A Concentration on Connection

I circled back to Event Factory to try and unravel one of the major themes I see woven into The Ravickians: it’s the idea of abandonment and connection. Amini seems fixated on connection, on having meaningful relationships with other people. Furthermore, she seems focused on the quantity of people in Ravicka — at one point in The Ravickians, she tells us about the results of a recent census (she writes that no one has died, but not one has joined the city either for some time, and it seems to trouble her).

Similarly, our traveler in Event Factory seems to have a heightened sense of emotion and interest surrounding these areas; she looks for people in the city, comments on its emptiness, and — when faced with another human being — seems desperate for connection and understanding. At one point in the in the text, she comments on Dar’s absence after they’ve left the underground city: “Did I still have a companion, my guide?” and later: “As long as there was the possibility that she was still behind me, I could walk the next hundred blocks” (65). Her ability to function well and move forward seems to hinge on human companionship. Accordingly, there are strong parallels between what the respective narrators of these texts focus on. Amini returns again and again to the idea of Ana and what it means to communicate with her, and places great weight on her interactions with people (the lady on the train, for example). I think about the experience she had digging through the rubble by the opera house, too: she writes, “My heart was left with that pile” — and wishes that whoever had left the film reels behind had shared more details about them. There is a focus on people, on knowing their stories, on sharing a story with them. 

Language and Architecture

After finishing The Ravickians, one of the things I’m drawn to the most, and one of the ideas I would like to further explore, is the tie between architecture and language that the text seems to grapple with. Why does the book speak of buildings and roads, bridges and windows, so frequently? It seems to me that this discussion stems from the dilapidation of Ravicka, which the characters continuously refer to. Our narrator for most of the book, Amini, seems acutely troubled by the shifting of Ravicka. Indeed, near the beginning of the book, she sifts through rubble, starts musing about buildings and writing about buildings. And this leads to contemplation on the very demise of Ravicka: The decay of Und Ravidjka is not the result of meddling from our contentious neighbors or other faraway enemy states. Rather, it is an internal disabling” (53). The disabling pattern seems to tie to the decay of the buildings. She writes, also: “Well for a long time, as a thing is being made, you cannot tell whether it is growing or dying” (55). Amini seems to asking about the identity of Ravicka — will it become lost as it turns into rubble, or will it take on a new identity? I wonder about how the people of Ravicka are disabling their city from the inside, and why it’s happening. 

Further on, Zaoter Limici reads at his poetry presentation: “I have written poems to speak to the contours of Ravicka. For every oblong window of the train station, I have constructed my own oblong phrasing” (96). Then, later: “The paved road is a story and a poem” (101).  So to me, through the discourse related to both of these characters, it seems there is a link between the language and communication of Ravick and its architecture. But what is that link? And how is it shifting as Ravicka grows or dies?

Language Communities

I am interested in the way that The Ravickians seems to grapple with language. The narrator seems to be remarking about how our cultural contexts can affect the way that we interpret another person’s words — and even when these words are translated, they can’t contain original meaning and intent, because they have been changed and taken from the place where they originated. At least, this is the sense that I am getting from our narrator as she discusses translations. For example, on page 24, she writes, “I am thinking about this translation you are reading. If you are reading it in English or know English better than I do, I am thinking how simple these words of hers would seem to you. They probably say the most basic thing about life.” The narrator then goes on to convey her experience with Anna Patova’s writing: “But in my defense, no matter how clear these words are to you, they were not written for my comprehension… the closer I get to the end of a sentence, the less certain I am of its beginning ” (24-25). I’m wondering about the narrator’s intention when she takes the time to clarify these differences — between our reading experience and hers. Is she commenting on cultural communities, on language communities, and how meaning cannot truly be maintained across these divergences? It makes me think about texts I’ve read about speech communities — like William Labov’s work; he proposed that speech communities relied on the use of a society’s shared norms surrounding a language. People in a certain community operated almost with a certain linguistic code, based on the practices they all performed surrounding that language. The Ravickians seems to grapple with this idea of gaps between language understanding, and language that becomes coded based on its context. 

