Saturday, April 10, 2010


As I read Postcards and listen to the class's discussion about the possible importance of the messages written on the backs of the postcards in the novel I can't help but wonder how they interact with the photographs on the front. It seemed as though a lot of you agreed with the notion that the postcards' messages provided the narrative with a level of truth. They give you the date and insight into the events which occur in the novel. While this analysis might be a bit shaky (maybe the postcards aren't this cut and dry), if the text is the truth then what are the photographs?

I think the photographs are in contrast with the the text because they are unrealistic snapshots that hide the truth behind their beauty. Though it isn't clear how exactly the bear was captured in the photograph, it surely doesn't tell the truth about him. It makes me wonder about all of the snapshots we take of our lives and how much they say about what we really did. What about the photos that all of those darn tourists took at the Cherry Blossom Festival? Does someone's smiling face in front of the tidal basin tell any truth about that person, or even that day? I understand wanting to remember a good time, but I don't think that years later a person will look at their smiling face and remember the truth: that it was a hot day, they were blistered and tired, and all they really wanted was to get out of that zoo.

So then what is Proulx saying about communication? I think maybe she is suggesting that it's difficult to understand another person's life by communicating with snapshots because it's fragmented and often misrepresents reality. What do you guys think?


  1. I definitely agree with you, but if THIS is the only point Proulx is trying to get across in the novel, I will be pretty upset. I'm already kind of upset with how the book ended (I won't ruin it for those who haven't finished yet). 300+ pages of the saddest family story.

    At the same time, I get how this is a "post-modern" novel. It's technique is new and it has the message similar to Pynchon's "Entropy." What people think, feel, and do can never be fully communicated with each other. While Pynchon bashes spoken communication, it is obvious Proulx finds issue with photographs and written communication.

  2. The ending is pretty sad... but I guess that is part of the point. I realy cant stand posed photographs because of what you said.. the picture is not really portraying anything other than 'oh yeah we were there that day' I think a candid shot can tell some of the truth.. but those are hard to get!

  3. Ha ha, I like your comments about tourist photos. I often wonder that too when I see a bunch of people taking the same picture of the Lincoln memorial I think, "Couldn't you google a better picture of the memorial than the one you're about to take?" That lack of sentimentality is probably why I have a strong lack of photos in my life.

    Anyhow, I too was frustrated by the ending of the book and I'm anxious to hear what people think about it in class.

  4. I know that when I am dragged to do touristy things with my family and they want photos, I reluctantly fake a smile and wave my parents along the way and try to avoid anymore pictures for the day. I look back on them and I know I was cranky, annoyed, and just plain unhappy that day, but I look like I'm having a pleasant time. I can't wait until I finally get to the end of the novel--I think a lot of people have forgotten about Billy, so I'm hoping that mystery gets resolved...

  5. Wow! I'll be sure to wear some kind of protective clothing to class tomorrow so as to spare myself the stains that will result when all of you throw tomatoes and other rotten things at me for selecting such a sad novel. (This would also be an appropriate time to think about the way that course material is selected.) In any case, Mer Klein's questions are hugely relevant to postmodernism more generally. Fragment is the word that comes to mind. We'll talk about that--and about Emerson--tomorrow.

    Re: tourists in the DC area--I couldn't agree more. I think the thing to keep in mind is the issue of authenticity. Namely, the idea that coming to DC to see the Cherry Blossoms somewhow represents a kind of authentic Washington experience, even though most of those trees are solely in and around the Mall, only one small part of DC. Moreover, what does it mean to experience any location through the lens of tourism? This is a question we've asked with Henry James, Fitzgerald, Toomer (to a degree), and now with Proulx. How can we quantify experience if it is, in fact, based only on sanpshots of a place?

  6. With all that said, if we were to really send people postcards with real snapshots of what DC is ACTUALLY like, people would most likely not exactly be dazzled. There would be a lot of poverty and crime and gritty truth. If and if people were to really send out true documents of what their vacation experiences were like, we'd get a lot less smiling in front of monuments and a lot more hurling into toilets due to food poisoning at Long John Silver's and screaming and fighting during long car rides, some whining, and maybe ultimately a photo of someone watching a tv in bed from a hotel. I would say it is almost universally understood that photographs on postcards are obscuring truth- it's almost part of their purpose, to fast forward things and put Rosy Retrospect into effect before the bad stories could ever be told in the first place. I don't know if most people want to receive a postcard from anyone telling me how awful their trip to anywhere from Detroit to Versailles was. Most people would rather at least be lied to and sent something that they can put on the fridge.

    I for one would love the disgusting, nitty gritty details of anyone's vacation.

    With that said, I think the photos are absolutely an important part of what postcards are all about, even if they are lies or are obscuring the truth. I really wish that Proulx would have included pictures in her novel. I know that's not exactly a realistic expectation, but it would really make it even more of a postmodern work, giving a more full, realistically unrealistic picture of what is going on (or not going on), if that makes even half a shred of sense.