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Catastrophe and image, international post-modern fiction

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  1. Introduction
  2. The characters in postmodern stories
  3. Allende's 'And of Clay We Are Created'
    1. The character-narrator and the dying little girl
    2. The narrator's account of Rolf's interiority
    3. The narrative focus on Rolf
    4. An opposing interpretation of Allende's short story
  4. The dangers posed by the exchange of image for meaning
  5. The lack of a self-conscious narrator-character
  6. Heinrich Boll's short story 'The Laugher'
    1. Laughter and purposelessness
    2. The image of gaiety
  7. Baudrillard's brief summary of Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan
  8. Feng Jicai's short story The Street-Sweeping Show
    1. One interpretation of the mayor's words
    2. The mayor's role in his city
  9. The stories analyzed: Exhibits of critiques of communism, capitalism or consumer society
  10. Conclusion
  11. Works cited

I have found two common, linked problems under scrutiny in three short stories by non-American authors. The three stories are ?And of Clay We Are Created? (Isabel Allende), ?The Laugher? (Heinrich Böll), and ?The Street-Sweeping Show? (Feng Jicai), and the problems these stories share are those of mediation and the power of images. These stories deal at least in part with how images are used or consumed and what these images impart and how. Because these stories deal with modern structures of society and the problems seem inextricable from these structures, and because each narrative works to subvert these problems by at least shedding light on them, I will call the narratives postmodern stories.All of the characters in each of these postmodern stories exhibit the need to preserve images. Ultimately, and to simplify, this need is destructive or dehumanizing, either for these characters or implicitly for the society the characters inhabit. In Allende's story the image is used for extracting personal meaning from a catastrophe, but paradoxically this need to understand is harmful to the self and is an indictment of the way we try to understand the world in an information society. In Böll's story the image is preserved ad infinitum and its mediator is reduced to an object of consumer society. And in Jicai the image is promulgated for public consumption though no one believes in it any longer (or maybe never did).

[...] And out of the desire to know she creates her own narrative and meaning, one in which catharsis can be realized, but for Rolf. Thus the narrator also creates resolution for herself out of the desire to know, even though the means of resolution is entirely unrealistic. Now on what is lost. The narrative focus on Rolf that elides Azucena is important because readers would expect Azucena to be the subject of the story, since she is indeed the story of the mudslide?she is a ?symbol of the tragedy? for the narrator and the public (Rubenstein and Larson 47). [...]

[...] For instance, when the regular people witness the ?majestic? procession of the mayor and city dignitaries, ?they realized that they were in the presence of no ordinary mortals? (Rubenstein and Larson 247). But the language in the quotation is ironic?ironic not in the sense that the people should not feel that way but that they do not feel that way at all. There is no majestic procession, only the umbrella understanding that the procession is supposed to be majestic. Likewise the mayor is not venerated; he is bald fat one in blue? (Rubenstein and Larson 248). [...]

[...] Each character is conscious of his role as maintainer of the image, the illusion, and each character has certain inducements to maintain that role and dispense the image. Both get paid, the mayor keeps his power position. Though the show is understood to be a show it is performed anyway, both in Street-Sweeping Show? and in Laugher.? Both characters are like Allende's President and are even like Allende's narrator and Rolf Carlé, though the latter two likenesses are not as obvious.[2] Second it is helpful to look at the mayor's role in his city. [...]

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