Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When Timelines Catch-Up

            In the article, “Lost in Time: Lost Fan Engagement with Temporal Play,” by Lucy Bennet, she discusses the impact of disrupting narrative progression.  Specifically, she studies how fans of the show Lost cope with the temporal play imbedded in the story.  She concludes that viewers of the show break up into three different coping groups.  There are viewers who engage in forensic fandom, viewers who put trust in the writers of the show, and those who evaluate and question the narrative structure.   The age of Lost has unfortunately ended, and one of the new reigning champions of television, Game of Thrones, is at the forefront of a new dilemma, a dilemma that serious fans of the series are certainly feeling going into the next season.  The show has finally surpassed the timeline of the novels and fans everywhere are going to have to decide how connected the two stories really are.
            Like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones is a narrative that is rich with lore.  Lore that is only ever hinted at in the books but fully fleshed out in online sources.  As Jason Mittell and Will Brooker argue, “this mode of storytelling promotes a “forensic fandom” from viewers of the show that involves research, collaboration, analysis and interpretation” (qtd. in Bennet 299).  The website A Wiki of Ice and Fire is a fan-created website that holds over 7,000 articles on the book and includes more lore than the novels themselves.  The website provides a platform for many users to postulate possible endings for the novel and also to answer some of the bigger questions of the show.  Like the fans of Lost, who “used their forensic detection skills” to answer questions of the show, Game of Thrones fans have been analyzing scenes to postulate on answers that are never explicitly answered within the show.  One example is of who poisoned Joffrey Baratheon at the Purple Wedding.  By analyzing scenes frame by frame, fans have speculated that the killer is Olenna Tyrell.  Fans have gone so far as to highlight the areas in which Olenna Tyrell’s hands move at the wedding.  This forensic fandom exists in a different state to readers of the series who do not have the luxury of frame by frame analysis.
            Readers of the novel have also proved their forensic abilities by carefully studying the text itself.  An ongoing theory out there is that the Hound is still alive.  The last time we see him in the show he is left to die by Arya stark.  Since then, he hasn’t been seen of or heard of.  But readers of the novel point to a scene at an Abby that occurs in the fourth book when Brienne of Tarth is on the search for Sansa Stark.  A looming character in the background coupled with the Hounds horse appearing at the abby have led some readers to assume the Hound is still alive.  The wiki page for the Hound now has a small section devoted to this theory. 
            A question that should come up in analyzing Game of Thrones is whether or not the television series exists in the same reality as the novel.  Fans have been trying to tackle that question for a long time now.  The common consensus is that the two are different.  Both the show and the novel have different wiki sites with a different range of information.  The events of the show have diverged significantly from the novel, in some cases surpassing the timeline of the novel.  The writers of the show have purposefully changed their story from the novel in order to keep readers of the novel entertained.  Another show that does this is The Walking Dead, originally a comic book, the show and the comic appear to be pretty different and both have separate wikis.  In a way, this allows readers to be just as excited while watching the television show.  But formatting a series in this way is a quick way to make fans angry.  Myself included.
            I stopped watching The Walking Dead after watching the flat first season and abysmal second season.  It’s not a popular opinion to hate on the Walking Dead.  I’ve been shamed in practically every one of my work environments.  The issue I had with the show was that it changed too much from the comic book.  I was an avid reader of the comic book when it first came out up until a couple years ago. The writers successfully made the show new, but in a way I was not expecting and in a way that changed the essence of the comic book for me in a bad way.  Eventually, The Walking Dead television show may surpass the timeline of the comic books.  I’m guessing they’re going to take notes from whatever it is the Game of Thrones writers do in season 6.
            Season 6 has been a looming presence in the minds of readers all year.  We’ve all wanted George RR. Martin to finish the next book The Winds of Winter before the series, and now that he hasn’t we will have to make a difficult decision when the time finally comes.  Will we watch the show and possibly have the books spoiled?  Or will we patiently wait until the book finally comes out and then watch the show, praying no one ruins the surprise for us in the interim.  What will the writers do? Will they stick to the story outlined by George RR. Martin or change it completely so the book seems new when it comes out.  What about Martin himself?  Will he now have to change the structure of his story away from the television series?  The role between the producers of the television show and Martin have completely shifted and now everyone is waiting to see what they do about it. 


