The Raw Shark Texts: Crazy Conceptual, but a Classic Maybe-Existential Work of Art/Awesome

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I believe that our ideas live on beyond our corporeal existence. Our ideas, in effect, are the ideas of those before us, and in this same way, their ideas—our ideas—continue beyond ourselves through their passage to other people, or their dissemination throughout the world by way of various mediums. In The Raw Shark Texts we encounter “Eric Sanderson one” and “Eric Sanderson two” whose ideas live on post-metaphorical death, and eventual literal death. However, Eric’s ideas, memories, feelings, and “self” exist by and by through himself—initially through printed or written text sent to himself by his first self (Eric Sanderson one) and finally as a conceptual self. The survival of his mind—however conceptual and tricky to grasp—is interesting to me because it is contained. While I wouldn’t say that our ideas are diluted as they pass through time to others, they are shared—tiny (non-aggressive), conceptual fish, if you will, that swim back into the stream of a collective human reality, if not consciousness. Eric’s course of, we’ll call it “self-preservation”, raises a question: is reality shared of personal? can people separate their own realities from the collective reality of humanity? All have wondered at one point or another in some form another if the secret truths or memories inside our heads mean anything at all if they’re only known to us– does a tree make a sound if no one is around to hear it, do we matter to the world if we’re heard only by a few? Eric seems to answer the question with his belief that only he and Clio Aames matter—with the conviction that she is all that matters to him, to his existence.
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Raw Shark Texts – Ending

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Upon finishing the book, I found the remainder of the story to be very interesting, though still slightly confusing. I especially enjoyed the illustrations throughout the text and felt like it added an important element. During the story when Dr. Fidorous tried to get Eric to believe that the words “water” was actually water, it is easy to relate that exercise to the readers. Readers believe (on some level) the story is true, or they see something in their head that is only words on paper. The illustration of the shark adds to that metaphor. The shark is literally made out of words, even when the Ludovician is mentioned, readers can clearly see the shark in their mind. This, I believe, is the overall concept of the story. Everything, real or not real lives in the mind. Mentally you can make anything real. The end of the story is still slightly confusing though. The relationship is never really explained between Cleo and Scout. It seems that Scout is more of a fictional representation in Eric’s mind so that he can come to grips and accept that Cleo’s accident was not his fault. The end of the story makes me wonder what part of anything was true, especially with the post card at the end. I think the author leaves it obscure so that the reader can come to their own conclusion to what is real and not real. Overall, this was still my favorite book of the quarter though it does leave some questions that I would have liked answered. But maybe that was the point, to find answers that are suitable, just like Eric Sanders did.

The Raw Shark Texts

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As we come to the conclusion of The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, we see the similarities between Hall’s work and that of Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 with the unresolved ending. At least that is the way that it was for me. Throughout the text there is the switch between the first Eric Sanderson and the second Eric Sanderson, much like in Memento, except that they are much clearer in their difference and clearly two different personas. The difference in narration, when dealing with the first Eric Sanderson, brings for a double clarity; as we, the reader, discover the first Eric’s past, so does the second Eric. The mind and how far it is willing to go to protect itself from harm is what plagues this text, as well as the second Eric and what haunted the first Eric. Due to the accident that occurred to his girlfriend that resulted in her untimely death, Eric Sanderson’s mind begins to create alternate occurrences to occupy his mind with so that he may not be haunted with the absence of his girlfriend. “There’s mp way to preserve a person when they’ve gone and that’s because whatever you write down it’s not the truth, it’s just a story. Stories are all we’re ever left with in our head or on paper” (413). The capacity, the inner working s of the minds are so construct and so precise that it protects itself in times of crisis, like it did for the second Eric, and tried to do so till his death. The inner working of the mind is greatly played in this work and as such creates the bigger mystery.

-Juana Acha

Blow Up

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Antonioni’s protagonist was the Photographer – he was odd, he was eccentric, but was he crazy? The same questions can be asked about Cortázar’s Michel – yes it was written as a fractured, stream of consciousness narrative, but does that mean he was insane? Even if he is insane, does it discount what he saw? These questions are asked in Antonioni’s film BlowUp.

