bridging the gap between textuality and culture
Previous | Non-Fiction List HOME | Next


by Zachar Laskewicz

June 2004, Sint-Niklaas (Belgium)                                                                                             


The nature of this ‘Text’ is essentially rhizomatic in that each of its different sections can be seen as ‘plateaus’ or layers which can be read in any different order, meaning that the reader is not expected to start at the beginning and gradually work through to the end.  Although this is the suggested order, sections can be picked from the list below depending on the reader’s area of interest, or alternatively it can be read from the last to the first section in a backwards order.


SUMMARY: MODERNISM & POSTMODERNISM                                                  

BOOKS, TEXTS AND TEXTUALITIES                                                                     

THE CONTEMPORARY ‘ZEITSGEIST’                                                                     


NARRATIVE STRUCTURE                                                                                           

EXAMPLES OF INTERDISCURSIVE ENVIRONMENTS                                      



SUMMARY: MODERNISM & POSTMODERNISM                                                  


"Minister (intransigently):  A societal structure is the greatest of all the works of art that man can make.  Like the greatest art, it is perfectly symmetric.  It has the architectonic structure of music, a symmetry imposed upon it in order to resolve a play of tensions which would disrupt order but without which order is lifeless.  In this serene and abstract harmony, everything moves with the solemnity of the absolutely predictable and - …” (Carter, 1982: 35)

"Ambassador:  You are in the process of tabulating every thing you can lay your hands on.  In the sacred name of symmetry, you slide them into a series of straitjackets and label them with, oh, my God, what inexpressibly boring labels!  Your mechanical prostitutes welcome their customers in an alien gibber wholly denied to the human tongue while you, you madam, work as an abortionist on the side.  You murder the imagination in the womb, Minister!” (Carter, 1982: 37)


Literature is a complex sociocultural tool, often used by individuals as a tool to model themselves against in a positive or negative sense.  A field within any type of cultural Text which is adopted by any of the characters, events or actions distinguish themselves in some way by providing an alternative ‘point of view’ on the action that takes place in the work.  These ‘fields’ are generally referred to as ‘discourses’; works that belong to what is referred to as ‘realist’ fiction tend to use one ‘discourse’ or point-of-view at a time, or to carefully control them so that there is no confusion between them.  As readers usually start at the beginning, read through the work, and end at the last page, literary works have narrative structures imposed on them—even if that is not the author’s intention.  The very nature of literary Texts, 'narratives' and 'discourses' will be the subject of this paper, in particular the way a number of discourses intertwine to provide the reader with unique insights into reality.  Thanks to a new type of what I define as textuality, particular discursive environments have been created for a generation of readers which provide them with an alternative access to Text, environments which are more than necessary to make sense of a disintegrating world.  Literature has been, and always will be, in a constant process of change, and as such Texts (involved with literature in some way) will be read differently by each new cultural episteme.  In this writing the intention is to explore some of the experimental techniques of literary expression to represent this ‘disparate’ form of expression, an ontology which can only be communicated thanks to the assistance of semiotic communication from the ‘interdiscursive environment’ in which the narrative that forms the piece of literature receives ultimate expression.  I’ll be looking at a number of contemporary novels to demonstrate the way literature can communicate information concerning the cultural rather than literary state of both the ‘reader’ and the ‘writer’.


The structure of the article is relatively simple.  After the introduction, some time is taken to define clearly what I’m referring to when I apply the words Text and textuality to a given ‘literary’ or ‘cultural’ object.  Basically the major contrast to existing tradition is textuality which differs from the initial meaning applied by the Parisian Tel Quel school.  I use the word to refer to the way a given culture is taught to ‘interpret’ a text, i.e. the cultural practices that are involved with textual interpretation.  After this, to understand the ‘disparate’ nature of a lot of multidiscursive works in contemporary literature—much of it belonging to the postmodern school of writing—we take a look at what was introduced by Lyotard as the ‘Deconstruction of the Grand Narrative’ so important to works which stood against the set of rules which had come to be accepted during the modernist movement.  The ‘Grand Narrative’ theory forms the basis for a more general theoretical survey of textual events taking place in other fields such as psychoanalysis and musicology.  To draw the discussion away from the strictly ‘postmodern’ theory applied by Lyotard, a move is taken towards a discussion of the contemporary ‘Zeitsgeist' or 'Weltanschauung' which is referring to the set of habits, both hermeneutical and cultural, adopted by contemporary occidental culture.  In this respect, Deleuze & Guattari’s Rhizome is particularly useful because of its multireferential nature allowing it to be applied to many different aspects of the contemporary paradigm we find ourselves in presently.  The whole article, in fact, is intended to be rhizomatic in structure, meaning that the reader is free to start and stop at any of the different points; although they obviously fit together to become a whole, the intention is for the reader to be able to attain the same amount of knowledge by reading the article backwards!  Unfortunately, because of the fact that this article is non-fiction, combined with the fact that the reader is only presented with my point of view, it is difficult to present ‘interdiscursive environments’ for the reader’s pleasure and to provide him or her with a greater understanding of how these environments are intended to work.  Instead, the reader is directed towards specific parts of other literary works, so hopefully this on its own will be sufficient.  In any case, the discussion of ‘contemporary Weltanschauung' is followed by a section devoted to semiotic processes which take place in the narrative structure, specifically its temporality.  The definition of interdiscursivity, and then a set of examples from a number of contrasting works of fiction, is then presented, which leads inevitably to the conclusion completing the article.


So what do the words modernism and postmodernism actually refer to?  According to Best & Kellner, Modernity “entered everyday life through the dissemination of modern art, the products of consumer society, new technologies, and new modes of transportation and communication” (1991: 2).  The dynamics by which modernity produced a new industrial and colonial world can be described as ‘modernization’; as Best & Kellner put it, “a term denoting those processes of individualization, secularization, industrialization, cultural differentiation, commodification, urbanization, bureaucratization, and rationalization which together have constituted the new world.”  The ‘modern’ movement in both art and literature has been very much informed by cultural development, which is one of the main themes of this paper.  Postmodern theories in contrast to modernism but in a similarly cultural sense “claim that in the contemporary high tech media society, emergent processes of change and transformation” have produced a new type of society which requires a contrasting set of principles on which to base its sense of logic and reality.  This has resulted in “increased cultural fragmentation, changes in the experience of space and time, and new modes of experience, subjectivity, and culture” (Best & Kellner, 1991: 3).  In this article, one of the primary intentions is to demonstrate the role what I have referred to as interdiscursive processes, are involved with contemporary literature which belongs to or has grown from its origins in the postmodern age.


To provide a more exact definition, interdiscursivity is a term which can be applied to literary ‘environments’ in which two or more contrasting perspectives are presented to the reader.  While in the dynamic process of reading, the multidiscursive patterns influence the way the text is interpreted.  What ‘interdiscursivity’ is, however, is not such a simple matter.  It is similar to metafiction which is also a literary tool used self-consciously by authors and also associated with ‘post-modernism’.  Metafiction is generally used to communicate to the reader the very fact that they are ‘reading’ or interacting in a textual way with a work of literature of some kind.  Interdiscursivity, however, is not always intended to have this effect; it is a given that works are interdiscursive – it is almost an ontology for many readers today.  The affect of interdiscursivity is rather to present a world in which many voices speak, like in real-life, not always easily dissociable from one another.  Metafiction self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, whereas interdiscursivity takes these devices as a given and communicates through those discourses.  Works which communicate interdiscursively, however, can also deliberately perform similar functions, but this isn’t always the intention.  Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is a perfect example of this; further on I’ll be demonstrating both the metafictional and the interdiscursive elements of textual interpretation.    Interdiscursivity could also be compared with intertextuality, which is the way a textual work relates to other texts; it is similar in terms of the rules which apply towards the way texts work intertextually just as the discourses communicate with one another. 


