Unmarked and Marked Literature–A Clemson Class Discussion

In today’s class, we discussed the ideas of “marked writing” and “unmarked writing” from Johanna Drucker’s book The Visible Word. The passage we read highlights the value of typography and image-like features within literature and refers to them as marked writing. Unmarked writing refers to a work of literature that does not contain a unique or creative style of design on its pages. Naturally, Danielewski’s work falls into the category of marked writing.

Drucker’s work details the reasons why unmarked writing demands a type of authority from its readers. In light of discussing power structures and how literature may or may not demand it from the reader, I think it is important to take Danielewski’s creativity into consideration. While we discussed that power is linked to transparency within literature (and Danielewski’s novel disrupts this transparency), I would argue that his work is very powerful. It does not demand the reader’s attention through clarity and monotony, but through its stark uniqueness.

While reading this work, I have felt trapped and engulfed in the multiple story lines. I think these feelings have stemmed from confusion and anticipation. If Danielewski’s novel was unmarked, it would not be as powerful in the sense that it could not completely captivate the readers like it currently does. In the section of the novel called “Bones Nest,” the power of Danielewski’s work can be clearly seen. As Xanther has a seizure, the plot is heightened by the designs on pages 242-251. The numbers in circular formats create a tension that builds up as her seizure continues. It seems as though they are supposed to represent a countdown, but do not necessarily follow any pattern. The simultaneous reading and interpretation of this design demanded from the reader during this section of the novel is moving. Even if you are (as the reader) not consciously looking at the details of the designs on these pages while reading, I believe Danielewski placed these images to create a subconscious countdown in our minds. The power in his creativity cannot be ignored and plays a large role in the novel as a whole.

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