An Analysis of William T. Vollmann’s The Visible Spectrum
1897 Words8 Pages
The task of interpreting William T. Vollmann’s works seems as monumental for the reader as writing the story oneself. The text of “The Visible Spectrum”, in fact, does not feature any extensively challenging vocabulary or particularly thwarting subject matter; yet it would seem that in all of its “objectivity” and “transparency”, there lies no obvious, dominant or intended interpretation. The narrative is ambiguous in its “message” to an infinite degree, and thus the reader must construct its “meaning” given only scraps of discontinuous plot, description and dialogue.
Vollmann’s story concentrates on the private experiences of individuals in a hospital. The commonality of the setting allows the reader to make necessary assumptions about the locale, timing and purpose of these hospital visits, also permitting the author flexibility in selecting events to comprise the plot. The universality of the hospital experience (lingering in the waiting room, a doctor’s examination, and a nurse’s questioning, for example) encourages the reader to relate to these private events in a shared, public manner. In this way, Vollmann relies upon one’s knowledge of hospital procedure to make greater comments about other institutions and society in general.
Using a pseudo-scientific, case-study approach, “The Visible Spectrum” correlates the ideologies of a hospital to that of society. Vollmann’s sociological critique describes the hospital as a microcosm of the society in which it is located; although theoretically structured, efficient and beneficial to its patrons, in practice, however, the institution (and likewise, society) veils its omnipotence in the illusion of an individual’s agency and self-determination, while acting...
... middle of paper ...
...aims to a final hope or refuge for humanity, but rather concludes its hospital-as-society metaphor with a semi-entropic presentation of sociological reality as counter-utopian, desolate and irreparable.
1. Vollmann, William T. “The Visible Spectrum.” Postmodern American Fiction. Ed. Paula Geyh et al. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. 153-161.
 I suppose that characterization is not particularly necessary in this story, as one is able to ‘connect with’ a character given the generality of his or her experience (having blood drawn, for example).
 On another note, a discussion of veins and blood seems necessary in Vollmann’s work. In one sub-chapter, “People without Veins” (Vollmann, 157), it appears as though the author is hinting that the vein-less individuals (who are therefore also blood-less) are inhuman, almost robotic