Interdiscursivity as will be demonstrated, can also be applied to situations external to metafiction.  The importance of interdiscursivity is to bridge the disparate holes set up by ‘postmodern’ verfremdung [alienation], and in this way as well, the dynamic processes involved with interdiscursivity can also be compared to intertextuality.  Interdiscursivity, then, can help to provide the readers with tools to make sense of the narrative, which of course consists of the many discourses which it uses.  Argyros' interpretation of the seminal importance of narrative: "If  narrative is indeed a seminal component of the dialectic human beings entertain with their cultural and natural environments, then it should be possible to affirm traditional narratival forms as crucial forces in the dynamics of cultural change” (Argyros, 1991: 660).  Here narrative is defined in terms of the way it comments upon the writer who produced it, but rather the dynamic contents of the cultural environment in which it was written and to which the reader could also belong.  It is to this class of dynamic literary terms that the word interdiscursivity refers.  A certain class of postmodern writing is involved very much with a questioning of the realist tradition connected to modernity, and sometimes superficially provides little more than metafictional devices to question the form.  interdiscursivity, however, goes far further in communicating themes and ideas not possible according to the tradition of realism.



BOOKS, TEXTS AND TEXTUALITIES                                                                     


"Therefore, every minute of the day, they were all, male and female alike, engrossed in weaving and embroidering the rich fabric of the very world in which they lived and, like so many Penelopes, their work was never finished.  The whole point of their activity was that it was endless, for they unravelled their work at the end of the year and they, with the return of the sun after the shortest day, began on it again.”

(Carter, 1982: 183)


The word ‘text’ actually evolved from the Latin word textus which refers to the waft and weave of a fabric, evoking the essentially ‘interdiscursive’ nature of complex cultural creations such as novels. Deleuze provides us with a dynamic model which attempts to encompass their complexity by presenting creations of this proportion as assemblages:


"A book has neither object nor subject, it is made of variously formed matters, and very different dates and speeds.  To attribute the book to a subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations.  It is to fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements.  In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movement of deterritorialization and destratification.  Compare rates of flow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture.  All this, lines and measurable speeds, constitutes an assemblage."

(Deleuze & Guattari, 1987)


This model is particularly true of postmodern novels which present narratives contoured by multiple discourses.  These texts don’t try to ‘soften the edges’ or to make the structure make more sense.  This will be related to the episteme in the next point (i.e. what contemporary texts can teach us about the way our culture is developing/has developed).  An important contrast exists between the modern and the postmodern ‘text’ as presented in the Summary opening this article; Barthes, a semiotician who participated in the Parisian Tel Quel school, wrote a ground-breaking article commenting upon the contrast between the Work and the Text, the Work being a static object which sits in a library and is a product of the ‘father’ in the linguistic paternal sense.  The Text, in contrast, is volatile, non-permanent and constantly undergoing processes of change.  Deleuze’s model of the Tree is similar to Barthes understanding of the Work in its artificiality and its attempt to imitate or reflect nature in some way:


"This is the classical book, as noble, signifying, and subjective organic interiority (the strata of the book).  The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature: by procedures specific to it that accomplish what nature cannot or can no longer do.  The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that becomes two.  How could the law of the book reside in nature, when it is what presides over the very division between world and book, nature and art?  One becomes two: whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most “dialectical” way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought.  Nature doesn’t work that way: in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one.  Thought lags behind nature.  Even the book as a natural reality is a tap-root, with its pivotal spine and surrounding leaves.  But the book as a spiritual reality, the Tree or Root as an image, endlessly develops the law of the One that becomes two, then of the two that become four.  Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree.  Even a discipline as “advanced” as linguistics retains the root-tree as its fundamental image, and thus remains wedded to classical reflection (for example, Chomsky and his grammatical trees, which begin at a point S and proceed by dichotomy).  This is as much as to say that this system of thought has never reached an understanding of multiplicity: in order to arrive at two following a spiritual method it must assume a strong principal unity.”

(Deleuze, 1987: 5)


Barthe’s description of the almost dichotomously opposed Text describes clearly the contrast:


"In opposition to the notion of the work-a traditional notion that has long been and still is thought of in what might be called Newtonian fashion-there now arises a need for a new object, one obtained by the displacement or overturning of previous categories.  This object is the Text… the Text is experienced only in an activity, a production… The Text is that which goes to the limit of the rules of enunciation (rationality, readability, and so on).  The Text tries to situate itself exactly behind the limit of doxa. One could literally say that the Text is always paradoxical."

(Barthes, 1982b: 74-75)


We’ll be looking at a number of ‘Works’ which do sit in libraries, but I’ll be pointing out characteristics of these works which encourage the reader to experience the inherently Textual nature of interaction with cultural creations of any kind. To do this, particular aspects of these texts are concentrated upon which sets them aside from other ‘texts’; one of the most important aspects is the very fact that these novels are inherently ‘textual’ in that they go to a great deal of trouble to point out the fact that they have been created in the process of writing.  The ‘process’ of writing, therefore, plays a more important role than in more traditional types of literature which attempt to create an imaginative world in which the reader ‘loses’ any sense of connection with the processes gone through to create the work of art.  Varga Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, is involved more with the writing process than it is with anything else, for example; the story of both Aunt Julia and the many stories presented by Señor Camachos, for example, all point towards the writing (and to a lesser extent the reading) process either as the romantic figure Varga Llosa (‘Marito') fantasises becoming, or the absurd, theatrical impossibility of the soap-opera scriptwriter.  The reflexive nature of the comedic stories connecting the discourses of Marito, his aunt and the scriptwriter are intended to play with the reader who is very much involved with exploring the writing process.  The following example making this clear is taken from Elisondo’s opening passage which begins the novel:


"I write.  I write that I am writing.  Mentally I see myself writing that I am writing and I can also see myself seeing that I am writing.  I remember writing and also seeing myself writing.  And I see myself remembering that I see myself writing and I remember seeing myself remembering that I was writing and I write seeing myself write that I remember having seen myself write that I saw myself writing…”

(Llosa: 1)


Ondaatje’s The English Patient, in contrast, goes to a great deal of trouble to point out the contrasts between this type of textual communication and alternative types created and recreated in constantly new and dynamic fashions by ‘oral’ (as opposed to ‘literary’) culture.  This provides us with an insight into the communicative abilities of other cultures, cultural contrasts between the West and the East, memory, and the different ways ‘memory’ is used to help a culture hold on to their cultural ‘Texts’.  The English Patient may be fragmented and the discourses sometimes ambiguous and confused, but this is often for the purpose of demonstrating cultural contrasts and it remains at all times essentially textual in nature.  An important signifier connecting the oral cultures of the desert with the antique ‘literate’ culture of the occident is Herodotus’ important work which has signified intercultural communication through the ages.  The title hero (the patient) carries his copy of the Histories everywhere he goes, just as Madox carries Anna Karenina: “I carried Herodotus, and Madox-a saint in his own marriage-carried Anna Karenina, continually rereading the story of romance and deceit” (Ondaatje: 237); characters are created thanks to the way they identify themselves with certain books, narratives or participants.  The title protagonist actually accuses the Italian thief, Caravaggio, of treating him like a ‘book’:  "Or am I just a book?  Something to be read, some creature to be tempted out of a loch and shot full of morphine, full of corridors, lies, loose vegetation, pockets of stone” (ibid.: 253).  At the same time, the patient’s ‘experience’ of Herodotus and its importance to his sense of self is made real for both Hana-of the other major characters-and by extension the reader, how intertwined the text is with the patient's life in an 'interdiscursive' sense; the text stretches very much out of the book and into the life of the individual.  This is made real through a set of information which has been attached to the patient’s ‘personal’ copy of the book:


"She [Hana] picks up the notebook that lies on the small table beside his bed.  It is the book he brought with him through his fire—a copy of The Histories by Herodotus that he has added to, cutting and gluing in pages from other books or writing in his own observations—so they are all cradled within the text of Herodotus.”

