Thursday, October 30, 2008

Top Ten Horror/Halloween Related Movies

Compiling this list, I tried to make it as accurate, yet original, as I could. Upon looking at several other lists, I discovered that most of these can be seen on most critics lists as well as the definitive 100 Scariest Movie Moments which aired on Bravo in 2005 and has been the regarded as the list to end all lists of the movie genre. Much like AFI’s list has its place in the back of minds as the authoritative source for the greatest works of film, the Bravo segment has put our horror in an ordered set that proves conclusive. With that said, this list is not simply a scary movie list, this has to do with the horror genre for the most part yes, but not all of the these flicks are horror outright. Many of them aren’t scary at all in their over the top ridiculousness and some of them are actual comedies—one of them isn’t even a movie. Thus I defend my picks as being anything but another, alternate list to refute the picks made by whatever selection committee Bravo employed to compose their choices. As always, comments are appreciated, so tell me what you think of the little list I have composed here, and let me know if you have anything to add about any of these films or you would like to recommend your own.

The Evil Dead Trilogy- What can I say besides Bruce Campbell is a God among men. The film “Bruce Almighty” in fact was actually a screen adaptation of BC’s life. One of the coolest things I have ever heard was a kid I knew who claims to have hooked up with Bruce’s daughter and afterwards he said “you know what’s really great about this? Your dad is Bruce Campbell!” That did not go over well, as the story goes, but everyone was in agreement that that was the only appropriate thing to say when such a thing happens. I mean who doesn’t love/idolize a guy who writes books titled If Chins Could Kill and Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way? These films are a fist full of “boomstick” and should not only be watched but studied for all those who think Z-Day is coming or who just want to see the manliest of men kick Deadite ass and look extremely cool while doing it.

The Exorcist- The last movie I watched that totally scared the shit out of me. I went to see it my senior year of high school with my lady friend at the time who was extremely averse to watching it. I told her something like “I’ll be here to protect you baby” or something like that. And for the most part I was, but when Linda Blair, in full getup, climbs down the stairs in the way that she does, which I could never accurately put to words, it really must be seen to be appreciated, I was petrified. I could then understand why people fainted, vomited, and ran out of the theater screaming when I saw that incredible scene on the big screen. I couldn’t look at the stairs in my basement where my bad faced them for weeks and slept on the couch upstairs it fucked with me so badly.

Event Horizon- Rented the film thinking it was going to be a rip off of Star Trek and/or Alien and would involve a bunch or space/science fiction stuff that I was used to. Thus I was completely unprepared for how freaky and terrifying this movie really is. I have talked to many people about this movie and all of their reactions are ultimately the same, saying something along the lines of “that was the scariest fucking movie I have ever seen.” And with the exception of The Exorcist, I would say this film staring Sam Neal and Lawrence Fishburn is, surprisingly, one of the scariest films ever made. Traveling into other dimensions that are thought to be pinnacles of human achievement, they actually open up a gateway to hell, I know it sounds cheesy but you have no idea how chilling this movie really is until you watch it and are paralyzed with absolute fear.

Halloween 1 and 2- October wouldn’t be complete without at least one viewing of each of these two John Carpenter films. These archetypal slasher flicks really should be watched together, but never watch 2 without 1. Many of the critiques that caused the second film to be so much less popular hold true—stuff like it not making any sense if you haven’t seen the original (as with any horror sequels I feel), the plot being absurd, full of cheap thrills, etc. But when viewed together, the second one has a charm that one has to like in films where upwards of a dozen young people are brutally murdered. Plus it provides conclusion which you don’t get with the first one. Though don’t even bother watching any of the ones that follow. They just aren’t very good. (Rob Zombie’s remake isn’t too bad either btw, and for someone who grew up on these flicks, there are a bunch of little nobs to original franchise. One of note is that Danielle Harris, who I sort of had a little thing for when I was a child based on her staring roles in Halloween 4 and 5, returns to the series in the role of Annie Brackett, protagonist Laurie Strode’s best bud. Malcolm McDowell takes over Donald Pleasence’s old role as Dr. Loomis, another little perk that may make this little diddy worth seeing.

