In City of Glass, Paul Auster depicts a detective story that is really a mission for finding truth. The narrator we later realize is an actual character that problematizes the novel for readers. It problematizes the reliability for the narrator, as there are many blurred moments that prove the narrator to be very subjective. It plays around with the characters and lead confusion between the identity of the criminal and the detective. We see that the narrator is someone who does not know, but is searching. Coming to the conclusion later that what he is searching for isn’t to solve the crime of Peter Stillman, but to come to the realization that there will always be something missing. One could say that, the unreliability of characters and the narrative is just a way for the readers to see that not everything is trust worthy and ultimately questionable. With role of names becomes essentially important in this novel as we see that names may have less importance, as they seem to be. One’s identity cannot be dictated by his/her name. As a prime example of this being Peter Stillman’s uncertainty with his name as his name is also his fathers name. All is lost, when one realizes that identity can be constructed and disassembled quite easily with the change of just a name.
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We were very fortunate to have a guest lecture by Paul Karasik on the graphic novel, on Monday, March 27, and he gave a public lecture later that day as well.
One of the students in my Arts One seminar group asked him about the scribbled face that appears numerous times in the graphic novel. Karasik didn’t want to “give too much away,” and just said it had something to do with who the narrator of the story is. So of course we had to discuss this further in class!
We talked about it in small groups and then I took notes on the board on what the groups had discussed. I’m not sure it’s all going to make sense outside of the context of our class discussion, but here it is! (and you get to see my not-so-clear handwriting…)
The first point: “Has different versions–left, centre, right, left” refers to how the face stars off facing left, then later we see it from a centred perspective, head on, and then is facing right, and then on the very last page where it is on a piece of paper in the pit it is facing left again. There are several possible interpretations for why this might be the case, and unfortunately I didn’t write down the one that was given by the student who noticed this and I can’t remember what it was! (Please comment below if you do). We also noticed that the expression is slightly different in it sometimes, such as when it is more angry on p. 52, when Quinn sees Peter Stillman Sr. for the first time.
We thought it might have been drawn by Quinn’s son, or even by Peter Stillman, since it looks like a child’s drawing. We noticed that it appears sometimes in places that are emotionally significant for Quinn, such as when he thinks about children raised by wolves, about Peter Stillman Jr., and about his own son; when he meets Peter Stilllman Sr. for the first time, and when Auster tells Quinn that the case is over because Stillman Sr. has committed suicide. Some students thought the face was a kind of raw expression of emotion, such as one might give with visual language rather than with textual language. As I wrote above, basing it on what the students said, you can “feel it viscerally” even more than you might if it were in words.
We also noticed that the face could be thought of as a kind of incomplete character, such as Miguel Mota spoke of Stillman Jr. being in Auster’s novel–he is a kind of puppet without a controller, a character without an author, someone who is incomplete and still needs filling out (he is all white, as if blank, and can’t use language well). The scribbled face could also represent Quinn himself as an incomplete character in the sense that Quinn has multiple identities and isn’t fully any one of them: Quinn, Wilson, Work, Auster…. The “deterioration of his identity as Quinn” is related–Quinn is losing himself as Quinn, becoming more of an incomplete shell of himself.
We didn’t come to any full conclusions, just discussed various possibilities. I myself don’t have a reading on this that I’m happy with. When I read the graphic novel I assumed that the scribbled face was a drawing done by Quinn’s dead son, and that it comes up for him at various times that are, as noted above, emotionally significant. It comes up first on p. 7 in between two panels when Quinn is going to sleep, suggesting that it emerges for him when his guard is down, perhaps, as something that he has been trying to repress–among other things, memories of his dead wife and son. And that fits with p. 33, when the face appears right after Stillman Jr’s face and his son’s face, and Quinn is thinking about children that grew up without parents. But that doesn’t go very far in explaining the face’s appearance in other parts of the book–why would it appear when Quinn is standing in the station as the train is arriving, next to the multiple images of Quinn himself, on p. 50?
