Contemporary Lit prompt: A great deal of postmodern and contemporary thought focuses on the thin, perhaps non-existent, line between fact and fiction. Some very early novels (Robinson Crusoe for example), went out of their way to seem to be real, to be found texts representing true histories. Works like House of Leaves on a more contemporary front, have engaged in reproducing that same validity. However, the postmodern and the contemporary are often playing with the idea of truth and fiction–suggesting that if a difference exists between them, the function of language might be such that we cannot distinguish truth from fiction. In many postmodern works this creates a sense of paranoia and unreliability. In many contemporary works, it has been accepted as the way the world functions. How does Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Everything Is Illuminated, play with this idea? Looking at everything from the title to the structure to the language, how does this book engage us in questions of truth and fiction. Again, post an original response of approximately one double spaced page or respond to an original response with the same vigor and length. Use quotes and summary to support your claims.
William Kerner’s Response: I don’t remember who said it, but I heard it on NPR during a conversation about Sci-Fiction and how it influenced people to make the future a reality. The person said, “The closer your fiction is to fact, the better your fiction.”. Which I’m assuming means, ‘the closer your lie is to the truth, the more believable your lie seems.’. You know, a white lie of sorts, and I’m pretty sure that Foer’s book is a sort of white lie. I mean just because the author is in the book, dosen’t make it true…right? It’s entirely possible Foer’s grandfather survived the holocaust because Foer is actually jewish. It’s also entirely possible that Foer could’ve gone to Ukraine, and it’s entirely possible that Alex and his family are real people with a real heritage touring company, and it’s entirely possible they accompanied Foer on a quest to find both Trachimbrod, the village where his grandfather grew up, and Augustine, a woman who saved Foer’s grandfather during the war.
Everything in Chapter one is completely plausible. However, once you dive in to chapter two, we begin to see Foer’s art of deception (and I say that with the utmost respect). This is when we are introduced to Brod, Foer’s great-great-great-great…great? Grandmother, who has a magical, perhaps virgin birth, when she, as a baby, bobs to the surface after her father dies in wagon accident in the river Brod, for which she is later named. That’s a kind of fun way to fuck with the readers head. Give them a nice plausible and believable scenario, and then go completely ass backwards with a magic river baby. By that time, as a reader, we might think, ‘oh, well there must be a reasonable explanation for this.’. Wrong! We are only meet with speculation and conspiracy. Just two chapters in and Foer’s book already has you asking your self, ‘What the fuck man?’.
What’s even more interesting about Foer’s Book, is that his book is never told from “his” perspective, but rather multiple characters, mainly Alex, Augustine, and SaFran, and with what seems to be perfect reclamation. For me, this suggested that Foer (the character, not the author) is simply just a character, an observer to the events happening in the book, and perhaps the events aren’t true at all. Perhaps the events in the book are just a story that is a way to retell the events of the holocaust in a contemporary fashion. These are the types of claims that shows how Foer’s stories engage us in the questions of truth and fiction.
Personally, I believe this is just a story of fiction, and Foer put him self in the middle of it as a way to confuse the reader to make things unclear, and to make the readers think even harder about the story. In a sense nothing is Illuminated.
My Response to William’s Response: It is true that in many ways Nothing is truly illuminated in this book but at the same time in many ways everything is truly illuminated as well. Yes, the closer your lie is to the truth, the more believable the lie but often lies come from truth, or have some sort of grain of truth hidden inside them. This is shown the book Everything Is Illuminated by he fact that part of the story is about a man who goes to find his family in the Ukraine and the woman who helped them survive the Holocaust. I’m sure there are many people who went to see the people who help their families during the Holocaust as well as to see where their families were from and where they were during the Holocaust. This often helps them to get a greater picture and idea of what their families went through and experienced during the Holocaust. One example being Art Spiegelman with his graphic novel Maus. Yes, there is most likely not a man named Jonathan Safran Foer who did it but many real people did. The baby emerging from the water alive and healthy is quite unrealistic but Trachimbrod could be based on a real village in the Ukraine where similar events happened but was made to seem fictitious and the events changed slightly to fit better with the story as a whole. The book as a whole may seem that nothing is illuminated which is true in many ways but is it also shows everything as illuminated. Another way things are illuminated through out the book is the fact that it shows a certain form of contemporary literature and how it can be written. It shows how social literary norms are broken by authors of contemporary literature in that it is not told as linear chronological story by switching from 1997 to 1791 back to 1997 to 1804, etc. Another way it illuminates the contemporary is the writing itself, it is not written the way we expect a book too be written. There are points where it is written as one skinny column down the middle of the page, some of it is written in Italics, other times words are written in bold in all caps, and sometimes the chapter headings are written in the shape of winding river. So, in many ways, yes, nothing is illuminated, but in dost ways everything is illuminated.