Jonathan Franzen on the Narcissism, Technology, and Emptyness


“To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.”

Lots of nodding in agreement while reading this article:


What is a “trope” in literary/cultural studies?

This excerpt from Mark Lipovetsky’s study Charms of the Cynical Reason sheds light on the broader use of the term “trope,” not merely as an umbrella category for figures of speech such as metaphor, metonymy, etc.:


Following this logic, in the first chapter i will attempt to outline these common, yet never permanent, combinations of traits derived from the trickster myth. This highly variable set is the definitive model for what i shall term the trickster trope. departing from the stylistic understanding of tropes as structures of figurative language (metonymy, metaphor, synecdoche, and sometimes irony), Yurii M. Lotman interprets trope

… not as embellishment merely on the level of expression, a decoration on a invariant content, but as a mechanism for constructing a content which could not be constructed by one language alone. A trope is a figure born at the point of contact between two languages, and its structure is therefore identical to that of the creative consciousness itself… Moreover, if we ignore the fact that that the trope is a mechanism for producing semantic diversity, a mechanism that brings into the semiotic structure of culture a necessary degree of indeterminacy, we shall never arrive at an adequate description of this phenomenon. (44)

As for the two “languages” that the trickster trope brings together, the first is represented by an array of contemporary discourses mimicked,parodied, and deconstructed by the trickster; and the second is a discourse of the trickster myth, as well as its derivative mythoi of a jester, holy fool, rogue, etc. The trickster in modern culture thus functions as a device that drags contemporary discursive material into the field of the archaic and authoritative symbols of mockery, transgression and carnivalesque laughter, while simultaneously renovating and refurbishing these symbols in new, present-day, contexts. By its very function, the trickster trope directly retains the genre’s memory—a category proposed by Mikhail Bakhtin in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. using this analogy, one may project Bakhtin’s description of dostoevsky’s relations with the “genre memory” of the ancient menippea onto modern authors working with the trickster trope, maintaining that s/he links “with the chain” of the trickster mythological and historical discourse “at that point where it passes through his own time, although the past links in this chain, including the ancient link, were to a greater or lesser extent familiar and close to him.” (Bakhtin 1984: 121)

This is why transformations, mutations and metamorphoses of the trickster trope constitute the main focus of this study. Some “heroes” of this book—such as the tragic drunken visionary Venichka from Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petushki, the stern and serious Soviet spy Stierlitz from tatiana Lioznova’s miniseries Semnadtsat’ mgnovenii vesny, set in 1945 nazi Germany, or the idealistic don-Quixotic car thief Yurii detochkin from El’dar riazanov Beregis’ avtomobilia— all seem to be very remote from the comical trickster of myth, folklore, and classical literary texts. When analyzing these (as well as other) personages, i will first and foremost try to understand the meaning of the transformations of the trickster trope, which, as i shall demonstrate, is still detectable in the representation of these characters. The metamorphoses of the mythological motifs directly reflect the invisible shifts in the cultural logic of the given historical period, and are therefore far more valuable for such an analysis than faithfully reproduced folkloric prototypes would be.