In the Mouth of Madness- Another Sam Neal staring role, as well as a John Carpenter film, this 1995 film might be the director’s most chilling work. In this horror flick, a best selling author goes missing while he still churns out creepy work. Neal then goes on the hunt to find the author and ends up in one twisted town that turns out to be some kind of Hell where the books play out in real life. While staying in this hell-hole, he finds that whoever reads the book goes completely and violently insane. With people assuming he has gone mad, he is tucked away in a mental institution while a film version is in the works with anyone who watches again being instantly transformed, and considering the mass appeal and easy access to the film, the work of fiction is ready to alter the outcome of civilization.

Re-Animator- As you can probably already tell, I love myself some absurd, over the top zombie flicks and this one is right up there with Army of Darkness as being the best of the best. This is a bizarre, low budget film, that is as gory as it is darkly funny. For example, an asshole doctor who has been decapitated, carries his head around and after he ties up his colleague’s daughter, one of his student’s who is romantically involved with the medical school’s prized student, he takes the severed head and attempts to perform oral sex on the girl in the film’s most infamous scene.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein- Bud Abbott and Lou Costello team up with horror greats Bella Lugosi (the quintessential Dracula), Lon Chaney Jr. (the timeless wolf-man), and Glenn Strange (after Boris Karloff gave up the monster role afraid he was being typecast, it was Strange who would go on to star in half a dozen or more Frankenstein roles) in this monster movie spoof that was kind of a farewell to all of these great stars from the genre’s golden age. At times hilarious, even by today’s standards, it is another over the top monster movie which without would leave my list incomplete.

Scream- My favorite “teen scream” of the 1990s, this came out just when I was about to enter high school and I loved it. A bunch of hot little things running around being chased by a masked butcher sporting THOs, it was great. It also paid tribute to all the slasher flicks that came before with a horror encyclopedia incarnate. As a trilogy, Scream left something to be desired, although all three were alright in their own little ways, the original was clearly the best and the only one I will more than likely watch this Halloween season.

Silence of the Lambs- It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

The Blair Witch Project- The first time I saw this, during the summer of 99 at Tibbs Drive In, where I spent more time and energy making out/getting it on than I did watching the movie, I ended up in the concession stand buying hamburgers and nachos and missed the beginning part where it was explained that the serial killer guy would make one of the kids face the corner while he killed the other one. The girl I was with at the time also missed this bit of information although she stayed back in the car watching the movie. So when I saw the end, with that guy in the corner being the last thing we see before the camera falls to the ground and we hear screaming, I didn’t get it. I remember thinking something like WTF that does not seem like an appropriate time to just whip it out in the corner and start taking a piss, this movie sucks and is not scary, people, why are going to see this stupid, stupid movie. Then a year later, with a new gf, I was forced to watch the film I had put way out of my mind. I didn’t remember anything about it when I rewatched it on Halloween 2000. After viewing it that time though, I got why it was so goddamn scary and what all the hype was about. Good show.

Fifteen Notable Mentions: Nosferatu; Rosemary’s Baby; Psycho; Hell Raiser; The Omen; Vacancy; The Vanishing; The Howling; The Others; Thriller; A Nightmare on Elm Street; The Hitcher; House on Haunted Hill (1959); The Last House on the Left; Jacob’s Ladder

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sources of Bushido: Inazo Nitobe's Book Bushido: Samurai Ethics and the Soul of Japan