Students in our class have also blogged about this question, and you can see those posts on our class website, here. Some interesting interpretations there…well worth a read!
Last book, last essay last blog post- we’re coming to a bittersweet end.
Anyways, I have some thoughts. Not a lot, but some. On Wednesday, Zach and I were kind of talking about why Auster put himself in his book as a character. I (somewhat jokingly) asked “is he really that narcissistic?”, and Zach said something along the lines of (sorry bud, I don’t remember exactly) Auster’s in there to make you think. So I did think. A lot. Aaand the best that I could come up with is that Auster is in the book so that he can detach the narrator from himself. By interacting with the narrator, it confirms that the narrator must be someone else.
Like I said in seminar today, I think that the narrator is Quinn himself. I know that Christina already thinks this/ has a blog post about it, and I did talk about it in seminar today, so I don’t have anything new to contribute. But here are some things that I’ll try to convince you with
- The narrator knows stuff that came before Quinn bought the notebook
- Maybe he ‘later forgot’ the dreams because he is no longer Quinn- (this is a bit of a stretch, but) because Quinn doesn’t exist anymore he can’t remember his dreams, but the new Quinn, being the narrator, knows about them because he does remember them, but because he’s not Quinn he doesn’t realize why he knows about them??????? (I’ve just confused myself, really)
- It would explain why he cares so much at the end, and is super mad at Auster for not doing anything to help him
- Quinn’s body is never found, so it’s not like he died- he just became someone else
We also mentioned the Stillman Sr. dopplegängers today, and how in lecture it was suggested that both of them could have been Stillman. I don’t have any textual evidence to back this up, so it’s more of a personal fantasy. While I was reading the book for the first time last weekend, I also thought that both could be Stillman. There’s a part in the novel (I’ll put the actual quote and page number in when I get home, as I am currently writing this without the book on me), where the narrator says something about Daniel imagining Mrs. Stillman naked is not the only mistake he made? I thought that maybe he picked the wrong Stillman, so he went down the wrong timeline. If he had picked the other one, because he’s all shiny and clean, maybe he would have lived a proper detective story.
So, as Jenna had pointed out in our Monday lecture, there are pictures of a strange, sketchy, screaming face dispersed throughout the City of Glass graphic novel. It is actually on the cover page too, though broken right down the middle just like Quinn’s face on the other side of the cover (I have no idea what this means or if it means anything at all but after hearing Mr. Karasik explain his planning process I really doubt anything is unintentional).
The first time you see this face is on page 7, when Quinn talks about what attracts him to mysteries. He mentions that it is because everything is significant and purposeful, and therefore, “the center of the book… is everywhere”. Just like a center, this face really is everywhere in the book, leading readers to think that perhaps, it is a clue to figuring out this mystery of a novel.
The next time you see it, it is on page 33, just under the quote: “it did not help that his son’s name had also been Peter”. With the assumption that the face is a lighthouse for clues, it highlights Peter’s connection to his son (though I suppose even without the face it’s pretty obvious) and after the first time through the novel, you think, “oh, a loss of identity as Quinn the family man the first time his son is gone, then the loss of identity as detective Work the next time Jr. is gone.” Okay, private I and i removed, now only the eye of a writer remains, which even then is passed onto our mysterious narrator by the finale.
But the faces on 50 and 52 are absolute mysteries of their own. They are not even the same faces as the other ones. They are completely different, where the one on page 50 has a nose and eyebrows and 52 has an expression. What could it mean? What is it trying to highlight? Perhaps the more human-like p.50, where it stands alongside actual characters, is to show how the sound of the train changes to the “language of God” only Stillman Jr. understands. Maybe the language of God being made by something inhumane yet still filled and surrounded by humans mean something to the novel. But what about 52? An expression to show Quinn’s quiet and detached resentment for Stillman Sr.?
The next, 104, is under the quote: “wherever I am not is the place where I am myself.” It sums up Quinn, the man who’s identity is built on layers and layers of fake, fictional characters.
