English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

September 9, 2009

Pomo Detective Fiction?

Filed under: Ch. 3 (Cities of Glass),OUR JOURNAL — ahime @ 1:00 am

I’d read, maybe seven or eight years ago, Auster’s City of Glass, so I was intrigued by the anticipation of reading it again with new perspectives and new intentions. I did not have either a positive or a negative view when I picked up again, all I really remember was a postmodern style highlighted by strong imagery. First I reread the novel by Auster thinking of our class; again I saw the imagery within the text, and also many illusions to text as something more than just text (Auster 70, 127, 151).  As I was reading the novel I was trying to imagine what images I’d place with each scene and what passages I’d cut for consideration of space, all this leading, of course, to my reading of the graphic novel adaptation.

I don’t have too much experience reading comic books or graphic novels, so I didn’t really know about any ‘in the know’ ways of going about reading such a thing. What I wound up doing was looking at each illustration before reading its respective caption.  In this approach I was able to guess maybe 80% of the time what the caption was going to be—which I assume the adaptors would consider a success.  I enjoyed making a game out of it, and when my guess didn’t match the image it was interesting seeing the interpretations of Karasik and Mazzucchelli.  The one thing I found frustrating from the adaptation and not in the novel, was the younger Stillman’s ‘monologue.’ It’s hard to tell why only in the adaptation (where it progressed much faster) was it difficult to read, but I assume that the combination of the disjointed and irreverent text, with the equally incoherent images, was just an overload for my mind.  I will try to read the section again tomorrow to see if a fresh mind receives it more effortlessly.

Both the novel and its adaptation where very fast and easy reads, something I don’t know if most people would find to be true.  I see a lot of postmodern elements in City of Glass, but there are obvious overtones of a new realism that fits with classic detective fiction.  I’ve read a lot of both postmodernism and detective fiction, but seeing them together was different—though ultimately somewhat familiar.  To accept some of the images that Auster would perhaps want his readers to see and those that Karasik and Mazzucchelli have put on paper is almost counterintuitive.  But when one is reading the novel and the text forces strange images into a readers head, it is important to let these images flow because in the end they all seem to resolve themselves, making as much sense as is possible.  It is for those who can’t quite trust their interpretations or abilities, that the graphic novel becomes invaluable.  The adaptation presents images to the reader that is likely just as bizarre as those that might be imagined while reading the novel.  It is there to tell people that what they may see while reading the novel is not wrong or even strange, but rather demonstrate an apt and fitting interpretation.

While reading the adaptation first may ultimately take something away from the creative thought process that leads the reader to a unique conclusion, it provides support to the unfamiliar audience by introducing images contrary to traditional dictates, but pertinent to understanding postmodern literature.  After all that I still preferred the original novel to the adaptation, but it would have been great, when I was first beginning to read postmodern authors, to have the novel and its graphic adaptation in my hand at the same time.

Here’s an excerpt from Robert Crumb’s adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, though not postmodern, Kafka does often tend to present problems to readers that most find difficult to resolve on their own…

Crumb does Kafka

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