The Rest of Galatea

November 1, 2007

It seems we get a different side of Lentz when he and Powers go to visit Audrey.  We see that he is capable of caring for another person.  We also get the idea that this experiment may have some implications in regards to Audrey and her deteriorating mental status.  On page 170 it reads, “We could eliminate death.  That was the long-term idea.  We might freeze the temperament of our choice.  Suspend it painlessly above experience.  Hold it forever at twenty-two.”  It would appear that Lentz is much like Dr. Freeze (from Batman), in that while both may not seem to be nice guys, all that they do, they do in an attempt to help their wives, both of whom are severely sick.  But as we later learn, that is merely a side effect of this experiment, and was never the desired outcome.

In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, there is a scene where Mr. Ramsay equates his life’s accomplishment with letters in the alphabet.  Mr. Ramsay feels that he has reached Q, which apparently is pretty good because, “Very few people in the whole of England reach Q.”  And as far as completing the alphabet, “Z is only reached by one man in a generation.” (on a personal note, I would probably put myself at about L for my life thus far)  There’s a connection to Galatea, I swear.  I connected this to the different imps that Powers and Lentz are going through.  Each ascending lettered imp is more advanced than the one before it.  I find it interesting that it was imp H, that was the one they felt was the most advanced and suitable for use in the competition.  Had they kept going and developing new imps, how advanced would imps T or W have been?  And it seems like to keep going forward, imp Z would have to be a human.

And it’s gotta make you feel at least a little proud that when Powers feeds Helen info from the nightly news that this absolutely horrifies the machine and Helen shuts herself off from people for a few days.  It’s nice to know the human touch can have that effect on something.  And I think I finally get a chance to break out transhistorical party.  Powers was constantly feeding Helen literature, some of which had to contain tragedy of some sort.  But this has no effect on Helen, this is the brand of transhistorical party which is contained by some sort of literary device, thus making it more acceptable.  However, when Helen gets fed the stories of actual human behavior, like the road rage incident, this horrifies her because it is not contained in a story, but is actual human behavior.

I think my favorite piece from the text comes on page 317 when Diana’s son William comes home and is feeling a bit distraught about school, “‘First grade,’ he choked.  ‘Done.  Perfect.’  He swept his palm in an arc through the air.  ‘Everything they wanted.  Now I’m supposed to do second.  There’s another one after that, Mom.  I can’t.  It’s never-ending.'”  He has no idea how right he actually is.  This idea of never-ending relates back to something which Powers discusses with Helen on page 291 about literature, “Always more books, each one read less.’  She thought.  ‘The world will fill with unread print.  Unless print dies.'”  So it would appear that in the world of academics and literature there is no end.  Literature will continue to be printed, and as long as that is happening, scholars will be forced to analyze it and decide what it means and whether or not they hate it.  And in the end, Powers makes this all the more true by saying that he has some more fiction left in him, and goes off to write another novel.

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3 Responses to “The Rest of Galatea”

  1. tllabello said

    I agree on your idea on Helen in that she feels upset when she hears about present news but it never phases her reading novels. Is that saying that Helen knew the novels are fiction and in the past and the news is real life so she shut herself off? Thats weird.

  2. Kim S. Clune said

    Hey Ryan,

    As you so nicely put it:

    Powers was constantly feeding Helen literature, some of which had to contain tragedy of some sort. But this has no effect on Helen, this is the brand of transhistorical party which is contained by some sort of literary device, thus making it more acceptable. However, when Helen gets fed the stories of actual human behavior, like the road rage incident, this horrifies her because it is not contained in a story, but is actual human behavior.

    As I interpret what you’ve written, this speaks directly to the pomo examination of the inaccessibility of reality through literature. Something about its manufacture – at least in the traditional canon read to Helen – insulates the neural net from the reality of our species’ horrific tendencies. This makes me wonder if, subconsciously, narrative was initially devised with limitations in mind, designed NOT to be real. Using the imagination to work out human issues through fairytales and myths eliminates the repulsion.

    This idea contradicts aspirations of modernism to perfect the form and access the real, yet culture always seems to shift from that which is mastered toward that which is not. Once story is perfected in its non-reality, cultural desire moves toward capturing the real. We’ve moved from the myths of creation to historical and scientific documentation – believing that real. From there, in our failure to access reality, we are left with the postmodern examination of fictive form.

    So, where does Helen’s deadly literature in form of journalism fall within the grand scheme of things? I would say it is historical documentation, which we know, regardless of factual reporting, is always limited in presenting all sides. A recent and popular example would be the pictures of blacks “looting” supermarkets in Louisiana after Katrina, as described in actual publication captions, is a far different interpretation than whites performing the same actions in the name of “survival.” I suppose this would mean that Helen, the machine, cannot interpret the difference, somehow taking the journalism as access to the real while we understand that it is not. In this very moment, I think I finally determined for myself the difference between human cognizance and mechanical processing.

  3. Christine said

    Thanks for bring modernism into postmodernism… Cavanaugh would be so proud. I didn’t think Virginia Woolf would continue to haunt me, but I guess stranger things have happened. 🙂

    Anyway, great post! You covered a lot in here and I really like your point about Helen and the fictional pieces vs. the news segment. We hadn’t talked about that (that I remember anyway), but it’s interesting that she knew the difference between the two. I was impressed throughout the novel with how much she picked up on and your point about her awareness with the news only reinforces that. One of Helen’s weaknesses is that she can’t handle the harsh reality of our world so she shuts down, setting her apart from humans because we continue (most of us, anyway) to go on and live our lives even after something horrific has happened.

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