This work, written for a Western audience, was one of the first instances of any book on Japanese culture that found its way into the American literary world. Broken up into user-friendly sections with titles such as “Justice;” “The Duty of Loyalty;” “The Institutions of Suicide and Redress;” “Courage, The Spirit of Daring and Bearing;” and “Benevolence, The Feeling of Distress” it served as an introduction to not only the Samurai mindset existing in Japan, which is exaggerated for effect, but it was also one of the first discussions on the religions of Japan, of which one of the major one’s focused on was naturally Zen Buddhism, an “ethic” that is quite at odds with Bushido. However, Zen and Bushido do seem to share something of a bond in their development and also in the traditions that shape the two if not outright molding each other. With that said, Inazo’s study is rather interesting and easy to digest for the Western reader, though its claim of bushido being “the Soul of Japan” is far from the truth at his time of writing, though leading up to WWII it did find itself more prevalent, deployed as a system of control since it stresses absolute loyalty to one’s master, a complete submission to fate, and the deeply rooted sense of familial/clan honor.

One account depicted by Inazo that I found remarkable in its similarity to a technique found in the peaceful and pacifistic Zen was with samurai in training and Zen bodhisattvas’ practice of endurance in waiting outside of the training ground which he defends against claims of being a seemingly “ultra-Spartan system” (22) since they are ways of testing one’s commitment to their cause. We have all, presumably, heard of this practice before in one form or another—in the Sex and the City episode “Great Sexpectations,” the title of which makes me want to go and spill the groceries for some many different reasons, had Charlotte waiting outside of a synagogue trying to convince a rabbi she was legit in her interest of converting to Judaism and in the 1999 film Fight Club[i] when Tyler Durbin makes members of Fight Club wanting to partake in Project Mayhem stand for a three-day period on his front doorstep while he shouts discouragingly at the would be member of the tribe[ii]—but I never associated with the samurai, I assumed it a strictly Zen phenomenon until reading this book.

While this little anecdote I found believable, some of the other Zen/samurai connections made by Inazo were something of a stretch. This is especially so when Inazo writes about the compassion of the warrior, which sort of strikes me as an oxymoron since he goes into such painstaking detail about how the samurai is one of action. Action here translates into killing. So when he says “benevolence to the weak, the down-trodden or the vanquished, was ever extolled as peculiarly becoming to a samurai,” (28) you sort of have to do a double take and wonder if he is talking about the same class of people that we equate with Kill Bill. While I do think there probably is some truth to this, samurai’s couldn’t go around killing people willy-nilly after all, I think that probably had more to do with social norms rather than compassion per se. This claim is most ludicrous when detailing the tea ceremony, a Zen staple, in any other than what it represented for the samurai—a means of control.

Inazo writes, “the tea ceremony presents certain definite ways of manipulating a bowl, a spoon, a napkin, etc,” (34). I can’t help but think one of those things he yadda-yaddas is in fact the human being participating here. I do not limit this to tea ceremony or Zen or bushido, that goes for any system that seeks to control its subjects rather than actually “enlighten” them. Inazo could have been writing of Christian dogma, or any dogma for that matter, when he writes “the spiritual significance of social decorum…is out of all proportion to what their appearance warrants us in believing.” Be it Buddhism, samurai ethics, Christianity, Islam, whatever, when you place “spiritual significance” on “social decorum,” your religions motives have the wrong idea in mind, especially considering pretty much all of the religions I can think of started out, at least in part, as a way of challenging, not enforcing the status quo. “Social decorum,” to stay in line, to be a part of the state’s mechanism for suppressing true freedom, those are the attributes being highlighted here. But it gets weirder:

That calmness of mind, that serenity of temper, that composure and quietness of demeanour which are the first essentials of Cha-no-yu (chanoyu), are without doubt the first conditions of right thinking and right feeling… The utmost refinement of taste is the object aimed at; whereas anything like display is banished with religious horror. The very fact that it was invented by a contemplative recluse, in a time when wars and the rumours of wars were incessant, is well calculated to show that this institution was more than a pastime. Before entering the quiet precincts of the tea-room, the company assembling to partake of the ceremony laid aside, together with their swords, the ferocity of battle-field or the cares of government, there to find peace and friendship. Cha-no-yu (chanoyu) is more than a ceremony—it is a fine art; it is poetry, with articulate gestures for rhythms: it is a modus operandi of soul discipline. (36)