Intentional Misconceptions, or Misleading the Reader

               In J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst's S., the authors' metafictional, experimental novel, the authors provide a narrative that is intentionally deceptive and misleading. But upon first glance, the reader may not think so. The only problem is, the authors (through the use of Jen and Eric's notes back and forth) all but tell the reader (of the novel S., not the novel Ship of Theseus) that there's tricks afoot and that they should be careful about what they read and how they read it (while referring to the meta-novel). As those of us studying literature, it makes this experiment doubly curious but doubly dangerous to study in that we have to attempt, as best we can, to decipher what is and what isn't relevant to the novel and the meta-novel. Firstly, the title of the meta-novel is a clue to the reader that the authors are trying to hide something right in front of our, the reader's, eyes. The "ship of theseus" is a well-known thought experiment in philosophy in which the philosopher (most notably Plutarch) posits a question: if a ship (the ship of theseus) is gradually restored piece by piece (as each piece wears out or breaks), at what point does the ship not persist as the same ship (if it becomes a different ship at all). Another example of this that is more recently used is the idea of an axe being restored; if one restores each piece of the axe at a different time as it breaks (the handle, the head, etc.), is it the same axe or does it become a different axe altogether?
               The concept applies to the novel as well, as the name implies. We must, as readers and analysts, discover for ourselves what to believe about the interactions between Jen and Eric, not only as characters but also as fellow literary critics. Do we allow ourselves to trust their interactions between one another, or do we question the nature of their comments between one another (as they often do themselves). We must also, as readers, try to follow Jen and Eric's path(s) through the novel as they try to uncover meaning behind the novel as well as the identities of V. M. Straka and "FXC" in the meta-novel. We have to also decipher and understand the identities of Jen and Eric in the novel, outside of the meta-novel. But what seems apparent, however, is that in its use of the meta-novel, the novel is attempting to break the typical understanding of literature and literary study, specifically referring to the understanding of authorial intent. Jen and Eric even discuss this, with Eric chiding Jen in her habit of it. Jen notes, "I totally read this as Straka talking about himself—waiting for someone (in a romantic way)" to which Eric replies "Careful re: linking everything in a book to the author personally. Sometimes fiction's just fiction" (17). The two begin to banter, with Jen noting, Maybe I'm reading it that way b/c I'm just sitting around, cluelessly waiting for somebody" (17). The novel begins to meta itself with the use of the meta-novel, with the reader needing to question Jen and Eric's motives, but Jen provides her motive, believable or not, for the reader and for Eric, thus forcing the reader to now question Jen's own admission. Jen and Eric even discuss the namesake theory of the meta-novel, with Jen positing her different theories of the meta-novel's authorship, arguing between whether or not the meta-novel is written by Straka, FXC, a combination of both, or even the existence of a third (or ghost) writer, which brings up the much-argued challenges to other author's own authorship (Shakespeare being the primary contender in this argument). As the meta-novel begins, Jen even asks the question to Eric, "But re FXC overstepping: where do you draw the line? At what point does the book stop being Straka's alone + become theirs?" (3), blatantly asking the question in reference to the novel's namesake philosophy. Eric makes a great point early in the novel when Jen begins to assume things, "Note: said vs. hinted. Not same thing" (6).
               Her question is an important one as the meta-novel begins: when using translators or ghost writers, at what point does the novel stop being the original novel and become a different person's (or different novel) altogether? One example that comes to mind is the novel Don Quixote. The novel is, coincidentally, another example of a meta-novel not unlike S. and Ship of Theseus. The novel of Don Quixote is written by Cervantes in Spanish, but has subsequently been translated (many times) to English with varying degrees of success. In translation, many things may be lost, but other things may be added (for clarification or lack of ability to directly translate certain words, phrases, idioms, etc). Does this make the novel any less a work of Cervantes and any more a work of the translator? At what point in translation does the translator get credit for the work they're doing (especially when a work is readily available in the language it's being translated to, such as English, where there are many variations available and widely accepted)? The novel also questions authorship in-depth not only as an argument between the novel and meta-novel (through Jen and Eric's comments on Straka and FXC) but as an understanding of the footnotes (often cited and analyzed by Jen and Eric) as well as the notes between Jen and Eric themselves, the latter of which is most important through re-reading the novel. The reader (of the novel) is meant to believe that Jen and Eric are two individual characters, each with their own unique stories and attitudes and, notably, writing styles. Throughout the novel, the two are writing notes in different colors (beginning with Eric's original pencil and alternating between the two in a rainbow of colors). Each pair of different colors represents a different session of re-reading and commenting between the two (black and blue, green and orange, red and purple), often commenting on not only things they missed but also one one another's (or their own) comments from previous readings.
               However, this goes back to the question of authorship in the novel: are Jen and Eric really two different people? Are they one of the two? Are they a third person altogether, creating the two out of nowhere? In particular, the change of ink color toward the end is one aspect that makes questioning authorship important. Toward the novel's conclusion, the alternating black and blue (between Eric and Jen respectively) disappears, and Jen begins writing in black ink, matching that of Eric's. This coincides, however, with their "meeting" one another and becoming much more personally attached to one another. This also, chronologically, seems to happen as the last "read" of the novel (judging by reference to previous comments in a colored ink, ex. on page 449). However, they continue to question one another, including about points of the novel or discussion much earlier in the meta-novel as well as questioning the novel (in metafiction fashion). For example, Jen asks late in the novel about the appearance of the S early in the meta-novel to which Eric replies "Maybe someone - I don't know, some freshman who's never even heard of Straka - stumbled across the books in the stacks + decided to mess with it / us?... It was a while ago, anyway. No one's gotten ahold of the book since then," to which Jen simply replies "Although we can't know for sure..." (448).
               Lastly, authorial intent and authorship leads us to question the entire novel altogether, including the meta-novel, as well as many other seemingly open-ended question. What was Abrams and Dorst's purpose in writing the novel? Are the novel (the commentary between Jen and Eric) and meta-novel designed to be read as separate entities, independent from one another, or are they meant to be read together as one fluid entity? Further on this last aspect allows me to interpose the original book trailer by Bad Robot Productions (J. J. Abrams's production company) which narrates the book "He arrived knowing nothing of himself. Who is he? Soon he will know. Because what begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin. This is what happens. Men become lost. Men vanish. Men are erased... and reborn." Does this trailer then emphasize the importance of the intertextuality connection between the novel and meta-novel (as well as the trailer)? And lastly does the novel officially end with the meta-novel's ending or the last comment by Jen on the final, otherwise blank page? What is the importance of the novel's ending, stating "the ship is one of theirs, and as for the identities of the two people at the wheel, well, both Sola and he will let their imaginations fill in their features" (456). Is this Abrams and Dorst's way of telling us the reader of the novel that Jen and Eric don't even exist in the novel but are instead the same (or a third) person? Or perhaps this is reenforcing the argument against authorial intent (posed multiple times throughout the novel and their commentary). And just how exciting and eerie and anxious and meta is Jen's last comment on the final, blank page when she asks "Hey, put the book down. Come in here + stay," especially with Eric's "ok" being scribbled out and, judging by the color of the ink, is the last and final comment of the entire novel to be written.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Forensic Fandom in Abram’s “S” and “Harry Potter”

