Quarter After Eight is an annual literary journal devoted to the exploration of experimental writing in all its permutations. We celebrate work that directly challenges the conventions of language, style, voice, or idea in literary form. This blog is a place to engage in conversations about the work we publish, as well as the work that inspires us.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Technological Rebellion in Okubo’s Citizen 13660

Quarter After Eight is sponsoring (along with the Ohio University Department of English) a conference, "Defining the New: Experiments and Innovations in English Studies" October 22-23 and we're sharing previews of conference presentations. Here's an excerpt from Chris Sims' critical discussion of Okubo's Citizen 13660 that draws on Bachelard's theories about technologically enabled actualization:

"...One of the reasons I chose Okubo’s Citizen 13660 is because the terse, journalistic prose seems more approachable than some denser material and I can use this clarity to establish the framework for the lens with which I will read these texts. Page eight features an illustration of Miné and her brother at home hearing the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This moment is particularly important because it displays an image of the home as they have constructed it. They are pictured wearing unique, well-fitting clothing, eating a home cooked breakfast, and listening to their radio next to a sink with running water. As members of the larger American community they have access to technology that provides information, running water, heat, and comfort. Inside the space of their home they are free to daydream and they “wondered what this [the attack] would mean to us and other people of Japanese descent in the United States” (Okubo 8). They are not at this moment afraid, but rather curious. Miné’s brother appears to almost lazily absorb the news. The patterns of their shirts match the patterns of the floor tiles and the curtains, underscoring their interconnectedness to their home. Miné and her brother are not wealthy, but the radio stands out as an Extravagant technological artifact. This picture of home emphasizes that the Okubo’s are perhaps on the rise and are able to make choices not based on Necessity, but Extravagant choices grounded in desire.

Miné even goes so far to say “I had a good home” (Okubo 7). This is noteworthy for two reasons. One, because she uses the first person pronoun “I,” which becomes absent from the narrative while Miné is in a camp. Because the Okubo’s have access to their own private home-space, Miné can form a singular identity and feels like a human being. And secondly, this is also important because it foreshadows Bachelard’s sentiments that a home is the first step in technologically enabled actualization. When humans do not have shelter, food, or water their internal drive shifts away from metaphysical inquires of self and turns to biological Necessities. Miné makes it known that the information technology of information telegrams “fixed everything” and allowed her to find a home. Her mother’s death disrupts her settling in, but she soon moves in “with a younger brother at Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay region” (Okubo 6-7). What is important for Miné as an immigrant is to have a stable location she can call home. Home-building is always the first step on the path of self-actualization and even early on Miné is concerned with the business of home..."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Truth and Fiction in Gertrude Stein's War Narratives

Quarter After Eight is sponsoring (along with the Ohio University Department of English) a conference, "Defining the New: Experiments and Innovations in English Studies" October 22-23 and we're sharing a taste of what's to come. Here's a snippet from Jessica Alexander's essay, "No History Is Proof Against Everything," which explores how writers invent their pasts:
"Gore Vidal opens his memoir Palimpsest, by drawing a distinction between autobiography and memoir.  According to Vidal, “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts, double checked”(3).  Vidal’s definition distinguishes between the past that one constructs through memories, and the past that one constructs through external verification; the past that one experiences and the past that one must learn; a difference that Getrude Stein’s Wars I Have Seen challenges.

Wars I Have Seen shares characteristics common to war narratives, memoirs, autobiographies, and fiction.  Stein’s subversion of the traditional standards of each genre assesses the definitive boundaries between them and illustrates their limitations. Constructing an historical narrative that is neither detached, nor analytical, and relying on memories, fictions, and anecdotes to illustrate the historical moment, Stein calls into question traditional historical sources, and the assumed objectivity of historicists.  