This explicit reference to the 8-Fold Noble Path, naming two of the spokes in the dharma wheel, “right thinking” and “right feeling,” either looks to mislead the Western public about the relationship between these two systems or greatly misunderstands these two concepts. I don’t believe that if you could somehow talk to Bodhidharma (sp?) and ask him if it was maybe like ok to disembowel someone with a razor sharp samurai sword and still practice “right action.” No, that would be ludicrous. It is no different to dwell on doing it or not doing it either since neither one is what you would call a healthy type of thought filled with compassion, not to mention it is seeing this dualistically and is also a form of attachment which are also Buddhist principles that it breaks. But these are ignored. While there may be more connections and the two could, one could argue, be more closely tied than first appears to be, to throw around one or two elements from a doctrine without thoroughly explaining it as a way to like show how they can be reconciled is basically bullshit.

In this light, Inazo’s declaration that “what Christianity has done in Europe toward rousing compassion in the midst of belligerent horrors, love of music and letters has done in Japan. The cultivation of tender feelings breeds considerate regard for the sufferings of others. Modesty and complaisance, actuated by respect for others' feelings, are at the root of politeness,” (31) becomes chilling as our view changes and we see the control units placed upon us in the name of Christ.

To be fair, he does try to throw in some more 8-FNP stuff in there, for example, he explains that one practicing Gi-ri (Right Reason) and doing what that part of the psyche tells the samurai to do, one “does not rush to deeds of virtue, recourse must be had to man’s intellect and his reason must be quickened to convince him of the necessity of acting right,” (18). As a nice little touch, he adds, “the same is true of any other moral obligation.” This is another example of abomination on Inazo’s part since he takes the 8-FNP, which is designed to cease suffering for all sentient beings, and specifically tries to justify why it is ok to go out of your way to cause suffering in sentient beings. You can’t rectify this really without some fancy maneuvering I don’t think, but we don’t even get that. Inazo banks on us not knowing shit about Buddhism and when he was writing I am sure this was the case. But now Zen is hot. Richard Gear is Buddhist. Our Western theologians and spiritualists are even influenced by the Zen world view. Thus for readers with any background or basic knowledge of Buddhism, his arguments are going to seem pretty unconvincing as for the Zen nobility of the samurai class.

This ties in with the fact that both bushido and Zen also share a weariness of book-learning, which are considered intellect inferior to ethics and emotions, in these versions of extreme transcendentalism which consider their practices not an end but a means. In the “Era of Warring States” that found both systems coming into prominence, time was defined by confusion and people looked to these belief structures as ways of making sense of the state of being and to provide some order in the chaos of a life of uncertainty made exceedingly dangerous with the hostile environment. Bushido then originated as a type of code with the point of providing safe conduct in a feudal society (see page 15). He explains in a way that is typical of the “Sudden Enlightenment” school of Zen, that “samurai was essentially a man of action. Science was without the pale of his activity,” (57). Yet here, when he could make his case for the two being directly related, he totally down plays the connect saying “[the samurai] took advantage of it in so far as it concerned his profession of arms. Religion and theology were relegated to the priests; he concerned himself with them in so far as they helped to nourish courage.” Thus trying to legitimate bushido as an ethical system, I don’t know why he would even say this since it undercuts the point he is really trying to make, unless that is he trying to say that bushido is the only ethical system when you break it down, which I think he is getting at, but even this idea is one appropriated from Zen.

