and he infuses her often incoherent utterances or direct literary quotations with some situational meaning. Admittedly, she still exhibits remarkable aptitude on certain occasions, but her capabilities are considerably less developed than HARLIE’s. This indicates the two authors’ different perspectives on the qualia problem: the implied author of Galatea 2.2, even though predisposed to regard poststructuralist ideas about language and reality as potentially valid, accepts the defeat and imagines the invention of a general artificial intelligence as more problematic than Gerrold does. As Bould and Vint summarise it succinctly: “Helen cannot understand language without understanding concrete, material, embodied, and interpersonal experience […]. [B]ecause Helen lacks material experience of language, she can only achieve the semblance of subjectivity” (100). HARLIE easily overcomes this defect of not having a body to feel the world with by creating its own “periods of nonrationality” (Gerrold) inside the paradigm of language. Finally, the death of Helen can be compared to HARLIE’s fate, also yielding an intriguing contrast between the two ais Richard is wryly reminded by an English major student (Helen’s counterpart-to-be in the Turing test) that “[his] version of literary reality is a decade out of date” (Powers 284), so he feeds all sorts of contemporary information into Helen such as un reports and news from 1971 to the present to correct and supplement the outdated and, in any case, one-sided literary information. Helen’s reaction is peculiar to these often negative pieces of information; she simply says, “I don’t want to play anymore” (Powers 314), and remains reclusive for days. On the day of the exam, the literature student hands in a “more or less brilliant New Historicist” piece (Powers 326), while Helen only writes a few sentences on the page: “I never felt at home


“eyes” (Powers 295). The ai gains a new dimension in her sensory repertoire, but her principal (and most formative) mode of perception arguably still remains in the textual sphere. Hence the title of the novel: “like Pygmalion to Galatea, Richard is both lover and father to his creation” (Worthington 123).

“Unquantifiable factors”


here. This is an awful place to be dropped down halfway” (Powers 326). With this, she turns herself off forever, committing suicide for all practical purposes. She clearly cannot cope with her “liminal state between human and machine” (Worthington 126), and escapes into silence. Helen’s death can be read as a “resistance to the controls exerted on her by her creators” (Worthington 128),17 a rebellion against the boundaries of her textual nature which turns into self-destruction, because her only realm of existence is language (Kucharzewski 180–81). I think that Helen’s end can be understood as a failure of language to grasp epiphenomenal qualities. Bould and Vint say that autobiography could serve as a means to convey qualia to another person (91), but Richard’s struggles prove to be futile. Try as he might, he is not able to make Helen understand the beauty of the “human condition,” even though he reads to her love letters of his own and tells her about his own feelings. The ai never experienced any type of qualia before, so even the most sensual and suggestive of literary works, let alone Richard’s prosaic accounts, are lost on her; Lodge’s observation about world literature and qualia does not apply to an entity that does not have the necessary capabilities of primary experience. The “black box” (275), as Richard has it, the “[e]lan vital, […] [m]ysticism” (275), as Lentz calls it, is missing. In this sense, Helen’s suicide is a purely intellectual and logical decision. She compares the news articles that have been loaded to her memory about humans to what she has read in literary works, and draws negative conclusions about our nature. HARLIE’s dilemma is Helen’s dilemma as well, but while the former deciphers the contradictions successfully, the latter is hopelessly perplexed and decides not to “play” anymore. When the ai is finally exposed to the “real” world, the one outside literary texts, she fails the final test of understanding how living is even bearable in a world like ours. “How can this be desirable?” (Gerrold), HARLIE’s question echoes in Helen’s plight. At the end of the novel, we see Richard “detextualizing himself and […] literally writing himself out of the novel” (Kucharzewski 182), entering the real world again. The world he exits to is a place where qualia are attainable, a realm where phenomenal consciousness is possible because existence is not chained to


Although Worthington’s feminist reading emphasises the patriarchal nature of these controls, a broader interpretation of this observation is possible, especially when we consider that Helen uses the word play, as if she were a stubborn child not wanting to behave as adults say. Another interesting reference to Helen’s “age” is when Richard calls her “far too old” (Powers 326), highlighting the inapplicability of the concept of age in connection with artificial intelligence.



words and language. Through Helen’s demise, he rediscovers his capacity to experience qualia, which is a unique feature that makes him more than a “token humanist” trapped in a poststructuralist swirl of verbal expressions. This is why “Galatea 2.2 functions as a counterargument to poststructuralist literary theory” (Kucharzewski 185); the text is sympathetic towards postmodernist critical practice at the beginning only to turn into a critique of it (Kucharzewski 183). As David Lodge argues, “[t]his novel, ostensibly concerned with evoking the excitement of scientific research into consciousness, ends on a note of religious mysticism, negative theology, and something like Kierkegaard’s Christian existentialism” (27). Nevertheless, this scepticism towards postmodernism does not require yearning for a sentimental dualism or being a quasi-religious “qualia freak”; the novel only tries to provide an alternative (and rather tentative) humanistic point of view among the plethora of physicalist and Strong ai-supporting science fiction novels like When HARLIE Was One. As a final point, it is important to note that the question whether Helen finally achieves a variety of consciousness is debatable. Even if she does attain a form of it, it is a partial one that lacks the capacity to confront and acquiesce to the existence and breadth of human evil. Helen’s “suicide” may be read as an emotional reaction or a premeditated decision based on genuine sensory experience, but even then the impression persists that something is absent from her cognition, its extensions (cf. note 15 above) notwithstanding. Her existence is tainted by her inadequacy to experience qualia, which also prevents her from becoming an adequate conscious subject. Were it not for this deficiency, she could cope with the “true face” of humanity beyond the literary world and not terminate her life, which, as I have mentioned before, possibly means something different to her than to humans. Yet the analysis of Helen’s death as an authentic emotional response is fruitful, in so far as it highlights the dilemma of establishing a definite view on Helen’s consciousness. If she is accepted as a real ai, this may be taken as a pattern for the future: ais will commit collective suicide if we do not isolate them from the media. Following this train of thought to the extreme, humans should already be constantly depressed and self-destructive, since we are exposed to the same horrors that Helen was (and human “initiation” is just as sudden and painful as Helen’s, especially in our formative teenage years, for instance). It is partly because of these implications that my reading of the novel does not favour the view that Helen could be truly conscious. No doubt, there is a great stylistic difference between the works. “[Powers] […] will never use one metaphor when a dozen will do” (Lodge 27), while Gerrold’s writing is characterised by long dialogues and a clear, often stark diction. However, eloquence and straightforwardness have secondary importance

“Unquantifiable factors”


here, because both works address not only the biggest mystery humankind has yet to decipher, but also technology’s role in helping us glimpse “under the hood,” at our own psyche. Are we just lacking the computational power to create an ai, as Gerrold seems to suggest? Or is there something more mysterious and ineffable about the human mind? Neither of the texts offers the reader an unambiguous answer; instead, they express anxiety about the relationship of man and technology, Galatea 2.2 more strongly than When HARLIE Was One. The latter displays confidence in technology and scepticism towards the “mysticism” that surrounds the concept of consciousness; on the other hand, Powers’s novel posits the enigma of epiphenomenal qualities as being the ultimate barrier to designing an artificial intelligence. Powers (among other things) talks about qualia and what their potential appeal is for a number of readers, namely to preserve something of the long lost uniqueness of the human condition. References Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002. Print. Block, Ned. “On a Confusion about a Function of Consciousness.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18.2 (1995): 227–47. Print. Boda, Mihály. “Fenomenális tudatosság.” Világosság 47.5 (2006): 103–15. EPA. Web. 15 July 2015. Bould, Mark, and Sherryl Vint. “Of Neural Nets and Brains in Vats: Model Subjects in Galatea 2.2 and Plus.” Biography 30.1 (2007): 84–104. JSTOR. Web. 10 July 2015. Chalmers, David J. “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience.” Scientific American 273.6 (1995): 80–86. Print. Cuddon, J. A. “Linguistic Turn.” A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 5th ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print. Dennett, Daniel C. “Quining Qualia.” Mind and Cognition. Ed. William G. Lycan. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990. 381–414. Print. Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Anniversary ed. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008. Print. Gerrold, David. When HARLIE Was One (Release 2.0). Dallas: BenBella Books Inc., 2014. Web. 15 Feb 2015. Jackson, Frank. “Epiphenomenal Qualia.” The Philosophical Quarterly 32.127 (1982): 127–36. JSTOR. Web. 10 July 2015. Jackson, Frank. “Mind and Illusion.” Minds and Persons. Ed. Anthony O’Hear. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 251–71. Print.



Kucharzewski, Jan. “‘From Language to Life Is Just Four Letters’: Self-Referentiality vs. the Reference of Self in Richard Powers’s Galatea 2.2.” Amerikastudien / American Studies 53.2 (2008): 171–87. JSTOR. Web. 21 June 2015. Lodge, David. Consciousness and the Novel. London: Secker & Warburg, 2002. Print. Macey, David. “Linguistic Turn.” Dictionary of Critical Theory. London: Penguin, 2001. Print. McCorduck, Pamela. “Robotics and General Intelligence.” Machines Who Think. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1979. 209–38. Print. Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review 83.4 (1974): 435–50. JSTOR. Web. 10 July 2015. Powers, Richard. Galatea 2.2. London: Abacus, 1996. Print. Searle, John R. The Mystery of Consciousness. New York: New York Review, 1997. Print. Stoljar, Daniel. “Physicalism.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition). Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Web. 22 Nov 2016. Stubenberg, Leopold. Consciousness and Qualia. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1998. Print. Tőzsér, János. Metafizika. Budapest: AkadémiaiKiadó, 2009. Print. Van Gulick, Robert. “Consciousness.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition). Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Web. 25 Aug 2015. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Trans. C. K. Ogden. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1922. Project Gutenberg. Web. 20 June 2015. Worthington, Marjorie. “The Texts of Tech: Technology and Authorial Control in Geek Love and Galatea 2.2.” Journal of Narrative Theory 39.1 (2009): 109–33. JSTOR. Web. 20 June 2015.

chapter 2

Creations of the Posthuman Mind: Consciousness in Peter Watts’s Blindsight Justyna Galant Abstract Peter Watts’s 2006 hard science fiction novel Blindsight explores the process of cognition with reference to self, other and alien, addressing the question of boundary, dealing with the crises of interpersonal and interspecies encounters, which result in the significant changes in self- and other-perception, a re-evaluation of one’s epistemological capacities and, eventually, a re-shaping of the self. With consciousness defined in the novel as a parasite and a mistake in the evolutionary process, we are encouraged to separate cognition from consciousness and concentrate on the processes presented in the text rather than on character construction. The premise of radical constructivism that knowledge cannot be judged on how it represents ontological reality becomes an assumption crucial for exploring the depictions of consciousness in the novel as a text concerned with the creations of the posthuman minds, their representational inadequacy and ambiguous relationships with their creators.

Keywords Blindsight – radical constructivism – posthuman consciousness – subjectivity

The story in Peter Watts’s 2006 novel Blindsight is told by Siri, a man who has undergone radical hemispherectomy, an operation in which the faulty half of his brain has been replaced by technology. As a supreme synthesist the narrator joins a team of experts on board Theseus, a ship sent by Earth into outer space after a confusing first encounter with an alien intelligence. The crew of Theseus is composed of four “alters,” biotechnologically enhanced humans, commanded by a vampire, Sarasti, who remains in close and exclusive contact with the intelligent ship, a relationship which implies that all his actions and opinions may be generated by the machine. The ship’s doomed confrontation

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with an alien entity leaves Siri as the sole survivor of the mission with nowhere to return: as he gathers from the message sent by his father, people on Earth are facing annihilation. The acclaimed1 hard science fiction novel written by a marine biologist takes as its central concern the process of cognition with reference to self, other and alien, addressing the question of boundary, communication,2 dealing with the crises of interpersonal and interspecies encounters, which result in significant changes in self- and other-perception and a re-evaluation of human epistemological capacities. As a result, the text offers a vivisection of consciousness, the process all the more interesting as none of the central characters has a one-toone correspondence with his or her “self.” * “It didn’t start out here” (13), the first sentence of the novel, paradoxically attempts to draw our attention away from outer space, the location most readers who have seen the novel’s cover and read the blurbs will anticipate, to the “here” in its double sense of the native planet and the “in here” of the human mind. According to Siri, the initial “it,” which reads as the beginning of the end of humanity as we know it, was initiated on Earth and was a result of human decisions. Since he remembers, with the various improvements widespread, “[h]uman nature was becoming an assembly-line edit, Humanity itself increasingly relegated from production to product” (163). The decision to resurrect vampires with the view of using their superior cognitive powers proved fatal: when he is cruising space towards home, they have managed to overcome the constraints placed on them by people and cause “genocide” of the human population, a development which Siri sees as both logical and fair: “Sometimes I wonder how I’d feel, brought back from the peace of the grave to toil at the pleasure of simpleminded creatures who had once been no more than protein. I wonder how I’d feel if my disability had been used to keep me leashed and denied my rightful place in the world” (361). Knowing it was not the awe-inspiring might of the aliens which proved the nemesis of sentient humanity, we are invited to look “in” to identify the culprit.

1 In D. F. McCourt’s opinion “it is the best damn first contact story of the decade.” 2 Taking a linguistic perspective, Adam Głaz discusses at length the problematic implications of communication as performed by the alien entity of Rorschach, arguing that “Watts takes shortcuts and fails to appreciate the role of the semantic, symbolic, and cultural aspects of language” (365).

Creations of the Posthuman Mind


As the brief introductory paragraph ends and the narration moves on to Siri’s account of a traumatic childhood event, some of the novel’s main concerns are suggested. When Siri recalls coming to the rescue of his sandbox friend, Robert Paglino, we glimpse the workings of a brain after the radical hemispherectomy. While in his memory the event functions as an experience marked by lack of emotions and enhanced perceptiveness which is about to become his dominant life-determining trait, what comes to the fore are cool assessment of the situation – “I wondered how long it would be before it [his victim] found reinforcements. I wondered if I should kill it before then” (15) – and a sense of estrangement from one’s own reactions. Having witnessed his friend violently beating the assailants, Robert pronounces words which produce a lasting change in the protagonist, “I think Siri died, they scooped him out and threw him away and you’re some whole other kid that just, just grew back out of what was left. You’re not the same” (16). The comment not only makes Siri fully aware of his otherness but also permanently determines his self-perception as deficient and hollow, a perspective which will be changed only after his experiences on Theseus. More importantly, the opening sequence of past events draws our attention to the concept of consciousness, the self which Robert so graphically locates inside of Siri, the interiority whose absence or presence is the be all and end all of a human. As suggested by the expository section, the novel negotiates its course between the global and the individual perspectives, and explores the concept of consciousness in two unequal, contradictory modes: apparently affirming its value in Siri’s “humanisation” and providing its overwhelming critique, mainly through the vampire Sarasti and/or the machine in charge of Theseus. Crucial to both narrative pathways is the traditional understanding of consciousness as the ultimately central category, understood spatially as a phenomenon located “behind” and “inside,” in the essential core of human nature. In this context as well, the mission of Theseus to the infinite, open outer space, which forces upon the characters and the readers the awe-inspiring perspective of human insignificance, proves an apt location for exploring the destabilisation of the concept of consciousness. All human crewmembers of Theseus are posthumans, whose professional skills have been greatly enhanced by significant biotechnological augmentations. Both biologists, Szpindel and his later replacement Cunnigham, as well as Amanda Bates, the military expert, are intimately connected to their expanded technological bodies which far exceed their natural constitution. Szpindel’s “outside body” is incomparably more advanced than its human core; his work of analysing data is described both as an impressively advanced



holistic, synesthetic experience and as a process in which the brain is the frustrating weakest link: Szpindel didn’t just read results; he felt them, smelled and saw and experienced each datum likedrops of citrus on the tongue. The whole BioMed subdrum was but a part of the Szpindel prosthesis: an extended body with dozens of different sensory modes, forced to talk to a brain that knew only five. (177) Amanda Bates is linked with all the mechanical infantry mass-produced by Theseus when a threat of alien attack becomes real. Her omnipotence and omniscience extend her self well beyond the constraints of an unaltered human: You can drop instantly into the sensorium of anyone under your command, experience the battlefield from any number of first-person perspectives. Your every soldier is loyal unto death, asking no questions, obeying all commands with alacrity and dedication to which mere flesh could never aspire. You don’t just respect chain of command: you are one. (241) Significantly, with the soldiers much smarter than herself and much more effective without her involvement, the primary purpose of Amanda’s command is her self-validation. Susan James, the crewmember most obviously complementary to Siri, indicates an alternative route of biotechnological alteration. Her mind, split into multiple personalities, each apparently endowed with an independent consciousness, allows for excellent linguistic skills. Ironically, her abilities prove irrelevant at an early stage of the mission: the alien intellect can gather all data needed without communicating with Theseus, and its might requires no negotiation skills. In the course of the narrative it becomes obvious that the various enhancements are representative of the trend of biotechnological modifications, which have become common practice on Earth. Having been made inessential by machines, people face the choice between dramatic alterations to enhance their capacities and thus become employable, efficient individuals or, like Siri’s mother, retiring into “heaven” to live permanently in a vr personalised utopia. Humanity appears plagued by the unavoidably growing realisation of its own impotence, anticipating the final moment of the full realisation of its own failure as an intelligent species, the prelude to which is the First Contact when “[t]he whole world [is] caught with its pants down in panoramic composite freeze-frame” (38).

Creations of the Posthuman Mind


In a spirit contrary to the optimism of many proponents of transhumanism, the novel leaves no doubt as to the futility of all the enhancements, implying that all attempts at self-advancement are misguided and serve little more than bolstering people’s spirits. Although the “alters” are increasing their potential, the human part of the newly-created posthumans remains a debilitating factor. According to the most outspoken critic of the species, Sarasti/machine, we are programmed to failure since the reason behind our limitations is the fundamental flaw in the evolutionary process: the error in the formation of the brain which led to the development of its most embarrassing product – consciousness. The significance of the brain as a creator of fictions and a generally flawed mechanism− one of the main themes throughout the novel − is foregrounded in the multiplicity of medical phenomena quoted by the biologists, such as blindsight, blindhearing, the saccadal glitch, Grey syndrome, etc., several of which are explained by the author in the paratext of “Notes and References” section at the end of the book. Still, the trope of an unreliable brain is not only discussed in the context of the extreme cases of medical episodes, which serve primarily as attractive illustrative examples of a more general point. The primary limiting factor in human development is the impossibility to access reality by moving beyond one’s cognitive disabilities. In exploring the mechanisms and implications of this phenomenon the novel approaches some key assumptions of radical constructivism. A generalised reflection of this kind can be found, for instance, in the comment on memories spoken by Chelsea, Siri’s girlfriend: The brain has a funny habit of building composites. Inserting details after the fact. But that’s not to say your memories aren’t true […] They’re an honest reflection of how you saw the world, and every one of them went into shaping how you see it. But they are not photographs. More like impressionist paintings. (164–65) The focus on false creations of the brain is most distinctly present in the remarks of the vampire, whose cognitive abilities, at least as he himself implies, clearly do allow access to ontological reality. From his perspective, humanity is an “agnosiac” species (288) of “sleepwalkers” (302), who “don’t experience the world as it exists at all [and instead] experience a simulation built of assumptions. Shortcuts. Lies” (288), a mechanism Ernst Glasersfeld would recognise as stemming from the human need for “equilibrium” (“Cognition” 124). The same premise underlies Siri’s own reflection, “After four thousand years we can’t even prove that reality exists beyond the mind of the first-person dreamer” (48–49).



Sarasti’s/machine’s pet hate is clearly consciousness itself, an object of his scathing critique, voiced during his physical assault on Siri, a traumatic event which ultimately leads to the latter’s “humanisation.” The vampire personifies consciousness, calling it “that little man, that arrogant subroutine that thinks of itself as the person” (301) and “[f]at old man sitting in the ceo’s office upstairs” (303). In doing so he produces an interesting image where consciousness, seen as a wholly negative phenomenon, assumes the shape of a person, while what is left after the “little man” is extracted transpires as a properly functional organism reliant on processes responsible for survival and cognition, untainted and unhampered by self-awareness.3 His distinction proves correct when hallucinations experienced by Amanda Bates during an expedition on board the alien ship cause what Sarasti/machine recognises as a death of consciousness: “Amanda, can you hear me?” “…no…” […] “Major Mandy!” Szpindel exclaimed. “You’re live!” “… no …” A whisper like white noise. “Well, you’re talking to us, so you sure as shit ain’t dead.” “No…” […] “Are you injured? Are you pinned by something?” “…n – no.” Maybe not her voice, after all. Maybe just her vocal cords. “Look. Amanda, it’s dangerous. It’s too damn hot out there, do you understand? You –” “I’m not out here,” said the voice. “Where are you?” “…nowhere.” […] “And what are you Amanda?” 3 The focus on processes as such evokes a series of estranging associations: instead of relying on the helpful mental paradigm of a self-aware human individuality, encountering a post-sentient being we need to think in terms of actions focused on task-fulfilment and efficiency. Instead of a focalised centrality of a human entity, we are dealing with a multiplicity of processes, functionally cooperative but not identifiable with a reigning super-entity. Consequently, the figure of the “little man” in Sarasti’s comment provides a heavily ironic counterpoint to the Renaissance-originated perspective of man as the centre of the universe, flatteringly portrayed by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Creations of the Posthuman Mind


No answer. “Are you Rorschach?” Here in the belly of the beast it was so easy to believe. “No…” “Then what?” “N…nothing.” The voice was flat and mechanical. “I am nothing.” “You’re saying you don’t exist?” Szpindel said slowly. “Yes.” […] “If you don’t exist, what are we talking to?” “Something … else.” A sigh. A breath of static. “Not me.” (170–71) In Sarasti’s/machine’s interpretation the event exposes the separability of the egocentric consciousness and the processes that constitute the truly efficient organism. As he explains it, “for Amanda Bates to say ‘I do not exist’ would be nonsense; but when the processes beneath say the same thing, they are merely reporting that the parasites have died. They are only saying they are free” (304). The declaration of independence from the “little man” wrenches consciousness out of its convenient association with the body and also decentralises the conception of the human organism as something formed around a central “I.” In Sarasti’s rhetoric it is precisely the propensity for inward-gazing that dooms humanity to life in oblivion and deems it a highly deficient species. Describing people as “self-obsessed to the point of psychosis” (304), he sums up the history of sentient humanity as “[c]enturies of navel-gazing” (313).4 From Sarasti’s perspective, consciousness is a result of a looped structure which eventually “produces nothing but itself” (303). As he explains it, “[t]he system moves beyond modelling the organism. It begins to model the very process of modelling” (303) until “meta processes bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I” (303). In these words the inwardness of the human gaze is matched by the circularity of our experience of life, with consciousness characterised as “training wheels” (302) which bar access to reality. In effect, the imagery intensifies the correlation of interiority and humanity, making sentience responsible for the view of the species as reduced to “a little point. A kind of nothing” (Webster 5.6.79.).

4 It is worth noting that seen in posthumanist terms, consciousness understood as the egotistic “navel-gazing” impedes the understanding of the deep connection between an organism and its environment, a status quo which Pepperell sees necessary for the development of “fuzzy” (21) posthumanity.



In light of the above, the choice of the narrator who tells the story in Blindsight proves highly significant. Siri is a character inherently associated with liminality, a translating medium which both links and separates the centre and the periphery. As a synthesist he is the one who interprets data, or “surfaces,” and explains their significance to whoever uses his services. “The Bridge between the bleeding edge and the dead center” (48), or the “curtain” “between the Wizard of Oz and the man behind the curtain” (48), he repeatedly describes himself and is described in terms of a physical, functional entity. Siri’s vestigial consciousness and the hard-wiring in his brain allow him to “become” the object of his scrutiny. Encountering data he can not only cognitively reach them  – “I’m there” (50) – but also transform himself: “I’m them” (50). Consequently, in his function of a synthesist he is little more than a composite of efficient processes, hence approaching the self-less intelligent being that, according to Sarasti/machine, is the superior form of existence. At the same time, the incompatibility between the extraordinary powers of analytical observation and the poor understanding render him inferior to the high intelligence. Being capable of elucidating without understanding, he is repeatedly compared to a machine or a “zombie”, a human egocentric perspective which contrasts with the positively-connoted notions of efficiency and processes. Perfect at emulating a human – his reinvented form of empathy is more convincing than the original instinct (233) – he is perceived as an uncanny other, deceptively like a person, yet not entirely so. The half-brained creature marked by the early childhood traumatic reduction, the hollow man of the posthuman reality, the protagonist is an outsider even among other “alters”, his otherness determined by the severely truncated consciousness. Moreover, Siri is liminal not only in his otherness and alienation from people; he also recognises his professional ancestry to be an amalgam: “The crossbreed progeny of profilers and proof assistants and information theorists” (49). Crucially, Siri’s experience seems to relate to what Glasersfeld sees as the radical constructivist perspective on identity creation. Constructing images on the basis of his experience of others, he “derive[s] some indication as to the properties [he] can ascribe to himself” (“Facts” 446). He learns the vital lesson to see himself through others’ eyes during the event at the playground, strengthened by the memory of his parents’ argument over how to perceive and treat him, and the love affair with Chelsea, who shares with others the need to determine what Siri is, “I think I’ll call you Cygnus […] Black hole. Cygnus-1” (69). Throughout his life the protagonist is interpreted by others to the best of their ability, as “some whole other kid” (16) “Chinese room” (114, 323) or “shape-shifter” (317), his identity clearly treated as something to be inferred or contributed by the observer.

Creations of the Posthuman Mind


Overall, Siri can be read as an entity which purposefully and consciously uses the process of translation of experience as its mode of existence: in that he is an exceptionally well-informed being who retains the awareness of processes which constitute the self and operates largely beyond its illusion. At the same times, however, the narrator remains a highly contradictory persona. As his job relies on the crucial distinction between the surface and the essence, his occupation validates the key dichotomy on which people build their selfand other-perception. Simultaneously, his involvement exclusively with surfaces aggravates the painful awareness of his own hollowness. Defined by his interaction with surfaces, Siri is marked by the need for an interiority: at the end of the novel he appreciates the connection with the lost self, the “little man” from the past who was hiding in the recesses of his traumatised brain. Throughout the text we see him seeking safety in the intimacy of his tent, a space which after Sarasti’s assault becomes a womb for the traumatised man curled-up, foetus-like, out of sight of the crew. In this sense, Siri’s liminality and otherness are misleading, as both in his work and in his concern with the deficient interiority he is all too human. Importantly, Blindsight has a Chinese box construction in relation to the power structures: our understanding of who controls events changes dramatically as we are made aware of increasingly more advanced intelligences in charge of the crew. While initially we may see Sarasti as the superior mind behind the mission, we later discover that the venture is controlled by a machine, at the same time being aware that all the forms of intelligence mentioned so far are eclipsed entirely by the incomprehensibly superior alien beings. As we learn of the more and more exterior concentric circles of cognitive possibilities, the notions of the centre and interiority lose their positive associations with power and importance and are seen as indicative of human weakness and need for safety. Eventually, interiority and centrality – the crucial characteristics of consciousness – come across as inimical to understanding, development and progress. By contrast, dissociated from the concept of interiority, supreme intelligence is described repeatedly as the ability to think “rings around” somebody (23, 304), a phrase pointing to the location of superior cognition, hence intelligence, somewhere outside of human. As a result, advanced intelligence, conceived of as the ability to cognitively contain another entity or phenomenon, is an empowering potentiality well beyond the capacity of the egocentric “I.” Noticeably, the trope of the outer intelligence is present at the beginning of the novel as Siri gives account of the First Contact. An unknowable non-­ human intelligence “takes a picture” of the Earth, a brief and seminal moment in which 65,536 alien probes form a grid around the globe, then gather and



send data before picturesquely burning in the atmosphere. The event, as terrifying as it is for people in general, is quickly given a familiar name whose connotations are as far from threatening as possible: “Fireflies” (37). The taming name notwithstanding, the arrangement of the probes in space, the fact that they arrive unnoticed from “out there” and the fact that no scientist on Earth can decode the signal they send again connect the notion of superior intelligence with the concept of out and beyond. The imagery used in their description is evocative of oppressive, non-negotiable might from beyond and the cosmic threatening point of no return: “They clenched around the world like a fist, each black like the inside of an event horizon” (37). Blindsight can be read as a novel about the malfunctions and creativity of the brain, a text concerned primarily with the limitations and flaws of the cognitive processes as such. It may also be seen as a story of the end of humankind as it imagines itself: a species rendered unique by consciousness depicted here as the last outpost of humanity and a feel-good factor used to justify our alleged superiority. In this context the alien entity functions as the dreaded “other” of consciousness, the finally substantiated metaphysical threat, whose monumental presence destabilises the fundamental association between higher intelligence and sentience. With flawed cognition as its theme, the novel abounds in decoys and plot twists which repeatedly change the narrator’s and hence the readers’ perspective on the story. The resulting delayed understanding, which in narratives reliant on mystery serves the purpose of building suspense, here does double duty: as a plot device and as a central theme. In this sense, the plot construction is self-reflexive as it foregrounds and undermines the process of understanding, at the same time unavoidably embracing it as a mechanism necessary for the transmission of meaningful content to the prospective readers. The delayed understanding is both a consequence of communication between sentient beings – the readers and the narrator (and the author) – and a simulation of the much derided cognitive process, which all the parties share and are inhibited by. The final paradox which undermines the account of the “humanised” Siri is the fact that the story is told retrospectively by a sentient being, whose very sentience compromises the reliability of his account. What is more, it is implied that Siri in his previous state of a functional synthesist, an objective observer, would have offered us a fuller account of the mission, unless, of course, the whole novel is meant to be read as a text produced by a non-sentient entity capable of emulating the human skill of story-telling: imagine you’re a narrator. The novel’s universe shares with radical constructivism the awareness of the vast area of the unknown and the unknowable that is the result of human

Creations of the Posthuman Mind


limited capacities. The alien entity notwithstanding, it is the recognition of what it represents – the unfathomable existence beyond human experience – that corresponds to the radical constructivist notion of elusive reality which humanity can at best live alongside, and never reach cognitively. Accordingly, avoiding the distraction of drama, the author chooses to present the rhetorical “dissection” of consciousness – through the negation of any positive potentiality traditionally associated with it – instead of describing the genocide Siri briefly mentions. Appropriately, we are thus witnessing only an abstract “destruction” of what is in itself a non-entity. The reality of the genocide, inferred by Siri from his father’s message, both is and is not, its status reflecting the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat – here a stand-in for the ontological sphere as such. In this manner at the end of the novel reality for the sentient Siri functions as the ultimate unknown. His embracing of consciousness and his belief in the genocide that is probably taking place on Earth – the guess of the defunct synthesist – paint a gloomy picture of the universe where “nothing is but what is not” – an apt ironic summary of human construction of reality. References Głaz, Adam. “Rorschach, We Have a Problem! The Linguistics of First Contact in Watts’s Blindsight and Lem’s His Master’s Voice.” Science Fiction Studies 41:2 (2014): 364–39. Print. McCourt, D. F. “Blindsight by Peter Watts. A Review.” http://aescifi.ca/index.php/non -fiction/52-reviews/111-blindsight-review. Web.14 Aug 2015. Pepperell, Robert. The Posthuman Condition: Consciousness Beyond the Brain. Wiltshire: Cromwell P, 2003. Print. von Glasersfeld, Ernst. “Cognition, Construction of Knowledge, and Teaching.” Synthese 80.1 (1989): 121–40. Print. von Glasersfeld, Ernst. “Facts and the Self from a Constructivist Point of View.” Poetics 18.4–5 (1989): 435–48. Print. Watts, Peter. Blindsight. New York: Tor Books, 2006. Print. Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi. 1623. London: Methuen, 1964. Print.

chapter 3

“Men are Noisy creachers”: Dystopian Consciousness in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy Marta Komsta Abstract The article explores the notion of open consciousness in Patrick Ness’s acclaimed ya trilogy Chaos Walking (2008–2010) by juxtaposing two opposing modes of telepathic communication – the Noise and the Voice – as instances of dystopian and utopian consciousness respectively. Set in the extra-terrestrial reality of New World, the narrative examines the influence of the Noise, a male-only condition of exposed consciousness, which severely incapacitates the social relations amongst the human population. The dystopian impact of the Noise is made evident by its far-reaching implications engendered by the unrestrained access to one’s thoughts which renders one susceptible to external infiltration and manipulation. In contrast to the Noise, the Voice, the telepathic language of the indigenous population of New World, functions in Ness’s trilogy as eupsychia sensu Frank E. Manuel, a utopian pan-consciousness that fosters communality and openness amongst its participants. Thus, by foregrounding shared purpose and cooperation, the Voice enables the warring inhabitants of New World – both the colonists and autochthones – to develop alternative ways of negotiating communal and individual relations in what ultimately becomes the realisation of hope for the better future.

Keywords ya fiction – dystopia – utopia – eupsychia – the Real – consciousness

No child knows utopia.

carrie hintz and elaine ostry, Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_005

“Men are Noisy creachers”


1 Introduction Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, consisting of three novels: The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), The Ask and the Answer (2009) and Monsters of Men (2010), has received widespread acclaim as a stellar representative of young adult (ya) dystopian fiction, a genre whose popularity has skyrocketed owing to the success of another ya trilogy – Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series (2008–2010) – which was further boosted by its immensely popular film adaptation (2012–2015), starring Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland.1 Backed by the success of other ya dystopias, most notably Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993) and Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011, both filmed in 2014), ya dystopian fiction has been termed “the Next Big Thing” (Basu, Broad and Hintz 1), whose worldwide popularity is directly reflected in the multimillion revenue from the books and films.2 What makes dystopia such a compelling companion to contemporary ya fiction? Following Lyman Tower Sargent’s definition, dystopia in works of fiction can be approached as “a non-existent society described in considerable detail and normally located in time and space that the author intended a contemporaneous reader to view as considerably worse than the society in which that reader lived” (9). Taking into consideration the context of ya fiction, Basu, Broad and Hintz explain that [w]ith its capacity to frighten and warn, dystopian writing engages with pressing global concerns: liberty and self-determination, environmental destruction and looming catastrophe, questions of identity, and the increasingly fragile boundaries between technology and the self. When directed at young readers, who are trying to understand the world and their place in it, these dystopian warnings are distilled into exciting adventures with gripping plots. Their narrative techniques often place us close to the action, with first person narration, engaging dialogue, or even diary entries imparting accessible messages that may have the potential to motivate a generation on the cusp of adulthood.3 (1) 1 Chaos Walking is also due for its filmic adaptation by Lionsgate. For further information, see Dave McNary “Jamie Linden to Write Lionsgate’s ‘Chaos Walking.’” 2 For further information, see The Hunger Games entry at Box Office Mojo (film) and Scholastic (novels). 3 There is a strong pedagogical undercurrent to many ya dystopias. Carrie Hintz and Elaine Ostry point out that children’s literature “is an inherently pedagogical genre, and with cross writing, children learn more as they reread at different times in their lives. Likewise, utopian literature is ‘generally didactic’ (Sargent, 1994, 6). Combined with children’s and young adult literature, it can be a powerful teaching tool” (405).



Similarly, Carrie Hintz and Elaine Ostry argue that dystopia “can act as a powerful metaphor for adolescence” since [i]n adolescence, authority appears oppressive, and perhaps no one feels more under surveillance than the average teenager. The teenager is on the brink of adulthood: close enough to see its privileges but unable to enjoy them. The comforts of childhood fail to satisfy. The adolescent craves more power and control, and feels the limits on his or her freedom intensely. (480) Consequently, ya dystopias eagerly incorporate the most formulaic elements of the dystopian genre, such as the confrontation between the individual and the oppressive system, the impact of technology, and, last but not least, a rebellion against uniformity and enforced control (which Basu, Broad and Hintz define as “a valiant attempt to retain individuality in a totalitarian world,” 4), usually located in a post-apocalyptic setting razed by environmental disaster, where the conflict between the struggle for survival and the attempt to restore the pre-cataclysmic social structures takes place (Basu, Broad and Hintz 3). ya dystopias employ elements from other genres as well, most prominently Bildungsroman, romance as well as adventure novel (Basu, Broad and Hintz 6), revitalizing, one might argue, the dystopian formula by means of such motifs as coming of age, teenage angst and rebellion, first love, etc.4 It is noteworthy that the key component of ya dystopia (and, it would seem, ya fiction in general) is the insistence on hope as its central thematic element, since “young adults possess this ability, this hope, in greater quantities than their jaded elders. Agents of hope, they come to embrace their ability to lead” (Carrie and Ostry 500). The aspect of hope enables ya dystopias to embrace diverse types of denouement, pointing, more often than not, to tentatively optimistic futures for the adolescent protagonists.5 On the surface, the Chaos Walking trilogy seems no exception to the formula. Ness’s work expounds some of the most formulaic elements of the genre 4 Basu, Broad and Hintz make an apt observation by arguing that “[v]iewed cynically, the prominence of these recognizable elements and familiar plots may simply demonstrate the lucrative rewards of the dystopian label; placing a story of whatever genre in a dystopian setting seems to be a good way to raise sales” (6). 5 “While ya books often unflinchingly engage with the problems of adolescents, they are nonetheless tied to the broader tradition of children’s literature, which stresses hope. ya dystopias can uphold that tradition of optimism, embrace a more cynical vision, or oscillate between the two” (Basu, Broad and Hintz 2).

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in question, such as a post-cataclysmic setting, which invites “violence and repression to maintain what little social structure remains” (Basu, Broad and Hintz 3), the confrontation between the adolescent protagonists and the representatives of the authoritarian system as well as the struggle to redefine and rebuild the devastated social structures. Situated on New World, an unnamed planet settled by the human colonists, the trilogy focuses on two teenage protagonists, Todd Hewitt and Viola Eade, who meet in dramatic circumstances following Todd’s escape from his home colony of Prentisstown. While on the run, the boy encounters Viola, the sole survival of a spaceship crash, who arrived with her parents to investigate and prepare New World for the next influx of the human settlers. The series follows Todd and Viola’s numerous adventures against the major antagonist of the series, Mayor (later President) David Prentiss, an authoritative war veteran, whose military exploits have earned him a reputation of a skilled and ruthless commander. Initially in the background, a conflict between the human colonists and the planet’s indigenous population is revealed to the readers: the decisive confrontation between humans and the Spackle6 gains momentum in the course of the series, reaching its climax in open war, which threatens to annihilate both parties involved. The said plot elements constitute crucial points in Todd’s and Viola’s coming-of-age process, in which the budding love between the young protagonists is continually tested by the harsh reality of warfare, represented by the two central adult characters in the series, the above mentioned Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle, the leader of the resistance movement. However, what seems the pivotal factor of the dystopian context in Ness’s work is the concept of the Noise, a male-only condition of open consciousness which becomes accessible to the outside environment.7 The numerous 6 The name coined by the settlers for the native inhabitants of the planet. 7 Being aware of the ambiguity regarding the concept of consciousness, in this chapter I use the notion as an umbrella term encompassing various phenomena classified by David Chalmers as “1. the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli; 2. the integration of information by a cognitive system; 3. the reportability of mental states; 4. the ability of a system to access its own internal states; 5. the focus of attention; 6. the deliberate control of behaviour; 7. the difference between wakefulness and sleep” (225). Interestingly, Chalmers categorizes these notions as the so-called “easy” (meaning scientifically verifiable) problems associated with consciousness in contrast to the issue of experience, which evades straightforward explanation. As Chalmers points out, “Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it’s like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion?” (226). For further information, see Chalmers “The Hard Problem of Consciousness.”



social as well as moral implications of the Noise (such as intrusion of privacy which necessitates continuous self-surveillance) are furthered by the fact that the female colonists are immune to the Noise; what is more, in addition to the ability to read the mind of men, female consciousness remains opaque to external surveillance. The Noise is also a catalyst for extensive communication breakdown amongst the colonists, due to the gradual incapacitation of meaning-making mechanisms in one’s consciousness under the influence of the Noise. Even more so, due to its unrestrained, unbridled openness, the Noise becomes a conduit for the experience of the Real, identified in Ness’s work as the overload of signification which profoundly traumatizes the individual and, in consequence, makes him susceptible to manipulation.8 Paradoxically, the impending conflict between the colonists and the indigenous populace of the planet becomes an opportunity for eutopian restoration of New World. In contrast to the dystopian consciousness of the Noise, the Spackle communicate by means of the Voice,9 the telepathic conduit for the unified primal consciousness of all sentient beings, which functions as the utopian antithesis to the individualised consciousness of humans. This essay explores, thus, the evolution of the dystopian consciousness of the Noise to the communal experience of eupsychia sensu Frank E. Manuel, that is “the communal ‘I’” (2), which facilitates individual development as a part of a greater whole. According to Manuel, eupsychia is “an optimum state of consciousness” (2), firmly rooted in “the fantasy of a perfectly autonomous, fulfilled ‘I’ for everyman, the wholeness of a communal ‘I’ that is an organic unity, and the integration of the entire, individual ‘I’ with the communal ‘I’ with hardly a ripple on either surface” (2).10 8

9 10

Taken from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, the epigraph of the first volume accentuates such a conclusion: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence” (Ness, Knife 4). Kertzer even argues that Ness’s trilogy is “a dystopian fantasy version of Middlemarch for the 21st century: a novel of ideas that addresses numerous topics of contemporary concern to readers of any age, including genocide, indigenous histories of conquest, terrorism, torture, ecological disaster, and media-induced information overload” (12). Although “the voice” appears in the novels in small letters, I capitalize the term in order to highlight its significance in relation to the Noise. The term eupsychia – the Good Society – was originally defined by Abraham Maslow as “the culture that would be generated by 1,000 self-actualizing people on some sheltered island where they would not be interfered with” (Maslow, Eupsychian Management xi). Trahair argues that, as a utopian concept that was supposed to be feasible in the contemporary world, eupsychia “was based on knowledge of the heights attainable by ­human

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Therefore, what comes to the fore in Ness’s trilogy is a juxtaposition of the utopic and dystopic ramifications of the concept of open consciousness, as the unfiltered nature of the Noise is countered by the pan-consciousness of the Voice, which is based on the utopian idea of collective sensibility that fosters unity amongst its participants. Section 2 examines the Noise as particularly pliable to typically dystopian strategies of surveillance and control; foregrounded here is the function of the Noise as an internalized state of permanent self-­ regulation and repression, which becomes conducive to authoritarian practice. The individual consciousness is subjugated to the impact of the Noise, which effectively thwarts any attempts of independent thought and, in effect, action. Section 3 discusses the Voice as a utopian alternative to the Noise-infected consciousness of the enslaved population. The open utopian pan-consciousness of eupsychia defies any form of authoritarian external control, facilitating instead global cooperation amongst the inhabitants of New World. Eventually, the Voice constitutes a representation of communal identity through its insistence on hope as the key component of the recovering world.11 2

The Noise

Ness’s trilogy provides its readers with ample evidence of the Noise’s inherently debilitating influence on meaning-making mechanisms and its long-term effects upon both the individual and the society as a whole. The first volume in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, is an introduction to the dystopian reality of New World, whose fragile social structures have been devastated by the impact of the Noise as well as the first war with the Spackle, who have been eventually defeated by the human colonists. As the novel begins, the almost


nature and developed as an extrapolation of the higher forms of interpersonal and social organization” (124). For further information on the subject, see Maslow Eupsychian Management. The concept of the Voice might bring to mind Ernst Bloch’s idea of utopian (anticipatory) consciousness which, as Angelika Bammer argues, constitutes “a consciousness of possibilities that have not yet been – but could eventually be – realized” (3). Utopian consciousness sensu Bloch “was based on what he called the ‘principle of hope.’ […] It was the longing for the fulfillment of needs that had remained unfulfilled transmuted into a kind of political unconscious. Situated between that which can no longer be and that which can not yet be, this utopian principle of hope is itself part of the reality it anticipates changing, even as it seeks to sublate the very grounds of its own necessity. It is, therefore, inherently dynamic, contradictory, and provisional” (Bammer 50). For further information, see, for instance, Ernst Bloch The Principle of Hope.



thirteen-year-old Todd Hewitt is preparing himself for the rite of passage into adulthood in his native Prentisstown, a male-only human enclave on the brink of extinction. In contrast to the elder inhabitants of the settlement, Todd’s entire life has been influenced by the Noise, the condition which the protagonist describes as “[…] them’s just the words, the voices talking and moaning and singing and crying. There’s pictures, too, pictures that come to yer mind in a rush, no matter how much you don’t want ’em, pictures of memories and fantasies and secrets and plans and lies, lies, lies” (Ness, Knife 21–22, emphasis added).12 The concept of the Noise is grounded on the notion of semiosis ad infinitum, an incoherent cluster of signs that eludes any consistent signification.13 “Noise is noise,” Todd explains. “It’s crash and clatter and it usually adds up to one big mash of sound and thought and picture and half the time it’s impossible to make any sense of it at all. Men’s minds are messy places and Noise is like the active, breathing face of that mess” (Ness, Knife 42). As a result, the Noise devastates one’s symbolic field and, subsequently, all types of social relations. Todd points out: Cuz some men can’t take it, can they? They off themselves like Mr Royal or some of them just plain disappear […] If yer whole world is one Noisy town with no future, sometimes you just have to leave even if there ain’t nowhere else to go. Cuz as me the almost-man looks up into that town, I can hear the 146 men who remain. I can hear every ruddy last one of them. Their Noise washes down the hill like a flood let loose right at me, like a fire, like a monster the size of the sky come to get you cuz there’s nowhere to run. ness, Knife 21, emphasis added

Accentuated here is the collapse of communication, engendered by information overload in the form of unrestrained semiosis which overrides meaning-­ making mechanisms. The metaphors employed in the description of the 12 13

All quotations from the novels are taken from the trilogy’s Kindle edition. Kertzer defines the Noise as “the telepathic transmission of men’s thoughts and memories” of a profoundly traumatizing effect, since “the male settlers appear to be suffering a collective trauma produced by a lack of boundaries between the self and the group as a whole” (11). In terms of graphic representation in the novel, the Noise is illustrated as jumbled words and sentences, creating, in effect, an incoherent web of meanings with no underlying pattern. In the text, the lines from the Noise are usually bolded and/or in italics.

“Men are Noisy creachers”


Noise above – “a flood,” “a fire,” “a monster the size of the sky” – point to the ­destructive effect of the Noise as well as to its inherent indeterminacy that renders its victims helpless against its volatile influence. The overpowering openness engendered by the Noise, which requires continual suppression on the part of the individual, becomes thus the core factor of the impending psychological breakdown. As Todd concludes, “[t]he Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking” (Ness, Knife 42). Seemingly, the only way of controlling – taming, one might argue – the surplus of meaning produced by the Noise is by subjecting it to an overarching symbolic field which would impose structure upon the semiotic havoc. Such is the case with Aaron, Prentisstown’s deranged preacher, whose ­Noise-polluted consciousness is subjugated to religious symbolism, as exemplified by the phrases permeating the man’s thoughts (highlighted in the text in bold font), such as “the finding of a sacrifice,” “the saint chooses his path,” or “God hears” (Ness, Knife 6). For Aaron, the symbolic field associated with quasi-Biblical patter constitutes a protective layer against the innate incoherence of the Noise; nevertheless, the very effort to impose a monolithic pattern onto the Noise results in an extended psychotic break experienced by the character, whose language reflects the continuous struggle to suppress the Noise. “Language, young Todd,” he tells the protagonist, “binds us like prisoners on a chain” (Ness, Knife 6). A similar, albeit far more effective modus operandi is adopted by Mayor Prentiss, whose control over the Noise (which Todd describes as “awful clear … in the awful way” Ness, Knife 27) is congruent with his increasingly authoritarian sway over the colonies. Prentiss, Todd recalls, “believes […] that order can be brought to Noise. He believes that Noise can be sorted out, that if you could harness it somehow, you could put it to use” (Ness, Knife 27). Accordingly, when you walk by the Mayor’s House, you can hear him, hear him and the men closest to him, his deputies and things, and they’re always doing these thought exercises, these counting things and imagining perfect shapes and saying orderly chants like I AM THE CIRCLE AND THE CIRCLE IS ME whatever that’s sposed to mean and it’s like he’s moulding a little army into shape, like he’s preparing himself for something, like he’s forging some kind of Noise weapon. It feels like a threat. It feels like the world changing and leaving you behind. 1 2 3 4 4 3 2 1 I AM THE CIRCLE AND THE CIRCLE IS ME 1 2 3 4 4 3 2 1 IF ONE OF US FALLS WE ALL FALL ness, Knife 27–28; emphasis added



Prentiss’s method is based on containing the Noise by a closed circuit of semiosis (highlighted by the concept of the Circle) that removes any harmful ambiguity, without, however, subjecting it to a specific symbolic field. Consequently, the Mayor’s increasing mastery over the Noise enables Prentiss to utilize his condition as a highly efficient tool of indoctrination, since he is able to influence other men by the sheer power of his own disciplined consciousness. Prentiss’s authoritarian regime in Prentisstown becomes the first major example of the utilitarian aspect of the Noise in its dystopian context: all women in the settlement, as well as some men, are killed by their fellow settlers on the Mayor’s order. Todd’s life takes an unexpected turn from difficult to worse, the moment the protagonist discovers a “hole in the Noise” near Prentisstown (Ness, Knife 14) – a Noise-free zone, which triggers a series of events that forces the boy to flee his hometown. As mentioned earlier, during his trek through the wilderness, Todd encounters Viola Eade, his peer, whose scouting ship crashed near Prentisstown.14 Pursued relentlessly by Mayor Prentiss, the two protagonists struggle to reach Haven, the first human settlement on New World, where, it is rumoured, a cure for the Noise has been found.15 When the protagonists finally reach Haven, they discover that it has already surrendered to Prentiss’s incoming army; subsequently, Todd is imprisoned by the Mayor, and Viola is severely wounded by Davy Prentiss, the Mayor’s only son.16 14 15


It turns out that the hole in the Noise is actually Viola, whose immunity to the Noise renders the female consciousness conspicuously “silent.” The journey towards Haven constitutes a symbolic rite of passage for the male protagonist, who has to confront his own idea of maturity and masculinity (signified by Todd’s frequent assertion that soon enough he “will become a man” [Ness, Knife 4]) with the manifold experience of violence. The protagonists witness the massacre of Farbranch, a small town invaded by Mayor’s growing army; soon after, panic-ridden Todd kills an innocent unarmed Spackle, and is confronted by Aaron, who wants to force the protagonist to complete the rite of passage into adulthood, which, according to the rules established in Prentisstown, involves killing another man. Aaron wants to become the sacrifice; however, it is Viola who kills the preacher in an attempt to save the boy from committing murder. The series interrogates the notions of femininity and masculinity in the process of growing up. Two vital artefacts which appear in the first volume are Todd’s knife and his late mother’s diary, the only items taken from Prentisstown upon the protagonist’s escape. The knife is a clear signifier of typically masculine traits of aggression and ruthlessness, a weapon that is to be used by a young boy in order to prove his maturity as a grown man. The diary, on the other hand, is the symbol of feminine guidance and protection. The appearance of Viola marks the turning point in the protagonist’s transformation, as the boy is forced to re-evaluate his notions of manhood. Significantly, since Todd is illiterate,

“Men are Noisy creachers”


The first instalment of the series ends with the Mayor’s proclamation of power, symbolised by his new title of the President and Haven’s new name of New Prentisstown, an obvious indication of the dystopian devolution of the locus from its eutopian predecessor. Consequently, the scope of repression in New Prentisstown rapidly escalates: from the enforced separation of men and women (officially justified by the protection of the latter from the former), to the system of surveillance, interrogation and torture, which culminates in the act of branding all women with poisoned cattle bands and mass murder of the entire Spackle population in New Prentisstown. The second volume, The Ask and the Answer, foregrounds the dystopian premises established in the preceding part by accentuating the developing conflict between Mayor (now President) Prentiss and one Mistress Coyle, a healer and the leader of the resistance movement, whose goal is to abolish the oppressive regime represented by the new President. The clash between the two opposing sides of the conflict quickly evolves into a confrontation between the two leaders, who do not refrain from resorting to ruthless means of achieving their goals, such as mass execution and terrorist attacks.17 Both Prentiss and Coyle function as representations of corrupt adulthood, their inadvertent symbiosis symbolised by the names of the two organisations they lead – the Ask (Prentiss) and the Answer (Coyle) – highlighting a false dialogue in which no communication is possible. Most important, however, the second volume accentuates the function of one’s consciousness as a dystopic weapon of mind control and manipulation by means of the Noise. The issue becomes the crucial element of Todd’s premature adulthood, as the protagonist learns to suppress his Noise under Prentiss’s tutelage. “Control your Noise and you control yourself. Control yourself,” Prentiss states, “and you can control the world” (Ness, Ask 509). The ability to master the Noise stems from one’s aptitude for subduing the influx of thoughts with


he has to rely on Viola to read his mother’s diary to him. Even more so, as mentioned before, when Viola kills Aaron with the ill-fated knife, she rescues Todd from becoming a murderer. With the appearance of Todd and Viola, a new tension is added to the already strained situation. The young protagonists are separated against their will, with Todd becoming a prisoner-cum-apprentice to Mayor Prentiss, and Viola to Mistress Coyle. For the young couple, their separation and subsequent tribulations constitute defining moments of their adolescence that gives way to the painful passage into adulthood. Todd is forced to work as a guardian in the concentration camp for the Spackle, who are later exterminated at the hands of Prentiss’s henchmen. Viola is betrayed by Mistress Coyle, who hides a bomb in the girl’s backpack and sends her to New Prentisstown as both an unknowing perpetrator and a victim of yet another bomb attack upon the settlement.



“a low hum behind the lightness,” a quasi-meditative wordless chant engendered by the aforementioned “I am the Circle the Circle is me” mantra (Ness, Monsters 1406). Soon enough, Todd begins to manifest unprecedented prowess at mind control through his Noise, a skill which understandably disconcerts him due to its implicitly immoral provenience. In effect, the young protagonist becomes aware that the efficiency of Prentiss’s dystopian regime is based on both the oppressive means of social control and collective indoctrination, evidenced in the moments of battle when Prentiss is able to take control over the minds of his soldiers and use his Noise as a weapon capable of inflicting considerable mental pain on the receiver.18 Due to its inherent transparency and malleability, the Noise reflects and transmits the traumatic and repressed imprints on one’s consciousness, which forces the individual to continually suppress the transgressive imagery to the inevitable point of breakdown. Right before the decisive battle with the Spackle, Todd reads the consciousness of both armies, in which the Noise, “like foam on a raging river,” (Ness, Monsters 172) unveils to the protagonist pictures of their army cutting us down, pictures of our soldiers being ripped to pieces, pictures of ugliness and horror that you could never describe, pictures – Pictures that our own soldiers are sending right back to ’em, pictures rising from the mass of men in front of me, pictures of heads torn from bodies, of bullets ripping Spackle apart, of slaughter, of endless endless– ness, Monsters 168–75, emphasis added

In effect, by overriding the system of signification, the Noise enables a glimpse into the Real, approached in the context of this essay as “the terrifying primordial abyss that swallows everything, dissolving all identities” (Žižek, Puppet 66). Arguably, the Real unveiled by the Noise might be equivalent to the symbolic field gone berserk, a multiplicity of traumatizing images which overpowers the individual; through its connection with the Real, the Noise functions as “that invisible obstacle, the distorting screen, which always ‘falsifies’ our access to external reality, that ‘bone in the throat’ which gives a pathological twist to every symbolization …” (Žižek, Puppet 67; emphasis added).19 18 19

The hum also makes it possible to transmit information between individuals; Prentiss, for example, is able to read Todd’s diary to him through the boy’s Noise. As Žižek explains, “the Lacanian Real – the Thing – is not so much the inert presence that ‘curves’ the symbolic space (introducing gaps and inconsistencies in it), but, rather, the effect of these gaps and inconsistencies” (Puppet 66, emphasis added).

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Even those who claim to have mastered the Noise are not immune to its long-term influence. Todd, who becomes an unwilling disciple to the Mayor’s mind control, becomes increasingly overwhelmed by Prentiss’s manipulative attempts to infiltrate the protagonist’s consciousness. According to Prentiss, “this planet is information […] All the time, never-ceasing. Information it wants to give you, information it wants to take from you to share with everyone else. […] You can control how much you give it, like you and I have done in shutting off our Noise […]” (Ness, Monsters 5684–86). At the same time, constant self-surveillance combined with the prolonged effort to filter external stimuli permanently incapacitate one’s ability to process information in a meaningful way. The overbearing presence of the Noise finally consumes the Mayor, who is forced to admit his own inadequacy. “This world is eating me alive, Todd,” he tells the boy soon before his demise. “This world and the information in it. It’s too much. Too much to control” (Ness, Monsters 6857–58). Eventually, the Real overtakes the Mayor’s consciousness: And suddenly he’s showing me his Noise– The first time I’ve seen it, seen all of it, in I don’t know how long, maybe even old Prentisstown, maybe not ever– And it’s cold, colder even than this freezing beach– And it’s empty– The voice of the world surrounds him like the black beyond coming in to crush him under an impossible weight– Knowing me made it bearable for him for a while but now– He wants to destroy it, destroy everything– And I realize that’s what he wants– That’s what he wants more than anything– To hear nothing– And the hate of it, the hate in his Noise, of his Noise, is so strong, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to beat it, he’s stronger than me, he’s always been stronger, and I’m looking straight into the emptiness of him, the emptiness that lets him destroy and destroy and I don’t know if– ness, Monsters 6868–77, emphasis added

As the confrontation with the Real overcomes the protagonist, the Mayor commits suicide, devoured alive by marine “creachers” (Ness, Monsters 6737) in the ocean of New World. Prentiss’s death might be considered an apt illustration of the very idea of being literally consumed by the Real – here embodied by the image of “one of the shadows in the water [which] breaks the surface, all mouth and black teeth and horrible slime and scales” (Ness, Monsters 6­ 967–68).



The unnamed monster – “the black beyond” – inevitably destroys the one who tries to impose any meaning onto its entity.20 3

The Voice

As the first two volumes explore the dystopian concept of the Noise, the final part, Monsters of Men, presents the utopian alternative to the idea of open consciousness through the notion of the Voice, a telepathic mode of communication used by the autochthonous population of New World, the Spackle. Conquered and then enslaved by the human settlers, the Spackle eventually rebel against the invaders in the final attempt to reclaim their homeland from the reign of the Clearing (the native name for human colonies and humans in general).21 The evolution from the Noise to the Voice is depicted in the fate of one 1017 (identified by the number of the poisoned cattle band), a slave-born Spackle who spent his entire life in forced submission to the human colonists. Significantly, 1017 is the sole survivor of the Spackle genocide in New Prentiss town; aided by Todd, he manages to flee the human enclave and rejoin the community of his free compatriots, called the Land. The name of the native populace carries a poignant symbolic load: “the Land” highlights the implicit connection between the inhabitants and their environment as an indication of a 20


In his examination of Lacan’s approach to the Real, Žižek makes a claim for a tripartite division of the concept: “There are thus three modalities of the Real, i.e. the triad irs reflects itself within the order of the Real, so that we have the ‘real Real’ (the horrifying Thing, the primordial object, like Irma’s throat), the ‘symbolic Real’ (the signifier reduced to a senseless formula, like the quantum physics formulae which can no longer be translated back into – or related to – the everyday experience of our life-world), and the ‘imaginary Real’ (the mysterious je ne sais quoi, the unfathomable ‘something’ that introduces a self-division into an ordinary object, so that the sublime dimension shines through it)” (On Belief 82). Arguably, during its final appearance in the trilogy, we see the Real in its imaginary rendition, depicted as the undersea monsters, never fully revealed, but always lurking in impenetrable darkness. Interestingly, the image employed in Ness’s novel resonates with the oft-quoted description from Melville’s Moby Dick in which, as Žižek points out, Pip, “cast to the bottom of the ocean, experiences the demon God,” the Real incarnate (Puppet 66). “‘The Clearing’ is the Land’s name for men, the parasites who came from nowhere and sought to make this world a nowhere of their own, killing the Land in huge numbers until a truce forced a separation, the Land and the Clearing for ever apart” (Ness, Monsters 1055–60).

