The class began with about 20 minutes of small talk and then we transitioned to Dōgen’s writings on Time. You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. The bells began to ring, as usual, ringing loudly through the center of main campus. First it’s the ding of the bell for each hour (here read as twelve), then our fight song rings much slower. It was more poignant this time, though, even though my class was so used to its interruption of our discussion of our technical texts – as if I needed a reminder of time passing through, of each moment dissipating with a snap of the fingers to the next moment.
As I read A Visit from the Goon Squad, I thought back to Albert Camus’s words: The whole art in Kafka consists in forcing the reader to reread. The nonlinear format of Goon Squad creates a challenge for me (as the reader) to put the events of the different narrators in order, to the point that rereading would give me a chance to organize or reorganize the events in my head. The jigsaw narrative functions somewhat like a series of short stories in that each story has a different narrator. On the contrary, the chapters work together since they reference characters in other stories – it is difficult to have the full picture of the characters without reading the entire novel. Thus in this way, I am creating the story myself. There can be alternate interpretations of the order of events – did Egan intend the novel to be “unnumbered”? Or did she want the reader to learn about these characters without a timeline? Sasha is the character we begin the novel with; is she the primary character?
He [Alex] paused at the picture of Rob, Sasha’s friend who had drowned in college, but made no comment (14). I wonder if it would it have made a difference if we knew that Rob and Sasha were very close friends and Rob had feelings for Sasha. Instead, we know he drowns from this small detail and expect that outcome in Chapter 10. We discover he’s suicidal, was Sasha’s pretend boyfriend for appearances (for the detective her father hired to follow her) and was somewhat tortured by Sasha’s love for Drew. I imagined that Alex probably just thought that it was Sasha’s ex-boyfriend, which would not have been a far off assumption. By day, they would have been seen kissing, holding hands, etc., by night he would have been holding her when she cried in bed, and sleeping mere feet away from her otherwise. In some ways, I picture they could have been more than what they actually were.
And then as I progress through the novel, I suddenly need to flip the novel and read sideways. PowerPoint slides…by Alison Blake I flip to the next page. Alison Blake, Lincoln Blake…Sasha Blake…Drew Blake. They got married, Drew and Sasha. They started a family together. I had seen this PowerPoint first as I flipped through the novel for the first time, trying to brace myself for what I was getting myself into. It is an abrupt change of style and pace for sure. What if I had read this section first? I would not have known about Rob, the boy caught in the middle of Sasha and Drew. I would not have known the reason why Sasha bought the book Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide by Jules Jones (257). Jules Jones was her boss Bennie’s wife’s brother. And I would not have known why a picture of Sasha was in the book by Jules Jones if I started here in the novel. But do these references matter here? If I had read this PowerPoint first, I could get an overview of what was to come – like Rob’s death. I would have pieced together the other pieces of the story as I went along. And if my professor had not shown us the author’s website, I would not have known that this PowerPoint appears there (in its correct form?). The slides on pauses within songs make more sense; it’s in color and has more dynamism. These elements affect the way I see this presentation. It is more realistic, but also somehow more casual. Is it just because it is digital rather than physical? Does that make all the difference between how something is received?
While I write this paper, I am reminded of Nao from A Tale for the Time Being. I am somewhat intervening in the way Ruth intervened in Nao’s story. Where does Nao end and Ruth begin? Ruth’s level of intervention was indeterminate since the text was being translated from the original Japanese and French of Nao and her great-grandfather Haruki #1. Translations have many shades, and from what I’ve heard from others and read in this novel there are alternate meanings in Japanese (much more than in English). The translator is given quite a bit of power and participation in the novel based on their own choices.
Ruth closed her eyes. In her mind, she could picture Nao, sitting by herself in the darkened kitchen, waiting for her mother to bring her father home from the police station. What had those long moments felt like to her? It was hard to get a sense from the diary of the texture of time passing. No writer, even the most proficient, could re-enact in words the flow of a life lived, and Nao was hardly that skillful. (64) The reader is just as involved as Ruth is in Nao’s life. Ruth transcribed the diary to bring it to us in the form of a novel, interspersing her own dialogue with the text. In this way, Ozeki (the author of A Tale for the Time Being) created a layer to Nao’s story, which easily could have been a standalone – and in the process, she created a discourse between Nao, Ruth, Ozeki, and the reader. I imagine the readers of this book are creating Reddit pages to discuss the text; the target/intended audience of this novel could have been geared for book clubs due to the integration and interaction of the reader.
And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.
You wonder about me.
I wonder about you.