Loyalty to the truth, you would think, would have some bearing here since he goes on and on about it all over the place. But what we get is a highly romanticized version of the samurai consciousness in early 20th century Japan. The idea of a “national consciousness,” based on Shinto beliefs, was one of extreme obedience to the imperial family. This system also found much of its support in such Zen influences as the Chinese thinkers Confucius and Mencius, both of whom stressed loyalty to the state. This basically became a part of the “soul of Japan” at about the time that Inazo was writing his book. Before then, loyalty was paid by the samurai, in some but by no means in all cases, to his retainer but it was a system not shared by all of Japan as he would lead you to believe. That was a product of Japanese nationalism which was fueled by propaganda that emphasized the bushido code of ethics, much like this book does.

All in all, the book is pretty interesting even if it is completely full of shit. There are also some ESL issues in Inazo’s writing and he doesn’t exactly cite his sources very well. I don’t really think this book worth your time unless you find bushido an interesting topic but be warned this is a terrible source if you are writing a research paper.

[i] Granted, I should have seen this as being more of a violent practice than the one undertaken in Zen, but at the time I saw these men as being modern day, secular ascetics who were above worldly things that someone could place a price tag on. I still do, actually, but now I have come to learn that they are meant to be more of the blindly loyal followers of their master more representative of the samurai class than with Zen monks who are encouraged to hold onto nothing, even the teachings/sayings of their noble masters. FYI, I also saw the Jedi of Star Wars as being more like Zen monks rather than the samurai they were clearly supposed to be because of their Buddhist principles that I later learned were the principles I write about above that were the ones adopted by the samurai class from Zen. But, the introduction of “metachlorians” negates any real choice of entering into a sacred brotherhood that shouldn’t be about birthright and garbage like those worldly things which also ruined the whole Star Wars saga for me to be perfectly honest.
[ii] See Reading in-between the lines: An analysis of Fight Club for an analysis of this scene, among others, though not what you would call "academic," the "analysis" touches on the Zen aspect saying “This is how the Buddhist temples have tested applicants going back for bah-zillion years…You tell the applicant to go away, and if his resolve is so strong that he waits at the entrance without food or shelter or encouragement for three days, then and only then can he enter and begin training.” For an interesting take on Fight Club as a whole through a Zen perspective, see Charlie Reed’s essay in Journal of Religion and Film, which I have linked, titled Fight Club: An Exploration of Buddhism as well as Steve Olson’s Discovering Zen take on the remarkable film and how it ties in to Zen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blake’s Innocence: Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man through a Theological Perspective

William Blake, protagonist of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 Western Dead Man, died the moment he decided to go to Machine. Machine is his Hell, but not “the end of the line.” Up until he kills Gabriel Byrne’s character he is dying in the way in which we all are, moment after moment he comes closer to his day of judgment just as we all move closer to death as every second passes. After this bloody act, however, he becomes a marked man and lives on borrowed time. It is sin that causes his death: the sexual desire, the murder, and the greed all kill him. I argue that these sins (as in the seven deadly sins) manifest themselves in human form throughout the film as Blake continues on his spiritual quest.

Blake’s journey begins with the character taking a train ride into his own abyss. As the train progresses toward the town of Machine, he drifts in and out of consciousness the as groups of people, appearing increasingly wilder, get on and off while the landscape turns bleaker and bleaker. During the ride, the only person who talks to Blake (a conductor played by Crispin Glover), sits across from him and in the first words spoken in the picture begins:

“Look out the window. And doesn't this remind you of when you were in the boat, and then later that night, you were lying, looking up at the ceiling, and the water in your head was not dissimilar from the landscape, and you think to yourself, ‘Why is it that the landscape is moving, but the boat is still?’”

Two major developments arise from this scene: first, the audience notices a surreal/dreamlike quality which persists throughout due to the oddness that immediately opens the film and secondly, in speaking about the “boat”, the conductor is actually prophesizing Blake’s death. This death is not clear to the first time viewer; however, future problems are clearly foreshadowed when the conductor explains to Blake that he has come “all this way to Hell.”

