Amoeblog

Giving up the Ghost: Ghost World

Posted by Charles Reece, April 15, 2012 11:57pm | Post a Comment
john barth end of the road   ghost world enid

[This essay originally appeared as part of a roundtable over at The Hooded Utilitarian.]

Reading Daniel Clowes' Ghost World again got me to thinking about John Barth’s nihilist novel, The End of the Road. The latter begins at a bus station; the former ends at a bus stop. And much like Barth’s protagonist, Jacob Horner, Enid spends the duration of the story searching for an identity, but only succeeds in finding what she’s not. Horner is a middle-aged academic type who’s managed to think himself into a hole, not seeing any potential action as better grounded than another -- sort of an infinite regress of self. Thus, he’s sitting in a bus station in a state of existential paralysis, not able to even come up with a good reason to get on a bus and leave his former (non-) life behind. The abiding gloom that pervades all of Ghost World's vignettes -- undercutting Enid’s hipper-than-thou detachment from those around her -- is a sense that she’s headed to the same destination as Horner: nowhere.

I figure there must be some consilience here, since kinukitty’s main reason for not liking Clowes’ book -- that it’s neither real nor funny -- reminds me of Barth’s prefatory defense of his story:

Jacob Horner […] embodies my conviction that one may reach such a degree of self-estrangement as to feel no coherent antecedent for the first-person-singular pronoun. […] If the reader regards [this] egregious [condition] (as embodied by the [narrator]) as merely psychopathological -- that is, as symptomatic rather than emblematic -- the [novel] make[s] no moral-dramatic sense. [p. viii]

I realize that if one has to defend something as funny, it’s never going to make it so to those not laughing. This is particularly true of existentialist humor, since it’s kind of the obverse of prat falls, namely only funny when it happens to me. So I’m going to stick to the reality of Enid’s predicament. The End of the Road is a bit abstract, where Horner goes through a series of fanciful psychotherapeutic treatments in search of a cure (the search is, of course, at the insistence of a psychiatrist). The most relevant of these is mythotherapy, which involves acting in a chosen character role with the purpose of having it stick ghost world enid beckythrough habituation -- an irrational solution to a rational psychosis. Clowes treats the identity formation of teenagers in much the same way, but with a recognizant teen who, like Horner, can’t ignore the ontological arbitrariness undergirding the whole process. Just because teens regularly slip into an adult role without much of a hitch doesn’t mean that there’s not a good deal of truth in her depicted inertia.

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AFI Fest Review: Melancholia

Posted by Charles Reece, November 28, 2011 04:00pm | Post a Comment
melancholia poster

Much of Melancholia is structured similarly to Dogville, making its audience endure the tedium of von Trier's miserabilism for the inevitable big bang pay off. In Dogville, it was the heroine slaughtering an entire town for the various ways the citizens raped her in the previous two hours of screen time, but here it's literally the cataclysm of two worlds colliding -- that, I should note, makes the best use of low end frequencies in any film I've ever heard. (In the director's oeuvre, women have participated in the destruction of their own bodies, their family, their neighbors and now their entire civilization -- where will his heroines go from here?) This isn't a spoiler, since von Trier gives away the plot in the apocalyptic précis that constitutes the first 10 minutes or so of the film. Filmed in an ominously metaphysical slow-motion, this phantasmagoria is surely the best part of the film and a visual allusion to doleful Justine's ultimate fantasy. The film could only go down hill from there as it fills in her dreamy ellipses with the mundane drama that's the majority of the two acts that follow.

In the first act, we see Justine's melancholia destroy her new marriage during the wedding festivities. In "Melancholy and the Act," Slavoj Žižek argues melancholia is a pathological identification with a lost object that's being mourned before it's even lost. Because the identification is fundamentally narcissistic, about what Justine lacks, her husband (the object) can never fulfill what was the cause of the desire, namely a desire for her own desire itself. That is, melancholy "stands for the presence of the object itself deprived of the desire for itself -- [it] occurs when we finally get the desired object, but are disappointed with it." [p. 148, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?] Once acquired, the husband loses his ability to fill the void -- to short-circuit the desiring feedback loop -- in Justine's life, so she loses her desire for him (which was actually lacking in the first place). She mourns having lost him before he finally gives up and leaves her.

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Having Fun with Stalin: Žižek on Rose

Posted by Charles Reece, October 30, 2011 08:58am | Post a Comment
slavoj zizek charlie rose