(Ondaatje: 16)


It retains also in many other ways an essential connection to the novel:


"She had come to love these books dressed in their Italian spines, the frontispieces, the tipped-in colour illustrations with a covering of tissue, the smell of them, even the sound of the crack if you opened them too fast, as if breaking some minute unseen series of bones.  She paused again.  The Charterhouse of Parma.  'If I ever get out of my difficulties,' he said to Clelia, ‘I shall pay a visit to the beautiful pictures at Parma, and then will you deign to remember the name Dabrizio del Dongo.’”

(Ondaatje: ?)    


The other novel we look at from an interdiscursive perspective, is also inherently about the writing process—as well as alternative forms of communication associated with nomadic and illiterate cultures: Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor is presented as an attempt at 'Autobiography'.  An autobiography is itself a form of writing that calls attention to subject of the contents of the book. The realisation of the ‘autobiography’ is at best highly ambiguous in this unique interdiscursive novel.  This is an example of the typical habit of one of the discourses in interdiscursive literature which points self-reflexively towards how the author structures the text, as we have seen in  commenting upon the text as a whole in a meta-fictional fashion.  It’s at this point that we can introduce an alternative idea of Text and Textuality; as Ondaatje makes clear, there are many different ways of expressing and understanding bodies of ‘knowledge’, most often made up of words, but also music and other discourses, which are transferred in dynamic textual processes such as ‘reading’ (a book), ‘gazing upon’ (a painting), ‘listening to’ (a piece of music) or ‘experiencing’ (many other types of complex cultural communicative vehicle). 


Texts, then, are complex cultural vehicles of expression in which interdiscursive environments can take place and which are usually made up of a complex set of signs.  As suggested in novels such as The English Patient, Text, however, can be more than this alone.  I define it as a ‘frame’ for any type of communication, meaning that understanding a Text means knowing when one stops and another starts.  Examples of ‘Texts’ include musical compositions (recorded, live or in the form of scores),  a fashionable outfit, paintings (the borders of which literally are frames) and, of course, books which are inherently textual.  This is where the notion of Textuality becomes important.  I define Textualities as being the way a culture teaches its members to interpret or make sense of given Texts.  Texts, then, are the bodies in which knowledge is contained and passed on to people who interact with it in some way, i.e. if in the form of books, via the process of reading, if in the form of graphic art, in the form of gazing.  Textualities, in comparison, do not have a ‘form’ as such, but are instead the set of ideas passed on by a culture to a set of individuals in order to interpret the Texts.  This definition of Textuality contrasts with the original meaning applied by the Parisian Tel Quel school, but by using it this way, Texts become again an object of knowledge storage and transferral. 




by contemporary philosophers, scientists, theorist, writers and other practitioners                     


"Since the inception of the mode of consciousness we refer to as 'the world', man has always thought of time as in itself a movement forward, an onward flow leaving only a little debris behind it.  Evanescence is the essence of time.  And since temporality is the medium in which this mode of consciousness has itself been expressed, since time is, as it were, the canvas on which we ourselves are painted, the empirical investigation of the structure of time possesses certain acute methodological problems. Could the Mona Lisa turn round, scratch her own background and then submit to a laboratory analysis the substance she found under her nail…?”

(Carter, 1982: 99-100)


Out of the demise of the end of the modern era, which for many is considered to have ended with the discovery of a whole field of horrors at the end of the Second World War when Germany finally fell (and which for many still hasn’t ended), a period began which was filled with a whole sub-set of what at best can be called periods of ambiguity during which the ‘Grand Narratives’ of modernity and structuralism were called into question (and which finally crumbled).  According to Lyotard, for example, modernity had been liquidated by history, “a history whose tragic paradigm was the Nazi concentration camp and whose ultimate delegimizing force was that of capitalist ‘technoscience' which has changed for ever our concepts of knowledge" (Hutcheon, 1989: 24).  Both Lyotard and Baudrillard countered ideas where the development of theories of knowledge became dependent on the socioeconomics of our production and reproduction of signs.  Many consider that ‘science’ in the traditional sense has also come under the influence of postmodernism, forcing change that has brought about the sort ‘disparate discourses’ which can run in opposition or in any case in different directions both temporally, theoretically and spatially that make up the interdiscursive environments being discussed in this paper.  According to Best & Kellner for example, Newtonian determinism, Cartesian dualism and representational epistemology has given way to “principles of chaos, indeterminacy, and hermeneutics, which some call a ‘reenchantment of nature’” (1991: 28).


It is interesting to note that some of the most important early expressions of post-modern aesthetics which involved interdiscursivity where specifically involved with the Second World War, such as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (which is set primarily around the firebombing of Dresden even though its temporal and spatial discourses are somewhat fluid), ‘s Catch-22, and Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece of film making Dr Strangelove.  Although there are a number of different theories about when exactly ‘post-modernism’ as an artistic movement began, it is generally considered to have taken place during this field of ambiguities.  The Interdiscursive Environments which received uncensored prevalence during this period represent contrasting expressions of the deconstruction of what Lyotard referred to symbolically as ‘meta-narratives’. 


One of the main criticisms of postmodernism has been towards the tendency of its writers to express their distrust of culturally suspect ‘meta-narratives’.  Lyotard defined metanarratives as ways of thinking that unite knowledge and experience to seek to provide a definitive, universal truth, which can be seen to have received most complete expression in the form of structuralist theory and modernist literature.  It has been suggested that one of the tendencies of postmodernism has been to express their dissatisfaction with the broad claims of theory and art through a complete abandonement of narrative itself, presenting instead ‘antinarratival’ Texts which completely disobey the rules of narrative in any traditional sense.  Some have found this approach a superficial way of bringing such a complex cultural entity into question especially since its readers, as Argyros comments, will apply to a ‘narratively suspect’ text the next best thing, in other words their own narrative structure which will be far simpler than any the author could have hoped to have applied (Argyros, 1991).  Argyros goes so far to apply a metaphor taken directly from World War II mythology:


"I suggest that to blame grand narrative for the evils of sch world views as Nazi eschatology is as meaningful as savaging the printing press on account ofu Mein Kampf.  We must abandon the reductive and vaguely paranoid belief that all grand narrative is equally linear, rigid, and imperialistic.”

(1991: 663)


The intention within this written work is to demonstrate to the reader how much further this can be taken by contemporary writers who make use of interdiscursivity; although this is sometimes associated with the nihilistic aspect of writing and the postmodern movement considered ‘to blame’ for these developments.  I hope to demonstrate, however, that these writers have far more in their minds than simply the destruction of existing narratival structures.  Lyotard suggests, however, that there are overriding feelings that one can pick up in ‘postmodern’ works and which I would at least to some extent agree as far as they refer to the works discussed in this writing.  He suggests that the ‘disparate’ nature of post-modern environments are not ‘devoid’ of feeling, “but rather that such feelings—which it may be better and more accurate, following Lyotard, to call ‘intensities’—are now free-floating and impersonal and tend to be dominated by a peculiar kind of euphoria,” (Jameson, 1997: 16) suggesting that the a detached set of emotions connected by forms of the sublime could be responsible for this highly disparate emotional environment.


