Questions about dialogue

After spending some time re-reading some of the dialogue in The Ravickians, I starting thinking about (possibly over-thinking) how it functions. Here are some questions and thoughts that I have:

  1. This trilogy is interested in gesture. On p. 153 there is a comment about wanting to find the words to express the fact that a character’s mouth has been “open for years.” Physical gestures definitely convey meaning that dialogue cannot, but does the act of speaking (as opposed to the actual words that are spoken) also make a gesture/convey meaning that physical gestures cannot?
  2. In the text, direct address is used often, and it seems to be for the purpose of identifying characters. But if that’s the reason for its use here, what exactly is it’s use in our speech? Sometimes it’s to identify whom is supposed to receive or words, but sometimes we use it in 2-way conversations as well, seemingly for emphasis.
  3. On p. 149, the speakers finish each others thoughts – how does dialogue allow us to do this? And what does it tell us about these characters or this text, if anything?

Art, Language, and Translation

On p. 133, Gladman writes, “[H]ow can we tell that it is in the poem and not just in our reading of it?” I think that this ties together what the book is trying to tell us about art, language, and translation. Poetry is a form of art that works with language to convey a message – but it does so differently than prose. Its ultimate goals are not simplicity, directness, and comprehensibility, which are often the primary goals of prose. As a result, it causes its readers to be unsure of what the poem is really saying – the reader often cannot know for sure what the poem means. Similarly in art that does not use words, viewers or listeners can never be completely sure about the meaning. It seems to me that Gladman is telling us – in the book as a whole – that there is a similar effect at work with the translation of prose language. Translators and the readers-of-translation can never be sure that they are reading and understanding what the original writer intended. Then, the question becomes, What is the value of translation if not to directly translate meaning? Is it similar to art, which does not have a “practical” purpose in life but rather exists for its own sake? Translation seems to have a very practical role in the world, but this text might be telling us that it is not quite as practical as it seems.

Foreign rubble

I’m interested in how taken Luswage Amini is by the “rubble near the Opera House” that is “[o]bviously…from somewhere else” (47). First, it’s interesting that she can tell the pile of stuff is foreign even before she recognizes that many of the items display non-Ravickian names, which serves as proof for her assumption. Also, I think it’s noteworthy that she feels the need to sift through it, to measure and classify it as “large” and “dusty” (48), and to sort it into piles (52). She admits she’s “stuck” there (51). Finally, she concludes the section by recognizing, “I was trying to find both death and life in [the rubble]” (52). While this is certainly a partial answer to the question “Why is she so interested in this pile?” it doesn’t tell us exactly why. Why does she care so much about life and death? And why does she think she’ll find it in the pile?

I think it definitely has to do with the depopulation of Ravicka. In Ravicka, there are hardly any people left to even create a pile of rubble like this, and with no one around, Luswage probably does feel a lack of “life and death” – a lack of human process. This pile – as foreign – is unfamiliar, but it does represent the existence of human process, which is familiar (though largely absent from Ravicka). So, perhaps she’s “stuck” there because she feels familiarity – some sense of home (even within something foreign) – during her travels (her walk).

The gaze

Today I’m interested in the similarities between Saunders’s discussion of the gaze (drawn from Zimmerman and Satre) and its relationship to distance (p. 30) because I see something similar when the narrator of Event Factory reaches downtown and notices people staring at her from four different directions (84-85). Saunders says that the gaze “is experienced both as an absolute distance and as an eradication of distance,” where “the impenetrable eyes of the aliens place them at an infinite distance,” but “their…invasive gaze…penetrates the inward, private space of mind and soul, [and] seems to collapse distance” (30). In other words, I think, the unknown-ness of the person who is gazing makes them foreign (distant), but the invasiveness of the gaze makes them not foreign (close). 

I’m interested in the connection to this statement from the narrator: “I thought, a force of one is negligible. If one person is staring at you, there are at least three alternative directions in which to run. However, in having four stalkers I was without option” (85). In some ways, this relates to Saunders’s thought: the narrator definitely recognizes the invasiveness (force) of the gaze, but she makes a distinction between the difference between one person’s gaze and four people’s gaze, saying that one person’s is not nearly as invasive – and definitely escapable – as four people’s gaze. Saunders, on the other hand, does see the gaze of one alien as forceful. I’m wondering what that might tell us about this narrator, if anything? Is she somehow stronger than most other people? She’s in a foreign environment, being stared at by aliens, but it’s not the presence of an alien that really invades her – it’s only when the aliens completely surround her that she really feels incapable of escaping, or afraid. 