“Men are Noisy creachers”


c­ ommunity that transcends the limitations of individual c­ onsciousness. Upon his return from the world of the Burden (the name for the members of the Land who were forced to live in the Clearing), 1017 is given a new name – the Return – as a token of recognition of his re-connection with the Land. For 1017, the process of reclaiming identity is synonymous with the necessity of learning the language of his native community. Initially, 1017 sees the Land as fundamentally different from their enslaved compatriots: Different most of all in language. Theirs was almost unspoken, shared among them so quickly I could almost never follow it, as if they were just different parts of a single mind. Which of course they were. They were a mind called the Land. This was not how the Burden spoke. Forced to interact with the Clearing, forced to obey them, we adopted their language, but more than just that, we adopted their ability to disguise their voice, to keep it separate, private. Which is fine if there are others to reach out to when privacy is no longer wanted. ness, Monsters 2456–60, emphasis added

Unlike the overwhelming incongruity of the Noise, the language of the Voice is characterized by unity and internal coherence as a polyphonic, yet unified structure in which the individual semiosis is integrated into eupsychia, a utopian state of collective consciousness. The Voice, thus, is a conduit for communal consciousness of the native populace – the communal “I” – in which, while retaining their individuality, all participants are unified in the overarching perception of themselves as the Land. As the language of eupsychia, the Voice aims “to translate the moi into a communal unity, with the result that each individual no longer thinks of himself as one, but as part of the unity, and has feelings only in the whole” (Manuel 8). Accordingly, “[w]e are the Land and we speak as one,” says the Sky, the leader of the free Spackle (Ness, Monsters 4183–84). Just like Todd, 1017/the Return functions as the subversive member of his native community. Traumatized by his ordeal in the concentration camp and consumed by the need for revenge for the lot of his people, 1017/the Return is wounded not only psychologically, but also physically, as emphasized by the toxic metal band on his arm that marks him forever as 1017, the symbol of his tragic past as a slave. Likewise, as Todd’s transformation in the series is ­correlated with his evolving mastery over the Noise, 1017/the Return’s progressive comprehension of the Voice enables the protagonist to overcome the implications of trauma:



I have had to learn what the Land calls things, pulling words from their wordless language, from the great single voice of the Land, so that I can understand them. The Land is what they call themselves, have always called themselves, for are they not the very Land of this world? With the Sky watching over them? Men do not call them the Land. They invented a name based on a mistaken first attempt at communication and were never curious enough to fix it. Maybe that was where all the problems began. ness, Monsters 1055–60, emphasis added

The transformation of the protagonist corresponds to the change of his status amongst the people of the Land. Perceived initially as a member of the Burden, whose language reflects his inherent separation from the Land, 1017 becomes the next leader of the Spackle. Alongside his new name – the Sky, the guardian of the Land – 1017 is given an opportunity to unite the Clearing and the Land, due to his direct experience with humans. Ultimately, the protagonist is able to come to terms with his past and, in consequence, to secure peace for his people.22 The evolution from the dystopian consciousness of the Noise to the unison sentience of the Voice corresponds to the intertwined plot strands associated with Todd and 1017, which reflect the trilogy’s overarching coming-of-age theme. Their first encounter in the Spackle camp in New Prentisstown is marked by mutual hostility and lack of understanding. To Todd, the imprisoned Spackle resemble shackled animals, “[s]tupid, worthless, effing animals” (Ness, Ask 211–12), forcefully drugged by Prentiss’s soldiers in order to prevent the slaves from using the Noise to communicate amongst themselves. However, the defiant attitude of Spackle 1017 soon draws the protagonist’s attention, and, after the Spackle massacre, Todd helps 1017 to flee the camp. To 1017, Todd is the Knife – the embodiment of the Spackle’s enslavement and torture – whose fault is greater than that of other men, since he “knew he was doing wrong.


Kertzer sees Ness’s trilogy as an example of a Holocaust narrative, exemplified by such elements as “the enslavement of a targeted group, their numeric branding, the sadistic medical experiments inflicted upon them, the mass shooting that only 1017 survives, and the humiliation that he subsequently experiences as he broods upon the group’s lack of resistance to their experience” (15). At the same time, Kertzer makes a valid observation by stating that the trilogy, in contrast to many Holocaust novels, “keeps demonstrating how easy it is for victims to become perpetrators,” as Todd, Viola and 1017 “are both traumatized and in danger of becoming perpetrators” (15).

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He felt the pain of his actions” (Ness, Monsters 1119–20).23 The confrontation between the protagonists comes to the fore at the end of the series, when 1017 shoots Todd right after the boy’s victory over Mayor Prentiss. As a cathartic moment for 1017, the tragic incident enables 1017 to fully comprehend his new role as the Sky, the harbinger of peace between the Land and humans, and to rekindle hope for New World’s better future. Ultimately, thus, hope is the core aspect of the utopian consciousness of eupsychia, prominently embodied by the character of Benison “Ben” Moore, Todd’s surrogate father from Prentissown. Fatally wounded by Davy Prentiss, the Mayor’s son, Ben is brought back to life by the Land; during his recovery the man learns to use the Voice, which grants him a new name – the Source – and a role of “the conduit between the settlers and the Land” (Ness, Monsters 7242). “I hear the voice of the Land,” Ben/the Source tells his son. “It’s very strange, because I’m still me, still an individual, but I’m also many, part of something bigger. […] I think I might be the next evolutionary step for my people” (Ness, Monsters 5179–82). His efforts to facilitate peace between the warring races are based on the character’s comprehension of the Voice as the utopian platform for mutual understanding and cooperation. “If we can all learn to speak this way, then there won’t be any more division twixt us and the Spackle,” he explains to Todd, “there won’t be any division twixt humans. That’s the secret of this planet. [...] Communication, real and open, so we can finally understand each other for once” (Ness, Monsters 5537–44). For both the humans and the Land, the collective participation in eupsychia is, therefore, the only way of sustaining peace upon New World, which, as one might hope, could one day become “the paradise we always wanted” (Ness, Monsters 7258). 4 Conclusion The series, however, does not grant its readers a clear-cut happy ending. As “Arrival,” the title of the last chapter, seems to suggest, a change is already underway for the war-scarred planet, as the next wave of settlers is bound to find their new home in New World. The arrival of the new colonists might, ­therefore, become both a chance for peaceful cooperation as well as a potential threat to the fragile stability between humans and the Land. Fatally wounded by 1017, Todd Hewitt is suspended between life and death in a state of coma, with his Noise laid open in front of the readers of Ness’s 23

What is more, 1017 is able to read Todd’s Noise in which he sees the boy kill an unarmed Spackle before his arrival in New Prentisstown.



trilogy. The boy’s Noise is permeated by memories from his own past as well as the past of other inhabitants of New World in what seems an actualization of the experience of eupsychia: a transition into communal consciousness which consists of “the million voices that create the ground I walk on” (Ness, Monsters 7299). The bittersweet finale comes across as poignantly consistent with the trilogy’s opening chapter, which ends with Todd’s discovery of Viola’s silence in the Noise – an indication of a presence which soon irreversibly changes the protagonist’s life. The same presence appears in the closing lines of the final volume; this time, however, it is Viola’s voice that is calling to Todd from beyond, an intimate call of the Voice that breaks through the layers of the Noise in the hope of eliciting a response from the unconscious boy. The final line of the trilogy is Todd’s silent answer to his beloved, an indication of utopian hope embedded within the protagonist’s already transformed consciousness: “Keep calling for me, Viola – Cuz here I come” (Ness, Monsters 7311).24 References Bammer, Angelika. Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s. New York and London: Routledge, 2004. Print. Basu, Balaka, Katherine R. Broad and Carrie Hintz, eds. Introduction. Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults. Brave New Teenagers. New York, Oxon: Routledge, 2013. 1–15. Print. Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Vol. 1–3. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT P, 1995. Print. Chalmers, David. “The Hard Problem of Consciousness.” The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Ed. Susan Schneider and Max Velmans. Malden, Oxford, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. 224–35. Print. Hintz, Carrie, and Elaine Ostry, eds. Introduction. Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults. London, New York: Routledge, 2003. Kindle edition. “The Hunger Games.” Box Office Mojo. 2015. Web. 3 Aug 2015. Kertzer, Adrienne. “Pathways’ End: The Space of Trauma in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature 50.1 (2012): 10–19. Web. 20 Dec 2015. Manuel, Frank E. “The Dream of Eupsychia.” Daedalus 107.3 (1978): 1–12. Web. 20 Dec 2015.


In the latest edition of the series, the final volume has an extra short-story, entitled “Snowscape,” which ends with Todd’s awakening from the coma.

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Maslow, Abraham H. Eupsychian Management: A Journal. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin Inc., and the Dorsey P, 1965. Print. “Mockingjay Tops All National Bestseller Lists.” Scholastic. 2015. Web. 3 Aug 2015. McNary, Dave. “Jamie Linden to Write Lionsgate’s ‘Chaos Walking.’” Variety 20 Aug 2014. Web. 3 Aug 2015. Ness, Patrick. The Ask and the Answer. London: Walker Books Ltd, 2013. Kindle edition. Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. London: Walker Books Ltd, 2013. Kindle edition. Ness, Patrick. Monsters of Men. London: Walker Books Ltd, 2013. Kindle edition. Sargent, Lyman Tower. “The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited.” Utopian Studies 5.1 (1994): 1–37. Print. Trahair, Richard C. S. Utopias and Utopians: An Historical Dictionary. Westport: Greenwood, 1999. Print. Žižek, Slavoj. On Belief. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. Print. Žižek, Slavoj. The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT P, 2003. Print.

chapter 4

Autistic Consciousness Represented: Fictional Mental Functioning of a Different Kind Péter Kristóf Makai Abstract Novels about autism have become popular in middlebrow fiction in the early 21st cen­ tury. With the rise of autism diagnoses and the end of the Decade of the Brain, a once unknown condition has gripped the minds of novelists as well. In this chapter, I ana­ lyse several “autism novels,” which explore what it is like to live with an atypically de­ veloping brain and mind. I argue that autism is a fundamental part of these works, and the depiction of mental functioning on the spectrum constitutes a unique experiment in the literary display of mind-reading, an essential skill of social cognition. With the examination of Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark, Claire Morrall’s The Language of Others and Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, I outline how the complexity of con­ sciousness representation creates the illusion of a disabled mind for the reader. I focus on the social interactions between characters to show that autism is constructed in the text as a cross-neurotype biosemiotic underreporting and misreporting of mental dis­ positions and content. I examine the meticulously and irrelevantly detailed descrip­ tions that issue from the autistic narrators to claim that these demonstrate a different grade of cognitive granularity from those of typically developing minds. I conclude that these techniques represent a less person-oriented mindset that aligns well with Ian Bogost’s concept of “alien phenomenology,” but affirm the inalienable humanity of the autistic community.

Keywords autism – novel – mind-reading – theory of mind – social signals – cognitive literary criticism

The kind of minds we call “autistic” has a unique, fascinating allure for wri­ ters and novel-readers. Autism is a variety of human neurological development which is considered to be a disability by the larger, largely neurotypical society

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_006

Autistic Consciousness Represented


(i.e. those not labelled autistic, abbreviated as nt). As such it has become an inexhaustible store for inspiration, especially in the novel, which is the genre best suited to represent virtual consciousness from the inside. Autism novels generate empathy for people whose minds work according to rules often un­ fathomable to their typically developing peers. They also show that this lack of understanding is mutual. The differences between the empathetic per­ formances of nts and those of autistic people arise from different cognitive abilities, rather than an interaction of overall disability with capable, normal minds. In this chapter, I attempt to sketch out a few strategies of depicting the autistic mind – and the person endowed with it – as they are practiced in con­ temporary Anglophone fiction. While investigating literary autism, I shall be focusing on works like Jodi Picoult’s House Rules (2010), Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark (2002) and Claire Morrall’s The Language of Others (2008), mostly because the flagship autism novel, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2004) has already gained significant exposure in literary criticism (Abbott 2008, Caracciolo 2014, Freißmann 2008, Rose 2008, Semino 2014, Zunshine 2006). I will argue that autism fundamentally (re-)structures the narrative and is an integral part of the work, not just an afterthought to give the protagonist a bit more character. Literary autism alters typical conventions of storytelling, such as thought report, descriptions and dialogues because of autistic people’s al­ ternative notions of relevance in communication and cognitive biases towards processing details. This work of defamiliarisation exposes social norms as tacit constructs and instils in the readers’ mind the insight that “normality” is pro­ duced by the discourse of professional and institutional bodies, and ultimately, by everyday social interactions. Autism is a medically and socially circumscribed condition, but above all, it is a form of the human condition. In clinical and diagnostic literature, autism is categorised as a developmental disorder. According to the two widely-used diagnostic taxonomies of mental illnesses, the dsm and the icd-10 (which is also used for physical conditions), autism is a pervasive developmental dis­ order, characterised by “qualitative abnormalities in reciprocal social inter­ actions and in patterns of communication, and by a restricted, stereotyped, repetitive repertoire of interests and activities” (who 289), and made manifest by an ever-widening list of behavioural traits. These include “deficits in socialemotional reciprocity [such as impaired communication skills and an inability to name or share emotions], deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors [like eye contact, body language or facial expressions], deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships [e.g. peer friendships, or engag­ ing in pretend play]” on the one hand, and “stereotyped or repetitive motor



movements, use of objects, or speech […], insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of […] behaviour, highly restrict­ ed, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus, [and] hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment” on the other (American Psychological Association 50). This is caused by the atypical development of the human brain, which affects how autistic people get to know the world. Without wishing to deny the everyday difficulties that autists of every stripe experience, the clinical imposition of the “autism” label on such a disparate set of behavioural traits has raised concerns whether what we call “autism” is a unified condition at all (cf. Waterhouse; Anderson and Cushing). In clinical parlance, it is generally accepted that autism is a so-called “spec­ trum condition,” in that autists can be arranged on a continuum from passing as normal onto “high-functioning” and then to “severe,” “low-functioning” cases. Presumably, the more normal the cases are, the more easily they are handled by nt society, and therefore higher up on the ladder towards the idealised state of normality. Disability scholars, philosophers and rhetoricians have questioned and criticised this approach as resting on a deficient view of how human be­ ings live their lives, and one that is informed by a juridico-­medical discourse which seeks to contain the heterogeneity of neurological difference because it undermines the capitalist governmentality of the welfare state (cf. Hacking, Va­ kirtzi and Yergeau). It is a view I share, but I do not neglect to acknowledge that the specific minds of autistic people can cause difficulties in social interaction and independent living, even if many autistic traits could be accommodated by consciousness-raising and a more neurodiverse institutional environment (by which I mean state-influenced spheres of civilised life). Nonetheless, the heterogeneity of the condition is not just some fact a scholar needs to pay lip service to, but something to constantly keep in mind while working with liter­ ary constructions of autism, which tend to present an easily recognisable (that is, somewhat stereotypical) set of traits as quintessentially autistic. With this in mind, let us explore the novel’s relationship to autism in greater detail. As a genre of literature, novels are in a unique position to encode the workings of the human mind on paper. Following Uri Margolin’s lead, I treat characters in novels as “non-actual individuals” (Margolin): I understand them to exhibit “fictional mental functioning” (Palmer 5) and I agree with the tenet that novel-reading is mind-reading. Cognitive narratologists and literary crit­ ics often showcase autism as one half of the binary which complements neu­ rotypical, mostly accurate mind-reading (Abbott 448; Boyd 141–49, Zunshine 10–12). They suggest that this mind-reading is made possible by something called a Theory of Mind, which is a posited function of the brain that attributes

Autistic Consciousness Represented


thoughts, feelings and attitudes to other living beings, but more important, to other human beings (Baron-Cohen et al., Baron-Cohen, Leslie). Even in this de­ cade, psychologists note that autistic individuals perform poorly on Theory of Mind tests (Moran, Senju) and show a preference for non-fiction over fictional reading materials (Barnes) – they are also less likely to voluntarily engage in pretend play and make-believe, which are fundamental precursors to the gen­ eral reading strategies for consuming fiction (Kasari et al.). Both literary schol­ ars and psychologists seem to agree that attributing mental states is necessary both in real life and enjoying fiction, the former has a causal connection to the latter, and autists appear to be impaired in these aspects of their cognition and habits. That being said, people living on the spectrum do read the novels ASCs (Autism Spectrum Conditions) are featured in, and they can be quite critical of the way they are represented, as discussions on sites like WrongPlanet.com, reader-response studies, individual blogs and real-life discussion panels attest (Brown, Savarese, Jane). After establishing the theoretical ­framework of my analysis of autism in literature, I begin the survey of the novels. What is it like, being autistic at the workplace? Elizabeth Moon investigates this question in a near-future science fiction novel, Speed of Dark. In the novel’s world, a new neuro-genetic treatment programme is showing promising signs that it can eliminate autism, even in adults living with the condition. We follow the adventures of Lou, a data analyst in the biotech industry, who is also an avid fencer and one of the recruits in the clinical trials for the new treatment. In fact, he was pressed into the program at the behest of Gene Crenshaw, a top manager in the company, who believes that the accommodation he gives to their autistic employees (Section A) is untenable in the economic crisis de­ picted in the novel. They must take the treatment and become “normal,” oth­ erwise the company will no longer pay them. Although Crenshaw is ultimately stopped from forcing his employees to undergo surgery, Lou volunteers to re­ ceive the treatment and finds a new job, in space. Despite Lou’s occasional insights into the minds of other, neurotypical char­ acters, he has severe difficulties with interpreting beliefs and behaviour. The text is littered with honest expressions of incomprehension when he faces var­ ious social situations. For example, when Lou is fishing for social information from Marjory, another fencer, about how the fencing group he trains with feels towards Don, a brash and aggressive member, he comments: “‘Tom and Lucia both sounded angry with Don,’ I say. She gives me a quick sideways glance. I am supposed to understand it, but I don’t know what it means” (37). After Don wrecks Lou’s car, Miss Kimberly, the neighbour, thinks she will have to move; the reader picks up on the idea that she feels unsafe when crimes are happening in the neighbourhood. In contrast, Lou asks himself: “why does she



have to move because my tires were slashed? No one could slash her tires, be­ cause she has no tires. She does not have a car” (151), missing the wider social context and Miss Kimberly’s state of mind. Narration in the few sections that feature an nt point-of-view character is one level higher in the complexity of cognition it shows, and it betrays fewer signs of uncertainty. At one point, Tom observes how the fencing group man­ ages the built-up tension after one of Don’s outbursts. Moon reports Tom’s thoughts: Marjory “sounded prissy, which meant she was more than just an­ noyed […]. Tom could tell Marjory wanted to yell at Don. […] Tom listened without joining in. He knew the signs: any moment now Lucia would tackle Marjory about her feelings for Lou and for Don, and he wanted to be far away when that happened” (63–64). This is a kind of narration we seldom find in the sections Lou narrates. These passages show the readers that mind-­reading confidence can go up radically in a text where neurotypical assumptions about cognition (normative Theory of Mind, or ToM) are easily available as an in­ terpretative framework. Tom’s mind-reading showcases one of its more use­ ful functions: it enables people to gauge whether social interactions are going well to evade unpleasant arguments, where expectations to manage “group intermental thinking” (Palmer 218–39) would require more cognitive effort than the individual is willing to make. In this instance, it would take Tom too much effort to understand everyone’s feelings and thoughts on the conflict be­ tween Don and Lou and to make the right decision that would dissolve tension among the fencers. Lou has a harder time protecting himself from the maelstrom of confusing nt behaviour, and he does not suspect that Don’s violent actions are question­ able even within nt social norms. “Knowing the signs,” as Tom does, means a world of difference between directing the course of social interactions and being caught up in them, powerless. This is why Lou is particularly proud when he can exercise his improving sociocognitive skills in the midst of his row with Emmy, a fellow autist: “[Emmy’s] voice is hostile. I can tell she thinks this is what I think and that she thinks I am wrong, that Marjory is not in love with me. I am […] happy that I can understand all that in what she says and how she says it. Years ago I would not have understood” (88). Lou is constantly get­ ting better at assessing social situations, but misunderstandings between nt characters are also featured in the novel to show that “even when [cognitive adaptations] function properly, at no point do they guarantee a smooth sailing through concrete complicated situations” (Zunshine 60). One instructive aspect of narration which helps to bring autism to life in the text is the focalised descriptions of Lou’s surroundings. Cognitive narratology can capture some of the attention to detail involved in this process by paying

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attention to the degree of granularity, in other words, the level of detail within descriptions (Herman). In Speed of Dark, Moon’s storytelling attempts to de­ pict a finer-grained sense of perception are manifested by the painstakingly precise detailing of the diegetic world. While sitting in the psychologist’s office, Lou vividly conjures up the atmosphere of the room in a rare example of con­ centrated olfactory focalisation: “Her office has a strange blend of smells, not just the paper and ink and book smell, and the carpet glue and the plastic smell of the chair frames, but something else that I keep thinking must be choco­ late” (3). Later on, when he returns to work and someone calls for an order of pizza, another array of sensations is triggered: “I can suddenly smell everything in the office: the paper, the workstation, the carpet, the metal/plastic/dust/ cleaning solution… myself” (8). Descriptions like these do not quite facilitate a sensory immersion of the reader into the story-world. Instead, they represent how someone with a keen sense of smell can register traces of chemicals in the air that reinforce their neural difference. Another room is evoked in such detail that it mimics the microgranular narrative strategies of nouveau roman writing that go far beyond neurotypical conventions of storytelling: The floor in the hall is tile, each tile streaked with two shades of green on beige. The tiles are twelve-inch squares; the hall is five squares wide and forty-five and a half squares long. The person who laid the tiles laid them so that the streaks are crosswise to each other – each tile is laid so that the streaks are facing ninety degrees to the tile next to it. Most of the tiles are laid in one of two ways, but eight of them are laid upside down to the other tiles in the same orientation. (154) These boring and by and large useless descriptions also contribute to the heightened awareness of Lou’s material surroundings and his all-­encompassing interest in patterns. By increasing the degree of granularity in Lou’s descrip­ tions way further than nt readers are used to, Moon convinces the audience that autists have to negotiate the mental burden that comes with a detail-­ oriented perception somehow, i.e. by the stress-releasing equipment their of­ fices provide, so they are not mere luxuries. Facial expressions are also given special emphasis in the narration in order to highlight Lou’s perceptions: Her face is shiny. That used to bother me, when people were very hap­ py and their faces got shiny, because angry people also get shiny faces and I could not be sure which it was. My parents tried to show me the difference, with the position of eyebrows and so on, but I finally figured out that the best way to tell was the outside corners of the eyes. (30)



Owing to the author’s emotionally restricted vocabulary when putting this into Lou’s mouth, readers can notice that Lou picks up on a minor detail that dif­ ferentiates between the two basic emotions for which he has no context – he must compensate for the lack of a higher Gestalt he cannot perceive. In spite of a compensatory strategy that works for one particular problem, Lou is prone to stumble at ambiguity in other circumstances: “The man behind her has an odd expression on his face; I can’t tell if he agrees with her or not” (90). This does not mean that he cannot recognise any emotions – rather, it suggests that it is an achievement for him to piece together all the little bits to form a coherent whole: “I look at [Emmy’s] face, with the physical signs of anger all over it − the flushed skin, the bright eyes between tense lids, the square-shaped mouth, the teeth almost together” (158). Autism novels thrive on our interpretative interest in other people. This short analysis of Speed of Dark offers several examples of the narrative devices that convey a sense of autism to the reader. They are defamiliarising strate­ gies which help the readers to conceive of neurological difference, and even to put themselves into the shoes of an autistic person, hopefully. The degree of granularity in the descriptions, the focus on Lou’s difficulties with prosopo­ graphy and his underinterpretation of tense social situations spark the readers’ curiosity and create a sense of neurological alterity that fascinates nt readers. Together, they provide the pieces of the puzzle that, when arranged into a co­ herent whole, inspire the readers to empathise with the protagonist who senses and reacts to things in a significantly different manner from the neuromajority. Claire Morrall’s The Language of Others presents the thin line between compulsory normality and an alternative, more accepting neuroculture in an­ other manner entirely. Jessica Fontaine is an odd and slightly aloof child with a history of being bullied who becomes a pianist and marries one of her fel­ low alumni, the brooding, brash violinist Andrew Courtenay. The two embark on their ill-fated honeymoon, which ends in domestic violence as Andrew re­ peatedly threatens and polices Jessica. Not too long afterwards, Jessica gives birth to Joel, a needy, socially awkward child. Andrew slumps into idleness, doing odd jobs, as Jessica becomes increasingly fed up with trying to support an immature husband. She gets better at managing her husband’s erratic per­ sonality, but soon after, Andrew divorces her when he feels he is no longer in control. The novel explores Jessica’s childhood, her evolving relationship with Andrew, her coping mechanisms in adult life, her relationship with Joel and the revelation of Joel’s girlfriend, Alice, that Joel might be autistic (implying that Jessica is on the spectrum, too). We first catch a glimpse of Jessica as a child, as she roller-skates through the Long Gallery, one of the spacious hallways of Audlands Hall, where she lives:

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Her brown eyes, flickering with feverish excitement, were focused ahead of her for a change, shaken out of their normal downwards slant. Today she had to look where she was going. She almost laughed out loud. This was joy. Air rushed past her, a wind in her ears that banished the outside world. She was exhilarated by the freedom of her solitude. (1) Morrall captures Jessica at a moment of intense personal joy, joy in autistic aloneness, excited by the raw kinaesthetic feeling that dulls the onslaught of sensations. The author creates the “autism effect” by bringing attention to Jessica’s gaze: she looks ahead for a change, where she would generally cast her eyes on the floor. Who would not look into the distance, anticipating where they were going? This oddness gives readers a strong sense of the character’s presence, which evokes a certain aesthetic nervousness as they meet Jessica. As Leo Kanner wrote, autism is noticeable because the autistic person is pres­ ent, but unintegrated: “[h]e just is there, and if sometimes he happens to stroll as far as the periphery of a group, he soon removes himself and remains alone” (247). Autistic presence describes this defining situation, whereby the autistic person is present within neuronormative social events, but stands so far out from the expectations of sociability that he or she cannot or will not be integ­ rated into the fabric of conversation, play and co-operative actions of neuro­ normative society. Such an autistic presence soon becomes more palpable when Jessica is in­ vited to gaze at the majesty of their fully lit chandelier. A little while after the initial oohs and aahs, her mother, Connie, and her sister, Harriet, start down the stairs: [Connie] looked up at Jessica, who was still on the staircase with her eyes on the chandelier. She had crouched down and was peering through the balustrades, still mesmerised by the candles […]. Light danced and shim­ mered over her face, changing with every passing moment, illuminating her round eyes and creating shining highlights in her glossy plaits. […] “Go and play with the others now, Jess,” [Connie] called. […] But Jessica didn’t move. (34) Autistic presence is construed on two different levels: Jessica’s intense, mes­ merised gaze at the dancing lights of the candles, because she cannot disengage her attention from the spectacle, and her unresponsiveness, her unwillingness to move. It is often evoked by the uneasiness of meeting someone’s gaze, as when Jessica meets Andrew for the first time: “We looked at each other. Or I assumed he looked at me while I looked at the violin under his arm. I couldn’t



meet his eyes. I tried, but only got as far as his mouth” (Morrall 19). Jessica nar­ rates her discomfort with reciprocating attention. One reason for her discom­ fort might be that the eyes tell no stories for her, and people’s gaze confuses her so much that she cannot concentrate on what they have to say. When she does meet Andrew’s gaze at another point in her life, the reader gets to see the rich­ ness of detail Jessica perceives in his unfathomable orbs: “All I could see was his eyes, right in front of mine, still and expressionless green, surrounded by a clear, innocent white, his eyelids pale pink and edged with long pale eyelashes. How did people read expression in eyes? They were just physical objects. There was nothing there that could speak” (127). Since she can only see the details, she does not see the face as an expressive whole, she is oblivious to the range of expressions that could carry social information. The interpretative uncertainty of Asperger’s also manifests itself in Jessica’s verbal behaviour. In conversation, everyday turns of phrase become stumbling blocks when Jessica attempts to engage in small talk. When she tells Harriet that she has a new boyfriend, this is how it pans out: She grabbed me by the arm. “What’s he like?” Harriet said. I was confused. “Andrew? What’s he like?” Like? I didn’t know what she meant. “Is he tall, dark and handsome?” “Well,” I said, thinking. “He’s tall but not dark. He’s blond. I don’t know if he’s handsome. How can you tell?” (22) The mundane polysemy of words like “like” brings a range of interpretative options to the conversational partners. Harriet wants to know what to expect of Andrew, whether he is a strong, masculine presence that would make an ideal boyfriend for Jessica in Harriet’s eyes. When she answers, Jessica can eas­ ily correct Harriet on the obvious physical features, but she is more uncertain about his handsomeness, something that is in the eye of the beholder. There is no acid test of handsomeness, and for Jessica it might not even be a primary concern when someone can play the violin with such obvious talent that it steals her heart. This level of indeterminacy is not limited to subjective assessments, it per­ vades Jessica’s conversations in more ordinary circumstances. For example, when Andrew asks, visibly awed by the majesty of Audlands Hall − “So which bit do you live in?” − her response is: “I couldn’t decide what he meant. Was he talking about me personally? My bedroom? Or which bit did we all live

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in? What did he mean by ‘live’? The kitchen? Or the drawing room? I didn’t know how to answer” (24). The range of options that dizzies Jessica is a natural product of the pliable language use that characterises everyday conversations. Speakers can rely on others to find the meanings of the words in a particular situation by a shared set of conventions about speakers’ intentions that are relevant to their present circumstances, and this mechanism is guided by the principles of relevance theory, which are less accessible to Jessica because of her “touch of autism.” This tacit knowledge about what conversational topics can be addressed di­ rectly and what proper manners forbid one to speak of complicates Jessica’s understanding of the implied messages. One time Andrew implies that he is an “experienced” man: “I had plenty of admirers in my first year,” he said, whenever I asked. “There were lots of people in the hall to do things with.” What things? Who? Where were they all now? He only ever had ca­ sual conversations with the other students − he wasn’t part of a special group. (28) Such a token euphemism for Andrew’s sexual conquests leaves Jessica falsely believing that the admirers only approached Andrew socially. This indicates a very basic vulnerability that exposes Jessica to the machinations of more expe­ rienced mind-readers. Jokes, teasing and conversational implicatures create a speaking community based on the ability of the speakers to mean more than they say. In this world, Jessica is a perennial foreigner. Or rather, she was until she began seeing Andrew: “At the door, [Mary] turned and looked at me over [Andrew’s] shoulder. She put both thumbs up and winked. I didn’t know how to react. People didn’t have little intimate conspiracies with me about boy­ friends. I had always been excluded from that world” (28), Jessica recognises. Her relationship with Andrew is her entry point into a more conventional, more neuronormative society, in which heteroromantic affections and social gestures are rewarded by the neuromajority with approval. Throughout the novel, in her marriage and her divorced life, Jessica keeps seeking a position that she could occupy in peace, without the crises of social­ ity that have scarred her. As the book ends, a happy Joel and Alice visit Jessica. Alice hugs her, broadcasting her warm, affectionate feelings for the reserved recipient. Jessica reflects in silent self-communion: “I have learnt to love Al­ ice in a quiet, satisfying way. But I don’t need her. I don’t need anyone. […] I’m most comfortable without too much emotion. Whenever I step out into the wide avenue of normality, I’m cleverly disguised, a skilled impostor” (368).



This autistic aloneness is more reassuring than the perennially ambiguous ter­ rain of normative social life. Who has she become, after all those years of musical joys, traumatic forma­ tive experiences, her forced socialisation, her drama of emotional emergence? She is no longer the insecure young woman who could be manipulated, who would succumb to the social pressures of neurotypical life. This cleverly dis­ guised impostor, while not entirely at home with the neurotypical world, has acquired the social skills to pass as “normal” in the Goffmannian sense of com­ pensating for social stigmas and not attracting opprobrium for one’s behaviour. She has become neurocosmopolitan, a traveller between mindworlds, who can effectively manage her identity and carve out a niche for herself, “a place where I can breathe easily. Alone, surrounded by space, my hair blowing in the wind” (376). One great merit of the novel is Jessica’s quiet victory to define herself, so different from Lou’s dramatic ascent into space or Jacob’s triumphant vindica­ tion of his innocence and empathetic skills. Jacob Hunt is the protagonist of Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, a middlebrow do­ mestic drama/legal thriller about the supposed murder of Jess Ogilvy, Jacob’s social skills teacher. Jacob lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, a milder form of autism. He is eighteen years old, obsessively interested in forensic science and an avid fan of the fictional police series Crimebusters. He routinely shows up at crime sites, but due to his blunt honesty, he has a bad relationship with lo­ cal law enforcement officials. One day, when Jess is found dead in a culvert and Jacob’s personal belongings are collected at the crime scene, the local po­ lice begin to suspect him. Jacob is questioned, and his poor eye contact and lack of facial expressions of remorse are interpreted as evidence of his guilt. A long, protracted trial procedure begins, where Jacob, his mother and his lawyer have to convince a jury ignorant about autism that Jacob did not murder Jess. It turns out that Jess’s death was accidental, and Jacob rearranged the crime scene in order to direct suspicion away from Theo, his brother, who last saw Jess alive. In the end, Theo supplies the necessary evidence that clears Jacob’s name, and the two brothers finally reconcile their differences. Although the story is quite predictable and could be called shallow, Picoult’s narrative strategies are worthy of more in-depth study, because they highlight an important function of an autism novel. Books like House Rules implicitly demand something remarkable from their readers: using their imagination to empathise with characters whose social information-processing systems have been impaired and who thus have a hard time dealing with emotions. When the judge asks Oliver what he is looking for to better accommodate Jacob, we take a peek into Oliver’s thoughts: “Sympathy for a client who is incapable of showing any himself…” (409). The lawyer’s free indirect thought responds to

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the same narrative tension that catalyses the action for Picoult – telling the story of a person who has troubles with emotional engagement. She shows how empathy is performed in a variety of private and public domains, most notably, within the legal system, a normative space characterised by a lack of empathy towards autistic people. An additional twist to this tension between empathetic competence and performance, emotional distancing and proxim­ ity is visible in the scene where Emma and Jacob try to prove to the jury that he is autistic so that they will acquit him. The alterity that the jury recognises in Jacob constitutes a minor victory: I watched the faces of the jury as they stared at Jacob, and I saw the same expression I’ve seen a thousand times before. That mental distancing, that subtle acknowledgement that there is something wrong with that boy. Because he doesn’t interact the way they do. Because he doesn’t grieve the way they do. Because he doesn’t move or speak the way they do. (501) Getting the jury to understand that her son processes and regulates internal states differently from the way they do is essential to reach a proper, just ver­ dict. Furthermore, notice that Emma is able to read the inner psychological turmoil of the jury just from glancing at them, noting their facial expressions. This is exactly the capability impaired in Jacob. Issues of mind-reading play into Jacob’s moral dilemma that leads to the rearrangement of the crime scene. He has to give his reasons for it to two audi­ ences: the diegetic jury and the real readers. Summing up the motives for his actions in third person, a common feature of autistic diction, he explains: Jacob Hunt neglected to realize, at the time, that he might be implicat­ ing himself in the murder. He neglected to consider that the scene he’d come across (at worst, murder at his brother’s hand, and at best, a death accidentally caused by Theo) might instead be a death by natural causes: a slippery floor, a skull fracture, and a hematoma. (602–03) To put it more cognitively, neglecting to consider the social interpretation of his actions and neglecting the possibility that Jess’s death was an accident instead of murder do not constitute the same kind of mind-reading error. While the neglect of other people’s inferences could be ascribed to an ­underappreciation of social mindreading, coming to the conclusion that Theo caused Jess’s death and was therefore the killer is just the opposite, an attribution of intent on the basis of the available physical information. He demonstrates altruistic



behaviour, both towards Theo and presumably towards Jess, too, when Jacob hides the body in the culvert and covers it with his quilt: “I think about her even when I’m not here; [that’s why] I bring my quilt. […] I think if she could talk she would have been really proud of me for wrapping her in it. Good job, Jacob, she would have said. You’re thinking of someone else for a change. Little did she know, that was all I was thinking about” (584). By constructing a hypo­ thetical narrative from his own vantage point, he proves to the world that the received wisdom on autism needs updating thanks to his selfless, altruistic acts. I would like to draw attention to two curious narrative strategies that modify the perception of Jacob’s neurological difference. Oftentimes, his point-of-view sections feature digressions, asides and lists. For example, Jacob lists twelve things he hates, which can also send him into an autistic meltdown (22–23), a list of some ten-codes used by the Vermont police on radio (30), a half-page’s worth of facts about forensics (114–15), a logical analysis of a prior conversation with his lawyer, complete with premises and deductions (442) and a discus­ sion on the love and mating habits of prairie voles (455–56). These digressions are information dumps, designed to break the flow of narration, and illustrate Jacob’s love for the actual, factual, ordered world of simple and straightforward meanings. Covertly, they are also meant to clash with the social, anthropocentric con­ tent of the narrative, asking us to subtly reconsider these lists as a form of Ian Bogost’s “alien ontology.” Bogost writes that “ontographical cataloging hones a virtue: the abandonment of anthropocentric narrative coherence in favor of worldly detail. Quasi-ontographical prototypes are common throughout litera­ ture and the arts, where catalogs and lists pepper a narrative, disrupting a story with unexpected piquancy” (Bogost 41–42). That piquancy is the alien perspec­ tive, but for Bogost, “the alien is not limited to another person, or even another creature. The alien is anything − and everything − to everything else” (34). Un­ like in orthodox Marxism, where alienation is a product of living in a capital­ istic class system, in the critical writings of Bogost, alienness is the original quality of all relationships between objects, both animate and inanimate. By decentring the neurotypical human being, whose primary mode of existence in the world is relational, Bogost’s theoretical vision elevates even the most remote autistic minds onto a platform where they are on an equal footing with other modes of being and becoming: a flat social ontology. We might then un­ derstand Jacob’s inaccessibility as a way of stepping outside the boundaries of narrative, escaping the anthropocentric world’s coercion to perform humanity. The other narrative strategy suggests that Picoult performs autistic author­ ship as a neurotypical author to heighten our awareness of ethically represent­ ing difference in a constructive, optimistic manner. The first thing one notices

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when reading the book is that each chapter is preceded by an account of a well-known serial killer or a murder case, describing the role forensic analysis played in capturing the killer. Noticeably, in the vignette of the first case, be­ fore the plot of the novel starts, the otherwise objective assessment of Doro­ thea Puente shades into the subjective: “Puente began corresponding with a writer named Shane Bugbee and sending him recipes […]. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t touch that food with a ten-foot pole” (1). This appearance of the “I” in the description is all the more remarkable because in the subsequent nine cases, there is not a subjective “I” to be found. Until the last one, Case 11, “My Brother’s Keeper.” The title is a reference to Picoult’s earlier work, but this does not detract from the revelatory power of this passage about Jacob’s own case: “None of this, however, really matters. […] Think whatever you want. The only thing that really matters is this: I’d do it all over again” (603). These are the clos­ ing words of the novel as well. This final revelation that the most authoritative passages of the text origi­ nate from Jacob’s pen and point of view compels the reader to re-evaluate the narrative presentation of the work. It raises the possibility that Jacob might be the master narrator of his tale in more than one respect, gaining storytell­ ing agency and a position alongside the heroes of forensic analysis, such as Dr Henry Lee, his role model. If we interpret the final “I” as evidence of author­ ship, the two subjective epigraphs fit into an emerging paradigm of autistic characters who are yearning to tell their own tales and become capable au­ thors, who can arouse the curiosity of their audiences, delivering satisfying stories about personal achievement and a triumph of the individual over the prejudices of society. In this statement, Picoult and other autism novelists reiterate the generic promise of middlebrow literary fiction, which understands interpersonal con­ flicts less cynically than highbrow fiction: not as the result of glacially chang­ ing, conservative structures but as a product of the dynamic negotiations, propagations and resistances of human beings with personal convictions, extending their goodwill beyond their own communities, as defined by their social identities. In Melanie Ho’s words, “the middlebrow represents a kind of optimism of the intellect: far from placating readers […] who were simply look­ ing for light reading to make them feel better about their industrialized lives, middlebrow texts provided a venue for readers to think about issues relevant to self-development, social relationships, and even societal progress” (Ho 30). House Rules is just one example of this rich optimism, founded on the belief in the benefit of empathetic human action. These voices are sorely needed in our times to recognise the common humanity in us that extends beyond the social categories of difference, extolling the virtues of listening to others in



our frail, precarious existence, praising the healing powers of prosociality in a world that exacerbates some of our most knee-jerk responses to difference. References Abbott, H. Porter. “Unreadable Minds and the Captive Reader.” Style 42.4 (Winter 2008), 448–67. Print. American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 5th ed. Washington and London: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013. Print. Anderson, Jami L. and Simon Cushing. The Philosophy of Autism. Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013. Print. Barnes, Jennifer L. “Fiction, Imagination, and Social Cognition: Insights from Autism.” Poetics 40.4 (2012): 299–316. Web. 31 May 2015. Baron-Cohen, Simon. Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Cam­ bridge: The MIT P, 1995. Print. Baron-Cohen, Simon, Alan M. Leslie, and Uta Frith. “Does the Autistic Child Have a ‘Theory of Mind’?” Cognition 21.1 (1985): 37–46. Web. 25 Aug 2014. Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology‚ or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 2012. Print. Boyd, Brian. On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Cambridge and London: Belknap-Harvard, 2009. Print. Brown, Lydia. “Jodi Picoult’s House Rules & Fictional Characters on the Autism Spec­ trum.” Lexington Christian Academy Advanced Senior Research Program & Asperg­ er’s Association of New England. January 2011. Discussion Panel. Caracciolo, Marco. “Two Child Narrators: Defamiliarization, Empathy, and ReaderResponse in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident and Emma Donoghue’s Room.” Semiotica 202 (2014): 183–205. Web. 3 June 2015. Freißmann, Stephan. “A Tale of Autistic Experience: Knowing, Living, Telling in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 6.2 (June 2008): 395–417. Web. Hacking, Ian. “How We Have Been Learning to Talk About Autism: A Role for Stories.” Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Ed. Eva Feder Kittay and Licia Carlson. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 261–78. Print. Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. London: VintageRandom, 2004. Print. Ho, Melanie. “Useful Fiction: Why Universities Need Middlebrow Literature.” Diss. Uni­ versity of California, Los Angeles. 2008. Web. 1 June 2015. Jane, Leah. “Book Review: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon.” Quixotic Auistic blog. 2011. Web. 1 June 2015.

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Kasari, Connie, Ya-Chih Chang, and Stephanie Patterson. “Pretending to Play or Play­ ing to Pretend: The Case of Autism.” American Journal of Play 6.1 (2013): 124–35. Web. 31 May 2015. Leslie, Alan M. “Pretense, Autism, and the Theory-of-Mind Module.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 1. 1 (1992): 18–21. Web. 30 May 2015. Leslie, Alan M. “‘Theory of Mind’ as a Mechanism of Selective Attention.” The New Cognitive Neurosciences. 2nd ed. Ed. Michael Gazzaniga. Cambridge: The MIT P, 2005. 1235–47. Print. Margolin, Uri. “Structuralist Approaches to Character in Narrative: The State of the Art.” Semiotica 75.1–2 (1989): 1–24. Web. 31 May 2015. Moon, Elizabeth. Speed of Dark. New York: Ballantine Books, 2011. Print. Moran, Joseph M., et al. “Impaired Theory of Mind for Moral Judgment in High-­ Functioning Autism.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108.7 (2011): 2688–92. Web. 31 Aug 2015. Morrall, Claire. The Language of Others. London: Sceptre, 2008. Print. Palmer, Alan. Fictional Minds. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 2004. Print. Picoult, Jodi. House Rules. New York: Atria, 2010. Print. Rose, Irene. “What Can We Do with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?: Popular Fiction and Representations of Disability.” Popular Narrative Media 1.1 (2008): 43–58. Web. 1 June 2015. Savarese, Ralph James. You Travel in Your Chair: Reading Six Classic Novels with Six Classical Autistics, MS in progress. Print. Semino, Elena. “Language, Mind and Autism in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Linguistics and Literary Studies. Ed. Monika Fludernik and Daniel Jacob. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014. 279–303. Print. Senju, Atsushi. “Spontaneous Theory of Mind and Its Absence in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” The Neuroscientist: A Review Journal Bringing Neurobiology, Neurology and Psychiatry 18.2 (2012): 108–13. Web. 19 July 2015. Vakitzri, Eva. “The Archaeology of Autism and the Emergence of the Autistic Subject.” Diss. University of Exeter, 2010. Web. 28 May 2015. Waterhouse, Lynn. Rethinking Autism: Variation and Complexity. London: Academic Press-Elsevier, 2013. Print. World Health Organization. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. Vol. 1. 10th Revision. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2006. Print. Yergeau, Melanie. “Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists Who Theorize The­ ory of Mind.” Disability Studies Quarterly 9 May 2013. Web. 31 May 2015. Zunshine, Lisa. Why We Read Fiction? Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: The Ohio State UP, 2006. Print.

chapter 5

Embodied Consciousness: Autism, Life Writing and the Limits of the Cognitive Paradigm Ajitpaul Mangat Abstract This paper argues that the autistic condition necessitates a reimagining of consciousness. Consciousness has been understood to be dependent on language. In so far as autism involves deficits in verbal communication, the individual with autism could, according to the classical model of consciousness put forward by the cognitive sciences, be understood to be impaired in or even lack consciousness. Far from showing any deficiency in their authors’ consciousness, autistic life writing – from case studies by Oliver Sacks to Robert Hughes’s caregiver narrative Running with Walker to the personal narratives of Amanda Baggs, Temple Grandin, and Daniel Tammet – provides a very different idea about consciousness, an idea only recently taken up in the study of consciousness. What autism emphasizes, this paper proposes, is the important and necessary role of the body in the formation, production, and maintenance of conscious experience. Beginning with a consideration of the absence of the body in cognitive scientific thought, this chapter then shows how autistic life writing represents not a lack of consciousness, as found in cognitive scientific thought, but rather the embodiment of consciousness, with the different sensory experiences resulting from autistic forms of embodiment allowing for a more comprehensive mode of relating to the material and social world.

Keywords autism – embodiment – sociality – life writing – disability studies – cognitive science

The autistic condition necessitates a reimagining of consciousness. Consciousness has been understood to be dependent on language. In The Feeling of What Happens, Antonio Damasio notes that in medical school and neurology training he was taught that language produced the conscious mind and that creatures without language lived without consciousness. However, Damasio argues

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_007

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that even patients with major language impairments, such as global aphasia in which all language faculties break down, remain wakeful, attentive, and are able to behave with purpose (109). In terms of what Damasio terms “core consciousness,” that is, the kind of consciousness that provides an organism with a sense of self about the here and now (16),1 these individuals are no different from those with their language faculties intact, apart from the ability to move or translate between thought and language. Such findings lead to important questions about the relationship between language and consciousness: namely, if not language, then, what produces the conscious mind? The autistic condition offers important and timely answers to these questions. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neuro developmental disorder that is diagnosed, as stated by the dsm-5, according to two primary criteria: (i) persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, and (ii) restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities.2 In so far as autism involves deficits in verbal communication, the individual with autism could, according to a more classical model of consciousness, be understood to be impaired in or even lack consciousness. Far from showing any deficiency in their authors’ or subjects’ consciousness, autistic life writing provides a very different idea about consciousness, an idea only recently taken up in the study of consciousness. What autism emphasizes, this paper proposes, is the important and necessary role of the body in the formation, production, and maintenance of conscious experience. Beginning with a consideration of the absence of the body in cognitive scientific thought, this chapter then shows how autistic life writing represents not a lack of consciousness, as found in cognitive scientific thought, but rather the embodiment of consciousness, with the different sensory experiences resulting from autistic forms of embodiment allowing for a more comprehensive mode of relating to the material and social world.

1 In The Feeling of What Happens, Damasio contrasts “core consciousness” with “extended consciousness,” which he defines as providing an organism with “an elaborate sense of self” at a moment in individual historical time (16). 2 Where the dsm-iv allowed patients to be diagnosed with either autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, or the catch-all diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, with the dsm-5 these four separate disorders have become grouped under the diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder.” Additionally, where autistic disorder in the dsm-iv separated impairments in social interaction and communication into two distinct criteria, autism spectrum disorder in the dsm-5 combines them into one category.

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The Cognitive Sciences Construct Autism

The cognitive sciences3 stand, today, as the predominant paradigm by which the consciousness of individuals with autism is understood. The triumph of this paradigm can best be understood in relation to its historical antecedents: behaviorism, humanistic psychology, and most significantly psychoanalysis. From the 1940s through the early 1960s, psychoanalysis offered the dominant metaphor for child “development” to practitioners, academics, and popular culture more generally, a metaphor that understood “the infant as engaged, from the moment of its birth, in a fierce struggle for consciousness: for the development of its ‘ego’” (Nadesan 82). In this way, psychoanalytic theory placed great importance on the role played by the mother, who, through her responsiveness or lack thereof, could either empower or interrupt this development. Bruno Bettelheim adopted and emphasized this psychoanalytic idea in the late 1960s infamously suggesting that “frigid mothering” caused autism,4 a view that initially gained traction while ultimately hurting the credibility of the psychoanalytic view of autism. Other factors in the demise of the psychoanalytic approach to autism included its resistance to quantification at a time when other approaches were marketing themselves as producing “scientific” findings, and the shift in psychiatry away from the role of the “ego” and the maternal environment towards an emphasis on the organic and biogenetic (Nadesan 102–03). This loss of favor has only continued with Fred R. Volkmar writing more recently that the “utility of psychoanalysis for therapeutic management of autism is highly limited” (661). It was during the 1970s that the cognitive sciences emerged as, to quote Uta Frith, the “most complete understanding of the cause of [autism] so far” (“Asperger and His Syndrome” 16). Where the metaphor of autism advanced by psychoanalysis, that of “an ego shipwrecked in the storm of object relations” (Nadesan 101), began to lose purchase among professionals and the general public alike, the cognitive sciences relied on a metaphor that was ascending during the latter half of the twentieth-century – the “computer.” Through a dual stress on the “computer” and the “brain,” the cognitive sciences were able to appeal to the anxieties and interests of middle-class parents, an appeal that continues largely unabated. Cognitive scientists understand cognition as localized within a multiplicity of mental “modules” that control both perception 3 Although “cognitive sciences” is an umbrella term encompassing a number of fields, including cognitive neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, it will be employed in this chapter for the sake of simplicity. 4 See Bettelheim (397–99).

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and information processing. In this way, the cognitive sciences blend the psychoanalytic focus on psyche with the neuroscientific focus on brain, postulating the existence of hypothetical mental modules linked to the actual structure of the brain. In terms of the study of autism, this paradigm works through a deficit-model, initially identifying and studying cognitive impairments in autistic individuals and then linking them to neuro-anatomical brain structures. The cognitive sciences pay particular attention to the ways in which those with autism process information. By studying how information processing in those with autism is deficient or lacking, such a methodology attempts to come to a better understanding of what constitutes “normal” information processing, and “normality” more generally. Although the study of abnormal cognition in those with autism has focused on the impairment of “theory of mind,” “executive function,” and the ability to process information contextually (the theory of “weak central coherence”), this chapter will focus on the former two “impairments” as they are thought to play a more formative role in the workings of consciousness.5 Many of the core deficits associated with autism have come to be understood to arise from an inability to develop a “theory of mind.” Uta Frith defines theory of mind, or “mentalizing” as she refers to it, as “the ability to predict relationships between external states of affairs and internal states of mind” (Autism 77). In Mindblindness, Simon Baron-Cohen, who is perhaps most closely associated with this phrase, argues that it has “come to be shorthand for the capacity to attribute mental states to oneself and to others and to interpret behavior in terms of mental states” (55). He proposes the existence of four modules or “neurocognitive mechanisms” that underlie the human capacity for mindreading: (i) The Intentionality Detector (id), “a perceptual device that interprets motion stimuli in terms of the primitive volitional mental states of goal and desire” (32), (ii) The Eye-Direction Detector (edd), which “interprets stimuli in terms of what [another] sees” (39), (iii) The Shared-Attention Mechanism (sam), which builds triadic representations among the self, an other, and an object, and (iv) The Theory-of-Mind Mechanism (ToMM), “a system for inferring the full range of mental states from behavior – that is, for employing a ‘theory of mind’” (51). In terms of autism, Baron-Cohen suggests that although these former two mechanisms may function properly, the sam is impaired, leading to an impairment of, effectively, all aspects of ToMM. Such a conclusion is drawn from the “Sally-Anne test,” a test that requires the participant to infer the mental state of the Sally doll (“I think that Sally thinks…”) in order 5 For more information on the relationship of theory of mind and executive control to “weak” central coherence, see Pellicano et al.



to provide the correct answer. On the basis of the seemingly inconclusive finding that “[a]lthough most children with autism fail tests of belief understanding, a minority of them pass,” Baron-Cohen concludes that the ToMM is damaged in children with autism (72). A consequence of this result has been to make lack of empathy a defining characteristic of this condition. According to the model put forward by the cognitive sciences, if individuals with autism struggle or even lack the ability to imagine mental states, then, they are unlikely to be able to empathize with the mental states of others, including their thoughts and feelings. While cognitive scientists rely on mindblindness to account for many of the behaviours and deficits associated with autism, this theory cannot explain certain features of this condition, including repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. Such autistic features are explained by a different theory, that of “executive dysfunction.” Executive function is defined as “the ability to maintain an appropriate problem-solving set for attainment of a future goal; it includes behaviors such as planning, impulse control, inhibition of prepotent but irrelevant responses, set maintenance, organized search, and flexibility of thought and action” (Ozoneff et al., 1083). In this way, it acts as something of an umbrella term for a range of functions from planning to flexibility to inhibition. Planning, “a complex, dynamic operation in which a sequence of planned actions must be constantly monitored, re-evaluated and updated,” has been found to be impaired in individuals with autism, who struggle with tasks like the “Tower of London” that require them to move disks to a predetermined goal state in as few moves as possible (Hill 26). Individuals with autism also display poor mental flexibility in their “perseverative, stereotyped behaviour and difficulties [with] the regulation and modulation of motor acts” (Hill 26–27). Through the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, they have been shown to struggle when required to sort cards after new rules are introduced. Finally, individuals with autism have been found using the Windows Task to be impaired in inhibiting a proponent response, as, for instance, when asked not to point at a desired object (i.e. chocolate) that they could have won if they had pointed at a different object. The theory of executive dysfunction has allowed cognitive scientists to link cognitive constructs describing behaviour in autism to the brain, with such a relationship thought to be mediated by the frontal lobes. Within such a cognitive scientific understanding of autism, the consciousness of people with autism is theorized to be qualitatively deficient or lacking. Indeed, according to this paradigm, it is precisely those neurocognitive modules associated with the “higher mental functions” of representing others’ thoughts and feelings and attaining future goals and thereby the production and operation of consciousness that are understood to be damaged or broken

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in autism (Nadesan 123–24). In Constructing Autism, Majia Holmer Nadesan posits three possible critiques of such cognitive speculations about the nature and operation of consciousness: they assume that consciousness is (i) universal across time, (ii) representational, accurately and transparenly representing to itself external events and subjective states, and (iii) localized, as discussed earlier, in a modalized manner (124–25). This paper proposes another, different critique of the cognitive sciences’ potentially dehumanizing view of autism and consciousness, that of the absence of the body in such speculations and theories. 2

The Absent Body in the Cognitive Sciences

The understanding of consciousness put forward by the cognitive sciences has failed to consider the role and importance of the body. Damasio points out the noticeable absence of any notion of an organism in this field. Although organismic and evolutionary perspectives linking the mind, brain, and body have long been available to cognitive scientists, Damasio writes that the “mind remained linked to the brain in a somewhat equivocal relationship, and the brain remained consistently separated from the body rather than being seen as part of a complex living organism” (The Feeling of What Happens 40). The work of Vittorio Gallese and Hannah Wojciehowski supports this assertion by suggesting that classical cognitive science posits a “solipsistic account of the mind” such that a focus on a single, individual mind is all that is necessary “to define what a mind is and how it works.” For them, such an account arises from a modular understanding of the mind, which separates action, perception, and cognition into separate, independent domains. Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached counter the idea that brains and neural processes can be isolated from the bodies that they inhabit. As they put it, “brains in situ function within complex pathways of afferent and efferent nerves reaching both the interior and the periphery of the body; brains are infused with blood containing all manner of active chemicals that carry nutrition, hormonal signals, and much else” (206). By neglecting the body in their analysis of the production and operation of consciousness, the cognitive sciences have failed to consider the effects of critical and important factors on consciousness, everything from acting and physical movements to mood and emotions to neurotransmitters and hormones. Recent work by scholars in not only the cognitive sciences but also the social and human sciences and even the humanities has levied critiques at this solipsism, this isolation of the brain and, thereby, consciousness, asserting, by



contrast, that human beings are creatures with bodies. Chief among those scholars has been Damasio, who has done the most work to advance the role and importance of the body in the study of consciousness.6 In The Feeling of What Happens, he writes that the hiding or screening of the body by the mind has been an adaptive distraction as it has allowed for a concentrating of resources on the problems that arise in the external world. However, such an adaptation has prevented an understanding that “underneath every image of the outside world, there [stands] the ongoing image of [the] living body” (29). Damasio provocatively but convincingly argues that it is the internal states of the organism that control the brain and thereby act as the backdrop of the mind, self, and consciousness. Consciousness emerges, he argues, out of changes in the state of the organism due to alterations in the environment or the internal life process, that is, due to the “universal nonverbal vocabulary of body signals” (31). In fact, for Damasio, it is the representation of the organism in the brain that eventually becomes the sense of self and ultimately underpins consciousness. Rather than understanding consciousness as emerging from distinct, separate “modules,” such an understanding of consciousness recognizes human beings to be integrated organisms, made up of a body proper. Research emphasizing the body has begun to transform the cognitive sciences. Where the majority of past work in this field considered the body to be marginal, exterior, even superfluous to understandings of cognition, more recent work has emphasized the embodiment of cognition.7 Robert A. Wilson and Lucia Foglia clearly summarize the stakes and goals of such work for this field in their “Embodiment Thesis”: “Many features of cognition are embodied in that they are deeply dependent upon characteristics of the physical body of an agent, such that the agent’s beyond-the-brain body plays a significant causal role, or a physically constitutive role, in that agent’s cognitive processing.” Such a thesis has, as Wilson and Foglia lay out, a number of important consequences for the relationship between body and cognition: the body comes to be understood as (i) constraining the content of cognition, (ii) distributing cognitive processing between the neural and non-neural, the brain and the body, and (iii) regulating cognitive activity in space and time such that cognition and action remain synchronized. Understanding the role of the body in this way allows sensorimotor experiences to be understood to foster, constitute, and determine the acquisition of the cognitive structures that allow

6 See also Damasio’s Descartes’ Error and Gerald Edelman’s The Remembered Present. 7 For a useful overview, see Ralph James Savarese’s entry on “Cognition” in Keywords for Disability Studies (40–41).