THE CONTEMPORARY ‘ZEITGEIST’                                                            

the world according to the brain, the central nervous system, the Rhizome and Dasein                                              

"But you must never forget that the Doctor's philosophy is not so much transcendental as incidental. It utilises all the incidents that ripple the depthless surfaces of, you understand, the sensual world.  When the sensual world unconditionally surrenders to the intermittency of mutability, man will be freed in perpetuity from the tyranny of a single present.  And we will live on as many layers of consciousness as we can, all at the same time.  After the Doctor liberates us, that is.  Only after that.” (Carter, 1982: 99-100)


What are the primary influential factors still having an impact on our epistemes; what sort of Texts are we ‘experiencing’; how do we form our ‘model of the world’?  Our world is getting increasingly more complex, as is our technology, so why isn’t technology influencing our ‘Zeitgeist’ in the same way it used to.  Jameson comments on the fact that technology of our own moment, although more ‘complex’ technologically, it no longer possesses the “same capacity for representation” as it did during the Futurist era (Jameson, 1997: 36).  The computer, which is emblematic of a radical change during the last 40 years, has shrunk in size and has become increasingly less dramatic, whereas the television “articulates nothing but rather implodes, carrying its flattened image surface within itself” (ibid. 37). Representations of new technology has become “the production and reproduction of the simulacrum” (ibid.).  Technology has created boredom, some of the reason for interdiscursivity. Other ways include the ‘representation’ problematic; questioning what is real.


Making use of interdiscursivity can represent an increased need to represent the hidden complexity of our society, or other problematic issues not representable in any other way.  Seeing that our world is evidently getting increasingly more difficult to encompass, finding models to help us understand these givens will certainly be helpful, and I intend to demonstrate a useful model taken from the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari.  Argyros comments on the fact that one of the primary tasks of the mammalian brain is to create ‘models’ of its surroundings (1994: 664) so that it can make sense of it and interact with it in some way, usually for the purpose of attaining food, escape or reproduction.  The environment of man, however, is primarily that of culture, which considering the complexity of even the simplest of cultural structures, makes the human brain an impressive model-making machine.  Recent cultural development which has resulted in postmodern literature and interdiscursive communication suggests that new sections of the brain are being made use of to cope with the enormous amount of change.  To encompass this in theory, Deleuze & Guatari’s rhizome seems a magnificent model for just this purpose, especially in its applicability to many other structures within the confines of both nature and culture, and I think that understanding the potential of the rhizome and its alternatives is an important step towards understanding the purpose and potential of interdiscursivity in contemporary literature.  In many cases it provides us with appropriate tools for discovering complex metaphors in these works, such as the deeply symbolic role of ‘the desert’ in The English Patient (Ondaatje, 1998).  Argyros makes an interesting analogy comparing narrative to the role of the nervous system, which is a first step on a journey towards the rhizome.  According to Argyros "narrative is best conceptualized as a hypothesis about the nature of an existing slice of reality or about the potential consequences of certain variations on a model of the world" (Argyros, 1987: 667).  He goes on say that the way we interpret this reality is similar to the way our central nervous system makes use of incoming sensuous data: “models of reality are generated and compared with either other models or with incoming sensory data” (ibid.: 668).  This, of course, resembles the function of the mammalian brain introduced above, suggesting that new types of narrative combining discourse in new ways is requiring new ‘models’ of reality.  The shape that this ‘model’ takes can differ; in order to explain their point, Deleuze and Guattari present a variety of contrasts spreading from trees, to roots, to tubers, orchids, weeds and a variety of other non-vegetable metaphors (such as the ‘map’ and the ‘tracing’).  This will form a part of further discussion.


Deleuze & Guattari first describe the rhizome in terms of natural metaphors; they present first the ideal image of the ‘tree’ which has formed a sturdy foundation for occidental culture since the Middle-Ages, just as the equally ideal concept of the ‘roots’ heading in the opposite direction have helped us form foundational ideas relating to subjects such as the genealogy of a family.  The rhizome, however, is everything which the tree in all its forms, is not.  According to Deleuze & Guattari, bulbs and tubers are rhizomes, and “even some animals in their pack form” such as rats (1987: 6-7).  A rhizome may be broken as it is made up of lines, whereas the ‘tree’ cannot as it is made of up points which have been mapped; it demands, therefore, being put back together in the same way it was taken apart.  The ‘tree’ is very much the ideal ‘made out of reality’ whereas the rhizome is a practical realization of the far more complex structures put out by reality itself.  If a rhizome is ‘broken’, it will start up again on “one of its old lines, or on new lines” (ibid.: 9).  We form a rhizome with our languages, but also with other less predictable systems, such as viruses, structures we don’t necessarily have control over.  An interesting and important notion is that of the book.  According to Deleuze & Guattari, the book doesn’t produce an ‘image’ of the world, or map out a set of points; it has a dynamic relationship with reality in a textual sense: the book forms a rhizome with the world it ‘reproduces’ (although this isn’t actually what it’s doing).  This notion is particularly important to the books we’ll be looking at, novels which make use of interdiscursive environments embrace the rhizome they create with the world; they encourage the reader to participate in it (although interdiscursivity whose only function is to imitate for meta-fiction is a tracing).  Music, which can also be seen as a type of discourse, is also a rhizome.  When it is realised as musicality in an environment, there is no other way for its dynamism to receive expression, but even when it is coded in a structure that attempts to ‘arborify’ it (turn it into a ‘tree model a la Deleuze), it ruptures these codes (Deleuze & Guatari, 1987: 11-12); it is a map, functioning as the entire discourse, whereas a musical ‘score’ attempts to be its tracing which is another important term from Deleuze & Guattari.  The tracing is an attempt to arborify a rhizome: “it has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according to the axes of significance and subjectification belonging to it” (ibid: 13).  When it thinks it is reproducing a rhizome by copying something else, it is only copying itself; even though ‘postmodernism’ in the works it is expressed and the interdiscursive form it makes use of may be a rhizome, our interpretations of it in many ways can never become much more than ‘tracings’.  According to Deleuze & Guattari, psychoanalysis and linguistics are dangerous fields because they have only been successful at making tracings of or taking photos of the subconscious (or language): “Once a rhizome has been obstructed, arborified, it’s all over, no desire stirs; for it is always by rhizome that desire moves and produces” (ibid: 14).


Angela Carter uses an eloquent metaphor in her novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman.  Here, a symbolic world is created somewhere between surrealism and metaphor to represent a clear contrast between the ‘tracing’ and the ‘map’ or the rhizome; a contrasts between stasis and dynamism; a system which assumes constant stability and a dynamic changing environment which assumes and encompasses constant change.  The short excerpt below demonstrates these contrasts:


"Minister (intransigently):  A societal structure is the greatest of all the works of art that man can make.  Like the greatest art, it is perfectly symmetric.  It has the architectonic structure of music, a symmetry imposed upon it in order to resolve a play of tensions which would disrupt order but without which order is lifeless.  In this serene and abstract harmony, everything moves with the solemnity of the absolutely predictable and - …” (Carter 1982: 35)

"Ambassador:  You are in the process of tabulating every thing you can lay your hands on.  In the sacred name of symmetry, you slide them into a series of straitjackets and label them with, oh, my God, what inexpressibly boring labels!  Your mechanical prostitutes welcome their customers in an alien gibber wholly denied to the human tongue while you, you madam, work as an abortionist on the side.  You murder the imagination in the womb, Minister!” (Carter 1982: 37)


Our cultural history shows many clear examples of ‘tracings’, attempts at creating rhizomes but presenting instead facile imitation-like tracings.  The false reproduction of ancient archealogical remains created to propagate myths about ancient Arian culture for the purpose of Nazi fascism.  Although the UN is a rhizome with its complex and often indecisive decision making processes, the US—especially under Bush—is very much a ‘tracing’ of everything that it says it is; it abuses the world by applying a very simplistic tracing to it.  The example below from Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49:


"Look what's happening to them.  In school they got brainwashed, like all of us, into believing the Myth of the American Inventor – Morse and his telegraph, Bell and his telephone, Edison and his light bulb, Tom Swift and his this or that.  Only one many per invention.  Then when they grew up they found thy had to sign all their rights to a monster like Yoyodyne; got stuck on some “project” or “task force” or “team” and started being ground into anonymity.  Nobody wanted them to invent – only perform their little role in a design ritual, already set down for them in some procedures handbook.”

