The Maroon

“Pulpa”

Blaise Radley, English writing major

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I’ve always had a predilection for thinking and analyzing (though those close to me might preface those with ‘over’), not in a specifically anxious manner, but out of a concern that a precious piece of subtext might otherwise elude my ears. As a young child who had yet to grasp structure and storytelling conventions, entering a story in medias res would cause a weight to drop in my stomach. I’d look expectantly at the two fountains of knowledge situated either side of me, hoping I wouldn’t see a glimmer of recognition in their pools, gripped with the thought that I was now stranded in a Universe where time had ceased to function in an appropriate manner. Was there some light reading meant to accompany this family-friendly animation? Did the reading come with visual aids? Often I’d be so distracted that the subsequent explanatory flashback would barely register, and the ensuing ninety minutes would be reduced to a heady kaleidoscope of colorful time-traveling shapes, who might occasionally be accompanied by anthropomorphic animals.

With age came greater agency, and thus an ability to deconstruct further. Those thoughts that once led to helplessness, now gave me increased insight, which, when coupled with the trusty two white lines found on my remote, enabled me to ensure my grasp of visual media was total. If a scene hinted at foreshadowing (even through pathetic fallacy) I would leap for the controls, pen gripped between my teeth, hypotheses tumbling onto my trusty notepad. Though I actively avoided information that might spoil the events of the movie, I desperately attempted to spoil the movie for myself, second-guessing each knowing look or double entendre in an exhaustive manner. I didn’t so much watch one movie as map out the many movies I had the potential to view that evening, scrawling furiously about the many directions that might be found through the next doorway. Inevitably I was left unsatisfied when my preferred narrative turn was passed by, or the hint of chemistry I’d detected between two background characters never came to fruition, but it also made me feel involved, and, to some extent, in control.

I barely made it two minutes into Pulp Fiction before leaving the room. A film had never made me consider its title outside of its function as an identifier, and so my desire to delineate was insatiable. I felt the specter of anxiety ease its sinewy fingers into my cranium and begin to massage my neural pathways, coaxing me into action. Beyond the obvious postmodern visual flourish of ostensibly defining the ensuing events in such a simplistic manner, I felt pushed to consider the etymology of the word pulp, and to discern what purpose it might serve. How could I possibly begin to appreciate snappy dialogue and unorthodox narrative structure if I didn’t have a grounding in what meaning the title was attempting to convey?

The definition provided on screen by the American Heritage Dictionary was as follows:

pulp /’pəlp‘/ n. 1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.

  1. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

The problem with such an incomplete account of the word should be immediately apparent–not only does it ignore the word’s relation to juice vesicles, it completely skips over its use as a verb. I spent hours finding the roots of each usage, consistently questioning what the decision to omit part of the definition represented on both an artistic and a didactic level. Words like pulpa and pelpa blurred together till I felt the years of contortion falling away from the word, and I was left with its raw meaning. Knots I’d never noticed within me untied, as I came to comprehend the message Tarantino must have been attempting to convey. By stripping away the fruity pulp that had given the word its original meaning, he not only modernized the concept, but refined it for his purposes, making his act of defining the movie the pulping itself, and thus defined the verb form through action rather than written word. Or perhaps multiple definitions would have left the screen too cluttered, I still haven’t decided on which.

I wandered back into the lounge, clutching at miscellaneous papers, deep in introspective thought, the concept of pulp having taken me far beyond the film itself. My understandably frustrated housemate glanced up at me from the sofa, and with a snort said “Thank fuck he didn’t put up the definition for fiction too.”

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Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola
“Pulpa”