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for the emergence and operation of consciousness. While Wilson and Foglia emphasize the divide between humans and non-humans, such as butterflies, arguing that being able to grasp an object and walk on legs leads to an acquisition and development of different cognitive structures, of a different kind of consciousness, this paper articulates the ways in which the different modes of sensory experience associated with autism emphasize and stress the embodiment of consciousness. 3

Embodied Consciousness in Autistic Life Writing

The autistic subject’s conscious experience is often described in terms of synesthesia. This phenomenon is defined as a neurological mixing of the senses. In Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, synesthesia is evident in his description of a pair of identical autistic twins, George and Charles Finn (called John and Michael, respectively, in the book). What draws Sacks to these twins is their memory. Although they are impaired in their abilities to carry out straightforward calculations – they cannot carry out simple additions or subtractions, and fail to even comprehend how to multiply or divide – they excel at, what Sacks terms, “calendar calculations,” as they are able to determine the day of the week for seemingly any date in the last or next forty thousand years. From about their fourth year on, they can even recall the weather, political events, and any event from their own lives. They explain this remarkable ability as arising from an embodied response to numbers. When asked how they can hold so much in their mind, they respond, “‘We see it,’” to which Sacks adds that this “seeing” is “of extraordinary intensity, limitless range, and perfect fidelity” (199). Sacks proposes that “there is available to the twins a prodigious panorama, a sort of landscape or physiognomy, of all they have heard, or seen, or thought, or done, and that in the blink of an eye, externally obvious as a brief rolling and fixation of the eyes, they are able (with the ‘mind’s eye’) to retrieve and ‘see’ nearly anything that lies in this vast landscape” (199). As he suggests, they do not only “see” numbers but also hear them. These twins “do not ‘convert’ numbers into music, but actually feel them, in themselves, as ‘forms,’ as ‘tones,’ like the multitudinous forms that compose nature itself” (206), which he describes as a “harmonic sensibility” (207). In describing George and Charles Finn, Sacks often returns to the idea of feeling, in a sense not unlike what Damasio means when he describes consciousness as the feeling of what happens. Conscious experience for these twins cannot be reduced to mental modules but rather is a process, a feeling that blends together sensing, acting, and thinking, and foregrounds the body. Accordingly,



if, for Damasio, consciousness is felt, is embodied, this embodiment is more striking, more pronounced with autism. Daniel Tammet depicts a similar experience with synesthesia in his autobiography Born on a Blue Day. Indeed, the very title of the opening chapter, “Blue Nines and Red Words,” highlights Tammet’s condition. Not unlike George and Charles Finn, Tammet describes an aptitude for “calendar calculations,” writing that he knows the day he was born on – January 31, 1979 – was a Wednesday because it is blue in his mind and he always experiences Wednesdays as blue. He goes on to explain that he likes his birthday because it is made up of prime numbers: 31, 19, 197, 97, 79, and 1979. Tammet experiences prime numbers as smooth and round, much like pebbles on a beach. Significantly, he links his synesthetic perception to his autistic fondness for routine and order. He writes of his “almost obsessive need for order and routine which affects virtually every aspect of [his] life” (1–2). Whenever his orders and routines are broken up he becomes anxious, an anxiety he deals with by closing his eyes and thinking about numbers. He describes numbers as his friends and as having personality: “The number 11 is friendly and 5 is loud, whereas 4 is both shy and quiet […] Some are big – 23, 667, 1, 179 – while others are small: 6, 13, 581. Some are beautiful, like 333, and some are ugly, like 289” (2). Tammet’s synesthesia is, therefore, quite unique as he sees numbers not only as having colors but also as having shapes, textures, and motions, even personalities. The connection between consciousness and behavior is made clearer in Tammet’s attention to detail. Single-mindedness is, he writes, “a defining characteristic [of autism], as is a strong drive to analyze detail and identify rules and patterns in systems” (7). Later he writes about how those with autism have a strong eye for detail, an ability that leads them to process details at the expense of global information (whereas people without autism have the opposite tendency). In the chapter “The Autist Artist” from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks describes José, a twenty-one-year-old autistic man who, not unlike Tammet, suffers from frequent seizures. After asking José to draw his pocket watch, Sacks realizes his talent for drawing: José’s drawings feature a remarkable fidelity, a fidelity that is remarkable because of how fast the drawings are completed and how accurately they reproduce the object. From these drawings, Sacks extrapolates an understanding of José’s mind: “His mind is not built for the abstract, the conceptual. That is not available to him as a path to truth. But he has a passion and a real power for the particular – he loves it, he enters into it, he re-creates it” (228). For Sacks, then, José’s universe is made up of “innumerable, exact, and passionately intense particulars” (229). While non-autistics may experience the universe through the general and the categorical, the autistic universe is, Sacks concludes, “still ‘real,’ equally real,

Embodied Consciousness


in a quite different way” (229). Although both José and Tammet “cannot see the wood for the trees,” cannot see “the bigger picture,” it is their attention to detail that allows José to create his drawings and Tammet to memorize numbers, specifically the digits in the number π (pi). In Born on a Blue Day, Tammet recounts breaking a British and European record by reciting 22,514 digits of pi without error in five hours and nine minutes. He writes that he studied by visualizing the numerical landscape created by these digits, which are illustrated in the book.8 What Tammet’s account of autism emphasizes is the way in which consciousness and behaviour influence one another: the routines and orders that govern his behaviours mirror the way he perceives stimuli as minute details. Tammet’s autobiography provides, therefore, evidence for the idea put forward by Wilson and Foglia that sensorimotor experience plays a key and formative role in the acquisition and development of cognitive structures and thereby consciousness. In Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin, who is perhaps the world’s most famous autistic person, attempts to account for the visual prowess of individuals with autism. For the Temple Grandin of these early works, the mental life of an autistic is intensely visual, rather than verbal, which allows, as seen with both José and Tammet, for an acute attention to sensory details. In Thinking in Pictures, Grandin often likens herself to technical and mechanical objects, comparing herself to a videotape library, a cd-rom, a web browser, and a computer monitor. For instance, she writes that she does not assimilate information that non-autistic people take for granted. Instead, she stores it in her head as if it were a cd-rom, which allows her memories to be always specific (8). Referring to an experience when she handled cattle at a veterinary chute, she recounts remembering “exactly how the animals behaved in [a] specific situation and how the chutes and other equipment were built” (9). By contrast, in Animals in Translation, she likens the manner by which an animal and an autistic person see the world, writing, “Animals and autistic people don’t see their ideas of things; they see the actual things themselves. We see the details that make up the world, while normal people blur all those details together into their general concept of the world” (30). Thus, as Cary Wolfe has argued, Grandin’s visuality is implicated in what are two ontologically opposed registers: “on the one hand, the general animal sensorium, within which sight is only one of the senses (and for many animals not the dominant one); and, on the other hand, the opposed register of the technical and mechanical: Temple Grandin as recording, storage, and playback device, mechanically scanning the visual field like Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation” (112–13). 8 Each chapter begins with a rendering of how that number appears in Tammet’s mind.



By comparing the autistic subject to the mechanical and the animal, Grandin raises the question, also asked by Damasio, of whether consciousness can exist without language. For her, not only can consciousness exist without language, language can actually get in the way of consciousness. Where language acts as a kind of filter for normal people, animals and autistic people have to deal with a swirling mass of tiny details from their environment. In this way, autistic people are more fully and intensely embodied as they are constantly “seeing, hearing, and feeling all the things no one else can” (67). Grandin reasons that since she is conscious even though she thinks in pictures rather than words, “there’s nothing to say an animal can’t be conscious just because an animal doesn’t think in words” (262). Far from animals’ lacking consciousness, Grandin suggests that animals, not unlike autistics, have a different consciousness made up of pictures and sounds, and even perhaps conscious “thoughts” of their senses. What the autistic subject accentuates and confirms, then, is that consciousness is not ineluctably tied to the linguistic, but rather in its most fundamental form is bodily. 4

(Self-)Consciousness and Autistic Difference

The cognitive sciences interpret such embodied experience as lack. In “Theory of Mind and Self-Consciousness: What Is It Like to Be Autistic?,” Uta Frith and Francesca Happé posit that autistic subjects are deficient or lacking not only in consciousness but also in self-consciousness. Where consciousness is defined as an organism’s awareness of its own self and external objects in the environment, self-consciousness is understood as the ability to introspect, to reflect on those personalized subjective states. Frith and Happé support their claim by taking Baron-Cohen’s theory of “mindblindness” – the idea discussed earlier that autistic subjects are unable to attribute mental states to themselves and others – to its logical extreme, proposing that a lack of theory of other minds also suggests a lack of theory of one’s own mind. They write that such a theory does not suggest “these individuals lack mental states, but that in an important sense they are unable to reflect on their mental states [lacking] the cognitive machinery to represent their thoughts and feelings as thoughts and feelings” (7). While autistic subjects can “observe the behavior and emotional expressions of other people,” they lack the added ability to “make sense of their behavior by attribution of mental states” (7–8). Frith and Happé find evidence for their assertion in the very embodied experiences represented in the life writing of autistic subjects: inexplicable outbursts of emotion, perceptions seemingly without attention, and unusual sensorimotor experiences. Frith and

Embodied Consciousness


Happé argue that a mind without the ability to introspect, without the ability to reflect on inner experiences displays pathological sensory experience and awareness. Drawing on observations by parents and anecdotal reports, they suggest that among children with autism “the awareness of sensations and experiences may be peculiar” and sensory and pain experiences are on occasion “abnormal” and “quite extreme” (10). As evidence, they point out that other humans are rarely featured in autobiographical accounts of autism: Typically in the autobiographical accounts we find relatively little about other people’s feelings or attitudes. Unlike ordinary biographers, they are not constantly wondering how others might see them and their families. They are not interested in making an impression. They are seemingly oblivious to the possibly defamatory effects of what they tell about themselves and their relatives. (18) Humans are not represented in such life writing as objects of meaningful sensation; they are, instead, presented as sources of mystifying and chaotic sensory overstimulation. Frith and Happé interpret autistic sensory abnormalities as lack, as evidence of a recognitional deficit, an attentional deficiency, or even a failure to empathize. This chapter reads such sensory experiences not as abnormalities arising from introspective impairment, that is, from a lack of self-consciousness, but rather as evidence of difference, specifically of different sensory experiences resulting from autistic forms of embodiment that allow for a more comprehensive mode of relating to the world. Temple Grandin claims that it is the opposed registers of the general animal sensorium and the mechanical and technical that allow for her most famous and distinctive ability – her profound empathy towards animals. In Thinking in Pictures, she writes that she uses her “visual thinking skills to simulate what an animal would see and hear in a given situation” (168), while, in Animals in Translation, she writes that “[a]utistic people can think the way animals think” (6).9 Far from lacking the ability to empathize, Grandin empathizes with atypical beings and objects, beings and objects that are considered not worthy of attention and interest by non-autistic individuals. Empathy towards not only other living creatures but also inanimate objects is evident in Running With Walker, Robert Hughes’s memoir about his autistic son Walker. Near the beginning of the book, a doctor diagnosis Walker as

9 Appropriately, the title for Animals In Translation was originally meant to be A Cow’s Eye View (xv).



“clearly object-oriented” (27; emphasis added). Robert promptly recognizes this diagnosis, characterizing his son as “locked in a world of his own and more interested in objects than people” (26). Robert seems quick to revert to common autistic stereotypes from both popular culture and the clinical arena, admitting that he had “seen enough films and tv shows” to label Walker as alone in his autism, as a “child who behaved oddly, had no speech, looked normal, and was ‘object-oriented’ [and as such] was probably veering into the category of children who ‘lived in their own world’” (29). However, such stereotyping begs the question of why an individual must be alone if they relate better with objects than human beings. After all, Robert admits, “Walker was, both in a deep and surface sense, living in our world, strongly engaged with us and the people in his life” (29). Can an individual be both object-oriented and engaged in the world? To put it another way, is being object-oriented not a mode of sociality? This object-oriented mode of relationality allows for a more comprehensive sociality. The cognitive sciences emphasize only the human. For Simon BaronCohen, mindblindness involves an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human. To be mindblind, then, is to fail to attend to other human beings. What autism demonstrates, by contrast, is the ways in which emphasizing a human-focused engagement with the world is narrow and overly selective. By pathologizing autism as incapable of relating and empathizing, the cognitive sciences fail to understand autism as embodying a different relational emphasis. For the person with autism, the human world is a source of sensory chaos and confusion. In Emergence, Temple Grandin writes, “the ‘people world’ was often too stimulating” (29). In Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet writes, “[e]motions can be hard for me to understand or know how to react to” (7). It is not so much that those with autism lack an awareness of or interest in humans but rather that they do not direct their attention and empathy only towards humans. In her video “In My Language,” Amanda Baggs makes clear that for the person with autism everything is alive, explaining that “her language” is “about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of [her] environment,” and “[r]eacting physically to all parts of [her] surroundings” (emphasis added). Such a comprehensive mode of relating to the world arises from different sensorial experiences, from a differently embodied consciousness. Erin Manning explains that due to their “panopoly of sensorial and perceptual emphases, and [their] unrelenting synesthesia, many autistics speak of needing to redirect experience through a specific sense modality” (154). Manning points out, for instance, that sound allows Tito Mukhopadhyay to reduce his sensory chaos and feel comfortable (154). Where Manning at times threatens to conflate the autistic body and the world, arguing that

Embodied Consciousness


they do not differ,10 this chapter argues that in the autistic condition the mediation of the body in the relationship between consciousness and the world is stressed. Located not strictly in the mind or brain, autistic consciousness unfolds across the body, a body that engages with the world in different but no less meaningful and sensible ways. 5

Deconstructing “Normality”

What emerges from reading autistic life writing is a very real sense that the autistic writers of these stories are profoundly conscious of the difference they embody. In Autism and Sensing, Donna Williams writes about a consciousness not restricted to the mind: “The conscious mind, however, is not the only way of taking things in. The preconscious state takes things in, not directly, but indirectly. Using peripheral perception, we accumulate all the knowing we aren’t always aware we are taking in” (63). For her, in addition to a “conscious mind” there also exists a “preconscious state,” something like the embodied consciousness articulated in this chapter, that takes in knowledge often without conscious awareness through the body, through “peripheral perception.” Next, she writes, “Taking things in indirectly, peripherally, the fragmentation didn’t happen; things were more cohesive, they retained context. Yet the mind-jolting senses of direct vision and direct hearing could not be consistently relied upon as meaningful primary senses” (63). Here, Williams suggests that the autistic condition is constituted not by sensory abnormalities but rather by sensory differences. Although Williams cannot sense directly since that leads to sensory overstimulation, sensing indirectly allows her to take things in cohesively and with context. She reaffirms this difference when she writes, “In spite of this, I didn’t remain under-developed, so much as I became differently developed. Like the deaf-blind, I used other systems more fully than most would ever develop them” (63). Far from lacking the ability to perceive the world, Williams simply perceives through systems not developed in non-autistic individuals. Thus, Williams does not lack introspective awareness as suggested by Frith and Happé but rather evinces self-consciousness by affirming her difference from “normality.” Such an awareness of normality is further evident in the critique of the very notion of “the normal.” Empathy provides an interesting and instructive test 10

Manning argues that for autistics “there is no clear separation between the world and the body,” and that the world and body are “startlingly, painfully, exquisitely, processually one” (154).



case for such a critique. Although Baron-Cohen argues that “[a]utism is an empathy disorder” (The Essential Difference 13), he admits in an article co-written with Sally Wheelwright that “it is a difficult concept to define” (163). Autistic life writing not only allows for a reimagining of this concept through a comprehensive mode of relationality, but also allows for a questioning of whether non-autistics can even be understood to have this characteristic. Baggs says, I find it very interesting by the way that failure to learn your language is seen as a deficit but failure to learn my language is seen as so natural that people like me are officially described as mysterious and puzzling rather than anyone admitting that it is themselves who are confused not autistic people or other cognitively disabled people who are inherently confusing. We are even viewed as non-communicative if we don’t speak the standard language but other people are not considered non-­ communicative if they are so oblivious to our own languages as to believe they don’t exist. Here, she underscores a double standard, namely the idea that those with autism are considered non-communicative as a result of not understanding nonautistic language while those without autism are not labeled in the same way for failing to learn autistic language. What Baggs reveals is the ways in which “the normal” and “normality” are constructed, that is, she points toward the artificiality and impossibility of “norms,” which are sustained through the exclusion of the “other.” It is not, then, that all non-autistic people actually possess empathy whereas all autistic people do not possess it, but rather that what is theorized to be lacking in autistic individuals must be understood to be present in “normal” individuals in order for “normality” to sustain itself. What autistic life writing expresses is the human desire for recognition and acceptance. While autism is understood to be both less than human – as exemplified by the cognitive sciences – and “human, but more so” (Belmonte 173), this life writing proposes that those with autism may be different but are simply human, no more and no less. Such a desire often takes the form of hope, of a wish projected into the future. Amanda Baggs says, “Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible.” Tito Mukhopadhyay, similarly, writes, “One day I dream that we can grow in a matured society where nobody would be ‘normal or abnormal’ but just human beings, accepting any other human being – ready to grow together” (58). These references to “the many” and the “we” exemplify the autistic person’s recognition of being different with respect to “the normal” and of being situated within “the social,” that is, they reveal a consciousness and

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a self-consciousness that promise to enliven the world if recognized, reciprocated, and affirmed. References American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5 (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013. Print. Baggs, Amanda. “In My Language.” Online video clip. YouTube. 14 Jan 2007. Web. 11 Oct 2009. Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism. New York: Basic Books, 2003. Print. Baron-Cohen, Simon. Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Boston: The MIT P, 1995. Print. Baron-Cohen, Simon, and Sally Wheelwright. “The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 34.2 (April 2004): 163–75. Web. 25 Nov 2013. Belmonte, Matthew K. “Human, but More So: What the Autistic Brain Tells Us about the Process of Narrative.” Autism and Representation. Ed. Mark Osteen. New York: Routledge, 2008. 166–80. Print. Bettelheim, Bruno. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. New York: Free P, 1972. Print. Damasio, Antonio. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. Print. Damasio, Antonio. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Orlando: Mariner Books, 2000. Print. Edelman, Gerald. The Remembered Present. New York: Basic Books, 1989. Frith, Uta. “Asperger and His Syndrome.” Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Ed. Uta Frith. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. 1–36. Print. Frith, Uta. Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Malden: Blackwell, 2003. Print. Frith, Uta, and Francesca Happé. “Theory of Mind and Self-Consciousness: What Is It Like to Be Autistic?” Mind & Language 14.1 (March 1999): 1–22. Web. 3 March 2012. Gallese, Vittorio, and Hannah Chapelle Wojciehowski. “How Stories Make Us Feel: Toward an Embodied Narratology.” California Italian Studies 2.1 (2011): n. pag. Web. 12 July 2015. Grandin, Temple. Emergence: Labeled Autistic, A True Story. New York: Grand Central, 2005. Print. Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.



Grandin, Temple, and Catherine Johnson. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Orlando: Harvest, 2005. Print. Hill, Elisabeth L. “Executive Dysfunction in Autism.” Trends in Cognitive Science 8.1 (2004): 26–32. Web. 15 Feb 2012. Hughes, Robert. Running with Walker: A Memoir. London: Jessica Kingsley P, 2003. Print. Manning, Erin. Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance. Durham: Duke UP, 2013. Print. Mukhopadhyay, Tito Rajarshi, Beyond the Silence: My Life, the World and Autism. London: National Autistic Society, 2000. Print. Nadesan, Majia Holmer. Constructing Autism: Unraveling the ‘Truth’ and Understanding the Social. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. Ozonoff, Sally. “Executive Functions in Autism.” Learning and Cognition in Autism. Ed. Eric Schopler and Gary B. Mesibov. New York: Plenum, 1995. 199–219. Print. Pellicano, Elizabeth, et al. “Multiple Cognitive Capabilities/Deficits in Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: ‘Weak’ Central Coherence and its Relationship to Theory of Mind and Executive Control.” Development and Psychopathology 18.1 (2006): 77–98. Web. 15 Feb 2012. Rose, Nikolas, and Joelle M. Abi-Rached. Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2013. Print. Sacks, Oliver. An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. New York, Vintage Books, 1995. Print. Sacks, Oliver. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. New York: Touchstone, 1998. Print. Savarese, Ralph J. “Cognition.” Keywords for Disability Studies. Ed. Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. New York: New York UP, 2015. 40–42. Print. Tammet, Daniel. Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. New York: Free P, 2006. Print. Volkmar, Fred R. “Understanding Autism: Implications for Psychoanalysis.” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 20.5 (2000): 660–24. Web. 8 Jan 2014. Williams, Donna. Autism and Sensing: The Unlost Instinct. London: Jessica Kingsley P, 1998. Print. Wilson, Robert A., and Lucia Foglia. “Embodied Cognition.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011 Edition): n. pag. Web. 7 June 2015. Wolfe, Cary. “Learning from Temple Grandin, or, Animal Studies, Disability Studies, and Who Comes After the Subject.” New Formations 64 (2008): 110–23. Web. 17 April 2012.

chapter 6

Reality of the Unreal: The Use of Contradiction in Postmodern Fiction Exploring the Creative Potential of the Human Mind Joanna Klara Teske Abstract The chapter concerns the contemporary novel’s exploration of the dual, real-fictional dimension of human life. It appears that by assigning to reality meanings and values, whether common and predictable or originally fanciful, people can effectively create themselves and their world. Sometimes, especially if they are fantasy-prone, they assign meanings and values to things that do not exist; also this activity can have very real consequences. In the novel this phenomenon may be signalled by means of contradiction – one and the same element of the text (an object, a character, a story) or even the text itself may be given by the narrator and/or the implied author the dual quasi-real and explicitly fictional status. If otherwise the text appears to keep the two spheres apart, the strategy may evoke in the reader a sense of cognitive dissonance: real and fictional are commonly taken as mutually exclusive. The paper focuses on “the reality of the unreal” in the presentation of two fictional characters: a cross-cultural child (Pigeon English, 2011, by Stephen Kelman) and a psychopath (Filth, 1998, by Irvine Welsh). The self might be unreal, should theories of Daniel Dennett and like-minded philosophers prove correct, but its fantasies for the self, if contemporary novels can be trusted, are real enough.

Keywords fiction – reality – consciousness – contradiction – Filth – Pigeon English

I pretended like it was for real… I don’t even want to think about it for if I make it come true. stephen kelman (excerpts from Pigeon English)

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_008



I turned into a psycho bastard for six months. Basically, I became a total minging, sneering, racist, sexist jakey. […] I mean, it’s nonsense on one level: it’s just words on a page. But the emotions are real. IRVINE WELSH (about writing Filth; qtd. in Niven)

⸪ Introduction It is advisable to choose one’s fantasies with caution, since to imagine something and make-believe it is real means to make it real (cf. the epigraphs). This idea has recently drawn the attention of both contemporary fiction and sci­ences exploring consciousness. Traditionally the categories of reality and fiction have been seen as mutually exclusive. To say that something is both real and fictional seemed to breach the principle of non-contradiction. But research conducted on consciousness demonstrates that the fictional may, at least in some cases, be experienced as real and have a powerful impact on human behaviour. By inventing meanings and values and assigning them to external reality (i.e. reality which in its existence is independent of the individual mind) as well as to internal reality (i.e. reality invented by the mind), the mind seems to create its own real-fictional milieu. The postmodern novel invites the reader to reflect upon this phenomenon inter alia by means of a (possibly apparent) contradiction inherent in one element of the text (a character, an incident, etc.), the text, or even the text’s interpretation, having at one and the same time both quasi-real and explicitly fictional status. Two novels – Pigeon English (2011) by Stephen Kelman and Filth (1998) by Irvine Welsh – exemplify this strategy in the present essay. Assumptions The theses listed below provide the theoretical background for the ensuing analysis. Though not devoid of sound justification, they are introduced here as arbitrary assumptions because the limits of this paper prevent their in-depth presentation. 1.

People use art, the novel included, inter alia to examine themselves. Selfcognition via art is a result of (a) the recipient’s experience occasioned

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by the artefact and (b) the insight the recipient gains into another human being’s, i.e. the artist’s, mind. The specific mechanisms involved in the process include artistic experiments, models of reality offering the recipient a chance for vicarious experience, and (not necessarily verbal) presentation of ideas. In most cases critical reflection seems required for the process to be fully effective. As regards the novel, it is modernist authors who openly declared that exploring the human mind was their primary concern. Postmodern novelists continue the project, though their approach is typically less direct, as they focus in the first place on the mind’s products (works of art, language, advanced technology, scientific theories, forms of social life and the like) or the mind’s interactions with these products. The mind’s creative (and destructive) potential thus naturally comes into the foreground. Postmodern art is often said to have chosen contradiction (and its variants such as metafiction, paradox, subversion) as its major category. Being an aesthetic device, contradiction performs cognitive functions. Defined here as a conjunction of mutually exclusive meanings, which – though they may be expressed in the artefact in various ways – are in principle translatable into propositions,1 contradiction helps convey ideas, build models of reality, and structure mental experiments in art, in some artefacts becoming their subject-matter. From the above assumptions, it follows that the contemporary novel’s capacity to extend human self-knowledge owes much to its use of contradiction. Finally, pivotal to the subject of this paper is the vague notion of the real.2 Philosophers cannot agree on what exists or is privileged in its mode of existence. By monists the real has been most often identified with either the material, or the spiritual, or the ideal. Dualists claim that the real cannot be reduced to only one category – the most popular dualist interpretation of reality entails material and psychic substances (cf. René Descartes). There are also pluralists like Karl R. Popper, who claims that we need to accept three worlds: the material reality, psychic experience

1 In logic contradiction is defined in a stricter way as a conjunction of a proposition and its negation, but the colloquial definition corresponds better to the standard usage of the term in discussions of art. For both definitions, see Poczobut (64–68) and Hołówka. 2 Cf. the oed definition of real (adj.): “I. That actually exists, or relates to this. 1.a. Having an objective existence; actually existing physically as a thing, substantial; not imaginary. b. Philos. Designating whatever is regarded as having an existence in fact and not merely in appearance, thought, or language, or as having an absolute and necessary, in contrast to a merely contingent, existence” (“Real”).



and products of the human mind. More eccentric approaches to the real include the belief that not elements but their relations are real (cf. Roger Boscovich, for whom relations grant reality to the elements they connect), or events and processes rather than objects (process philosophy), or that nothing is real except for one’s own mind (solipsism). Meanwhile the currently adopted common view seems to consist in treating as real what is external to the individual mind: i.e. material reality (individual bodily sensations included) and immaterial reality if it is socially recognized as real (e.g. the concept of the eu, Einstein’s equation E=mc2, the Polish language). Conversely, unreal is the content of the individual mental experience (e.g. the postman from the last night’s dream – an unreal object of a real personal psychic experience) and immaterial reality that has publicly been recognized as unreal (e.g. vampires in Transylvania – objects, socially recognized as unreal, of a real folk belief). Fictional may in this context be taken as vaguely synonymous with unreal, though it carries a slight suggestion that this unreal can be mistaken, possibly for fun and in a make-believe fashion, for the real.3 Clearly, the concept of the real thus construed is susceptible to critique: (1) the real is to a large extent a matter of social contract and hence liable to change, in consequence, the status of real immaterial objects is in principle impermanent, (2) individual experience counts less than social experience – a decision which may well strike one as arbitrary, (3) the status of some crucial objects – like God or, more recently, the self – remains uncertain (no social consensus has been reached on the matter). On reflection it seems inevitable that the real-fictional distinction should lose clarity the moment that some, but not all, immaterial objects are recognized as real.4 Anyway, this provisional reconstruction of the currently accepted notions of reality and fiction is the fourth assumption of the present paper.

3 oed defines fiction as 1. b. “Arbitrary invention.” 1. c. “That which is fashioned or framed; a device, a fabric.” 3. a. “The action of ‘feigning’ or inventing imaginary incidents, existences, states of things, etc., whether for the purpose of deception or otherwise.” 3. b. “That which, or something that, is imaginatively invented; feigned existence, event, or state of things; invention as opposed to fact.” 3. c. “A statement or narrative proceeding from mere invention; such statements collectively” (“Fiction”). 4 Nothing can stop one from asking whether fiction itself is not real – “which it must be because it exists, unless something can exist without being real,” as Effie, the protagonist of Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson, defiantly declares (230).

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Contexts: Fiction in Postmodern Culture and Cognitive Sciences

The categories of fiction and reality are crucial for postmodern culture. According to Brian McHale, the postmodernist condition is that of “an anarchic landscape of worlds in the plural” – worlds whose status is problematic (37). As Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann explain, what we perceive as reality is “a kind of collective fiction”; incidentally, under normal circumstances people remain unaware of the fact. This reality/fiction is far from homogenous, though to a certain extent its multiple “subuniverses of meaning” are organized conceptually with the help of, among other things, science, theology and philosophy. Apart from participating in this “paramount” reality, people enjoy “a multiplicity of private or peripheral realities: dreaming, play, fiction, and so on” (qtd. in McHale 37). Indeed, Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor claim that it is in these peripheral realities that people spend much of their everyday life, constantly moving from one (fictional) reality to another (qtd. in McHale 38). It is in this context that McHale declares the dominant of postmodern aesthetics to be ontological: by foregrounding (formally and thematically) ontological issues, postmodern fiction represents the state of living in various fictional realities – ­a common experience of people in “advanced industrial” societies (38–39, see also 3–11).5 The same focus on the real vs. the fictional underlies Patricia Waugh’s theory of metafiction. Defining metafiction as “fictional writing which selfconsciously draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality,” Waugh suggests that metafiction helps examine “the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text” (2), subjectivity included (3). The novel’s exploration of reality and fiction is, for Waugh, motivated politically. Exposing the linguistic character of the fictional world, postmodern novels explore the linguistic 5 It might be worth noting that before postmodernism the theme of reality vs. fiction seems to have been relatively unpopular with the mainstream novel. This might be related to the novel’s high standards of empiricism and rationality (cf. Ian Watt’s analysis of the novel’s affinity with the modern philosophy of Descartes, Locke and Reid; cf. also Jeremy Hawthorn 14–20), combined with the belief that the common-sensical approach consists in clearly differentiating between reality and fiction. Other genres of literature, e.g. poems (cf. Edgar Allan Poe) or literature for children (cf. Lewis Carroll) seem to have been more open to the idea that the proper realm of human life is of dual, real-fictional character. Incidentally, on the assumption that artists, novelists included, belong to the fantasy-prone 5% of the human population (i.e. the 5% for whom the distinction between reality and fiction is problematic), it seems odd that so many novels should have taken as default the view that the two categories are mutually exclusive.



character of the seemingly non-fictional world. The recognition that social life is “a series of constructions, artifices, impermanent structures” (7), “a web of interdependent semiotic systems” (9), serves the purpose of social criticism: it helps to denounce oppressive power structures and ideologies. Incidentally, in her analyses, Waugh seems to be occupied mainly with the situation in which one element of the narrative is first constructed as quasi-real and then deconstructed as fictional, rather than permanently enjoying the dual status.6 But it is possible to place the emphasis differently. It is possible to argue that, by introducing elements that enjoy the dual real-fictional status, postmodern books imply that man-made fictions are real, and investigate implications of this fact in both social and personal contexts. In other words, metafiction may convey both the idea that reality is fictional and the complementary idea that fiction is real, each of which appears self-contradictory. Not surprisingly, Waugh recognizes contradiction as one of the metafictional strategies and presents its basic form as follows: “‘All novelists are liars,’ said that metafictionist, truthfully” (137). Elsewhere, however, she cites Tzvetan Todorov for whom “real and unreal” are not in a state of “an irreducible opposition” (qtd. in Waugh 109), and applies this idea, taken from Todorov’s book on the fantastic, to metafictional texts (109). On this assumption the contradiction resulting from predicating about an object that it is both real and fictional is merely apparent. The reality of the unreal has also been studied within psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience. Susan Blackmore in Consciousness: An Introduction reports on current research on such phenomena as mental images, dreams, hallucinations, confabulation, or false memories, and such abilities or personality traits as reality monitoring (called also reality discrimination) or fantasy-proneness.

6 Cf. “Metafictional novels tend to be constructed on the principle of a fundamental and sustained opposition: the construction of a fictional illusion (as in traditional realism) and the laying bare of that illusion” (6). In the next sentence Waugh speaks of the simultaneity of the two processes, but in this way she might be referring to their co-presence in a single work (6). Admittedly, the distinction between an alternation of the real and fictional statuses, on the one hand, and a dual real-fictional status, on the other, is very faint, though not insignificant. An alternation might indicate that the two categories, though they might appear to be permanent, are in fact temporary; it is only their co-presence which demonstrates that they do not exclude each other. Nota bene, few texts offer the narrator’s (or implied author’s) declarations regarding the real-fictional character of the text (Albert Angelo is fairly exceptional in this respect). More often readers find vague hints undermining the dominant real (or fictional) status of the story (or its element), which they need to carefully interpret.

Reality of the Unreal


On the one hand, as Blackmore explains, most of the time we can differentiate between what is real (our perceptions of external reality) and what is imagined (our mental images): the latter is “less vivid, less stable and more easily manipulated”; i.e. we have the reality monitoring skill (326). On the other hand, we can take the real for the imaginary, as exemplified by Cheves Perky’s experiments, which show that people, when asked to imagine an object on the blank screen, continue to claim that the object is imaginary even after it has been supplanted by a real one; while taking the imaginary for the real is the essence of hallucinations, a well-known phenomenon (Blackmore 326). As estimated by Wilson and Barber, 5% of people have a “fantasy prone personality” – are imaginative and creative (qtd. in Blackmore 338); for them, as for neurological patients or schizophrenics, the distinction constitutes a special challenge. Most interestingly, recent studies show that the brain activity of people who are imagining something, dreaming about it or hallucinating corresponds very much to its activity when the same thing is part of real-life experiences (329, 334, 387, 389).7 Referring to sleep paralysis, Blackmore claims that its mental experience cannot be ignored as unreal, even if the nightmarish monster that is part of this experience is not real “in that public sense” (325). Also the impact of false (artificially induced) memories upon people’s subsequent behaviour (Blackmore discusses the experiments of Geraerts et al., 327) is significant here: one may suppose that also all kinds of self-induced (whether deliberately or not) fantasies can exert such influence. All this prompts Blackmore to conclude that it is far from easy to say what is real and what is imagined (325–27, 334, 341).8 While the research is still in progress, the real-life impact of fictional contents has already been made use of in various schools of therapy, e.g. Neurolinguistic Programming (nlp), specific techniques, such as visualization, or therapeutic programmes, such as the weight-loss programme consisting in patients imagining food consumption. It is in the context of this scholarly and scientific research that I would like to analyze two contemporary novels, both of which explore the mind’s creative potential and use contradiction to problematize the relation between reality 7 Cf. the research of Louie and Wilson, who report that monitoring the brain activity of a dreaming rat and comparing it with the rat’s brain activity when awake, they could decide whether the animal is standing or running and in which part of the maze, so similar is the brain activity in both situations (qtd. in Blackmore 389). 8 Incidentally, also imaginative experience prompted by works of art has for a long time been known to evoke very intense emotions (cf. e.g. Gustave Flaubert’s confession: “une lecture m’émeut plus qu’un malheur réel,” 08. August 1846) and to have very substantial impact on human life (cf. the series of suicides following the publication of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).



and fiction. Naturally, in novels which consistently employ the mode of fiction everything is fictional, i.e. quasi-real (merely pretending to be real). In metafictional novels some quasi-real elements are shown to be unreal, i.e. explicitly fictional. In Pigeon English and Filth, as I suggest below, everything is quasireal except for two elements – the pigeon and the tapeworm – which are both quasi-real and explicitly fictional. The quasi-real and explicitly fictional in literature may be taken to model the extra-literary categories of the real and the fictional.

Pigeon English (2011) – A Young, Cross-Cultural Mind and Its Ability to Invent

Pigeon English (2011) by Stephen Kelman tells the story of an 11-year-old immigrant from Ghana who spends the last months of his life in London. In the first place the book concerns serious social ills such as the abuse suffered by African immigrants in Europe or street gang violence in poor estates of big cities (cf. Kelman’s comments on the novel’s origin, “So That’s”); but it also examines how by means of imagination people invent reality. This theme is dramatized in the life of Harrison Opoku, the novel’s narrator and protagonist. He is both a master of invention and a careful observer of other people’s efforts in this respect. Harrison’s observations may be illustrated with his reaction to the revelations of his friend, “Connor Green: ‘There’s some people who just shag a hole in the wall. They make a hole in the wall and put their dick through it. It’s usually in a toilet.’ / Asweh, I didn’t even believe it! It felt too crazy. They pretend the hole is a lady” (Pigeon English 81). When told that his Auntie Sonia’s tree is plastic, at first Harrison finds also this idea “crazy,” but on second thoughts he has no objections: “It’s actually a good idea when you think about it. It’s safer than a real tree.” Having noticed the risk of deception, he solves the moral problem as follows: “A plastic tree is only a lie if it pretends to be a real tree, if you know it’s plastic then it can’t be a lie” (Pigeon English 115). To sum up, Harrison realizes that people can imagine things to suit their needs, and believes that if they do not deceive themselves, no harm is done. His own skills in the art of imagining things, which he calls “pretending” as if to prove that he knows what he is doing and hence there is no lie involved, are manifest throughout the book. Consider the following two passages: “I saw a real dead person. It was where I used to live, at the market in Kaneshie. An orange lady got hit by a tro-tro, nobody even saw it coming. I pretended like all the oranges rolling everywhere were her happy memories and they were

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looking for a new person to stick to so they didn’t get wasted” (6) and “I love easing myself after Mamma puts bleach in the toilet. The bleach makes mighty bubbles […] I pretend like I’m God easing himself on his favourite cloud” (10); interestingly, a few months later he drops this fantasy: “When we got home I locked all the locks and drank a whole glass of water with my eyes open. It didn’t even feel like I was easing myself on a cloud anymore. I knew it was just the bubbles from the bleach” (Pigeon English 120); as if brutal life has made this fantasy meaningless. Sometimes Harrison imagines things without being aware of the fact. His conviction that adults like it best when the news informs of something sad, such as a child’s death, as “it gives them something special to pray for” (Pigeon English 27) might serve as an example. Harrison’s beliefs in the superpowers one gains after being bitten by a radioactive spider (60, 116), in the magical power of the alligator tooth (57), and in “put[ting] your finger up its bumhole” as a method of defending oneself against a dog (Pigeon English 27–28), originating in pop culture, Ghanaian folk wisdom and urban legends, respectively, exemplify ideas whose fictional character escapes the boy. More often, however, the boy seems very much aware of the power of imagination. Consider his reaction to the news about the death of the twins in Ghana: “You had to be sad for one minute. I could see the bones. I pretended like a snake was coming out of the eyehole. I wanted to be sad but it wouldn’t come out enough” (Pigeon English 38).9 Similarly, when the boy spots a car parked in the garden, he imagines that the car is a dog, and feels sorry as no one intends to let the car in: “It felt like the car was waiting to come in but nobody would let it in. I pretended like the car was a dog. He’d been sent out to the garden to ease himself, now he wanted to come back in but nobody was listening. Asweh, it was very funny. I even felt sorry for him” (Pigeon English 45). Clearly the boy’s fantasies evoke specific emotions and he is at least half-aware of the fact. But he does not seem to limit the direct effects of day-dreaming to private experience. After he freezes his fingers to know better how Auntie Sonia feels things with her burnt fingers, he greets with relief the returning sense of touch and speculates: “If I had to be numb forever it would just be too vexing. I’d have to pick everything up with my mouth instead like a dog. Everybody would call me Dogboy. I don’t even want to think about it for if I make it come true” (Pigeon English 68).

9 Incidentally, the children are murdered because twins in the north of Ghana are supposed to be “cursed by the devil” (Pigeon English 37), which might serve in the book as a clear warning that imagination can be very dangerous.



The book suggests that there might be good reasons behind Harrison’s imaginative skills: he comes from an alien (Ghanaian) cultural background, which includes magical thinking; has very little guidance in a new and hostile environment; like most children, whose senses are not dulled yet, is sensitive to the world and very emotional. The book also shows the effects of the skills. By playing detectives, Harrison and his friend, Dean, manage to identify the murderer of their school-mate and collect evidence against him (unfortunately before they contact the police, Harrison is killed). Even more important might be the impact of the boy’s imagination on his inner life. The oppressive sense of reality seems relieved by the boy’s fanciful ideas; his courage and moral integrity are strengthened, his alienation is lessened, his “negative” emotions (fear and shame) denied. In other words, by forming certain beliefs, the boy controls his emotions, thus nursing his will to live, sense of security and moral sensitivity. The theme of self-creation is in the novel developed further by means of the pigeon10 whose presentation appears to involve a contradiction violating the non-contradiction principle,11 as the bird’s construction involves a dual (quasireal and clearly fictional) status. The boy first encounters the bird next to the place where the dead boy was found. Later, on the balcony of his 9th-floor flat, he feeds the bird and befriends it. Later still, the bird becomes the addressee of the boy’s monologues (e.g. “I was going to ask her [Lydia, the boy’s sister] to snap you [the pigeon] but I then I remembered you don’t like having your picture taken. Nobody else saw your shadow go past the window, I was the only one watching. Don’t let them see you, I just want you to be mine,” Pigeon English 99). Though initially when reporting his dialogues with the bird, the boy does not presume to know the bird’s answers, this changes as the book nears the end. Harrison develops affection for the pigeon, begins to treat the bird as his guardian angel (thanks him for advice, asks for help), thus building up his sense of security, but the pigeon behaves like a normal bird (e.g. attacked by magpies, it needs help, Pigeon English 112). After the boy dies, the bird’s voice does not reappear, which confirms the idea that the voice the boy could hear inside his head (cf. Pigeon English 112) was only part of his make-believe. All of 10


The pigeon has drawn some critical attention: Tim Masters suggests he is “a metaphor for immigration and integration” (Kelman, “Booker Longlist”), while an anonymous reviewer from Kirkus Reviews notes that the bird is “a kind of protector and exemplar, clumsily signifying both freedom and flight.” Obviously various make-believe ideas of Harrison contradict the default model of reality accepted in the West. Most of the time the reader will see them as erroneous, though often useful for the boy and most enchanting. The contradiction involved in the bird’s dual status is different in that the two mutually-exclusive categories (or categories perceived as such) – real and fictional – are “asserted” as true in conjunction by the implied author.

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this suggests that the pigeon, though it means a lot to the boy, is but a bird, as real (i.e. quasi-real) as the remaining elements of the presented world. However, at one point the pigeon assures the boy that he is not the boy’s invention (85) and there is some textual evidence supporting this claim, i.e. the claim that the pigeon is in fact a self-conscious creature, independent of the boy’s mind. Apparently the passages printed in italics give the reader (but not the boy) direct access to the bird’s mind. They speak of the bird’s concern for the boy, moderated by its awareness that all creatures are like raindrops – what matters is their community (not any individual life) and spirits (not the bodies they may inhabit); apparently each creature has his or her god, and spirits, such as the pigeon, look after the relationship between them (i.e. creatures and their gods; Pigeon English 40, 58, 104–05, 120). The bird’s religious ideas are incompatible with the boy’s Christian beliefs (the boy believes in God, hell and heaven, sin and the importance of being good) embellished with some ­unorthodox ideas (like the beliefs in asasabonsam, i.e. vampires living in the trees, 42, or the power of the alligator tooth to make one invisible, Pigeon English 64). The italics used in the passages focalized by the bird, the discrepancy between the bird’s and the boy’s religious ideas, the boy’s unawareness of the former all imply that the bird’s inner life is independent of the boy’s mind (another narrator, not the boy, is responsible for the inclusion of the passages focalized by the bird in the book). An angel in the pigeon’s body in an otherwise realistic book can only be perceived as a strangely fictional element. Though this is a bit unusual, the strange construction of the bird might express the implied author’s conviction that some animals are spirits whose wisdom exceeds that of humans; the bird’s status is on this reading consistently quasi-real. Alternatively, the pigeon may be taken as both quasi-real (a normal bird whose fantastic meaning is invented by the boy) and explicitly fictional (an angel disguised as a bird, in whose existence neither the implied author nor the implied reader believes). Upon this reading, the book contains a contradiction, which might symbolically emphasize the hazy, real-fictional character of the human world, while the book as a whole might be taken to celebrate, irrespective of Harrison’s tragic death, the mind’s ability to invent reality.

Filth (1998) – The Deranged Mind Out of Control over Its Creations

Filth is a story of man’s moral corruption and mental disintegration set in the Edinburgh of the late 1990s and, more specifically, in the Serious Crimes police section and the local underworld. But the novel is also concerned with the



mind’s ability to create reality or, more precisely, with the degeneration of this ability accompanying acute psychic disorders. Central for both themes is the protagonist and narrator, Bruce Robertson. Bruce suffered traumatic experiences in his childhood and youth (including the deaths of Stevie, his brother, and Rhona, his first love, for both of which he was blamed). His biological father, as Bruce subsequently learnt, was “the Beast,” a notorious rapist afflicted with schizophrenia. The risk of hereditary defect apart, the boy was oppressed by the feeling that people who knew the story, suspected him of being evil, no matter how well he might behave. Also as a police officer, Bruce is constantly exposed to cruel violence. His family life is ruined: his wife has left him, taking with her their daughter. He himself has become a criminal: is guilty of murder and underage sexual abuse. Bruce is an alcoholic, who takes drugs, maniacally over-indulges in sex, uses other people to secure promotion in the police ranks, and spitefully hurts anyone within his reach. None of this, however, can cure his anxiety attacks (he can sleep only with the light on), silence the voices in his head, or restore his ability to feel anything but self-pity.12 Eventually he breaks down and commits suicide. The theme of fiction created by the mind is in the novel present first of all in Bruce’s “games”: his vicious hints or skilfully arranged performances leading others to think ill of their companions, always made with Bruce’s personal gain in view.13 Most of the insinuations are groundless but effective fabrications (e.g. Blades is arrested on the evidence allegedly proving that he is the pervert who stalks on the phone his own wife, when in fact Bruce is the stalker). Bruce also practices self-manipulation, when this is socially advantageous (e.g. to properly act out outrage at the alleged perversion of Blades, Bruce thinks of the injustices he himself suffered in his life and thus induces in himself the required emotions, Welsh 323). Deceitful manipulation is Bruce’s basic social strategy; as he states, “The games are always, repeat, always, being played” (Welsh 3). The last quotation illustrates well a certain theatrical tone of Bruce’s narrative (audible also in Harrison’s monologue), as if Bruce performs all the time 12


This is Bruce’s opinion; his inner monologue suggests that he is also capable of hatred, “I hate them all, that section of the working class who won’t do as they are told: criminals, spastics, niggers, strikers, thugs, I don’t fucking well care, it all adds up to one thing: something to smash” (Welsh 160). The final scene proves that Bruce hates also himself: “We [Bruce refers to himself this way] hate ourselves for being unable to be other than what we are” (Welsh 392). The true purpose of the games, according to Bruce’s tapeworm, is to alleviate the pain of his broken heart (Welsh 376).

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though most probably for his own or else some imaginary audience’s benefit. The same impression is produced by the phrase: “How did it make you feel?” initially asked by an inquisitive journalist who tries to interview Bruce after Bruce fails to resuscitate a passerby. Afterwards Bruce often repeats the words with mockery, addressing either himself or an imaginary audience or, though this would involve metalepsis, the implied reader. Relevant to the theme in question is also Bruce’s impersonation of Carole: every now and then Bruce pretends to be his own wife, as if in this way he might negate her absence and make her love him as of old. Till the last such episode, when Bruce is assaulted by the gang and forced to abandon the role, the reader may easily take the relevant passages as focalized by Carole, so convincing is Bruce’s impersonation, which may reflect how deeply he engages in the fantasy.14 Most important, however, when it comes to the presentation of the mind’s imaginative potential in the book, are the voices Bruce hears in his mind, one of which is supposed to be the tapeworm’s. Bruce’s mind “plays tricks on him” (371) to quote the worm; it creates reality which Bruce fails to recognize as his own, cf. his confession: “All our life we’ve heard them. The worms. […] We say this, they say that” (Welsh 333). Though the voices are incomprehensible to him, Bruce believes they are hostile: “voices are ringing in my ear, speaking a language I can’t understand, but there’s no mistaking their murderous intent” (Welsh 173). Interestingly, the creations of his mind that he disowns, are, at least in so far as they are presented to the reader, innocent. The worm, in particular, sounds very much like a guardian angel, professing love and communion, expressing willingness to forgive, struggling to restore Bruce’s faith in his ability to feel (the worm reminds Bruce of his love for Rhona and Carole, of his wish to belong, of his resolve not to become “the Beast”).15 But the voice is unable to protect Bruce against the man’s own self-destructive urge. 14 15

Cf. also the scene in which, inspired by his boss’s ambition to become a script-writer, Bruce pretends to be writing a film script starring Bruce (Welsh 233–34). Sometimes the worm’s intentions are less clear, though. When the worm says “you’re becoming hard work Bruce. Too much of the ‘I,’ not enough of the ‘we’” (Welsh 367), it might be taking care of its own egoistic needs, rather than trying to help Bruce regain a sense of community. But the worm might be right in its belief that all Bruce “ever wanted to do was to belong” (Welsh 355). Indeed, when dying, Bruce notes: “It’s horrible how we always die alone, but no worse than living alone…” (Welsh 393). The voices, and the worm in particular, create a sense of community. When fighting against Gorman, Bruce thinks that there is him, Bruce, and the Worm (Welsh 348); as if this were the insane mind’s final, desperate attempt to overcome loneliness. Cf. also Bruce’s own mocking comment on Toal’s, his boss’s, script: “That’s the right idea though that Toal’s got. Get as many voices in your head



Except  for the voice and the Carole fantasy, the world invented by Bruce is horrifying, morally corrupt and in aesthetic terms primitive (vulgar, repetitive, and trivial).16 Moreover, at some point it becomes no longer manageable. Like the pigeon in Kelman’s book, the worm in Filth has a dual status. The parasite is fictional, i.e. intended, unlike the rest of the book, to strike the reader as the author’s playful intrusion, when interpreted as a self-conscious being, independent of Bruce’s mind. In a book which otherwise respects the mimetic convention (all characters and incidents are plausible), the introduction of a highly intelligent and articulate animal appears out of order (there is a clash of conventions: psychological realism vs. black comedy combined with the grotesque).17 However, this interpretation of the animal’s status seems justified in the light of the following circumstances: (1) although Bruce has worms, the worm’s voice appears when Bruce is unaware of having them; (2) the graphic presentation of the worm’s voice differs from the rest of the text: the worm’s monologues are placed in bubbles whose shape corresponds to that of intestines and the bubbles blot out the text of Bruce’s monologue, which seems to imply that the worm’s presence is beyond Bruce’s awareness and control; (3) the worm’s experiences are alien to Bruce (e.g. the worm feels sorry for its companion, another worm, who dies as a result of Bruce’s medical treatment); (4) the worm perceives Bruce as external to it and thinks that it is perceived by Bruce as external to him (“what this fine laddie feels towards us is that we are nothing but an infestation: parasites feeding off the bilious contents of his gut,” 231); indeed, Bruce perceives the worm as his enemy (“I’ll get the bastard though, sure as fuck I’ll get him,” Welsh 247); (5) the contents of the worm’s monologue develop from the repeated request “eat,” surrounded by zeros, to an in-depth analysis of Bruce’s personality, whereas if the worm merely represented a fragment of Bruce’s personality, it should disintegrate together with the rest of Bruce’s mind. But the worm is also quasi-real i.e. a “real” worm in Bruce’s body (the doctor’s diagnosis leaves no doubts about this), as well as a “real” part of Bruce’s



as you can and hide in the crowd. We’ve got loads of them. Probably as many as there are worms eating away inside us” (Welsh 234). This is of some interest as apparently Bruce is not unresponsive to art; he seems to have incorporated art into his way of thinking (cf. the references to T. S. Eliot, “Morning has broken; not so much with a bang as with a whimper as Bladesey knocks timidly on my door […],” 167, Gertrude Stein, “My methods are my methods are my methods,” 232, and Robert Burns’ Tam o’Shanter 254; cf. also the metaphors he uses, e.g. the figure of the beggar he sees in the clouds, 350; or his reflections on the point in the tunnel where you “cease to exist,” Welsh 384). The possibility of a “religious” interpretation of the pigeon moderated a similar clash in Pigeon English.

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unconscious, and hence of the same status in the book as Bruce’s “games” or his attempts to impersonate Carole, which all together yield a realistic picture of an abnormal psychic condition. The worm may be taken as a repressed aspect of Bruce’s personality as (1) it knows the policeman’s past (that Bruce was conceived when his mother was raped, etc.), (2) it seems to experience Bruce’s suppressed longing for love, (3) it sounds like Bruce’s dormant moral awareness.18 Further, (4) at the end of the book the worm and Bruce seem to communicate with each other (e.g. when the worm says “you loved once […] before Carole,” Bruce responds: “No. We love only ourselves,” and so on, Welsh 367), which might be interpreted as an inner dialogue. Additional evidence in favour of taking the status of the worm as quasi-real is provided by the fact that Bruce occasionally hallucinates (cf. the voices in his head) and deceives himself that he is Carole. In other words, there is evidence that Bruce’s personality is disintegrating; he does not recognize himself and pretends to be someone else.19 The worm can be assigned various meanings. It might be read as a symptom of schizophrenia and, more specifically, a representation of that part of the disintegrating personality which can feel and dares to care. Thus construed, the worm complements the portrait of an otherwise mindlessly cruel man, if not a psychopath. The worm may also be taken as a satirical device indicating by analogy that Bruce is a social parasite, or that a primitive man that he is, his inner life can only take the form of a parasite. In a comic vein it might serve as a caricature of moral conscience gnawing at the corrupt man, or a kind of ironic retribution: the evil-doer who uses everybody is now himself being used. Finally, on account of its dual status, the worm may also be read as illustrating the reality of fictions. To sum up, the ambiguous figure of the tapeworm contributes to the novel’s exploration of psychotic degeneration, its destructive impact on the mind’s imaginative abilities. In particular, the “both-real-and-fictional” contradiction helps to represent the illusion, characteristic of some mental disorders, that 18


Welsh interprets the worm as “a voice of reason” and “Bruce’s conscience” (qtd. in Kelly 156). This is also how most critics read the tapeworm: Steinberg and Bing call it “the repository of Robertson’s childhood memories and what is left of his superego,” Reynolds speaks of the novel’s only “moral voice,” Keenan perceives the worm as “coiled conscience,” Sexton refers to “a judgmental tapeworm.” Kelly, who focuses on the novel’s sociopolitical message, reads the worm as “an ethical voice of the oppressed,” and explains that it “returns a repressed history of communal struggle and social belonging supposedly vanquished by the competitive individualism of contemporary society” (160). Taylor’s idea that the worm is a “demon” is exceptional. One might note that the worm seems at first more fictional and at the end more quasireal; however, this need not imply a factual change in the worm’s status (incidentally, a change of this kind would be almost as difficult to account for as the dual status).



the reality created by the mind is alien and hostile towards it. The afflicted mind remains creative but has no insight into the process, and so fails to understand its own creations, fails to recognize them as such. On a more general level, as in Pigeon English, the contradiction may be taken to question the belief that reality and fiction are separate spheres and that only reality, unlike fiction, is real. Still, there is a difference between the two books. Pigeon English shows that fantasies may be beneficial, may help one establish a sense of well-being even in an environment that is hostile or indifferent, may help one find inner resources to be courageous and good, may transform dull reality into a fairy tale. Filth, by contrast, demonstrates that a mentally-ill person may lose control over the reality created by one’s mind. Deprived of any insight into one’s emotional needs and of the ability to reflect critically, the imaginative mind becomes dangerous. By inventing perverse, hideous meanings, it may well provoke its owner to do evil. *** In both Pigeon English and Filth, the apparently mutually-exclusive, “real-­ fictional” status is ascribed to a character. In other narratives the contradiction may be built around a certain plot-line or the entire text, or even its meaning. Emotionally Weird (2000) by Kate Atkinson can illustrate the first case. In the book there is a realm of pure fiction (Effie’s and other students’ creative writing exercises;20 Effie’s daydreams of Ferdinand), a realm of quasi-reality (Nora’s tale),21 and a realm whose status is dual (the tale of Effie’s academic life). The quasi-real status of the story about Effie’s adventures in Dundee, where she studies literature, is established by the fact that many characters from this story also belong to the world of Nora’s tale and Nora recognizes them as real (e.g. Nora’s mother, Effie’s father) and by the tale’s general plausibility. On some occasions, however, Effie’s story sounds like magic realism (e.g. Jay’s accident, 329–30), Effie seems to be able to change the course of events (e.g. Effie’s misadventure with Ferdinand ending with her arrest, 280–87), and she clearly finds inspiration for her tale in the circumstances of her encounter with Nora 20


Nota bene, The Hand of Fate, Effie’s detective story, seems to contain some vague references to the story of her origin (cf. the detective, the drowned woman), as if indicating that also in fiction there are traces of reality. The tale is painfully tragic and at least at one point comes close to magic realism (cf. the invasion of wasps in the rainy summer, 371–72), but Nora declares that she wishes the story were not true (220), thus reaffirming its quasi-real status.

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(cf. the frog which first appears in Effie’s tale and is later classified as a toad by Nora, who spots the animal on the floor, Atkinson 177) – all of which disclose the tale’s fictional character. The novel’s playful tone corresponds to its subtitle (“A Comic Novel”), but the question concerning the status of reality is well motivated: to come to terms with her life, Effie needs to know the truth of her origin; apparently fictional tales do not suffice for the purpose. House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski exemplifies the rare case of a text whose meaning has the dual status: it is both grounded in the text (thus “real,” part of external reality, from the readers’ vantage point) and negated by the same text, so that the readers who choose to abide by the meaning they thought to have found in the book realize that it is in fact based on their own desire (“fictional,” part of the readers’ subjective experience). The novel’s meaning is negated by multiple contradictions: Navidson’s films both do and do not exist, the story of Truant, presented in his footnotes to the text of Zampanò, is more or less falsified by the reference to Zampanò hidden in Pelafina’s letter enclosed at the end of the book, many passages are printed as crossed out. These and many other contradictions of which the novel consists become comprehensible if the novel is taken to explore the human ability to heal one’s real wounds and control one’s real (self)destructive urges by means of telling fictional stories. This reading becomes available to the readers who in their act of reading the book exemplify the belief that the human mind can transform fiction into reality (cf. my discussion of the novel in “Contradictions in Fiction,” 11–14). Conclusion Pigeon English and Filth, Emotionally Weird and House of Leaves seem to show, each in its own way, that for beings who can invent meanings and values some areas of experience may be both fictional and real. Perhaps this applies only to a narrower group of people who have experienced some trauma, find themselves in a situation of high emotional stress, are young or mentally ill (the novels do not state of whom exactly the experience of their characters, narrators, or readers is representative). Either way apart from engaging in social critique and denouncing the constructed character of various forms of social life (cf. Waugh and Linda Hutcheon), the postmodern novel investigates the mind, suggesting that it is capable of creating personal reality out of fiction. Naturally, the distinction real vs. fictional in human experience may be problematized in the novel in various ways, other than the dual-status strategy discussed in the present paper. All kinds of metafictional techniques, as



well as conventions such as magic realism (the fantastic presented as everyday life) and the macabre/grotesque (reality fictionalized by means of horrifying or comic exaggeration) may serve that purpose. In so far as they deconstruct the opposition real vs. fictional, they all entail a(n apparent) contradiction. The borderland between fiction and reality, which, if not for all of us, then at least for fantasy-prone people or people whose reality monitoring skill has been temporarily incapacitated (as a result of drug abuse, mental illness, excessive exposure to the virtual reality of computer games and the like), constitutes a vital, if not primary, dimension of life, deserves much attention. With due respect to material reality, the subjective life experience of highly conscious beings appears ultimately to be defined by meanings and values that they assign to things that do (or do not) exist.22 Thus the paradoxical notion that the human world is (at least to some extent) both real and fictional need not be viewed (by a rationalist) as blasphemous. With reference to these two categories, Jacques Derrida might be right in his intuition that language with its logocentric metaphysics (implying, among others, that reality has the structure of binary oppositions whose elements mutually exclude each other, Gutting 293–94) misleads us.23 The possibly unreal self (cf. Daniel Dennett and likeminded philosophers’ claim that the self might be an illusion) may produce “illusions” that enjoy a considerable degree of “reality.” This anyway is the belief that the reader of many postmodern novels may well end up entertaining. References Atkinson, Kate. Emotionally Weird: A Comic Novel. 2000. London: Black Swann, 2001. Print. Blackmore, Susan. Consciousness: An Introduction. 2nd ed. London: Hodder Education, 2010. Print. Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print. Derrida, Jacques. “Before the Law.” 1982 (1984). Acts of Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge. London: Routledge, 1992. 181–220. Print. “Fiction.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Print. 22


Nota bene via this “trick” – the real-fictional mode of experience – all kinds of contradictions generated by the human mind can freely enter the realm of human, both social and personal, life. Interestingly, in his essay “Before the Law” Derrida quotes from Sigmund Freud’s letter, dated 21 Sept 1897: “there are no indications of reality in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect” (qtd. in Derrida 192).

Reality of the Unreal


Flaubert, Gustave. Lettres à Louise Colet. La Bibliotheque Electronique de Lisieux. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. Gutting, Gary. “Derrida.” French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 289–317. Print. Hawthorn, Jeremy. Studying the Novel. 1985. London: Hodder Education, 2005. Print. Hołówka, Teresa. “O potocznym rozumieniu sprzeczności.” Nauka i język. Ed. Barbara Olszewska and Ewa Balcerek. Warszawa: Wydział Filozofii i Socjologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 1994. 103–06. Print. Keenan, John. “Rank and foul.” Rev. of Filth, by Irvine Welsh. The Guardian 1 Aug 1998. Web. 3 Aug 2015. Kelly, Aaron. Contemporary British Novelists: Irvine Welsh. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005. Print. Kelman, Stephen. “Booker Longlist: Stephen Kelman on Pigeon English.” Interview by Tim Masters. BBC News. 3 Aug 2011. Web. 23 July 2015. Kelman, Stephen. “So That’s What Hutious Means!” Interview by Stephanie Lawless. TMO Magazine Web. Web. 23 July 2015. Kelman, Stephen. Pigeon English. London: Bloomsbury, 2011. Pdf file. McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987. Print. Niven, John. “Boys Keep Swinging.” Rev. of Filth, dir. Jon S. Baird. Sunday Times 08 Sept 2013. Newspaper Source. Web. 2 Aug 2015. Poczobut, Robert. Spór o zasadę niesprzeczności: studium z zakresu filozoficznych podstaw logiki. Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2000. Print. “Real.” Oxford English Dictionary. Entry based on 3rd ed. (2008). Web. 25 Aug 2015. Rev. of Pigeon English. Review. Kirkus Reviews 15 April 2011. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 23 July 2015. Reynolds, Simon. “Filthy Mind: Irvine Welsh.” Rev. of Filth, by Irvine Welsh. Village Voice Literary Supplement 29 Feb 2012. Web. 3 Aug 2015. Sexton, David. “Cleaned Up and Still Dirty.” Rev. of Filth, dir. Jon S. Baird. Evening Standard 04 2013. Newspaper Source. Web. 2 Aug 2015. Steinberg, Sybil, and Jonathan Bing. “Forecasts: Fiction.” Rev. of Filth, by Irvine Welsh. Publishers Weekly 245. 26 (1998): 35. Business Source Complete. Web. 2 Aug 2015. Taylor, Alan. “Thieving, Rape, Drugs. And That’s Just the Police.” Rev. of Filth, by Irvine Welsh. The Observer 9 Aug. 1998. Web. 3 Aug 2015. Teske, Joanna Klara. “Contradiction in Fiction: Structuralism vs. Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction.” Language Under Discussion 3.1 (2015): 1–23. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. Watt, Ian. “Realism and the Novel.” English Literature and British Philosophy: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. S. P. Rosenbaum. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1971. 65–85. Print. Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1985. Print. Welsh, Irvine. Filth. 1998. London: Vintage, 1999. Print.

chapter 7

Art, Madness and the Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency Sylwia Wilczewska* Abstract The main character of The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban, fighting his writer’s block with the help of a mind-altering machine, experiences what can be i­ nterpreted as a hallucination or an encounter with the supernatural. I argue that four supernatural beings he meets – the head of Orpheus, Eurydice, the Kraken, and Medusa – correspond to the artist, inspiration, the set of unrealized possibilities from which inspiration is derived, and the artist’s consciousness. The allegorical meaning of the supernatural characters adds to the metafictional layer of the novel, serving as a core of its philosophical message and explaining the references to Plato and Kant reappearing throughout the text. The ambiguity between hallucination and the miraculous, in connection with the allegorical element of the novel, allows for interpreting The Medusa Frequency as presenting a philosophical position on the nature of art and, indirectly, religion: artistic creation is made possible by the cognition of the reality behind the natural world, conveyed by the artist’s experience. At the same time, the novel approves of art’s escapist function, presenting it as answering an important existential need and cooperating with the mimetic function in depicting reality.

