Ross School - Senior Project 2006-07

Student: Olivia Casa

Mentor: Mark Frankel

Consultant: Jena Osman

Domain: English

Product                            

Title: Word Loss

Description:

As writer Italo Calvino states, Ōthe function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of the written language.Ķ Drawing from the influence of experimental writers such as Calvino, Barthelme, Borges, Hejinian, and Gaddis among others, I composed a series of short stories that address contemporary literary issues of post-modernist and metafiction writing. Such issues include fragmentation of narrative, disillusionment of literary technique, and emphasis on language and written form. In addition to writing original pieces, I wrote an essay on experimental writing and the various themes that it involves.

Details:

I wrote 5 short stories titled Marjorie, Safety First, A Magnet for Prosperity, Atlantic Avenue, and One Thing After the Other and an essay on experimental literature. I compiled this in a 68 page spiral-bound book.

Senior Project Short Stories

Abstract

For my senior project, I explored various ways of manipulating a text through the creation of five original short stories. The common element of these pieces is that they employ experimental techniques such as deconstruction of form, non-linear structuring, unconventional character tenses, poetic construction, and lack of clear action-based plot. Initially, I proposed to read various authorsÕ experimental writings, create original stories, and compose an essay discussing the concepts involved in non-traditional fiction. During the beginning stages of senior project, I looked at a wide array of writers who implemented unconventional techniques such as Jorge Luis Borges, Lyn Hejinian, David Markson, Claude Simon, George Saunders, Rick Moody, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, and Samuel Beckett, all of whom wrote during the Twentieth Century and were commonly associated with the Postmodernist literary movement. Whereas I did not intend to directly emulate any one author, I gained inspiration from their methods of story telling and derived ideas from their writings. For example, in my story titled A Magnet for Prosperity, I utilized the concept of lack of an omniscient narrator which was used by David Markson in his novel WittgensteinÕs Mistress. Similarly, I based the writing of my story Marjorie on the poetic style of Lyn HejinianÕs My Life. This process of drawing writing techniques from other authors helped me to begin writing when I either lacked inspiration to write or lacked fully formed ideas of what I wanted to write about. This was my main challenge throughout the entire senior project. However, by deciding what style I wanted to utilize I was able to start writing based on a particular theme and further develop the plot from that point onward.

            A large portion of my project included the revision process which involved tediously rereading and rewriting my stories and progressing elements of narrative, style, and plot in the pieces. Through this part of the project, I was able to better understand the procedure of writing, the connection between form and content, and overall writing mechanics. During the final part of my project, I researched experimental writing and postmodern fiction through the essays of Patricia Waugh, Raymond Federman, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. This research helped me to complete my final essay on literary experimentation which is included as the afterword to the collection of stories.

            Through my exploration of different writing techniques and methods of constructing a story, I gained an overall better understanding of the entire writing process. I learned how to overcome challenges such as writerÕs block and was able to experience the revision procedure firsthand. By reading experimental fiction, I also learned of the variety of ways of creating a story, based on style, syntax, structure, and form, and have come to a greater understanding of language manipulation and its impact on the development of a story. Additionally, through my exploration of other authors and my own experimentation with style, I have gained a better sense of my individual writing style and the components of fiction that interest me. For example, I have come to realize my interest in the syntactical element of stories and the way in which language is constructed. I feel as though the senior project process has allowed me to initially look into literary creation and that, having gained an improved sense of the form, I can now expand upon my writing ability to construct other genres of fiction, traditional or experimental.

Annotated Works Consulted

Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones. New York: Grove Press, Inc, 1962. In the short story collection Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges tells various stories that use various elements such as fictional historicism and fantasy. Pieces such as Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius create a fictional world written in a non-fictional style so as to denote factuality. His other stories such as The Approach to Al-MuÕtasim and Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote tell of fictional authors and provide commentaries and critiques of their works. Through this seemingly factual rendering of fabricated events and documents, Borges emphasizes the fictiveness of history and the attempt of literature to disguise its fabrication. This theme is a common concept throughout much experimental fiction and postmodern theory on literature.

Calvino, Italo. If on a WinterÕs Night a Traveler. San Diego, California: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1979. Italo CalvinoÕs novel If on a WinterÕs Night a Traveler is seen as an exemplar of metafiction writing through its self-reflexive manner, use of the second person, and implementation of reading and writing as direct subject matter. The book involves much theory relating to the changing state of the novel in that it stresses structural and written elements and places emphasis on the form. The plot involves two readers who want to locate a book, but, due to a series of misprints and misunderstandings, encounter numerous other texts that are additionally provided in the novel. Through the alternative segments that describe the underlying plot progression and portray the written segments that the main characters come across, the readerÕs attention is drawn to the structural and thematic concept of writing and literature. The other experimental technique that Calvino uses in his novel is that of second person narrative which directly involves the reader in the work while emphasizing character and character creation.