The but not least is page 119, where the face is shown to be flipped when Auster announces Stillman Sr.’s death. It is a literal shift of the center of the book as it was mentioned at the start. Quinn can no longer play the part of the detective and the book is no longer about protecting Stillman Jr. With that, the question is asked again: what is the face? If not a clue to the solving the novel as its own mystery, is it actually a part of said mystery? Perhaps a part of its identity?
Who knows. Maybe all of this is to point back at its introduction: that everything is significant, and even when it isn’t, it has potential–therefore, it has purpose.
This post itself is pretty all over the place. Let me know if you can figure this mystery out, or make something out of it.
Even on the front cover, this strange, and frightening misshapen face, mouth open in a seemingly endless cry, accompanies the other non-descript faces, standing out from the visual style of the comic. It represents some sort of symbol, a diversion from the norm, or maybe even a culmination of events. In this blog post, I will try to decipher what the screaming face means in the graphic novel and how it represents one interpretation of the novel.
The screaming face appears suddenly, shaking the reader from the usual visual language. It is like the font of a book changing mid-sentence or paragraph, or becoming all-caps. It does not fit with the other faces in the work, but what interests me is how the reader still identifies it as a face. Our eyes have the ability to transform meaningless lines into a recognizable shape, such as with butts, or making constellations with stars. Distant objects may appear to blurred for the viewer to know what exactly they are, so one tends to create weird shapes (at least in my experience) that are often completely different from what the real object is. We can recognize a human face by its individual features: two eyes, a nose, a mouth, largely-symmetrical construction, everything mostly positioned around the center. We can see faces in wall plugs, because we see the upper two grooves as eyes, and the lower one as a mouth. Therefore, it is no surprise that this face still looks very much like a face. It may not be perfectly proportioned like the other professionally drawn faces, but it still has many of the core elements.
When looking at the screaming face, one assumes that it is drawn by a child, because, naturally, most children (and even some adults, including me), do not possess the skills to draw a more true-to-life face. This links directly to the child characters in City of Class, Quinn’s deceased son, Auster’s son, and Peter Stillman Jr. And why does the face seem to cry out in terror? Obviously, one can link it to Peter’s confinement in a dark room, the crudeness of it symbolizing both Peter as a young child, and the horrors that his mind is experiencing. But the face is also used alongside mention of Quinn’s son. Does it mean that his son was also locked up? Or could this be an internal, childish expression of his inner fears? The fact that the death of his son caused him to retreat into his own dark room, locking out his social life and attempting to find ‘God’s language’ in the mystery novels he writes. (Maybe the mystery novel, with its search for the truth, can be seen as a search for God’s language, but I’m digressing here).
But what I believe the screaming face largely symbolizes is the act of drawing uninhibited by language, visual language in this case. Each artist may have their own drawing style in which they interpret the shapes, images and colors of reality in their own terms. But Peter Stillman Jr. is and was definitely not an artist, and so his drawings come from humans’ innate desire to draw and express their ideas through images. He knows what a face looks like, but he does not know how to draw a face the ‘right’ way. But he does it anyway, and this could be a more personal, closer expression than what visual artists portray. Like the word standing between the thing and the meaning, the visual language can stand between the thing and the drawing. Maybe alongside developing new languages and straying from ‘God’s language’ they designed new ways of drawing that divided people into those that can draw and those that cannot. Like the different languages we speak that allow us to see the world in different ways according to the words we assign to different objects and the grammatical structures in which we order our sentences using, the different visual languages artists use in conjunction with the crude drawing style that non-artists use can be seen as an imperfection, a deviation from the original state of innocence. So all in all, the screaming face may be Quinn or whoever else communicating to us through the language of God.
Edition used: Oxford, Trans. Stephen Berg & Diskin Clay
In this lecture, “Oedipus: Rex or Tyrannus”, Robert Crawford begins by discussing some influential readings of the play (by Aristotle, Nietzsche & Freud) and then gives some possible reasons why the play still has staying power. He argues that the play is as much a story about the limits of human knowledge as it is a personal tragedy about Oedipus. Crawford concludes by addressing the question of whether we might think of Oedipus as a king or a tyrant.