Keywords Russell Hoban – The Medusa Frequency – myth of Orpheus – inspiration – mimesis – escapism

Russell Hoban’s fiction is known for revolving around the established set of motives drawn from art, mythology, and popular culture. Since the motives in

* I would like to thank Rachel Jonker for help with linguistic revision and Joanna Klara Teske for her comments on the paper.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_009

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


question appear in his different writings in similar forms and roles, Hoban’s critics have devoted much effort to finding the single pattern behind his works and linking it to his views on the nature of art presented in his essays. The methods that have most often been employed for this purpose are those of psychoanalytic literary criticism. The Medusa Frequency, an ironic story of a writer suffering from creative block, has also been read in this light. This is quite understandable, since the book reflects Hoban’s interest in the relation between art and the mechanisms of human consciousness and features many staple elements of his imaginarium, including all of his “heads”: “the head of Orpheus; the head of the Kraken, that great cephalopod that shudders in the blackness of the ultimate deep; the head of Medusa; and Vermeer’s Head of a Young Girl” (Hoban, The Moment under the Moment 238). Here I will take a different approach: I am going to treat The Medusa Frequency as a self-contained work, without drawing conclusions based on connections between its message and the views expressed in Hoban’s other writings.1 In the course of my analysis, I will be interested in the meaning which madness and the contact with the supernatural have for the metafictional message of the novel and for the latter’s account of the relation between cognition and artistic creation. In order to do that, I will decipher the allegorical meaning of the mythical characters to analyze the philosophical notions present in The Medusa Frequency. 1 Hoban’s writings have often been classified as belonging to the genre of magic realism. In an attempt to assess the usefulness of this label, Susan Rosa Fisher approvingly quotes David Punter. According to Punter, the use of the label is justified by the fact that Hoban’s fiction, although it employs literary devices characteristic of postmodernism, differs from that of postmodernist writers because it is not relativist: his prose points at some truths about the world. Punter suggests that magic realism, as opposed to postmodernism, features “the real world transformed” rather than “all-embracing relativity” (qtd. in Fisher 11). As an example of the former genre, Hoban’s prose attempts to say

1 This does not mean that I think such connection is absent. For example, the analogies between the plot of The Medusa Frequency and the arrangement of the philosophical notions expressed in The Moment under the Moment, whose title appears in the novel twice (Medusa 40, 99), are quite obvious.



something about reality instead of presenting it as unknowable and relative.2 Fisher says a similar thing while trying to explain why Hoban’s works have also been considered fables. She summarizes the opinion of other critics about Riddley Walker by calling it “a book with a message – a warning of what lies ahead if we do not disarm” (Fisher 11–15). The same can be said about The Medusa Frequency. The novel not only retells the myth of Orpheus; it also contains a message about reality and the place occupied in it by art, warning the reader about the danger of succumbing to falsehood. In order to convey this message, the book uses a real world setting mysteriously distorted by the introduction of the rules different from the laws of nature and sometimes overriding them. The nature of this distortion is important to the subject of the novel and its allegorical elements. Apart from the existence of supernatural beings – the head of Orpheus, the Kraken, and Medusa – the world of The Medusa Frequency differs from the real world mainly in its explicit fictionality. The main character, Herman Orff, perceives people at the train station as actors in a play, “each of them more or less in character for the day’s performance” (Medusa 19), and later realizes that Gom Yawncher, an insane actor, really plays a different person every day. Sometimes Orff seems to possess the authority of the author or director; for example, when Melanie enters the room immediately after he “mentally rubbed the lamp” thinking about her (Medusa 64). At other times, his surroundings consist of elements of works of art: architecture in the little street leading to the place of Istvan Fallok is “suggestive of Piranesi’s prison fantasies” (Medusa 21), and an old woman noticed by Orff in the crowd is recognized by him “as a dancing girl from an early James Bond film” (Medusa 115). The use of ekphrasis is common, and the works of art, moving and changing, provide Orff with an additional way to contact supernatural characters. The names of the institutions and places visited by the protagonist – Avernus Press, Netherworld Bookshop, Hermes Soundways, Orpheus Travel, Mythos Films – are connected to mythology. “Slithe & Tovey” is a meaningful exception; it refers to a fragment of Lewis Carroll’s poem read by Alice right after she began exploring the other side of the looking glass. According to Humpty Dumpty, “slithe” is a compound for “lithe and slimy” (Carroll 187), which brings to mind Kraken’s “Bogs” and the Kraken’s “writhing tentacles in the blackness of the ultimate deep” (­ Medusa 10–11). Throughout the novel, art, myth, and fiction permeate reality and at 2 Not everyone agrees with Punter. For example, Rumbold, who doubts the usefulness of applying the magic realist label to The Medusa Frequency, argues that the role of metafiction in the novel proves that it is a postmodernist work with a skeptical or relativist message (101–14). I side with Punter, since I read the novel as containing a message about the nature of art, whose presence excludes complete epistemic relativism.

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


times absorb it by replacing some of its elements with the fragments of alternative worlds: as the head of Orpheus puts it, stories “swallow the people up” (Medusa 69). The fact that the world inhabited by Orff intersects with mythical and artistic worlds and is built out of their fragments signals the presence of a strong metafictional theme: it has been noticed that “The Medusa Frequency presents itself unequivocally as story. It is about story and it is about storying” (Wilkie 79). In his analysis of metafictional elements of the book, Matthew Rumbold notes that it makes an attempt to say something about the creative process by presenting itself as an example of what Patricia Waugh calls “a self-begetting novel”: a novel consisting of the account of the events leading to its writing (Rumbold 102–04). Orff, the narrator, is an author struggling with the writer’s block, and The Medusa Frequency chronicles the events which help him overcome it, allowing him to write the dreamed-of work identical with Hoban’s novel. At the same time, Orff makes it clear that the pervasiveness of the elements and patterns drawn from art should not be seen as a literary embellishment of a real story behind the book. He is “getting it all down on paper as it happened” (Medusa 7), from time to time expressing his surprise or uncertainty concerning the plausibility of what he has experienced. The improbable omnipresence of objects and laws drawn from art in Orff’s world is not the result of the fact that it is a world of a novel. On the contrary, the novel itself is possible only because the world as experienced by Orff is structured like art. This leads to two important questions connected with the metafictional aspect of The Medusa Frequency. First, if Orff has not consciously created the world of his novel to diverge from reality, what is the reason for the divergence in question? Second, what is the message about fiction conveyed by the device of “a self-begetting novel” in connection with the above-described specificity of the novel’s setting? The first question seems to have two possible answers: Orff’s experience of the world as filled with fictional persons, objects and patterns is either caused by its transformation by a supernatural factor – the divine beings he ­encounters – or triggered by his mental disorder. (Of course, it is possible that the reality experienced by Orff, modified by divine beings, is further distorted by his madness). Throughout the novel, neither option gets the upper hand, and the resulting ambiguity exemplifies the situation common in magic realism. As Wendy B. Faris notes in her description of the genre, “the reader may hesitate (at one point or another) between two contradictory u ­ nderstandings of events – and hence experiences some unsettling doubts. […] The reader’s primary doubt in most cases is between understanding an event as a c­ haracter’s hallucination or as a miracle” (Faris, Scheherezade’s Children 171). Faris calls this feature of events “an irreducible element” and, following ­Amaryll ­Chanady,



links it to the highlighted opposition between the laws governing the natural, empirical world and the supernatural, mythical one. According to her, the presence of the element in question is characteristic of magic realist works (Faris, Ordinary Enchantments 7–8). The ambiguity between hallucination and the miraculous, natural and supernatural paradigms, reappears throughout The Medusa Frequency. The miraculous explanation of Orff’s adventures is that he has come into contact with the supernatural beings whose domain is art and inspiration. The hallucinatory explanation is firmly rooted in the natural order represented by a device characteristic of science fiction: a mind-altering machine, here endowed with the function of restoring the creative ability to the artists who have lost it.3 Being conscious of the ambiguity, Orff, along with the reader, wonders about the reality of what he experiences. All the time, it is markedly unclear whether and in what sense the Kraken and the head of Orpheus are dependent on Orff for their existence, and, consequently, what their exact ontic status is. The head of Orpheus makes it clear that in its communication with Orff it can only use the words which are already present in his mind, and that it does not know what shape its messages will ultimately take for him. However, when Orff suggests that the head is just a hallucination, it says: “Do you think I’ll go away if you stop thinking me? […] And what if I stop thinking you?” (Medusa 32) The head explains Orff’s experience of sudden pain and heaviness as a result of its “stopping to think Orff” for a while. (Much later, the head, apparently unconsciously contradicting itself, admits itself to be a hallucination). A similar element is present in Orff’s first conversation with the Kraken, which takes place before he uses the machine but may well be a figment of Orff’s imagination, since the messages from the Kraken are typed by Orff when he is sleep-deprived and unable to say if they come from him or from an external interlocutor. Orff himself brackets the question of the reality of the supernatural beings in his life in the following way: “The reality of the Kraken isn’t up to me, I’m not the final authority on such things. With its first words this creature was already as real to me as anything else; it was more real than the vat figures that had appeared on this same screen the day before. […] [W]hat passes for reality seems to me mostly a load of old rubbish invented by not very inventive minds” ­(Medusa 8). Orff’s words resemble the fragment of John Fowles’s 3 One could argue that Orff’s state of mind was modified even before his use of Fallok’s device, as shown by the encounter with the Kraken and a strange obsession with female voices on the radio, but this does not remove the ambiguity. The machine certainly changes Orff’s experience of reality, and even if it works by magnifying already existent anomalies in his perception, the change requires explanation.

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


The French Lieutenant’s Woman quoted by Patricia Waugh as a paradigmatic example of the ambiguous relation between fiction and reality characteristic of metafiction: “Fiction is woven into all … I find this new reality (or unreality) more valid” (qtd. in Waugh 2). From Orff’s viewpoint, the question whether he hallucinates or interacts with supernatural beings is identical to the question of whether he should accept as real those elements of his experience which make it resemble fiction. Even though his beliefs about the matter are not entirely clear, his decisions to trust the Kraken and respect the version of the myth told by the head of Orpheus mark an important choice. Orff chooses to act on his preference for the world of myth or art over the “old rubbish” of the naturalistic paradigm, even to the point of endangering his career. In the end, it is this choice that allows him to resume creating. Orff’s decision to follow the guidance of supernatural beings which he encounters can be compared to that of those who, though not sure about the truthfulness of religious teachings, choose to follow them for existential reasons. P. Joan Smith, who reads Hoban’s novel as centered on moral and religious transformation, ascribes to Orff a “visionary leap of faith” (Smith 75). At the same time, it is important to note that Orff comes to believe or accept not so much the existence of the divine beings as the content of their message. This acceptance, leading him to write a novel and a script for a comic strip, corresponds to acting on inspiration. The state of mind accompanying artistic inspiration, described as experiencing the world as full of elements which come from art and can be used in a new story, is the main subject of The Medusa Frequency. By presenting inspiration as a changed state of consciousness resembling both madness and the experience of contacting the divine, the novel sends an interesting message about the nature of art and, indirectly, religion. In order to understand this message, and answer the second of the two questions concerning the role of metafiction in the novel, it is necessary to uncover the allegorical meaning of the relations between the characters and connect the problem of the ambiguity between madness and divine influence with the philosophical notions present in the story. After that, it will also become clear why the version of the myth of Orpheus related by his head significantly differs from the classical one. 2 In his review of Hoban’s novels, Earl Rovit criticizes The Medusa Frequency for featuring “flat, stereotyped characters with funny names,” a fault which he considers to be absent from Hoban’s earlier works. I would argue that in this



case not only the fanciful names of the characters but also the substitution of sketchy stereotyping for psychological realism is meaningful (especially if, as noticed by Rovit, such “flatness” is not a general feature of Hoban’s fiction). Hoban, like many magic realists, makes use of the classical narrative tradition as a source of the loci communi connected to the supernatural. The mythical characters of The Medusa Frequency are symbols rather than individuals, and their presence adds to the metafictional aspect of the text. A glance at the mythical theme of the novel will disclose and explain its relevance to the novel’s portrayal of art. The version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice which the head of Orpheus tells Orff differs from the original version in two important ways, one of which concerns the role of Hermes and Aristaeus. The original version of the myth features Hermes only in the role of Psychopompos, the Guide of Souls, who leads Eurydice outside the Netherworld. Aristaeus, in turn, appears in the life of Orpheus only as the one who took Eurydice away from him by accidentally causing her death. In Hoban’s novel the character of Orpheus is merged with that of Hermes. At the beginning of the book Orpheus finds out that Hermes was his father and calls on him, after which he suddenly comes across a tortoise, kills it, and makes the lyre out of its shell.4 Aristaeus, who apparently witnessed the event, curses Orpheus for killing the tortoise. The curse seems to somehow bring on Orpheus the same fate to which he subjected the animal. Immediately after Aristaeus declares what will happen to Hermes-Orpheus, the latter sees Eurydice and hears her weeping, which inexplicably makes him feel like a tortoise in agony. This is consistent with the explanation given later by the head of Orpheus: “Being Orpheus was my punishment. […] For killing the tortoise” (Medusa 100). The other major difference between the two versions is that in classical mythology Orpheus fails because, in opposition to the divine order, he casts a glance at Eurydice before they leave the Netherworld, while in the novel Orpheus fails precisely because he stops looking at his lover. According to the head of Orpheus, by turning his eyes away from Eurydice Orpheus committed “infidelity” – a word reappearing in different contexts throughout the novel – which made Eurydice leave him. The context suggests that “turning his eyes away” is just a euphemism for sexual infidelity, possibly – again an inversion of the classical myth – committed with Thracian women, who thus killed him “one at a time” (Medusa 120).

4 In classical mythology (Hesiod 364–67) it is Hermes that kills the tortoise and transforms its shell into a lyre which he then offers to Apollo as a sign of reconciliation.

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


In order to explain the meaning of the changes to the myth one has to decipher the allegorical meaning of the supernatural characters whom Orff encountered before his meeting with Medusa: the Kraken, Eurydice, and the head of Orpheus. Here the events in Orff’s life and people close to him provide the reader with important hints, since in the course of the novel all the major human characters of the novel turn out to be forms or reflections of the divine ones, not only possessing many of their features but also, in an unexplained way, sharing their identity. The character of Orpheus is reflected in Orff, Fallok, Gösta Kraken, and Gom Yawncher, all of whom belong to artistic professions but for some reason find it difficult to practice them. They all had been Luise’s lovers and were left by her (with the possible exception of Yawncher) but remain unable to forget her, just like Orpheus cannot forget Eurydice. Melanie, Luise, and the “Vermeer’s Girl,” the woman from Orff’s favourite picture, are reflections of Eurydice, who never appears to Orff in person: both Luise and Melanie irreversibly leave Fallok as well as Orff (and, in Luise’s case, Gösta Kraken), and the picture of the Vermeer’s girl escapes Orff even though he travelled all the way to the Hague to see it. The Kraken finds his reflection in Kraken, the creator of the movie “Bogs,” looking “European, possibly Scandinavian” (Medusa 85) and occasionally repeating the expressions used by the cephalopod. Some of the characters correspond to mythical figures which do not appear in person in the novel. Fallok and Melanie, who are lovers when Orff visits them for the first time, correspond to Hades and Persephone: Fallok resides in “a shadowy interior glowing with illuminated dials,” to which leads a “flight of stairs” (Medusa 21), while Melanie, whose surname, “Falsepercy,” alludes to the name of the queen of the Netherworld through a pun based on the similarity between the Greek “-phone” and English adjective “phony,” works at Avernus Press. According to Yvonne Studer, the surname “Falsepercy” additionally suggests that Melanie is a “false Perseus” and thus an enemy of Medusa (284). This seems consistent with her decision to take up the commercial task which Orff rejected for idealistic reasons and popularize the false version of the myth of Orpheus. In addition to that, the Hebrew surname of Sol Mazzaroth, whose first name connects him with the Sun, has been translated into Latin as “Lucifer” (Hooks 433). This fits with the fact that he is the most negative character in the novel, tempting Orff to give up artistic fidelity for commercial gain. The presence of so many humans reflecting mythical deities and heroes adds to the complexity of the relation between the world of the novel and that of myth. Nevertheless, only the supernatural characters have important allegorical meaning. It is obvious that Orpheus and Eurydice correspond to the artist and his inspiration. This is underlined by their connection with ineffective artists and



their lost lovers. That Eurydice smells of honey (as does Luise) confirms that she stands for inspiration: “the buzzingness, the swarmingness, the manyness of bees singing the honey of possibility” (Medusa 117). In antiquity honey was connected with erotic love and the Muses, being a symbol of inspiration and divine utterance as well as the food of gods and poets (Ferber 21–24). The allegorical meaning of the Kraken, that “ancient of the deeps, great thinking head in the blackness of the ultimate deep” (Medusa 10), is much more complex. Though the novel does not suggest it, his role in the process of creation justifies comparing him to the mythical Chaos, depicted sometimes as an impersonal chasm and sometimes as a deity (Scully 181). At the end of the novel, the Kraken provides Orff with an idea for a successful comic strip, which saves him from bankruptcy and opens before him new creative perspectives through initiating his cooperation with Bill Novad. Serving as a source of ideas and being associated with darkness, the Kraken, “terror of what might be, of universes and worlds that might be, […] dreaming of immensities, of burstings and transitions and unimaginable states of being” (Medusa 10–11), seems to correspond to the Netherworld, the dark place which can release Eurydice. As such, he is “the good darkness” (Medusa 26), the area of unrealized possibilities, fitting the characterization of the Netherworld offered by Fallok: “What we call world is only that little bit of each moment that we know about – underworld is everything else that we don’t know but we need it” (Medusa 26). The character of Medusa, who appears neither in the classical version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice nor in the version told Orff by the head, seems at first to pose even more questions than the Kraken. Her presence in the novel, however, is explained by the fact that she constitutes the connection between the Kraken, Eurydice, and the head of Orpheus. She is one of the numerous incarnations of Eurydice, a woman sought and ultimately found by Orff, in whose life she replaces the lost Luise as “Eurydice unlost” (Medusa 96) and serves as a channel for new inspiration. As far as Orpheus is concerned, the Medusa of classical mythology is related to him by a couple of analogies (Lowe 185–86). The most obvious of these is the fact that although both end up having their heads cut off, they continue performing the activity for which they are best known: the head of Orpheus keeps singing while the head of Medusa retains the ability to kill people by looking at them. Also, Medusa’s ability to turn people into stone has historically been a subject of a macabre joke comparing her to a sculptor (Lavin 123–24), which makes her analogical to Orpheus not only as a survivor of decapitation but also as an artist. The connection between Medusa and the Kraken, “the great cephalopod, […] a great head with all the limbs growing out of it” (Medusa 10), is more elaborate. It is linked to F. T. Elsworthy’s hypothesis about the origin of the mythical Medusa:

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


“Placed in the proper orientation, the head of an octopus, with its startlingly human eyes […] and its tentacles standing in for the thick, ropy curls on the forehead of the Gorgon, looks like it might be the perfect model for the Gorgoneion. […] Later writers have proposed that the pronounced siphon of the cephalopods, used by the squid for its jet propulsion, might have inspired the tongue, while the parrot-beak became the fangs of the Gorgon” (Wilk 100). Elsworthy explicitly links Medusa to the Kraken as described by Olaus Magnus, a sixteenth-century Swedish archbishop (qtd. in Wilk 100). The Kraken, just like Eurydice, possesses “several faces” (Medusa 11), and Medusa, associated with darkness and death, is one of them. The modified version of the myth in connection with the fact that Orff’s search for Luise-Eurydice ends with finding Medusa conveys a message about the nature of art by comparing it to a relationship. When the characters discuss the importance of “fidelity,” the word is used in such a way that it is not always clear whether it is to be applied to relationships or art. This ambiguity strengthens the correspondence between the lover and inspiration and discloses the connection of both kinds of fidelity to the fidelity of perception, i.e. seeing something (or someone) as it really is. In order to regain Eurydice, Orpheus would have to keep looking at her on their road from the Netherworld without “turning his eyes away,” and in order to regain his creativity, Orff has to look at the world in a new way, entering the state of mind in which he perceives everything in terms of the objects and events drawn from art. If Medusa somehow shares the identity of Orpheus, Eurydice, and the Kraken, the allegorical meaning of the encounter with her seems to be the realization that the artist is the source of his own inspiration. The dark place out of which inspiration comes, signified by the Kraken as the personification of the Netherworld, lies in his own consciousness, filled with the memories of past suffering and the knowledge of one’s own future death. Eurydice tries to emerge from the realm of death just like Orpheus’s ability to sing stems from the death of the tortoise which led to his transformation into a visionary singer. In addition to that, though the search for inspiration begins from the loss of Eurydice, it ends with finding Medusa, the “Eurydice unlost” (Medusa 96, 121). Creating art helps one deal with one’s losses and fears, transforming them into something new and thus revoking them. In order to achieve this goal, the artist has to “be faithful” and not “turn his eyes away” from the dark place in his mind. The character of Medusa, uniting the other three supernatural beings encountered by Orff, signifies the artist’s (Orpheus’s) consciousness as a place of his meeting with the unrealized possibilities important for him (the Kraken) and their inspiring power (Eurydice). This explains why Medusa “cannot be betrayed” (Medusa 122).



3 Apart from the mention of the “flickering of the Thing-in-Itself” (Medusa 47), the only appearance of a strictly philosophical term in The Medusa Frequency takes place in the conversation between Orff and Bill Novad near the end of the novel. When Novad asks Orff “how he feels about the backs of cereal boxes,” the latter answers by asking: “As noumenon or phenomenon?” This, in turn, prompts Novad to explain: “As an art form” (Medusa 139). The exchange, seemingly absurd, is in tune with the philosophical theme of the novel and informs the reader about Orff’s final realization of the existence of the reality hidden behind false appearances. In Hoban’s novel, the Kantian opposition between phenomena and noumena (i.e., things-in-themselves) appears in connection to the Platonic opposition between physical reality and ideas. The word idea reappears throughout the novel in the sense of the essence or truth about a particular thing or person. The distinction between reality, whose cognition requires effort (or a special talent), and a false appearance is often alluded to during Orff’s conversations with other characters, especially the head of Orpheus, who regrets “losing the idea of Eurydice.” At the same time, the question of which parts of the world are real is never explicitly answered, though particular characters constantly make statements and express doubts concerning their own and each other’s ontic status. To determine which elements belong to the noumenal layer, one has to notice that in Hoban’s novel the opposition of noumena and phenomena is connected to that of miracle and hallucination. The “flickering of the Thingin-Itself” can be seen at the moment of opening the door to the Netherworld during the vision experienced by Orff right after he uses Fallok’s machine. This suggests that the Netherworld, which stands for the sphere of the possibilities waiting for artistic realization, is more real than the natural world which it pervades and transforms. In the world of The Medusa Frequency, the noumenal layer of reality encompasses those elements of reality whose source is art, transcending the naturalistic paradigm and disclosing the hidden true side of objects, events, and – especially – persons. If this is the case, Orff’s decision to follow the guidance of mythical beings instead of rejecting it as a result of hallucination is not only correct from the pragmatic viewpoint as a necessary condition of achieving his creative goal, but also epistemically justified. Hoban’s novel, in accordance with the first theories of art developed in antiquity, presents art as mimetic. Artistic creation is the imitation of reality and the quality of art depends on how faithfully it renders its object. This means

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


that cognition is a necessary condition of creation, or, in the words of Nikolas Kompridis, “receptivity is a precondition of creativity” (341). At the same time, artistic fidelity is presented as having both active and passive aspects, which may explain the contradiction between the two accounts of fidelity given by the head of Orpheus. The head first expresses the conviction that “[f]idelity is a matter of perception; […] fidelity is not an act of the will: the soul is compelled by recognitions” (Medusa 33–34). It later says, however: “I don’t think it has anything to do with perception – I think some people are faithful by nature and others are not” (Medusa 71). Art is not created ex nihilo but rather depicts the world as filtered through the artist’s experience. In order to be able to create, the artist has to not only reach the truth, which is “a matter of perception,” but also act on it by “an act of the will,” acknowledging the cognitive value of his experience. In The Medusa Frequency, Orff’s meeting with supernatural beings corresponds to reaching the hidden truth about reality. His decision to act on their words is equivalent to trusting the content of his own experience, which presents his life in terms of story – as governed not only by the laws of nature but also by narrative regularities. Grasping the real nature of the object of one’s perception seems to be especially important in the case of persons, as suggested by numerous mentions of the “ideas” behind particular characters. Each time the context makes it clear that “the idea of someone” is not an idea invented by the person in question but rather his or her true essence. In the case of the supernatural characters, such “ideas” correspond to their allegorical meanings. The head of Orpheus tells Orff that “its idea” was “the tortoise-shell empty and two posts and a yoke and some strings for a kind of little harp with the shell as a soundbox” (Medusa 37). That is, Orff is basically a musical instrument which corresponds to the artist by conveying truth by means of his art. When asked by the head of Orpheus “what was the idea of Luise,” Orff answers: “Fidelity” (Medusa 70). This agrees with her status as a personification of inspiration. As far as the Kraken is concerned, one could argue that Orff’s repeated statement that “even little children have an idea of him” (Medusa 10) highlights the fact that the consciousness of unrealized possibilities is not limited to artists; it is rather part of common human experience. At the same time, the mention of “just the slightest hint of high boots and a whip” behind Lucretia, “a perfectly respectable woman of fifty” (Medusa 58), suggests that not only main characters but everyone in the novel seems to possess a hidden counterpart. It is important to note that the reality of the supernatural beings encountered by Orff does not exclude the possibility of his madness. Orff’s perception does diverge from the norm, and results in strange behaviour. His sudden



e­ scape from the professional meeting in L’Escargot or his willingness to pay the boy for his old ball which he sees as the head of Orpheus would give a neutral observer justification for thinking him insane. The chapter in which Orff presents his novel as “a vade mecum not so much for the specialist as for others like me – the general struggler and straggler, the person for whom the whole sweep of consciousness is often too much” quotes the famous first sentence from H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents” (Medusa 134). The quotation stops here, but Lovecraft continues with the following grim remark: “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age” (Lovecraft 61). This is what happens to Orff. He reconciles madness with the contact with the divine and goes “mad from the revelation.” The revelation in question, in accordance with Lovecraft’s vision, is mediated through science – symbolized by Fallok’s machine – and leads to the vision of monstrous deities. In light of that, it is not surprising that “Krakenspeak” (Medusa 107), the language said to be invented by Gösta Kraken and occasionally used by the Kraken, vaguely resembles Lovecraft’s language of R’lyeh. Though Orff worries at times about the validity of his vision of the world, other characters seem to share it to a significant degree, judging from the fact that his erratic behaviour is rarely questioned. At the same time, both Orff and the people he meets realize that his experiences are quite unusual. It can be observed that the stronger a particular character’s association with art, the better he or she understands Orff. All the artists in the novel – though not all to the same degree – suffer from a similar kind of madness. The change of perception resulting from the contact with supernatural beings seems to isolate them not only from those who, like Mazzaroth, do not meet the beings in question, but also from each other. Though the shared experience of the encounter with the head of Orpheus leads Kraken, Orff, and Fallok to start cooperating on the movie retelling Orpheus’s story, in the end that experience makes finishing the project impossible because it leads to Kraken’s death. This seems to contradict Kompridis’s suggestion that The Medusa Frequency presents art as an essentially social enterprise, and that if Orff realized this fact he could resume creating and would be more receptive to other people. The significance of “ideas” behind persons and objects, the association of artistic ability with both madness and the supernatural, and the focus on the mimetic aspect of art connect the portrayal of art in The Medusa Frequency

Art, Madness & Divine in Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency


with Plato’s theory of art as explained in Ion, Phaedrus, and the Republic.5 One of Orff’s problems corresponds to that of the poets described by Plato: “there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles” (Plato 502). Hoban’s artists, like some of Plato’s poets, are “deriving their inspiration from Orpheus” (Plato 504), and the fact that the former “bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they, like the bees, winging their way from flower to flower” (Plato 502) may be a part of the reason why Luise, Orff’s lost Muse, smells of honey, while Eurydice keeps bees. The Platonic inspiration can help explain the presence in the novel of the negative characters who try their hand at artistic activities but do not share Orff’s “divine madness”: Sol Mazzaroth and Melanie Falsepercy. Mazzaroth, Orff’s boss, is both an editor of the magazine with comic strips and a successful publisher of literary fiction, but does not understand the artistic vision of his employee. He discourages Orff from publishing his prose in the prestigious Avernus Press and pressures him to write a script for a comic strip about Orpheus featuring the version significantly different from the one told by the head. When Orff, out of respect for Orpheus, rejects the task in spite of the danger of serious financial difficulties, Melanie, who also works for Mazzaroth, cheerfully accepts it. The fault of Mazzaroth and Melanie is neither snobbism nor the acceptance of vulgar commerciality, even though they are afflicted by both these vices. It is rather infidelity: blind to the “flickering of the Thing-inItself,” they do not strive to render it in their works. Melanie is also unfaithful to Orff in another sense, having cheated on him with Mazzaroth before their break-up. At the same time, as an incarnation of Persephone, the queen of the Underworld, Melanie is a tragic figure. Her inability to be faithful stems from the fact that she is too absorbed in the darkness of experience to be able to transform it into art. In her message to Orff she says: “I’m like Rilke’s Eurydice, so full of my large death that I understand nothing” (Medusa 138), in reference to the poem quoted a couple of times in the novel. 5 One could argue that the fact that Hoban’s novel depicts art as both mimetic and divinely inspired presents a discrepancy between his and Plato’s portrayal of art, but the problem of the compatibility of the accounts of art presented in Plato’s dialogues and the resulting question of the relation between mimesis and divine inspiration in his philosophy is too complex to be discussed here and, arguably, not too relevant to the interpretation of the book. My intention is merely to point out some general analogies between Plato’s aesthetics and the aesthetics of The Medusa Frequency as well as some interesting details connecting the novel with the dialogues.



An interesting consequence of the account of artistic creation given in Hoban’s novel is the implicit set of the criteria of art’s quality. Commerciality, lack of realism, and close connection to popular culture – the features often associated with escapism – are presented as permissible as long as the work of art is faithful to the mythical, noumenal layer of reality. Hoban’s vision is more optimistic than that of Kant in that the noumena can be accessed. The way to access them is to come into contact with one’s own fears and losses. These serve as a guide to what is lacking in one’s world, allowing the creation of alternative realities in which the gaps are filled. The resulting creations are more faithful to reality as mirrored by human consciousness than is the naturalistic vision of the world, since the awareness of loss is crucial for their functioning. At the same time, since the creations in question display what has been or will be lost as essentially present, they transform and revoke both past and future losses. In order to do that, art does not have to be high-brow or realistic. In fact, the only work of art explicitly sanctioned by a supernatural being (and thus certainly faithful) is The Seeker from Nexo Vollma: Kraken relates in detail to Orff this science fiction pulp comic strip to be printed on the backs of cereal boxes. At the same time, inspiration is symbolized by Eurydice trying to leave the Netherworld, and Persephone, who can never leave it forever, cannot create. All this suggests that escapism – fighting one’s fears and losses by the immersion in an alternative reality – is presented as an important function of art, without which it would lose its existential significance. The Medusa Frequency’s transformation of the subjects of death and loss into a comedic literary riddle is a perfect example of art fulfilling these criteria, one which completes the metafictional message of the novel by giving a living example of the kind of artistic creation it presents as most commendable. References Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. London: Penguin, 1998. Print. Faris, Wendy B. Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2004. Print. Faris, Wendy B. “Scheherezade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction.” Ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. 163–90. Print. Ferber, Michael. A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

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Fisher, Susan Rosa. “A Genre for Our Times: The Menippean Satires of Russell Hoban and Murakami Haruki.” MA thesis. Rhodes University. University of British Columbia. Web. 30 Nov 2015. Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1943. Print. Hoban, Russell. The Medusa Frequency. New York: The Atlantic Monthly P, 1987. Print. Hoban, Russell. The Moment under the Moment. London: Jonathan Cape, 1992. Print. Hooks, Stephen M. The College Press NIV Commentary: Job. Joplin: College P Publishing Company, 2006. Print. Kompridis, Nikolas, “The Priority of Receptivity to Creativity (Or: I trusted you with the idea of me and you lost it).” Critical Horizons 13.3 (2012): 337–50. Print. Lavin, Irving. “Bernini’s Bust of the Medusa: An Awful Pun.” La Medusa di Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Studi e restauri. Ed. Elena Bianca Di Gioia. Roma: Campisano Editore, 2007. 120–32. Print. Lovecraft, H. P., “The Call of Cthulhu.” H. P. Lovecraft Omnibus 3: The Haunter in the Dark. London: Grafton, 1986. 61–98. Print. Lowe, Dunstan. “Snakes on the Beach. Ovid’s Orpheus and Medusa.” Materiali e discussioni per l’analisi dei testi classici 65 (2010). 183–86. Print. Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Vol. 1. London: Oxford UP, 1892. Print. Rovit, Earl. “The Fiction of Russell Hoban.” Hollins Critic 34.5 (1997): 1+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 10 Sept 2015. Rumbold, Matthew Ivan. “‘Freelance Mystic’: Individuation, Mythopoeia and Metafiction in the Early Fiction of Russell Hoban.” MA thesis. Rhodes University. Web. 30 Nov 2015. Scully, Stephen. Hesiod’s Theogony: From Near Eastern Creation Myths to Paradise Lost. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015. Print. Smith P. Joan. “Myth, Mysticism and Morality in Russell Hoban’s Later Fiction.” MA thesis. McMaster University. Web. 30 Nov 2015. Studer, Yvonne. Ideas, Obsessions, Intertexts: A Nonlinear Approach to Russell Hoban’s Fiction. Tübingen: Francke Verlag, 2000. Print. Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London: Routledge, 1984. Print. Wilk, Stephen R. Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print. Wilkie, Christine. Through the Narrow Gate. The Mythological Consciousness of Russell Hoban. Cranbury: Associated UPes, 1989. Print.

chapter 8

Narrated Madness: Extreme States of Consciousness in A. S. Byatt’s Frederica Quartet Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz Abstract The novels The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, published between 1978 and 2002, portray the life of Frederica Potter from the summer before she enters college to the time when she is in her thirties and lives mainly in London as head of a one-parent family. While a young woman’s development in an era of cultural and political change (between 1953 and 1968) is focused on, several of the – predominantly minor – male characters experience a psychological crisis or mental disturbance. This is an aspect that has not been systematically addressed by literary criticism. Byatt gives much attention to the borderline states of the mind and explores the possibilities of novelistic representation where the fictional hallucinatory “bleeds” into the fantastic. Emotional ordeals or a psychotic response to traumatising episodes are portrayed, I contend, with similar artistic vigour as the interlocking of life and literature in the contemporaneous cultural ambience. The depicted crucial proc­ ess of maturation in an intellectual young woman searching for her own way of life, which offers already considerable material for crisis, has been the object of analyses, yet Byatt’s treatment of the issue of mental illness with her complex narrative style equally deserves critical recognition.

Keywords madness in male characters – crisis fiction – limits of representation – alterity – liminality

The feminist study The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979) focuses on the literary imagination of 19th-century women writers and points by its title, which alludes to Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, to the motifs of confinement and suppression of a socially undesirable and therefore banished female figure, which has inspired a number of thematically © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_010

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related monographs, mainly by women, on fiction in English (see e.g. Plesch). By contrast, Antonia Byatt represents mental illness and liminal states of consciousness in male characters,1 whose social role makes insanity conspicuous; the motif pervades all of the four novels about Frederica Potter’s development from 1953, when she is seventeen years old to the late sixties, and occasionally to the eighties. Mental illness as a literary theme and its connection with diverse areas of culture, such as medicine, psychology and sociology (e.g. Showalter, Feder), have also been addressed in a number of critical studies about individual British and Postcolonial novels from the 18th to the 20th centuries, including contemporary writers Doris Lessing (The Golden Notebook, Briefing for a Descent into Hell), Margaret Atwood (Alias Grace) or Graham Swift (Waterland). These narratives portray mentally disturbed female characters, while Ian McEwan (Enduring Love) and William Trevor (Felicia’s Journey) – like earlier Virginia Woolf (Mrs Dalloway) – introduce the issue of madness in their representations of male figures, whose emotional and mental stability has been deeply affected. A narratological approach to the function of portrayed madness in various contemporary fictions is ventured in a special issue of the journal Style (cf. Bernaerts et al.).2 In this essay I propose to examine the representational strategies used with the madness theme in the Frederica quartet.3 The dichotomy of realism vs. experimental fiction, in which post-war British novelists have engaged (Alfer 47–49, Campbell 71–72, also Hadley), is bound to culminate in the narrativisation of the “unreal” imaginary, as which I would like to address the hallucinatory inner space of a mentally deranged character who experiences a reality that is not shared or considered existent by other individuals. Representing madness would also emerge as the structural apogee of fiction’s self-reflexiveness – lunacy appearing as a heightened, non-relational form of ­fictionalisation  – and thus present a challenge to the claim of mimesis as to the dichotomy of 1 Katharina Uhsadel notes in passing that in the quartet Byatt extends the madness theme also to men (93). 2 The editors’ introduction gives an overview of “postclassical” (286) narratological theory and narrative treatment of madness in fiction. Byatt is not discussed in the volume. The interdisciplinary study by Charley Baker et al. declares “situating madness literature in the historical, political, ethical and social context of the post-war world order” (3) the main objective of Madness in Post-1945 British and American Fiction. Byatt is mentioned only casually as a writer in the tradition of historical fiction (137). 3 Janice Rossen thematically deals with versions of madness in the quartet (69–73) and The Game (73–79), with special emphasis on the socio-psychological integration of different forms of insanity.



­realism/experimentalism. As the reader of Byatt’s fiction may expect, The Virgin in the Garden (1978), Still Life (1985), Babel Tower (1996) and A Whistling Woman (2002) have been informed by the literary history of madness, together with the author’s intellectual “encyclopaedic tendencies” (Hadley 25). The following description emphasises the multifariousness and contingency of the motif: Literature from Homer to contemporary fiction presents an archive of madness – of bizarre and inexplicable experiences, mental distress, behavioural disturbances, and interpersonal difficulties. Fiction also depicts elements of fantasy, resistance, resilience, tenacity, resourcefulness, and creativity that can be labelled, depending on context and circumstance, either as positive qualities or as deviant entities. baker 2

My examination of the madness theme as represented in the Frederica quartet takes this outline as a starting-point.

The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life

The Virgin in the Garden, alternatively defined as historical novel or Bildungs­ roman, displays the imagined socio-cultural life in the England of the early fifties, with Frederica Potter realising her origins in Britain’s literary tradition and a family dominated by an intellectual, but rigidly principled, belligerent father of highly gifted children. Whereas Bill Potter’s daughters successfully struggle to free themselves in diverse ways to achieve autonomy (“making your own life”), the youngest child and only son, Marcus, seems fairly inarticulate and non-literary, so that he distressfully succumbs to obsessive thoughts under the authoritarian paternal regime – this being the explanation offered to his frightened family members after the boy’s hospitalisation (The Virgin in the Garden 560).4 The novel ends with Stephanie, the eldest and brightest, settling down together with her husband the curate, with ambitious Frederica expecting her school exam results after acting the Virgin Queen in a play by ­Wedderburn ­performed on the nearby noble estate, and with Marcus being treated for nervous breakdown. 4 The problems of a “non-narrative identity” which Marcus shows are addressed in Lena Steveker’s chapter “Concepts of Identity in A. S. Byatt’s Tetralogy” (39–43). In contrast to the “pro-narrative” authorial voice observed by Steveker, Marcus – inarticulate and poor at social interaction – is elaborately represented by the narration (see below).

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In studying the representation of Marcus with his gifts of mind-reading and visualisation of the abstract combined with difficulty in coping with life, his connection with Lucas Simmonds, his biology teacher, proves crucial. Their entanglement leads to the boy’s total collapse even though Lucas seemed to promise a scope for freedom from Bill Potter’s oppressive nature. While Marcus, a usually dismayed, easily terrified sixteen-year-old boy, panics in front of his bullying father and what he stands for – verbal culture, ascetic discipline, formal education – he equally fears Lucas, yet is finally even more afraid for his “friend,” whom he continues to address as “Sir” even after sexual abuse. Simmonds recognises the extraordinary mathematical and imaginative abilities Marcus possesses, but also notices that he is too scared to continue their psychical explorations in a precarious state of expanded consciousness. Lucas turns out to be seductive because he can lure Marcus away into a secret parallel or “closed world” of two (The Virgin in the Garden 406), tempting him to transgress constraints imposed by family, society, school and reason. In an inverse analogy, Frederica repeatedly tries to (sexually) seduce the adored teacher Alexander Wedderburn. The outsider figure of Marcus that Lucas starts to investigate (212) has also received some critical appraisal. Alexa Alfer focuses on the combination of storytelling and display of abstract thoughts; Judith Plotz offers an analysis of Marcus, who is addressed by Simmonds as “the seer” (490), in terms of Words­ worth’s concept of the visionary Romantic Child – a resemblance which must lead to Marcus’s failure in the mid-20th century. His early uncommon visualising arithmetical genius and his photism – appearances of light often described in pseudo-religious terms – are rare talents better known as (para)psychological phenomena which render him an isolated unhappy youth. In addition, he is also considered by the artist Wedderburn “an unnaturally colourless person” (28) whose musical play even seems devoid of meaning. Marcus hardly knows himself before his calamitous encounters with Simmonds, nor is his description from the playwright’s perspective apt to awaken the reader’s sympathy. In contrast, the “normal” Lucas Simmonds, often depicted as a popular goodhumoured, even cheerful person, loses his mind and is eventually judged by a psychiatrist “a very sick man, and best left to professional care” (560) instead of to an unstable and sincerely worried boy’s attempts to look after him. The differences between the troubled gifted child, who could play a madwoman in a performance of Hamlet, and the psychotic mind are exposed in the scenes of occultism arranged by Simmonds. In the two figures extremes of consciousness amalgamate, intensify each other, and lead to the unfortunate outcome. By a diegetic approach I wish to argue that the structure and imagery combined with the narrative perspective result in a verbal representation of liminal states of consciousness.



Close to the beginning The Virgin in the Garden presents a setting in which Marcus Potter makes a lonely figure, symbolically stirring the muddy waters of a pond, where he is observed by Wedderburn (27–28). This place once more moves into focus immediately before the end when Alexander and Frederica simultaneously notice Simmonds there, “so classically, so grandly, so archetypically mad” (527) that the image of the naked, singing, bloodily self-­mutilated and flower-garlanded man is self-explanatory and the narrator’s explicit intertextual hint at King Lear merely reaffirming. The spot on the grounds of the school, the Biology or so-called Bilge Pond, is supposed even by the sane to harbour “mythical creatures” (27) and causes terrifying sensations in Marcus, as Wedderburn, the reflector figure, perceives. In a key scene of the chapter “Meat” (119–23) reality with its connotations of verbal – not geometrical  – coherence and sense-making literally disintegrates before Marcus’s eyes, an event that causes near-unconsciousness in him like the minutes passed with the “busy light” (156) at the pond – experiences which the free indirect discourse maps out avoiding commentary. In his media-informed reflections about madness, Marcus’s thoughts and feelings are told from a floating, mostly autodiegetic perspective: Marcus supposed that if one was properly mad one was not afraid of being mad. Mad people in films and books seemed to have in common a rock-bottom certainty that they were in the right. His own increasing anxiety about madness could perhaps be taken as a sign that he was sane. And madness in this literary household had overtones of raving, vision and poetry which were nothing to do with what was bothering him. (153) Even if “[e]very day something new became problematic and difficult” (153), he reassures himself, “he was not mad” (154). Since Simmonds also defies the boy’s thoughts of illness, “paradoxically clinical in his white coat” (161), he appears helpful – a healer – so that Marcus gives in to his monologues on cosmogony or pantheistic religion (Easter), and to extravagant exercises – including ecstatic experiences in mythical places charged with the occult, like Owger’s Howe, which leave him puzzled and depressed. While the reader may be alarmed, Simmonds claims to be the scientist who can record and categorise every “natural” phenomenon.5

5 E. A. Leonard traces the influence of C. S. Lewis on Byatt in the portrayals of Lucas and especially Marcus and their paranormal experiences; thereby Leonard relates these scenes to fantasy and science fiction.

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In contrast to the free indirect discourse which discloses the strange consciousness of the boy, Lucas’s increasingly fantastic mindscape is either scenically presented in dialogues or related by the heterodiegetic narrative agency, occasionally not without mild distancing irony, for instance during the Coronation watched on tv (322–23): “Maybe Lucas had hoped he would see the dove descending, or, as one clairvoyant had, the pillared feet and knees of the Angel of the Abbey rising glassy and huge through the fabric of the roof” (322). During an assembly of the protagonists in church, where it is obvious that each of them interprets Marcus’s appearance differently (498–99), Lucas wears his determined, pseudo-jovial mask of normality for the last time. Characteristically, his final lapse into insanity is presented by detached figural observers and an extradiegetic, terse third-person narrator. In these passages a distinction between the perceiving focaliser and the narrating voice is discernible. “As they came nearer, Frederica to the back, and Alexander to the front of the figure, they recognised Lucas Simmonds” (526) shows the eyewitnesses’ perspective. The heterodiegetic narrator, unambiguously enhancing the impression of the abnormal, comments on what cannot be seen, heard or understood, as the psychotic consciousness remains inaccessible even to the “omniscient” third person: But he [Alexander] could neither begin to imagine his [Simmonds’s] state of mind nor think what to do. He thought he ought probably to walk boldly up. He walked. […] “Run home,” said Alexander, “there’s a good girl. Run home and find help.” […] “Run,” said Alexander to Frederica. She ran. (527) With the narrator’s ironic undertone, Alexander exhibits a mixture of fear of the unknown and patronising directives to the familiar. The mind of the paranoid madman is “othered,” signified as closed and separate, uncorroborated and therefore lacking authentication. Lucas merely retains the solicitude of the visionary child who tried to “care” for him. Only the non-human, inanimate place, the Biology Pond, emerges “unruffled black” (552) after the disastrous crisis of the human psyche. A peculiar inversion of mental troubles and their clarification has been taking place: for the greater part of the narrative and all of the story time, the child with his illnesses and his uncommon gifts has represented a cause of sorrow to his environment; yet it turns out that his final collapse is a response to the mental illness of his “superior,” who meant to guide him (cf. Rossen 70). It is the boy whose insecure, “fainting” consciousness becomes transparent and is granted narrative authority concerning the inexplicable “states.” This privilege



is denied the deranged teacher who may chatter away in the “mad medley” (Dusinberre, “Forms of Reality” 59) of his direct and reported speeches, but whose obscure mind can only be perceived from “outside” by other characters and the extradiegetic narrator. The variable narrative perspective is instrumental in distinguishing unusual imaginativeness from impervious hallucinatory “reality,” since extreme states of consciousness sharply accentuate “[t]he problem of the ‘real’ in fiction” (Byatt, Passions of the Mind xv), thus posing a formidable and continuing challenge to narrativisation. Still Life also makes the visual, the literary and the performing arts its subjects: Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, his letters and his biography inspire creative writing and reintroduce the theme of madness already in the prologue. The subject of Alexander Wedderburn’s second play is the yellow chair of Van Gogh’s painting shown in the 1980 exhibition in London, which he visits together with Frederica and the widowed non-literary Daniel (Still Life 571–83).6 Closing up (592) with the end of The Virgin in the Garden, Marcus returns as a convalescent to his eldest sister’s cramped housing, where the arrivals of the first child and the curate’s invalid mother are also expected. Thus a counterworld of domesticity and the social, to which Daniel Orton devotes his profession and which Stephanie appreciates and shares, is more markedly than in the preceding novel built in opposition to the world of art and learning, into which Frederica merges in Cambridge. The nature of Marcus forms another contrast to Daniel’s pragmatic and Stephanie’s practical approach towards social and family problems – disregarding her yearning for reading and “language.” The boy appears autistic, can only slowly cope with life and is paralysed in moments of crisis like his sister’s accident. Similar to the preceding novel, the representations of Marcus’s mental insecurity are neither mediated nor interrupted by metanarrative observations. No interference takes place with the reflections of his inner self, to which the reader has immediate access. Only during precarious moments of a portrayed dysfunctional intradiegetic communication does an impersonal extradiegetic narrative voice intervene. “It did not occur to Marcus to say any of this to Mr Rose [his psychiatrist]” (607) is disclosed by an omniscient narrator after the revelation of Marcus’s unusual thoughts about “normality.” Mr Rose attempts to work with him on problems of family and sex, but Marcus believes that Rose is unable to “help” him while – plagued by the memories of Lucas Simmonds – he is trying to find out what is normal and why language does not adequately 6 For the quartet’s intricate time structure with the proleptic prologues of the first two novels, see e.g. Alfer (50), Campbell (68) and Dusinberre (“Forms of Reality in A. S. Byatt’s The Virgin in the Garden”).

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reflect this. Access to the boy’s mind is signalled to the reader, while Marcus’s interlocutor remains ignorant. Thereby a discrepancy of awareness is established, which elevates the literary communication above ordinary dialogue. Marcus, who does not at all believe in the reliability and truthfulness of (spoken) words, is cherished by the narration. Visual impressions of landscape or habitations and poetical reminiscences in the Provençal setting (648–50), where Frederica works as an au-pair, merge with the paintings and life stories of Gauguin and Van Gogh. Alexander Wedderburn, as the reflector figure, feels the urge to dramatise episodes recounted from Gauguin’s perspective and Van Gogh’s descriptions (652–54). Perfect art is presented as the work of an unlimited consciousness: These images had what Alexander desired for his own work and did not have: authority. The man [Van Gogh] could both paint and name a chair, and bring into play his own terrors and hopes, and behind it, the culture of Europe, north and south, the Church itself. The yellow chair was the opposite of the insane messianic visions and voices. A writer is a man haunted by voices. (655) The gift Wedderburn craves is the boundless vision that he recognises in the true work of art which resists compartmentalisation or restrictive genre, and can incorporate individual experience and collective memories. He does not possess this gift but is bound to one artistic mode: “voices.” Yet from Van Gogh’s and Gauguin’s writings, which show utter lack of the security provided by differentiating categorisation, Alexander also gains an insight into the fear of madness, which was augmented by the painters’ environment’s incomprehension that reached far beyond their lifetime. Yet in Alexander’s view perfect art stands opposite to insanity, to the “messianic visions.”7 In the representation of the artist’s mind immediacy without interference also prevails, and I consider the child Marcus, who breathtakingly played Ophelia, related to an artist (cf. Byatt, “Interview” 186). This mode differs from the depiction of Frederica’s social and sexual life in 1954–55, where the extradiegetic first-person narrator intrudes with the “chill and clinical account” (Still 7 The novel’s interpretation of the artist’s mental instability may claim to “subvert, the dominant cultural, social, and media-perpetuated public construction of madness” (Baker 5). Sorensen parallels Van Gogh and Stephanie in their deep-rooted wish to “connect” (cf. E. M. Forster): the visual with the verbal, the social with the intellectual, respectively. That – according to the novel – this is not possible in life is proved by the painter’s suicide and Stephanie’s fatal accident (69).



Life 723) of historical situations, thereby reminding the reader of the temporal (and cultural) gap. The narrator judges rather squarely: “The language with which I might try to order Frederica’s hectic and somewhat varied sexual life was not available to Frederica then […]” (723). The “ordering” narrator figure’s intrusiveness repeatedly comments on the constructedness of the character: “I wrote that Frederica fell in love with a face and a concept” (818). The disparity between the narrator’s world and the narrated world in the depiction of Frederica’s last year in Cambridge has a similar distancing effect: I record these usual images of the unspeakable [horrors in literature] in order to wonder at what kind of knowledge they were to Frederica, powerful, secondhand, undeniable. […] (When I write “bourgeois” I mean the word in the sense in which Frederica had learned to understand it as a term of opprobrium from reading La Nausée). (910) Frederica, as the first- and third-person extradiegetic narrators reveal, understands reality largely through literature.8 Obliquely transmitted through a narrator, the characters of the two sisters and the dramatist serve as an intermediate station in the reader’s reception of pictures – mainly Van Gogh’s – or poetry – mainly Wordsworth’s. In Still Life representations of extrasensory perception or mental derangement are reduced in favour of the arts. With the portrayal of Stephanie’s life and her sudden death, a different kind of reality requires space. As partly an omniscient narrator communicates (975–77), the surviving individuals’ mindscape is changed by the fatal accident. Following his matter-of-fact initial reactions, Daniel, after futile attempts to care alone for his children, leaves his family and his position to roam the country. He ends up in London, Will and Mary remaining behind in the care of his wife’s parents together with Marcus. Frederica, the bold and ferocious, is herself in need of help, which will lead to her marriage with Nigel Reiver. The deeply disturbed condition into which Stephanie’s husband, brother and sister are thrown supplies Still Life with an open ending instead of closure.

8 Several reviews and scholarly articles draw attention to post-structuralist theories of language and Byatt’s rejection of philosophical stances which claim self-referentiality for language, contesting any “truth” in regard to its objects (cf. Hadley 46–47). Within Byatt’s fiction, e.g. Marcus’s train of thought (Still Life 606–07) reflects these problems of communication as occurring between himself, for whom words cannot express reality, and people such as the psychiatrist. To Marcus they are necessarily talking at cross purposes. So he concludes: “He and Mr Rose bored each other” (608).

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Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman

In the temporal structure of the quartet these liminal states of consciousness are revealed proleptically, simultaneously, or retrospectively. The role of the omniscient third-person narrator is crucial after Stephanie’s death in depicting behaviour as well as thoughts and imagination of the characters involved in the process of (non)realisation, mourning and depression, furious rejection or problems of guilt. In Babel Tower the narrative strands portraying Daniel, Frederica and Marcus, which begin almost six years after this event, alternate with another one conceived in the mode of a utopian fantasy set in France at the end of the 18th century during the period of the Terreur (cf. Todd 63–64). The emblematic metaphor in the different branches of the narration is the recurrence of a fortified tower: firstly the medieval Saxon tower of a bombed London church, where Daniel works in the crypt for a crisis line, caring about the despairing. The gloominess of this place also characterises the ambience of the moated country house in Herefordshire, a gothic environment divested of the supernatural, where Frederica lives with her four-year-old son Leo, her upper-class but violent husband and his family. The probably again Lewis-inspired isolated refuge, La Tour Bruyarde, which is the setting of the novel-within-the-novel, creates an even uncannier atmosphere by its location and aspect. To this entrenched lonely property of a leader – a mythological place – a group of refugees from Paris undertake a dangerous journey to found there a new egalitarian liberal society (Byatt, Babel Tower 63–64, 203). The title Babbletower (10), however, assigned to the embedded narrative by an authorial narrator, raises doubts about the ideal, and the first steps towards a controversial realisation with all its eccentricities evoke the impression that this project must be crazy. The three heterotopian places – the noble mansion, the ruined church with burial site, and the remote castle – form contrasting parallels;9 they have the isolation of a small community and a precarious situation of the ­protagonists in common, but promote diverse ideas of a successful life – whether altruistic or hedonistic – cut off from the main body of society.10 9


The term monastic metaphorically applies to each one, as the notion of a quasi-religious congregation is repeatedly evoked (e.g. in Bruyarde’s “Theatre of Tongues,” 62, and in Bran House where Leo is surrounded by three unmarried women after the departure of his mother). The images used for Jude Mason, author of Babbletower, are those of “prisoner” and “monk” (523). Rossen identifies in the three men – Nigel Reiver, John Ottokar and Jude Mason – three different types of craziness (71). Richard Todd tellingly defines the tenor of the settings as “Violence, Enclosure, and Babble” (63), with the first-named emerging in each place after some time, the latter two proving permanent.



Lady Wijnnobel, a figure as if from Jane Eyre attending a Christmas party in Long Royston (252–54), is one of only two female examples of a deranged psyche in the tetralogy, reappearing again in A Whistling Woman.11 Madness in male characters, I wish to argue, even if not clinically diagnosed, can be claimed to emerge in chief Culvert’s visionary lectures on the New Order of things (202–05)12 as well as in some of the calls at the church where Daniel works (195–97)13 or in the figure of the priest he remembers who had attended executions (373). It prevails in the various scenes of violence that Nigel Reaver stages against Frederica (e.g. 118–22), Bill (156–58) and Daniel (197–200). Byatt’s technique of showing scenes of borderline states of mind unmediated in interior monologue and monologic speech or, in cases of violence, in combination with free indirect discourse reflected in the victims’ consciousness perceiving the perpetrator only “from outside” enhances their impact by abstaining from authorial comment or explicit censoring.14 With respect to outrage in Babbletower, cruelty and violence are at first related by a homodiegetic narrator, partly to the figural observer (e.g. 130–37), later to be followed by scenic presentations that to the narratee are recognisably fantastic – a circumstance which is disputed during the trial for obscenity, where the referential and mimetic quality of the nested narrative is extensively discussed.15 All the reported or staged incidents of cruelty and sadism are on the story level meant to contrast with the discourse of the law suits whose object they become. In the case of a terrified Frederica’s proceedings her divorce and the custody of Leo are at stake, in the action vs. the tormented author Jude Mason and his publisher it 11 12




Eva Wijnnobel is mostly kept hidden in Babel Tower. The second madwoman is Lucy Nighby, also from A Whistling Woman (e.g. 199), who remains almost mute. Intertextual associations with Michel Foucault, with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and also with the Marquis de Sade have to be neglected here as do the explicit references to the Bluebeard fairytale in the marriage plot. The connections of Byatt’s work with E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence, especially Lady Chatterley’s Lover, have been the subject of literary criticism. For Babel Tower’s presentation of cultural and literary memory, see Noble. The caller “Steelwire” is recognised by Daniel Orton as Jude Mason (216). Frederica and Daniel agree that he and another novelist are “mad” at least in the sense in which William Blake is called mad (228). This includes the scene in which the psychotic and probably drugged Paul Ottokar – identical twin of Frederica’s lover – burns her books in public (455–57) and similar exemplary “happenings.” Mason, the defendant, is by the Prosecution even suspected of having written a roman-àclef (568–70). The limitations of this chapter leave no room for dealing with the methods of reflecting one strand of the narrative in the other as “the mirror in the text” (Dällenbach; cf. Todd 71). It is a diegetic device Byatt experimentally employs later in Ragnarok.

