Esther’s Space- journey through my life

April 13, 2008

Pattern Recognition

Boy, am I glad I decided to power through the last one hundred pages of Pattern Recognition before attempting to post on it! I somehow didn’t really see Russia coming, but it totally changes what I want to talk about.

In an attempt to corral some of my thoughts- here are things I wanted to highlight about the novel. We’ll see where it goes.

  • advertising– of course! the perfect way of bridging media and culture. Judging by Scott‘s post, there’s much to be learned in terms of the power of the image from Fitzpatrick’s article, but since I haven’t read it yet, I’ll have to keep quiet about that
  • location– like in Diamond Age, we’re set up in this Great Britain-as-old-stable-order versus Asia, here Japan-as-new-mode-of-thinking. With the U.S. referred to only in passing, as if it was a hegemony that has out-lived its purpose. Hopefully more on this.
  • temporal– as far as I can tell, this book is set in ~2002, in a world that looks very much like certain segments of the world as it was in 2002. This effectively brings the abstract ‘future’ to now.
  • references– throughout the novel Gibson continues to intersperse references that are completely alien to me, especially names of individuals who once were celebrities, or simply cultural references that are outside my scope of experience, such as Frank Geary (p 67)
  • black/grey clothes and fake military gear– all the cool people wear them, and the people that want to affect coolness. Revert back to simplicity blah blah, I know, but it also has to be embedded in some sense of nostalgia and the existence of a ‘simpler, clearer’ past. In the glut of postmodern fiction, this concept seems to have become largely a cliche, so why does Gibson even ‘go there’?

Location- I had it all mapped out- ‘there is something very specific that authors are trying to say about the future of life and technology as being the future, coming from Asia, but these ideas are forced to war with the cultural stability that England seems to represent.’ But Russia complicates this polarity a bit.  While this preivous statement still seems to be true. Especially if we want to think about how the literary canon (in English) is built upon the British classics, but as global technology invades the readers’ lives, there is increasing distance between the classic ‘literary’ way of reading life and the new way that ideas and ideals are moved across culture. I guess I’m trying to point toward the increasing love of animated cartoons in America, and not just anime, but Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad. Didn’t I hear something about The Simpsons actually being animated in [I want to say] Korea? But, more relevantly, with the increase in popularity of animated cartoons television shows, there has been more widespread interest in reading manga and graphic novels. Coincidence? I think not. (who said that first?)

But back to Russia. This is Genius on Gibson’s part, and something that I’m only becoming aware of now, though the insight to recognize it in 2002 is pretty impressive. (though maybe it’s just particularly impressive to me, who was much less aware of such things in 2002)  Russia is striving to re-establish itself as an international force of its own. It does not want to be “Asian” “Eur-Asian” or “European.” The nation wants to be identified culturally and politically as “Russian.” They (whomever they might be) are striving to become the independent world force they were ‘before.’ But, as the novel explores, it’s a tough thing to restructure an entire nation’s (and a big one at that) modus operandi. One of my favorite lines from the book speaks to this:

There have always been two security operations around Stella and Nora. One is a branch, or subsidiary, of the group that protects Volkov himself. The flavor is ex-KGB, but in the sense that Putin is ex-KGB: lawyers first, then spies. (338)

This makes me think about the current relationship that Bush has with Putin.  And Putin’s new position in the government.  And the tension over the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia re-joining the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and recognizing the Patriarchate.  Utterly delicious, though probably just for me.

Temporality- I’m not entirely sure how I want to talk about this, but it seems very important that Gibson is not trying to represent some future-world of technology, technological espionage, human vulgarity, and the “whole problem, with most of the dot-com people” of it being “all about money” (348).  Instead, these are problems of today, or at least the the today of the novel being published.  It’s striking, but I’m not sure how to carry the thought through to fruitful conclusion.  It’s that time of the semester.

In terms of references- they were frustrating because there were so many. And I refuse to try to use my laptop to search these unfamiliar names in order to figure out the reference and fit it into the narrative and read a novel at the same time, it is highly inefficient, and makes the novel lose its momentum. Interestingly, I found this site. It looks to be Joe Clark’s conversation with the novel. As far as I can tell, it is the online equivalent of my underlinings and margin notes. Seems like an awful lot of extra effort. But, while it proved some parallels with my own underlinings, points of interest, and points of confusion, I found his annotating largely useless to me. I have read the book, and, obviously, interacted with it differently than Joe did. But, his notes are too specific and abstract to be of use to an individual who has not read the book. So, this leaves the annotation logging as useful primarily as a personal documentation of reading response. I don’t think I’ll say more about that.