(Pynchon: 61)


Short-term memory and long-term memory are also distinguished from one another by Deleuze & Guattari: the former is considered to be essentially rhizomatic or a diagram, and the latter an imprint or a tracing: “Short-term memory is in no way subject to a law of contiguity or immediacy to its object; it can act at a distance, come to return a long time after, but always under conditions of discontinuity, rupture, and multiplicity” (Deleuze & Guattari: 16) where the unconscious remains an uncentered system.  As introduced by Lacan, schizophrenia represents a breaking away from centered systems and a set of formal signifiers answering ‘in the name of the father’; Deleuze & Guattari propose a system to analyse the unconscious based on ‘schizoanalysis’ (as opposed to psychoanalysis) which views the unconscious not as a centred imprint, rather a dynamic and changing whole which takes account of the complex rules of the system, the diagram rather than the tracing alone.  Bateson’s unfortunate misappropriation of Balinese culture is cited as an example of a westerner applying to the ‘mystical east’ an occidental model based very much on “expressions and actions to exterior or transcendent ends, instead of evaluating them on a plane of consistency on the basis of their intrinsic value” (ibid.: 19).  It seems that the ‘pack’ of children (comparable in more ways than one to rats) that surfaces during the narrative of Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor could only be analysable thanks to assistance from schizoanalysis; no one in the book has any luck in taming them:


"Gerald had apparently actually believed that they could be taught rules which had been made for everyone's sake.  Rules?  They could hardly understand what was said: they had no idea of a house as a machine.  They wrecked everything, tore up the vegetables in the garden, sat at windows throwing filth at passers-by like monkeys.”

(Lessing, 1982: 155)


The communal centre for children where Gerald on the one hand makes positive efforts to improve things for children without support but on the other it is a place where he sets up a hierarchical power structure with himself as king and Emily as his queen; unfortunately it is also where he abuses his power to form a ‘harem’ among the female youth.  In any case, in the novel, it is an important symbolic structure which has a number of the characters attempting to bring about social change, which in terms of Sufi mysticism—an important foundational influence for Lessing’s writing—still can assist one in leading towards spiritual transcendence.  In any case, the ‘house’ is an attempt at a rhizome, although the entrance of the children who Gerald is ultimately unable to tame with his existing static system, brings it down (he loses all the other’s who lived with him, including Emily, and ends up under the control of the rhizomatic children who live according to their own unpredictable and sometimes violent rules.  At the end of Lessing’s novel, ‘the survivor’, Emily, Gerald AND ‘the pack of children’ are able to receive transcendence by walking together through the symbolic metaphor of the wall.  This demonstrates the complex observations Lessing’s novel is making about the structure of society, social change and individual development,  and suggests the importance of structures like the rhizome introduced into static ‘tracing’ environments to bring about this change.



NARRATIVE STRUCTURE                                                                                           

spatiality and temporality


In a large part of the article, we’ve concentrated upon the broad context into which Texts are realised.  In the following division, we take a look at narrative structures and how they are able to communicate information themselves to the reader.  Narrative structure can communicate information semiotically over a given text on many different levels.  The ‘narrative’ has to be considered, because as long as the reader starts from page one and finishes at the end of the text, the reader will supply a number of ‘given’ ideas about narrative, even if interdiscursivity is made use of and traditional ideas of temporality and spatiality are played with; this means that interdiscursivity can be made use of to assist the reader in experiencing the rhizomatic structure of the work, whereas the narrative itself will make the work accessible to most readers.  At the same time, some aspects of the narrative itself has been influenced by postmodern developments as I hope to demonstrate here.


Argyros is a supporter of narrative structures; for him, narrative forms of “a score of strategies” to help us process the complex cultural information which constitutes a major portion of our world: “both in the form of neural structures and extrasomatic prosthetic aids—our rituals, art works, libraries, computer networks, institutions, and so on” (Argyros, 1991: 665).  According to Argyros, works that are primarily ‘anti-narritival' are doomed to fail because "the mind will automatically cast into a narrative mould even the random and unconnected information" (ibid: 667).  In other parts of this work I hope to demonstrate that interdiscursivity is not automatically anti-narritival, in fact it plays itself off within the borders of narrative structures so that the reader has an automatic point of access with it, even though its intentions are often to point away from the automatism of realist narrative by playing with traditional notions of temporality and spatiality.  Jameson presents an interesting example of an author who adopts the traditional tools of narrativity and historicity, but plays with it in such a way as to force the reader to use different interpretative tools to make sense of it, discussing in particular Doctorow’s Ragtime: “Yet other more visible technical ‘innovations may supply a clue to what is happening in the language of Ragtime: it is, for example, well known that the source of many of the characteristic effects of Camus’s novel The Stranger can be traced back to that author’s wilful decision to substitute, throughout, the French tense of the passé compose for the other past tenses more normally employed in narration in that language.  I suggest that it is as if something of that sort were at work here; as though Doctorow had set out systematically to produce the effect or the equivalent, in his language, of a verbal past tense we do not possess in English, namely, the French preterit (or passé simple): “whose ‘perfective’ movement, as Emile Benveniste taught us, serves to separate events from the present of enunciation and to transform the stream of time and action into so many finished, complete, and isolated punctual event objects which find themselves sundered from any present situation (even that of the act of story telling of enunciation)” (Jameson: 24).


Narrativity in essence has something of the temporal and inevitably also the spatial; because of these aspects narrative theory has been able to borrow from other fields which in themselves are seeing ‘narrativity' spring up in the environments in which they work.  Jameson points out a good example of this, namely architectural theory which have begun to attempt to see “our physical trajectories through such buildings as virtual narratives or stories, as dynamic paths and narrative paradigms which we as visitors are asked to fulfil and complete with our own bodies and movements.  This relates, of course, to the textuality which is now eminent in many fields.  Narratives, therefore, have been able to adopt a sense of ‘postmodern space’ which transcends “the capacities of the individual human body.”


There is no doubt, in any case, that narrative is still a powerful tool, as it probably always will be, as long as the field of literature exists.  Argyros has a positive statement in this regard about narrative in postmodern literature:


"Narrative offers culture both a powerful data bank in which to store and transmit cultural knowledge, and a flexible and turbulent laboratory in which to invent new knowledge."

(Argyros, 1991: 670)



DEFINING INTERDISCURSIVITY                                                                              


Interdiscursivity and the interdiscursive environments in which a number of discourses find themselves in a particular genre of novels which use intradiscursivity to restructure the way its readers interpret the experience of its characters, is any easy concept to define but a harder one to explain because of the variety of different ideas that can and have been communicated through interdiscursivity.  Basically, when a novel is ‘interdiscursive’ it makes use of a number of different discourses, sometimes communicating at the same time.  I define novels that are ‘interdiscursive’, in nature, as being novels that use interdiscursivity to communicate common themes, possibly about the fragmented nature of reality and so forth.  In other words, they do not use a number of discources for the pure reason of demonstrating how single discourse realism is an ineffective way of communicating; this belongs more to some forms of metafiction.  Hutcheon comments on the fact that postmodern “cannot be but political”(3), an important part of the definition of how interdiscursivity is used to communicate complex political messages:


".it is difficult to separate the 'de-doxifying' impulse of postmodern art and culture from the deconstructing impulse of what we have labelled poststructuralist theory.  A symptom of this inseparability can be seen in the way in which postmodern artists and critics speak about their ‘discourses’- by which they men to signal the inescapably political contexts in which they speak and work.”