Federman, Raymond. Critifiction: Postmodern Essays. Albany: State University of New York, 1993. Raymond FedermanÕs Critifiction: Postmodern Essays offers insight into the postmodern literary movement through a discussion of self-reflexive writing, the concept of non-knowledge, experimentation in terms of mimesis and literary recognition, and other themes of contemporary fiction. Federman describes the cultural and social influences which led to the creation of unconventional writing from the 1960Õs to the present throughout Europe and the Americas. The collection also provides an examination of the theories behind postmodernism and draws from examples of various authors such as Samuel Beckett and Thomas Pynchon.

Federman, Raymond, ed. Surfiction: Fiction Now and Tomorrow. Chicago: The Swallow Press Incorporated, 1975. In the collection titled Surfiction: Fiction Now and Tomorrow, Federman provides an array of essays written by authors of postmodern literature on the state of fiction writing, its changing nature, and its future. The book includes essays by John Barth, Ronald Sukenick, and Italo Calvino among others. Although the writings compile various viewpoints and conclusions relating to the state of literature, they generally state that fiction has become inherently self-conscious and the new novel expresses its fictiveness and emphasizes its composition. In this way, the new literature which has evolved in various locations in both Europe and the Americas addresses the theme of form and the means of expression.

Hejinian, Lyn. My Life. Los Angeles, California: Sun & Moon Press, 1987. Lyn HejinianÕs My Life blends poetic language with prose writing and concrete events with memories, thoughts, sights, and sensations to create a novel that portrays the occurrences of the protagonistÕs life and the character of the protagonist herself. Stylistically, Hejinian uses short, fragmented sentences which oftentimes do not relate to each other and describe various feelings and thoughts in conjunction with actual incidents. Throughout the novel, there is no conclusive plot or storyline, but, rather, experience is portrayed through the characterÕs expression and life events. The novel is nontraditional in relation to both its style and content in that it breaks down the standard conventions of plot, objectivity, and syntax within literary works.

Markson, David. WittgensteinÕs Mistress. Champlain, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 1999. David MarksonÕs WittgensteinÕs Mistress utilizes unconventional technique through the lack of an omnipresent author and the emphasis on the narratorÕs perspective. Through the implementation of this style, the author provides introspection into the protagonistÕs mindset and stresses the subjectivity of fiction. The novel is written entirely through the perspective of the character through short segments which contradict and correct each other and thus provide a story which is not concentrated on mere action or plot formation.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction. Paris, France: Les Editions de Minuit, 1963. In his essay collection, Alain Robbe-Grillet discusses the overall nature of literary evolution and the changing nature of fiction to what he refers to as ŌThe New Novel.Ķ He states that, in accordance with the underlying fact that writing must constantly be in transition in order to instigate new thought, contemporary writing must change from that of traditional form. He discusses that the literature of new fiction generally emphasizes the use of language and attempts to expose the artifice of writing.

Saunders, George. Pastoralia. New York: Riverhead Books, 2000. In George SaunderÕs short story collection titled Pastoralia, he combines the mundane with the surreal to create unusual modifications to story telling. His genre of writing is sometimes noted as that of magical realism and describes alternative worlds where consumerism, capitalism, and greed encompass the characters. In this way, Saunders combines juxtaposing fiction genres in his content. Stylistically, the author utilizes simplistic and straightforward writing to enhance the ability of realistic representation.

Simon, Claude. The Flanders Road. Flemington, New Jersey: Riverrun Pr, 2005. Claude SimonÕs novel The Flanders Road uses the unconventional style of conjunct clauses to create extensive sentences with little punctuation. In this sense, ideas and actions are combined to create a confused and distorted mood. Structurally, the text is composed with few breaks and involves longwinded sentences that include an overall lack of grammatical notations. Through this stylistic device, Simon emphasizes the writing, its function, and the mood of general disarray.

Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984. Patricia WaughÕs Metafiction provides a discussion of self-conscious writing, its theories, and its history. She initially defines metafiction as a category within the broader movement of Postmodernism and as being literature that refers to its form through emphasis of language and writing in either structure, content, or style. In this way, the reader is made aware of the implementation of language in the construction of not only fiction, but in history and reality as well. Waugh uses a variety of examples to support her conclusions, citing writings by John Fowles, Jorge Luis Borges, Donald Barthelme, and John Barth.

Community Member (Details)

Over the course of senior project, I corresponded with Jena Osman, a poet and English professor at Temple University. I emailed her two of my story drafts and she emailed me back with feedback and advice as to what elements of the piece needed further development. By receiving her criticism, I was able to improve my stories and get a feedback from a greater variety of perspectives.