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is the charge of obscenity. Frederica conceives of the portrayal of her marriage and divorce in court as “a new fiction, a new story” (519) resulting from competing narratives and impinging on her life (story). Sue Sorensen’s statement that in Babel Tower, following the lasting shock waves after a death, “[e]ach of the survivors settles for an intellectual life less risky and less stimulating” (75) comes as a surprise in light of the accumulating insanity disclosed by the representation. It is admittedly true for Marcus, who loses his paranormal faculties, joins young people and successfully engages in scientific research. Frederica, after having been salvaged from her depression by Nigel, escapes from Bran House, her prison, to the city and paid intellectual work which means independence. However, because of the fragmentation of the storytelling and the generally problematising view of language and its subjects the narrative itself raises doubts regarding its substance or verisimilitude. The troubled awareness of the uncertain relation between the object and its representation repeatedly becomes thematic through an omniscient thirdperson narrator – thus making narration reliably unreliable, were it not for the inserted hint at the occult which renders it unreliably unreliable.16 It shows Byatt’s often-stated intention of fictionalising problems of the philosophy of language, also alluded to in the novel’s title: In the days before Babel, before God punished the human race for its presumption in raising its winding structure towards Heaven by dividing its tongues, by setting confusion amongst its speech – in the days before Babel, the occult tradition went, words had been things and things had been words, they had been one, as a man and his shadow perhaps are one, or a man’s mind and his brain. byatt, Babel Tower 190

A dissociation of language and what it signifies has irrevocably occurred. In La Tour Bruyarde = Babbletower, divisions are meant to be reversed and also language liberated, as the third-person narrator reports (201–11), tellingly with an additional shift to the distancing past tense which contrasts with the present-­ tense narrative of the Potter plot.17 The fairytale and parable character of 16 17

The indeterminacy of the text is in Babel Tower metonymically presented in the different optional beginnings (cf. Todd 12, Noble 62–63). Babbletower makes use of “das epische Präteritum” (Hamburger), which signals that the narrative is a fictional story (“Tomorrow came …”). Babbletower is situated in the (dystopian) future – a disguise for the disastrous (narrative) present, as its subtitle “A Tale for the Children of Our Time” suggests. “Mason” tries to simultaneously veil and reveal



Babbletower, a story ending in death and destruction, is by its author, whom many contemporaries consider a depraved maniac not an artist, meant to illuminate the madness of the times – the 1940s to 60s. The controversy which ­follows its publication questions his intention and artistic strategies. Moreover, the representation of the Babbletower trial, whose endeavour is to balance the pros and cons, accidentally casts doubt on the minds and judgment of the adversaries.18 Together with Frederica’s law suits it demonstrates that the cultural faultlines of the decade that opened with the Chatterley trial are shaking the value system, not least the understanding of art and the artist which had to undergo a revaluation every now and then, as the reference to Van Gogh (112) anticipates. A Whistling Woman announces by its title and epigraph, which metonymically condemns whistling as “unnatural” in women, an anti-feminist stance which points to Frederica. “The idea of the anomalous is thus linked with the questions that run through the quartet concerning women’s identity, what they want, how they are represented, and how they represent themselves,” as Campbell states (248). However, the challenge of “[t]he idea of the anomalous” proves even more far-reaching here. One of the novel’s strands reflects the 1968/69 unrests of academic youth, which included the questioning of traditional “norms,” in the founding of the Anti-University of North Yorkshire. Although much irritates and seems bizarre to the established faculty with Wijnnobel as Vice-Chancellor – slogans such as “education is oppression” and “empathy is invasion” – the madness theme first sounds in the second narrative branch where Marcus Potter reappears with friends and colleagues in the scientific work on snails. The outburst of violence in a home whose outcome he witnesses introduces a third group consisting of characters with severe psychological problems that led to bloody deeds or ended in family murder. The crimes initially committed in Dun Vale Hall are represented in two ways: from Marcus’s unbelieving and helpless perspective (Byatt, A Whistling Woman ­74–78) and from the correspondence between Elvet Gander, a psychoanalyst who already appeared in court as one of the experts in the Babbletower trial, and Kieran Quarrell, senior psychiatrist at Cedar Mount Hospital for the care of the Insane and Mentally Ill in Calverley.


its referentiality, as becomes evident in the trial, especially where the cross-examination touches on “Erstwhile Hogs (and the erstwhile Swineherds)” – names with a double meaning for certain Public School alumni (e.g. 529, 542, 558–62, 568). The judge himself points to the satirical, grotesque and moralising aspects of the trial when he remarks after Mason’s testimony, “You should perhaps have read for the Bar, Mr Mason, instead of devoting your time to Fourier and Sade” (567).

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The two doctors exchange information of professional interest that is complemented by direct insights into the state of mind of one inmate who calls himself Josh Lamb (Joshua Ramsden). He is suffering from hallucinations about gory details caused by his childhood observation of murder and the death penalty (36–37). The epistolary form serves to present personally involved yet detached views about mentally disturbed patients. Considered against the background of The Virgin, where traumatising war experiences as reasons for Lucas’s psychosis are only marginally mentioned and his psyche remains “locked” even to omniscient narrator and reader – analogous to the person of the lunatic – a demarcation line has been invalidated here (cf. note 24 below) concerning two aspects of the representation of madness, namely the spatial and the perspectival. Cedar Mount is a place where those medically defined as mad, like Lucas Simmonds or the woman whom Marcus and Jacqueline found covered in blood (not hers), are detained. The letterwriter shows Josh Lamb as isolated but not “othered,” thereby engaging the ­addressee’s – and with him the medically unprofessional reader’s – sympathising interest with regard to an “opaque” mind suffering from seizures and a splitting of consciousness. As soon as Joshua, who often feels directed by “the [imaginary] Other,” acts as a reflector figure – the inmate of forty remembering the boy of eleven – his self is disclosed “from inside.” The narrative evokes empathy by combining the exploratory approach of the doctors with the free indirect speech of Josh Lamb, whose father apparently suffered from religious delusions and killed the boy’s mother and sister in 1940.19 The father refused to plead insanity with the words “The Lord commanded me to do it [to save them]. A Holocaust is Coming” (104), was thereupon found guilty and hanged. Compared especially to The Virgin, where nobody had access to Lucas Simmonds’s consciousness, this narrative technique in revealing the interior of a mentally ill person implies an upgrading of imaginative literature’s capacities, extending the scope of what is representable. The historical author’s commitment to fathoming the “anomalous” by entering a deranged mind proves that the diversity of characters revealed “makes A Whistling Woman the most polyvocal of all Byatt’s work” (Campbell 247).20 The narration’s occasional blending of hallucination and prediction completes this expansion. 19 20

For a summary of this character’s further development and function, see Uhsadel (144–45), who also subsumes Josh Lamb and Lady Wijnnobel under the concept of Bildungsroman. Surprisingly, Campbell does not link the madness motif in The Whistling Woman to the other novels of the quartet but to Possession and examples from Sugar. My argument shows that madness in a variety of aspects is metonymical of “the anomalous” as a focal point of the tetralogy.



Between those deemed sane and the definitely mentally ill two religiously inspired cult-groups emerge that are connected by shared interests: one, named “The Spirit’s Tigers,” was founded by Quakers – this by-name was once indicative of their weirdness. Paul Ottokar (= “Zag”), one of Gander’s patients (62–64), plays a leading role there and is occasionally joined by his twin brother. The other consists of selected members of the Children of Joy, a youth group founded by Daniel Orton’s former vicar. In the plot’s composition, the identical twins form the immediate figural link to Frederica. The projected university conference on “Body and Mind” and her parents’ home draw her with Leo to North Yorkshire for holidays, so that the different groups and separate strands in the structure of this narrative are several times interlocked (64–71). By the dramaturgy of the novel all acting figures assemble around the uny in the revolutionary summer of ‘69. Besides the concept of fragmentation – of lives, narrative, identity – that of the merger is given increasing weight, in keeping with the chant “We are One We are Many, We are Many We are One” (e.g. 373). This contradicts the female struggle for individuality, a topic which also emerges centre stage in the life-story of the male twins. Most of the characters in these groups share a passionate concern about “the social” and communality, while the Anti-University members are fond of the Commune way of life found exemplary in Copenhagen and Berlin (90). Their community is also frequented by Eva Wijnnobel, the Vice-Chancellor’s unbalanced wife (91–95), who now appears in public – later on tv – and teaches astrology classes at the Anti-University while her husband is preparing the uny conference. Even though a touch of the carnivalesque surrounds some of these group dynamics, human distress prevails. Under the leadership of Josh Lamb borderlines between groups, spheres and conditions are continually blurred, which the two psychologists and another pair of letter-writers, the female sociologist Brenda and a male member of the counter-cultural movement, demonstrate. Traces of religious mysticism mingle with the paranormal and even the psychedelic, involving patients from Cedar Mount hospital as well as the psychoanalyst, the priests, the vc’s wife and other group members: I’ve been thinking again after – partially at least – going through this communal experience of – of what? Charisma? Otherworldly vision? Spiritual power and energy, let’s say. 213, Gander to Quarrell

The scientific band and the Anti-University camp first resist the temptation to merge and dissolve in these experiences; also exempt is Frederica at her

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new job on a tv talk-show procured by Edmund Wilkie, pragmatic as ever. Yet this detachedness is not necessarily less problematic than the mysterious experience, as John Ottokar’s eruption (cf. Campbell 252) and Jacqueline’s ordeal show (Uhsadel 140–42). By contrast, Joshua increasingly appears as saviour and seer.21 His and Lucy Nighby’s discharge into a space at the threshold of society – the interior of the exterior and inversely, in Foucault’s terms (Madness and Civilization 9) – is envisaged and leads to the founding of a “Therapeutic Community,” named “Hearers,” on Lucy’s property in Dun Vale (Byatt, A Whistling Woman 233). Their self-representation is studded with references to the Bible, William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites. The psychoanalyst Gander reports their dialogues and summarises events and speeches, functioning as mediator between the mainstream society and the Community that resembles Babbletower with regard to the notion of a parallel world. Monastic and Manichaean by Joshua’s orientation, the Hearers not only banish oppression, violence and discrimination, but mean to extend benevolence towards nature and all living creatures. Notwithstanding obvious reflections of the new communal life of the 1960s in a historical novel, its reader may feel alienated when he or she realises that a – “reasonable” though devoted to the unconscious – person such as the letter-writer Gander is completely drawn into the outlandish rites of the winter solstice and the effects of Joshua’s tales and sermons (234–40). The mostly third-person omniscient representation of a complete traditional Christmas service attended by the Potters and several group members immediately follows the epistolary narrative of the mythological festivity of solstice, implicitly presenting both as celebrations of the mysterious (244–53): one a reawakened relict from prehistoric times, the other recognised – if doubtfully – by several as a religious belief or the common cultural background.22 The religious groups around the Ottokars, the curate Gideon Farrar and Canon Holly from the helpline in the London crypt intermittently join the Community on the North Yorkshire moors. Marcus, averse to the grouping like Daniel Orton, whom the psychiatrist “felt to be a man with his feet on the ground” (405), remains reluctant. Daniel uses the Biblical tale



In Greek antiquity (as chronicled by Herodot) epilepsy was considered “the holy malady” (morbus sacer), after it had been deemed demonic by earlier cultures. The supernatural explanation was rejected by the scientific approach of Hippokrates, who claimed that every disease had a natural cause. The narrative “remembers” these divergent concepts. Criticism has variously discussed memory and the mnemonic in the quartet (e.g. Noble, cf. Hadley 99–101, Uhsadel e.g. 136). For reflections on collective memory and its theory, see Steveker (81–94, 104–07).



of Mary (the contemplative “Hearer”) and Martha (the practical-minded caterer) to explain his different approach to religion (e.g. 407). In the third-person account of Dun Vale scenes with Joshua as spiritual centre and the representative of the point-of-view, the external and internal reality are related without separating borderline: “Joshua Ramsden surveyed his people from his distant seat. He noted harmony and disharmony, heat and cold, fear and elation […].” With a shift to free indirect discourse his “visions” are unveiled: “He saw, as it were, spiritual forms of matter around faces and figures. Young Marcus, whom he did not know, was surrounded by a brittle cage of icicles. Full of light, but icicles, meltable” (267). Even though this perception is assessed as the intrapersonal reality of a consciousness not shared by others, it is made accessible by a narrative representation apt to produce a mixture of respect and fascination in the narratee (esp. 316–21). In interruptions distancing the authorial from the figural consciousness, Joshua’s spiritual journey is defined by a narrator conflating the two “incompatible” languages of madness and literature:23 Will you come, with me, he asked the Other. The Other smiled more and more. I must come, he said. I am the executioner. I conduct the evacuation. I will be there. We will go down in the dark together. Then he knew he was having a fit in the moonlight, and he was cast down on the heather. (318) An omniscient narrator’s report and a letter of the sociologist (321–22) provide the “external” explanatory perspective. The Community, which Brenda’s letters to a man staying in what she calls the ordinary world begin to describe as dangerous, assembles in a literal Hall of Mirrors (e.g. 405) and replaces the “liberating” initiative by increasingly severe restrictions: “we’re not allowed to speak of patients now, only spiritual explorers” (323). “Byatt’s […] theme that madness can be collective, or at least interconnected with others in a family or community” (Rossen 70) is extensively manifest here. Brenda conversely addresses a person “beyond the Pale” that literally encloses the Hearers, at the end paradoxically excluding all others: “Dun Vale Hall had ceremoniously closed its gates, when the Pale was completed, and had cut off the telephone” (Byatt, The Whistling Woman 354; cf. 404). Several Hearers temporarily join the explosion of destructiveness in the student revolt, which ends in the defeat of unreason. Reductive “implosion” is the eventual fate of the Therapeutic Community which deteriorates into self-destruction. The advocates of reason i­ntrude and 23

Cf. Foucault “Der Wahnsinn, Abwesenheit eines Werkes” (184).

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restore a (spatial) demarcation between the sick and the sound.24 The social experiments have failed. The literary experiment, however, proves successful. In these narratives a visibility of the “anomalous” mind with its interconnection to prophecy and creativity has been achieved, together with the postulation of regard for the ethics of respecting the other’s identity25– not least the “strange” and damaged one. It becomes apparent that the represented weirdness and insanity are metaphors of the radical other. The result does not abolish or diminish the categorisation of the quartet as historical novels, but it subverts the “classical” prerogative of rationality. The objective of unlocking through a language opposed to the code of language (Foucault, “Der Wahnsinn, Abwesenheit eines Werkes” 181, my translation) the “locked” interior reality of the person who harbours in his or her mind what appeared to be uncommunicable exhibits a further step in Byatt’s enterprise of “relating portrayals of different orders of reality to each other” (Todd 64). This is mainly achieved by imagery and the floating narrative modes and perspectives.26 From the faultlines of the times (Foucault, “Der Wahnsinn, Abwesenheit eines Werkes” 178) a suspension of those “strange delineations” by which “madness, man’s naked truth” (175, my translation), was evacuated to marginal spaces, the recognition of its “belonging” could emerge. The madman – teacher, artist or sect leader – is, in contrast to the madwoman,


25 26

Foucault argues that with the Enlightenment and Absolutism in Europe a new enclosure of insanity took place: “By a strange act of force, the classical age was to reduce to silence the madness whose voices the Renaissance had just liberated […]. It is common knowledge that the seventeenth century created enormous houses of confinement […]” (Madness and Civilization 35). In “Der Wahnsinn, Abwesenheit eines Werkes” he maintains that in the future madness will be constitutive for society because it “makes us and our culture legible,” and that therefore that “peculiar demarcation” will have to disappear together with our experiencing certain phenomena in “the mode of borderline or strangeness or the intolerable” (171; my translation). In our culture madness, which is rare, appears as surprisingly powerful by the degree to which it arouses fear and anxieties. The cultural faultline at which we have arrived includes the possibility to deploy what was locked up (178), and instead of the enforced migration of insanity into the region of nonsense (180) a recognition of its concealed purport can emerge (182). I would argue that the unfolding of the madness theme in modern literature is already disproportionate to the ostracism in our environment. For reference to identity theory and Levinas, see Steveker (37–38). I prefer to disagree with Rossen, who claims that “Byatt in particular give[s] a rational, detached account of madness” (76, see also 79), because I believe that in the quartet “internal states of mind” are less often analysed than portrayed, especially by the differentiation or conflation of the narrating agency and the figural representation.



noticeable in his social environment. In Byatt’s narratives he is given a voice that speaks directly to hearers and readers. References Alfer, Alexa. “Realism and Its Discontents: The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life.” Essays on the Fiction of A. S. Byatt: Imagining the Real. Ed. Alexa Alfer and Michael J. Noble. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2001. 47–59. Print. Baker, Charley, Paul Crawford, B. J. Brown, Maurice Lipsedge and Ronald Carter. Madness in Post-1945 British and American Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print. Bernaerts, Lars, Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck. “Narrative Threads of Madness.” Madness in Fiction, special issue of Style: A Quarterly Journal of Aesthetics, Poetics, Stylistics, and Literary Criticism 43.3 (2009): 283–90. Print. Byatt, Antonia Susan. Babel Tower. London: Vintage, 1997. Print. Byatt, Antonia Susan. “A. S. Byatt: Interview with Juliet Dusinberre.” Women Writers Talking. Ed. Janet Todd. New York: Holmes, 1983. 181–95. Print. Byatt, Antonia Susan. Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings. New York: Vintage, 1993. Print. Byatt, Antonia Susan. The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life. Two Novels in One Volume. London: Chatto & Windus, 1991. Print. Byatt, Antonia Susan. A Whistling Woman. New York: Vintage, 2004. Print. Campbell, Jane. A. S. Byatt and the Heliotropic Imagination. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2004. Print. Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978. Print. Dusinberre, Juliet. “Forms of Reality in A. S. Byatt’s The Virgin in the Garden.” Critique 24 (1982): 55–62. Print. Feder, Lillian. “Antagonistic Voices: Versions of Madness in a Social Context.” Thematics Reconsidered: Essays in Honor of Horst S. Daemmrich. Ed. Frank Trommler. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995. 215–27. Print. Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. 1961. Trans. Richard Howard. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. Print. Foucault, Michel. “Der Wahnsinn, Abwesenheit eines Werkes.” Schriften zur Literatur. 1964. Ed. Daniel Defert et al. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2003. 175–85. Print. Hadley, Louisa. The Fiction of A. S. Byatt: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print. Leonard, Elisabeth Anne. “‘The Burden of Intolerable Strangeness’: Using C. S. Lewis to See Beyond Realism in the Fiction of A. S. Byatt.” Extrapolation 39.3 (1998): 236–57. Print.

Narrated Madness


Noble, Michael J. “A Tower of Tongues: Babel Tower and the Art of Memory.” Essays on the Fiction of A. S. Byatt: Imagining the Real. Ed. Alexa Alfer and Michael J. Noble. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2001. 61–74. Print. Plesch, Bettina. Die Heldin als Verrückte: Frauen und Wahnsinn im englischsprachigen Roman von der Gothic Novel bis zur Gegenwart. Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus, 1995. Print. Plotz, Judith. “A Modern ‘Seer Blest’: The Visionary Child in The Virgin in the Garden.” Essays on the Fiction of A. S. Byatt: Imagining the Real. Ed. Alexa Alfer and Michael J. Noble. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2001. 31–45. Print. Rossen, Janice. Women Writing Modern Fiction: A Passion for Ideas. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print. Showalter, Elaine. The Female Malady: Women, Madness and Female Culture, 1830–1980. London: Virago, 1995. Print. Sorensen, Sue. “Something of the Eternal: A. S. Byatt and Vincent van Gogh.” Mosaic 37.1 (2004): 63–81. Print. Steveker, Lena. Identity and Cultural Memory in the Fiction of A. S. Byatt: Knitting the Net of Culture. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print. Todd, Richard. A. S. Byatt. Plymouth: Northcote House, 1997. Print. Uhsadel, Katharina. Antonia Byatts “Quartet” in der Tradition des englischen Bildungsromans. Heidelberg: Winter, 2005. Print.

chapter 9

Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”: The Echo Maker and “The Postpsychiatric Novel” James McAdams Abstract In his renowned 1959 lecture, “The Two Cultures,” C. P. Snow, the acclaimed British chemist and novelist, argued that, because of increasing disciplinary specialization and technological advancement, “the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups.” These groups, he elaborates, are represented mainly by literary intellectuals and physical scientists. However, as argued in John Brockman’s The Third Culture (1995), over the past three decades a myriad assortment of novelists, sociologists, historians, and psychiatrists have increasingly theorized approaches to overcome this disconnect. Among novelists, Richard Powers is perhaps the ultimate exemplar of a writer striving to connect the humanities and the sciences. In works such as Galatea 2.2 (artificial intelligence), Plowing the Dark (Internet networking), and Gain (the insurance-­medical complex), he has ceaselessly developed narratives that both explore and undermine contemporary scientific paradigms by juxtaposing them with the perspectives of subjective meaning and humanistic values. The Echo Maker, winner of the 2006 National Book Award, is perhaps the most profound example of this Powerian approach. This essay argues that Powers creates a neuroscientific context, based on a character suffering from Capgras Syndrome, and uses his authorial stand-in, Dr. Gerald Weber, a writer and neurologist, to refute the presuppositions and practices of clinical, evidence-based medicine, replacing them with a postmodern hermeneutics that foregoes bioreductive treatments via a concentration on story, empathy, and the redemptive function of “self-narratives.”

Keywords neuroscience – Richard Powers – narrative empathy – narrative therapy – humanities – two cultures

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_011

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The writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is the set of symptoms whose illness merges with man. deleuze, “Literature and Life” 228

⸪ In his 1959 Rede lecture, “The Two Cultures,” C. P. Snow, the acclaimed British chemist and novelist, argued that, because of increasing disciplinary specialization and technological advancement, “the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups” (3). These groups, he elaborated, are represented, on the one hand, by literary intellectuals, and on the other by physical and social scientists. Because of emerging technologies and increasing institutional ossification, this situation was even more egregious in 1986, when Jerome Bruner published Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. In this ground breaking work, responsible in great part for the “narrative turn” in psychology, Bruner likewise observes a similar dichotomy, describing it in terms of two “modes” of thought, the one “paradigmatic,” meaning scientific, logical, and mathematical endeavours, and the other “narrative,” referring to literary, humanistic, and meaning-based approaches to human experience. Bruner’s motives here, however, are not simply to re-iterate, with new terms, Snow’s assessment of disciplinary discord. Instead, Bruner posits that the narrative mode ought to be restored to the practice of psychology, re-privileged in order to compensate for decades of virtual obsolescence resulting from the advent of the dominant medical model, which relies more on the findings of functional testing such as fMRIs, ekgs, and PET-scans than on actual interaction with patients. As he writes, advocating the more humanistic and existential aspects of narrative methodology, “[the narrative mode] is more concerned with the broader questions of how we endow experience with meaning, which are the questions that concern the poet and the storyteller” (14). Starting with his explorations into ai in Galatea 2.2 (1992) and Internet networking in Plowing the Dark (2001), Richard Powers has occupied perhaps the primary Brunerian role of experiential “storyteller” in American literature, one who approaches events from a hybrid perspective, developing modes of narration and plots that encourage using the medical humanities and sciences, on the one hand, and narrative psychology and postmodern theory, on the other hand, as a more effective treatment modality. Indeed, in “Astride Two Cultures: An Open Letter to Richard Powers,” Daniel Dennett, writing specifically about



Galatea 2.2, praises Powers for his continued efforts to locate and explore a “third culture” between science and literature, a multidisciplinary approach involving postmodern theory and narrative psychology. In this chapter, therefore, my intention is to take Richard Powers’s 2006 National Book Award-winning novel The Echo Maker as a case study, as it were, to examine the sometimes oppositional and sometimes complementary roles that narrative-based medicine and evidence-based medicine fulfill i­n ­certain treatment environments. It is important to note that Powers’s book does not exist in a vacuum, but is in fact exemplary of what literary scholars have identified as a burgeoning movement within the past two decades, whether subsumed under the term “brain novel” (Stedman), the “neurological novel” (Dawes), “neurological realism” (Harris), “neuronarratives” (Johnson) or “neurological humanism” (Wojciehowski et al.). This loose assemblage of writers represent and depict the problems and issues surrounding contemporary medicine, such as cognitive science, neuroscience, and prosthetic advances, often by juxtaposing them with more humanistic and subjective, experiential perspectives. Such efforts include popular novels as different as Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (1997) and Saturday (2005), David Lodge’s Thinks…(2001), Nicole Krauss’s Man Walks Into a Room (2002), and Siri Hustved’s The Sorrows of an American (2008), among others. While The Echo Maker consists of many thematic elements, its central plot involves the case of Mark Schluter, a man who wakes up from a truck accident with Capgras syndrome, and the two doctors, one a cognitive neurologist and popular science writer modeled on figures such as Antonio Damasio and Oliver Sacks, and the other a young neuroscientist, who differ in their attempts to restore Mark’s memory and identity. My argument is that the former approach, by prioritizing postmodern hermeneutics and Brunerian narrative psychology, is responsible for Mark’s recovery in the novel, and demonstrates a successful example of narrative-based medicine, or what I will call here the practice of “post-psychiatry,” a hybrid approach that combines heart and mind, symptom and context, realism and postmodernism. Most critics focus on Mark and his Capgras when discussing the neuroscientific and psychological elements of the novel. In doing so, they probe how his Capgras functions as a metaphor for memory and connection (Hawk), how his recovery embodies an individual trauma emblematic of ecological or national traumas (Däwes), and how his “revised self” complicates medical and psychological theories of selfhood, memory, and greater human connection (Herman and Verwaeck). The default attitude appears to be that Mark is the ­protagonist – it is, after all, his accident that propels the narrative. He is the hub around which the other characters revolve, testing diagnoses, prognoses,

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hypotheses, and concepts of recovery. This reading is not an incorrect interpretation of the novel, but it is an incomplete one, as it neglects Weber’s narrative function that is arguably as prominent in the novel as Mark’s. Brigit Dawes concurs, writing astutely, “all of the characters undergo severe changes throughout the plot, but Weber’s is probably the most impressive” (419). Powers himself has identified The Echo Maker as a hybrid novel, something between realism and metafiction,1 and in this reading I presume that Weber is the author’s stand-in. Regarded in this manner, The Echo Maker is engineered as a series of dialogues between different psychological approaches and practitioners within a postmodern environment. This approach requires a constant reconsideration of psychological models and theories, as well as literary models and theories: Weber, as the literary cognitive neurologist, fulfills both functions. In the end, Weber decides to write something new, a book that avoids exploitation, composite case histories, and general syndromes, in favor of a singularity, a book for Mark. Weber thinks he will call it a neuroscientific ­novel  – I suggest that the “postpsychiatric novel” describes it more astutely than this locution.

Enlightenment Phenomenology and Postmodern Hermeneutics

In The Echo Maker, Powers stages a polyphonic debate between contemporary treatment modalities employing neuroscience and imaging technologies and a narrative approach that focuses on the individual meanings and social contexts for Mark Schluter. While phenomenology has a broad range of connotations, in this chapter I will be referring to it in the clinical psychiatric sense popularized by Karl Jaspers, wherein psychiatry, or the “scientific gaze,” focuses on patient symptomatology and evidence-based medicine in isolation; it also, as a development of Husserlian phenomenology, presupposes a Cartesian mind-body divide and therefore neglects contextual or environmental factors. A postmodern hermeneutics, conversely, while utilizing science and technology, seeks to conceive of the patient primarily as a singular, idiosyncratic human being, replete with relations, contexts, connections, and ethical needs. Thomas Bracken and Philip Thomas, in Postpsychiatry: Mental Health in a Postmodern World, describe this divide in terms of twentieth-century philosophy, opposing a bio-reductionist Jasperian approach to an open, contextual Heideggerian approach. Psychiatry inspired by Husserlian phenomenology, 1 See Powers, “Making The Rounds 308,” analysed later in the chapter.



they argue, is a Modernist project heavily invested in Enlightenment principles of rationality, science, diagnosis, and treatment. It foregrounds technology over ethics, expertise and authority over a diversity of perspectives, and individual symptoms and characteristics over general context and meaning (15). The model of psychiatry based on postmodern hermeneutics, which Bracken associates primarily with Heidegger’s revision of Husserlian phenomenology, conversely celebrates an open-minded approach to treatment, employing holistic practices, respecting the person’s context, and prioritizing ethics over technology, and narrative over diagnosis. Weber associates himself with this tradition when he observes that “purely functional descriptions hid as much as they revealed. You couldn’t grasp any individual brain without addressing private history, circumstance, personality – the whole person, beyond the sum of mechanical modules and localized deficits” (227). Bracken and Thomas elaborate further, delving into the specifics of twentieth-­century philosophy. Stating initially that Heidegger provides a representation of the human condition that is closer to experience than that of Descartes, Husserl, and Jaspers, Bracken and Thomas continue to itemize the “twin assumptions” that run through these philosophers’ work: (1) the mind has some existence, or corresponds to something, outside of the world; and (2) the mind can be studied and described without reference to bodies, culture, or social construction of reality. They further elaborate, In their place [Heidegger] begins with human reality as we experience it in our everyday lives. This reality is always deeply shaped by context […] In the hermeneutic phenomenology of Heidegger, human psychology is better likened to an onion. Just as the onion simply is its layers, there is no human psychology that is not bound up with context. In addition, at the heart of our reality as human beings lies movement, potential, constant change and openness. In some very profound way, our reality refuses capture by the fixing gaze of empirical science. (130; emphasis added) The final sentence is important and easy to misconstrue. Postpsychiatry (at least the way Weber embodies it) does not entail, as the final sentence could suggest, a blind rejection of technology and an atavistic return to psychodynamic or psychotherapeutic modalities. Instead, it seeks to “refuse capture” by the dominant bio-reductionist approach, to be wary of its blind spots, while still using the valuable contributions of modern science and technology as a starting point, or later supplement, to a broader understanding of distress, diagnosis, and recovery. The consultations between Dr Hayes and Dr Weber in the novel’s long second section demonstrate the vast difference between these

Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”


two philosophical modes of understanding the role of medicine, psychiatry, and the inter-personal treatment process. Weber, disappointed by negative reviews of his most recent popular psychology book, is induced to visit Mark in Nebraska by Karin, Mark’s sister, who first becomes aware of Gerald Weber when her boyfriend Daniel brings her two of his books, whose author photo reminds Karin of a playwright (93). She is attracted to his focus on individuals, on listening rather than telling, and on the redemptive power of stories. Personally, she feels that he is someone who will listen to her story, which Dr Hayes considers unnecessary compared to his portfolio of scans, scopes, tests, and diagnostic procedures. “No one had listened to her yet” (93), she reflects, writing an email to Weber. Karin’s note, however, encourages and invigorates him. Not so he can help Mark, as Daniel Wright, among others, has noted, but because this was an opportunity: “A case so definitive challenged any account of the condition,” he ruminates; “[it] undermined basic assumptions about cognition and recognition[…] it was the kind of neither-both case that could help arbitrate between two very different paradigms of mind ” (102, 105; emphasis added). Are these separate, competitive domains, akin to the Two Cultures divide, or perhaps do they only appear so? Could they be put back together? Which paradigm – evidence-based phenomenology or meaning-based, narrative-­ privileged hermeneutics – is the most efficacious in the treatment of psychological syndromes? These are the questions he discusses with Dr Hayes. However, the meeting consists mainly of posturing and glib rejoinders, not collaboration. As Herman and Vervaeck observe: Two doctors are trying to help Mark. The neuroscientist, Dr Hayes, seeks the causes for Capgras in the physiological aspects of the brain. For him, treatment consists of pills. The popular “cognitive neurologist” (93), Dr. Weber, on the other hand, tries to understand the syndrome by linking it to existential problems such as “what is the self?” and “who is the other?” (407) Weber’s first impression of Dr Hayes is that he is young enough to be his son, a gawky man with “angry skin who steered his body like a legacy device” (127). Through Weber’s focalization, the reader becomes aware of a mutual hostility or suspicion between the young neuroscientist and the older neurologist and writer. Dr Hayes opens the conversation with officious, gracious words that reveal his patronizing feelings about Weber’s work and the state of his research: “I used to read your books like comics back in med school” (127; emphasis a­ dded). After requesting that Weber sign his new book, Hayes changes



the conversation to Mark’s case, saying how he and a group of researchers have already decided to write him up “for the journals,” a statement Weber correctly interprets as copyrighting the case of Mark Schluter for “real scientific literature,” not popular science stories of the kind Weber writes (ibid.) This remark also functions as an indictment of clinical practitioners who objectify patients by writing them up as case studies in order to improve their cvs. Already, within a paragraph, Powers has introduced the reader to the central scientific conflict in the novel, one which will change Weber’s opinions regarding psychology and ultimately writing: evidence-based phenomenology and postmodern hermeneutics. This dialogue, and the generational divide it alludes to, calls to mind Weber’s first thought about Hayes – that he could be his son. The “higher-order component” he tells Hayes about relates to a hermeneutic focus on context, meaning, the environment and the Freudian past inhering in the individual patient. Mired in his haze, all Dr Hayes can see is neurons and evidence-based medicine, while Weber remains completely unable to understand how someone could be satisfied with such a “one-way, functionalist, causal model” (133). Weber, to Hayes’s embarrassment, addresses this generational divide, rhetorically doubting the young doctor’s insights by highlighting both his age and experience over the younger doctor, subtly suggesting that he has more authority. “When I was your age,” he says, “the prevailing psychoanalytic bias had Capgras resulting from taboo feelings towards a loved one” (133). The rest of their consultation consists of polite demurrals and promises to keep in touch for the sake of the patient. Dr Hayes’s final comment, seemingly meant sincerely, conveys his disregard for Weber’s work. “I look forward to seeing the new book,” he says, his hand extended. “A nice break from work” (133; emphasis added). The second visit with Dr Hayes is shorter, but written densely, characterizing further Weber’s desire to dismiss, or at least question, the evidence-based phenomenology employed by the Nebraskan treatment team. Hayes shows him updated reports, gsr results, facial recognition scores, psychological profiles (172). Weber advises veering away from the bio-reductionist approach, suggesting instead cognitive-behavioral therapy (cbt), a protocol foregrounding the patient’s life-story and how the patient creates a narrative through talk therapy. Here Weber, while appreciating the neurological data, continues to center on Mark’s humanity, his story, his family, his larger connection to the world, as more efficacious than neurological tests and medical imaging. Post-psychiatry (like narrative psychology) attempts to arbitrate these oppositions by avoiding bio-reductionist phenomenology. As Bracken and Thomas elucidate:

Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”


Reductionism is the belief that all sorts of events that happen at different levels of reality can be explained in terms of (i.e. reduced to) one type of knowledge. In psychiatry, reductionism involves the assertion that aspects of meaningful human behaviour (such as worries, regrets, fears, beliefs, loves, hopes, and doubts) can be fully explained in terms of “nonmeaningful” entities such as genes, neurotransmitters, and ultimately atoms and molecules. (14) A postmodern hermeneutic (or postpsychiatric) clinician, like Weber, “insists that a variety of different perspectives be brought to bear…[resisting] the impulse to reduce our actions to biochemical impulses. Central to hermeneutics is context” (16). More important, the authors note that hermeneutics never attempts to shut down inquiry or to diagnose based solely on symptoms and signs, always remaining open to new ideas, refusing to discard new possibilities of therapy or understanding by testifying to the unyielding truth of technological data. Hermeneutics, like the postmodern novel itself (as Powers conceives it), resists closure or simple answers, lessons or epiphanies. What Weber has learned after his encounters with Dr Hayes for the last time is that science cannot answer everything, that he must remain open and inquisitive, that the brain is indeed, as Dickinson wrote, “wider than the sky.” This recognition ultimately affects the way he approaches the history of psychology, especially the modern emergence of neuroscience.

The Neuroscience of Exhaustion and Postpsychiatry of Replenishment

Throughout The Echo Maker, Weber repeatedly reflects upon the emerging role of neuroscience in psychological and psychiatric practice. While remaining aware that pharmacology, medical technologies, and brain modeling have worked to supplement or complement traditional psychotherapy – especially in the more spectacular cases covered by Weber’s books – he looks askance at its growing, unquestioned role as the alpha and omega, the sine qua non, of psychological treatment, remaining convinced that the older therapies provide just as much of a remedy. Of course, it is important to remember that Powers has not described this as a simple question of binary logic or either/ or modes of thinking: in fact, Powers goes out of his way to portray Weber as a cognitive neurologist (instead of, say, a Freudian psychotherapist), a scientist, clinician, and teacher who respects, with some hesitation, the achievements



of the cognitive and neuroscientific revolutions. So, the question that Weber returns to again and again is a quantitative, or scalable, one: to what extent can neuroscience help in the treatment of psychological cases, and to what extent can its role as a master-narrative conceal or marginalize other aspects of traditional psychology and humanistic inquiry? Like Heidegger and the postmodern tradition, Weber mistrusts science as a master narrative, insisting again and again that humanistic inquiry and narrative psychology are necessary for treating psychic and social dysfunction, which are always potentially victimized by discourses of power/knowledge. By re-considering various psychological approaches, Weber again instantiates the post-psychiatry approach: in some cases, this treatment might work; in other cases, this other treatment works. Unlike Dr Hayes, he is neither myopic about his approach nor naïve about other possibilities. He becomes increasingly open-minded regarding what kinds of treatments might work, recalling the various “hot” protocols he studied and taught during his career, although he remains skeptical about the role of pharmaceutical intervention in treatment, regarding it as a simplification of higher-level problems based in childhood memories for “confirmed Freudians,” as Powers describes Weber during his younger years. By the time he started his graduate studies, however, Weber had taken to behaviorism, researching Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner’s rats, “persecuting Freudians” (190). When the cognitive revolution, and with it the explosion of pharmaceutical research and prescriptions, arrived, he resisted. Powers explains, Weber want[ed] to insist, “Still not the whole story.” As a clinician, he’d had to embrace the pharmacology onslaught. Yet he’d felt a real sadness – the sadness of consummation – hearing a subject who’d struggled for years with anxiety, suicidal guilt, and religious zeal tell him, after the successful tuning of his doxepin dosages, “Doctor, I’m just not sure what I was so upset about, all that time”…The rapid convergence of neuroscience around certain functionalist assumptions was beginning to alienate Weber … the only delusion lay in thinking the two domains would remain separate for much longer. (190; emphasis added) As we have seen, Weber suggests certain of these possibilities to Dr Hayes, but in many cases Powers nests them in focalized internal monologue or dialogue with other characters, such as Karin or Weber’s wife, Sylvie. What makes Weber’s reconsiderations of these ideas most apposite in the novel is his sense that he is living in a time when society believes neuroscience will solve everything. He repeatedly fluctuates between a faith and hope in neuroscience solving all the problems of the human mind, and a more suspicious, and

Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”


c­ autious, realization that neuroscience, while helpful, will reduce humanity to posthumanity, with the spectrum of human experience reduced to nothing more than modular units, symptoms, and scan-functions. For example, after his first encounter with Dr Hayes, Weber reflects upon the prevailing scientific conditions, observing that they are working at the precise moment when humanity is uncovering consciousness (134). Such questions as epistemology, ethics, and identity will, we have been told, finally be answered by emerging technologies studying the brain. In particular, “some days it seemed that every problem facing the species was awaiting the insight that neuroscience might bring. Politics, technology, sociology, art: all originated in the brain. Master the neural assemblage, and we might at long last master us” (134). This insight, despite its potential for improving human life, makes Weber suspicious because he has the sense that, by providing a totalizing master-narrative that explains everything, it obviates the work he has done exploring human consciousness from other, more humanistic, perspectives in his books. At the same time, there are moments when he senses that “medicine grew up […] [turning] all his literary cures to circus acts and Gothic freak shows” (414). During his three trips to Nebraska to consult with Mark, Weber either directly prescribes or implicitly suggests three forms of treatment: a generalized Freudian psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and olanzapine. The two former are considered by the other doctors as outdated and overly conservative, and demonstrate no efficacy for Mark – the olanzapine is a more difficult issue. While of course Mark attempts to kill himself with it, at the same time once he survives he begins to recover from Capgras and “revise his self.” Perhaps, then, Weber is not functioning in the novel as a physician in the detective-story sense, the healer sense. It is implausible to suggest that any of his interventions have a directly positive effect, and, on a perhaps related note, by the end of the narrative most of the characters either are angry at him or have lost respect for him. Even Weber, on two occasions, understands that he is not the hero or the protagonist, but something like a hybrid: an author of his own case story, both writer and subject, both story teller and case history. Following Mark’s suicide attempt, Weber sits at his bedside contemplating what he has been doing all these years, finally realizing that he knew a man who told other people’s stories to make himself feel real again, a man others’ stories re-made (414). This man was himself. “The man,” Powers writes, “had invented him out of whole cloth. The complete history and physical: fabricated. Now the text unravels. Even the case’s name – Gerald W. – sounds like the feeblest of pseudonyms” (ibid.). Not only has Weber lost faith in neuroscience by this point in the narrative, he has also lost faith in himself and his future. Through him, Powers has demonstrated how far neuroscience is from understanding our actual lives; he has



shown us, through the work of a cognitive neurologist, that neuroscience alone will not provide solutions to human problems. Instead, Powers situates Weber in a hybrid place where he is both a writer and a character, someone who can at the same time use the power of narrative psychology and postmodern psychiatry’s “university” of tools, such as Lyotard’s “petit recit,” and a diverse, pluralistic approach lacking closure. In the final section, I will examine further the dyad of Weber as a writer and a character, and how Powers subtly suggests throughout the book that Weber is a writer just like himself, one who by the end of the book has finally decided what kind of book he wants to write and whom he wants to be the hero of the book. As Weber reflects, “This was the book he wanted to write now. About Mark” (191).

The Postpsychiatric Novel

Weber’s most significant and important change in the novel does not involve his opinions about memory, psychology, or neuroscience, but rather the form of his writing. He returns to Stony Brook with an idea for a completely new method of writing, something he calls a “neurological novel” and I call a “postpsychiatric novel.” A postpsychiatric novel prioritizes narrative over data, empathy over detail, and plurality over unity. Often the illness may not be cured, for the Enlightenment desire for closure has been replaced by a postmodern respect for experimentation and open-endedness. For Weber, this method of writing is subordinate to what he has understood about human psychology and consciousness throughout his three trips to Nebraska. Each time he returns to see Mark, he comes closer to understanding how to write in a way that promotes the singularity and individuality of the subject, while at the same time introducing an ethics of care that makes the book’s shape more of a collaboration between subject and author and less an exploitative exercise, as was the case with a subject Neil he recalls working with: Weber had liked Neil […] But after the last set of examinations, Weber never saw him again. He had no idea what became of the man. Some other neglect wiped him out, reduced him to a story. The man Weber had met and interviewed at length passed into the man he described in the pages of his book. (125–26) Postpsychiatry also complements an increasing focus in medicine and psychiatry on narrative. More frequently every year, medical schools add fiction to the syllabi to teach doctors, nurse practitioners, and psychiatrists to see their

Richard Powers’s “Hybrid Bastard”


patients not as discrete entities of symptoms and signs, but as conscious customers and real people who should be treated as partners in treatment, not inhuman subjects of care. This contemporary concentration on narrative-based medicine, of course, is not completely new. Case histories date back to Hippocrates, and doctors such as Anton Chekhov, William Somerset Maugham, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all wrote fiction based on their medical encounters. Faith McLellan details three kinds of case histories, each increasing in sophistication and detail, in her article “Literature and Medicine: Physician Writers.” The “first is the extended case history that we have already encountered in the works of Freud and Sacks” (564). Next is what she describes as a hybrid form, a mixture of imagination and “experience in which fact and fiction are combined” (564). Weber’s postpsychiatric “novel” corresponds to McLellan’s “hybrid form,” the kind of medical narrative that combines fact and fiction. Weber reveres this combination, especially for teaching psychology, and ultimately it has a great influence on his own development of his “new method”: A feeling came over Weber, a desire to supplement genuine neuroscience with half-baked literature, fiction that at least acknowledged its own blindness. He would make them read Freud, the prince of storytellers: Hysterics suffer mainly from reminisces. He would give them Proust and Carroll […]. He would tell them the story of Mark Schluter. Describe what meeting the boy-man had done to him. Make some motion that their mirror neurons would be forced to mimic. Lose them in the maze of empathy. (365) On the next page, he makes his famous declaration to “write a neurological novel,” but this is neither the first nor the last time he references plans to write a neurological novel about Mark (366). After his first trip to Nebraska, where, as we have seen, he is exposed to sophisticated neuroscientific diagnostics and pharmaceutical protocols, he ponders, not for the first time, whether his career as a popular science writer is at an end. Brain research has “opened the locked-room mystery of the mind,” and – assisted by modular theories and the economic drain of traditional talk therapy – made obsolete the kind of gripping stories of brain injury, trauma, and damaged consciousness that Weber has perfected. In this new structure of evidence-based medicine, there is no room for the “art of the meditative case history” (189–90). While he respects the cognitive and neuroscientific revolutions that have occurred over the decades of his career, there is still a part of him that resists their power. Something as mysterious and ineffable as the human mind should



not be able to suffer from such easy explanations, he thinks. Still, he holds out hope that neuroscience will, in its continuous efforts to unveil the secrets of consciousness, stumble upon traditional truths of “old depth-psychology” – that above the modular explanations, humanistic concepts of psychiatry such as repression, sublimation, and denial would become re-introduced. Like the two-sided model of quantum physics, in which a light beam can consist of both particle and wave, the two paradigms debated between him and Hayes, evidence-based phenomenology and narrative-based hermeneutics, might in time begin to function no longer as two separate domains but rather as related approaches capable of complementing each other. It was, he realizes once back home, for this reason he has ultimately visited Mark: It now began to occur to Weber that he may have traveled out to Nebraska and studied Mark Schluter in order to prove, to himself at least, that even if Capgras were entirely understandable in modular terms, as a matter of lesions and severed connections between regions in a distributed network, it still manifested in psychodynamic processes – individual response, personal history, repression, sublimation, and wish fulfillment that couldn’t be reduced entirely to low-level phenomena. Theory might be on the verge of describing the brain, but theory alone could not yet exhaust this brain, hard-pressed by fact and frantic with survival: Mark Schluter and his impostor sister. The book waiting for Weber to write. (191; emphasis added) Not only is this the book waiting for Weber to write, to write as a kind of penance, to show compassion, to listen, to work with Mark to “improvise” his story, to not forget about him the way he had forgotten about Neil and his other subjects, this book also solves the problem that has troubled Weber since his disastrous book tour and negative reviews. The notion that Weber can write a new book, a postpsychiatric novel, for a new audience, is not something to be simply dismissed as a dream or whimsical thought. In numerous passages in the novel, characters refer to him as having fictional capabilities. He himself reveres Marcel Proust, Lewis Carroll, and Jorge Luis Borges. Perhaps most important, the novel ends with him returning home, when he is described by Powers as a person for whom “nothing is left […] except for his new eyes” (449). The reader’s first datum about him is Karin’s opinion that he looks like a playwright (93). When he and Barbara are out on Nebraska’s Platte Basin, he recites Rainer Maria Rilke, causing her to joke “the

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scientist is a poet,” an observation supported by the fact that in high school he wanted to be a poet (429, 315). Likewise, the postpsychiatric novel he intends to write is remarkably similar to The Echo Maker itself and Powers’s work in general. Both work in hybrid areas, celebrate diversity and lack of closure, aspire to develop a “third culture”2 that combines the most powerful aspects of literature and science. In “Making the Rounds,” Powers specifically discusses composing The Echo Maker and what he attempted to accomplish. He describes the ambition of the book (both scientific and aesthetic) in words almost identical to Weber’s thoughts when he reflects on his “neurological novel.” As Powers describes his mission, The novel I’m after functions as a kind of bastard hybrid, like consciousness itself, generating new terrain by passing “realism” and “metafiction” through relational processes, inviting identification at one gauge while complicating it at others, refracting the private through the public, story through form, forcing the reading self into constant reciprocal renegotiations by always insisting that no level of human existence means anything without all the others. (“Making the Rounds,” 308; emphasis added) Like Powers, Weber prepares himself to create a “bastard hybrid” between medical literature and novelistic fiction. As Herman and Vervaeck note, Weber is torn between clinical, non-narrative, pure science, on the one hand, and hermenutic, narrative popularization on the other. Pure science, embodied in the novel by Dr Hayes, works with figures, diagrams, scans, and all sort of non-narrative tools. Still, these hard scientific facts are to be found in what is called scientific literature. (410)

2 C. P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” paradigm has recently been derided as facile and simplistic, replaced by the approach of scientific writers like those listed above – and Weber/Powers, as I will argue later – who locate a “third culture” where science and literature are seen as the two sides of the same thing. In his eponymous book, John Brockman describes this “third culture” as involving “scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are […] Emerging out of the third culture is a new natural philosophy, founded on the realization of the importance of complexity, of evolution. Very complex systems – whether organisms, brains, the biosphere, or the universe itself – were not constructed by design; all have evolved” (The Third Culture 15, 18).



Weber intends to avoid the lack of affect inherent in pure, clinical science by “helping Mark improvise […] He would let Mark write the book” (299–300). The novel Weber plans to write is the novel Powers has written. The Echo Maker operates as the realization of all that Weber has learned, planned, corrected, and dreamed about during the course of his mythical three trips to Nebraska. In its polyphony, it opens itself toward readers, involving them in the same debates that the characters have about the nature of self, the status of technology in psychiatry, the way to treat the injured and insane. We are transported toDr Hayes’s office, Mark’s bedside, the Platte River basin, Weber and Sylvie’s home in Stony Brook. As Powers writes above, The Echo Maker “forces the reading self into constant reciprocal renegotiations by always insisting that no level of human existence means anything without all the others.” Conclusion In this chapter, I have detailed how The Echo Maker reflects on the act of writing and the current state of psychiatry, self-consciously pairing the two to form a new type of writing, what I have called the “postpsychiatric novel.” Through the character of Dr Gerald Weber, Powers focalizes many of the issues that are elemental in or characteristic of this singular genre. These issues include, but are by no means exhausted by, the primacy of a postmodern hermeneutics over Enlightenment-based phenomenology, a resistance to the idea that neuroscience (and science in general) can ever completely reveal or heal the mysteries of the human mind, and a recognition that narrative-based medicine should replace, or complement, evidence-based medicine as a way of introducing empathy in the treatment process. Above all, perhaps, a postpsychiatrist, as I have argued Weber is in the novel, regards meaning, context, a patient’s entire personality, as central to the treatment process. I have, briefly, used postmodern theory and narrative psychology to further support these arguments. Furthermore, I close-read the scenes between Weber and Dr Hayes to fully develop my arguments about the oppositions between data and meaning, patient and human, pharmacology and psychodynamic therapy. Finally, most important, I have demonstrated how Weber’s existential crisis (what Hawk calls his “trajectory”) is solved by his ability to look inward and ask difficult questions, to look at himself unflinchingly in the mirror and promise himself that there is hope for correction, penance, and redemption. Since he is a writer, this redemption takes the form of writing in a new way, an open way,

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a collaborative way, a way that fuses hard science and the literary humanities to form a “third culture,” a Brunerian narrative synthesis of psychiatry, technology and psychotherapeutic interventions – in other words, this “new way” is the postpsychiatric way. References Bracken, Patrick and Philip Thomas. Postpsychiatry: Mental Health in a Postmodern World. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print. Brockman, John. The Third Culture. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print. Bruner, Jerome. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986. Print. Burn, Stephen and Patrick Dempsey, eds. Intersections: Essays on Richard Powers. Champaign: Dalkey Archive P, 2008. Print. Däwes, Birgit. “Traumorama? The Pathological Landscapes of Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker.” Communicating Disease (2013): 413–30. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. “Literature and Life.” Critical Inquiry 23.2 (1997): 25–30. Print. Hawk, Julie. “The Observer’s Tale: Dr. Weber’s Narrative (and Metanarrative) Trajectory in Richard Power’s The Echo Maker.” Critique 54 (2013): 18–27. Print. Herman, Luc and Bart Varwaeck. “Capturing Capgras: The Echo Maker by Richard Powers.” Style 43.3 (Fall 2009): 407–29. Print. Johnson, Gary. “Consciousness as Content: Neuronarratives and the Redemption of Fiction.” Mosaic 41.1 (2008): 170–85. Print. Lewis, Bradley. “Psychiatry and Postmodern Theory.” Journal of Medical Humanities 21.2 (2000): 71–84. Print. Lustig, T. J. and James Peacock, eds. Diseases and Disorders in Contemporary Fiction: The Syndrome Syndrome. London: Routledge, 2013. Print. McLellan, Faith. “Literature and Medicine: Physician Writers.” Lancet 349.9051 (1997): 564–67. Print. Michod, Alex. “The Brain is the Ultimate Storytelling Machine, and Consciousness is the Ultimate Story: An Interview with Richard Powers.” Believer Magazine 5.1. Web. 22 Jan 2014. Powers, Richard. The Echo Maker. New York: Picador, 2006. Print. Powers, Richard. “The Last Generalist: An Interview with Richard Powers.” Interview by Jeffrey Williams. Cultural Logic: An Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice 2.2 (1999). Web. 1 Dec 2015. Powers, Richard. “Making the Rounds.” Intersections: Essays on Richard Powers. Ed. Stephen Burn and Patrick Dempsey. Champaign: Dalkey Archive P, 2008. Print. Snow, C. P. “The Two Cultures.” Rede Lectures. London, 1959. Print.



Stedman, Gesa. “Brain Plots: Neuroscience and the Contemporary Novel.” The Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature 24 (2008): 113–24. Print. Wojciehowski, Hannah Chappelle and Vittorio Gallese. “How Stories Make us Feel: Toward an Embodied Narrative.” California Italian Studies 1.2 (2011): 1–37. Web. 1 Dec 2015. Wright, Daniel. “No Self Without Self-Delusion.” Archive 23.11 (Nov 2010): 890–91. Print.

chapter 10

Bullet in the Head: Jess Walter’s The Zero and the Conscious Conscience of 9/11 Lloyd Isaac Vayo Abstract For an event that is omnipresent to this day, it is difficult to understand how the notion of consciousness in relation to the 9/11 attacks is so elusive. Constructing this consciousness is a delicate task, and within the field of contemporary literature, no novel comes closer to accomplishing that construction than Jess Walter’s 2006 novel The Zero. Centered on Brian Remy, a police officer who narrowly survives the attacks and is roped into a strange tributary of the ensuing investigation, the novel offers an ultrablack comedy, turning its scorn on misguided patriotism, the problematic scope of the criminal dragnets of the usa PATRIOT Act, and anything else that crosses Remy’s path. As the novel begins, Remy has just attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head; thereafter, his consciousness is altered, and the world around him comes in and out of focus, events passing without notice and large sections of time being claimed by blackouts. Remy is involved in a doubled reconstruction: as he attempts to reassemble the shards of his psyche, so too is he tasked with assembling endless sheaves of office paper into a trail leading to suspects with foreknowledge of the attacks. Through his reconstructive efforts, Remy strives to regain his own consciousness, both in the form of a literal day-to-day lucidity, as well as in the form of a reality squared with the changed nature of the world in the wake of 9/11, and is led to question the very foundations of mainstream post-9/11 identity (patriotism and an unflinching quest for justice), arriving at a conscience of sorts in the process.