April 7, 2008

Annotated Bibliography

Great news– my PC has officially had a meltdown just in time for paper-time. Thanks to my constant frustration, and the generous nagging of my roomie, I will now be walking on the Mac side of technology.
Campbell, Kermit Ernest.  “The Player’s (Book) Club:  Ghetto Realistic Fiction from “His Last Day ” to “Pimpology.  “Gettin’ Our Groove On:  Rhetoric, Language, and Literacy for the Hip Hop Generation.  Detroit, Michigan:  Wayne State UP, 2005.  87-120.  In this chapter, Campbell is interested in making a case for the importance of black critics to look at examples of ‘ghetto realism’ as it is presented in a variety of forms of media because it is no less relevant than the canonized works of African American literature.  What I found particularly useful was his survey of the history of ‘ghetto realism’, a valuable reference for citing the first vestiges of the culture that contemporary urban novels aim to represent.  Perhaps as an indicator of my own blindnesses, I didn’t realize it until I began reading this chapter, but Campbell is the only academic, or, even more broadly, published (except for the online reviews that do not receive editorial supervision) writer discussing the matter of urban fiction who writes is something other than standardized American english.  I’m not yet sure what all of the implications of this are.  A theme Campbell introduces in this chapter, and one that continues to pup up in my research, is the idea that music, literature, and material experiences are all intricately and necessarily tied in attempts to express the contemporary black urban youth experience.
—   “They Got Game:  African American Students, Hip Hop, and Literacy in the Zone.” .”Gettin’ Our Groove On:  Rhetoric, Language, and Literacy for the Hip Hop Generation.  Detroit, Michigan:  Wayne State UP, 2005.  123-152.  In this chapter Campbell investigates the disadvantaged position of black students from inner cities as they enter four-year institutions who have designed curriculums for a very different type of student.  As it pertains to my paper, Campbell is interested in expanding the definition of ‘literacy’ to include rap literacy and social literacy.  He argues that while ‘ghetto’ black students may not have the stellar SAT scores and only average GPAs, they have skills that allow them to be successful in a way that most institutions of higher learning don’t have a way of quantifying, qualifying, or appreciating.  Campbell argues that as more of these students enter college and continue to express themselves as they understand how to (particularly through rap composition in Campbell’s examples), they will begin to change the face of institutional composition, and threaten the hegemonic ideals that institutions often try to inculcate in their students.  Near the end of the chapter Campbell begins to investigate the pedagogy of using “African American vernacular discourses as a bridge to mainstream academic discourses,” since doing so implies a distrust of or inferiority of the former.  This pedagogy, in my opinion, helps to maintain the hegemony of the (white) elitist discourse already in circulation.
The Coldest Winter Ever.  Customer Reviews.  5 April 2008 <;.  This site offers customer reviews of The Coldest Winter Ever, an urban novel by Sister Souljah.  Now offering over 1,100 reviews, an overwhelming number of which are positive, the site provides valuable insight into what themes readers tend to appreciate in urban novels, where Souljah’s book fits in the spectrum of urban fiction, and what readers felt might have been ‘missing’ from Souljah’s book.  For me, this will provide valuable commentary from actual readers, which is difficult to come by in publications featuring book reviews.
De Lancey, Frenzella Elaine.  “Sonia Sanchez’s Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women and Sister Souljah’s the Coldest Winter Ever:  Progressive Phases amidst Modernist Shadows and Postmodernist Acts.  B’Ma:  The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review.  6.1 (2000).  147-179.  Intent on linking poet Sonia Sanchez and Sister Souljah as lonely black female advocates in their individual places and times, De Lancey has written a lengthy article defending the cultural value of both women’s works.  Beyond the fact that Souljah’s novel has a nihilistic narrator, De Lancey does little to prove the connections she repeatedly makes of TCWE as a modernist response to Sanchez’s postmodern work.  Arguably, in order to validate Souljah’s writing (in an academic perspective), De Lancey is requiring readers to read it in a way that they have not been willing to, reading the subtext rather than the narrative alone.  She does bring up an interesting point of Souljah’s interest in writing the novel to act as a mirror for the community she writes about, a mirror that is meant to reveal to the readers the dangerous position they have found themselves in, and perhaps the need to find a way to fight their way out of these situations.
Dodson, Angela P.  “The mainstreaming of street lit.”  Black Issues Book Review.  July-August 2006.  5 April 2008.  <;.  This article discusses the introduction of a new line of urban fiction books, Nikki Turner Presents.  Nikki Turner is an urban novelist with a number of widely-read novels.  Interestingly, while Turner espouses her intent to promote literacy within a non-white community, she intends to take her line of books “to the next level.  I wan to set the bar.  I don’t want any of my stories to march to the same beat as traditional street fiction.”  To me, urban fiction has remained largely as a sub-culture of contemporary writing in the United States.  As such, it has been hugely influential in terms of expanding the definitions of ‘literature’ and making reading a more widely engaged in habit.  If Turner is interested in setting a new bar, what beat will her new line of books march to?  I think Dodson has a clear idea of which direction she hopes Turner will go, if her ending the article by introducing Senator Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope: Reclaiming the American Dream, is any indication.  I don’t think it gets too much further from urban fiction (as it would currently be defined) than that.