            I love books, movies, or shows that get me involved, that make me feel like I’m an important part of the narrative, even though, logically, I’m not. Being able to continue the story outside the text can often result in a more meaningful and strong connection and experience with the book itself.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most clever when it comes to solving mysteries in anything (I tend to read “in the moment”), so when I do figure something out on my own or with only partial help from others, I feel pretty accomplished. In “Lost in Time? Lost Fan Engagement with Temporal Play,” Lucy Bennett discusses how the creators of the hit television show Lost inspire this time of involvement in their audience through what she calls “forensic fandom”. 
Lost is not the only show to encourage its viewers to look closely and find clues to solve different mysteries. Many shows, movies, and books ask their audiences to do the same thing.  With the rise of social media and Internet forums, readers and viewers can connect even better with each other and help each other uncover new and exciting facts that otherwise would have been missed. J.J. Abrams’ novel S takes this idea of forensic fandom to new levels, giving the readers literal tools to use to solve the mysteries. In a smaller way, so does J.K. Rowling throughout the Harry Potter series.
Of course,

            Fans love to get involved in what they love, and they especially love when creators encourage that involvement. I recently contributed to a Kickstarter campaign to fund the YouTube group Team Starkid so they can create a new show this summer called Firebringer (fund here). While I do enjoy that I will get rewards for donating, I also love that I get to be involved in the creation process, albeit in a mainly monetary way. We were also given the chance to raise money in certain time frames in order to unlock special rewards for everyone, and again, I felt like part of a group working together to accomplish a common goal. Even though this time of involvement is not what Bennett is discussing, it is related because creators are giving the audience (or potential audience) a role to play in the creation/production/literary process.  Team Starkid involved people at the beginning. The creators for Lost involved its viewers after production.

As for the type of participation that Lost and S employ, Bennett describes forensic fandom as a “mode of storytelling…that involves ‘research, collaboration, analysis, and interpretation’” (299).  Viewers must work together to collect as much information as they can and make connections to each others’ findings and actually go investigate outside sources in order to understand the clues. Then they must analyze and interpret these clues and evidence into one cohesive explanation that fits with the original text.  In fact, Bennett compares this type of engagement to the participation found in video games, quoting Jones, who argues, “The writers seem to have based the formal structure and narrative possibilities of the show itself on video game conventions . . . in order to better create the kind of networked community or fanbase usually associated with games–a potential audience ready not just to watch but also ‘play’ Lost” (Bennett 300). Video games naturally require active participation. Gamers must use knowledge collected throughout the game to understand and decide where to go next and how to solve the next level, platform, world, et cetera. Even though readers are limited in how they can decide the story should progress or how they get there (or the fact that they get there at all, which for me is often quite the accomplishment), unless it’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, readers can still actively look for clues, make connections to outside sources, and feel as if they have a stronger connection to what they are reading.

It’s not surprising that the same individual, J.J. Abrams, created Lost and S.  Abrams deeply recognizes how to use narrative to make his audience think and explore. He understands what tricks to use, what hints to leave that make his audience excited when they figure out his clues, even if they discover them after the fact. Bennett writes, “This forensic inspection of the show is therefore encouraged by the narrative structure and form of the program, which is often littered with clues left by the writers to puzzle and engage these detective-like fans” (229). Abrams is very adept at leaving these clues for his audience:
However, as part of the learnt familiarity for many rested in engagement with the program as a puzzle or game, some fans used their forensic detection skills to work out the flashforward before the revelation in the final scene, solving clues left by the writers. For example, the make and model of the mobile phone used by Jack in the episode was immediately discovered by a number of fans as dating from 2006, therefore indicating that the episode was set in the future or present and not the past. (Bennett 300)

