FC: A story told through seemingly insignificant details and confusing perspectives
1: While reading Underworld, it's clear that Delillo's writing style isn't exactly linear -- in many cases, it doesn't even make sense. His novel is a constant, exhausting flurry of information and quiet implications: He shakes our understanding with new people, new perspectives, and new senses of time, and he does this so often that it's hard to grasp one complete story that runs through the book's 800+ pages.
2: But despite its stylistic eccentricities, Underworld does tell a story. Instead of one story of a character, a family, or even a city, however, we get something much bigger: Delillo tells us about an entire nation and of multiple eras, through the angles of individuals living through these moments. | Even these multiple individual stories lack any clear, black-and-white delivery, though. We have to piece together individual characters' narratives in order to make sense of the larger one happening in the novel, using hints like body language, speech, and personal connections to understand each person.
3: Every detail about a character, then, becomes important in understanding his or her complex personality and history. Every phrase the narrator utters about someone is a piece in that person's story. Even the garbage characters throw away can be used as a means to understand them (much to Edgar's dismay in the novel). When the narrator talks about Eric's stutter, for instance, we are left to decide whether it's something "he liked to use to texture the conversation" or an imitation of "some nightclub comic or simpy character on TV" (417). Delillo doesn't tell us why Eric stutters or what this says about him -- he simply tells us this is how the character represents himself and leaves us to figure out his story on our own.
4: We aren't always left to uncover a character's story without help, though: Delillo's writing is interested in the way people actively try to represent themselves and tell sculpt their narrative for others. Some characters want to be understood, but only on their own terms People like Moonman spray paint "letters and numbers [to tell] a story of backstreet life" (434). Moonman wants people to understand him as someone from the backstreet life, and his actions are used as a way to prompt this understanding.
5: Nick intentionally leaves out chunks of his life when talking to his wife, or when he catches up with Jerry and doesn't want the full version of his personal story to "keep [him there] for hours" (619). The Texas Highway Killer calls a news anchor on air to explain details of his story because he doesn't want his image to be misconstrued by the public.
6: This creates a tension between the characters and the reader: Can we fully understand someone's story based on subtle details? If a character is choosing which details we read and, as a result, manipulating his/her story, is that story an accurate representation of that character? Does there have to just be one story to represent a character, or can multiple stories explain someone?
7: I decided to look at the way I tell my own story (or stories) as a way to answer these questions.
8: My narrative doesn't begin in the rowdy stands of a baseball game or in the heat of the cold war, but my quiet Ann Arbor bedroom.
9: Like the people and places in Underworld, my room isn't an accidental mash of personal belongings, but a place where who I actually am and the way I want choose to represent my story collide. It's here that I choose how people see me and understand my life at its (presumably) most personal level -- it's where I sleep, study, get dressed, and house even my most secret possessions. But, like all narrators, it's a place that I can (and do) manipulate in order to represent what I want about myself to the reader -- or anyone who comes over.
11: I have control over the things in my room and the way I organize and present them: I make sure my bed is neat, but not too much so, and that the books that line my shelves make me out to be studious but still fun. I decide my representation in this way, and what kind of story I want to tell people when they walk through the door. But my narrative is revealed in ways that I don't actively think about or try to control -- like the yoga mat slumped in the corner, the quirky pillows on my bed, the running shoes and coffee mugs on my balcony.
13: My clothing continues my narrative: Each band sweatshirt, pair of boots, and bracelet I wear indicates some part of my story to the people around me. Some items tell stories about things I've done or, in the case of my bracelets, people and places I have known. I've even been known to lie about the origin of some items in lieu of more colorful stories. (Why admit to buying something from Urban Outfitters when you can claim to have found it at a cool thrift store instead?) Like Delillo's characters reveal bits of their deep, tangled pasts through words and other subtle clues, I reveal small pieces of myself through what I wear. No one bracelet or mobster impression reveals an entire story -- but each turns into a hint that begs for interpretation.
14: The way I represent myself on different websites shows my one self from different angles. | 4 | 1 | 2 | 3
15: 1. Twitter is where I attempt to look witty and concise. 2. The Michigan Daily website is where things get more serious, I try to seem as opinionated and knowledgeable about music and pop culture as possible in my writing, even if I'm exaggerating my feelings most of the time. 3. My Tumblr houses the "artsy," pseudo-bohemian side I like to imagine for myself, with its mp3's of folk songs and pictures of "exotic" cultures that I most likely know nothing about. 4. My Facebook account -- namely, my nonsensical profile pictures featuring cartoons and famous rappers -- is what I use to convince other people that I don't actually care about my reputation on the Internet. I try to look like I don't take my representation seriously, even though my seemingly laid-back persona here is calculated.
16: My story isn't just something I tell to the public, though; it's something I weave for myself through my journals and different styles of self-narration
17: My main journal is a place of spontaneity and comfort. This is where I write whatever I want in whatever style suits the moment, including fragments of poetry, drawings, clumps of glitter and sequins, and long, drawn out entries about what I'm thinking. | This journal might be where my narrative is the most natural. It's where I can write (or cut and glue) whatever I want without the pressure of someone else seeing. But there's still the pressure to represent my thoughts as accurately as I can, and to make sure nothing pressing goes undocumented.
19: My other forms of self-narration are more concrete in their styles. I keep three other journals, which include the classic run-down of the day's events, a detailed schedule/to-do list, and a log of my meditation practices and dreams. These three records, when paired with my primary journal, attempt to recap, condense, and evaluate my life and thoughts -- my writing turns everything I experience into a story, a way to remember and understand an otherwise endless number of disconnected happenings and feelings.
20: Like Delillo's characters, I actively try to manipulate the way others read me. Also like his characters, though, there are still details about me that spill into the open on their own, carrying clues and information about myself that I wouldn't even think to control. There are facets of my mind and being that I can't assess and streamline ahead of time -- and that can't even be streamlined into a single journal. My story is occasionally showy and predetermined, but it can't be forced into a single, linear narrative. Instead, it exists in endless clutter in my room and mind, in my conversations with other people and in the ever-changing scrawling in my journals. It's a single story made of several narratives, like an era made of countless people and their personal tales.
21: Is one form of representation more accurate than another? Is what I create for others to read less telling of who I am than the story that they pick up on their own? Or, as Mrs. Shay wonders, are animals at the zoo really more authentic than wild ones on television? | Maybe it's not solely up to the reader to decide -- maybe we, too, need to read and understand our own stories to make sense of ourselves, in whichever way we know how.