Performance in Event Factory

In the first half of Event Factory, I was struck by the prevalence of the concept of performance, and not only in concept – the word itself is used many times. But in the past we’ve primarily discussed performance of gender (and in The American Novel last spring it was the performance of race), and in this book the performances seem to revolve around some additional concepts, like language, culture, tourism, and character. At least those are the ones I’ve noticed so far. 

Language:  The narrator is interested in learning languages, and language serves as a major division between people in the world of Event Factory. For example, it seems that language plays the role that we might expect race to play: “And that was what I had feared: she was not Ravickian and, what was worse, she used air instead of hard sound for speech…There was an entire race of them…” (57). The fact that the narrator considers it bad that the Esaleyons speak another language could be due to the fact that that will make it difficult to communicate with them, but the fact that she(?) then uses the word “race” makes me suspect that this negativity toward the different language is more complex than just a barrier to communication. It seems that, like race, language (the thing that classifies people) is portrayed as a performance in this text. For example, the narrator literally compares aspects of Ravikian language to performance when she is dealing with the sign that she cannot translate: “It meant ‘read’ and ‘see’ at once. As I said before, the simplest negotiations demanded some aspect of performance in Ravicka” (46). It seems like the process of understanding the language is a performance, in this case. The process of understanding is the “negotiation” mentioned here. (On a possibly-related note, this “comprehension” is apparently how “possession was gained” in Ravicka (p.57). So, what does that say about performance in Ravicka?)

Culture: The “negotiations” mentioned above could also be considered part of Ravickian culture, but another performance that can definitely be seen as culture is “the missing gesture” on p. 42, when the child asked the narrator if she was “sleepy”: “[Y]ou folded your body as thought you were taking a bow [etc.]…I performed and was right.” Here, the concept of performance seems to mean fulfilling societal expectations.

Tourism: I don’t have an example that’s quite as concrete for tourism, but on p. 29 it first struck me that the narrator is certainly performing the role of tourism, and the book may be commenting on that role – or may be using the well-known role to comment on something else. She says, “They let me go, no doubt thinking something sad about tourists.”

Character: It occurred to me that one can perform the role of different people – different characters – on p. 38, when the narrator tries to run the hotel while Simon is gone: “Even though I stood there and performed Simon brilliantly, without him, it was a different place.” This time, performance seems a little difference, because unlike with culture and language (especially those two), performance of character does not seem to suffice. Language and culture (an probably tourism too, since it’s a generic type of character rather than a specific character) can be performed, but individual characters (people) cannot be.

 

 

a world where mothers chose their children over their husbands

On p. 265, the narrator is lonely after his wife escapes, and he wishes “[t]o again live in a world of unfaithful wives, a world where mothers chose their children over their husbands.” Then he “admit[s] that no matter how [he] wanted her to be [his] wife first, still she had not been [his], not since the moment of [their] first conception, all those years ago.”

I found this interesting because we knew that the husband had been preoccupied with ownership at the beginning of the book, but I had never considered that he was ever angry for this reason. I had been much more focused on his jealousy that the wife got the attention of the foundling and that the foundling might not be really be the narrator’s son. I had not really considered just how much he seems to have been jealous that the foundling (or any of the babies who were not born) was taking the attention of his wife.  I’m curious to know if anyone else first considered that at this moment in the text. And if this is the moment when we are supposed to consider that, why did Bell choose this moment – so far into the text? 

Also, what does this tell us about the text’s overall commentary/objective. This is an interesting concept having to do with marriage and parenthood that I don’t think we’ve talked about yet – is it acceptable for parents to be jealous of their children over their spouse’s attention? Or is it right for a parent to give their children all of his/her attention at the expense of his/her spouse? What does the text think about this?

Genres

On page 222, Bell writes, “[T]he bear was no human woman anymore…but some other thing, adversary made killer made legend: And although I might have felt remorse at the killing of a woman, how could I feel the same for a myth, this unlovable story?” This made me revisit our discussions of genre for this book. So, I wanted to bring together some (admittedly simple) definitions of the genres mentioned in the quote above so that we can consider them alongside horror, and so that we could continue to look at the different genres’ intricacies and differences. I took the parts of the definitions that seemed relevant (all from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary):

Myth: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon; a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially :  one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society; a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence

Legend: a story coming down from the past; especially :  one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable; a popular myth of recent origin

Story: an account of incidents or events; the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work