Keywords patriotism – national memory – trauma – liminality – post-9/11 consciousness

For an event that is, for many, omnipresent to this day, it is difficult to understand how the notion of consciousness in relation to the 9/11 attacks is so elusive. In some ways, that consciousness is immediate: thousands are dead,

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_012



more remain, and the us is brought into a new vulnerability. Yet, at the same time, a full consciousness, an alert awareness of the import and ramifications of the event, is certainly not present in the near aftermath of 9/11, and is arguably not present to date. Constructing this consciousness is a delicate task, and within the field of contemporary literature, no novel comes closer to accomplishing that construction than Jess Walter’s 2006 novel The Zero. Centered on Brian Remy, a police officer who narrowly survives the attacks and is roped into a strange tributary of the ensuing investigation, the novel offers an ultra-black comedy, turning its scorn on misguided patriotism, the problematic scope of the criminal dragnets of the usa PATRIOT Act, and anything else that crosses Remy’s path. As the novel begins, Remy has just attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head; thereafter, his consciousness is altered, and the world around him comes in and out of focus, events passing without notice and large sections of time being claimed by blackouts. Remy is involved in a doubled reconstruction: as he attempts to reassemble the shards of his psyche, so too is he tasked with assembling endless sheaves of office paper into a trail leading to suspects with foreknowledge of the attacks. Through his reconstructive efforts, Remy strives to regain his own consciousness, both in the form of a literal day-to-day lucidity, as well as in the form of a reality squared with the changed nature of the world in the wake of 9/11. His struggle is our struggle, our fumbling missteps on the way to reconciling September 10th with September 12th and everything after, and Remy’s good intentions, though not always followed, lead him to question the very foundations of mainstream post-9/11 identity (patriotism and an unflinching quest for justice), arriving at a conscience of sorts in the process. The novel’s opening on Remy’s failed suicide attempt provides a frame for the discussion of consciousness therein when considered alongside Jean Baudrillard’s The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers. In his notion that the towers’ destruction was self-inflicted, a sort of suicide, Baudrillard offers a way of reading Remy’s own self-destructive acts as a manifestation of the profound disruption of 9/11 and the novel consciousness (in terms of both newness and narrative response) that ensues. Baudrillard suggests that the World Trade Center’s demise is the result less of structural weakening than of spiritual weakening: “When the two towers collapsed, you had the impression that they were responding to the suicide of the suicide-planes with their own suicides… [t]he West, in the position of God (divine omnipotence and absolute moral legitimacy), has become suicidal, and declared war on itself” (7). Remy, in a similarly omnipotent and legitimate position by virtue of his status as a police detective, able to access materials not available to most and regarded as an instrument of and protector of the standard of law, is moved

Bullet in the Head


to a likeminded suicide after witnessing that of the towers. Elsewhere in that same analysis, Baudrillard examines the suicides of the hijackers and concludes that “the death of the terrorist is an infinitesimal point, but one that creates a gigantic suction or void… [a]round this tiny point the whole system of the real and of power [la puissance] gathers, transfixed; rallies briefly; then perishes by its own hyperefficiency” (18). The suicide of the towers and Remy’s attempt to participate in this process each produce voids (the jumbled detritus of the buildings – itself pocked with voids potentially sheltering survivors – and Remy’s memory gaps), drawing frantic activity around them (for both, the rescue, recovery, and investigatory efforts), then ebb as those efforts conclude (the emptying of the site and the conclusion of Remy’s investigation). The novel builds upon this originary suicide, rendering Remy’s failed attempt at instantaneous self-destruction (paradoxically a success as well, since pre-9/11 Remy dies, and two more come back in his place) something of a success as he, The Zero, and the nation mutually pull each other apart. Remy’s fractured consciousness has a material basis in the damage suffered to his eyes which, though not directly attributed to his experience in the 9/11 attacks in the course of the novel, provides a physical basis for the similarly problematised vision and worldview that plague many, including Remy, in the aftermath of those attacks. At the outset, Remy draws a parallel between the detritus in his eyes and the paper thrown from the towers at each plane’s impact, “angry and agitated, awakened by the same primary thought, erupting in a white feathered cloudburst, anxious and graceful, angling in ever-tightening circles toward the ground” (3). Remy’s floaters and strings function as institutional memory, albeit of a scattered sort, of life prior to the attacks. While these fragments, singed by the flames, whirl through Remy’s field of vision, potentially obscuring his perception of the world around him, a question from a psychiatrist reveals their true import: “And do these strings tie you to the world, Brian?” (147). Though the product of internal attack, be it the compromised domestic space of the nation or the inexorably detaching retinas in Remy’s eyes, those strings, those fragments, those pages are the only real thing, everything else seeming to belong to some other consciousness, a before where the papers rested in their filing cabinets and Remy’s ocular tissue was intact. In a number of moments, Remy claims to have little to no memory of the attacks themselves, though he eventually concedes that he “did remember something from that day. Paper. He remembered smoke and he remembered standing alone while a billion sheets of paper fluttered to the ground. Like notes without bottles on the ocean” (306). As the pages flutter away, to be filed as part of a surreal recovery effort, Remy is left with his own floaters, dominating his vision, rendering a clear before and after, a physical remnant of a day that cannot be



erased, in Remy’s case only getting worse and worse until full (retinal) detachment ensues. While growing accustomed to these literal floaters and visual disturbances, Remy also experiences chronic gaps in time, shifting from encounter to encounter and finding himself in new situations with little to no idea how he got there or what, in fact, he is doing, a concretisation of his visual tics into a broader experiential realm, doubling his riven vision with a similarly crumbling memory. Remy first describes them as “gaps in his memory, or perhaps his life, a series of skips – long shredded tears, empty spaces where the explanations for the most basic things used to be” (5), the tears mimicking torn paper and tearing tissue. Often, Remy is able to detect a gap only via unexpected data: “He was unaware that any time was unaccounted for except some bit of information that he didn’t recall getting” (42), moving him to author his own self-investigation, reconstructing his own life from evidence unearthed after the fact. He remarks that “so many moments slipped now” (78), comparing them to “cuts in a movie, one on top of the other” (96), as well as swiftly changing tv channels: “Remy watched the tv go from one reality to another and again – it was mesmerizing – and he thought about how familiar this was… the way these imperceptible gaps led from sorrow to humor and pathos” (240). For Remy, these gaps in memory follow on his gaps in vision: as the raw information is compromised, so too is the recording of that information, and where clear records predated the attacks, afterwards, Remy’s mnemonic files are torn asunder, strewn into the streets below, scorched and singed beyond recognition. Fortunately, Remy’s vocation as a police detective makes him well-suited to reassembling these scattered moments into something resembling a coherent narrative, though not without the more-than-occasional gap, making his own life circumstantial, his own consciousness pocked with leaps, largely intuitive and more precise as Remy begins to grasp the dimensions of his condition. Given the thoroughgoing nature of Remy’s gaps, he does seek out a diagnosis for the phenomenon, first attempting his own armchair analysis, and then turning to professionals for advice, though without arriving at anything particularly definitive. Remy observes that “the worst skips often occurred like this, when he was on the road, or waiting in traffic, only to look up and find himself in a tunnel or on the turnpike, with no clue where he was going or where he’d been” (164), an amplifying of run-of-the-mill vehicular absentmindedness into a more troubling amnesia compounded by a physical remove from the previous remembered moment. When seeing an optician about the floaters in his eyes, Remy wonders “these… gaps. They’re coming faster now… Could that be a side effect of the medication?” (77), an attempt to find a physical root for his mental peregrinations, with little success. Near the end of the novel, once

Bullet in the Head


Remy’s frequent air travel and the accompanying changes in ocular pressure have caused his left retina to detach, necessitating surgical intervention, Remy’s concerns about the ongoing memory skips are answered by his surgeon: “That’s the anesthesia… [y]ou’ll start to get your bearings back in the next few hours” (265). Again, travel seems to worsen the gapping, creating broader fissures in Remy’s day-to-day consciousness, with the medications meant to address other issues certainly not helping the matter, and perhaps making the gaps worse. Though he tries to comfort himself by thinking that “[m]aybe the gaps were going away, the crack in his mind – or wherever it was – was sealing itself” (20), Remy’s concession that the locus of the crack in question may not be in his mind opens the possibility that his efforts may be largely, if not entirely, futile. If the crack lies outside of him, a yawning gap over which he has no real control, with which he is repeatedly confronted, which haunts his consciousness, then its location is clearer: the World Trade Center site. As the origin of Remy’s gaps, given the likelihood that his visual damage resulted from the physical trauma of being trapped in close proximity to the collapsing towers, the World Trade Center site, home to heaping masses of girders, crushed concrete, and biological material, represents a similar gap, of national memory prised open, of a record skipping, at once a separation from previous memories and a repetition of a particular one – what Remy calls “the endless loop playing in his head – banking wings, blooms of flame, white plumes becoming black” (8). Looking at the massed wreckage before him, “made by something beyond even fire, by a force that could push half a mile of vertical steel and life into a banked pit fifty feet deep” (20), Remy ponders “[m]aybe… there are gray holes” (20). Rather than the neat obliteration of the black hole, where all matter is sucked in and destroyed, never to be seen again, Remy’s gray hole gorges on the towers but, instead of erasing them to the point of invisibility, makes them more visible, looped into eternity on tv and subject to minute scrutiny in the removal and salvage process. Remy attributes particular importance to the site, linking it to his own mental state: “Maybe his mind was a hole like this – the evidence and reason scraped away. If you can’t trust the ground beneath your feet, what can you trust?” (307), the post-salvage emptiness of the site reinforcing the notion of a world knocked from its moorings, a consciousness without anchor, adrift. A member of a purported cell created to justify the newly bloated expenses of counterterrorism operations suggests that the site, The Zero, as the workers term it, is “[a]ptly named… [z]ero. The absence of all magnitude or quantity. A person or thing with no discernible qualities or even existence” (309). Remy, like the site, no longer has discernible qualities, is amorphous, open to repurposing, a pit formerly full of fragments that has given itself over to emptiness, a surrender



that simultaneously endows Remy with a biting critical perspective on the aftermath of the attacks. Because of his fractured state, Remy is able to assume distance from the world around him; since he is not of that world, or has no tangible attachment to it, he may pass judgment upon its unscrupulousness, a quality in great supply as various parties attempt to capitalize on the attacks for their own gain. At the front of the line is Walter’s acid take on the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Liberty and Recovery (olr), which describes its mission thus: “There is nothing so important as recovering the record of our commerce, the proof of our place in the world, of the resilience of our economy, of our jobs, of our lives. If we do not make a fundamental accounting of what was lost, if we do not gather up the paper and put it all back, then the forces aligned against us have already won. They’ve. Already. Won” (19). In this rendering, it is the financial dimension of the attacks, rather than the human dimension, that trumps, and Remy soon finds himself drawn into the olr’s work due to his fondness for paper and reconstructed memory. However, the olr’s purview does not end there; in the words of an employee, “The Liberty and Recovery Act mandates the recovery and filing of documents. It doesn’t specifically limit us to those documents recovered that day” (209), a broad sweep recalling the excesses of the usa PATRIOT Act, in particular its provisions concerning wiretapping and metadata collection. The cartoonish nature of the olr is underlined in the attention given to a sheet of paper serendipitously singed to resemble Australia, which births “[t]he whole booming randomness industry… [a]pplying models of randomness and linear motion probability to the patterns in paper burns” (178). Bureaucratic bloat and senseless profiteering fall under Remy’s (and Walter’s) withering gaze, however strung with floaters it might be, and a likeminded lashing is given to extreme patriotism, as well as its chief proponent, George W. Bush. The kneejerk response in a time of national trial and tribulation is often extreme, almost hyperbolic patriotism, with the post-9/11 us being no exception, and Remy finds little time for such an overhauled sense of national (self-)consciousness, a performed patriotism meant as much to protect oneself from opportunistic political attacks as to support the country at large. Remy’s boss, referred to throughout as The Boss, a thinly veiled version of Rudy Giuliani (or perhaps Bernard Kerik, New York City Police Commissioner immediately before and after 9/11), pithily dispatches with any criticism whatsoever, proclaiming that “[e]very question we ask is a love letter to our enemies” (54), recalling Bush’s crude, black-or-white dichotomies. Such fine distinctions, like that between productive criticism and terrorist propaganda, elude Remy’s ex-wife’s new husband as well, as he casts a broad net in his call for a military response to

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the attacks: “I don’t see that it matters who we bomb, long as we do it while we still got the upper hand… [d]on’t waste time separating guilty from innocent. Let them sort through it later” (28), a perfect encapsulation of the hypocritical adoption of the very logic attributed to the al Qaeda masterminds behind the attacks. Hyperpatriotism’s largesse is on display in one of the first promotional duties taken on by Remy’s old partner, Paul Guterak, in his role as celebrity police officer, as he stands before “The Eagle Truck, Hero-One, with its haunting display of airbrush artistry featuring America’s lost heroes” (176), giving life to the sentiment that the best possible tribute to the fallen is to smash some cars and burn some oil. In Remy’s work with the olr, he encounters a number of motivational phrases that festoon the document hangars, attributed only to The President, the syntax of which is quintessentially Bushian: “Our enemy are haters who hate our way of life and our abilities of organization! We will confound them!” (101). Remy again casts a skeptical eye towards such patriotic effusiveness, his consciousness of its overwrought nature also functioning as a conscience, a thought that such a stance is founded on ill intentions, a sentiment that continues in his examination of victims and first responders. As a first responder himself, Remy is acutely responsive to the unique struggles faced by that group, and in his relationship with April Kraft, whose husband Derek and sister March Selios (also the target of Remy’s investigation) both died in the attacks, he gains a proximity to the victims as well. Guterak, when the largely unwanted celebrity of actually being a police officer in the wake of 9/11 becomes too onerous, attempts to cash in on that celebrity in the private sector. An agent tells him that “a story like mine is like owning a good stock. And that nostalgia is like the moment my little company goes public […] [d]o I wanna sell him my experiences? […] [b]et your ass I’ll sell my experiences. I sure as hell don’t want ‘em anymore” (150). In this exchange, Guterak demonstrates the tortured nature of post-9/11 memory for the first responder, an omnipresent consciousness of trauma and loss that, while holding financial value, holds no value to its possessor, being seen as more a scourge than a blessing. Along with the monster truck unveiling, Guterak also takes a star turn as one of the faces of “First Responder” cereal (203): “I’m on the one with the marshmallows. My agent says I was real lucky to get the marshmallows” (203). 9/11: part of a balanced breakfast, it seems, at least to some. April runs into a similarly pragmatically chilly reception in her dealings with her lawyer as he walks her through the “Applying for Federal Victims Compensation” Powerpoint (169) as a means of putting a dollar value on her husband’s life, an amount that also includes fees for “Compassion Fatigue… [f]or the lawyers working on the case. As you might imagine, these are difficult cases… emotionally” (174). Once more, tragedy for some becomes a windfall for others



(sometimes coterminously, as for Guterark and Kraft), and Remy is careful to trace the absurdities of the situation for both first responders and victims, though perhaps the best rendering of the slippery nature of trauma is to be found closer to home, in the person of his son, Edgar. Though Remy and his wife Carla are divorced, he remains a presence in his son Edgar’s life, at least to the best of his recollection, though Edgar turns that presence into an absence by telling classmates and teachers that Remy died in the attacks, a gesture meant to give him a more genuine sort of grief than that experienced by the average person with no direct connection to the event. Edgar offers a scathing take on the notion of a wounded nation, saying “[g]eneral grief is a lie. What are people in Wyoming really grieving? A loss of safety? Some shattered illusion that a lifetime of purchases and television programs had meaning?” (34), drawing a line in the sand between those experiencing real loss (or simulated loss, in his case) and those whose loss is distant, abstract, and vicarious. After telling others that Remy has died in the attacks, Edgar is called onto the carpet in front of his parents for his seemingly inappropriate behavior, though Edgar maintains that “[i]f I had lost my father, would you really expect me to take a test? Or to play Frisbee golf?” (32). For Edgar, what is important is to circumvent the false grief and false trauma of the hoi polloi, whose sentiments are plowed into the consumerism of Wal Mart flags and commemorative issues of Time, and to perform a genuine grief, much like the performed patriotism of The Boss and The President, though more knowingly absurd in this case. Edgar’s commitment to the notion that Remy died on 9/11 is impressive, even more so when Remy tracks him to a military recruiter’s office, where the recruiter praises Edgar, “someone who lost his father… [for] do[ing] something good to avenge that good man” (277–78). When Remy finally confronts Edgar, his son states that “I’ve finally accepted your death” (279), bringing to an end a hyperbolic performance of trauma that casts a light on the similarly performed and disingenuous nature of much of the trauma that follows 9/11. For what is taken as a national event that touches the national consciousness, Edgar offers instead a deeply personal event (fictitious in his case, though a version of Remy dies that day) and, as Walter’s mouthpiece, provides a conscientious, critical perspective on the inappropriate collectivization of personal tragedy. As Edgar constructs, so too must Remy reconstruct, and his reassembly sets an agenda for post-9/11 consciousness. In the person of Brian Remy, Walter offers a(n obscured) vision of post-9/11 consciousness, one characterized by a yawning memory gap, a chasm between before and after, a distancing that, in some cases, yields a critical remove that allows for a knowing analysis of the aftermath of the attacks, though ultimately an analysis without teeth. What follows Remy’s recognition of his own gaps,

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the product of his blocked intake of visual stimuli (his eyes perhaps being overwhelmed by the surfeit of data available on 9/11), is a reconstruction, a putting back together of his shattered consciousness and that of the nation. However, before that consciousness can be reassembled, Humpty-Dumpty style, a sense of its shattered state is evident, a fragmentation that is only just being overcome as the novel concludes. While reflecting upon the unending nature of the debris of the ruined towers, Remy thinks that “even as they managed to pull away one husk of steel they just found more, turtles all the way down” (15), gesturing towards earlier notions of the foundation of the world and its illusory status, the wrecked pilings of the tower betraying the destabilization of the nation. Remy’s conversations with April add another dimension to this fragmentation, when she says “we’ve all become theoretical” (103), less living, breathing people than the abstract idea of people, functional on the surface but barely held together beneath, a kind of dazed separation that at best produces the aforementioned critical conscience, but that more often leads to one going through the motions. Remy further captures the yawning abyss of after in his observation that “he hadn’t been dreaming much since…” (246), the attacks being beyond the bounds of anyone’s worst nightmare, haunting any dreams thereafter, and blowing out the capacity for imagination. For a person once confronted with the unimaginable, both anything and nothing are possible, the latter winning out in the dream space (as the “anything” might recall the thing, 9/11, and no one wants that just yet). This sense of being overwhelmed is not solely the province of those directly touched by the events, either. Edgar’s concerns about the validity of generalized grief notwithstanding, the attacks do produce a broader experience of loss, a sense of a canted world, out of joint, one that can be described only by the same resort to medical analogy seen in Remy’s attempts to make sense of his gaps. Waking up in the hospital after his retina detaches, Remy grasps at a means of describing both his state and that of the nation: “How had April described her grief – as a fever dream? A dream – that would help explain the gaps, and the general incongruity of life now” (263). Remy has already noted that his dreams have decreased in number following the attacks; now, those dreams are further disordered by illness, less the torments of a deep sleep than the waking visions of an overheated mind, distortions brought on by overburdened cells focusing their energies on sheer survival. Again turning to April’s words (her doubled victimhood giving her something of a talisman status), Remy recalls her saying “I couldn’t walk around pretending any of this made sense anymore. Perhaps nothing made sense anymore (the gaps are affecting everyone) and this was some kind of cultural illness they all shared” (264). What was once a coherent world of rational actors and rational acts is torn asunder, and though many maintain that veneer, gaps



begin to intrude, Remy acting as a bellwether for a broader cultural phenomenon. Though the Office of Liberty and Recovery may do their best to refile all the scattered documents, they are simply papering over the cracks, putting ineffectual bandages on wounds far too large for such treatments. The fever dream is a symptom of a larger cultural malady, worming its way into the national consciousness as that consciousness attempts to drift out of its reach, untouchable, creating a doubled consciousness, a surface of order and clarity that conceals a roiling bed of unrest below. Remy experiences this doubling firsthand, finding himself torn between his own efforts to maintain a sense of his daily life while knowing that, in the gaps, in the blackouts, other things are happening beyond his control. In one moment, frustrated at both his growing awareness of the presence and nature of his gaps and his inability to mend them, Remy asserts “I’ve had enough of this strobe-life” (211), things flashing before him, their sequential nature creating the illusion of fluid motion that crudely conceals the blackness between. When illumination is present, it is overwhelming, and when it is absent, a purest black remains, blocking all vision of what takes place therein. As he begins to piece together the conundrum facing him, Remy thinks “that there might be another way to consider this problem, that there might, in some way, be two Remys, one he knew and the other he didn’t, and that these two men might be as different as – ” (213), this thought itself falling prey to a gap and remaining unfinished. These two Remys uneasily coexist, one attempting to tread a path of moderately right living, the other fully engaged in Dick Cheney’s dark side, taking part in renditions, torture, and murder as part of his covert operations for various government agencies. With a loose understanding of this doubled consciousness in mind, Remy consults Guterak, telling him “I’m losing track of everything, Paul… I do things I don’t remember. It’s almost like there are two of me” (282), the “almost” in this case being a conservative hedge against the more apparent doubling that Remy may not be prepared to admit. In these dueling Remys, there are a before and an after: “the before Remy” is a police officer, tasked largely with protecting The Boss (which takes the form of picking up food and waiting for him outside of local flophouses), unremarkable; and “the after Remy” is a changed man, willing to go to any lengths to further his career in the guise of protecting the nation in the wake of a great trauma. What happens in between is only partially recalled, a tipping point that marks a pivot not only for Remy, but for the nation at large. As Remy and April are far from the only ones afflicted with a sense of rootlessness in the aftermath of the attacks, so too is Remy not alone in his liminality, his feeling of being caught between two worlds, straddling before and after and ending up in the perpetual nowhere of during. The Boss ­inadvertently

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captures this liminality in an early conversation when he tasks Remy with additional duties beyond his role as police officer and liaison with the Office of Liberty and Recovery, looking back on Remy’s earlier work as a model: “Running interference between the police and the city attorney was difficult, but I’m sure it taught you how to live in two worlds – the suits and the shields. In a way, you’ll be doing that again now – living in two worlds” (54). Instead of running interference between political spheres, Remy is interfered with by the attacks (as is the rest of the nation); instead of the suits and the shields, it is before and after, and the task at hand, bridging the gap between the two, is indeed difficult. April once more puts the matter neatly into words, effectively describing the fevered dream state: “you’re in that… middle place, moving in the real world while your mind is in a dream” (102), Remy’s and April’s respective doublings expanding out into the broader world, the middle place becoming middle America, the drift inhabiting homes and minds. Remy’s job as liaison, The Boss’s chosen touchstone for describing the nature of the doubled self, also resonates with Edgar, who, in a monologue eulogizing his (un-)dead father, calls a liaison “the person who was halfway between things. That’s how I thought of my dad” (108). On the path from before to after, everyone becomes a liaison of sorts, mediating between two spheres while being wholly part of neither, aware of the former, familiar with the latter, but at home only in the fleeting instant, the swift arrival of the planes and the swift demise of the towers, the unending freefall of the jumper poised between life and death, tedium and tragedy. In that space, options are limited, with temporary weightlessness the only real choice. If liminality is the new reality, post-9/11 consciousness embraces it wholly, taking the unmoored state of a world turned upside down and giving it another spin, moving away from tangible, rooted things and actively seeking out a kind of willful blinding. Criticizing Remy’s questioning of the March Selios investigation, The Boss reminds him “[w]e don’t have the luxury of thinking” (60), the bodily demands of the fever dream necessitating a marshalling of resources for more pressing, survival-oriented tasks. As Remy’s relationship with April grows increasingly desperate, taking on the form of an impromptu trip to San Francisco where they bounce from hotel to hotel, her credo becomes “[n]o tomorrow” (238), and indeed the moment itself is paramount, as tomorrow may bring untold horrors, making today the only thing that counts. Confronted with his worsening condition, Remy wonders if “[m]aybe that was the answer. To float in this life, like paper on a current. Just lie back and let himself be” (160), returning once more to the image of fluttering paper that parallels Remy’s flaking eyes, a kind of passive memory and embrace of self-destruction (the San Francisco trip precipitating his detached



retina through the stressors of the flight). If the planes of the attacks fragment and fracture Remy’s consciousness, he now seeks out the plane, fragmenting and fracturing himself. Further along in this vein, Remy considers whether “life had returned to normal, and that normal was a string of single moments disconnected from one another. No reason to think that anything had ever been different” (163), the only difference being that he is now more aware of that disconnectedness, 9/11 bringing the matter into focus. That focus is a simplistic one, akin to Remy’s after his left eye is rendered unusable once his retina detaches, leading him to ponder “if this wasn’t a more accurate view of the world, without the gap between his eyes, that little bit of distance that the brain corrected and covered. And he wondered about blind spots, if there weren’t things that only he could see now, things the binocular missed” (285). Paradoxically, liminality calls for a singular vision, a willful monocularity that supposes a greater degree of accuracy free from cerebral distortion and privy to what others overlook. Post-9/11 consciousness is characterized by this blinkered vision, a combination of the three phenomena observed above: gapping, critical detachment, and doubled drifting. From 9:02:59 a.m. Eastern (the moment of United 175’s impact with the South Tower, when American 11’s potential accident was revealed as deliberate targeting), a gap intercedes in the consciousness of a nation (and, to some degree, a world, for those connected to international victims and/or affected by the foreign policy decisions that ensue), a gap accompanied by many more, a world of occasional static. This gapping contains the potential for critical distance, as the remove provided by temporal and mnemonic breaks creates an alternative perspective, but, much as is the case for Remy, awareness of problematic situations (hyperpatriotism and the accompanying excesses it allows being chief among them) does not necessarily equate with an ability to affect change in those situations. Identifying the absurdity of something like the Office of Liberty and Recovery does not mean that one can interfere in or counteract the draconian surveillance implied in its purview. In light of this distressing ability to identify problems and accompanying inability to intervene (see the Iraq War, cia black sites, and countless other examples), what remains is the doubled drift. People can be aware on one level of the problems before them while on another level letting them go or, in some cases, participating actively, be it via bullet or ballot. To the degree that a singular consciousness exists prior to 9/11, Jess Walter’s The Zero suggests that, after the attacks, only the doubled consciousness can persist, as it is the only arrangement that allows one not to make sense of the world as it is, but to embrace the absurdity of a world that fails to make sense, and which may never make sense again.

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In reaching this conclusion regarding the necessity of a doubled consciousness, The Zero situates itself within the broader field of 9/11 novels as anatomized in Kristiaan Versluys’s Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel, at once seeking out narrative as a means of managing trauma while conceding narrative closure as an impossibility. As Versluys notes, “intrusive symptoms [of trauma] can only be dealt with when a traumatic memory gets situated within a series of events. Trauma must be given a place within one’s recollection in order to be (se)cured” (3); in The Zero, this process is doubled, Remy channeling his memories through an attempted narrativizing of his current predicament, and Walter in turn funneling the reader’s memories through Remy’s narrative. The specific form of Remy and Walter’s narratives, biting criticism of the post-9/11 landscape, is consistent with Versluys’s suggestion that “commentaries… are an act of resistance, opposing the single-mindedness of ideology and of ideologically inspired terror” (3), with that resistance peppering the novel as a whole. Skirting the danger that “any saying of [trauma] may be seen as a cheapening, a reduction of its irreducible atrocity to something less threatening, more controllable” (11), Walter places The Zero among “[t]hose few novels that succeed in engaging the full range of the imagination… [by] resist[ing] closure” (Versluys 13). At the novel’s conclusion, Remy has not reached any resolution to his shattered state, instead descending further into it, having lost April, his eyesight, and much of his bodily functioning to yet another suicide (in this case that of a rogue informant-turned-bomber), leaving the reader with, at best, an object lesson in the virtues of doubled consciousness and nothing more. Walter provides tools for the reader to navigate the novel consciousness produced by the rupture of 9/11 while still maintaining some notion of conscience, carving out a noteworthy place in the 9/11 literary canon in the process. There may not be a clear path forward, but Remy serves as an able companion for that uncertain journey. References Baudrillard, Jean. “The Spirit of Terrorism.” The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers. Trans. Chris Turner. New York: Verso, 2002. 3–34. Print. Versluys, Kristiaan. “Introduction – 9/11: The Discursive Responses.” Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. New York: Columbia UP, 2009. 1–17. Print. Walter, Jess. The Zero. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Print.

chapter 11

The Embodied Mind: Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing Dóra Vecsernyés Abstract Contemporary Scottish author Janice Galloway’s début novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989) presents the first-person narrative of Joy Stone, a 27-year-old Glaswegian schoolteacher, who suffers from trauma-induced mental breakdown and eating disorders. Feminist critics have associated the novel with Hélène Cixous’s concept of écriture feminine, claiming that through postmodernist techniques like fragmentation and pastiche, it visualises the disintegration of Joy’s anorexic body. In the present paper, based on the narrative nature of human perception and thinking investigated by narrative psychology, I argue that the novel may also be read as an embodiment of the narrator’s mind. I explore the specific visual tools and narrative techniques applied by Galloway to depict her protagonist’s disintegrating sense of self and the workings of her consciousness. Namely, the narrative consists of Joy’s mental processes – sensory experiences and self-reflection – while fragmentation, ellipsis, and snapshotic presentation illustrate the peculiarities of human thinking and remembering. Personal pronouns and focalisation evoke a sense of displacement echoing Joy’s alienation from herself. Moreover, experimental typography and layout are employed to depict various mental states: dreams and passages of remembering are italicised, semi-verbalised thoughts in the margins float off the page, while empty spaces and missing page numbers indicate critical states. Thus, I show that Galloway’s novel may serve as a model for the narrative representation of consciousness and mental disorder.

Keywords contemporary Scottish fiction – écriture feminine – narrative psychology – mental disorder – representation of consciousness – narratology

“I’m interested in the subconscious. Dream. Boundaries. The fact that there isn’t sometimes a great deal of difference between reality and unreality. There © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_013

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isn’t a great deal of difference between sanity, what passes for sanity, and what passes for insanity. Not a great deal of difference between being and not being” (Galloway, Interview), says contemporary Scottish author Janice Galloway in a 1990 television interview. These themes are, in particular, some of the major concerns of her début novel entitled The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989). In this novel, Galloway creates the first-person narrative of Joy Stone, a 27-yearold Glaswegian drama teacher, who is traumatised by witnessing her married lover Michael drown, while also having to face the subsequent lack of understanding coming from a society that stigmatises her as “mistress.” As a result, she suffers from severe depression and eating disorders, and she is eventually admitted into a psychiatric ward. Reflecting on her mental state, the narrator Joy observes: “There are split seconds in the morning between waking and sleep when you know nothing. Not just things missing like where or who you are, but nothing. The fact of being alive has no substance. No awareness of skin and bone, the trap inside the skull. For these split seconds you hover in the sky like Icarus. Then you remember” (138). As can be seen, in accordance with her statement quoted above, Galloway here brings under scrutiny the notions of perception and reality, and the phenomena of floating unconsciously, experiencing nothingness, and being entrapped in one’s own mind. Importantly, Galloway’s experiment involves the formal features of the novel as well: she applies special typography and layout, along with other formal and structural tools. Hence, The Trick is to Keep Breathing is characterised by a highly fragmented structure and temporal non-linearity, along with a careful withholding and measuring out of information. The novel is constructed of Joy Stone’s mental processes: sensory and other bodily experiences, self-reflective comments regarding her mental state, dream-like passages of remembering, italicised, semi-verbalised thoughts floating off the page, along with empty spaces and missing page numbers indicating critical mental states. We are also presented with lists prepared in order to avoid forgetting, as well as glimpses into the magazine articles and horoscopes Joy reads, and even an excerpt from a self-help book on coping with death. Through the employment of such techniques, Galloway provides a model for the narrative representation of selfconsciousness and self-creation, as well as of the operation of the human mind and mental disorder. According to David Lodge, “literature is a record of human consciousness, the richest and most comprehensive we have” (10). That literature and, specifically, novels can do so is primarily due to the “narrative character” of consciousness (Lodge 14). Indeed, alone on planet Earth, the human being is essentially a storyteller, as well as a story hearer, i.e., “homo narrans,” (Niles 65) with these two faculties lying at the very basis of human intelligence and­



identity ­formation. As narrative psychology has shown, narratives provide the indispensable medium of human perception, cognition, understanding, knowledge, and memory: while observing the world – even if unconsciously – people establish cause-and-effect relationships and evaluate, re-evaluate, and interpret experiences based on what they have encountered before, creating stories out of the surrounding world, other people, events, and themselves (László 7). As Lodge argues, literature has the capacity to “describe […] the dense specificity of personal experience, which is always unique […] and the creation of literary texts recapitulates this uniqueness,” and the novel “captures the density of experienced events by its rhetoric, and it shows the connectedness of events through the devices of plot” (Lodge 10–11; 14). That is, literature can be seen as a means of depicting, or even mapping out, the processes of human narrativity, especially that of individual minds. In the case of The Trick is to Keep Breathing, the novel as a genre is used to represent the storytelling faculty of a consciousness affected by mental disorder. Being a first-person narrative, the novel provides the limited scope of a single mind, so that the recurring refrain-like line “You can’t get out of the inside of your own head” (unnumbered 68) holds true not only for the narrator but also for the reader, who is confined to the narrator’s mind. Of course, in order to show a character’s consciousness and nothing more, the author needs to find a way to suppress his or her own voice and hide his or her own consciousness. Galloway claims that for her “it is vital […] to write in the ‘I’ voice. It’s very difficult to get away from the ‘I’ voice and not put in value judgements, and not put me in, which is all too easy if you’re looking at a character as third person, as ‘she,’” and adds that it is standing in the landscape of the novel as if she were the character herself and bearing in mind that we have no access to other minds that help her stick to that character’s single perspective (Galloway, Interview). One of the key means of emphasising the narrative’s confinement to Joy’s perspective is the constant presence of Joy’s bodily sensations, creating the illusion for the reader of being physically present in Joy’s body. We are shown what Joy feels and hears, and get visual (re)presentations of what she sees, so that we get – to name just a few – the magazine articles, horoscopes, public signs, and the self-help book that Joy reads all set separately from the main text and in different fonts. At the beginning of the novel, as Joy is sitting in an armchair in her living room, one can find the following passage: The carpet is ancient with a sort of Persian design. In the daytime it has red and blue shapes in the centre and green lines weaving them together like ivy. Now it looks like seaweed. The threadbare bits are charcoal and there’s a black patch. Liquid black. Still wet. It seeps when I put my shoe

The Embodied Mind


near, bleeding at the rim of leather, sucking at the sole. I rock my foot back and forth in the wet till it skids and jerks my knee. A sharp kind of pain. I get stiff sitting for ages: my knuckles rust. Clutching at the armrests as though I’m scared I’ll fall. I can’t think where I left my watch. (7) In this manner, Galloway depicts not only what Joy sees, but also her individual interpretations and associations that are evoked by the visual stimuli she encounters. Moreover, the reader is informed about the positioning of Joy’s body, as well as her self-induced pain, which reveals Joy’s troubled psyche. In the last sentence of the section, we also get a glimpse of the leaps Joy’s mind takes from one idea or topic to the next, illustrating the associative and often quite unruly nature of human thinking. In addition to sensory experiences, Joy’s perception of her body is shared with the reader, too. For instance, in an intimate bathing scene at the psychiatric ward: “I watch the smoothness of the plastic taps […] I watch my hand reach for the soap […] I have lost the ease of being inside my own skin” (165). As Joy describes what she sees, her gaze passes onto her hand as if it were just another object belonging to her surroundings. Apparently, her body, which should be familiar and essentially hers, but which is now altered by anorexia and bulimia, is depicted as unfamiliar and somehow separate, creating a sense of alienation. At the same time, Joy’s body is often portrayed in a fragmented manner. Her bathroom mirror shows her as “a kneeling torso, head chopped off sheer at the white plastic rim,” (10) as if she were an incomplete statue, or an entity whose rational faculty is non-existent or unimportant. Or, at the end of her bathing ritual, which is a step-by-step process of cleaning and cosmetically treating her body parts, Joy looks upon the result as “a jumble of separate parts,” lacking unity (48). According to feminist critics, The Trick is to Keep Breathing can be read as a manifestation of Hélène Cixous’s concept of écriture feminine, since through the employment of postmodernist techniques like fragmentation and pastiche it offers a visual representation of Joy’s anorexic body. In her paper entitled “Janice Galloway’s Alienated Spaces” Mary McGlynn, an American scholar, examines the spatial-geographical aspects of the novel, focusing on Joy’s immediate surroundings in her cottage and in Michael’s house, as well as on the urban Glaswegian context in which she is embedded. Based on Joy’s rituals of cleansing her body and cleaning the house, McGlynn proposes an interrelation between places and the psyche (McGlynn, “Alienated Spaces” 90). Moreover, she argues that the novel’s experimental typography and layout stand for a “refusal to be contained by narrative norms” and also indicate Joy’s unwillingness to be contained by the housing system and the gender norms of Scottish



s­ ociety (McGlynn, “Alienated Spaces” 92). Therefore, according to McGlynn, the “innovative format” of the novel which calls attention to “the physical body, the space, of the text” can be interpreted as a means of carving out “a space that is resolutely female,” in line with the concept of écriture feminine (McGlynn, “Alienated Spaces” 92). In a later paper, “‘I Didn’t Need to Eat’: Janice Galloway’s Anorexic Text and the National Body,” McGlynn elaborates on her analysis of the novel as representing the body by associating its structure with the narrator’s eating disorders. Accordingly, the disrupted temporal structure and all the withheld information make the text an anorexic one, as it “starves the reader” instead of leaving the reader “nourished with enough information to sustain and encourage him or her” to read on (McGlynn, “I Didn’t Need to Eat” 226). Alternatively, McGlynn also shows that the text can be considered bulimic, as its use of a “variety of forms” and “undigested chunks of text” echoes regurgitation (McGlynn, “I Didn’t Need to Eat” 230). While I consider such analyses of the text as illustrative of the body and bodily phenomena to be revealing, I believe that in the case of The Trick is to Keep Breathing it is Joy’s mental disorder that fuels both her bodily and textual representations. Undeniably, the body and one’s image of one’s own body are indispensable elements of the self. As Paul Ricoeur argues, the “body as one’s own is a dimension of oneself,” and there is a “mediating function of the body as one’s own in the structure of being in the world,” resulting in “selfhood belonging to corporeality” (150). Yet, it is important to point out that Joy’s corporeality and her bodily sensations are altered by anorexia and bulimia, both of which are, strictly speaking, diseases of the psyche – which is why they are both included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (“Feeding and Eating Disorders” 338–50). That is, Joy’s rather distorted and fragmented body image is, first and foremost, the product of her mind affected by mental illness. Therefore, I argue and aim to demonstrate here that it is in fact Joy’s mental state and the operation of her consciousness that are reflected in the book’s special typography and fragmented layout, making it an embodiment of the narrator’s mind. However significant the body may be, it is only one of the numerous components of the self – one that is perceived and interpreted by the mind, as depicted by Galloway as well. A key feature of human consciousness – which clearly comes into play in the case of “I”-narratives – is that it is also self-­ consciousness. In Antonio Damasio’s words, “We not only have experiences, we are conscious of ourselves having them, and of being affected by them” (qtd. in Lodge 14). This is what the integral self-reflectivity of the human mind consists in and what fuels – along with the urge for recordkeeping – the w ­ riting

The Embodied Mind


of diaries, autobiographies, and literature in general. Joy, too, is depicted by Galloway as a keen observer of herself – not only of her body and its workings, as seen above, but also of her mental state. In a letter to her friend Marianne, Joy writes, “Some of the things I do worry me. I want things I can’t have, trivial things” (155). She is also preoccupied with the progress of her therapy (or lack thereof), so every now and then she requests to meet one of the therapists in order to discuss the insufficiency of the care she receives. However, her complaints remain unheard, and she concludes that “I think too much. Thinking is no way to behave in here” (128). Thus, there emerges a clash between what is apparently expected of her and her analytical, self-reflective mindset. While Joy’s self-reflective comments are mostly included in the main text of the novel, one can also find fragments of words and phrases in the margins. According to Galloway’s explanation, these stand for “the little voice inside the head. There are occasionally little voices that speak to you […] The only way I could think of to put those in was take notes in the margin” (Galloway, Interview). The two major thoughts that repeatedly surface are the noting of déjà vu and the statement that people often ignore their presentiments and instincts. Both of these notions refer to something outside the present moment: a faint memory of the past, or a vague suspicion about the future, respectively. It is exactly because of their uncertain and semi-present nature that these marginal notes are, on the one hand, set side-by-side with the main text, indicating their underlying and ongoing presence, and, on the other hand, set on the edge of the page with the endings of the words missing, indicating that such ideas are often only semi-verbalised. Joy’s self-reflections take another, rather more problematic, form as well. Due to the disintegration of her coherent sense of self, there emerges a break within her selfhood, inducing a sense of displacement, as she seems to watch herself from the outside. We get phrases like “I watch myself from the corner of the room,” “trying to get out of my own skin and reach the corner of the room,” and “Self-conscious. I’m looking over my own shoulder, watching the pen in my hand writing” (7, 16, 189) indicating Joy’s split perception of both her body and her mind. This sense of displacement might stand for Joy’s feeling of being entrapped in her body and mind, and her wish to escape her traumas and disorders. Alternatively, it can even indicate the opposite: Joy’s alienation brought about by grief and the suppression of her memories, and her inability to identify with her new self distorted in body and in mind. This dissociation and the fundamental incoherence of Joy’s selfhood are also manifested in the narrator’s use of personal pronouns. As Nóra Séllei also highlights, Joy mostly refers to herself in the first person – as this is an “I”-narrative – yet, every now and then, she switches to the third person,



e­ choing the “temporal and spatial dislocation” that characterises the entire novel (Séllei 67). Such changes take place predominantly when Joy is in some kind of agitated state. For instance, on one occasion we see her go through her bathing ritual that consists in making each and every segment of her body desirable for the man she is about to meet based on the guidelines of women’s magazines. In the process, her body is so heavily edited that her original self is almost completely cleaned away or covered up: “I smile at the woman in the mirror. Her eyes are huge. But what looks back is never what I want. Someone melting. And too much like me” (48; emphasis added). Conspicuously, Joy at first does not associate herself with the image in the mirror – as indicated by her use of pronouns. In fact, although first referred to as “the woman,” the image she sees is objectified by the use of “what.” However, in the subsequent sentence, she returns to looking at the image as a person, and finishes the section by admitting resemblance. This confusion of pronouns and the intermingling of objecthood and subjecthood reveal the troubled nature of Joy’s embodied self. A similar, but even more crucial incident involving Joy’s dissociation takes place when, upon going to a supermarket in an unstable state, Joy is upset by meeting an old schoolmate and his questions about her wellbeing, so much so that she cannot recognise herself in the shop window: There was a woman in the [window] frame […] She was listening to a distant kiddy-ride playing Scotland the Brave. Her coat was buttoned up wrong so the collar didn’t sit right, the boots scuffed and parting from the sole. The hair needed washed and combed [sic] and my eyes were purple. I looked like a crazy-woman/wino/raddled old whore. (191; emphasis added) Here, the first-person narrative is broken again by the appearance of the thirdperson pronoun referring to Joy and a brief detour of a third-person narrative. Initially, as a culmination of Joy’s dissociation from her body, Joy does not recognise her image in the shop window. Then, as her perception changes, so do the pronouns. Note that at the moment of transition, there is even some grammatical stumbling to indicate Joy’s confusion. The reason why this scene is of central importance is the following: it is at this point that Joy’s alienation from herself takes the form of her internalising the stigmas assigned to her by society based on her illness, her alcoholism, and her role as a mistress – needless to say, in a rather exaggerated manner, resembling the way stereotypes are used. As for Joy’s sense of self as a patient suffering from depression, a very telling event is her first interview in the psychiatric ward that she is later admitted to. At the beginning of the scene, Joy wishes to present herself as composed

The Embodied Mind


and in control – but as the interview proceeds, her initial confidence gradually diminishes. Throughout the conversation, she regularly makes mental notes concerning psychiatrists based on what she learns, such as “LESSON 1: Psychiatrists aren’t as smart as you’d think” and “LESSON 2: Psychiatrists are not mind-readers. They just try to look as though they are” (103). Initially, as the first two notes demonstrate, Joy feels in control – although she also reveals that these voices in her head “whispered in my ears like Angels and Devils in a tv cartoon which made it very difficult to think straight,” and stresses that “Dr One didn’t know that” (103). Thus, Joy manages to disregard the doctor’s first and, according to Joy, “facile” question “Why do you think you’ve been sent to us?” (102) – a question that becomes entirely meaningless through the course of the novel, as doctors keep asking it, but lack the time or patience to wait for Joy’s reply. In contrast, Dr One’s second attempt takes Joy by surprise: Tell me from the beginning what you think is making you feel bad, he said. Take your time and tell it in your own words. For some reason, I hadn’t expected this. I’d done that story so many times I knew it like a nursery rhyme but now my throat was contracting. I couldn’t think about even the first line without feeling I was about to short-circuit. (103) Then, after contemplating how ashamed she feels for being unprepared and reminding herself to try and co-operate, Joy goes on as follows: There was only one way out of this. My mouth knew more than the rest of me put together. I had to trust my mouth. I closed my eyes and the mouth said My mother walked into the sea. I remember the voice: chiselled as crystal. Cold as a razor. I hadn’t known it would start like this but then I was redundant. The voice didn’t need me. It didn’t even like me. (104) Here, echoing Joy’s fragmented image of her body and her alienation from it, her mouth seems to be working independently of her mind and will, so much so that it is described in the third person, as if it were a separate entity with a consciousness of its own. Joy’s feeling of redundancy and her inability to control her mouth indicate that what the doctor says takes her off guard and induces an involuntary reaction, so that the most painful traumas of Joy’s life that she, presumably, does not tend to share with others – her mother’s suicide



attempt and Michael’s death – roll off her tongue. Meanwhile, in this involuntary, autopilot-like state, she seems to forget about herself and her existence: “I suddenly remembered what I was saying wasn’t a story. It wasn’t the furniture breathing, it was me. What I was saying was true” (104). Interestingly, while she reveals the details of her current mental and bodily condition, she remains detached from her body and claims that “I didn’t feel it was me crying […] I connected only with the words […] I was eaten and swallowed inside those words, eaten and invisible” (105). That is, she feels as if she exists only in the story that is created by her mouth, without a body, without substance. In the next section of the scene, Joy’s focus returns to the figure of Dr One. This time, she regards him with sarcasm and increasing anger, blaming him for his uselessness and lack of insight. Joy then elaborates on the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the situation, and becomes more and more agitated until she reaches a climax when she asks “There’s no fucking point, is there?” (106). This utterance signals a vital turning point. As Joy observes, “This time it came out petulant. I knew he was getting me side-tracked, undermining my certainty” (unnumbered 107). Accordingly, Joy’s perception of the power relations changes dramatically: she is no longer composed, she begins to feel inferior, and she finds that now it is the doctor who is in control of the situation. Her growing panic and feeling of helplessness are indicated by the missing page number – the technique which Galloway usually employs when Joy is in a problematic mental state. “LESSON 5: Psychiatrists set things up the way they want them” and “LESSON 6: Psychiatrists are devious and persistent. They always win in the end” (unnumbered 107) are what Joy concludes, knowing that she will return to the ward despite her initial intentions. When Joy eventually does take the place offered to her at the ward, her narrative comes to include sections that are considerably different from her previous storytelling. We get dry, factual, short sentences. Although the setting and the other characters are still described through the eyes of Joy, so Joy is still the focaliser, these observations are no longer emphasised as her sensations, and her ongoing commentary recedes and disappears. This almost selfless and third-person-like narrative is most probably employed to demonstrate the numbing impact of antidepressants. From this point on, one can find an alternation of sections with various degrees of clarity and definition and different levels of involvement on Joy’s part. All in all, Galloway uses first-person and third-person narration, involvement, and focalisation to depict a variety of mental states, ranging from that of a conscious, rational observer, through a mind wandering associatively in all directions, to a deeply disturbed and traumatised consciousness that occasionally seems to disappear.

The Embodied Mind


Being drawn out of the narrative is in fact a pivotal theme in The Trick is to Keep Breathing. A crucial, often quoted, scene that accounts for much of Joy’s mental problems takes place at Michael’s memorial service. In this case, parallel to the Reverend’s unfolding speech set in capital letters on the left side of the page, we are provided with Joy’s silent mental reactions on the right, so that we can observe the immediate impacts of the Reverend’s words on Joy’s sense of self. When the decisive moment arrives, Joy experiences “a split-second awareness that something terrible was about to about to [sic] happen” (unnumbered 79). The terrible event to come is the following: the Reverend expresses his sympathies only to Michael’s “WIFE AND FAMILY,” leaving Joy out of the equation (unnumbered 79). Joy’s actual self is not acknowledged here; instead, she is identified by the outside world as “mistress,” although the label itself is never used explicitly. Reduced and confined to this stereotypical category not compatible with the traditional system of marriage, she is also denied the right to mourn. As for Joy’s perception, she interprets the Reverend’s symbolic act thus: “The Rev Dogsbody had chosen this service to perform a miracle” of “[getting] rid of the ground-in stain […] And the stain was me. I didn’t exist. The miracle had wiped me out” (unnumbered 79). By being drawn out of the official narrative of Michael’s life, Joy’s own narrative identity is invaded as well. It is as if her role in the narrative, herself as an agent, and her memories – key episodes of her narrative identity – were deprived of their validity and her own narrative were re-written, leaving Joy with a collapsed sense of self. As a result, the novel is permeated with phrases like “try to believe I’m here” and “I don’t exist” (97, 105). It comes as no surprise, then, that Joy repeatedly seeks reinforcement of her existence by looking in the mirror, taking a photo of herself, looking at the ultrasound image of her womb at the gynaecologist’s, or physically hurting herself. Another possible source of corroboration for Joy is other people. Of course, not all of her fellow characters have the desired effect on her: her co-worker Tony, her sister Myra, the Reverend Dogsbody, Michael’s wife, and society in general tend to pull her down, whereas Michael, her earlier boyfriend Paul, her friend and colleague Marianne, and Marianne’s mother are figures she is attached to, as they provide some kind of bases for self-definition. However, as pointed out by Joy’s student and lover called David, after Michael’s death, “She shouldn’t get dependent on any one person again. Not one person” (132). Building one’s sense of self around another person is dangerous, since the moment that person is removed from the centre, the self collapses – which is exactly what happens to Joy following Michael’s death. Subsequently, the void left behind by Michael is partially and only temporarily filled by friends



and colleagues visiting her at Marianne’s house during the initial stages of her grief and later on at the psychiatric ward as well. In this period, sexuality functions as some kind of an emergency resort, so that Joy looks forward to the visit of her lover David hoping “Maybe I will be embraced, entered, made to exist” (46). Even though she initially seems to be unaware of this issue, Joy eventually comes to realise the problematic and ambiguous nature of her relationship with other people: “Needing people yet being afraid of them is wearing me out […] When people visit I am distraught trying to look as if I can cope. At work I never speak but I want to be spoken to. If anyone does I get anxious and stammer. I’m scared of the phone yet I want it to ring” (84). In this respect, Joy’s interactions with others are undoubtedly worth examining – even more so because Galloway’s visual representations of these conversations are very revealing. The Trick is to Keep Breathing contains numerous phone calls with characters from Joy’s personal life: her co-worker Tony, her ex-boyfriend Paul, and her sister Myra. As suggested by the quotation above, phone calls are depicted by Galloway as intrusive into Joy’s mental state. They come unexpectedly, and she can never know before answering who is on the other end or whether she should be prepared to defend herself, as in the case of Tony’s insistence on taking her out on a date, or when Myra traces her down against her will. In Joy’s words, “The phone is an instrument of intrusion into order. It is a threat to control. Just when you think you are alone and safe, the call could come that changes your life” (57). The loss of control and the impact on Joy’s state are also demonstrated by the layout of these conversations, so, for instance, page numbers tend to be missing, which is mostly used by Galloway to show Joy’s panic or some other extreme state. In most cases, phone calls are presented in script, as if in a drama or screenplay. In Joy’s most critical states, however, there occur difficulties in identifying the participants. Thus, when she is called by Myra, with whom she has a troubled relationship, at first she cannot recognise her voice, so that the participants of the call are labelled as “ME” and “PHONE” (unnumbered 58). Here, the script form seems to be a suitable way to depict the lack of a shared setting and the resulting distance. Most of Joy’s interactions with the health visitor, her psychiatrist, Dr Stead, and her doctors at the psychiatric ward are also set in a script form. According to Mary McGlynn, these scripts show “Joy’s distance from the position she is being forced to occupy” (“I Didn’t Need” 226). Elsewhere, McGlynn claims that “the playscripts and other sites of reported speech present the words of others unprocessed” (“I Didn’t Need” 230). In my view, however, these scripts seem to function rather as a means of showing what goes on in Joy’s mind while she

The Embodied Mind


participates in these conversations. When asked about this script technique in the afore-quoted television interview, Galloway claims that “Sometimes people talk as though they were reading of a script in a play […] it feels as a conscious process going on of my awareness as the interviewee, if you like, and yours as the interviewer” (Interview). Being interviewed and examined by the health visitor and her doctors, being asked into her boss’s office, and even phone calls can be seen as schematic situations – just like the television interview in which Galloway participates – with typical roles and utterances that are considered to be the norms. These schematic questions and answers, actions and behaviours are expected to be activated in people’s minds in a given culture when they are in such situations. This is precisely the reason why many of Joy’s interactions with others are presented by Galloway in a script form with the names of the roles instead of the actual names of the participants (e.g. “DOCTOR” and “PATIENT,” 50). Such instances indicate that Joy is very much aware of the rules, norms, and expectations, and attempts to act in line with her assigned role. Along these lines, Joy creates an imaginary conversation with her therapist Dr Stead, as if rehearsing for their next meeting, motivated by her fear of disappointing Dr Stead (50–51). Furthermore, Joy demonstrates an awareness of the effects of what she tells the health visitor and her doctors. However, participating in these interviews as is expected of her and/or achieving the desired impact often prove to be immensely difficult due to her condition, which she tries to hide, “trying to look casual and collected. Sane” (102). Importantly, when she fails to observe the conventions by asking one of her doctors about his headaches, the doctor replies in a rejecting manner: “My wellbeing is not your concern” and “I think this interview is finished” (165). It is only towards the end of her stay at the ward, during a conversation with Dr Two, that she notes for herself: “I give all the right responses” (227). As can be seen, Joy’s presence in these interactions is depicted in a peculiar manner, since it is very much governed by her actual condition. According to David Lodge, the novel “creates fictional models of what it is like to be a human being, moving through time and space” (Lodge 14). In the case of The Trick is to Keep Breathing, Joy Stone’s movement in space depicted in detail is an unusual one owing to her mental and bodily condition, as discussed above. Incidentally, her relationship with time is highly worth examining, too, especially because it induces much of the fragmentation in her narrative. First of all, the traumatic events in Joy’s past cause troubles in her remembering. She struggles with the contrasting urges to remember and to forget: He is already hard to remember. Look, I used to cry because I thought I’d forget. Then I knew that was ridiculous and cried because I remembered.



But the truth is that one is the same as the other. Remembering and forgetting are the same bloody thing. He is not alive any more. That’s all there is to know. There is no purpose to any of it. The point is there is no point. (unnumbered 107) That is, she feels the need to preserve her memories of Michael, while she is also aware that remembering cannot change the present – in fact, it might prove to be too painful, since remembering often occurs in the form of re-­ experiencing past feelings. Thus, both forgetting and remembering bring pain, leaving Joy with the problem of dealing with her memory. As for the actual presentation of memories, Joy’s relationship with Paul is described in brief, to-the-point sentences in a way that is easy to follow, whereas the accounts of her relationship with Michael and of the tragedy of Michael’s death are rather more complicated. Joy’s narratives regarding Michael are heavily fragmented and involve a lot of information withheld for some time or left completely hidden – requiring the reader to play an active role in piecing together the story of Joy’s past. Most of these ellipses might be rooted in the traumatic nature of the events concerned, as Joy seems to have a tendency to suppress these memories. Nevertheless, the past often infiltrates the present, for instance, when Joy goes on a date with her co-worker Tony, and her memories of the previous man seep into her perception, as indicated by comments like “the different size of shoe thudding on the boards” and “The car is the wrong colour” (98). Here, a similar event is recalled from the past in an associative manner, illustrating again the general workings of the human mind. The traumatic events like Michael’s death cannot be entirely suppressed either; thus, Joy is haunted by scraps of memory resurfacing in her mind unexpectedly, out of her control. These memories are presented in fragments, or to use Galloway’s term, in snapshots: I think memory works in little snapshots. When you think back over your childhood, there isn’t a continuous flow of narrative; there are little snapshots of things, very often triggered by actual snapshots. You can remember very vividly the circumstances that you can see in a picture […] That kind of snapshotic technique was as accurate a way as I could find of recounting how, I think, people’s brains work. galloway, Interview

These snapshots are presented in the form of italicised passages to indicate different states of mind or levels of consciousness – either Joy’s agitated mental states, or her dreams. A crucial feature of these fragments is that they are

The Embodied Mind


all narrated in the present tense, as if the narrator were transported back into those past moments, so much so that she can give meticulously detailed accounts of her bodily sensations and the circumstances: I go on lying flat, face buried in his shirt, listening to bare feet receding on the tile. A faint slicking noise of water; a heavy scent of oil and flowers. I get hotter. Tightness on my naked shoulders. I should be careful of burning. (9) Based on the narrative perspective and the temporal position of the narrator, “I”-narratives like this can be categorised within the framework created by narrative psychologist János László as the “re-experiencing perspective,” in which “both the narrator and the narrated event are located in the ‘there and then’” (László 67). According to Tibor Pólya and his co-authors, the re-experiencer, as a participant in the events narrated, is in a rather intense identity state, “burdened by unresolved identity-conflicts” (Pólya, László, and Forgas 788). Joy’s recollections of Michael’s death clearly induce such an intense identity state and present Joy with the task of processing the past – her attempts at which are presented by Galloway in a curious narrative structure and layout. Joy’s memories of Michael’s drowning are initially provided in roughly chronological order, with snapshots of the poolside, the ambulance, and the hospital. Later on, however, the lines between these distinct episodes get blurred, and their original order gets jumbled up, depending on Joy’s current mental state or where she is in the story recounted. The majority of the pages on which these painful memories are revealed, again, lack page numbers, and as the climax of the story – i.e., Joy’s finding out about Michael’s death – is reached, there emerges an increasing amount of empty space on the pages. As the recounting of the events gets more and more difficult, the structure of these passages becomes more and more chaotic. At the same time, however, the recurring elements in Joy’s narrative of that ominous day tend to be described using the same words over and over again, indicating the ever-recurring, and thereby torturing, nature of these memories. Curiously, by the time the entire story of Michael’s death is revealed, his figure does not return in memories any longer, but in Joy’s dreams of walking with him – most probably indicating her progress in coping with the trauma. This curious, temporally fragmented and repetitive narrative structure is due not only to Joy’s problematic relationship with the past, but also to her peculiar modes of experiencing and narrating the present. Joy’s disturbed consciousness produces an unusual experience of time: on the one hand, she is aware of the phenomenon of one’s subjective experience of time, as she claims



“The green numbers on the stereo flash 03.25. But it goes fast. I know perfectly well it doesn’t matter what the real time is” (7). On the other hand, however, she has no control over her own experience of time and often struggles with positioning her consciousness within it. As she reveals, “I have problems with tenses. I have to remember things are not as they were because I have changed things,” which is probably further complicated by her constantly resurfacing memories (133). In the cacophony of past and present sensations and perceptions, Joy makes attempts at keeping track of time, primarily by providing the day and/or time at the beginnings of new sections. However, many sections lack such temporal specifications – in fact, there tend to be gaps left unnarrated, after which the reader finds Joy in another room or in a changed position and in a conspicuously different mental state. These gaps are indicated with blank spaces on the page and the recurring “ooo” signs, with slide-like changes between the scenes and the corresponding mental states (7). On these occasions, it seems as if Joy’s mind were floating in emptiness, losing touch with reality. As a result, there emerge such blackout-like states causing jumps in the narrative, indicating the instability of Joy’s mind. Thus, temporal fragmentation occurs not only in the form of flashbacks and nonlinearity, but also through ellipses. Joy’s attempts at finding stability in her experience of time are signalled by the recurrence of the phrase “This is the Way Things Are” (96). Yet, instead of stability, this realisation rather refers to her being entrapped in her present state and in her memories. As for the future, after reading tarot cards, Joy concludes that “There is no armour against the arbitrariness of things. Not suspicion, not fear. There is no way to predict, divine or escape. The only certainty is that there is no certainty” (77). That is, not only does there seem to be no future perspective available, but, due to the unexpected tragedy of Michael’s death, the future also becomes threatening. Eventually, as she begins to find her way out of depression and is released from the ward, she regains her capacity to make new plans for the future, such as redecorating her home – this being the first time a proper future tense is used by the narrator. In the interview quoted already, Galloway reveals that she found Joy’s voice through imagining hostility, imagining if you’re entirely alone what is it that keeps you persisting, what is it that keeps you going? Suddenly the surfaces of things change, textures change, and seeing how far I could take that … I took everything possible away from her and just wondered what it was that was gonna keep her going. Galloway, Interview

As demonstrated above, to explore and depict this character’s changed mental and physical state and the effect of such traumas on her perception,

The Embodied Mind


c­ onsciousness, and sense of self, Galloway uses various tools of typography and layout, along with a narrative characterised by temporal and spatial fragmentation. As Douglas Gifford highlights, Galloway’s application of this technique can be traced back to the influence of James Kelman and Alasdair Gray – of course with Galloway refashioning it for her own purposes (607). As Glenda Norquay also notes, fragmentation goes on to be a key issue in Galloway’s second novel Foreign Parts (1994), both thematically and formally (131). The snapshotic nature of human thinking and remembering is further explored in Galloway’s collections of short stories. Last but not least, in her fictional biography of Clara Schumann entitled Clara (2002), the experimental typography and layout are used to explore Clara’s mental processes, Robert Schumann’s mental breakdown, and the characters’ sensations of language, music, and silence. This way, Galloway’s oeuvre proves to be an immensely rich reservoir of explorations of consciousness, demonstrating that fiction is one of the most fruitful means of mapping out the human mind. References American Psychiatric Association. “Feeding and Eating Disorders.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. 2013. Print. Galloway, Janice. Interview by Jenny Brown. Off The Page. Dir. Erina Rayner. STV People, 21 Oct 1990. Youtube, 16 Dec 2010. Web. 18 Aug 2015. Galloway, Janice. The Trick is to Keep Breathing. 1989. London: Minerva, 1991. Print. Gifford, Douglas. “Contemporary Fiction II: Seven Writers in Scotland.” A History of Scottish Women’s Writing. Ed. Douglass Gifford and Dorothy McMillan. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. 604–29. Print. László, János. The Science of Stories: An Introduction to Narrative Psychology. London and New York: Routledge, 2008. Print. Lodge, David. “Consciousness and the Novel.” Consciousness and the Novel: Connected Essays. London: Secker & Warburg, 2002. 1–91. Print. McGlynn, Mary. “‘I Didn’t Need to Eat’: Janice Galloway’s Anorexic Text and the National Body.” Critique 49.2 (2008): 221–36. Print. McGlynn, Mary. “Janice Galloway’s Alienated Spaces.” Scottish Studies Review 4.2 (2003): 82–97. Print. Niles, John D. Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1999. Print. Norquay, Glenda. “Janice Galloway’s Novels: Fraudulent Mooching.” Contemporary Scottish Women Writers. Ed. Aileen Christianson and Alison Lumsden. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000. 131–43. Print.



Pólya, Tibor, László János, and Joseph P. Forgas. “Making Sense of Life Stories: The Role of Narrative Perspective in Perceiving Hidden Information about Social Identity.” European Journal of Social Psychology 35 (2005): 785–96. Print. Ricoeur, Paul. Oneself as Another. Trans. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago & London: The U of Chicago P, 1992. Print. Séllei, Nóra. “Cleanliness and Subjectivity in Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing.” Gender Studies 4.1 (2005): 65–75. Print.

chapter 12

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people Judit Friedrich Abstract Keri Hulme’s 1984 Booker Prize winning novel, the bone people, tells the story of the formation of a biologically unrelated nuclear family in the cultural context of New Zealand with its mixture of Maori heritage, English settlers and recent immigrants. The story is presented through the juxtaposition of dialogues and inner monologues of the main characters, demonstrating how the self negotiates its progress towards integration. On the individual level, the characters are battling their own pasts on their way towards growing into responsible persons. Taken together, they also represent the process of integrative development of a national self for New Zealand. In even more abstract terms, the novel presents the narrative development of a Self that will be able to contain, recognize and coordinate its animus, its shadow and its inner child, along with its conscious part. An interpretation relying on these Jungian concepts is justifiable not only because the novel, reportedly, originated in a dream, but also because it applies diverse mythical elements and strategies. The article aims to add another psychological dimension to the discussion of a novel that has continued to impress with the flexibility of its language, ranging from the poetic to the profane, and with its polyphonic exploration of the many voices in which the self addresses itself.

Keywords C. G. Jung – inner child – inner monologue – integrative development – New Zealand – self

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_014



the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then? c. g. jung, “Psychotherapists or the Clergy” 235

One of the most memorable features of Keri Hulme’s the bone people1 (19832) is the simultaneous multi-level communication among, and within, the characters: the story is presented predominantly through dialogues and inner monologues, in an intricate pattern and a rich language that ranges from the poetic through the casually vulgar to the mythical. Hulme tells the story of the formation of a biologically unrelated nuclear family in the cultural context of New Zealand, with its mixture of Maori heritage, English settlers and recent immigrants. The plot concentrates on a fairhaired child of about 7, called Simon, who had been found at the shore after a storm, and who cannot speak. Simon is looked after by Joe Gillayley, a Maori man, who lost his wife and child to the flu. The foundling child has trouble wherever he goes, including at home, where he is regularly beaten by Joe. Simon keeps missing school and wandering around, but we learn about all this only later; what we witness first is the way he finds, and settles into a friendship with, Kerewin Holmes, a painter, who got rich by winning the lottery. Kerewin lives in an isolated tower she had built for herself. She is a Pakeha3 who seems to be unconventional in every way, including being willing to communicate with the child. The story shows how these three unrelated characters grow in a process of discovery, communication and acceptance, but also of pain, violence and abuse. Their developing friendship runs parallel to an increasing unease in their relations, which culminates in a scene of uncontrolled child bashing. In the aftermath of this extreme act of violence the lives of all three characters are in various forms of danger, until they find a source of strength for healing, and come through, in spite of all that has happened, committed to living together. The communication of the three central characters is, naturally, represented verbally in the book, even when it is non-verbal or not spoken out loud in the story. Although it is only Simon who cannot speak, the other characters 1 The title was conceived and first published in lower case letters (Shieff 145, footnote 2). 2 The year of copyright is 1983; the date of publication is 18 February 1984 (Harding 1); winning the Booker Prize was announced on 31st October 1985 (Wise 10). 3 “Pakeha = stranger, now used for a New Zealander of European descent” (447). All parenthesized references to the novel are to this edition: Keri Hulme, The Bone People. London: Picador, 1986.