Following that example from Lost, S is definitely also littered with clues, written clues from two different narrators in the form of marginal notes. Through these writings paired with the “actual” text itself, readers are encouraged to use the “outside resources” that Abrams actually gives the reader in the form of loose inserts between the pages of the book. He also gives the readers literal physical tools to accomplish their sleuthing. In the very back of the book is a wheel that the reader can use to try to find out coordinates of various places and unravel other mysteries. I admit that I was completely horrible at this “mission.” I could not figure out how to use the wheel on my own. Reading the marginal notes allows the readers to feel as if we stumbled upon this book on our own and are doing our own type of research to find out what happens/happened to the two note-writers. The added inserts make us feel more like detectives on a mission that we feel confident we will eventually solve.

Rowling also sends her readers on detective missions, although not as specifically and literally as Abrams does in Lost and S. It seems as if every week, fans are coming up with new theories and explanations supported by hard evidence from the text and from outside research. To name a few: Trelawney, a (usually) hack divination professor, had a great-grandmother named Cassandra. As many of us English majors know, Cassandra was a seer during the Trojan War cursed with the ability to tell true predictions that no one will believe…which ultimately happens with Trelawney, as many of her predictions came true in ways no one really expected or noticed until years after the books were published. Many people guessed before the last book came out who R.A.B. was and what happened to the locket, due to their own sleuthing through past books. Readers even investigated small details that didn’t affect the plot in anyway but made for interesting discoveries, such as how a few readers researched past full moons and found out that Remus Lupin’s last Christmas at Hogwarts took place on a full moon, which meant he was a werewolf for his last happy Christmas. Sirius Black, instead of getting ready to celebrate his birthday (which we recently found out last year), instead was carted off to Azkaban (wizard jail) for a crime he did not commit (we are really good at finding the super depressing facts, apparently). Fans take it on themselves to see the million genius little secrets Rowling added in that foreshadowed future events or added to the narrative in small, almost unnoticeable ways. She would put some small detail in the first book and carry it through so that it would be revealed as important in the last book, and the investigative work that provides for her fans is incredibly fulfilling, even if we are not necessarily solving a puzzle in the conventional sense or how Bennett describes. No matter what kind of investigation is set forth for us as readers or viewers, we enjoy the opportunity to wrestle with the text and create our own connections.

When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong

One major advantage that a show like South Park has over all other animated programs is each show’s hurried process of completion, taking only a week to finalize drawings, voice-overs, and animation. This haste makes it possible for the show to stay abreast of current issues that can be parodied in a timely manner—that is, while the events are relevant to contemporary American society.  

In his essay “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow,” Jason Buel analyzes the temporal aspects used by the writers of South Park to challenge the expectations of sit-coms by defying episodic restrictions. After leaving the identity of Cartman’s father a mystery at the close of Season 1 (in the episode, “Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Slut”), South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone jokingly decided to ignore the previous dilemma in favor of an episode featuring Terrence and Phillip, the boys’ favorite cartoon duo. The outrage of fans at Parker and Stone’s non-sequitur prank proves that it is not zany humor alone that attracts the fans of South Park, but also plot resolution.

One major reason Parker and Stone were able to solidify such a faithful fan base is their humorous allusions addressed to frequent viewers: the decision to reference the anger of fans caused by their previous prank, which they do by showing the South Park boys’ anger at an unresolved cliffhanger of Terrance and Phillip, and in “Professor Chaos,” when “a voice-over narration introduces three questions and strongly implies that the episode will be a cliffhanger,” only to quickly answer the questions at the end of the episode, abruptly ending it (290).

Because no one escapes the razor-sharp wit of Parker and Stone (Mormons, Scientologists, politicians, gentle woodland creatures, written as satanic fiends for a Christmas special, and the list goes on and on), viewers have become somewhat accustomed to the would-be shocking shenanigans of South Park. But what happens when “keepin’it real goes wrong,” when humor is viewed as finally crossing a serious boundary that entails more than just a lawsuit?

Both the 200 and 201st episode of South Park center on the demand to depict the character of Muhammad—who, according to Islam, is not to be illustrated under any circumstances—censored by a bear costume, and later, by a giant black censor. Comedy Central later cut several references to Muhammad and even censored his name after a group called Revolution Muslim criticized the use of their prophet and made a prediction that Parker and Stone would end up dead if they aired the episode. Ironically, the main themes of the episodes were a stand against fearful censorship and a rally behind free speech—in fact, in the 201st episode, Tom Cruise attempts to harvest Muhammad’s immunity from satire.

Buel states that fans cared more about the true identity of Cartman’s father than the Muhammad controversy, which is unsurprising, though the riots in Europe and the global protests and death threats that took place in 2005 following the publications of cartoons of Muhammad in European newspapers prove the seriousness of what is a very dire issue to orthodox Muslims.