It is probably much harder to convey the uncertainty of the Photographer’s state of mind through film than through literature, where you have a direct line to Michel’s thought-process, but Antonioni does a good job of showing the fractured narrative that is present in the original short story. Even as the Photographer is seeing things, reviewing the photos, blowing up the images, the viewer is not entirely sure he can trust the Photographer. There is sparse dialogue but many odd instances that give the world around the Photographer a very dream-like feel – The protest that walks by contains a random sign that says “On on” instead of the others which say things like “No no,” The photographer suddenly jumps up to answer a phone that didn’t ring, the Photographer ‘directing’ the woman on how to inhale a cigarette and move to music.

The narrative tends to be fractured; going on tangents and in and out of episodes where the viewer is unsure of what is happening, like the scene in which the photographer has sex with the two women – throughout the scene the action seems to switch from laughter to screaming, from wrestling to earnest struggling, from consensual sex to non-consensual. The viewer is not entirely sure what is happening, which mirrors the Photographer’s state of mind. The film forces the viewer to ask can I trust what I am seeing? Can I trust the narrator? And did that even really happen?

-Allison Gilvezan

The Raw Shark Texts

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The first thing I noticed in reading Steven Hall were the large similarities between Memento and this piece – the parallels between Eric and Leonard are many, from their notes to themselves, their previous lives constructing and leading the way for their present ones, and their driving focus being holding on to memories of lost lovers.

Yet these similarities don’t make either text experimental. So what is it that makes Hall fall in this genre? The Raw Shark Texts experiments with the concepts of language and thought itself – how words and thoughts are powerful enough to affect the physical being. The plot itself is, like Memento, not too hard to comprehend. Although it is set in a different world, and has interesting concepts of un-space and conceptual realities, it is easy to understand and not far off the usual conventions of one man, one woman, a common enemy, and a cat. There are a few plot points that add to the experimentation – the idea of being able to imprint oneself onto others or lose oneself entirely is unusual. Literally with the Mycroft Ward “thing”, or bodies, there is a single mind works to link hundreds and thousands of bodies. Yet this isn’t that far of a stretch with science fiction. What makes the text experimental, then, is that within the text, Hall visually evokes the reader with more than just imagery. He uses actual images created by words – not just irrelevant words, but words that relate to the memories of his character Eric Sanderson. He places the fish and shark that Eric fears, experimenting with words as artistic pictures, with the creatures literally swimming through the literature. The plot itself and the structure are bare and essential, allowing for the presentation to take over. For example, when Eric first encounters the Ludovician, when it comes out of his television to attack him, the reader is led along with suspense not just because of the context of the scene, but because of the text illustration along with it. Hall’s representation of the text in a box visually stimulates the reader to imagine a television box, out of which a shark is swimming through words. With each new visualization of the shark, there are different words depicting it, which makes sense because the shark ingests new concepts and new words by each next sighting.

The hands on experience of reading this text, ultimately, is a more sensory and cognitive experience, and thus is experimental, even if the plot itself is not much beyond a science fiction. It is, while a one-dimensional text of text, more than one-dimensional because it involves the reader in seeing beyond just words to the illustrations, which actually move through the text. This visual story telling adds to the experience a suspense and drama that can not be had with just lines of text.

-Jennifer Hung

Questions:The Raw Shark Texts-End

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First let me say that I really enjoyed this book. It was able to captivate my mind while entertaining me. With that said, I wanted more from the ending of the book. I ended with more questions than answers.

After the Light Bulb Fragment was re-decoded, the word it formed was “everything”. This completely threw me! Why would Eric I leave the word “everything” for Eric II to find? (410).