Once reaching his final destination, Blake discovers that Machine really is a type of godless hell where his true journey will begin. In this town he sees death (in the animal skulls that decorate the buildings and coffins propped against them), filth (the streets are literally filled with dirt and manure), and sex and violence (a man in between two buildings forces a woman at gunpoint to perform oral sex on him). What is worse, things continue to deteriorate as he finds the job he has been promised by the owner of steel company (John Dickinson) has been given to someone else. With no money and no one to help him, Blake has hit rock bottom or so it seems. Having no other prospects, Blake goes to a bar and buys a small bottle of whiskey. After leaving, he sees a woman (Thel Russel) get thrown in the mud by a man who says “we liked you better when you was a whore.” Coming to her aid, Blake starts to move toward the good, he is overwhelmed with a sense to do right even though he is surrounded by forces of extreme evil. At this point he is invited back to the woman’s hotel room changing his luck for the better. Here he has a place to stay and a woman who loves him (at least physically). But this reversal of fortune does not last.

Meeting this mysterious woman, while providing temporal security, does not make Blake whole. In Thel his quest for a place of belonging has been satisfied but that sort of satisfaction is only temporary since everyone parts in the end through death (if not sooner). The separation between Thel and Blake does not take long. Walking in on the couple in bed together, Charlie Dickinson (former fiancée of Thel and son of John Dickinson) fires his pistol at Blake. Instead of slaying the protagonist, Charlie shoots the woman of his affection, killing her instantly. While physically alive, the bullet that killed Thel passes through her body and lodges its self into Blake, from this point on he is living on borrowed time. This bullet will eventually kill him; the narrative is now one long death scene. Afraid for his life, Blake then shoots Charlie in the neck, fatally wounding him. This random occurrence puts the spiritual quest into motion as he now has to leave his own personal hell. Trying to figure things out, unsure of what to do with his life that is clearly in the gutter, the search begins as he flees the town. The spirit is forced on him; his spirit is taking him to where it belongs, a crossing over from the real into the unknown. Throughout the whole dream-like-journey, William Blake begins to experience the frailty and confusion that defines reality and is personified here in the seven deadly sins in this case lust. One can see Charlie as lust incarnate because he lusted after Blake’s partner. In trying to kill Blake because of his desire for Thel, Charlie could be viewed as envious. This however does not seem to be the case considering this act is primarily a crime of passion. Charlie desires (but did not respect or love) the woman and that drove him to attack Blake, not because he was envious, but because of his total obsession with the girl. Upon killing Charlie, Blake has encountered and overcome the first of the seven but in order to finish the quest, he must overcome each of them in due time.

Having undertaken the quest, the other six must be dealt with to reach enlightenment. No easy task, Blake seems helpless against these powers. However, to assist him in overcoming the personified sins, Blake receives a spiritual guide to lead him away from the evils of this world. Regaining consciousness in the wilderness after fleeing the scene of the crime, he finds himself in the presence of a large Native American trying to dislodge the metal from Blake’s chest. Here, Blake is acknowledged as a “dead man” for the first time when the man asks him “did you kill the white man who killed you?” He then responds “I’m not dead” but he is: he has yet to accept it but he is a dead man. This man named ‘Nobody’ soon takes on the Virgil-like task of guiding him through Hell where people are defined by one of the seven sins.