South Park’s popularity does not simply stem from its freedom of genre restrictions, temporal shifts, or clever use of allusions, but from the fact that nothing is off limits and not one person, group, ideology, organization, etc. is excluded from the raw ridicule of its writers. While a number of episodes seem to be witlessly offensive to the point of eliciting grotesque unease, a large percentage of featured content places a mirror where we as a society/world do not wish it to be placed—at the heart of our fear-based, contradictory logic pertaining to race, immigration, arrogance, fame, etc. In short, we take ourselves much too seriously and need raw humor, whether SP is your cup o' tea or not, to show us how collectively ridiculous we truly are.


Temporality and New Media Changing the Television Game

When preparing for my final this semester, a big thought that came to mind was how exactly shows were using time. The shows that I’ve chosen so far are all on the CW and include Flash, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Now if you can’t guess, it is a focus on the superhero genre and how time seems to be a great way for these shows to fix plot holes and further narrative, along with dealing with trauma that other characters may face as well. With this in mind though, other shows must be looked at as an example for how time is used.

I first looked at Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow, a chapter written by Jason Buel that discussed the narrative points surrounding South Park and how they deal with time. One of the first things I found myself doing is comparing the time in which my shows are shot and filmed in contrast to what he had to say about his show. One of the more interesting things that I found is that South Park is finished the day that it’s suppose to air. This is important because it allows for the crew to be able to change the show at the last minute to fit into culturally relevant situations. With all of mine, none of that happens. I didn’t necessarily look up when they film, but I do follow most of the actors on the show on twitter. The one thing I find at the beginning of the season is that they begin shooting months before the show starts to air. What’s interesting though is with each show, they only shoot so many episodes and then take a break. As the show begins to air they begin to shoot more. It is in this manner that I believe that these shows may be taking a play from South Park’s book.

I believe a big difference that is happening between the two shows and the time it takes them to have a finished project isn’t so much about current events. With South Park, the need to be relevant puts them on a last minute schedule. With CW’s lineup however, there shows don’t play into our modern culture. They all exist within the DC universe, which allows them to stick to ideas and plays from the comics. Instead, I believe the filming and releasing of so many episodes is so that the writers have a chance to address fan issues. One of the common things I have found in the start of my research is that fans love to pick apart the series for flaws, especially temporal ones. There was a couple times within the Flash and Arrow, where their timelines were supposed to match up and run together perfectly. However, there are critics and fans alike that have picked apart where these shows don’t run together perfectly. The solution, which occurred several episodes later was simple. The writers had The Flash run back in time to change a single event. By doing so, he also alters the entire timeline of the universe. I believe that the writers are intentionally putting a delay on fully using their script and having it filmed until they know there is no way to poke holes into the plot.

In this same regard, it seems as though the internet is changing the way things are being done with television shows. In Lucy Bennet’s article “Lost in Time” she discusses how the narrative of Lost is one big time labyrinth, one that is made for fans to interact with and act even as detectives to solve the shows mysteries. This interactive experience has led to many writers of television shows to focus on how they write and create their shows. Again, the same can be found in the shows I’m studying. With Lost, there was a forum created and even a wiki for fans to interact with to watch the show. As far as I know, there is no element of interaction made for the CW’s lineup, but much can be found on blogging sites and even Facebook. The writers of the show Supernatural have a tumblr. They follow what their fans say and write and even take into account some of the fan fiction they create. One of the big things that fans have done is turned two of the main characters, Castiel and Dean, into a love item. Since the birth of what fans call “Destiel” the writers have poked fun at this “love affair” of the two. They’ve had meta episodes where the two characters seem as though they could be falling for each other, only for everything to become a farce at the end of the episode. The internet has begun to change how shows are watched and created.

With both the article on South Park and Lost, it felt as though the writers were targeting the fact that these showrunners want to be able to engage their audience. With social media now being the biggest way to do so, they have no problems reaching them. Many of the actors even do social media chats and live tweeting during the episodes to interact with fans. One actor, Stephen Amell of Arrow, has even gone so far as to give hints to what people can expect on the show. He plays with the idea of a cliffhanger, which was again brought up in both articles, to enhance the viewing for the reader during his facebook video sessions.

Time Always Makes for an Interesting Narrative

I have to admit—I am a huge fan of Lost. However, my experience viewing the television series was quite different than that of fans watching as new episodes were still being aired.

The fans of the show that Lucy Bennett describes in her article, “Lost in Time,” were watching the show as new episodes were delivered weekly to an eager audience. However, because of the use of time incorporated within the show, I feel that watching the series as I did—after all episodes had been aired on Netflix—helped me to form a better understanding of the show itself.

Because of the way I was watching the series, I was able to pause, rewind, and rewatch parts that I may have misunderstood or were "lost" on me altogether, just as readers can do with written texts. Fans watching the series while it was still on television did not get this chance to go back and reconsider some parts like I did. Yet, as Bennett mentions, they did get the chance to participate in a more collaborative narrative experience online.

Perhaps the reason the show was so successful was because of the opportunities it provided for people to come together and discuss its narrative. Lost truly was (and still is, for those of you who have not watched it yet) a “puzzle to be solved,” which intrigues viewers in wholly unexpected ways. Instead of passively watching the series, viewers are forced to question and struggle with the concepts and complications presented by temporal play. Viewers are not allowed to just accept the story being told but forced to use “cognitive energy” in order to come to some kind of understanding of the narrative timeline.

