Only Revolutions Commentary

Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions

Chapter 8 of How We Think offers an analysis of Mark Z. Danielewski’s richly patterned print novel Only Revolutions. Operating within an elaborate set of numerical and semantic constraints, the novel invites multiple reading paths, indeed virtually requiring nonlinear reading through the juxtapositions of Sam’s and Hailey’s spatially separate and temporally disjointed narratives and their associated chronomosaics. This section of the Digital Companion offers a digital database of every word of the narratives of Only Revolutions, tagged to indicate the line and page numbers and whether it is spoken by Sam or Hailey. In addition, the names of plants, animals, cars and minerals are also indicted to allow analysis of these special categories, used in the text to introduce systematic variations throughout the narratives. Because of the multiple patterns created by the constraints, digitization here provides unusually deep insights into word choices, parallels between the narratives, and words forbidden to appear or highly constrained in their appearances.

Also included are interactive maps of the road trips as recounted in Sam’s and Hailey’s narratives, respectively. Because many of the place names could refer to locations in several different states, the maps allow more coherent and visually compelling representations than may be gleaned from the place names by themselves. The maps also reveal patterns difficult to discern from the names, including the 90 degree swerve south to New Orleans and then north again. Additionally, the maps reveal divergences as well as convergences between the two narrators’ accounts. Although both Sam’s and Hailey’s use of place names reveal a general correspondence about the road trip routes, there are also differences that may be interpretively meaningful. Finally, the maps also reveal the extravagant detours through Alaska and Hawaii that are invoked in the apocalyptic traffic jams that mark the ends of the road trips, features easily missed by readers relying solely on the place names to follow the journeys.

The remaining asset for this section of the Digital Companion is the digitized scan of the print poster published in Revue inculte #14, constructed by Danielewski from notes he prepared for his French translator. The poster reveals, in schematic form, the patterns he conceived for Only Revolutions and thus is an invaluable guide to interpretation. As the poster is now out of print and virtually unattainable, this digitized scan presents information difficult to obtain elsewhere.

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