Another question that I had was: Did the conceptual fish/shark all develop because of Clio’s drowning. Like if she had died in a plane crash, would we be looking at birds instead? In the end, it was all Eric’s thoughts and conceptions that lead them to the other plane to fight with the shark (which was exactly like the ending of Jaws lol) yet at the same time, Eric II did not fully believe in concepts becoming real. Without full conviction of one’s thoughts, how can they stay solid in this instance. The moment that Eric II and Dr. Trey stopped believing in the soundness of their conceptions, the boat should have sunk, the shark should have disappeared, and the island should never had appeared, right? Or is Hall making a statement that conceptions can become stronger than the mind?

Another element I was a little unsure on was why Scout (or Clio) survived the crash and was able to be with Eric II on the island, but Dr. Trey did not make it. does that mean that Trey is somewhere in the physical world without his memories or is he in fact physically dead like Eric II? Then what would that make Scout? A figment of his imagination or just a less guilty memory of Clio? Or is it that Trey, Scout, and Eric I and II were dead but did not know they where and had to go through this complicated process of understanding, forgiveness, and “death” like in the movie “The Others”? Also, what does the implication that there is a way to cross realms mean? Eric II sent Dr. Randall a post-card on pg. 426 that they disregard because Eric has been found dead (he had apparently been dead for some time). So it is like the Matrix where you can die in the Matrix and die in real life?

 

Pynchon pt. II

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In the second half of The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa goes through a phase of questioning her own sanity. Yet within her questioning herself she begins to question the functionality of understanding social cues and how this leads to overall communication.

One of the main themes within Pynchon’s, The Crying of Lot 49 is show how there’s too much emphasis on finding meaning between the lines of a text. Too many students are taught to take what is concretely found within a text and analysis it on a level that goes beyond what is said to what everything may mean. This tactic has become so overrate that individuals are starting to overlook what they see in hopes of finding something deeper. Sometimes there is nothing deeper.

In a developing society communication, especially mass communication, is extremely important. It is important because mass communication can sway the masses into compliance or destruction. For example, Mucho Maas fell into destruction once he started taking the LSD pills from Dr. Hilarious. A doctor who worked for the Nazis. An organization that was able to implement a lot of destructive practices because of their ability to convey their wants to others in a manner that seemed innocent. Although Pynchon is ridiculing the tactic mentioned above, he is also displaying the importance of theory of mind. Theory of Mind in essence, is the ability to understand (on some social level) the actions, words, facial expressions, etc. of the person you are engaging. With that said, a question comes to mind: How can one have theory of mind during mass communication like television, the radio, or even literature?

Oedipa, a mock epic hero, losses this ability to understand the Theory of Mind in her engagement with Metzger after spending so much time trying to find a deeper meaning with the Tristero.

“No word to recall that Oedipa and Metzger had ever been more than co-executors. Which must mean, thought Oedipa, that that’s all we were.” (121). This quote makes me think about how symbolism and titles/descriptions affect understanding and involvement.

The Raw Shark Texts

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The Raw Shark Texts begins with a character who wakes up without any knowledge of himself, his surroundings, or his past. Sounds familiar, right? This plot is something we have already seen before in Memento, but what’s different in Steven Hall’s novel is that Eric Sanderson’s ‘condition’ (yes, he calls it that too) is, by his doctor’s diagnosis, self-inflicted and therefore possibly curable. However, Eric’s situation is different in that his ‘incarnations’ last longer than Leonard’s ever did, allowing him to create an identity and establish relative stability in his life. Several times in the first part of the novel, Eric deals with the question of his identity: if he is the Eleventh Eric Sanderson, and there were ten more before him (the First of which constantly communicates with him via letters and packages), then who is he currently if he can’t remember anything from before? Like Leonard in Memento, each incarnation wakes up with a blank slate and must form a new identity. The First Eric Sanderson provided the Ryan Mitchell Mantra, which would have allowed for the creation of a new identity, to Eric so that he could live in the now, and not go fishing (literally) for his past. Eric does the same thing with his colleague Mark Richardson, creating a new ‘mask’ for himself based on habits, mannerisms, facial expressions, etc. so that he is able to create an identity. However, Eric maintains a concrete and separate identity, the ‘real’ Eric, which is just as clueless and lost as ever: like Leonard mentioned in Memento, it was just feigning recognition and normality so as to not arouse suspicion.