It is this exact use of cognitive energy that I believe makes any narrative worth consuming, whether through written text, television, or any other narrative form. Time itself provides a unique tool to do just that. We expect good writers to keep us engaged with their narrative from beginning to end, and the temporal play within this particular series allows for this kind of deeper engagement.

When I say we expect certain things from good writers, it also applies to the writers of television series. As readers, we place faith in authors to deliver a narrative that interests us and brings us endings in creative and unexpected ways. Bennett also mentions this kind of faith that viewers were placing in the screenwriters of Lost while it aired; while viewers may have felt confused by or frustrated with the story, they still continued to expect these exact aspects that confused them in the first place, placing complete trust in the writers to continue to deliver interesting and engaging stories with a meaningful ending.

One interesting aspect of the show that Bennett also mentions is the use of props. Viewers applied this same kind of faith to not only the temporal play of the narrative but also the visual elements that appear in the show. Like in successful written texts, Lost seems to use every element of its medium to convey some kind of meaning. Just as readers expect every word in a text to be written for a purpose, so too do viewers expect that same kind of meaning from this particular show using all of the tools of its medium.

The idea that everything in the show means something adds another layer to the concept that the show is a puzzle that can be solved. Even the visual props are “clues” to solve the puzzle that time presents. Bennett provides a great example of this concept when she discusses the name of the funeral home on an episode in season three. The name of the funeral parlor is Hoffs/Drawlar, which, as one very engaged fan points out, is an anagram for flash forward. This visual clue, while extremely subtle and easy to miss, is an excellent example of the kinds of techniques that the show uses to create such a strong fan engagement that very much requires this cognitive energy Bennett addresses.

The temporal play within Lost is the foundation for this kind of viewer engagement. While reading Bennett’s article, I found myself frustrated with the fact that some viewers became frustrated with this particular flash forward, as mentioned of the episode in the preceding paragraph. I feel that any narrative enthusiast that enjoys cognitive engagement would have to strongly disagree with the viewers that believed the flash forward “solved the mystery” of the series.

Any intriguing narrative has the ability to provide several concepts and issues that can be discussed and “solved” rather than just one focus (getting off the island, in this case, as some viewers believed). While several novels have successfully provoked thoughts and beliefs about temporal play, Lost is a series that provides these same aspects successfully in a totally new medium. Any tour de force in narrative will disrupt learned conventions, as Bennett also mentions.

However, I think the real joy for viewers of this show in particular is the pleasure we receive “from asking more questions” rather than seeking any solid solution. Time is a concept that allows viewers to do just that. Lost fans, and fans of all decent narrative for that matter, in my oh-so-humble opinion, seek to engage in this type of complex discussion and questioning, and the show seems to encourage this same type of behavior for all narratives—yes, even those on television. 

NEWS FLASH: Television doesn’t have to rot your brain!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

How Does an Author Construct a Layered Narrative to Make it Appear Innate?