When I'm not looking for videos of Danzig or pro-wrestling, watching Slavoj Žižek is how I spend a good deal of my internet time. He recently appeared on The Charlie Rose Show. Turns out, the two share an interest in Josef Stalin. But that discussion gets interrupted with topics like the philosopher's speech at the Occupy Wall Street rally, the Egyptian uprising -- both of which are the focus of his latest LRB essay -- Chinese capitalism and the ideology in Kung Fu Panda and Titanic. The Titanic analysis is a taste of what's to come in his and Sophie Fiennes' sequel to The Pervert's Guide to Cinema:

pervert's guide to ideology

Keeping Up Appearances: Lady Gaga Expresses Herself and the 53rd Grammy Awards

Posted by Charles Reece, February 13, 2011 11:33pm | Post a Comment

From the Lacanian perspective, what then is appearance at its most radical? Imagine a man having an affair about which his wife doesn't know, so when he is meeting his lover, he pretends to be on a business trip or something similar; after some time, he gathers the courage and tells the wife the truth that, when he is away, he is staying with his lover. However, at this point, when the front of happy marriage falls apart, the mistress breaks down and, out of sympathy with the abandoned wife, avoids meeting her lover. What should the husband do in order not to give his wife the wrong signal? How not to let her think that the fact that he is no longer so often on business trips means that he is returning to her? He has to fake the affair and leave home for a couple of days, generating the wrong impression that the affair is continuing, while, in reality, he is just staying with some friend. This is appearance at its purest: it occurs not when we put up a deceiving screen to conceal the transgression, but when we fake that there is a transgression to be concealed. In this precise sense, fantasy itself is for Lacan a semblance: it is not primarily the mask which conceals the Real beneath, but, rather, the fantasy of what is hidden behind the mask. So, for instance, the fundamental male fantasy of the woman is not her seductive appearance, but the idea that this dazzling appearance conceals some imponderable mystery.
-- Slavoj Žižek [emphasis mine here, but his below]

The internet is already aflutter with Lady Gaga's obvious appropriation of Madonna's "Express Yourself" for her new single, "Born This Way," which she performed tonight on the Grammys (in a style more or less like what you can see in the above video). In an interview with 60 Minutes before the show, she referred to herself as a sociologist of fame, "academic" in her research. This research doesn't seem to have taken her much further than Madonna, but her rediscovery of the latter's wheel of fortune contains a good deal of truth to it. After all, Madonna was a master at tweaking the mainstream, having it think that its boundaries were being transgressed while the status quo remained. Turning her concerts into self help seminars, Lady Gaga passes on the secrets of her success to her fans between songs: you can be anything you pretend to be as long as you wear a believable costume. Honesty here is a matter of being true to the mask one wears. There's no pretense that anything's underneath. When photographers want to shoot who she "really is," she replies that her appearance is who she really is. Her costumes mask the fact that there is nothing being hidden. So she's a good Lacanian:

In order to exemplify the structure of such redoubled deception, Lacan evoked the anecdote about the competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasios, two painters from the ancient Greece, about who will paint a more convincing illusion. First, Zeuxis produced such a realistic picture of grapes that birds were lured into picking at it to eat the grape. Next, Parrhasios won by painting on the wall of his room a curtain, so that Zeuxis, when Parrhasios showed him his painting, asked him: "OK, now please pull aside the veil and show me what you painted!" In Zeuxis's painting, the illusion was so convincing that image was taken for the real thing; in Parrhasios' painting, the illusion resided in the very notion that what we see in front of us is just a veil covering up the hidden truth. This is also how, for Lacan, feminine masquerade works: she wears a mask to make us react like Zeuxis in front of Parrhasios' painting - OK, put down the mask and show us what you really are!

Too bad she's not a better musician.

cee lo gwyneth paltrow muppets grammys

It's a bit like making notes from the underground when commenting on the Grammys, but I can't help thinking masks are about all that's left of popular music. I saw Usher's little white hope imitating Michael Jackson, a black Elton John singing with an emaciated Miss Piggy, and Muse ripping off Marilyn Manson. Then there were the tributes, which, to be kind, only served to remind me of the absence of those being celebrated: Norah Jones, John Mayer and Keith Urban trying to do Dolly Parton; Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston and some gals I didn't recognize trying to do Aretha Franklin; Mick Jagger trying to do Solomon Burke; and Bob Dylan trying to do Bob Dylan. And "country" has come to simply mean fatter than pop stars (Lady Antebellum), while "indy rock," uglier (Arcade Fire). As popular music has increasingly crossed class, genre, race, age and region -- has become music for anyone (at least, according to the Grammys) -- it's done so by being homogeneous sludge. It's easier to hear actual distinctions in electronic dance music. I'm not disagreeing with Lacan, just saying no one's good at painting believable curtains these days.

... and so on and so on: Slavoj Žižek

Posted by Charles Reece, September 6, 2008 06:04pm | Post a Comment

Since I used Slavoj Žižek's latest book, Violence, in my discussion of the latest Batman flick, I figured why not link to this recent interview Michael Krasny conducted with the man himself. Just push 'play' for the best stand-up comedian of today:
 

 
Therein you will hear Žižek discuss, among other things, The Dark Knight (ideology at its purest), violent video games (he lets his 7 year old play Grand Theft Auto, but is wary of Disney films), rape (why masochists would be the most traumatized), Hugo Chavez (how authoritarians are as pragmatic as everyone else), the mystery of Stalinism (why Stalinists terrorized themselves), the honesty of fascism (it kept its promise to kill minorities), and so on and so on. Theory comes out as flakes on the corners of his mouth -- philosophy as a 3-day meth binge.

While I'm at it, here's some more fun stuff:

From his
Q&A with the Guardian:
 


Cultural criticism is now second only to being in a rock band as the great
equalizer: Žižek with fourth wife, Analio Hounie, an Argentinian
model who just happens to like reading Lacan.

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