Something else that intrigued me was the ‘presence’ of the First Eric Sanderson, who leads the Eleventh Eric Sanderson along with stories and explanations and the repeated ‘regret and also hope’. If this disorder completely erases past incarnations to the point that the next incarnation awakes with barely any knowledge of the past, then how did the First Eric Sanderson manage to plan out such an intricate and complicated path for later ‘Erics’ to follow? From daily life to pieces of his past to information on the Ludovician, Dr. Trey Fidorous, and the Un-Space Exploration Committee, the First Eric Sanderson lays everything out for the current Eric, which means that the First meant for this to happen and deliberately sabotaged his own memory, knowing that it would lead to this.

Self In The Raw Shark Texts

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Eric Sanderson doesn’t exist. His body exists. An ID with his face and name on it exists. His mirrored reflection exists. And yet without the memories and knowledge that take a lifetime to accumulate, Eric is left bereft in a sea of information without the ability to link everything into a coherent narrative. Presumably everything in Eric’s life has happened, and yet if he doesn’t remember it,  if the Ludovician (the idea fish) has eaten everything that made Eric Eric, then who is the Eric that we are observing in the first third of the Raw Shark Texts? A shell, a blank. And if those memories and ideas have been eaten and are gone, can they ever exist again?

Eric receives letters from his double, the “first” Eric Sanderson. Does this make the current Eric the second? Third? Eleventh? He begins to think of the first Eric in separate terms than himself, a leader taking him through the complicated business of avoiding the Ludovician and disguising himself in the ideas of others. But the shark is always there, even before the mysterious presence is named for the current Eric it is felt.

There is something so beautifully odd about the idea of a shark stalking the thoughts of this man. An allegory for pain and emotion manifest in the form of a deadly shark threatening to eat everything that makes a person whole. The first third of The Raw Shark Texts is beautiful and heartbreaking, alternately fascinating and universally familiar.

-Allison Gilvezan

The Raw Shark Texts

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I really enjoyed The Raw Sharks Texts, it was extremely entertaining, unique, and clever.  When reading the first few chapters it immediately reminded me of Memento, like many people in class mentioned.  Yet this text really allowed the reader to connect with Eric Sanderson in a way that Memento and the short story Memento Memori didn’t allow.  Eric wakes up alone and with no memories, he does not know who or where he is( like the protagonist in Memento).  He relies on his past self’s letters and writings to piece together his identity.  Yet, Eric is rational, calm, and trusts those around him.  I never once doubted his sanity.  Eric, unlike Memento’s protagonist, is searching for not only meaning and truth but human connection.  He wants his old memories and the truth in order to find Cleo (or what is left of her in his memories) and to be with her.  While in Memento the protagonist is untrusting, irrational, and is motivated solely by revenge.  For Eric, identifying him and discovering the truth brings him closer to other humans.  His trust and rationality allow him to make connections with others, which is what life is all about.  I felt that this is what made him such an interesting and convincing protagonist. Despite his lack of identity he still was a human being you could relate to; he felt fear, had a sense of humor, and found goodness in others.  In the end, it seemed like Eric did find Cleo through the Ludovician.

Another thing I found really interesting that was present throughout the novel was the contrast of the conceptual with the mechanical.  Throughout the story, many characters and scenes were described mechanically.  I found this interesting because when I think of the mechanical, I immediately thing of the tangible and scientific world.  Ideas and objects that are mechanical usually have from and are physical.   Yet Hall uses both mechanical languages while describing many of these conceptual scenes especially in the scene on pg.408-409 where the shark is attacking the conceptual boat.   The style of language hall uses in this scene almost reminds me of Morse Code, it was short and to the point.  I liked this a lot because it illustrates the intensity of this scene and brings life to Eric’s battle with the conceptual shark.  At the end of the novel what was real and what was conceptual didn’t seem to even matter, because Eric seemed to find what he was looking for and he found happiness.

-Shelby Muchamuel