Please see this Mediasite link for the video with the sides attached.
- Do the supporting characters in Oedipus the King play a fundamental role in our understanding of the central character and his confrontation with fate? Please confine yourself to a maximum of two supporting characters.
- Using direct evidence from the text, discuss the function and significance of the Chorus in the play.
- Write an essay that examines literal and metaphorical blindness, and/or images of light and darkness, in Oedipus the King. In your essay you might consider the way in the inability to see connects to matters such as knowledge, ignorance, and punishment.
- If Oedipus is innocent, why does he not curse the gods? If guilty, what are his sins?
- Are there reasons for Oedipus’s self-blinding—thematic, symbolic, narrative and so forth—beyond those he gives himself?
- Sight and blindness are obviously central themes in Oedipus the King. Explore the use of other sensory images and their connection to knowledge in the play.
- How might the play’s many instances of dramatic irony (give examples) relate to and shape the major themes of Oedipus the King?
it was Apollo, always Apollo,
who brought each of my agonies to birth,
nobly else, I,
I raised these two hand of mine, held them above my head,
and plunged them down,
I stabbed out these eyes.
— Oedipus (Sophocles 85, lines 1329-1332)
In your opinion, is Oedipus’s fate determined by divine influence or his own human agency? Answer with reference to evidence from the play.
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, public domain on Wikimedia Commons
It’s no surprise that the title refers to the number of panels on each page that determines the panel structure of the graphic novel, City of Glass. However, it also refers to the visual motif that is the nine panel recurring in the illustrations as different images.
This happens for the first time in the center panel of page 11. Quinn’s window is shaped like the nine panel structure of the page. It is seen smack dab in the middle of the page comprised of nine panels, giving a sense of self-refection in the graphic novel akin to the novel it is an adaptation of. Auster’s novel reflects on the nature of novel writing through Quinn’s notebook, Karasik and Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel reflects on the nature of graphic novels through the motif of the nine panel imagery. This appears again, as a glass paneled door in Stillman Jr’s house, on page 29.
However, it is used more significantly, past merely breaking the fourth wall through self-reflection, through contributing to the plot when it is seen as a visual metaphor for Stillman’s prison, the dark room his father locked him in (page 22). Page 22 cleverly converts the gutter grid into a visual object that is part of the image, namely the metaphorical bars of where Stillman was trapped.
An experimental use of image and perspective is seen on page 60, when a single united image is depicted in the nine panels, broken by the gutter grid. This is not only a stylistic device but also meant to give the impression that we are seeing Quinn through the window in his room, giving the reader’s a physical position and perspective in the story. This is also done on page 37.
There are times the nine panel motif is randomly sneaked into the novel very subtly as well. An example of this would be when it is seen in the form of a telephone key pad (page 100) and post office slots (page 113).
Narrative voice in both the comic adaptation of Paul Auster’s mystery novel City of Glass and the text in its original form plays a crucial role that, if altered, would significantly alter the reader’s interpretation of the storyline itself.
The constant shifts in the identity of main character Quinn add a dynamic aspect that moves the reader through the plot. In the classic format of the murder mystery, the author, detective, and reader move through plot together, bound by a mutually accepted set of rules. In City of Glass, the author is represented by both Paul Auster himself and Quinn under his professional pseudonym, William Wilson; the detective is represented by both Quinn himself and his recurring character Max Work; and we as readers try our best to follow the story as it’s laid before us. The detective acts as interpreter of events, but what we as readers glean from a text is significantly affected when an objective author becomes an unreliable narrator and, furthermore, a fractured self.
As Quinn becomes increasingly consumed by his quest to live out the fantasies of his work and protect client Peter Stillman Jr., he begins to lose grip on a single objective truth and we as readers are pulled down with him. By the end of the novel, Quinn has become a shell of his former self, devoid of his former drive and sensibility. In the graphic novel adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, the last panels of the story feature Quinn in solitude, naked and surrounded by darkness. As he begins his descent, we see Quinn in a fetal position completely embraced by darkness (129), an image that could almost be interpreted as a rebirth and a cyclical connection to Stillman’s experiences as mentioned prior.