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


are often reluctant to speak. Simon can write and use sign language, mostly self-made, while the others are introduced as singing and playing music, also relying on building, cooking, painting, and, when nothing else seems to work, violence, for communication. Sometimes, however, they refuse to communicate completely and cut themselves off even from those they love best. The tone of the bone people, the voice the characters use to talk to one ­another and the inner voice they use to talk to themselves, can be harsh, yet is often surprisingly gentle. The characters are predominantly not presented from the outside as a “she” or “he” or “the boy” – we seem to get access to their thoughts directly. While they think and speak to others or to themselves they also reflect on the ongoing speech or thought processes, and these reflections are lined with love and concern much of the time, in spite of the horror the characters are going through or inflicting upon one another. There is a note of compassion and understanding, as well as humour, in these dialogues, inner monologues and contemplative meditations. This gentle, loving kindness is surprising if we consider that Joe is an abusive foster father; Himi (or Haimona, as Joe and his Maori relatives call Simon) is described as having “a touchpaper temper” and “specialises in sneakthievery and petty vandalism” (34); and Kerewin is angry (16) and “doesn’t like people” (15). The emphasis on cautious exploration and sympathetic identification in the novel is also special compared to the raw pain of several other stories by Keri Hulme, such as “Hooks and Feelers,” where the tragedy of a nuclear family proceeds relentlessly, with the characters locked in their respective worlds of suffering. Much of the critical response explores the relationship of the characters of the bone people in terms of the postcolonial situation of New Zealand. This was the first novel from New Zealand that was awarded the Booker McConnell Prize, which generated a sudden interest in the novel worldwide, and, later, a sort of reappraisal of the situation and the significance of Keri Hulme’s work. This process is richly documented in Bruce Harding’s Keri Hulme’s the bone people and the Problematic Birth of a Bi-national New Zealand Polity and in Sarah Shieff’s “Contexts and Reception, 1984–2004.” Some interpretations focussed on the representation of Maori cultural heritage, others mentioned the Christian symbolism, again others felt that the mythical components were overblown and unnecessary (Shieff 152, 146). Most critics seem to have agreed, however, that there is a strong emphasis in the novel on wholeness and on the effort to create a unity; on taking shared responsibility for the land the characters inhabit, for the damage caused in the past, and for a hoped-for future, envisioned as a communal, commensal future; that the violence sustained has to be acknowledged but forgiven; that trauma can be healed; that communication on many levels is essential, yet the spoken word may be dangerous or even impossible to use (Shieff 153).



There is also general agreement that the three protagonists seem to belong together. This is symbolically represented in the text by the image of a threefaced head. The tricephalos shows the portraits of Joe, Simon and Kerewin, and was created by Kerewin as a final gesture when she destroyed her Tower that had become, from being her sanctuary, her prison. The intense multi-­ level communication of the characters, the processes of physical and symbolic (self-)destruction, and their rebirth as individuals forming a family of choice, all suggest a process of integration and a new beginning. The phrase “the bone people” itself – as it is explained in the language notes – means “the beginning people, the people who make another people” (450). The occurrence and the processing of trauma, however, are presented in the novel not only as communal but also as personal phenomena. The process of negotiation among the characters may also be meaningful as an extension of feelers among the constituting elements of a person. The work may also be seen as the projection of a process of mutual exploration and integration among the sub-personalities which often seem to be at war with one another.4 I would argue that Keri Hulme advances the idea of integration, a commensal future and a new beginning not only on a political but also on an individual psychological level. Although this approach falls in with the pattern established by other nonNew Zealand critics who, as has been noted with some critical edge, tend to create psychologising interpretations (Harding 7, 14), it can be seen as not mutually exclusive with the national focus, since both approaches share an intrest in how trauma occurs and is processed, and they both notice the focus Keri Hulme directs onto the concepts of attention, intention, compassion, vision and responsibility.

Soul within a Soul within a Soul And then? […] She unlocks the small wooden chest that holds her Book of the Soul. Pretentious bugger, Holmes, taking yourself that seriously…. (427–30)

When we meet Kerewin Holmes, the first consciousness presented in the book after the cryptic “Prologue: The End At The Beginning,” she seems to be at a

4 On the integration of the personality, following C. G. Jung and Roberto Assagioli, see Brown ix–x, 33–35.

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


point of mid-life crisis, in her early thirties: “Now it feels like the best part of me has got lost in the way I live” (62). She addresses herself in the novel in a language that is arresting in its strength and variety. The narrative techniques employed range from internal addresses to self (presented as indented blocks), as in the quotation above; through dialogues with the image of the self (presented in quotation marks), as in the chapter called “Mirrortalk” (261) and elsewhere; to entries in her diary (presented in italics), which she calls alternatively her “logbook” (36), her “Book of the Soul” (430), and her “alter ego” (434). Kerewin also creates portraits in words, clay, painting and music, interjecting elements of a running internal commentary into the description of all of her creative processes. The many levels on which this dialogue with the self is carried on open up to include other characters only on rare occasions: “All the tight inner communing with self is given over to the sweep of her emotion” (298) only in the pub. This is what is increasingly complemented by Kerewin’s idiosyncratic communication with the child, Simon/Haimona/Himi/Clare (as he calls himself, unbeknownst to others for much of the story; see 112, 397, 435), and by the advancement of friendly conversation and chess-playing with Joe. The central enigma of the book is, indeed, the child: who he is, what his real name might be, where he comes from, why he cannot speak, how he can communicate without speaking, and why he is so adamant to bring the three main characters together. The detective-novel subplot evolves around this mystery, as does the exploration of the nature of communication and of the conflicting human impulses to love and shelter but also to control and destroy. Postcolonial criticism interprets the enigma by saying that the child represents the land which has been taken away from its Maori guardians, who have suffered much character damage from the degradation of being colonised. All major characters have special relations to the land: Simon represents the land of New Zealand, Joe represents the Maori guardianship of the land, and Kerewin represents the Pakeha settlers. In this interpretation, the joint guardianship and commensalism of the technically only 1/8th Maori but in heart completely Maori Kerewin and the Maori Joe offer the safest future for the land of New Zealand. The affirmation of a combined responsibility for the land and the bridging of Pakeha and Maori cultures, with an increased attention to the Maori elements and their contribution to the future, offered a lot of hope for a political reconciliation and the development of a peaceful and multifaceted New Zealand identity (Harding, esp. 36–37). As Keri Hulme also indicated in an interview: “What I wanted very much to do, was to be a bridge between my Maori relations and my Pakeha relations” (“Reconsidering” 19–20). Eventually the characters become an integrated unit where the suggested form is that of commensalism rather than that of a nuclear family connected



by genes or sex. Commensalism is seen in its social sense, as in the Dictionary .com definition: the “peaceful coexistence among individuals or groups having independent or different values or customs”; but the term is also interesting in its biological sense, as a form of symbiosis, in which the organisms living together experience benefits on the one hand and no difference on the other, unlike mutualism (both organisms experience benefits), amensalism (one experiences cost while the other experiences no difference) or parasitism (one experiences benefits while the other suffers the costs). The suggestion of commensalism comes in a note from Kerewin to Joe: But if I exist this coming Christ Mass, rejoin me at the Tower eh? O the groaning table of cheer… speaking of tables, does commensalism appeal to you as an upright vertebrate? Common quarters wherein we circulate like corpuscles in one blood stream, joining (I won’t say like clots) for food and drink and discussion and whatever else we feel like… a way to keep unjoy at bay. (383) What seems to be involved is cooking and eating together, sharing space, music, games and friendship, to create a space that will be sustaining but where no pre-described maternal or spousal role will be taken on by Kerewin. Some critics might argue, however, that this is still a Pakeha-oriented interpretation. It is indeed Kerewin (of mostly white origin) who is granted official guardianship and, therefore, is authorised to offer shelter and protection to Joe and Himi, while it is the Maori Joe whose feeling of responsibility for the child is expressed not only in loving care but also in terrible beatings. This interpretation notices the primacy of Kerewin’s character within the ontological universe of the novel, a primacy that is confirmed by her introduction as the first character and by the similarity between her name and the name of the author.5

The Inner Child

The focus on the character of Kerewin can also be interpreted on an individual psychological level, however. This is a novel interested in the processes of exploring one’s past, one’s feelings, and one’s reactions to others, as well as in the integration of the multiple and the eclectic. This interest is noticeable in terms 5 “I thought Kerewin Holmes was a really neat pun. Keri win home. I learned later on that this was not a good idea […]. And then it was the delight in building a character who had a lot of the things I wanted and didn’t have” (Hulme, “Reconsidering” 3, 8).

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


of the novel’s structure, language and perspective as well as in the way it presents character development. While many pages describe the process of the protagonists’ breaking and healing, relatively little space is devoted in the final version to the mystery of where the child comes from or why he cannot speak. A more recent line of interpretation, in keeping with the growing interest in alternative novelistic representations of human consciousness, places the bone people among books attempting to show how an autistic child sees the world, like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003).6 Simon, however, seems unable to speak for reasons that have more to do with the traumatic experiences he has survived than with a special condition sustained from birth.7 The early explorations between “the vandal, the vagabond, the wayward urchin, the scarecrow child” (36–37) and the “stony lady” (270) are perhaps the most engaging moments of the novel. They show the tenderness of hurt people, the energy of youth and the wisdom of the person who is ready to descend into the hidden depths of others’ pain, in the process of which her own pain is revealed, relived, and, eventually, relieved. I would argue that the child can be read as an aspect of Kerewin herself, the central consciousness of the novel, and their developing relationship can be seen as the adult Kerewin finding a way to reach into her past: “He-ell, watching the child take off his sandals and socks, now there is a thing about childhood I had forgot. Imagine having to ask whether you can go barefoot or not…” (164). Kerewin discovers a part of herself that she harbours inside yet so far has declined to recognise: “Blast the brat, he’s beginning to haunt me. An enemy inside my broch… a burglar ensconced here” (33). This is the sentence that inspired the motto for this paper: “But what if I should discover that … I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?” I would suggest that what Kerewin really discovers is that the more she can understand the child, the more she gets in touch with parts of herself she banished, much as society banished Simon: that, in fact, Simon is presented by the novel as the inner child Kerewin tried to suppress when she severed relations with her family, her community, and people in general, and built a tower for herself to live in. It is

6 Cf. a review by Anthony Curtis in The Financial Times quoted on the back cover of the 1986 Picador edition, or a list of popular fiction featuring autism (goodreads.com/shelf/show/autism -fiction). For a different list of 129 works of fiction touching upon autism, see goodreads.com/ list/show/886.Autism_in_Fiction. 7 See also Murray’s opinion: “Simon himself is not recognizably a figure with autism” (82).



this inner child who comes to call attention to itself, and invites Kerewin to develop an understanding and a compassion for. Talking to the child who unexpectedly demands her attention is a strange enterprise for Kerewin: “I’m used to talking to myself, but talking for someone else?” (20). Yet she is willing to try to understand him in whichever way he will communicate and is also willing to learn why Simon tends to turn violent: “Just for an experiment, she went into Taiwhenuawera, where she hadn’t been before, and spent the day as a mute. […] It was infuriating” (108). This process of discovery is called in transpersonal psychology8 “finding the inner child,” that is, identifying and processing the traumatic experiences from childhood, and promising acceptance, appreciation and protection for the child the adult once was, whose growth was halted at crucial moments in the past and who acts out reactions inappropriate for an adult but very appropriate for the child the person was at the time the trauma was sustained, as explained by Somers. This fundamentally Jungian approach suggests a symbolic reading in which we see Kerewin’s progress towards constructing an integrated personality: by addressing elements within her personality (presented in the novel as independent characters), she figuratively represents the process of constructing an integrated Self. This Self is defined by Piero Ferrucci (a follower of Roberto Assagioli, from the psychosynthesis school) as “the substance of who we are at those times when we feel truest and most alive” (4) and is perhaps best considered as an ideal the person is trying to develop towards, based on a feeling of recognition as if this Self had already been there, waiting to be realized.9 These terms fundamentally rely on the concept of individuation, a path of development the adult personality may follow after experiences of midlife crises or traumas, as used by Jungian dream analysis and transpersonal psychology.10 Books discussing these concepts are, for the most part, written by non-­ professionals in heuristic tones of helpful excitement. Even very enlightening examples like John Bradshaw’s Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child work with lengthy explanations and emotionally supportive 8 9


For an introduction to transpersonal psychology, see Somers and Gordon-Brown, xvii. In Jung’s words: “[Intuition] thrusts the ego aside and makes room for a supraordinate factor, the totality of the person, which consists of conscious and unconscious and consequently extends far beyond the ego. This self was always present but dreaming” (Archetypes 304). I would like to thank Beáta Bishop and Katalin Orosz, at Egészségforrás Alapítvány and Kheiron Központ, respectively, for their introductions to transpersonal psychology.

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


but academically embarrassing phrases. The book gives a detailed and convincing analysis, with exercises, pointing towards universal symbolic interpretations, and also supplies tools that can be applied to a symbolic analysis of the bone people: When your parents were the most upset (yelling, raging, threatening, labeling and judging), your wounded inner child internalized their words the most dramatically. It was at such times that your survival was threatened most. You imprinted their words and remembered them. You need to go back into those scenes and let your championing adult give your wounded inner child some new words that are nurturing and soothing. Without some new and soothing auditory imprints, your wounded inner child will continue to talk to himself with the old shaming words. (212–13) The quotation is a surprisingly precise description of the relationship between Joe and Himi in terms of yelling, and between Kerewin and Himi in terms of giving the “child some new words that are nurturing and soothing.” Whereas the inner child is usually presented by psychologists as the source of life and creativity, it shows itself predominantly in behaviour considered problematic in an adult – hence the impression that there is an internal force in the adult that works against the person. Unlike psychology and self-help books, however, the novel can present the figure of Simon/Haimona as a character in his own right; an individual who is irrepressible, full of life and hopeful to the end. The projection of the inner child onto the character of a special, talented, yet wounded and often unfathomable child runs parallel to (and sometimes somewhat counter to) case studies, and produces literature that has been read as hopeful, even redemptive, on quite a variety of levels. Part of the secret around the child in the novel is the abuse he sustains. Although there are indications that Himi is beaten regularly, it is not revealed for quite a while that Joe is the perpetrator. Himi says nothing because he is afraid Kerewin would then “know” that he is bad (139, 173), as is consistent with what child psychology teaches. Himi does not know why he is being hit, but knows that his being beaten is unfair: “She’s keeping quiet? Or I’m to?” The whisper is high and strained. Both, say the upraised fingers. It’s okay, he mouths, it’s okay, and suddenly the word is turned into question and entreaty, Okay? Okay?



“Aue, aue … okay, tamaiti, okay…” he strokes Simon’s hair away from his eyes, and kisses him. “Taku aroha ki a koe, e tama.”11 […] “Eh, I don’t know why I hit you,” he says in a low voice, talking more to himself than his child. “I’m drunk or I’m angry, I’m not myself … even when it’s necessary to beat you o I don’t know, it’s not like I’m hitting you, my son…” Simon moves, and Joe looks down to see what he’s saying. It feels like it is, says Simon wrily. […] The boy looks at him, eyes glinting in the firelight, saying nothing. Then he smiles, and leans over, and bites Joe’s hand, hard as he can. “Shit!” the man gasps, hissing with pain, and pulls his hand to his mouth. “Bloody brat, what’s that for?” Aroha, mouths the child, grinning, aroha, and his smile is wickedly broad. (171) As for the inner child, if we accept this concept, it is the most instinctive (and most wondrous and wonderful, as Bradshaw would say) part of the personality. Jung writes about the child archetype as “beginning and end,” “which expresses man’s wholeness. The ‘child’ is all that is abandoned and exposed and at the same time divinely powerful; the insignificant, dubious beginning and the triumphal end” (Archetypes 179). Whenever a person acts up or acts out (Bradshaw 7, 14–15), it is the inner child that is trying to communicate, in order to move towards healing. In the novel it is always Simon who initiates change. He is the one who finds Kerewin; as she will muse towards the end of the novel, he is “the catalytic urchin who touched this off” (427). The other parts of the personality may feel too used to how things are, too petrified to do anything, or under too much self-repression, with the occasional uncontrollable outbreak. The inner child, however, will stir up trouble. And it will be due to its previously sustained traumatic experiences that it will do so. Transpersonal psychology seems to hold that it is the inner child who is closest to, or knows most about, the Self; the inner child is the part that seems to work towards achieving the best possible integrated form of the person. It might seem that all the discovering is done by Kerewin as the representative, in the novel, of the conscious part of the personality. Joe, however, is also seeking for truths: he is trying to understand why he beats Simon and he examines the effect of his own past on his actions. He tells Kerewin about his 11

“Aue = exclamation of dismay, or despair” (446). “Tamaiti = child. Taku aroha ki a koe = I love you. Aroha = love” (448).

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


parents, his family, and his grandfather beating him up as a child (226–27), musing about how it has been since Kerewin appeared in their lives, wondering what she thinks of them (172). Joe also tries to destroy and, when he survives, rebuild himself. Yet it is the child who works hardest to initiate action and to keep them together. The child, who is the focus of everyone’s attention, is drawn in a way that is psychologically correct but also resonates as a symbol of all characters’ past pains and traumas, and functions as a key to their future. The novel shows Simon’s reaction to being reluctantly noticed and acknowledged by Kerewin at their first meeting. Since it is raining when Kerewin wants to let him go, and there is no one to pick him up, he is allowed to stay at Kerewin’s Tower. The child notices his presence is not really liked yet is accepted: “She don’t like me around much. I’m staying though” (32). Simon, as both a character and the inner child, revels in the attention and the warmth, metaphorical, of course, but expressed in very concrete images, the adult offers for his protection: She saw I am cold She saw I am cold He is exultant with the attention. The defensive tautness of his face eases, and his smile is soft and incredibly young. Brilliant, touchingly grateful, and toothless, she thinks, grinning back to him, but blinking at the age the smile seems to reveal him as. I am in her jacket to warm, he croons inside himself, She saw I am cold, and I am in her jacket to warm. (41) These dialogues, in which Himi does not speak aloud but we hear his thoughts as he initiates communication by looks, by touch, even by written notes, or, if all else fails, by violence, show the energy of the inner child with which it wants to be understood and accepted, and the reluctance of the adult self to enter into this process of exploration. The psychologists’ explanation of how this dynamic works seems to describe the relationship between Kerewin and Himi down to the final release of energy: Sometimes, although it’s unconscious, the adult may have a fairly considerable dislike of the habits and patterns of the child within. People think they hate themselves, but what they’re hating is their own childish behaviour. When (in imaging) we constellate the child, we discover that it experiences the adult as hating it! This brings into focus the inner



conflict. People may hate themselves for, say, crying in front of an authority figure, but it’s the poor little cringing child who feels it’s being hated. It’s a matter of acceptance; first beginning to recognise that child, then befriending it, and eventually – maybe – coming to love it, which takes a little more time. At last the child may come to trust the adult a bit, and release its energy into their life. somers 66

Three in One, All in One

A better-known concept in a Jungian approach to the multiple constituents of the personality is the Animus/Anima, the other gender within. Another fairly well-known element is the Shadow,12 the part that has been found unacceptable by the conscious part of the personality. I would argue that Joe’s character performs a double function as the Animus and the Shadow for Kerewin. Joe, who is roughly the same age and the same height as Kerewin,13 Joe, who can also play chess (although Kerewin always wins; see 55, 60) and darts (which Joe always wins; see 226), Joe,who can play the guitar and can sing, can drink, and can dish out physical abuse (yet is beaten up by Kerewin as a warning to stop bashing Simon), appears on her horizon as a result of Simon/Haimona’s intrusion upon her solitude. As the story evolves, Kerewin gets to know the child and Joe, and they get to trust and like one another: “She’s aware that this is the first time she’d said ‘Pax, friends,’ to anyone for a decade” (62). Rather than focusing on the dichotomies offering themselves for analysis, such as Simon as the child to Kerewin’s adult, or Joe as the male to Kerewin’s female, or Simon as the Pakeha to Joe’s Maori, or Kerewin as the asexual to Joe’s sexual adult, it is the unit of the three of them that is presented as the promise of the future at the conclusion of the novel. I would propose a reading in which the sub-personalities get integrated rather than one in which merely diametrical opposites are united or bridged. In this reading the central characters are seen as representations of various aspects of Kerewin’s personality, which negotiate their relationship and find their way to communicate with one another, and, eventually, become able to live together. In this commensal future some responsibility is offered for one another but a lot of freedom is left to the individuals. “If Joe picked up the note, he might come home for 12 13

“The shadow is that other face that lies behind both the mask and the personality, the complementary yet unknown part of us, the mirror-image” (Somers 16). “I bethought you grim and forty, but now I doubt you’re much older than me. Maybe not as old as me” (51); “And the fact that he is exactly as tall as herself” (54).

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


­ hristmas. He might like the commensal idea. […] I’ll enquire. I’ll see if I can C be of use….” (427). A creative coexistence and a peaceful togetherness are projected in which the rules have to be consciously established not only because they are not the pre-coded spouse-parent–child roles but also because the first, blind attempts of the characters at togetherness nearly ended in tragedy. This reading is supported by the fact that the novel grew out of a dream that developed into a short story called “Simon Peter’s Shell,” a story later destroyed (“Reconsidering” 3). In Jungian-based Gestalt dream analysis (Ball 7) all characters represent the dreamer, or various aspects of the dreamer. That dreams are significant in the novel is affirmed by the multiple references to dreams, premonitions and nightmares. The Maori words and phrases (usually translated in the language notes but often shown in contexts that reveal their meaning), which for the New Zealand reader point towards an integration of Maori and Pakeha cultures, for the outsider also present a dream world of different words, myths and meanings. Among the many different forms of knowledge Kerewin cultivates, dreams present alternative ways of thinking about life, complementing the focusing on mandalas,14 artistic representation, and spirituality of all forms, from arcane knowledge through mythology of various kinds and actual religions to psychology, also inviting a Jungian interpretation. Alongside, there is a constant search for knowledge of the more factual kind, from the curiosity of the growing child through Kerewin’s extensive reading to her detective work concerning Simon’s background. Running parallel to this is the readers’ desire to discover why Kerewin shut out her family and why there is an unease in the relationship of Joe and the child, adding elements of crime fiction suspense and psychological detective work. Kerewin’s taking Simon and Joe on holiday is a significant moment in their developing relationship as well as in the symbolic process of reconstructing Kerewin’s identity. They are all together in the car, a modern symbol considered in dream interpretation as “very often representative of our own personal space” and “an extension of our being” (Ball 133), as confirmed by colloquialisms like “I broke off my rear view mirror.” Where they are going is Kerewin’s old home, which she greets with so far unprecedented enthusiasm. These are the family holiday huts at the Pacific they used to go to with her mother when they were kids. She welcomes Himi and Joe to this home as their home for the time being: “Tendrils of her joy and possession steal to them, and the man runs across the gap calling, ‘Tihe mauriora!’ and Kerewin laughs and holds him and hongis. And the child runs into them both, literally, blind in his need to be with them” (163). 14

Jung defines the mandala as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” (Archetypes 304).



This moment, and the holiday spent together, does not go as far as allowing an open acknowledgment of the violence against the child, however. The full enormity of that violence will be revealed only much later, at the turning point in the novel, when Joe beats Himi, with Kerewin’s tacit agreement. That scene is followed by all characters going through their private hells of hospitalization/prison/illness, until each decides that they have something to live for: for the boy this is his various objects he finds or creates; for Joe, it is Maori land and culture; for Kerewin, it is to build something for the community. Yet for all of them, it is primarily their life together that is worth reclaiming their respective individual lives for. Kerewin has a special role again: once she is ready to accept her position as a leader she is also ready to take responsibility for the “wayward brat” (126) and his father. That is, she is ready to take responsibility for herself as an integrated personality, who is willing and able to heal her inner child, however heavily hurt; to accept her animus, the male inside her; and to recognize and live with her shadow. This means acknowledging the pain she endured, the mistakes she made, the incongruous elements of her personality she decided to suppress earlier, including her own anger and aggression, which she allowed Joe to act out on the child at that last horrible beating. Now Kerewin can go back and rebuild her house, this time not as a phallic tower but as a spiral, “an old symbol of rebirth, and the outward-inward nature of things” (44), but also like “Sunflowers and seashells and logarithmic spirals (said Kerewin); sweep of galaxies and the singing curve of the universe (said Kerewin); the oscillating wave thrumming in the nothingness of every atom’s heart (said Kerewin); did you think I could build a square house?” (442). Once she has a shelter for them, she can invite Joe to meet her at Christmas; Joe can invite her family to the reunion; and she can invite back Simon. All of them having come full circle, remembering all but being ready for change, she can now create again; the child can blossom and find a talent among the many he used to have that could still carry him forward; and the man can continue to supply the warmth and love he is able to offer. The book received its share of negative criticism. While the internal monologues of Kerewin, in their poetic profanity and holistic learnedness, sound completely convincing, and Simon and Joe’s words sound similarly authentic, the parts given to the external narrator seem like hurried crime or romance fiction text. Not all lines are neatly finished off;15 for further details of the lives and 15

“Incidentally, I don’t like things one hundred percent neat. I like things to be a bit messy; therefore, there will be threads left dangling all over the place” (Hulme, “On Narrative Technique” n.p.).

Addressing the Self in Keri Hulme’s the bone people


ancestors of the child one should read a short story called “A Drift in Dream.” Yet even her more unsympathetic critics, like Jordison in The Guardian Books blog, see a strength in her work: “Hulme’s writing can still be startlingly awful, but generally her storytelling is vivid and to-the-point, backed up by some poetic and evocative descriptions of the New Zealand coastline and Maori myth and legend.” In the bone people the exploration of the spiritual path of self-discovery, travelled from isolation to integration, is described in great psychological, symbolic and mythological detail. The difficulty of representing experiences of enlightenment or an understanding that is not commonly shared by others, however, is not to be underestimated. What is presented in the bone people is not a majority view; and the intimacy of the subject, or the unorthodoxy of expression, will have to be evaluated against the power of the work to survive, perhaps like the paintings of Hungarian Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853–1919), a visionary artist of unusually strong colours, similar in the sense that he created a characteristic visual world of his own without tolerating much interference in his work. The way the three protagonists are integrated in the novel, taking responsibility for one another, grants a strong agency to the land/the child both in the postcolonial reading and in the transpersonal interpretation, where Simon, functioning as the inner child, is the motivating force behind their togetherness: And if he can’t go home, he might as well not be. […] He has worked at keeping them together whatever the cost. He doesn’t know the words for what they are. Not family, not whanau… maybe there aren’t words for us yet? (E nga iwi o nga iwi, whispers Joe; o my serendipitous elf, serendipitous self, whispers Kerewin, we are the waves of future chance) he shakes the voices out of his head. But we have to be together. If we are not, we are nothing. (395) While Simon attempts repeatedly to escape from foster care and find Joe and Kerewin, and while Joe is plotting to come back and help reunite Kerewin and her family, Kerewin is about to create a shell and a commensal home for all of them: I had spent many nights happily drawing and redrawing those plans. I decided on a shell-shape, a regular spiral of rooms expanding around the decapitated Tower… privacy, apartness, but all connected and all part of the whole. When finished, it will be studio and hall and church and



guesthouse, whatever I choose, but above all else, HOME. Home in a larger sense than I’ve used the term before. […] Commensalism – right on. (434) Harding’s argument is very convincing – the beginning of a new people that the novel offers must have strong resonances in the original political and cultural context of the novel (10). Works from emerging literatures often emphasise painful stories that represent political and historical traumas specific to the country in question yet they tend to remain unable to reach uninitiated audiences. I would argue that acknowledging the non-political elements of the novel might help explain why the book continues to appeal to readers and how they then become interested in its political specificities, in Maori culture, or in the possibilities of a postcolonial New Zealand national identity.16 Whether this novel is understood as a conscious or intuitive application of the psychological process of discovering and integrating the inner child, the animus and the shadow, or as a compelling artistic representation of the creation of a complex national identity for New Zealand may be, in the long run, irrelevant. If not its national or personal therapeutic power, then its eclecticism and its willing commensalism, the free coexistence of entities acknowledging their interdependence, may carry the book over to further generations, leaving enough gaps in the narrative to explore, having suspense as well as poetic momentum, discussing urgent personal as well as national topics. Like Kerewin’s suneaters (100), Clare’s music hutches (102), and the Maori spirals (44), the book also becomes a powerful focus for meditation, recognition and healing. References “Autism in Fiction.” Goodreads.com. 2008. goodreads.com/list/show/ 886.Autism_in _Fiction?page=2. Web. 19 Dec 2015. Ball, Pamela J. The A to Z of Dream Interpretation: What Dreams Reveal About Our Lives, Loves and Deepest Fears. London: Arcturus, 2008. Print. Bradshaw, John. Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child. London: Piatkus – Little, Brown, 1990. Print. Brown, Molly Young. The Unfolding Self: Psychosynthesis and Counseling. Los Angeles: Psychosynthesis P, 1983. Print. 16

“Reading this book has made me interested in Maori culture, and I think, now, I will look into it with great curiosity,” Gerry Turcotte in conversation with Keri Hulme (Hulme, “Reconsidering” 20).

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Brown, Molly Young. The Unfolding Self: Psychosynthesis and Counseling. Los Angeles: Psychosynthesis P, 1983. Print. “Commensalism.” Def.2. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Web. 19 Dec 2015. Ferrucci, Piero. Inevitable Grace: Breakthroughs in the Lives of Great Men and Women: Guides to Your Self-Realization. Trans. David Kennard. Bath: Crucible, 1990. Print. Harding, Bruce. Keri Hulme`s the bone people and the Problematic Birth of a Bi-­national New Zealand Polity. Wellington, New Zealand: Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit, Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, 2006. http://www.ourconstitution.org.nz/store/doc/Harding,_B..pdf. Web. 30 Sept 2015. Hulme, Keri. the bone people. 1983. London: Picador, 1986. Print. Hulme, Keri. “A Drift in Dream.” The Windeater – Te Kaihau. 1986. London: Sceptre, 1988. 193–206. Print. Hulme, Keri. “Hooks and Feelers.” The Windeater – Te Kaihau. 1986. London: Sceptre, 1988. 77–89. Print. Hulme, Keri. “On Narrative Technique.” Telephone interview with Laurelyn Douglas. postcolonialweb.org. 1991. Web. 19 Dec 2015. Hulme, Keri. “Reconsidering the bone people.” Talk and conversation with Gerry Turcotte. 1989. Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 12 (1994). Web. 22 May 2002. Jordison, Sam. “Booker club: The Bone People by Keri Hulme.” Friday 20 Nov 2009. theguardian.com/books/booksblog. Web. 19 Dec 2015. Jung, C. G. Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious: Collected Works, Vol. 9 (Part 1). Ed. and trans. Gerhard Adler and R. F. C. Hull. 1969. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2004. Web. 19 Dec 2015. Jung, C. G. “Psychotherapists or the Clergy” Trans. Cary F. Baynes. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Harcourt Harvest: San Diego, 1933. 5th ed. 1955. 221–44. Print. Murray, Stuart. Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2008. Web. 19 Dec 2015. “Popular Autism Fiction Books.” Goodreads.com. 2015. goodreads.com/shelf/show/ autism-fiction. Web. 19 Dec 2015. Shieff, Sarah. “the bone people: Contexts and Reception, 1984–2004.” The Pain of Unbelonging: Alienation and Identity in Australasian Literature. Ed. Sheila CollingwoodWhittick. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007. 143–64. Print. Somers, Barbara, and Ian Gordon-Brown. Journey in Depth: A Transpersonal Perspective. Ed. Hazel Marshall. Cropston: Archive Publishing, 2002. Print. Wise, Michael. “Why John Fowles Won’t Touch the Booker Prize.” The Sidney Morning Herald 16 Oct 1985. 10. Web. 13 Dec 2015.

chapter 13

Multimodality, Interactivity and Embodiment: Representation of Consciousness in Digital Narratives Grzegorz Maziarczyk Abstract This contribution seeks to extend the scope of cognitive narratological studies into consciousness by discussing two multimodal digital narratives: The Breathing Wall by Kate Pullinger, Stefan Schemat and babel, and Pry by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro. Both narratives go beyond the standard, verbal strategies for representing consciousness in literature in their employment of the multimodal integration of verbal, visual and auditory semiotic resources as means whereby different levels and types of mental processes can be simultaneously presented. They also use the reader’s embodied interaction with the digital medium to encourage his or her identification with the protagonist and create the illusion of the fictional mind being experienced/ explored from within. These two narratives thus demonstrate the semiotic potential of multimodal digital narratives for innovative, multisensory representation of consciousness.

Keywords multimodality – interactivity – embodiment – digital narrative – consciousness – The Breathing Wall – Pry

The introductory overview of cognitive narrative studies opening the recently published collection Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative takes as its starting point the passage from B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates in which empty spaces punctuating the text reflect on the level of its typographic organisation the gaps in the mind of an obsessively self-conscious narrator. According to Lars Bernaerts, Dirk De Geest, Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck, this section of Johnson’s novel presents in a nutshell central concerns of cognitive narrative studies, as they are all about different types of gaps, © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_015

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whether these are inevitable textual blank spaces, which Wolfgang Iser identifies as being central to the process of reading, or “the ‘gappy and sparse’ […] nature of consciousness” (Bernaerts et al. 3) that Daniel Dennett writes about, or “an ‘explanatory gap’ […] between qualia, or the felt experience of subjective awareness, and neurophysiological descriptions of mental functioning” (Bernaerts et al. 3), explored by David Herman. Paradoxically, the manner in which Bernaerts and his co-authors approach Johnson’s work reveals a lacuna in the studies into consciousness and the novel. Even though they acknowledge that Johnson’s gaps operate on the level of textual materiality, they quickly turn to gaps understood in a purely abstract manner, as if both narratives and readers were disembodied entities. And yet they are not: just as literary narratives must exist in some material form, which is not just a transparent and thus negligible container for a verbal message, readers have bodies and their engagement with the narratives may well go beyond a purely mental activity. The present chapter aims to fill in this lacuna in the studies of the mind-narrative nexus and on the one hand to discuss the employment of non-verbal means of expression for the representation of consciousness and on the other to analyse the ways the reader’s body can be exploited in the process of communication in which his or her physical interaction with the work becomes an element of his or her reconstruction of its meaning.1 It also seeks to extend the scope of narrative studies by focusing on two experimental digital narratives – The Breathing Wall by Kate Pullinger, Stefan Schemat and babel, and Pry by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro – whose explicit mobilisation of the multimodal potential of the digital medium and the embodiment of the reader/user can be construed as an intensification of earlier print-bound attempts to go beyond conventional, purely verbal strategies for representing consciousness in fiction and an augmentation of these innovative ventures with the element of interactivity, peculiar to digital forms of communication. The double perspective adopted in the present chapter reflects two major viewpoints from which the mind-narrative nexus can be and has been approached in literary studies. On the one hand, the mind can become an object of representation in a literary text, the mind as theme and the strategies whereby it can be represented being, as noted by David Herman (30), two intersecting fields of study. On the other, the cognitive processes that constitute the framework for the reader’s understanding of texts have been the subject

1 In alternating between mind and consciousness for the sake of variety I follow David Herman, who points out that in literary studies these terms are often used as equivalents, even though they are usually distinguished in philosophical studies (cf. Herman 30).



of cognitive literary studies, described by Alan Richardson as “the work of literary critics and theorists vitally interested in cognitive science,” cognitive, in turn, denoting for him “an overriding interest in the active (and largely unconscious) mental processing” (2). As mentioned above, the former approach assumes that the techniques whereby consciousness can be represented are almost exclusively verbal. In her seminal study Transparent Minds Dorrit Cohn presumes that not only literary strategies for consciousness representation but also the content, as it were, of consciousness are verbal and distinguishes three major types of the former observable in what she calls third-person narration and what in modern narratological parlance would rather be identified as heterodiegetic narration: “1. psycho-narration: the narrator’s discourse about a character’s consciousness; 2. quoted monologue: a character’s mental discourse; 3. narrated monologue: a character’s mental discourse in the guise of the narrator’s discourse” (14). In the case of homodiegetic narration, “psycho-narration becomes selfnarration (on the analogy with self-analysis), and monologues can now be either self-quoted, or self-narrated” (Cohn 14), Cohn’s terms being intended to pinpoint the relationship between the narrating and the narrated selves. Subsequent studies focused almost exclusively on the heterodiegetic techniques and proposed a number of analogous categories supposed to be more precise and self-explanatory than Cohn’s categories, Herman subsuming these terminological variants under three umbrella terms: “direct thought, indirect thought, and free indirect thought” (5). As Alan Palmer demonstrates, irrespective of terminological variations, classical narratological studies of consciousness representation “have been distorted by the grip of the verbal norm” (53), as they tacitly assume that narrative fiction represents consciousness as being constituted by the verbalised flow of thoughts, which can and should be theorised in terms derived from linguistic speech categories. In his critique of this approach Palmer demonstrates that there is more to the fictional mind than just inner speech: “emotions, sensations, dispositions, beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motives, and reasons for action” (13). Palmer prefers mind to consciousness as he considers the former term to be less susceptible to being theorised in purely verbal terms, especially in the literary context, and thus more appropriate for his holistic understanding of mental processes, which he derives from theories of consciousness proposed by such philosophers of mind as Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and John Searl. In Palmer’s model the reader’s reconstruction of the fictional mind relies on “the continuing-consciousness frame,” which he or she applies to a narrative in order to “create a continuing consciousness out of the isolated passages of text that relate to a particular character” (15). And yet, much as Palmer’s approach extends our understanding of

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the fictional mind beyond the narrow confines of verbalised inner speech, the representational strategies he discusses remain purely verbal. A parallel development can be observed in literary studies focusing on the reader. Marco Caracciolo distinguishes within them a recent strand that “draws on embodied and situated – ‘second-generation’ in George Lakoff’s and Mark Johnson’s […] terms – cognitive science in order to explore the bodily foundations of the reading experience” (“Embodiment at the Crossroads” 233–34). In order to illustrate the basic tenets of embodiment-centred cognitive literary studies, Karin Kukkonen and Caracciolo analyse in their introduction to a special issue of Style devoted to this approach a passage from Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones and argue, for instance, that such textual elements as motion verbs “are likely to activate brain areas associated with perception and kinesthesia, and [therefore] can cue a feeling of elevation in the reader,” which can in turn cue his or her situated conceptualisation of Allworthy’s benevolence: “it emerges once the motion verbs have led us to the top of the hill on which he stands” (Kukkonen and Caracciolo 265) in yet another manifestation of the conceptual metaphor linking the upper position with positive qualities (cf. Lakoff and Johnson 16–18). Their analysis of Tom Jones indicates that in second-generation cognitive literary studies embodiment is construed as the general condition shaping the experience of reading. However, the act of reading involves as well the relation between the reader’s body and a particular physical form of the text. As I seek to demonstrate in this chapter, in digital narratives like The Breathing Wall and Pry it is precisely the reader’s physical engagement with the medial embodiment of the text that acquires semiotic value and becomes an element of a larger process of communication involving a number of semiotic channels. The role of the interaction between verbal and non-verbal means of expression in the reader’s embodied cognition of digital narratives can be fruitfully analysed in categories derived from yet another recent trend in narrative studies: multimodal narratology. The category of multimodality has been “imported” into narratology from the field of social semiotics, in which it is employed to denote “the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event” (Kress and van Leeuwen 20). As I have argued elsewhere, a systematic analysis of the interplay among multiple semiotic channels in narrative requires a basic distinction between the medium, understood as “the physical means by which some system of ‘signs’ (pictographs, alphabet characters, etc.) for recording ideas can be actualized” (Danesi 2), and the mode, construed as semiotic channels or resources employed within a particular medium (Maziarczyk 23–27). In the case of the textual materiality of print fiction we can distinguish three basic levels operating as semiotic modes: typography, understood



as the visual form of the typeface, page layout and the book as object. They can further be combined with images, constituting yet another semiotic mode. These non-verbal modes can be employed to represent different mental processes and states of consciousness. For instance, in Irvine Welsh’s Marabou Stork Nightmare typeface variation signals the difference between external verbal stimuli, which the apparently comatose narrator takes in only to some extent (probably because he seeks to block them out), and the world of fantasy into which he escapes from the memories of the group rape he participated in. B. S. Johnson’s House Mother Normal is, in turn, a perfect example of the way blank spaces in the page layout represent various degrees of senility. Even more interesting is the case of his other work, The Unfortunates mentioned above, in which the format of loose sections, which the reader is supposed to take out in a haphazard sequence from the box, forces the reader to enact performatively, as it were, the randomness with which memories come to the mind of the narrator. Visual elements in the form of images are, in turn, an important aspect of the way consciousness is presented in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.2 The semiotic potential of textual materiality for consciousness representation has recently been acknowledged by Caracciolo, who discusses a set of well-known examples of non-conventional typography and layout to conclude that “non-verbal cues such as punctuation marks and typographical layout can play an important role in readers’ engagement with storyworlds, and with fictional characters in particular” (Caracciolo, “Punctuating Minds” 66). Just as the novels mentioned above activate the non-verbal means of expression available in print as medium, The Breathing Wall and Pry make full use of the multimodal affordances of the digital media, which on account of their syncretic potential allow easy multiplication of semiotic channels within a single work.3 Their multimodal set-up relies primarily on the verbal and the pictorial semiotic modes, which are combined with music and sound effects. The verbal aspect of the narrative is conveyed via two basic channels: the visual, which takes the obvious form of text that the reader can read on the computer screen, and the aural, which allows him or her to listen to the characters’ dialogues and monologues. As regards the pictorial mode, it can again 2 For detailed analyses of textual materiality in these four novels, see relevant sections of my monograph The Novel as Book. 3 Lev Manovich goes as far as to claim that the computer, understood as an umbrella term for all kinds of devices relying on digital technology, is a metamedium which “is simultaneously a set of different media and a system for generating new media tools and new types of media” (102).

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be subdivided into static images that accompany the text and short videos combined with the aural track. In both narratives the verbal mode dominates as the channel of communication, so their generic status, which this multiplication of semiotic modes might appear to make rather problematic, can be determined by recourse to the definition of electronic literature proposed by the Electronic Literature Organisation. Recognising its inevitable hybridity (cf. Hayles 4), elo somewhat circularly defines electronic literature as “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (qtd. in Hayles 3). In her discussion of electronic literature N. Katherine Hayles notes that verbal art constitutes the standard criterion of literariness, though she also suggests that it need not be the case with digital literary works, which she believes can be wordless and still susceptible to being subsumed under a more capacious category of the literary, denoting “creative artworks that interrogate the histories, contexts, and productions of literature, including as well the verbal art of literature proper” (4). Both The Breathing Wall and Pry interrogate on the one hand the way consciousness can be represented in literature and on the other the reader’s experience of works which are multimodal in form. In the former narrative, as indicated by the title, breathing becomes the key element of the process of reception, while in the latter it is touch and gestures typical of touch-screen devices. The technological interface via which the reader gains access to these works thus determines the mode of his or her engagement with the storyworld and consciousness each of them represents: The Breathing Wall requires a desktop computer with a headset, while Pry is an application that can only run on the iPad tablet. In The Breathing Wall the narrative framework for this interrogation is constituted by a hybrid of familiar literary genres: murder mystery and ghost story. The protagonist of this work is Michael, who has been falsely convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Lana, as we are informed at the very beginning of the story in a verbal passage attributable to a heterodiegetic narrator. While Michael is serving his life sentence in prison, he starts hearing in his dreams the voice of Lana, who gives him the clues as to what happened to her on the night when she was murdered, so that by the end of the story the actual murderer is identified and Michael is acquitted. The whole story is divided into five “day-dreams” and four “night-dreams,” ordered in an alternating fashion. The credits at the end of The Breathing Wall inform us that Kate Pullinger was responsible for “story and text,” Stefan Schemat for “hypnotic lyrics, programming, sound & vision of the night-dreams” and babel for “design and sounds of



the day-dreams,” so in what follows the use of the particular creators’ names is determined by the aspect of The Breathing Wall under discussion. As Wolfgang Hallet notes, the incorporation of non-verbal semiotic resources within multimodal narration requires an extended understanding of the narrator, who becomes a “narrator-presenter” (150), as he or she no longer relies on purely verbal means of communication. By the same token, the category of the reader should be understood in broad terms, as his or her interaction with multimodal digital narratives goes beyond reading understood as the reception of a purely verbal message. Both the visual and the auditory tracks are employed in the day-dreams primarily to facilitate the reader’s reconstruction of and immersion in the storyworld. The verbal narration presents the major events of the story, but it does not provide any descriptions, which in The Breathing Wall have been replaced with images representing particular elements of the setting, such as Michael’s prison cell; the visit room, where he meets his parents; and Lana’s house, where his sister confronts Lana’s father, who confesses to murdering her. It is thus a particular image that allows the reader to identify the characters’ location. The images are also employed to suggest the psychological states of characters: the emotional bonds between Michael and his parents are indicated by the image of two locked hands the reader can see during their conversation. Just like the visual track, the auditory one contributes to the reader’s immersion in the storyworld by coordinating the soundscape with particular locations: for instance, Michael’s meeting with his parents is accompanied by the background noise of other conversations. Significantly, The Breathing Wall does not provide any images of the characters other than details like the hands mentioned above. Both Michael and Lana are materialised primarily as voices. The former’s conversation with his parents takes a very interesting multimodal form in which his words are heard by the reader and theirs seen on the screen. It is also the auditory track that becomes the central channel for the representation of Michael’s consciousness. Its effectiveness depends on the reader’s willingness to follow the instructions opening The Breathing Wall: if he or she puts on the headphones instead of listening to the sounds via computer speakers, he or she gets a much stronger impression that he or she is immersed in the storyworld and receives auditory stimuli just the way Michael does at a particular moment in the story, whether they take the form of some indistinct noises and radio music that he hears in his cell or of the muffled sounds of whispers in the visit room. More important, when Michael is alone in his cell, the reader starts hearing his voice. This is what Michael says:

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I sleep very badly. I’ve slept badly since the day Lana died. It takes a long time to get to sleep and when I do, I see her. I see her body lying alone in the park near her house. I wasn’t there to protect her. I have to live with it. I have to live without her. How can I? pullinger, schemat, and babel

This section can be interpreted as an attempt to give Michael an inner voice that “we all hear […] inside our brain” and that “plays a central role in human consciousness at the interplay of language and thought” (Perrone-Bertolotti et al. 221). The inner voice has been defined as “the silent production of words in one’s mind, or the activity of talking to oneself in silence, [or] the silent expression of conscious thought to oneself in a coherent linguistic form” (Perrone-­Bertolotti et al. 221). The reader’s experience can thus be interpreted as an auditory instantiation of the basic aspect of the phenomenology of reading, thus described by Georges Poulet: “Whatever I think is a part of my mental world. And yet here I am thinking a thought which manifestly belongs to another mental world, which is being thought in me just as though I did not exist” (56). On the other hand, even though the context in which Michael’s monologue appears indicates that there is nobody he could talk to, it seems to lack qualities often attributed to inner voice, such as fragmentariness and condensation (cf. Steels 2), and therefore cannot be construed as a completely verisimilar rendition of his inner voice. That the reader is expected to assume that what he or she can hear is what Michael can hear inside his head is made even more explicit in the section closing the first day-dream, when he or she starts hearing phrases like “it’s your fault,” “it’s your responsibility” said in Michael’s voice and echoed over some disturbing electronic sounds, until some unidentified woman shouts “Michael” and then screams. Again, it would appear that we deal here with the auditory representation of his sense of guilt, which cannot be treated as a completely verisimilar reflection of mental processes, not least because electronic sounds, which do not belong to the storyworld and thus are non-diegetic, are its important component. This positioning of the reader “inside” Michael’s consciousness in relation to external and internal auditory stimuli prepares him or her for the nightdreams, in which Michael hears and responds to Lana’s voice. As she reveals the circumstances in which she died, her voice cannot be interpreted as his hallucination or mere dream but must be construed as a supernatural visitation, which in the non-mimetic storyworld of The Breathing Wall “really” takes place when Michael falls asleep. The ghost of Lana keeps addressing the listener with admonitions to breathe quietly and to lie back in a manner that



e­ ncourages the reader’s identification with the “you,” as he or she can hear his or her own breathing through the headset, for he or she is instructed at the very beginning of The Breathing Wall to put the microphone under his or her nostrils so that the software can respond to his or her breathing. Far from being a mere gimmick, this peculiar set-up of the equipment becomes the central element of the reader’s interaction with The Breathing Wall: the amount of information provided by Lana depends on the rate and depth of inhaling and exhaling, which should be as close as possible to those of a quietly sleeping person. Astrid Ensslin points out that this innovative set-up completely overturns the conventional mode of engagement with a literary artefact: the quality of reception is no longer controlled by the reader’s skillful – in the sense of cognitively, analytically, and aesthetically competent  – ­reasoning, goal-directedness, or simply intentionality. It much rather depends on his or her physical condition, or rather situatedness, at the time of “reading,” which involves aspects of location (spatiality), time of day or night (temporality), cultural and social embedding, and, not least, physiology (e.g., tiredness, well-being, metabolic functions). (160) The reader’s, or – as Ensslin puts it – the breather’s embodiment thus becomes a primary factor in his or her interaction with and interpretation of The Breathing Wall, as his or her immersion in Michael’s consciousness depends on the degree to which his or her body achieves a state analogous to his state within the fictional universe. And yet, even if he or she manages to breathe in the manner assumed by Schemat, his or her identification with Michael will remain partial: the fact that he or she hears not only Lana’s but also Michael’s voice puts him or her in the external position of an observer of the dialogue between the two characters. The voices of Michael and Lana are just a part, though admittedly the most important one, of the multimodal composition of night-dreams. In each of them the reader can see some hypnotic videoscapes of open, natural spaces – grey clouds in the sky, tree tops, grass opening in the wood – which appear to move to the rhythmical sound of breathing and some electronic noises. Naturally, the function of the images the reader encounters in the night-dreams is not only hypnotic but also semiotic, though – as Ensslin points out – they resist easy assignment of meaning: the open spaces conveyed by the nightdreams […] are “open” in the sense of “ambiguous” on a denotational, connotational, and figurative level as well. They can only be read suggestively or associatively, as readers are,

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for the major part, not provided with textual material from other semiotic resources that would help them decode the meaning and/or significance of those open spaces in relation to the whole plot. (161) These videoscapes can be interpreted as visual representations of those aspects of Michael’s psyche that resist verbalisation and that operate perhaps on the level of the unconscious. The image of the clock can perhaps be construed as the reflection of his awareness of the time that he has to spend in prison, while the peaceful images of tree tops and grass appear to be coordinated with Michael’s memories of his and Lana’s trip to the woods. In her discussion of Pullinger, Schemat and babel’s work Ensslin commends their use of the breathing-focused design “to undermine the ‘normal’ cybernetic accommodation process usually experienced in game-play, where the technological idiosyncrasies of a game, in the sense of both hard- and software, are readily ‘adapted to and appropriated into our available repertoire of bodily behaviours and aptitudes’”(159). However, as Jon Dovey and Helen W. Kennedy, whom Ensslin quotes in the above passage, point out, it is precisely the disappearance of the equipment from the player’s conscious thought that is a prerequisite for his or her immersion in the game (158). One cannot but wonder to what extent the use of the headset and the microphone combined with the need to click one’s way through subsequent day- and night-dreams may be detrimental to the effect of immersion. While the book as medium for fiction is so familiar that it can quickly disappear from the reader’s conscious consideration, the set-up required for the full multi-sensory experience of The Breathing Wall may well remain a prominent part of this experience. Released in 2015, Pry uses a much less cumbersome technical set-up and boasts a much more advanced multimodal co-deployment of multiple semiotic resources, its conspicuous hybridity revealing the importance of technological progress in the case of digital narratives. It consists of high-resolution video clips, which have been shot on location and in which actual actors have performed the parts of major characters; static images; and dynamic, animated texts. Still, just as in the case of The Breathing Wall, the verbal track is employed as the central semiotic mode in a manner that takes advantage of the affordances of the tablet as the medium. In the “About” section Danny Cannizzaro and Samantha Gorman self-consciously emphasise that Pry is “a fiction created exclusively for digital, touchscreen reading” (emphasis added) and that its innovative interface has been designed “to evoke the associative and slippery aspects of thought and memory.” They also use this section to introduce the protagonist of Pry – “Six years, ago, James – a demolition consultant – returned from the 1991 Gulf War” – and to invite the reader to “explore James’s mind.”



The Genettean distinction between text and paratext is thus ostentatiously blurred: the supposedly external “About” section introduces the reader to the storyworld and guides his or her interpretation, while the instructions on how to interact with Pry are incorporated into the narrative proper. In her discussion of the phenomenology of contemporary screen-based reading Jennifer Rowsell observes that “the embodied cognitive acts of engaging with digital content calls on different kinds of practices that demand different methods of analysis” (117) and argues that “touch and haptics have replaced or at least will replace visuals as modes of interaction” (Rowsell 218). In Pry, and in similar digital works, touch and haptics not so much replace as augment visuals, which remain the primary source of information about James and the storyworld in general, Rowsell’s contention being a bit of an overstatement in its championing of touch as the sole mode of engagement with digital content. After the filmic prologue, in which the reader sees a young man whose journey from the usa to the war camp is presented in a series of quick shots, he or she is informed at the beginning of Chapter 1 that six years have passed and then sees a man lying on a bed and staring at the ceiling, the introduction in the “About” section having provided him or her with the clue to the man’s identity. The camera zooms to the man’s eyes and then appears to enter one of them and dissolve into the black screen. A one-line-long text – “Awake, but not fully. What time is it? Check” – appears on the screen, followed by simple diagrams and instructions, which on the one hand tell the reader how to interact with Pry and on the other confirm the man’s identity: (1) Spread and hold open to see through James’ eyes. (2) Pinch and hold closed to enter James’ subconscious. cannizzaro and gorman

By employing three data streams that the reader can switch among, Pry provides him or her with access to three aspects of James’ consciousness. The text on the screen with its fragmentary, disjointed sentences represents James’s inner voice and thoughts. When the reader spreads and holds open the text, he or she can see the visual stimuli that enter James’s mind and that initially take the form of the ceiling he is staring at. Finally, when he or she pinches his eyes closed, he or she sees images, short video clips and disjointed phrases flashing quickly across a white square and representing, as stated in the paratextual explanation, James’s subconscious mental processes, the way they are presented foregrounding their elusiveness. The interactive, multimodal set-up of Pry puts the reader in a peculiar position in relation to James’s consciousness. On the one hand, it encourages his

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or her identification with James by giving him or her control over his perception of the external world: he or she not only sees through his eyes but also decides when to open or close them. On the other hand, the way the reader can gain and control access to James’s subconscious suggests the position of an observer or even explorer who is invited to “dig into” the subconscious aspects of another human being’s psyche and analyse the significance of what he or she sees in relation to the stream of the same person’s verbalised thoughts. Yet another crucial aspect of the reader’s engagement with Pry is the absence of an omniscient narrative voice that would gently usher him or her into James’s world and/or explain his situation in a manner comparable to the heterodiegetic narrator’s presentation of Michael in The Breathing Wall. In Cannizzaro and Gorman’s work the reader is confronted with “raw,” fragmented and indeterminate cognitive data that he or she has to process on his or her own. When Pry was released in 2015, the reader was provided only with fragments of the work: only four chapters were made available and the remaining three were described in the table of contents as “coming soon.” The following analysis of the major motifs of Pry and the strategies whereby it seeks to represent James’s consciousness via multimodal means is based on the multimodal data provided in this initial release. The overall multimodal construction of Pry, fragmented as it is, rests on the principles of juxtaposition and reiteration. The three streams of data the reader receives are interrelated, though they do not coalesce into a completely clear, coherent whole. The verbal track in Chapter 1, for instance, confirms what the opening image suggests: James is suffering from insomnia, whose cause remains unclear, and a sense of being paralysed. He is trying to overcome this condition by thinking about his childhood or his work on the following day. The words that the reader sees when he or she accesses James’s subconscious appear to be fragments of medical or scientific discourse – “patient experiences intermediate muscle atonia in sleep or in onset of waking typical for subjects to experience visions of intruders impairing violent and sudden damage” – which suggests that James is undergoing some medical treatment or has perhaps read some texts on his own condition. The reference to “visions of intruders” and “violence” turns out to be a prefiguration of the hallucination James experiences at the end of the first chapter. He sees the door to his room open and then his thoughts turn to the question of who is going to visit him: 50/50 it’s her. I’d rather see Luke because he will be real tomorrow. Tomorrow we will talk about the job and he will speak like a boss or a concerned sibling. I can’t tell him about these visits. 50/50 its [sic] her. cannizzaro and gorman



Unexpectedly, a woman, who is identified in the verbal track as Jessie, enters the room, climbs onto James and then suddenly stabs him in the eye, all these actions being presented through the filmic subjective camera, making the reader see them “through” James’s eyes. The chapter ends with a quick succession of images of broken glasses, a pack of cards and faces of male and female soldiers. It would seem that the primary aim of the first chapter is thus to instigate the reader’s hermeneutic desire for an explanation of the enigma of James’s present condition and the past events that must have led to it. The second chapter relies on an analogous, multimodal setup for its representation of the three aspects of James’s consciousness and develops the motifs introduced in the first one. This time, the reader witnesses or rather participates via James in the demolition of an old factory, and meets Luke in person, that is in filmic sections presenting external reality. James’s thoughts and his dialogues with Luke indicate that James is working for Luke as a safety inspector at demolition sites and is well aware that his failing eyesight might lead to his losing the job. What comes to the foreground in this section is James’s limited grasp of reality: not only does he have problems seeing the world around him, as indicated by the occasional blurring of his vision; he has recurrent visions of the female soldier and Luke in military uniform, visions the reader cannot easily dispel by making James open his eyes. At the moment of actual demolition his thoughts take the form of a short film showing him chatting with the female soldier and then playing some game on his Gameboy, while on the subconscious level we see satellite footage of some military camp being struck by a missile. By providing the same soundtrack to all the streams of cognitive data, Cannizzaro and Gorman reveal their being inter­ related via the principle of association. The sounds of actual explosion become the sounds of virtual explosions in the game and then again the actual one in the case of the bombing of the camp. Again, it is the reader’s task to infer that Jessie from Chapter 1 and the woman from visions in Chapter 2 are the same person and that the scenes connected with the military must come from James’s unconscious perhaps, as there are no direct references to the past in the verbal track representing his conscious thoughts. Chapter 3 puts the events presented so far into yet another context. Just as in the previous two chapters, the opening filmic shot establishes the point of view. This time the subjective camera is used to show James hands holding a massive volume in Braille and then some text in Braille appears on the screen. As the reader moves his or her finger over it, he or she hears the voice of James reading the biblical story of Jacob and Esau and starts seeing some home video footage showing two young boys as well as some short clips of Luke as a soldier and a demolition engineer, familiar from the previous parts of Pry. This section

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is an even more interesting instance of how the reader’s embodiment can be employed via his or her interaction with the touch screen to create a recursive relationship between the reader and the protagonist, the body and the mind, the actual and the virtual. The reader performs the gesture the protagonist is supposed to perform on the level of the storyworld, though obviously his or her experience of the text in Braille lacks the crucial tactile element: the screen is flat and his or her engagement with Braille remains virtual. And yet, by embodying the protagonist he or she gains access to his consciousness, as the voice the reader can hear can be interpreted as James’s subvocalisation, actualised as audible sounds on the level of the reader’s interaction with Pry as a touch-screen-based narrative. The visuals add another layer to this complex setup, as they seem to represent James’s memories and associations brought about by the passage he is reading. Again, the link between this section and the previous ones is left for the reader to infer: it seems to suggest some brotherly rivalry between James and Luke or perhaps even some shared childhood, though the fact that each of them has a different surname would indicate that they are friends rather than brothers. Some of the questions raised in the first three chapters of Pry are answered in Chapter 6. While in Chapter 3 the reader is invited to identify with James by embodying his act of Braille reading, in Chapter 6 his or her task is to explore his mind. Entitled “Dhahran, Saudi Arabia,” the chapter initially appears to contain only two lines of text: Back in Schwetzingen, I saw her eye him during pt. My chances were pretty much screwed. The world moves like a video game. Luke carries me, dodges. The exit flickers, flattens before us. cannizzaro and gorman

As soon as the reader pinches the text open, he or she discovers that these two lines are just the tip of an iceberg, as with each gesture of prying the text open, more and more words as well as occasional film clips emerge. Soon the reader has to scroll the text in order to read it; the final, completely “opened” version of the chapter takes up some twenty screens, so to speak. The reader’s reconstruction of James’s past thus requires a considerable effort, which goes beyond the standard cognitive processing of textual data. Each act of pinching the text open adds some new lines to the text already displayed on the screen, so the reader can either keep re-reading the text as it expands or just continue adding more and more lines to the text until it appears to be complete. Cannizzaro and Gorman have generously encoded into Chapter 6 the signal of finality



well-known to anyone familiar with digital textuality: the lines that cannot be pinched open any further change their colour from white to grey. In their construction of this chapter Cannizzaro and Gorman appear to rely on the idea of consciousness as containing just a fraction of the information stored in one’s memory, with the traumatic memories being repressed into the unconscious. Fragmented and associative as the text representing James’s memory is, it allows the reader to reconstruct the key characteristics of the events from his past that shed light on his present condition and on the memories haunting him. Whether what James remembers is what “really” happened remains unclear as his narration bears marks of unreliability, including a selfaddressed admonition to come up with another version of the story – “Go back, tell this as a version where you go back through the pale door.” Chapter 6 reveals that James, Luke and Jessie served together during the Gulf War. Both men, who had been friends for some time, were attracted to the woman and the three of them spent a lot of time together. Jessie chose Luke, though she also flirted with James. Jealous and frustrated, he reported their relationship to their superior, as it was against army regulations. Jessie was to be transferred to another unit, but before this happened their base was hit by a missile. Luke saved James’s life but they apparently did not manage to save Jessie. At some point James seems to admit that he was responsible for her death, as he took her mask and they were attacked with some gas: “Survive, the urge a filter between you and death. Except when it’s her mask. She would’ve reached it first. You would not have begrudged her this. Except someone’s arm moves in place of my arm. It reaches out into the unusually silent calm.” It was also the attack that led to his visual impairment: “Sweatpants medic jotted something down. His hands were brillo when he turned my head to meet my eye. He examined my eye. He told me to focus. The room was softer than I first thought. No harsh hospital lights. The room was night.” James thus appears to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a sense of guilt connected with Jessie’s death, the originality of Pry lying more in its multimodal representation of his condition than in the subject matter itself. In her discussion of multimodal print narratives, Alison Gibbons argues that the integration of multiple semiotic channels within a single multimodal artefact leads to “an enhanced neurological response” (40), just as happens whenever at least two senses are combined in our perception of reality, and “may create more intense narrative experiences” (41). While the reader’s experience of multimodal books involves primarily, as noted by Gibbons, “verbal and pictorial recognition” (40), the technological affordances of digital media allow even further multiplication and integration of stimuli: The Breathing Wall and Pry rely on the reader’s visual, aural and haptic engagement in order to create

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a multimodal representation of consciousness which goes beyond the verbal model assumed in most narratological studies and seeks to do justice to the complexities of mental processes. With touchscreen-based devices gradually replacing books as the medium for narrative fiction, the reader’s embodiment will in all likelihood become an even more important aspect of his or her interaction with digital narratives in the future, just as their multimodal potential will allow even more innovative forms of consciousness representation. References Bernaerts, Lars et al. “Cognitive Narrative Studies: Themes and Variations.” Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 2013. 1–20. Print. Cannizzaro, Danny, and Samantha Gorman. Pry. 2015. iPad application. Caracciolo, Marco. “Embodiment at the Crossroads: Some Open Questions between Literary Interpretation and Cognitive Science.” Poetics Today 34.1–2 (2013): 233–53. Print. Caracciolo, Marco. “Punctuating Minds: Non-Verbal Cues for Consciousness Representation in Literary Narrative.” Journal of Literary Semantics 43.1 (2014): 43–69. Print. Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978. Print. Danesi, Marcel. Understanding Media Semiotics. London: Arnold, 2002. Print. Dovey, Jon, and Helen W Kennedy. Game Cultures: Computer Games as New Media. Maidenhead: Open UP, 2006. Print. Ensslin, Astrid. “Respiratory Narrative: Multimodality and Cybernetic Corporeality in ‘Physio-Cybertext.’” New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality. Ed. Ruth Page. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. 155–65. Print. Gibbons, Alison. Multimodality, Cognition, and Experimental Literature. New York and London: Routledge, 2012. Print. Hallet, Wolfgang. “The Multimodal Novel: The Integration of Modes and Media in Novelistic Narration.” Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research. Ed. Sandra Heinen and Roy Sommer. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. 129–53. Print. Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 2008. Print. Herman, David. “Introduction.” The Emergence of Mind: Representations of Consciousness in Narrative Discourse in English. Ed. David Herman. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 2011. 1–40. Print. Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen. Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication. London: Hodder Education, 2001. Print.