            Texts that utilize temporal play are my preference to read for both enjoyment and analysis; fiction and nonfiction texts that include multiple timelines, multiple points of view, juxtaposition of texts, and intertextuality will always move to the top of my to-be-read pile. I will even read a young adult novel that mentions any of those devices in its blurb. So while experiencing J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S., because “reading the text” does not adequately describe what I had to do, I wondered, “How does an author create this? How does he or she keep everything straight but also realistic?” I thought about some of my favorite layered narratives from this course and from my past reading, and I searched for interviews with the authors. I expected to find a similar thread of method, but, instead, I found many vague answers with little commonality.
            The most straightforward multiple narrative text that I own is The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition prepared by the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation; I’ll be honest in that I own it because my collection of books by and about Anne Frank would not be complete without it, but I have not read it because the format is not comfortable for reading. This critical edition is a compilation of the three versions of the diary: 1) Anne’s original diary that is honest reflection of the life in hiding of an adolescent Jewish girl in the 1940s; 2) Anne’s edited and rewritten version of her original diary onto loose leaf paper; and 3) Otto Frank’s edited version for public consumption after World War II. Anne documented that the group in hiding had listened to a radio address by “Gerrit Bolkenstein, Minister of Education, Art, and Science in the Dutch Government” delivered  in London in which he stated, “If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents—a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or a priest” (Netherlands 59). Anne rewrote her diary with a future audience in mind and “drew up a list of name changes: ‘Anne [Frank]’ became ‘Anne Robin,’ ‘v. Pels’ became ‘v. Daan,’ ‘Pfeffer’ became ‘Dussel’” and so on (Netherlands 61-62). However, when Anne’s father Otto read his daughter’s diaries, he had “[h]ighly personal motives” to make additional changes before publication: “his strong attachment to his dead daughter; his awareness that with publication he would be putting into effect Anne’s dearest wish—to become a famous writer one day; and his feelings of respect, first and foremost towards his dead wife, but also towards those others about whom Anne had made less than pleasant remarks” (Netherlands 166). Gerrold van der Stroom suggests that a reader of the critical edition could “follow only what Anne Frank wrote in her first draft, he should read version a and ignore versions b and c. He will then be reading the book horizontally” (Netherlands 169). However, the layout of the three versions—one on top of the other to be read in a 1/3 of a page horizontal—does not feel natural.
            The text that immediately came to mind when I heard the description of S. was the Griffin and Sabine series by Nick Bantock. The series began as a trilogy but ended as a series of seven books; I have read and own the first five (I didn’t know that numbers six and seven existed until I searched to verify the number; interestingly, number seven was released this past week on March 22nd). Unlike S., this series does not include an original text; rather, the narrative is told through correspondence, letters and postcards. Like S. each author has a distinct handwriting. Each text is very visual with the fronts of the envelopes and postcards drawn on the pages; the backs of the postcards are also drawn so that they cannot be handled. But the letters are physically inside envelopes attached to the page so that the reader must remove each letter to read it. While a linearity exists within the texts, the texts play with the temporality especially in consideration of setting and reality. In an interview with IndieBound, Bantock describes his process: “I work in a circle. If I don't know what comes next, then I simply move on to something else. I tend to work from the middle outwards. An image will give me an idea for the text, and the text will give me an idea for an image, and I build up from the center outwards.” He admits that his method “sounds like new-age tripe, but I start where the book wants to start. Images and ideas are always floating through my head. It's a constant process. I'll do a little drawing, put it on the wall, and little by little things start to belong and have a place. Then it's moving them around until they have a place, like a jigsaw.” Bantock concludes that his books are “a cross between a jigsaw puzzle and a collage that you just keep moving and moving and moving. There's a point where there's some kind of internal click.” Not exactly a process that can be duplicated, but one that makes sense; once the text feels natural, the “click” occurs. Natural is not a construct but rather a feeling.
            A text that I both enjoy and have analyzed in Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase. I read the book because my junior high had put on the play; as an education major, the conflicts faced by English teacher Sylvia Barrett and her colleagues resonated with me. When I had to choose a text for my master’s thesis, I chose Up the Down Staircase as my case study text, in part because it had almost no secondary analysis and in part because it was created as the juxtaposition of texts. Again, a linearity exists within the narrative; the plot moves from the first day of the fall term to the first day of the spring term. However, the narrative is a compilation of letters, memos, overheard dialogue, information written on chalkboards, and student work. All texts created by Bel Kaufman but ones that feel natural. The novel was based on a previously published short story “From a Teacher’s Wastebasket”; Kaufman described her process as “I had jotted down some scraps of paper, which juxtaposed together showed a picture of waste, of lack of communication, of discipline problems, of loneliness.” She had taught in the New York City schools, so Kaufman had first-hand experience in the texts that she created; the feeling of authenticity was corroborated the teachers from across the country who would write to say, “‘How did you know? You described my class, my students, my problem.’ And I treasure all the letters that they sent me.” While her texts don’t have the look and literal feel of the real texts, the reader cannot remove them from the book and, for example, the student work is not printed on lined paper nor is it handwritten, the emotions summoned by those teachers vouch for the naturalness of the texts.
            Another series that I have enjoyed reading is Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series that begins with The Eyre Affair. Fforde plays with texts that he assumes his readers will know, such as Jane Eyre, but he has created a different 1985 and a parallel universe that is inhabited by the literary characters. Think of it as a living library in which the characters rest outside their texts when they are not on pages being read, and in which the characters can travel between texts and actually change the texts. Intrigued? Then I strongly encourage you to pick up The Eyre Affair. This fantasy element is realistic as long as the reader brings in the requisite suspension-of-disbelief. To create the multiple timelines, time travel, and parallel universes, Fforde was inspired by “[b]ooks, radio shows, newspaper reports, 70s sitcoms, films, plays. The Eyre Affair has tons of ideas compressed into it; if something amuses or grabs my attention then I try to attach it leech-like to the story and then let it grow” such as, “the Charge of the Light Brigade, Jane Eyre, the biggest corporation ever, an explanation of spontaneous human combustion, the notion of catching a meteorite with a baseball mitt, arguing about who wrote Shakespeare's plays, driving through a time warp and a police department that deals with werewolves.” Fforde describes his process as a “continuous linking of disparate strands [. . .] that [he] find[s] very enjoyable and quite challenging.” He admits that the “[c]ross-genre feel of the book put a huge amount of publishers off (76 rejections) and the prĂ©cis itself condemned the manuscript to be unread by everyone I approached -- until my agent, hungry for material, read the whole thing, loved it and sold it to Penguin seven weeks later.” So someone had to give the narrative a chance in its entirety to be able to appreciate the innateness that results from Fforde’s construction.