How does Quinn’s complex relationship with both his work and his own identity change our interpretation of the novel as a whole?
I’m sorry that I’m only just doing this now but better late than never?
These are just a couple of things that I had wanted to include in my essay but didn’t make the cut, because I wasn’t too sure what exactly to do with them.
The first thing is a sequence on pages 10-11, where the television is sort of mirroring what’s going on in the house. You can’t always see the television screen, but what’s happening to Alison’s brother matches the dialogue. You have Bruce yelling at the brother for not being able to hold the Christmas tree up, and a dad on TV yelling at his son to stop playing a tune over and over again. In the narration, Alison does talk about the movie that’s playing, saying that “it could have been …like It’s a Wonderful Life” “…but in the movie when Jimmy Stewart comes home one night and starts yelling at everyone… it’s out of the ordinary”, implying that it was not so unusual when her own father yelled. Honestly, I don’t really have much to say about this other than describe it (hence why it got cut from the essay). I’m not sure why, but this scene really stuck out to me and I found it to be especially effective.
I also have a part in my essay where I talk about her use of artifacts, and was going to include newspapers, but I decided to stick to handwritten things for the sake of time and actually being able to pretend to know what I’m talking about. Newspapers come up a few times, like p. 27, before we see the funeral, we see the headline “LOCAL MAN DIES AFTER BEING HIT BY A TRUCK”, which allows for a brief and effective explanation as to why we’re at a funeral, which the book later elaborates on. The other newspaper that comes to mind is the one on p. 195 about HPA-23 while she’s imagining what her dad’s life might have been like. And again, I am not really sure what to do with these. The HPA one does suggest that Alison imagines that he could have had AIDS if he didn’t get killed, but the narrative says that explicitly as well.
No message is a message. I used to say this to all my friends who had a crush on somebody that didn’t reciprocate their feelings. Besides this phrase being quite applicable in the ‘romance department’, I think ‘no message is a message’ (or in other words, SILENCE), is quite fitting in ‘Fun Home’. So what do I mean by that??? Well…
I think one of my favourite parts of ‘Fun Home’ would be from pages 220-223. From pages 220 to 221, we see Alison and Bruce in the car, moment to moment, sharing a conversation about something that now has been finally brought to light between the both of them. I think Bechdel choosing to show this scene moment by moment is crucial to the book’s climax as we finally get to see a more direct and vulnerable side of Bruce. There are a total of 3 boxes/images/moments of Bruce and Alison not saying a word out of the 24 frames in the 2 page spread. I think silence is profound in a car. I don’t know. There’s just a lot that goes on when you’re silent in a car. You’re thinking. You’re in a daze. You’re trying not to say what you want to say. You’re withholding. It’s just something about silence in a car, but more specifically, showing silence in a graphic novel that helps delay the suspense the reader feels as a vulnerable and fragile moment unfolds in front of them.
In the story, Alison and Bruce end up seeing a film. Then, Bruce takes Alison to this ‘notorious local nightspot’. There is a gay bar at the back. After being ID’d, they drive home in silence. This silence is different to the one before they got to the theatre. It’s ‘mortified silence’. I think they’re both realizing something. And this is what it is…
So, Bruce takes his daughter (who recently just came out as lesbian) to a gay bar. The way they behave during this and whilst afterwards personifies the contrasting differences between the father and daughter’s ways of dealing with their homosexuality. Bruce wants to support Alison, but he’s still uncomfortable or at least he’s still struggling with his homosexuality. I’m sure both Alison and Bruce want to connect on their common ground, but ultimately, they can’t be on the same page because Bruce’s shame is just too deep. He talks about his past affairs, but he can’t come out and just say it straight to his daughter’s face despite wanting to be there for her. I think that’s what the silence represents. He wants to be supportive but he can’t bring himself to be that figure because he himself isn’t comfortable and whole with who he is. So he’s unable to be by his daughter’s side through this all.