As if anticipating Vidal’s remarks Stein begins Wars I Have Seen with “I do not know whether to put in the things I do not remember as well as the things I do remember.” (3).   Underscoring the association between memory and memoir and challenging Vidal’s dichotomy, Stein’s self-conscious assertion simultaneously suggests that her text is a memoir, while calling its status as such into question.  Similarly, the closest most critics come to classifying Wars I Have Seen, is in their assumption that it requires a lengthy argument to prove its disqualification from a particular genre.   The struggle to situate the narrative within a genre, such as history, autobiography or memoir, arises not so much from the texts failure to embody the characteristics of those genres, but rather, as illustrated in the above example, from its failure to remain within the bounds prescribed to each genre.  Stein’s transgressions, far from illustrating an ignorance of the injunctions of each narrative mode, indicate an acute awareness of the principles circumscribing history, memoir and fiction.  Her refusal to remain within the limitations of each calls the nature of their distinctions into question.    

In Messages from History Stein claims that “No history is proof against everything”(25).  Like many of Stein’s constructions, there is more than one way to read the line.  “No history” can be read either as the absence of history, as in “no shirt, no shoes, no service”, or as an expression of the limitations of each discrete historical narrative.  Both readings assume that history has the power to distinguish between fact and fiction.  The latter interpretation, which illustrates the limitations of each historical narrative, suggests that we interpret history as a means of negating memories.  A history of World War II can disprove a memory of World War II, but it cannot disprove being born in Baltimore, or the taste of Vienna beer. A particular historical narrative may call a particular memory into question, and may disprove the validity of that memory, but no single historical narrative can disprove everything, and there are component features of events that dates and facts fail to account for..." 
You can hear the rest of this essay at "Defining the New: Experiments and Innovations in English Studies," which will be free and open to the public. You can find more information about the conference at www.english.ohiou.edu/conference/.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Alex Cigale On Found Forms

It's been 14 years since Alex Cigale outlined his poetics of found forms in Quarter After Eight volume 2, 140 years since Lautreamont articulated his; however, the questions they raise remain provocative. What and how much can/should writers borrow not only from each other but from the culture at large?

"...the granddaddy of them all, of all these modernists, was Isidore Ducasse, better known as Lautreamont. It was his phrase—"the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table"—a prescription for wild, undirected beauty, that served as the definition for Surrealism. In 1870, in his Poesies, Lautreamont was already writing, 'Personal poetry has had its day. . . Let us gather up again the thread of impersonal poetry, rudely interrupted since the birth of the manque philosopher of Ferney, since that great abortion Voltaire.' Also, 'Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps an author's sentences tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.' ...

I will often clip a newspaper article and carry it around (if not literally then in my head), sometimes for years, until the time that I feel comfortable, confident of having fully assimilated its contents. One of the first 'founds' I composed was 'India Widow's Death at. . . ,' its enigmatic title simply the first seven syllables of The New York Times headline from an article on the Hindu custom of sati, the ritual self-immolation of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. The organizing principles of this 'poem' were syllabics (and its associated stanza forms) and montage, the French for 'arrangement.' In this instance, during the lengthy period of absorption, I was haunted by a memory likely to be familiar to most members of the generation that came of age in the 1970s: an image of a human form in flames, the photo of a Buddhist priest whose self-immolation in protest of the Vietnamese Invasion of Kampuchea in 1972 caught the world's attention. This photograph, the recorded image, was potent enough to attain the status of icon. In his Stardust Memories, Woody Allen paid homage once again to Ingmar Bergman (who had used it twice in Persona) by blowing the image up to cover an entire wall in the apartment of the main character.
My borrowings are verbatim. Just as there is in our cultural repository a pool of resonant Images (Jung would have said these are fed by the collective unconscious; similar to Yeats's Spiritus Mundi), so the quality of language which makes it memorable seems to me to draw on pre-existent forms that cannot be improved upon by the mere 'author.' Noam Chomsky's ideas about grammar being innate also square nicely with this notion. Syntax following nearly organic laws would seem to confirm the writer's experience of having to whittle language down to its purest-syntactically, aurally, visually-most precise yet economized configurations. In this Aristotelian sense, writing then is a search for and the discovery of these 'ideal forms.'"

You can read the entire essay at http://www.quarteraftereight.org/cigale.htm.