(Hutcheon, 1989: 8)


The important point here is that she is not referring to postmodern ‘pastiche’ which is there simply for the purpose of such deconstruction, but rather the “the postmodern parody in the world of Salman Rushdie or Angela Carter or Manuel Puig" which has become one of the means by which culture deals with both its social concerns and its aesthetic needs (ibid.).  This means that the political and the artistic are not separable, i.e. that they both need to be considered together (as discourses) in ‘postmodern’ (interdiscursive) works to provide the reader with an insight into how his or her culture works.  She points out that from the perspective of a ‘neoconservative’ critic, ‘postmodernism’ may seem to be a threat to cultural preservation (Hutcheon: 16), when in actual fact it is thanks to this unique combination of discourses present in these novels that preservation of the culture we now live in—as complex and as fragmented as it may appear—are the only ways to save it, at least in a literary form.  This is an approach which is supported by Best & Kellner, commenting on the fact that “most postmodernist art often took delight in the world as it is and happily coexisted in a pluralism of aesthetic styles and games” (Best & Kellner, 1991: 11).



EXAMPLES OF INTERDISCURSIVE ENVIRONMENTS                                             


According to Baudrillard, television is a paradigmatic form of postmodern signification “because its transparent sign seemingly offers direct access to a signified reality” (Hutcheon: 10).  It seems a good place to begin discussing examples of interdiscursive environments. Lars Von Trier celebrated television by playing with the discourses in his television work The Kingdom (which was considered ‘good enough’ to become a film in the cinematic sense).  The Kingdom is actually the name of the hospital in which the ‘television drama’ is set.  Hospitals, as we know them in everyday existence, are very much rhizomatic structures in the way they are constantly in motion creations of humanity which send ‘lines’ outwards of themselves and interact with humanity in the way a virus does with individual humans.  It becomes the means in this work to express interdiscursive environments which point towards soap operas, medical dramas and horror-films, and at the same time to communicate a ‘rupture’ which works from the bottom-up through the hospital itself and its patients, a rupture of horrific proportions which although changing the nature of the hospital, the rhizomatic environment is able to take it up into its general structure.  Some of these typical structural elements are typical of interdiscursivity and will return in further discussion.


Interdiscursivity, then, is a familiar tool used to help structure works written during the postmodern period; as will be demonstrated in the following examples, however, it has been adopted in many different ways.  We’ll be looking at interdiscursivity primarily in the following works: Aunt Julia & the Scriptwriter, The Crying of Lot 49, The English Patient, Memoirs of a Survivor and Slaughterhouse Five, although even novels as diverse as Ballard’s Crash make use of such devices.  In Crash the characters involved in the narrative become involved with a group of people who achieve sexual pleasure through applying the blueprints of rhizomes from the past, making sense of their lives through the violence expressed in the deaths of Hollywood stars combined with a deification of technology and destruction.  Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is also interdiscursive in some respects, although like Crash, it’s narrative is relatively closed.  The ways which this novel does achieve at some levels interdiscursivity forms the first major area to be discussed.


Thomas Pynchon’s novel shows some aspects of interdiscursivity even though the nihilism of its structure and its attitude towards contemporary western culture suggests that it lives up to the negative image generally used by neoconservative critics who find his work problematic.  Pynchon was born on Long Island, New York, in 1937.  He served in the navy and graduated from Cornell after which he worked as a technical writer for Boeing Aircraft.  During this time, he turned to fiction writing and published his first nove, V… in 1963, to very positive reviews.  His second novel The Crying of Lot 49, received similar praise, and it is this text we’ll be analysing from an interdiscursive point of view, even though this work was in many ways a rehearsal for what many consider his major work: Gravity’s Rainbow.  Characteristics shared by both these works is the extreme complexity of the plots, often difficult to follow and sometimes incredibly esoteric.  His characters are also difficult to relate to; he doesn’t ask his readers to identify with them, such as the main character Oedipa Maas who seems to strip her clothes at the drop of a hat and who finds it difficult to relate to the world surrounding her, as hard as she tries (largely because she seems to be under the influence of drugs a lot of the time).  The nature of the interdiscursivity does not relate to the narrative and the different characters who apply different perspectives as is typical of other novels; in this case it is largely related to the extreme complexity of the plot and the various states Oedipa finds herself in.  This does suggest that The Crying… is most strongly related to metafiction, There are, however, many ‘jokes’ the author plays on the reader, such as the ridiculous ‘plot’ of a non-existent Elizabethan dramatic text which Oedipa views and which seems to overcome her life.  The work itself seems to be a comedy, the self-reflexivity of which makes the author point at his or her reader and himself; reflexivity in this way has the author saying either “Laugh, because this is a parody of me as a writer” or “If you’re laughing, stop and think about it – what I’m really doing is laughing at you.”  This automatically suggests an interdiscursive level.  These are tools used by other ‘postmodern’ writers, especially in America, particularly in the worlds of Voneggut and Braughton.  Drugs provide another discursive edge; the reader is not sure whether what she is communicating is based on real experience or an LSD trip.  There are also the ‘religious’ experiences which can also be considered another type of discourse; thanks to drugs and religion, there are some very unique moments of communication in the work, although in a very ‘disparate’ fashion these forms of communication and ‘texts’ which are applied to the world slowly break down to the point where Oedipa almost gives up on everything and allows the world to fall with her.  The way Oedipa attempts to apply a “constellation” to the mystery of Tristero accents the clear theme involved with the difficulty of communication in a world incensed by drugs and new-age religions; ‘constellations’ or ‘solar systems’ are simply mankind’s way of imposing an artificial but pleasing order on the randomness of outer space.  Oedipa’s quest to construct a constellation seems to indicate that she is only looking for a superficial system, trying to impose a two-dimensional structure onto a three-dimensional reality.  Even the United States government which tries to impose an order on the world of mail delivery, cannot prevent groups from undermining their authority.  Pynchon’s major aims in this work seem to be rather depressing ones, and the interdiscursive nature of the text seem to assist him in reaching these goals.  In fact, the only discourse which seems to provide order to most people, that of science which provides a set of empirically reached goals, is broken down in The Crying... by the presence of characters like Dr. Hilarius and of course Maxwell’s Demon which doesn’t obey even the second law of physics.  At the beginning of the novel, both nature and culture are undermined in a metaphor describing the way Oedipa interfaces with her reality.  In the following fragment, nature becomes the set of houses which are obviously ‘man-made’, and science the way she imposes her image of nature onto that of one of the important products of technology – the printed circuit:


"She looked down a slope, needing to squint for the sunlight, on to a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth; and she thought of the time she'd opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit.  The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had.”

(Pynchon, 14)


The very name of the city she is viewing, San Narciso, suggests that the author is using this as a tool to question the nature of American reality.  'Narciso' calls up images of 'narcissus', a culture constantly viewing itself; Oedipa constantly attempts to link disparate events by making sense of a set of signifiers which according to our sense of logic have no signifieds, but in a ‘narcissistic’ attempt to make sense of her society, eventually seems to make some sot of sense to Oedipa.  One of the other characters also attempts to use a form to help structure his reality, one Lacan suggests is essentially ‘narcissistic’: the cinema and television.  This is undoubtedly a biting attempt by the author to use interdiscursivity to parody his own culture:


"'But our beauty lies,' explained Metzger, 'in this extended capacity for convolution.  A lawyer in a courtroom, in front of any jury, becomes an actor, right?  Raymond Burr is an actor, impersonating a lawyer, who in front of a jury becomes an actor.  Me, I’m a former actor who became a lawyer.  They’ve done the pilot film of a TC series, in fact, based loosely on my career, starring my friend Manny Di Presso, a one-time lawyer who quite his firm to become an actor.  Who in this pilot plays me, an actor become a lawyer reverting periodically to being an actor.  The film is in an air-conditioned vault at one of the Hollywood studios, light can’t fatigue it, it can be repeated endlessly.’”