The Distance between the Signified and the Signifier

I think Belonging, Distance helps to elucidate some of the discordance brought about by the particular communication shown in Event Factory. As we talked about, the characters seem to show emotion, requests, and thoughts through movement; in Ravicka, motion and action are accepted forms of communication. At one point, the narrator dips and swoops while walking along the sidewalk in order to describe how she feels about the history of the city. And of course, there’s the salsa scene, where dancing is a greeting. I’ve been very thrown off by this — it’s an entirely different form of speaking and communicating than we often think about. But Belonging, Distance helps to unpack what Gladman may be up to with this: “Saunders focuses on the distance that inheres in the structure of language, in what Saussure calls the arbitrary and differential nature of the linguistic sign. While the distance between signifer and signified, which allows for movement and even instability, has often been denounced as a harrowing threat to stable meaning, Saunders contends that this distance — or what she calls ‘the foreignness in signification’ – is an epistemologically and ethically crucial space of possibility” (29). This is a long quote, but it’s helps to clarify, first, the tension generated by the way that Event Factory is written and how forms of communication are depicted in the text. But it also helps to unravel how this tension can be didactic and powerful. When I think about the signified and signifiers in this text, I assign the character’s genuine meanings and messages (like, “I want to get to know you” or “I’m hungry”) as what is signified. The signifiers, then, would be the motions or words that these characters use to convey their desires or thoughts . In Ravicka, like we said, this includes dancing, kissing, and all sorts of movement. As the essay helps to describe, there is a marked distance between these linguistic components — and I think it’s especially significant in Event Factory; we have a harder time tying true meaning to the communicative signs displayed by the Ravickian characters. But as the essay also helps to clarify, perhaps there’s some level of freedom and exploration brought about in the text because of this distance.

Grappling with Repetition — in Child-Raising and In the House

In concluding In the House, I’m very interested in its circuity. We end with a character in the house, by the lake, on the dirt, near the woods… and some child splashing in the water nearby, as the character’s memory starts to rebuild itself, and to rebuild her on some level. As we’ve read throughout the piece, things repeat in this world; there is always a father figure and a mother figure, there is always a struggle to make or to keep children, there are struggles with the notions of ownership and possession and what it really means to be family. So I think it is safe to say that this text is marked by repetition. I think this theme comments on the nature of parenting and raising a child – even how this process unfolds in our world, too, bear-less and squid-less. With the process of parenting comes the grappling with originality and repetition on some level, right? A child is pieced together from people already existing, already solidified in their personalities and dreams and likes and dislikes, and physical traits. So that child and those parents face the dilemma of maintaining and cultivating the child’s individuality and originality, in the mist of repetition and pattern.

This is kind of a basal observation — but because the fingerling has been continuously underlying, a continuous and ominous force, I was interested in considering how this character has been playing a role in the recent pages we’ve read. I’m wondering if Bell chooses to vividly describe the fingerling’s behavior and positions in the father figure’s body in the way that he does to make us think of motherhood, or pregnancy, or the idea of possession at the very least. For example, we are continuously updated on the locations of the fingerling — here, he is pushing on the father’s thigh, or boiling in his belly — and indeed, the belly always seems to be the core of his living. Maybe the fingerling serves to show the father the pain of pregnancy, of responsibility for another soul?

Squid Imagery

I’m really interested in the figure of the squid in this section of the book, and how its interaction with the father figure helps to show us more about him as a character. In particular, I’m interested by the behavior of the squid as the two are fighting and spiraling into the darkness of the lake. It seems to me that, most noticeably, the squid is acting as a reflecting tool on Bell’s part; his actions reveal the nature of the narrator before he becomes changed by his experiences. Considering Bell’s selection of detail surrounding their struggle, I think we’re able to infer that he’s using this action to illustrate the father figure’s actions, before he began to realize that they are wrong. Bell describes the squid as pushing and fighting to rip into the narrator as they descend into the blackness of the lake; a weighty choice, I think, to describe the squid’s attempt to enter the narrator.

There’s one particular line that describes this: “The squid-ghost swam on, not farther down but further in, trying to squirm its ghosts into the spaces I contained, that space that in me was already filled with my own fractured haunts, my cancer-son, and would admit no other” (165). To me this imagery seems to link to the ideas of violation and force that seem to characterize the early relationship of the father and his wife; he wants a child so badly, and wants also to be a part of his wife, to possess and own her. This could have led to rape, as realize throughout the scenes in the deep house. Similarly, this squid character is fixated on possessing offspring — and similarly, he tries to enter and possess the narrator through force.