Narrative voice in both the comic adaptation of Paul Auster’s mystery novel City of Glass and the text in its original form plays a crucial role that, if altered, would significantly alter the reader’s interpretation of the storyline itself.
The constant shifts in the identity of main character Quinn add a dynamic aspect that moves the reader through the plot. In the classic format of the murder mystery, the author, detective, and reader move through plot together, bound by a mutually accepted set of rules. In City of Glass, the author is represented by both Paul Auster himself and Quinn under his professional pseudonym, William Wilson; the detective is represented by both Quinn himself and his recurring character Max Work; and we as readers try our best to follow the story as it’s laid before us. The detective acts as interpreter of events, but what we as readers glean from a text is significantly affected when an objective author becomes an unreliable narrator and, furthermore, a fractured self.
As Quinn becomes increasingly consumed by his quest to live out the fantasies of his work and protect client Peter Stillman Jr., he begins to lose grip on a single objective truth and we as readers are pulled down with him. By the end of the novel, Quinn has become a shell of his former self, devoid of his former drive and sensibility. In the graphic novel adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, the last panels of the story feature Quinn in solitude, naked and surrounded by darkness. As he begins his descent, we see Quinn in a fetal position completely embraced by darkness (129), an image that could almost be interpreted as a rebirth and a cyclical connection to Stillman’s experiences as mentioned prior.
How does Quinn’s complex relationship with both his work and his own identity change our interpretation of the novel as a whole?
Since I just uploaded my blog post on Riding the Trail of Tears, I wanted to draw a parallel between Hausman’s cyberpunk historical fiction novel and author Alison Bechdel’s “family tragicomic”, Fun Home. Both works place great significance on the role of memory in the narrative frame.
Despite both pieces being entire different in genre and subject matter, the role of memory is one of the most prominent themes throughout each work. In Bechdel’s graphic memoir, she reflects on the relationship between her and her father throughout her childhood and how it has subsequently impacted her adult life. The story is told non-linearly, echoing the natural process of human thought by rapidly switches topics and time periods, while still working to create an overall cohesive narrative. This type of non-linear reflection is also seen in Riding the Trail of Tears: the chapters bounce between subjects, particularly between Tallulah’s tour group and the Misfits, while frequently referencing past events and memories.
The encorpation of memories in both pieces of literature serves to ground the narratives in some sort of identifiable time frame which the reader can identify and use to follow the complex story progressions. The memories laced within present-day narratives act as roots from which the story can grow. As Nick Sousanis said in his lecture on the union of text and image in comics, text is “tree-like” in that written storylines are rooted in specified events in time and space, which can then grow outward and more complex. Bechdel’s choice to use image as well as text in Fun Home allows her use of memory to expand the plot in ways that Hausman’s work cannot: Memories are now not simply told, but shown, adding to their significance and their emotional resonance with readers.
I had this blog post written out to post during our Hausman week, but I forgot to upload since I was preoccupied with writing the essay! My apologies!
In Riding the Trail of Tears, Hausman poses a difficult question to the novel’s readers about the practicality of historical virtual reality. The incorporation of VR into literature allows indigenous authors to root their work in the new territory of cyberspace. In these western frameworks, the landless territory of VR is a way to reconnect with land-based indigenous history and blur the boundaries between historical and modern, physical and virtual, and can even grow to become space of radical empathy that folds the boundaries between self and other. Historical VR can serve as an investigatory or analytic space, a continuation and amplification of colonial violence that allows users to “know” history in different and more completest ways, thus allowing us in the modern day to reflect and learn from the crimes of our past in order to promote tolerance in the future.
However, historical VR is not without its flaws. By characterizing real people and turning tragic events into a tourist attraction, we eliminate a sense of horror and realism despite experiencing the Trail firsthand. In trying to get closer to history, we actually distance ourselves from it. Where Hausman further complicates this issue is by taking the question of historical VR’s morality and reflecting outward at the readers themselves. We as readers see ourselves in the fictional tourists of Tallulah’s group 5709, enamoured with the concept of VR and its transformative abilities; yet because of our omniscient perspective of the novel as a whole, we are able to learn from the mistakes of characters in the novel itself and have a much more profound understanding of society’s past crimes against First Nations Peoples than if we ourselves had ridden the TREPP. Pretty meta huh?
So, what do you guys think? Is historical VR a good way to teach the youth of today about the tragedies of the past, or by trying to experience historical events firsthand do we undermine their significance?