Who are you and what are you doing? (3)
Nao acknowledges the reader’s presence, encouraging them to go along for the ride. Throughout the novel, Nao asks questions of the reader fully knowing that she herself will never know the answer. Yet, she asks anyways – perhaps as a way to start a discourse outside of herself and beyond her existence (in this way, she also immortalizes herself). In Ruth’s sections of the novel, this happens as well. She is fully aware of the expectations Nao has and tries to abide by them. Perhaps it is by the honor code? Perhaps if Ruth paced herself by slowing down and not reading faster than the girl had written, she could more closely replicate Nao’s experience (36). A Tale for the Time Being is a study in the reader’s role in a text. While Ruth presents the reader’s thoughts as they read a work, she may not represent the whole of readers. Ruth researches outside of the book, placing other texts alongside the diary, and wants to immerse herself in Nao’s life. Is that just a characteristic of Ruth as a writer, to make Nao as real as possible? Or is that a function of us as readers wanting to absorb a story entirely? When I first began this text, I tried not to read the extensive footnotes and appendices in the effort of letting the text speak for itself and itself alone, but the text actually forces you into reading them. I had thought that perhaps Ruth had altered the interpretations of the Japanese kanji. The footnotes add more cultural understanding despite the possibility of an unreliable narrator situation. That discussion will need to be saved for another time, though it is worthwhile to mention here regardless.
the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.
We discussed the Barthes reading early in the semester regarding the role of the reader, narrator and the author. The author writes a work to be sent out into the world for the reader – then it becomes the readers’ to read and create their own interpretation of the story. Once it’s published, ownership shifts to the reader. “Well,” Ruth said “It would be, except I still haven’t reached the end. Every time I open the diary, there are more pages. Like I said, the end keeps receding like an outgoing wave. Just out of reach. I can’t quite catch up.” (376) Is this a result of Ruth forgetting where the end of the diary is? Or is it an element of mysticism, that the book keeps writing more? Is Nao reaching through time or is this Ruth’s intervention in the text? Did she add these pages and forget her own writing? Ruth’s mother had Alzheimer’s, so anything is possible. Does it really matter which is intended? Unless Ozeki outright said that Ruth wrote certain sections of Nao’s writing to fill in the gaps would we know for sure. But even then, would we trust the words spoke outside of the book? We would be analyzing and researching the text on the outside, just like Ruth. I suppose that decision would be left up to what kind of a reader you are: text-purist or the (some would say) obsessive. Rarely do author’s create novels with all of the answers; the only example readily coming to mind being the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, which have extensive mythologies and background to add to the depth of Middle Earth.
However, as I ponder the effect of pulling in outside sources, I find it interesting that Ozeki provides a bibliography – some texts I do not recall being utilized in the novel. Perhaps it is hidden. Reading these texts in the future may add depth or realism to the text depending on which connections Ozeki made in the novel. I’d be particularly interested to see how Levy’s Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, Fowler’s The Rhetoric of Confession and Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting would affect how I think of A Tale for the Time Being. (I guess this is The Reader for the Time Being then, too…) Would Levy shed light on why pages started to disappear on the Internet when Ruth was researching? Was it not her imagination, or possibly her developing Alzheimer’s? Did she dream of “Harry”’s life in Sunnyvale and return to Japan? She could have read ahead in the book and forgotten what she read, right? Theoretically, she could have absorbed the information subconsciously and possibly dreamt of filling in the gaps. Though she is a novelist after all, and could have been filling in the gaps for herself? Or is she aware of us reading, too? She must be if she transcribed and translated large bodies of text. Who else would it have been for?
As the time passes through, these texts remind me that even this paper is not the end, only a holding point. My thoughts are now out there, but just as time never arrives, the reader’s thoughts do not have a destination. For this reason, I reread sections of these books and realize connections that I did not see before. The value in these books, any books for that matter, is that time and knowledge changes perspective. There is no definite in how texts are interpreted and understood. It evolves constantly – even better in context of groups like in our courses. I may have seen parts of A Tale for the Time Being as moments that Ruth or the reader was writing the story for herself, but others in my class saw it as zooming in and zooming out of particular scenes. While in older times writing was an act of immortality, continuing to have discourse about these novels ensures that the work does not die. This is the end of my paper for the time being, but not the end of these works or the discourse as a result.
 Dōgen, et al. The essential Dogen: writings of the great zen master. Shambhala, 2013.
 Cunningham, Guy P. “Fragmentary: Writing in a Digital Age.” The Millions, 23 Jan. 2012, themillions.com/2012/01/fragmentary-writing-in-a-digital-age.html.
 Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. Image, music, text. Fontana Press, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010.