            The novel that I am analyzing for my Pecha Kucha is Violent Ends edited by Shaun David Hutchison. This young adult novel caught my attention after I received an advanced reader copy at the ILA conference in July 2015. The plot about a school shooting, one of my worst fears, did not draw me in; rather, it was the blurb describing a story told through seventeen points of view written by seventeen young adult authors. I was hooked. The novel is amazing; I believe that it only received one starred review because the topic is not the usual bubbly young adult fare. The idea belongs to Hutchison; he explains on the Violent Ends website that “I had this crazy idea to write a story about a young man (Kirby Matheson) who brought a gun to school and shot his classmates. I didn’t want to tell the story of the shooting itself, but rather the story of the shooter as told by the people who knew him” and to do so “I wrote out a list of authors I could only dream of working with. Authors who works I loved and whom I respected immensely. I was certain they would laugh at my crazy idea. I wasn’t proposing an anthology, but a single story written by seventeen different authors.” When the authors agreed to Hutchison’s proposal, they worked “in a shared world with shared characters and shared histories. Each story would stand alone but would also be connected to all the others in both major and minor ways. [. . .]  We worked together online, trading inspiration, feeding off each other’s ideas, and hammering out the details of the school layout and what kind of car Kirby Matheson drove.” Because of this collaboration, with multiple writers paying attention to the numerous details, this disjointed narrative told from multiple points of view and over multiple settings (time and place) creates a realistic account of a school shooting.
            So, what about some of the novels we have read? Julia Alvarez explains that “it’s never as easy or clear a process when you are inside a mess and trying to make it a novel,” but years later she realized that the structure of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents “should recreate the way that I want the reader to experience the story. And that’s when I thought, I want my reader to be thinking ‘like an immigrant,’ always ‘going back to where we came from’; instead of progress toward a climax, a return to a homeland.” Alvarez’s construction came from her desire to make the experience natural.
In an interview with Robert Alford, Jennifer Egan explains that she was influenced by both Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and HBO’s The Sopranos in constructing her narrative. Proust influenced her choice to write a novel that spans years: “I especially loved Proust’s ability to capture the transformations and reversals that happen over time, the way that outcomes are so often unexpected and in fact almost the opposite of what you would expect.  The biggest question for me was how to capture the sweep and scope of those transformations and reversals without taking thousands of pages to do it.” To answer the question of “How?” was answered by narrative created for The Sopranos: “I was also watching The Sopranos, which also unfolded at a leisurely, kind of real time pace, through which the children in the series grew up, and all of the characters visibly aged,” which is accomplished through “this lateral approach in [. . .] in which a minor character suddenly becomes a major character for a while and then goes out of focus again, and the overarching story is almost invisible at times in the face of subplots and complications that are so engrossing that one almost would forget what the story, capital S, of the season was.” According to Egan, a narrative that draws in the reader or watcher with such intensity that one will not notice when characters appear or disappear creates an innate experience.
Finally, S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Abrams is honest about his role as conceiver; he was intrigued by a novel he found in an airport that had a message written on the inside cover: “To whomever finds this book—please read it, take it somewhere, and leave it for someone else to find it.” He thought, “[W]hat if there were a very cool book that was completely annotated—just covered in marginalia and notes between two people? And—what if a conversation, or a relationship, began inside a book?” When pitched the idea years later, Dorst was excited by “the challenge of telling a story in this really restricted form” and added his own twist, “[W]hat if there were a mystery about its author? It seemed like it would be really, really fun to make up an entire bibliography and history about this writer. From there, it was a small step to deciding that the people who are reading the book should be book geeks themselves.” Dorst describes constructing both Ship of Theseus and S.: “I would’ve been well-served if I’d had a whiteboard, but I’m a fundamentally disorganized person, and I had nothing resembling an organizational system! I wrote Ship of Theseus first, all the way through—everyone agreed that it really had to be able to stand on its own—and then I layered in the marginal notes. A lot of it was trial and error.” Throughout the process, Dorst shared his work with Abrams and Abrams’s Bad Robot colleague Lindsey Weber; Abrams compared the process to writing a screenplay: “There were outlines and pitches at the beginning, then early chapters. Lindsey would often work with Doug, and then show me stuff.” Interviewer Joshua Rothman attests to the authenticity of the marginalia: “And the language in which the handwritten letters and notes are written feels very natural in its cadences. You feel like you’re snooping on something intimate,” and Abram confirms their desire to construct an innate experience: “It’s intended to be a celebration of the analog, of the physical object. In this moment of e-mails, and texting, and everything moving into the cloud, in an intangible way, it’s intentionally tangible. We wanted to include things you can actually hold in your hand: postcards, Xeroxes, legal-pad pages, pages from the school newspaper, a map on a napkin.” Like Garcia, Abrams and Dorst had a desire to construct an innate text.
Although some of the authors purport to focus on construction, those authors all implied that they know they are finished when the text feels complete, which is not much different from the authors who start with the desire to create an authentic experience for the reader. They, too, know that they are finished when the text feels complete. The common thread seems to be a willingness to be open to all possibilities combined with a willingness to revise until the jigsaw is complete. Not a definitive answer, but at least it’s not a formulaic one either.

Abrams, J.J. and Doug Dorst. S. London: Mulholland Books, 2013. Print.

Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation. The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical
            Edition. Ed. David Barnouw and Gerrold van der Stroom. Trans. Arnold J. Pomerans and

            B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Print.