(ibid.: 21)


The reality of Pynchon’s characters is at best distended to the point of being totally ‘schizophrenic’; perhaps as a result of drugs or simply the nature of the characters, meaning becomes more and more abstracted from the objects they should be connected to.  Oedipa as ‘voyeur and listener’ creates an enormous set of signifiers without apparent signifieds in the following fragment:


"So it went.  Oedipa played the voyeur and listener.  Among her other encounters were a facially-deformed welder, who cherished his ugliness; a child roaming the night who missed the death before birth as certain outcasts do the dear lulling blankness of the community; a Negro woman with an intricately-marbled scar along the baby-fat of one cheek who kept going through rituals of miscarriage each for a different reason, deliberately as others might the ritual of birth, dedicated not to continuity but to some kind of interregnum; an ageing night-watchman, nibbling at a bar of Ivory Soap, who had trained his virtuoso stomach  to accept also lotions, air-fresheners, fabrics, tobaccos and waxes in a hopeless attempt to assimilate it all, all the promise, productivity, betrayal, ulcers, before it was too late; and even another voyeur, who hung outside one of the city’s still-lighted windows searching for who knew what specific image.  Decorating each alienations, each species of withdrawal, as cuff-link, decal, aimless doodling, there was somehow always the post horn.”

(ibid.: 84)


The interdiscursivity results in playing games with sense and nonsense, signifiers and logic, rather than with time, space and/or genre.  Because of the games, jokes and puns provided by the author, The Crying of Lot 49 is often viewed as a comedy or a parody of American existence.  In a similar way, interdiscursivity is used as a tool in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to assist the author in self-reflexive, comic goals.  Vargas Llosa makes far clearer use of interdiscursivity as a tool to describe his early, formative years as he was developing in becoming a writer, and the environment in which he was able to become a writer.  The first major discourse is that of ‘Mario’ (or ‘Marito' the child) the 18 year old who dreams of becoming a writer.  From his point of view we discover a period incredibly important to his formative development as a writer.  Firstly, Marito discovers a Bolivian ‘scriptwriter’ of soap-operas who becomes his role-model.  Thanks to ‘Senor Pedro Camachos' many of Marito’s romantic ideas about what writing should be like are brought into question:


"You're like Romantic writers," I unfortunately remarked.

"In point of fact they’re like me," he shot back in a resentful tone of voice, bouncing up and down on his chair.  "I've never plagiarized anybody.  I’m quite willing to put up with every sort of carping criticism of my work, save that infamous libel.  On the other hand, there are people who have stolen from me in the most nefarious way imaginable.”

I endeavoured to explain to him that my remark about his resembling the Romantics had not been made with any intention of offending him, that it had been a mere feeble pleasantry, but he didn’t hear me, because all of a sudden he had fallen into a seething rage.”

(Vargas Llosa, 1982: 50)


The examples taken from Camacho’s soap-operas are highly amusing, and exciting to read; each of them ends with an ambiguously leaving us in a situation where we are not sure what will happen; the readers are put into the position of Lima radio listeners who listened urgently to find out what had happened to their characters created by this Bolivian ‘genius’:


"But two, three, several seconds went by and he didn't shoot.  Would he do so?  Would he obey?  Would the shot ring out?  Would the dead body of the mysterious immigrant rollover onto the heap of unidentifiable rotting garbage?  Or would his life be spared, would he flee, blindly, wildly along the beaches… as an irreproachable sergeant stood there, amid the putrid stench and the surge of the waves, confused and sad at heart at having failed to do his duty?  How would this tragedy of El Callao end?”

(ibid.: 83)


The second major occurrence is the love affair with his ‘Aunt by marriage’, Julia.  It is the love affair with his aunt that becomes the means to relate to the second major discourse in this work; that of the ‘soap-operas’ by the scriptwriter Pedro Camacho which interrupt Mario’s discourse every second chapter, and it is thanks to Aunt Julia’s insights that Mario begins to realise this. 


"The love affair of a baby and an old lady who's also more or less your aunt," Julia said to me one night as we were crossing the Parque Central. “A perfect subject for one of Pedro Camacho’s serials.”

I reminded her that she was only my aunt by marriage, and she replied that on the three o’clock serial a boy from San Isidro, terrifically handsome and an expert surfer, had had relations with his sister, no less, and, horror of horrors, had gotten her pregnant.

(ibid.: 90)

"I Know what it's like, down to the very last detail, I saw it in a crystal ball," Aunt Julia said to me, without the least trace of bitterness.  "In the best of cases, our love affair will last three, maybe four years or so; that is to say, till you meet up with a little chick who'll be the mother of your children.  Then you’ll throw me over and I’ll have to seduce another gentleman friend.  And at that point the words THE END appear.”

       As I kissed her hands, I told her she’d been listening to too many serials for her own good.

       "It's quite obvious that you never listen to them,” she retorted.  "In Pedro Camacho's soap operas there are hardly ever any love affairs or anything like that.  Right now, for example, Olga and I are all caught up in the one that comes on at three o’clock.  The tragedy of a young man who can’t sleep because the minute he closes his eyes he starts reliving how he ran over a poor little girl and crushed her to death.”

(ibid.: 170-171)


Aunt Julia seem more aware of ways to compare discourses and to use this to make sense of her world than Marito who is so wrapped up in his Parisian fantasies that he is unable to notice.  By the end of the novel, Camacho begins to mix up the reality’s just as the reader begins to make sense of the dynamic realisation of Mario’s real-life and his goal as a writer.  Mario realises how important writing is to the life of Camachos; he may be ‘illiterate’ but in order to make his creations, he actually ‘becomes’ his characters, and it is no doubt that just as his realities become the means by which his listeners make sense of their reality, writing them becomes Camacho’s way to make sense of his own:


"Then, with sacerdotal slowness, he rose to his feet (he had been sitting on the windowsill, next to the Primus stove), went over to his suitcase, opened it, and began to pull out of the depths of it, like a prestidigitator pulling rabbits or flags out of a top hat an incredible collection of objects: an English magistrate's court wig, false moustaches of various sizes, a fireman's hat, military badges, masks of a fat woman, an old man, an idiot child, a traffic policeman's stick,  sea dog’s cap and pipe, a surgeon’s white smock, false ears and noses, cotton beards… Like a little electric robot, he showed us these props, and—the better to demonstrate their effect to us? out of some intimate inner need?—he began putting them on and taking them off, with an agility that betrayed a long-standing habit, constant practice.  As Aunt Julia and I watch in open-mouthed amazement, by changing props and costumes Pedro Camacho transformed himself, before our very eyes, into a doctor, a sailor, a judge, an old lady, a beggar, a bigot, a cardinal… And all during this series of lightning-quick changes he kept talking in a fervent tone of voice.”

(ibid.: 134)


The more crazed Camacho becomes, the more Marito seems to want to become a writer, which is an important part of the interdiscursivity.  It is thanks to the interdiscursive means that this novel becomes both hilarious and poignant; it is far more than just a parody of soap operas, but a means by which our lives become very much mixed-up with the ‘discourses’ that become part of lives, which now includes television and to a lesser extent cinema. It is thanks to the use of interdiscursivity that the reader can attain an insight into the complex forces behind a writer’s decisions.