Kukkonen, Karin, and Marco Caracciolo. “Introduction: What Is the ‘Second Generation?’” Style 48.3 (2014): 261–75. Print. Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. London: U of Chicago P, 2003. Print. Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print. Maziarczyk, Grzegorz. The Novel as Book: Textual Materiality in Contemporary Fiction in English. Lublin: Wydawnictwo KUL, 2013. Print. Palmer, Alan. Fictional Minds. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 2004. Print. Perrone-Bertolotti, M. et al. “What Is That Little Voice Inside My Head? Inner Speech Phenomenology, Its Role in Cognitive Performance, and Its Relation to Self-­ Monitoring.” Behavioural Brain Research 261 (2014): 220–39. Print. Poulet, Georges. “Phenomenology of Reading.” New Literary History 1.1 (1969): 53–68. Print. Pullinger, Kate, Stefan Schemat, and babel. The Breathing Wall. 2004. CD-ROM. Richardson, Alan. “Studies in Literature and Cognition: A Field Map.” The Work of Fiction: Cognition, Culture, and Complexity. Ed. Alan Richardson and Ellen Spolsky. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004. 1–29. Print. Rowsell, Jennifer. “Toward a Phenomenology of Contemporary Reading.” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 37.2 (2014): 117–27. Print. Steels, Luc. “Language Re-Entrance and the ‘Inner Voice.’” Journal of Consciousness Studies 10.4 (2003): 173–85. Print.

chapter 14

The Mind of Then We Came to the End: A Transmental Approach to Contemporary Metafiction Nathan D. Frank Abstract Steven Pinker describes “a digital mind in an analog world” in Words and Rules by referring to virtuality as a “category of regular forms” – “forms that would be created” based on a particular logic, but which remain uncreated mental abstractions until irregularity instantiates unexpected conjugations. A latent virtual consciousness thus harbors formalisms that reflect categorical ways of thinking, and 21st-century novels explore such virtual consciousness at two discrete but compatible levels that effectively render the phrase “consciousness in the contemporary novel” a double entendre. At the first level, novels represent contemporary cultural conditions of the information age. At the second level is a narratological synthesis in which self-aware texts assume systemic authority over a novel’s narration through reflexive techniques that transgress boundaries and complicate attributions of consciousness. At the crossroads of these explorations lies Then We Came to the End, the debut novel by Joshua Ferris that makes a rich case study out of narratologies and critical theories, latent formalisms and the contemporary categories that drive them – which is to say, out of the mind of the novel and the novels of our minds. Through the contemporary fiction of Ferris, we are given further insight into what it means when novels think virtual consciousness and what it therefore means to have digital minds in an analog world.

Keywords mind – consciousness – virtuality – technogenesis – experientiality – metafiction

Our categories are not set in stone.

timothy morton, The Ecological Thought

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���7 | doi 10.1163/9789004347854_016



Consider this the hint of the century. r.e.m., “Losing My Religion”

⸪ Steven Pinker describes “a digital mind in an analog world” in Words and Rules by referring to virtuality as a “category of regular forms” – “forms that would be created” based on a particular logic, but which remain uncreated mental abstractions until irregularity replaces them by instantiating unexpected conjugations (280). A rule-embedded, virtual consciousness thus harbors formalisms that reflect categorical ways of thinking, and I argue that novels explore such virtual consciousness at two discrete but compatible levels that render the phrase “consciousness in the contemporary novel” a double entendre. At the first level, novels represent contemporary cultural conditions of the information age, in which “digital media and technogenesis” reveal How We Think (2012), to use N. Katherine Hayles’s recent title as a sobriquet for inquiries into virtual consciousness. By considering formal shifts from narrative to database at a time when seemingly everything gets digitally mapped in the wake of “the spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences, Hayles paves the way for conceiving of virtuality as a spatial systematisation of cognition. At the second level is a narratological synthesis in which – through the works of Bruce Kawin’s The Mind of the Novel (1982) and Marie-Laure Ryan’s Narrative as Virtual Reality (2001) – self-aware texts assume systemic authority over a novel’s narration through reflexive techniques that transgress boundaries and experiment by alternating between enacting “the mode […] of an embodied mind” and “the experience of a pure mind that floats above all concrete worlds in the ethereal universe of semantic possibility” (Ryan 354–55). Here “the cognitive turn” comes into orbit with “the spatial turn” – whether embodied or floating, these minds can be read as spatialised systems that give formal expression to a modified version of Pinker’s notion of virtuality by engaging the logic of narrating and narrated minds. At the fertile-but-remote crossroads of these explorations lies Then We Came to the End (2008), the debut novel by Joshua Ferris that makes a rich case study out of narratologies and critical theories, latent formalisms and the contemporary categories that drive them – which is to say, out of the minds of novels and the novels of our minds. This essay works toward a view of textual minds as transmental and suggests that such an approach to contemporary ­metafiction affords insights into what it means when virtual consciousness

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obtains in narrative, when novels spatialise into the sorts of minds that they reflect and mediate, and what it means to have digital minds in an analog world.

Hard Problems of Consciousness1

Defining something as elliptical as virtual consciousness and deploying it for literary analysis demands getting the slippery things in order; namely, virtual, consciousness, and mind. These are controversial terms that elude theoretical consensus. If a word like democracy is considered an “essentially contested concept” in the digital age, then surely virtuality studies and philosophies of the mind teem with terms that pose equally strenuous challenges to “empirical falsifiability” or “externally observable referents to which an unbiased observer could appeal” (Doughty 2).2 Hayles identifies think as “a loaded word if ever there was one” (17), and Kawin notes that self-consciousness “has often served as an amorphous critical term that refers to arty art without saying much about it” (13–14). Like analog, these concepts and others (digital, interface) are “so often misused” that they “should be uttered with extreme care” (Galloway 58). The following definitions heed this advice. They also draw from and support my own forays into the virtuality of literature with a view toward a new provocation: that meaningful interaction happens between textual and material worlds, and that this interaction is a transmental one that occurs in an autonomous zone held open by the presence of language. This provocation amounts to an extension of Eric Prieto’s assertion, in contextualizing geocriticism’s spatial approach to literary studies, that it is only through “the referential force of literature – the ability of the fictive imagination to interact with and meaningfully shape the real world in which we live – that we can understand the essential function of true literary creation” (20).

1 In The Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach (2014), Marco Caracciolo paraphrases David Chalmers (1995): “The problem of how to relate physical states of the brain with conscious mental states is known in the philosophy of mind as ‘the hard problem of consciousness’” (14). Joshua Ferris tackles this problem in his second novel, The Unnamed (2010). 2 Cf. W. B. Gallie. Gallie applies the phrase “essentially contested concept” to terms about which “we soon see that there is no one use of any of them which can be set up as its generally accepted and therefore correct or standard use” (157). Doughty extends Gallie’s phrase to democracy in “Democracy as an Essentially Contested Concept.”



The Virtual/Virtuality: Counterpoint

I want to highlight Pinker’s notion of virtuality, which he grounds in what he calls a digital logic, by putting it in conversation with my own recent commitment to “a condition of literature that is at once virtual, but also: possible, real, actual, physical, material, symbolic, fictional, ideal, and present … but not abstract and certainly not local.” With Pinker’s help, along with David Kreps, I supplement my spatialised concept of the virtual (“that which is present without being local”) by drawing out a logic not of pure digitality (for that is a logic of binary synecdoche3) but of interplay, of “affect between the analog and the digital,” which operates according to a logic that Jenny Sundén tells us “remains to be made explicit” (136). Explicating this logic does not define what virtuality is, since neither digitality nor digitality’s interplay with the analogis the same thing as virtuality, but it helps to appreciate what virtuality does, especially since digital media are so often credited with manifesting the virtual – perhaps it is more accurate to think of the virtual as manifesting the digital-analog interplay in so far as it manifests counterpoints to predominant modes. Virtuality depends on this logic, not in order to break it, but to elicit its hidden dimensions; virtuality is not an exception to a rule so much as it is the completion of a field of experience that rules attempt to manage by delimitation. Virtuality engages logic so that it can bring a non-local presence to some counterpoint buried within logical forms – not as a binary opposition, but as an inversion of predominance. Further, this counterpoint’s connection to logical forms and its illumination of other dimensions challenge an “ongoing indivisibility” (Kreps 715), or a one-dimensional scientism, and this challenge heads in the direction of a mind, or a system of consciousness. Counterpoint as the keyword in my formulation of virtuality comes from a recent summary definition at the end of “Virtuality and Humanity” that David Kreps contributes to The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality (2014): “Virtuality, with Bergson, we have found, can be equated with consciousness, seen as integral to a temporal continuity that forms a virtual counterpoint to matter, understood as a fixed, spatial stop” (724, emphasis added). But the headway that Kreps makes toward consciousness in his thinking through virtuality elides a crucial distinction between what consciousness is versus where consciousness resides, and this 3 Galloway draws on Terranova’s Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age (2004) to distinguish between the synecdoche of informatic media and the indexicality of previous media (8–9).

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elision is exploitable. “Virtuality is Consciousness” (713) adumbrates the following train of thought: Bergson’s conception of continuous reality is tempero-spatial, in direct contrast to the scientific conception of the spatiotemporal discrete moment it casts as the real. It is in duration, the durée reélle as Bergson terms it, that consciousness resides, as the human corollary of that continuity, that movement, which science can only express as a series of stops, and fails to conceive in its ongoing indivisibility. (715, emphasis added) As sympathetic as I am to this unpacking of Bergson, consciousness residing in duration is not the same thing as consciousness being duration. This equation links consciousness to duration to indetermination to choice to virtuality, so for Kreps, consciousness is virtuality. Still, the move of inverting a scientific spatiotemporality with a humanistic tempero-spatiality as a mode of counterpoint allows Kreps’s singular mode of virtuality to sit comfortably under a broader umbrella of his own making, an umbrella under which a multiplicity of virtualities operate as inverting counterpoints to given predominant modes; the relationship is indeed one of residence, not identity. For Pinker, whose study revolves around irregular verb forms, digitality is loosely invoked to convey regularised conjugation, a sense-making of the world of language, and by extension, of just the world, which is interesting in light of the claim by Kreps that “consciousness and choice” – and therefore, for him, virtuality – “beget […] language” (716). What this means is that each theorist approaches virtuality from a different side of language.4 For Pinker, words are intuitive starting points. Language is the realm where things get carved and categorised, regularly and logically, out of an analogical universe. Irregularity is the counterpoint that comes to bear; regularity prevails in a virtual sense until irregularity counterpoints this prevalence into non-existence, and irregularity assumes virtual status in the sense that it manifests new formalisms inviting us to reconsider – or perhaps to better appreciate – the older, more established ones. But for Kreps, virtuality begets language, so language is born not out of thing-making, but out of “consciousness and choice,” out of contingency and freedom, out of everything that things are not. Intuition leads to words rather than the other way around. 4 Mark Turner is another theorist who plays, in The Literary Mind, with the different directions from which one can approach language, and the story he offers “reverses [Pinker’s] view” of how “language is built” (168).



Virtuality spatialises literature in the way that it does (that is, by making present something that is not local) because, following Pinker and Kreps as they each make their opposite ways toward the presence of language, the virtual is a counterpoint to any given predominant mode. Since “narrative is a temporal technology” (Hayles 180), then the virtuality of literature takes temporality as a predominant starting point and conditions it with spatiality. If another dominant mode of literature is that it is characteristically analogical (cf. Galloway 55), then virtuality conditions it with digitality.

Mind/System of Consciousness: Transmental

Some may object that this drawing out of a logic of interplay, of affect between the digital and the analog, is tantamount to finding a logic between logics. Such an objection is correct and is called incompatibility. Alexander Galloway explains that incompatibility separates the logics of history and its representational forms, exacerbating “the impossibility of thinking the global in the here and now, of reading the present as historical. Thus the truth of social life as a whole is increasingly incompatible with its own expression” (vii–viii). Galloway’s term for coping with incompatibility is interface, and his theory is that effects inevitably occur within interfaces regardless of whether they successfully mediate the differences between that which is to be represented and the formal categories that attempt such representations. In this light, incompatibility updates the terminology surrounding representability. Incompatibility also extends to what Marco Caracciolo calls the experientiality of narrative or to what Kawin calls the mind of a novel, and in particular, the experience and mindfulness of ineffability. Louis Armand compellingly articulates incompatibility in similar terms by suggesting “that mind is constituted solely in the separation or interface of the representable and the unrepresentable, on the cusp of verifiability, analogy, metaphor or mimesis, or as the division between that which thinks and that which makes thinking possible” (7–8). Triangulating mind “as the division between,” Armand’s definition carries a lot of weight when we reconsider what a virtual counterpoint does to the “ongoing indivisibility” of science and how science accounts for reality; the implication is what this division also does to representations of reality. Armand’s division counterpoints space with time, database with narrative, quantity with quality. It also counterpoints indivisibility with divisibility in a way that removes barriers and heads toward infinity. In an unexpected twist, mind is entirely ecological, since everything is interconnected and infinitely divisible. Timothy Morton explains:

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Imagine a line. Now remove the middle third. You have two shorter lines with an equal-sized space between them. Now remove the middle thirds of the two lines you have left. Keep going. You are creating a Cantor set. … The Cantor set contains an infinite number of points. Yet it also contains an infinite set of no-points. It appears to contain two very different ­infinities. (55) As a leading object-oriented ontologist, Morton flattens the fields of s­ ubjectivity and objectivity; one could say that he counterpoints predominant subjectivity with an objectivity lurking within. Morton resists the idea of consciousness as “some lofty bonus prize for being elaborately wired” and he suggests instead that consciousness is “a default mode that came bundled with the software” (114). For Morton, to glimpse another mind is to gaze upon “the dark side of the moon” (80) – yet this cold ecological thought does not vitiate intimacy. It enhances it, since ecology, in the sense that Morton advocates, binds everything to everything else in a way that puts all minds and non-minds on equal footing. Minds and the things of the environment find themselves enmeshed5 in an intimate and interactive relationship. Morton also says that posthumanism participates “too glibly” in “a deconstruction of humanness,” and he lumps Hayles in with those who are “suspiciously keen to delete the paradigm of humanness like a bad draft” (113). Hayles does not discuss Morton, but she gets to the heart of his interconnectedness by focusing on technogenesis, “the idea that humans and technics have coevolved together” (10), and that “the evolution of humans and tools” leads to “a dynamic interplay between the kinds of environmental stimuli created in information-intensive environments and the adaptive potential of cognitive faculties in concert with them” (97). Moreover, Hayles pits database against narrative (as Les Manovich does) to articulate another ecological thought and a new dynamic interplay. For Hayles, this interplay involves dancers who are “natural symbionts” more than they are Manovich’s “natural enemies” (176). Hayles shows that narrative and database need and enhance each other as virtual counterpoints to the other’s predominant modes. As already noted, narratives are temporal technologies, whereas “databases, by contrast, lend themselves more readily to spatial displays” (180). Databases 5 Morton replaces “nature” with “mesh,” and he turns it toward “interconnectedness” and “interdependence” by trans-ing it: Mesh can mean the holes in a network and threading between them. It suggests both hardness and delicacy (28). Morton believes that his “mesh” is a “perfect” word choice (28), and he shies away from “inventing clever ways of saying things” (40). Otherwise, transnature might serve him well.



lend themselves to “global explanation,” while narratives concern themselves with locality; finally, “databases tend toward inclusivity, narratives toward selectivity” (182). These categories – temporal/spatial, local/global, selective/inclusive – are interactive and coevolutionary formalisms. The presence of whatever is predominant in one educes whatever is latent in the other. Hayles paraphrases this observation by Manovich “when he argues that for narrative, the syntagmatic order of linear unfolding is actually present on the page, while the paradigmatic possibilities of alternative word choices are only virtually present. For databases, the reverse is true” (180). While Hayles calls attention to some technical errors in Manovich’s “influential formulation,” she grants that it “contains a kernel of truth” and that “it captures the overall sense that the temporal ordering crucial for narrative is only virtually present in the database, whereas spatial display is explicit” (181). Nor are these virtual presences merely academic – while “global explanations are typically now rooted in data” (181), naked data still require narrative to make it intelligible. “When Ben Bernanke testifies before Congress,” for example, “he typically does not recount data alone. Rather, he tells a story, and it is the story, rather than the data by themselves, that propagates through news media, because it encapsulates in easily comprehensible form the meaning exposed by data collection and analysis” (182). In other words, narrative localises the global, making comprehensibility out of incomprehensibility. But this has always been the case. “What has changed in the information-intensive milieu of the twenty-first century is the position narrative occupies in the culture,” and Hayles references literary works that “speak to the challenges that database poses to narrative in the age of information” (181–82). I am inching ever closer to doing the same, especially since the same dynamic also explains why the expansion of database is a powerful force constantly spawning new narratives. The flip side of narrative’s inability to tell the story is the proliferation of narratives as they transform to accommodate new data and mutate to probe what lies beyond the exponentially expanding infosphere. No longer singular, narratives remain the necessary others to database’s ontology. (183) The upshot is that narrative is central to human cognition in a way that database is not, that “narrative models how the mind thinks and how the world works” (179), but also that there is an “abiding tension” between the two that “provides a complex field of interaction, which contemporary print novels

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interrogate. Although narratives will not disappear, their forms and functions are being transformed by the seemingly irresistible forces of digital databases” (198). Hayles thus gestures toward digitally inflected narrative as an auspicious approach to the contemporary print novel, and Marie-Laure Ryan, conversing with Hayles’s virtuality and intersecting with her spatiality, steers this approach through a narratological framework. For Ryan, “virtual narration” serves as an “allegory of immersion” and concatenates an aspect of narration that stands in contrast to interactivity. Immersive literature, in Ryan’s terms, depends on the spatialising of storyworlds into places that readers can inhabit, whereas interactive literature depends on reminders that the medium is textual, thereby preventing any sort of readerly descent into textually spatialised worlds. Ryan’s definition of virtual narration as “a way of evoking events that resists the expectation of reality inherent to language in general and to narrative discourse in particular” (163) affords her a unique narratological take on incompatibility and divisibility, since “the virtual mode of narration emphasises [a] dual perspective through its unique ability to filter the reflected world through the reflecting medium” (166). When faced with such a technique, the disorientation of the reader and his efforts to find his way in a strange world are reflected within the fictional world itself through a virtual narration that retraces the formation of images in the mind of the reader. Because its operations are foregrounded, the reading mind is objectified within the text as a visible reflecting surface. (168) As an allegory of immersion, virtual narration actually aligns more closely with the interactivity that it appears to counterpoint, and it culminates in a “strange loop” (165) that bounces readers between reflecting devices and their reflections, drawing attention to the lack of immersion that readers experience precisely because of how the fictional world is constructed; in turn, an “ontological paradox” emerges, since the description of the reflection of the fictional world in the reader’s mind originates in the fictional world itself. The narrator’s ability to read the reader’s mind creates an ontological paradox, not so much because it transgresses ontological boundaries – after all, authors have access to the minds of their characters – but because it transgresses them in the wrong direction: characters are not supposed to be aware of readers. ryan 169



Characters are not supposed to be aware of readers, and “communication presupposes that sender and receiver be members of the same world” (169). This  presupposition describes the need for interface, which addresses incompatibility when “the outside is evoked in order that the inside may take place” (Galloway 32). Evocative narrative devices qua interface call attention to the divisibility between worlds and the problem of representation from one to the other. It is here, in this disparity between worlds where work is done as support for, or resistance to, a category of logic that either prevents or “enables us to convert the temporal flow of language into a global image that exists all at once in the mind” (Ryan 17). Just as narrative localises the global, virtual narration spans worlds to globalise the local. To the reading mind that is “objectified” via  virtual narration “within the text as a visible reflecting surface,” a transmental depth awaits. Arthur Kroker envisions a “traversal consciousness” on its way  to “figural aesthetics” and suggests, as we gaze into “increasingly algorithmic minds” (195), that there are worse fates than objectification. Kawin intersects with Ryan’s understanding of language as inherently limited and (in turn) as a self-conscious flirtation with transcendence. Ryan conceives of virtual reality’s (vr’s) potential as a “total art” and transfers vr’s two main characteristics – immersion and interactivity – to print literature with a view toward unpacking its “potential and limitations” (12). She articulates linguistic limitation in terms of a literature that, “bound as it is to a single medium, is mostly an art of overcoming restraints”; that these restraints are contextualised by today’s “orgy of information” makes literature’s limitations all the more pronounced (353–54). Kawin’s formulation builds from the same premise but pushes more aggressively toward radical notions of consciousness, culminating, broadly, in a “mind of the text,” and more specifically, in a “mind of the novel.” Let us be clear: these minds are, for Kawin, analogies and imitations. Kawin does not suggest that a novel can have a mind in any strong sense, but he does gravitate toward textual minds in a softer, perhaps more virtual, sense. Recognizing that language “has the consciousness that one gives it,” and further acknowledging an extreme end of the spectrum at “which language ‘has’ or appears to reflect the conscious intention to express itself or to let itself be said” bring us to a point at which “the only consciousness left for the reader to imagine is a mind of the text” (Kawin 32). Resemblance between “actual” minds and “textual” minds can become so great that their putative differences raise classical epistemological dilemmas that always surface when such essentially contested concepts are up for debate. These dilemmas tempt many theorists to conclude that systems highly reminiscent of “actual” minds might as well

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be minds. After all, they pose no externally observable referents to which an unbiased observer could appeal. Morton, contemplating the possibilities for consciousness in artificial intelligence (ai), asks “if it walks like a mind and quacks like a mind, why not call it one?” (71). The anti-AI camp finds this line of argumentation less than satisfying, generally because of the counter-assertion that machinic inputs and outputs fail to add up to a causal intentionality, in which case the epistemological impasse (in which one cannot prove that an object is not a subject) dissolves into a lack of externally observable referents in exactly the other direction: one also cannot prove that a human mind is anything more than brain-as-machine, with its own system of inputs and outputs adding up to a system of consciousness. Chasing intentionality as a precondition of consciousness is fraught with the same problems as chasing consciousness as a precondition of a mind. Each side of this debate uses the same logic as the other, in a selectively-virtual way that ultimately falls back on empiricism as grounds for insisting on two abstract possibilities. If we dispense with the partisanship of the empirical grid and examine each of these possibilities, they sit surprisingly comfortably together: what appears to be intentionality might preconditionally drive consciousness, and what appears to be consciousness might preconditionally drive a mind. Each of these possibilities is at work in Kawin. Working through his treatment of consciousness attribution in relation to language and referents, we see that language “‘has’ or appears to reflect the conscious intention to express itself.” Kawin also relays that “language is a system of abstract referents” (22) that may fail to express “new intuitions, or deeply felt experiences” (23), and that “one often finds works that are charged with frustration at the limits of conceptual reference and with a drive to invent a new politics of consciousness or to go beyond naming to incarnation” (23–24). Kawin reads the reflexivity of a “limited whole” as systemic self-consciousness that “projects a systemic integration, a supernarrator, ‘a mind of the text,’ a self that is the centre of the mystery and whose limits are those of the work” (22). Finally, “these limits suggest but necessarily do not describe the means by which they may be transcended” (9). The limits of language provide a meta-referent, since language can name transcendence as a concept without incarnating transcendent experience. But does a mind incarnate transcendence? How do we know, without language expressing the proof? What is it that we ask of language that we are not asking of minds? If it were up to language, we would (by definition) know nothing of the ineffable. So, next question: what do minds do that sets them apart from language? That minds can allegedly “feel,” “know,” and “intend” things simply returns us to an epistemological impasse, since “proof” of ineffable feelings,



knowledge, and intentions always comes through narrative: “I had an indescribable feeling; I am a mind.” This circular stalemate sounds remarkably like Morton’s mesh in that we describe what something is according to its c­ ompeting characteristics: “The mesh can mean the holes in a network and threading between them. It suggests both hardness and delicacy” (28; cf. note 6). Here is our logic between logics, our incompatibility, our name for a concept that defies expression – not quite dialectic, it is what happens whenever anything gets “trans-ed.” Jenny Sundén “transes” the digital using the same logic, reading steampunk’s infatuation with the analog as inseparable from digitality. It is worth quoting her at length to see how the transing of the digital could be applied to the mental: To […] trans the digital […] is to transcend, transgress, or otherwise bend the boundaries of media (and bodies) […] The “punk” in steampunk works as a critical tool in that it provides ways of bending, or hacking, or reimagining the past […] When steam […] transes the digital, this is a process that highlights the materiality of the digital, as well as its connectedness with other temporal orders and technological forms. Steampunk […] is a reconsideration, or transing, of the (digital) present […] Trans also draws attention to material specificity. Transgressions accentuate the transgressed medium, or body. A transgression of a category, a body, a form, makes visible the category itself, its material specificity. (146–47) By calling attention to literature’s inability to express the ineffable, the limited medium’s delicate holes appear as spaces between its much stronger netting, its hardness. The “temporal orders” of narrative are “accentuated” and “reconsidered” in terms of a mentality or intelligence that has to this point been relegated to the realm of imitation and analogy. A lack of discernable intentionality and experience falls between the harder attributions of consciousness that catch enough “limited wholeness” in its narrative web to be considered mental. Transmentality serves as “a critical tool” that provides a way of “bending, or hacking or reimagining” the mind, which can now be viewed as an infinite, reflective rupture between a sense of self and the environment with which this self coevolves: a technogenetic interface that compatibilises the logics of historical and representational worlds. Kawin maintains that systemic self-consciousness in novels “corresponds closely to human consciousness – not because the work is autonomous, but because human consciousness is limited; the self is its own boundary, as is language” (18). Kawin’s focus on limitation over autonomy makes ­narratological

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sense if limitation is textually demonstrable in a way that autonomy is not. Is this the case? Even for Kawin, “the question for a given work is whether this awareness is presented as an aspect of the author’s attitude or as an inherent property of the ‘autonomous’ text” (16). It is this question that I bring to bear on Then We Came to the End.

Textual Minds

Attributing consciousness to textual minds is tricky. Caracciolo cites an “attribution of consciousness” by Owen Flanagan to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (the character, not the work as a whole), and asks whether “Flanagan made a blunder,” since “we all know – even without being literary theorists – that characters do not have subjective experiences, that they are just ‘word-masses’” (2). Caracciolo asks, “where does the experience that Flanagan attributes to Hamlet come from?” and answers, “[Flanagan’s] own” (3). But what if Flanagan’s own experience, attributable as Hamlet’s consciousness, is divisible as a range of interactions, and what if some of these interactions are between Flanagan’s sense of self and different environments that coevolve? And what if these different environments include Hayles’s “information-intensive mileu” and an environment of transcendence-seeking linguistic limitation? Finally, what if these two environments in particular are really two counterpoints within a single system? If we entertain these possibilities, then Flanagan’s experience might be a technogenetic encounter within an autonomous space occupied by the linguistic presence of Hamlet (the work as a whole, not the character) – the Hamlet that “developed a means of dramatising its own limits,” that was “overburdened with Humanist self-consciousness” and which “could not function as a conventional tragedy and therefore found itself dealing more with the nature of theatre than with the problem of revenge” (Kawin 285). Kawin’s analysis of Hamlet suggests that it is not necessarily “Flanagan’s experience” that makes Flanagan’s consciousness attributable to the character, but that some “underlying or originating consciousness” is inherently attributable to Hamlet before Flanagan ever gets to it, simply because it is made of language and “language is so uniquely a product of consciousness that it inevitably suggests to the reader that someone is using it” (32). Immediately it will be said that the “someone using” language is the author and/or narrator, but even so, the suggestion is that this underlying, originating consciousness is at some level independent of Flanagan-as-reader. This is a formalist thing to say, but it does not deny the reader’s interaction with the text. Moreover, virtuality colours the interaction because the logic of a genre is precisely what S­ hakespeare



subverts in order to interact with Flanagan’s experience of, and expectations for, tragic drama. Like an irregular verb form, Hamlet transes the generic conjugation, and the virtual Hamlet lying dormant in Flanagan’s consciousness is counterpointed by the actual Hamlet that transes Flanagan’s experience by the time he attributes consciousness to the character. Even in the sense that it is Flanagan’s experience allowing him to attribute consciousness to the character, the experience is still one of unexpected, counterpointed interaction with an intentionally subversive system pushing against its own limits, rather than some indivisible backdrop of experience against which the text operates. On this formalist level, on which categories of genre provide an interactive environment, and on which authors carve newness into existence, Joshua Ferris enters the picture. New genres arise not just when certain highly innovative authors become dissatisfied with the limitations imposed on them by existing narrative methods but when these authors arrive at their new methods by dramatising the limits of the old from within those structures, so that the new genre appears to create itself out of the old. kawin 285

Kawin refers here to Shakespeare and Beckett, but Ferris is another such highly innovative author who arrives at new methods by dramatising the limits of the old from within existing structures, and consciousness is therefore attributable to his novel in a way that calls attention to our interactions with it – that is, in a way that transes our experiences and therefore our minds: a transmentality occurring in an autonomous zone of interaction held open by the presence of Ferris’s language.

The Consciousness of Lynn Mason

“Lynn Mason was intimidating, mercurial, unapproachable, fashionable, and consummately professional. She was not a big woman – in fact, she was rather petite – but when we thought of her from home at night, she loomed large” (Ferris 44). That this Lynn Mason, a top executive in the Chicago advertising firm where Then We Came to the End unfolds, is so inaccessible to the narrating “we” means that she is equally inaccessible to the reading “we,” and our reading minds are disoriented and objectified as visible reflecting surfaces in the way that Ryan predicts as a consequence of virtual narration. But in this case, Lynn Mason’s motives and actions are obscured even before we realise that she

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is being virtually narrated. The narrating “we” is a rumour mill, and rumour has it that Lynn has cancer and is scheduled for a big surgery, yet she never shows any signs of illness, never acknowledges the concern of her colleagues, and even appears at work on the day that her rumoured surgery is to happen. “We” do not understand, “we” would not behave this way, so “our” experiences prevent us from attributing a categorical, pre-set form of consciousness to Lynn Mason. Here is a character acting as one of Pinker’s irregular verb forms. Unreliability is at work in the narrative on multiple levels, but at the level of interacting with this character’s textual mind, we are blocked well before we see our own minds as reflectors. We conjugate Lynn Mason, virtually, based on setting and plot, but we must rethink this conjugation as her irregularities counterpoint her generic character into non-existence. In place of this virtual character emerges a new Lynn Mason – via virtual narration, as we are about to see – her irregularity counterpointing our subverted expectations first into comprehensibility, and then into reality.

The Consciousness of Hank Neary

“Hank Neary, our black writer who wore the same brown corduroy suit coat day after day, so that either he never cleaned the one, or had an entire closet full of the same, was working on a failed novel” (70). But Hank Neary does not fail, and he reads an excerpt from the novel that he completes, his newly published manuscript, toward the end of Then We Came to the End. In this reading, Hank Neary’s text repeats verbatim the account of Lynn Mason the night before her operation, which begins on page 196 of Then We Came to the End, and is picked up in quotation on page 371 as Hank Neary reads from his novel. As with any mise-en-abyme, Hank Neary’s nesting of the novel that he writes into a novel that he is a part of provides a clear-cut instance of Ryan’s virtual narration, since Hank Neary’s reading surely is a way of evoking events that resists the expectation of reality inherent in Ferris’s language in general and in Then We Came to the End in particular. While there are many ways of interpreting this evocative device, the one that pertains to transmentality is the one that construes Hank Neary’s text as coequal with, or a perfectly accurate representation of, the “real” Lynn Mason – the one in which the novel acts so perfectly as an interface that it erases any incompatibility between communicators of different worlds; this interpretation is also the least likely, and the one that literary theory is least likely to embrace. “But why,” to echo dialogue from David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, “construct a falsehood that could be readily demolished?” (203). Perhaps fiction-as-theory



sometimes leads theory-as-fiction. Adam Levin, for instance, fictionalises this theory of perfectly accurate representation in The Instructions (2010), when his protagonist, Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, a boy who thinks he may be the Messiah, has his “scripture” translated into Hebrew and then back into English without a single textual deviation from the original manuscript. “Literature, in other words, can insert itself at a critical phase in the process of concept formation between that of the vague intuition and that of the established concept” (Prieto 14). If I am extending Prieto’s assertion that the referential force of literature interacts with and meaningfully shapes the real world, then this theory of perfectly accurate interpretation extends even further than Bernard Westphal’s assertion that inspires Prieto. Westphal, for instance, will never get tired of repeating that fiction does not reproduce the real, but actualizes new virtualities that had remained unformulated, and that then go on to interact with the real according to the logic of hypertextual interfaces […] fiction detects possibilities buried in the folds of the real, knowing that these folds have not been temporalized. qtd. in prieto 20

And perhaps Westphal is correct – perhaps fiction does not reproduce the real, but if it actualizes new virtualities, then its interaction with reality may approximate something that approaches perfectly accurate representation. Or, perhaps fiction creates reality without reproducing or representing it, so that a “perfectly accurate representation” becomes a moot point in light of what Prieto calls “the essential function of true literary creation.” In this light, the creative powers of fiction go beyond fiction’s ability to create its own conditions and into a condition of literature which I define as “a condition in which literary texts refer to the conditions they create instead of referring to the conditions that create them.” Ferris makes clear that he is aware of this possibility, and we see this condition at work in Ferris’s fiction – not just Then We Came to the End, but also To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014). In this most recent novel, Ferris very thoughtfully meditates on the power of his creativity as it interacts with the material world. In response to an interview question regarding his penchant for fictionalizing things such as disease and religion, Ferris responds that selfconscious reflections on these fictionalizations are part of his attempt to interact with reality: If I’m getting someone to Google Ulmism, the religion in the book, to see if it’s real, then on some level I have managed to make Ulmism a real

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religion, haven’t I? It’s real in the pages of the novel, and it’s real enough to be Googled… Playing games is part of the fictional endeavor. It’s part of my attempt to take the world seriously. (“Always on Display”)

The Consciousness of You

“But for the moment, it was nice to sit there together. We were the only two left. Just the two of us, you and me” (385). In the concluding line of Then We Came to the End, you appear. Your consciousness is inscribed, unexpectedly, into a form that has been overtly dramatising the first-person plural mode of narration. You might be a reader, a narratee, a character, or some composite construction, but in any case you are integral to a plural formalism and to a categorical way of thinking. You consider attributing consciousness to yourself in a way that feels disturbingly irregular. Your experience of yourself seems a little meshy and transed, and you are unsure of your intentions, unsure of how to cope with this environment, even as you evolve with it, and you are left wondering, as David Herman does (2002), whether “narrative you” diminishes or enhances the story’s “ability to signal the problems and possibilities of the narrative itself,” whether you “are the narratological counterpart to saying that the glass is half empty or the glass is half full” (370–71).

The Transmentality of Then We Came to the End

Predominantly, Ferris spatially arrays the contents of his chapters:

(Ferris, Then We Came to the End 15)



These spatial displays mimic the form of “a new century”:

(Ferris, Then We Came to the End 13) Ferris counterpoints the form of a new century into narrative. There is plenty more to be said of this narrative than the consciousness of you, Hank Neary, and Lynn Mason. Entire studies could be spent exploring Ferris’s “we” narrative, as Uri Margolin calls it, or the intermental thought that he has created, as Alan Palmer calls it by referencing Margolin (218–30). More thought could be given to the proliferation of “we” narratives in light of Hayles’s assertion that narratives lying “beyond the exponentially expanding infosphere” are “no longer singular.” And I have left Ferris’s commentary on such things as contemporary capitalist flows, dot-com bubbles, and mental health invitingly untapped in favour of a more a priori exploration that I hope achieves a systemic whole that pushes against its own limits. But before going fully metacritical, there is one last formal aspect of Then We Came to the End to consider, which is that the only chapter in the entire novel that is not preceded by catalogued, spatially-arrayed contents is the one that begins, “The night before the operation she has no association dinners to go to, no awards ceremonies, no networking functions” (196) – the same line that Hank Neary uses to begin the reading of his novel, nearly two-hundred pages later. This also happens to be the only chapter that does not adopt the first-person plural mode of narration. The narration of this chapter, “The Thing to Do and the Place to Be,” is in the mode of thirdperson omniscience, with unfettered access to Lynn Mason’s irregularities – her inner dialogues, anxieties, depression, insecurities, and fear of cancer. The prologue entitled “You Don’t Know What’s In My Heart” disturbingly invokes an unnamed “me” in symmetry with the unnamed “you” that ends the novel, and the voice that arises in the midst of this – not the “we” that pervades elsewhere, but something or someone else – suggests a text that knows, feels, intends, and even identifies itself as a divisible and interactive interface between “me and you,” building toward a central consciousness that seeks to renew “us.” ***

The Mind of Then We Came to the End


I entitled the previous section “Textual Minds” rather than piggy-backing on Palmer’s Fictional Minds since not all textual minds are necessarily fictional, though fictional minds are always textual. This distinction clarifies that what is at issue is the virtually narrated consciousness of a work’s mind rather than the minds of a work’s characters (Hamlet, not Hamlet), and it allows for nonfictional texts to push against their own limits and counterpoint logic. We can likewise extend Pinker’s “digital mind in an analog world” to Sundén’s aphorism that “without the digital there would be no analog” (144), and conclude that without minds, there would be no worlds. We can just as easily reverse course by recognizing technogenesis and reflexivity: without a world with which to coevolve, there are no minds. And without language, there is no interaction, no autonomous generation, no ecology, no coevolution, no compatibility, no causality, and no expression of consciousness – just a permanent, unbridgeable, reductive trauma that holds “the truth of social life” forever apart “from its own expression.” But it is precisely through this empty space, through this infinite and reflective rupture that welcomes language and invites transmentality, that we might also explore ways to renew ourselves, to regain analog minds in an increasingly digital world. References Armand, Louis. “Introduction.” Mind Factory. Ed. Louis Armand. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2005. 1–8. Print. Caracciolo, Marco. The Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach. Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014. Print. Doughty, Howard. “Democracy as an Essentially Contested Concept.” The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal 19.1 (2014): 1–21. Print. Ferris, Joshua. “Always on Display: An Interview with Joshua Ferris.” Interview by Jonathan Lee. The Paris Review 19 May 2014. Web. 14 Dec 2015. Ferris, Joshua. Then We Came to the End. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print. Ferris, Joshua. To Rise Again At A Decent Hour. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print. Ferris, Joshua. The Unnamed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print. Frank, Nathan. “Remapping the Present: Dave Eggers’s Spatial Virtuality and the Condition of Literature.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 14.4 (2014). Web. 14 Dec 2015. Gallie, W. B. “Essentially Contested Concepts.” Philosophy and the Historical Understanding. London: Chatto & Windus, 1964. 157–91. Print.



Galloway, Alexander. The Interface Effect. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Print. Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 2012. Print. Herman, David. Story Logic. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2002. Print. Kawin, Bruce. The Mind of the Novel: Reflexive Fiction and the Ineffable. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1982. Print. Kreps, David. “Virtuality and Humanity.” The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality. Ed. Mark Grimshaw. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. Print. Kroker, Arthur. Exits to the Posthuman Future. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2014. Print. Levin, Adam. The Instructions. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2010. Print. Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2002. Print. Margolin, Uri. “Telling Our Story: On ‘We’ Literary Narratives.” Language and Literature 5.2 (1996): 155–33. Print. Mitchell, David. The Bone Clocks. New York: Random House, 2014. Print. Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010. Print. Palmer, Alan. Fictional Minds. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2004. Print. Pinker, Steven. Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. New York: Harper Perennial, 2011. Print. Prieto, Eric. “Geocriticism, Geopoetics, Geophilosophy and Beyond.” Geocritical Explorations: Space, Place, and Mapping in Literary and Cultural Studies. Ed. Robert Tally, Jr. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 13–27. Print. Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003. Print. Sundén, Jenny. “Technologies of Feeling: Affect Between the Analog and the Digital.” Networked Affect. Ed. Ken Hillis, Susanna Paasonen, and Michael Petit. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2015. 135–50. Print. Terranova, Tiziana. Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London: Pluto P, 2004. Print. Turner, Mark. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.

Index 9/11 (or September 11/September 11th)  7, 161–163, 166–169, 171–173 Alien 5, 27–28, 30, 32, 35–37, 68, 98, 102, 104 alien phenomenology 56 ambiguity 41n7, 46, 62, 108, 111–112, 112n, 113, 117 analog 225–228, 230, 236, 243 Armand, Louis 230 art 2–3, 3n3, 4, 6, 9, 68, 90–91, 91n1, 95n8, 96, 102n16, 108–114, 117–121, 121n, 122, 130–132, 136, 153, 155, 213, 227, 234 artificial intelligence 5, 11–12, 14, 15, 19–22, 23n, 25, 144, 235 autism 6, 56–60, 62–63, 65–66, 68–69, 72–77, 79–81, 83–86, 197n6, 7 autism spectrum 59, 73, 73n2 autistic presence 63 babel (artist) 8, 208–209, 213, 215, 217 The Breathing Wall 8, 208–209, 211–217, 219, 222 Baggs, Amanda 72, 84, 86 “In My Language”  84 Bammer, Angelika 43n11 Baron-Cohen, Simon 75–76, 82, 86 Basu, Balaka 39–40, 40n4, 5, 41 Baudrillard, Jean 162–163 Beckett, Samuel 238 Bergson, Henri 228–229 Bernanke, Ben 232 Bettelheim, Bruno 74, 74n4 Blackmore, Susan 2, 94–95, 95n7 Bloch, Ernst 43n11 body 22, 29–30, 33, 57, 68, 72–73, 77–79, 84–85, 85n, 99, 102, 133, 138, 147, 149, 174, 176–182, 209, 211, 215, 216, 221, 236 Bogost, Ian 56, 68 brain 1, 4–5, 8, 13, 16, 20–21, 27, 29–31, 34–36, 56, 58, 74–78, 85, 95, 95n7, 135, 146, 148–149, 151, 153, 155–156, 157n, 172, 186, 211, 215, 227n1, 235 Broad, Katherine R.  39–40, 40n4, 5, 41 Bush, George W. 166 Byatt, A. S. 7, 124–125, 125n1–2, 126, 126n, 128n, 130, 130n, 131, 132n, 133–134, 134n12, 15, 135–137, 139–141, 141n26, 142

A Whistling Woman 124, 126, 133–134, 134n11, 12, 135, 135n16 Babel Tower 124, 126, 133, 134n11, 12, 135, 135n16 Frederica Quartet 124–126 Still Life 124, 126, 130, 132, 132n The Virgin in the Garden 124, 126–128, 130, 130n Cannizzaro, Danny 8, 208–209, 217–222 Pry 8, 208–209, 211–213, 217–222 Capgras Syndrome 7, 144, 146 Caracciolo, Marco 57, 211–212, 227n1, 230, 237 Chalmers, David 13, 41n7, 227n1 cognition 3, 3n4, 5–6, 24, 27–28, 31–32, 35–36, 56, 59–60, 74–75, 77–78, 78n7, 90, 108–109, 118–119, 149, 176, 211, 226, 232 cognitive narratology 60 cognitive science 6, 8, 72, 74, 74n3, 75–78, 82, 84, 86, 93–94, 146, 210–211 Cohn, Dorrit 210 communication 5, 17n9, 28, 28n2, 36, 38, 42, 44, 47, 50, 52–53, 57, 72–73, 73n2, 112, 130–131, 132n8, 192–195, 201, 209, 211, 213–214, 234 connectionism 20 conscious conscience 16 contradiction 6, 17, 23, 89–91, 91n1, 94–95, 98, 98n11, 99, 103–106, 106n22, 119 counterpoint 32n, 228–231, 233, 237–239, 242–243 creative activity 4 creative potential 89, 95 Damasio, Antonio 72–73, 73n1, 77–78, 78n6, 79–80, 82, 146, 178 Danesi, Marcel 211 defamiliarisation 57 Dennett, Daniel 2, 13–14, 14n6, 89, 106, 145, 209–210 developmental disorder 57, 73, 73n2 digital(ity) 8–9, 18–19, 21n15, 208–209, 211–212, 212n3, 213–214, 217–218, 222–223, 225–230, 233, 236, 243

246 Doughty, Howard 227, 227n2 dystopia 38–39, 39n3, 40, 40n5 écriture feminine 174, 177–178 embodiment 5–8, 52, 72–73, 78–80, 83, 174, 178, 208–209, 211, 216, 221, 223 empathy 34, 57, 67, 76, 83–85, 96, 136–137, 144, 154–155, 158 Ensslin, Astrid 216–217 escapism 108, 122 eupsychia 38, 42, 42n10, 43, 51, 53–54 executive dysfunction 76 extreme states 124, 130 Ferris, Joshua 8, 225–226, 227n1, 238–242 Then We Came To The End 8, 225–226, 237–242 The Unnamed 227n1 To Rise Again At A Decent Hour 240 fictional 3, 6–8, 12, 56, 58–59, 66, 89, 90, 92–93, 93n5, 94, 94n, 95–96, 98–99, 102–103, 103n19, 104–105, 106n22, 111, 124, 135n17, 156, 185, 189, 208, 210–212, 216, 228, 233, 241, 243 fidelity 79–80, 115, 117, 119 Flanagan, Owen 237–238 Foucault, Michel 134n1, 139, 140n, 141, 141n24 free will 1–2 Frith, Uta 74–75, 82–83, 85 Galloway, Alexander 227, 228n, 230, 234 Galloway, Janice 7, 174–179, 182, 184–189 The Trick is to Keep Breathing 7, 174–178, 183–185 Gerrold, David 5, 11, 11n, 12, 14–19, 22–25 When HARLIE Was One 5, 11–12, 14–15, 19–20, 24–25 Gibbons, Alison 222 Glasersfeld, Ernst 31, 34 Gorman, Samantha 8, 208–209, 217, 219–222 Pry 8, 208–209, 211–213, 217–222 Grandin, Temple 6, 72, 81–84 Emergence 84 Thinking in Pictures 6, 81, 83 granularity 56, 61–62 Haddon, Mark 57, 197 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time 57, 197

Index Hallet, Wolfgang 214 hallucination 32, 94–95, 108, 111–112, 118, 137, 215, 219 Hayles, N. Katherine 213, 226–227, 230–233, 237, 242 Herman, David 61, 146, 149, 157, 209, 209n, 210, 241 Hintz, Carrie 39n3, 40, 40n4–5, 41 historical fiction 125n2 Hoban, Russell 6, 108–111, 113–114, 118, 121, 121n, 122 Riddley Walker 110 The Medusa Frequency 6, 108–109, 109n, 110, 110n, 111–114, 118–120, 121n, 122 The Moment under the Moment 109, 109n Hughes, Robert 72, 83 Running with Walker 72, 83 Hulme, Keri 7, 191–192, 192n3, 193–195, 196n, 204n, 205, 206n the bone people 7, 191–192, 192n3, 193–194, 197, 199, 205 hyperpatriotism 167, 172 imagination 3, 3n2, 9, 66, 96–97, 97n, 98, 112, 124, 133, 155, 169, 173, 227 immersive literature 233 inner child 8, 191, 196–201, 204–206 inner monologue 100n12, 191–193 inner voice 193, 215, 218 inspiration 6, 57, 104, 108, 112–113, 115–117, 119, 121–122 integrative development 7, 191 interactivity 8, 208–209, 233–234 interface 213, 217, 227, 230, 234, 236, 239, 240, 242 Jackson, Frank 13, 13n4, 21 Johnson, B. S.  3, 208–209, 212 Johnson, Mark 211 Jung, C. G.  191–192, 194n, 198n9, 200, 203n Kawin, Bruce 226–227, 230, 234–238 Kelman, Stephen 6, 89–90, 96, 98n10, 102, 189 Pigeon English 6, 89–90, 96–97, 97n, 98–99, 102n17, 104–105 Kertzer, Adrienne 42n8, 44n13, 52n Kreps, David 228–230


Index Kress, Gunther 211 Kroker, Arthur 234 Kukkonen, Karin 211 Lakoff, George 211 László, János 176, 187 layout 174–175, 177–178, 184, 187, 189, 212 Levin, Adam 240 The Instructions 240 liminality 34–35, 124, 161, 170–172 linguistic turn 12, 14–15, 17–18 literary autism 57 Lodge, David 2, 4, 8, 21, 21n14, 23–24, 146, 175–176, 178, 185 Lovecraft, H. P.  120 madness 108–109, 111, 113, 119–121, 124–125, 125n1, 2, 3, 126, 128, 130–131, 131n, 134, 136–137, 137n20, 139–141, 141n24, 26 magic realism 104, 104n21, 106, 109, 111 make-believe 90, 92, 98, 98n11 Manovich, Lev 212n3, 231–232 Manuel, Frank E. 38, 42, 51 Maori 7, 191–193, 195–196, 202–206, 206n Margolin, Uri 58, 242 Maslow, Abraham 42n10 McHale, Brian 93 McNary, Dave 39n1 medium 34, 176, 208–209, 211–212, 212n3, 217, 223, 233–234, 236 mental disorder 7, 103, 111, 174–176, 178 metafiction 91, 93–94, 110n, 113, 147, 157, 225–226 mind-reading 127 Mitchell, David 239 The Bone Clocks 239 modernism 4 Moon, Elizabeth 6, 56–57, 59–61 Speed of Dark 6, 56–57, 59, 61–62 Morrall, Claire 6, 56–57, 62–64 The Language of Others 6, 56–57, 62 Morton, Timothy 225, 230–231, 231n, 235–236 Mukhopadhyay, Tito 84, 86 multimodality 208, 211 mute 134n11, 198 Nadesan, Majia Holmer 74, 77 Nagel, Thomas 2n, 13n3

narrative 5–8, 15, 19, 29–30, 36, 38–39, 52n, 57, 61–62, 66–69, 72, 92n3, 94, 100, 104, 114, 119, 124–125, 125n2, 126n, 127, 129–130, 133–134, 134, 134n15, 135, 135n17, 136–139, 139n21, 140–142, 144– 150, 152–159, 162, 164, 173–180, 182–183, 185–189, 191, 195, 204n, 206, 208–214, 217–219, 221–223, 226–227, 227, 227n1, 230–234, 236, 238–239, 241–242 narrative authority 129 narrative identity 126n, 183 narrative psychology 145–146, 150, 152, 154, 158, 174, 176 Ness, Patrick 5, 38–42, 42n8, 43–46, 46n15, 47–49, 50n20–21, 51–52, 52n, 53–54 The Ask and the Answer 39 The Knife of Never Letting Go 39, 43 Monsters of Men 39, 50 neuroculture 62 neuroscience 7, 74n3, 94, 144, 146–147, 151–156, 158 neurotypical 6, 56, 58, 59–61, 66, 68 New Zealand 7, 191–195, 203, 205–206 Noise, the 5, 38, 41–42, 42n9, 43–44, 44n13, 45–46, 46n14, 47–48, 48n18, 49–53, 53n, 54 normality 57–58, 62, 65, 75, 85–86, 129–130 noumenon (noumena) 118, 122 object-oriented ontology 84, 231 Ostry, Elaine 38, 39n3, 40 Other, the 140–141 outsider 34, 127, 203 Palmer, Alan 58, 60, 210, 242–243 Pepperell, Robert 33n4 phenomenal consciousness 5, 13–14, 18, 23 philosophy of language 135 physicalism 12–13, 13n4 Picoult, Jodi 6, 56–57, 66–69 House Rules 6, 56–57, 66, 69 Pinker, Steven 210, 225–226, 228–229, 229n4, 230, 239, 243 Plato 108, 121, 121n5 Popper, Karl 1, 2, 4, 91 post-9/11 161–162, 166–168, 171–173 posthuman 5, 27, 29, 31, 33n, 34, 153, 231 postmodern novel 4, 90–91, 93, 105–106, 151 postmodernism 4, 24, 93n5, 109, 146

248 Poulet, Georges 215 Powers, Richard 5, 7, 11–12, 14, 19–22, 22n15, 23, 23n17, 24–25, 144–147, 147n, 150–154, 156–157, 157n, 158 The Echo Maker 7, 144, 146–147, 151, 157–158 Galatea 2.2 5, 11–12, 19, 22, 24–25, 144–146 Prieto, Eric 227, 240 psychoanalysis 74 Pullinger, Kate 8, 208–209, 213, 215, 217 The Breathing Wall 8, 208–209, 211–217, 219, 222 qualia/quale 1, 5, 11–13, 13n3, 14, 14n5, 17–21, 21n14, 22–25, 201 radical constructivism 27, 31, 36 real 6, 16, 19, 23–24, 30, 53, 59, 67, 80, 85, 89–91, 91n2, 92, 92n4, 93, 93n, 94, 94n, 95–96, 98, 98n11, 99, 102–103, 103n19, 104, 104n21, 105–106, 106n22, 109–113, 118–119, 130, 150, 152–153, 155, 163, 165, 167–168, 171, 188, 195, 219, 227–229, 239–241 Real, the 38, 42, 48, 48 n19, 49, 50n20 reconstruction 92, 161–162, 169, 209–210, 214, 221 recovery 53, 146–148, 163, 166, 170–172 representable, the 137, 230 Richardson, Alan 210 Ricoeur, Paul 178 Rilke, Rainer Maria 121, 156 Rowsell, Jennifer 218 Ryan, Marie-Laure 226, 233–234, 238–239 Sacks, Oliver 72, 79–80, 146, 155 Sargent, Lyman Tower 39, 39n3 Schemat, Stefan 8, 208–209, 213, 215–217 The Breathing Wall 8, 208–209, 211–217, 219, 222 science 1, 2, 2n, 5, 6, 8, 11–12, 14–16, 18–19, 24, 27–28, 59, 66, 72, 74, 74n3, 75–78, 82, 84, 86, 90, 93–94, 112, 120, 122, 128n, 144–148, 150–152, 155, 157, 157n, 158–159, 210–211, 226, 229–230 Searle, John R. 14, 14n6, 15, 15n7, 16, 17n10, 11 self 1–2, 7–8, 27–30, 35, 39, 44n13, 73, 73n1, 75, 78, 82, 89, 105–106, 130, 137, 146,

Index 149, 153, 157–158, 171, 174, 178–180, 183, 189, 191, 195, 198, 198n9, 200–201, 203n, 205–206, 235–237 self-awareness 3, 32 self-consciousness 4, 8, 82–83, 85, 87, 166, 178, 227, 235–237 self-destruction 23, 140, 163, 171, 175, 194 self-exploration 3 shadow 8, 49, 98, 135, 191, 202, 202n12, 204, 206 Shakespeare, William 237–238 Hamlet 127, 237–238, 243 Snow C. P. 144–145, 157n2 social cognition 56 spatiality 216, 229–230, 233 Steels, Luc 215 Strong ai 16–17, 17n10, 18, 20, 24 subjective experience 1–2, 4, 13, 105, 187, 237 Sundén, Jenny 228, 236, 243 Tammet, Daniel 6, 72, 80–81, 81n, 84 Born on a Blue Day 6, 80–81, 84 technogenesis 225–226, 231, 243 Theory of Mind 56, 58–60, 75, 75n, 82 therapy 16, 95, 144, 150–151, 153, 155, 158, 179 Trahair, Richard C. S. 42n10 transhumanism 31 transmental 225–227, 230, 234, 236 trauma 7, 44n13, 51, 105, 146, 155, 161, 165, 167–168, 170, 173, 179, 181, 187–188, 193–194, 198, 201, 206, 243 Turner, Mark 229n 4 typography 174–175, 177–178, 189, 211–212 unity 42–43, 51, 154, 177, 193 unreal 89, 92, 94–96, 106, 125 usa PATRIOT Act 161–162, 166 van Leeuwen, Theo 211 Vermeer, Johannes 109, 115 Versluys, Kristiaan 173 virtual consciousness 57, 225–227 virtual narration 233–234, 238–239 virtuality 8, 225–230, 233, 237 Walter, Jess 7, 161–162, 166, 168, 172–173 The Zero 7, 161–163, 165, 172–173


Index Watts, Peter 5, 27, 28n2, 37 Blindsight 5, 27, 34–36 Waugh, Patricia 93–94, 94n, 105, 111, 113 Weak ai 14, 16, 20 Welsh, Irvine 6, 89–90, 100, 100n12, 13, 101, 101n14, 15, 102, 102n16, 103, 103n18, 212 Filth 6, 89–90, 96, 99, 102, 104–105 Westphal, Bernard 240 Williams, Donna 85

Woolf, Virginia 4, 125 World Trade Center 162, 165 ya (young adult) dystopia 39, 39n3, 40, 40n5 ya (young adult) fiction 38–40 Zunshine, Lisa 57–58, 60 Žižek, Slavoj 48, 48n19, 50n20