Jones, Tayari.  “Tayari’s Blog:  Nikki Turner Presents…”  5/11/2006.  5 April 2008 <;.   A post on African American female author, Tayari Jones’s blog, this simply expressed Jones’s discomfort with the urban fiction genre, and the genre’s appropriation, and, in her oppinion, distortion, of the terms ‘urban’ and ‘street’.  More importantly, Jones asks those readers of her blog to comment on their experiences with the urban fiction genre, providing several informative (largely negative) reviews of urban literature.  Often, these reviewers cite the need for added morality and editing of the books in order to make them more acceptable.  These reviews provide an interesting counterpoint to the more positive reviews available on, and they are written with a very different diction and tone, revealing the disparity between readers and non-readers of urban novels.
Pittman, Coretta.  “Black Women Writers and the Trouble with Ethos:  Harriet Jacobs, Billie Holiday, and Sister Souljah.”  Rhetoric Quarterly.  37.1 (Winter 2007).  43-70.  In this dense reading of the rhetoric of ethos, Pittman goes into the origins of the concept, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, in order to create a solid definition, and then goes on to look at the autobiographical works of the three African American women in order to illustrate how they strove to achieve ethos when they could not, by Aristotle’s definition, rely upon the value of their lived experiences.  An important part of Pittman’s argument, for me, is the idea that, in their writing, these black women were actively working to create an alternative form of rhetoric, previously alien to the hegemony, that established them as valid members of a community, and responsible for their own futures, rather than as victims of the system.  Arguably, urban fiction itself is establishing a new kind of rhetoric that, because it is alien, is very uncomfortable, but will later be accepted as a different way of expressing the lived experiences of members of a particular community, just as Harriet Jacobs’s story has come to be.
Sutherland, LeeAnn M.  African American Girls Reading African American Women:  A Study of Literacy, Identity, and Multicultural Education.  Unpublished dissertation.  University of Michigan.  2002.  This dissertation, available as a print from microfilm, follows the author’s experience of observing how six African Ameircan female teens interacted with Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye.  Interestingly, in attempting to relate to Morrison’s novel, the girls introduced Sutherland to Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever, their tool for connecting their experiences to Morrison’s text.  I am interested in how Sutherland largely ignores or dismisses the importance of the girls’ experiences with urban fiction in terms of how it might inform their readings of canonical African American literatures, especially in light of the investigations Sutherland does of the ways in which these girls ‘make meaning’ of texts for themselves.
Wood, Andy.  “Contemporary Black British Ruban Fiction:  A ‘Ghetto Perspective’?”  Wasafiri:  The Transnational Journal of International Writing.  36 (Summer 2002).  18-22.  In this article, Wood investigates the history of black British urban fiction.  A history that takes place in a different context than American black urban fiction, but with strikingly similar results.  Again, there is a reiterated theme of black urban expression not being confined to a single medium, but rather as a multivocal form of expression that works across media outlets in its articulation.  An important part of the development of an urban fiction genre that I am particularly interested in, and that Wood touches upon, is the ability for authors to publish independently, using simple software.  This ability to disseminate urban fiction, free from editors and industry leaders, has been an important aspect of its ability to grow as a genre.
Wright, David.  “Collection Development “Urban Fiction”:  Streetwise Urban Fiction.”  Library Journal.  7/15/2006.  5 April 2008 <;.  This article, published in a journal widely read by public librarians as a source of information on upcoming ‘big’ books, aims to describe what urban fiction is, what it is about, and why librarians should invest in purchasing them.  For me, this article provides some interesting insight into how a public organization such as a library, is made uncomfortable by the popularity and emergence of the urban novel.  Much of Wright’s article seems intent on answering the silently asked question of what exactly this genre is, and what makes it so different from ‘African American fiction’.  One section that I found particularly interesting is under the sub-heading of “Off the street and into libraries,” pertaining to both the books and the patrons.  A surprising twist that Wright provides in this section is advice on how to “take an aggressive, almost serials-based approach” to keeping urban fiction books stocked inexpensively, since they are a genre “that tend to walk out the door.”  While he tries hard to put a positive moral spin on what urban books have to offer, Wright ultimately ends his article with the simple syllogism of the popularity of urban fiction, the responsibility of a library’ to provide books that patrons are interested in reading, and therefore, the responsibility of libraries to purchase urban novels, even if they are a ‘poor’ literary investment.

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