In contrast, Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor uses interdiscursivity to achieve more serious ends, but are in a similar way ‘disparate’ in that if read following a normal set of narrative rules, the whole is difficult to make sense of, as are the individual parts.  In this novel, there are two primary discourses, one of ‘outer’ and the other of ‘inner’ space; influenced by Sufi mysticism, Lessing found that a dream-like commentary could provide an alternative insight into what takes place in the outside world; it was a chance to use metaphoric and archetypal symbols to comment on everyday action.  The two discources taking the form this time of contrasting ‘realities’, are essentially intertwined with one another.  As the ‘dream-like’ world which is available to the ‘survivor’ (remaining unnamed throughout the novel) who witnesses the outside world from her apartment provides her with ever more insights into the suffering of the outside world, and the difficult childhood of Emily who is put into ‘the survivors’ care, in the world outside this dream-like reality, more and more people leave their homes, form ‘gangs’ making the traditional family superfluous and leave the city, perhaps never to return.  Hugo, the half-cat, half-dog, chimera-like mythical creature whose whole purpose in life seems to be the protection of Emily, is an interesting product of the mythical dream-like universe that has crossed from one world into the other for the purpose of protecting Emily.  This strange animal also received a horrifically ugly form; we meet an (impossible) half-cat half-dog as if the transcendent reality that produced it did it’s best to create something vaguely recognisable in the world of the apartment and the city.  It also plays the function of ‘verfremdung’; immediately placing something ‘incomprehensible according to the traditional rules of realism’ in the discourse which seems to follow the rules of temporality.  Emily, Hugo and the ‘survivor’s’ role becomes clearer in the transcendent ending which finishes the novel, but even at the beginning of the novel they are used to describe the role of the archetypal ‘wall’:


"Looking back I see myself sitting in the long room with its comfortable old furniture, with Emily's things in the little space she allotted for them, and the yellow beast lying quietly, suffering.  And there for backdrop was the ambiguous wall, which could so easily dissolve, dissolving, too, all this extraneous life, and the anxieties and pressures of the time – creating, of course, its own.  Shadowily present, there it stood, its pattern of fruits and leaves and flowers obliterated by the dim light.  That is how I see it, see us, see that time: the long room, dimly lit, with me and Hugo there, that shifted and ebbed and thinned and left – and behind us that other indefinite region, shifting and melting and changing, where walls and doors and rooms and gardens and people continually recreated themselves, like clouds.

(Lessing, 1982: 68)


In addition to these two realities, we also have the discourse of ‘they’ or ‘them’ who are also referred to as ‘the Talkers’; the bureaucracy which forms a hierarchical upper-class and which attempts to explain these happenings (but which it ultimately is unable to do).  Lessing, or ‘the survivor’, describes them as follows:


"Attitudes towards authority, towards Them and They, were increasingly contradictory, and we all believed that we were living in a peculiarly anarchistic community.  Of course not.  Everywhere was the same.”

(Lessing, 1982: 8)

".the shops were really used only by the administrating class, by - as most people called them - The Talkers."

(ibid.: 46)


Finally there is the discourse of the ‘wild gang’ of children which emerge from the underground, comparable in more ways than one with a pack of rats in their suspected cannibalism; the wild pack is very much a rhizome forced onto the comparatively stable reality of city life.  They form very much the ‘rupture’ to the existence of the people of the city, forcing more people onto the street and others to question the reason for their existence. 


"Some had been born in the underground and abandoned.  How had they survived?  No one knew.  But this was what these children knew how to do.  They stole what they needed to live on, which was very little indeed.  They wore clothes – just enough.  They were … no, they were not like animals who have been licked and purred over, and, like people, have found their way to good behaviour by watching exemplars.  They were not a pack either, but an assortment of individuals together only for the sake of the protection in numbers.  They had no loyalty to each other, or, if so, a fitful and unpredictable loyalty.  They would be hunting in a group one hour, and murdering one of their number the next.  They ganged up on each other according to the impulse of the moment.”

(Lessing, 1982: 154)


In a rhizomatic sense, interdiscursivity in Memoirs is essential to questioning each of the realities and forcing the reader to apply another sense of logic to the discourses that are intertwined.  'Interdiscursivity', however, becomes more than simply a narrative tool or a way to question traditional forms of logic applied to 'realist' narrative; in this novel interdiscursivity passes over into the encompassing nature of intradiscursivity, suggesting that it is an alternative way of experiencing literature, which forms a metaphor for an alternative way of experiencing reality.  These notions are discussed in more detail in my companion paper Intradiscursive Environments (Laskewicz: 2004).  Ultimately, the reader is presented with an ambiguous narrative.  To begin there are three discourses which are intertwined irrevocably wth one another, some of which point towards a reality we can recognise (such as the bureaucracy or the society which is disintegrating) and others which are incomprehensible according to these rules.  Here already, interdiscursivity requires a ‘rhizomatic’ approach.


Interdiscursivity is also essential to Ondaatje’s The English Patient.  It is ‘set’ at the end of the Second World War, and in a number of earlier historical periods as the discourses blow around one another. Each of the characters has a discourse which refers to his or her past; that discourse, however, is ambiguous because it is often related to the reader in the form of storytelling, about the past, a past which is confusing.  There is also the discourse related to what the characters are realising in the present-tense, very much involved with the dynamism of the actions they are performing, particularly for Kip the Sikh bomb-defuser; we are very much brought into the present moment as he is ‘in the process of’ defusing bombs’.  Morphine, similar to the abuse of drugs in The Crying of Lot 49, can also be considered a discourse of its own, one that changes the way the characters experience the moment and also how they relate their pasts to the reader or other characters in a ‘story-telling’ fashion.  The English patient’s stories are perhaps the most remarkable and fascinating to read because of his incredible skills and the unique relationship he has to both the desert—perhaps a rhizomatic rupturing discourse of its own—and the Bedouin culture who saves him.  Their means of interpreting reality provide a new way for the reader to comprehend the text itself.  Kip’s discourse, also influenced by his rich Sikh traditions, are also fascinating.  Kip and Hana, ‘the cultural bastards’, share a lot, and through her relationship with Kip, the English patient and Caravaggio, she is allowed to develop and is able to leave the ‘purgatory’ of the Italian Villa and move on in her life.  The English patient (or the Hungarian spy), thanks to Hana and Caravaggio who need to hear his stories, is also able to leave the ‘purgatory’ of his burnt and useless body by ‘confessing’ his love for Katherine.


Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is similarly ‘set’ (at least partly and thematically) during the Second World War, although interdiscursivity frees the ‘hero’ Billy Pilgrim to become lost in time and space. It is involved with Vonnegut’s own imprisonment in a German POW camp in 1945 where he witnessed the horrific fire-bombing of Dresden.  Billy Pilgrim, however, becomes ‘unstuck in time’ and quickly the interdiscursive environments in which he finds himself become important means to communicate complex themes.  Billy’s predicament includes, among other things, his being one half of an “exhibit” in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, the other half of this exhibit being an exotic dancer named Montana Wildhack, who had disappeared from Earth years before.  The book, however, has two major ‘discourses’; that of the story of Billy Pilgrim who fights in WW2, is taken prisoner by the Germans and witnesses the fire-storming of Dresden.  The other discourse is about Vonnegut’s own story about writing a book about the worst experience of his life; the difficulties he has to face, helping to explain the absurd interdiscursive environments made use of in the rest of the novel (mostly in the first and the tenth chapter). 


"'Welcome   aboard,   Mr.   Pilgrim,’ said the loudspeaker. ‘Any questions?’  Billy licked his lips,  thought a while, inquire at last: ‘Why me?’ ‘That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us  for that matter? Why anything?  Because this  moment simply is. Have  you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?’ ‘Yes.’ Billy,  in fact, had a  paperweight in his office  which was  a blob  of polished  amber with three lady-bugs embedded in it.  'Well, here  we are, Mr. Pilgrim,  trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.’”
(Vonnegut: 76-77)


The discourse of the Trafalmadorians become means to understand the horrors of the war he has left behind.  We also meet a number of other characters such as Eliot Rosewater, Howard W. Campbell and Kilgore Trout, each who are present in earlier Vonnegut novels and who provide an alternative insight into what Pilgrim has to go through.  Pilgrim’s name itself suggests the journey he has to undergo, and its inevitability.  Because so much is experienced, it is sometimes hard to tell exactly what Vonnegut is trying to communicate.  It is a novel about war, about the cruelty and violence done in war, about people and their nature, their selfishness, about love, humanity, regeneration, motion, and death. But this is the nature and beauty of interdiscursivity; the intention is to allow the author to communicate so many things, but at the same time giving the reader the freedom to make of it what her or she wants to.  The intention of these examples has been to demonstrate the potential power of such a communicative medium so important to both contemporary literature, cinema and television.






© May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)*
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.

September 27 2013.



Major Writings