“Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Vineland’: Undermining Signifying Practices” by Mª del Carmen Pérez-Llantada Auría – Questions

“Throughout the novel, embedded stories, dreams, fantasies, films, and even the narrator’s retrospective accounts on Frenesi’s life have all worked as representations, as empty, or rather, incomplete, problematic references cut off from their external, “real” referent. Vineland thus becomes a narrative grounded in the play of textual dissemination” (Auría 179).


What are some of the instances in the novel in which we get information on who Frenesi is? What do these instances say about Frenesi and the person describing her? Why is it important to make the distinction between the Frenesi of the stories, and the “real” Frenesi, whom we never see? How is Auría’s use of Derrida’s dissemination applied to the many different “readings” (stories) Frenesi in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland?

Libra: Questions on Archival Behavior and Information Paralysis

Shannon Herbert, “Playing the Historical Record: DeLillo’s ‘Libra’ and the Kennedy Archive.” 

“The closet is stuffed with material he has yet to read. He has to wedge new books into the shelves, force them in, insert them sideways, squeeze everything, keep everything. There is nothing in the room he can discard as irrelevant or out-of-date. It all matters on one level or another. This is the room of lonely facts. The stuff keeps coming” (DeLillo 378).

“…Documents have indeed become our landscape, our experience, our idiom, but they do not necessarily help us know” (Herbert 312).

What instances of record-compiling, or archive building, can be identified in Libra in addition to Nicholas Branch and his assignment? How are these ‘paper trails’ meant to function; and further, do they ever serve the purpose they are meant to? What are the ramifications of this self-induced avalanche of information to the modern State and psyche?

Libra: The Effects of Conspiracy and Contingency Questions

Skip Willman, Traversing the Fantasies of the JFK Assassination: Conspiracy and Contingency in Don DeLillo’s Libra 

“He feels he is living at the center of an emptiness. He wants to sense a structure that includes him, a definition clear enough to specify where he belongs” (DeLillo 357)

“Within these interconnected narratives, DeLillo ‘traverses’ the underlying social fantasies of conspiracy theories and contingency theories, the two diametrically opposed conceptions of ‘social reality’ at work in the interpretation of the JFK assassination” (Willman, 407).

What does the Kennedy conspiracy provide Oswald and in turn, Everett? Are their motivations different or the same? Do their motivations say something about American society? How does conspiracy and contingency work in the two narratives of Oswald and the CIA conspiracy according to Willman?

Libra: questions on point of view and storytelling

“In what might be interpreted as one of several ways of debunking the Camelot myth, DeLillo chose Lee Harvey Oswald as the thematic centre of the novel, rather than President John F. Kennedy. Oswald undergoes an identity crisis and needs to project it on the nameless, faceless people he sees everyday in the subway. He has to check his troubles against a group of people because by transferring his fear and discontent with society, he is reassured to belong, to be a cog in the wheel. He needs to experience anger within a framework which he creates and of which he then becomes part.” (Cîmpean 159).

What does Cîmpean’s analysis tell us about Lee Harvey Oswald as a character in DeLillo’s novel? Why might the use of Oswald’s point of view be surprising to American readers? Given what you have read about Oswald so far, are you sympathetic to his character, or skeptical of his story?

“Don Delillo’s Libra: History as Text, History as Trauma,” by Leonard Wilcox – Questions

This reading presents an examination of the relationship between history (specifically, historical trauma) and the representation of such a history through language.  Wilcox addresses the limitations of language as a signifier, claiming that “Delillo’s novels convey a sense of the impossibility of language ever being able to grasp the non-linguistic, the historical referent in its pristine reality” (340).  He draws on Lacan’s conception of “the real” to understand this limited scope of language in forming a narrative of history, explaining that the traumatic experience produces an “unapproachable void” which “resists symbolization” (345).

How does Delillo’s Libra ask us to think about language in relation to history and the formation of narratives?  In what we have read so far, do you see evidence of the historical traumatic resisting symbolization?  What can we make of the fictional nature of this text which attempts to deal with a very real historical event?


As Celine mentioned in her post, we left our conversation last Monday thinking about the nature of law and power in Kafka’s The Trial. While there are many layers to this reading, Glen is aiming to discern the nature of law as it appears in The Trial. His ultimate conclusion is that the “appearance of law in Kafka’s work is a function of the necessity of punishment” (26).

As he unpacks the essence of law in The Trial,  Glen finds that the contents of the law are an “empty norm,” meaning that the law is essentially essence-less. (41). As Glen notes, the law only exists as a relation, “it cannot be defined…It is known only as a verbal construct and is designated to come and go, in relation with a concrete object” (generally people) (41).

Once the law has been reified (making something that is not “real” become more “real”), it has the power to permeate all bodies of authority. We see this in the warders who arrest K. in how they “represent a formalism born of the reification of the legal system.” They don’t question the legitimacy of their orders to watch over K., “but go about their task blindly, keeping him under their eyes for the required ten hours daily and then drawing their pay for the job” (59).

Glen argues that K.’s unwillingness to enter this system of law where he would essentially play the part of the accused is what ultimately leads to his death. His reluctance to submit to the machine is what purges his from the system entirely.

When thinking about the essence of the law in The Trial, can you think of any other particular examples where characters reify the law through their actions? Thinking outside of the text, how do we reify our laws? What are laws even meant to do? What do you think is the difference between laws and justice?

As always, if you see something else in the text that strikes your fancy, bring it up in the comments!

“The Legend of the Doorkeeper and Its Significance for Kafka’s Trial,” by Ingeborg Henel: Questions

Last week’s discussion of The Trial primarily revolved around the concepts of ambiguity and diversion and how this connects to an understanding of Josef K.’s paranoiac behaviors. Still keeping these conversations in mind, this week Emily and I wanted to shift the focus a bit and examine the nature of law, power, and guilt in the novel.

The reading I’ve asked you to take a look at covers a lot of ground: Henel discusses the nature of a parable and illuminates the similarities between “The Legend of the Doorkeeper” and Josef K.’s situation, examines the function of “the officials” in the novel, and looks the idea of the “law of the individual,” among other things.

While these concepts are all intertwined, I was especially interested in Henel’s discussion of guilt, responsibility, and “self-justification” in The Trial. Take a look, in particular, at the concept of “motivation” Henel includes from pages 46-48 (explicitly explained on those pages, but it is helpful to read beyond that section to gain a full appreciation for what Henel is getting at).

What do you think Josef K. is guilty of, if anything? What is your understanding of guilt in the novel? What do you make of Josef K.’s statement on page 213 of The Trial (“How can any person in general be guilty?”) as well as the priest’s response? Is this simply a display of Josef K.’s inability to confess his guilt, or is there something more here? After reading the novel as well as Henel’s interpretation, how would you answer the string of questions Henel poses at the beginning of the essay: What kind of reality does Kafka portray in his works?

Lastly, if there was anything else in Henel’s reading that you were particularly drawn to, feel free to address that.