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J. Wood’s Otherville Book Club – 5.04 “The Little Prince”

By J. Wood,

  Filed under: J. Wood's Otherville Book Club, Lost News
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“The Little Prince” post at Powell’s Books comes with two main texts referenced overall, but those two open up a menu of possibilities.

The main text is of course Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (1943). Exupéry, a pilot, wrote the book after crashing his plane in the Sahara and being stranded for a couple weeks; it gave him some time to think. It’s a children’s book, so one might not expect much literariness from it. But like the fox in the book says, “words are the source of misunderstandings,” and there are a few tricky elements that can show us something about Lost.

The second main text discussed in the post was hidden away in some code from the latest alternate reality game. That code was dragged back up with the Ajira Airways bottle found in the outrigger, and takes us back to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The line itself was hexadecimal code hidden inside the sourcecode for one of the Ajira Airways web pages: “So off they started about Irish sport and shoneen games the like of lawn tennis and about hurley and putting the stone and racy of the soil and building up a nation once again and all of that.”

That line comes from the “Cyclops” chapter of Ulysses, a famously multivalent and multi-voiced psychological novel that constantly plays with narrative perspective and the relationship of the reader to the text. Many novels/films/etc. have shown multiple voices, but in terms of constantly-shifting perspectives, Ulysses serves as a literary precursor for the kind of variety of perspective offered in Lost. The key is how those voices are shown.

The main ideas that relate to Lost are the multiple perspectives presented; the strange, shifting and somewhat deceptive relation of audience to narrator (which is also seen in a shot from Lost’s pilot episode); hurley; Leopold Bloom’s overinterpretation; a chara/Achara – one is from “Cyclops,” one was Jack’s tattooist/definer; and ghosts.

When talking about Ulysses, you’re also always talking about a library of other books. In this case, the following are discussed:

  • Homer’s Odyssey: The thematic structural model Joyce used for each chapter.
  • Hugh Kenner, Joyce’s Voices: Kenner came up with the idea of the Uncle Charles Principle, where the third-person narrator is a little too close to the character it’s narrating. In film/television, we see a similar sort of thing in the way the camera frames a character-specific episode.
  • Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics: The Russian critic came up with a theory of the ‘polyphonic novel,’ or the novel of many voices. He started working on the idea at the same time Joyce published Ulysses, and published his theory in 1929. Since then, Ulysses has often been identified as a polyphonic novel.
    • The main idea is that traditionally, a third-person narrator’s perspective is privileged over the characters of a work. Looking at Dostoevsky, including Crime & Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Bakhtin argued for a new kind of structure where the voice of the narrator is not privileged over the voices of the multiple characters. The audience is left to consider the variety of perspectives and determine for themselves what the meaning of the text is, rather than be handed the meaning from the narrator. (Bakhtin also acknowledges Joyce in his text.) This is very much in the mode of the way Lost presents its narrative; the audience is constantly getting a variety of perspectives on events, we never know which is the privileged or “right” one, and we’re left to debate the meaning ourselves.
    • William Faulkner also produced polyphonic texts like As I Lay Dyingand The Sound and the Fury. Many of his texts were set in a fictional Mississippi locale called Yoknapatawpha County, which appears in the document Sun receives in her hotel – see Doc Arzt’s cleaned-up transcription of the page.
  • Umberto Eco’s Interpretation and Overinterpretation also comes up again in relation to the Ulysses passage, both in terms of what the passage suggests and what it means in relation to Lost (hint; it’s a lot about overinterpretation).

The post finishes with a discussion of a text mentioned in last week’s comments, Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906). The main question was about one passage of his book describing the Son of Man moving “the wheel of the world” and being crushed on it (like Ben turning the subterranean wheel of the island).

For Schweitzer, that event meant the “irruption,” or an abrupt incursion, of the kingdom of god into the present. In other words, he believed that Christians were supposed to live as if the future they were waiting for was already at hand. For Lost, the idea is literalized, as the characters constantly irrupt into different points of history as a result of Ben turning the wheel.

Until next week —