With someone to lead him through this cold, unforgiving world, he is now ready to take on the next part of the journey. A fugitive of the law, he wonders through the wilderness where he stumbles upon “three stupid white men” representing gluttony, greed, and sloth. Testing his disciple’s ability to overcome these evils, Nobody forces Blake to meet them head-on. Assessing the task asked of him, Blake would really rather not go stating “I don’t know them and they don’t look very friendly, what if they kill me?” However, his guide will not allow him to skip the parts of his journey that he finds difficult. He must deal with all of them no matter the sense of danger. Luckily, he has Nobody (a clever pun used in the film her) to “observe.” In one of the more hilarious scenes of the film, Blake goes down to meet the three men who are arranged into a sort of grotesque family unit with one of them taking on a motherly type role by wearing a dress and cooking their dinner. As Blake confronts the three men in the wilderness, the man in the dress (Sally Jenko) quotes the scripture but interprets it incorrectly. This man who preaches the “Word of God” but knows nothing of what he is saying and he lives a dubious lifestyle to say the least. Sally then represents slothfulness because he fails to love God with his whole heart, he reads the Scripture but never takes the time to learn its message and ultimately leads others astray for which he does not care.

The other two men Benmont Tench (gluttony) and Big George (greed) are just as evil and together they pose a very dangerous threat to the quest. Both the men want Blake (it is implied to use him sexual) but for different reasons. Benmont desires Blake because he was simply there. He does not need him at all; he wants to indulge just to do so embodying gluttony.[1] Big George, on-the-other-hand, wants Blake all to himself because Benmont wanted him too saying “if I want this one I’ll have him too by God.” This makes George greedy in the worst of ways since he uses Blake to assert power over his comrades asserting that if he couldn’t have him then nobody could. And Nobody does, coming to his rescue, killing thus helping Blake overcome the evils.

The remaining three evils out to destroy that quest take the form of the three bounty hunters out to kill Blake. The audience learns that these three are much more dangerous and much more a threat to Blake’s quest. These three hired guns, Johnny “the kid” Pickett (wrath), Conway Twill (envy), and Cole Wilson (pride) represent the most deadly of the seven and rightly portrayed as assassins. Pursuing Blake for their reward, the three begin to fight amongst themselves and the audience learns that Cole is the worst of them all. Telling Pickett about Cole’s past, Twill begins the first of the quarrel among the three saying Cole “fucked his parents, he killed them and he ate them. He ain’t got no God damned conscience.” Twill, seeing that he lacks Cole’s reputation as a killer, encourages Pickett to kill Cole since he is disrespectful to “The Kid.” Here one notices how the two evils manifest. Twill envies Cole’s status and wants to see him dead. He is envious both in the classic sense and in the more modern; he wants Cole to fail and also wants what he has. Pickett, because of Twill’s words, is less willing to deal with Cole’s demands and more prone to wrath. With this the evils start to consume each other and all are consumed by pride, the root of all sin, and do not actually come face to face with Blake but still pose a threat to his journey.

In Cole, the audience does not just hear about the evil things he has allegedly done, they get to see it firsthand. At times one thinks that Twill’s story may be part of his “legend” until he kills Pickett and eats Twill. After Cole shoots Pickett from behind for cursing at him, the two remaining sins come across two marshals (discussed later) Blake had recently killed. Falling into an extinguished fire pit, one marshals resembles a sort of sun god in the way that he is positioned. Cole says that he “looks like a goddamn religious icon” and grotesquely smashes his head with the bottom of his boot. One sees pride going out of its way to destroy the quest illustrated here with the head stomp. Pride wants to end the quest because it believes in only itself. It doesn’t need the spirit or a higher power, all it needs is it’s self. With this action Cole is basically saying “Screw God, I can do it on my own.” That is even too much for greed it would seem. But then again, pride doesn’t need the other sins anyway, through pride all the others follow but it is ultimately pride that ruins the quest.

Central to Nobody’s teaching is the need to forgo one’s desires by eliminating pride. It is important to note that Nobody has also undertaken a spiritual quest and has learned that pride is the root of all sin. Not respected in his tribe because his parents belonged to warring tribes, Nobody is an outcast among his people. Wondering alone as a boy, he was kidnapped by whites and his spirit seemed to have left him. Taken and forced to become a sort of living museum or a type of zoo animal for the white world, he is an outcast there as well. Taken to England as a “young savage,” he imitated them so they would lose interest but it only grew. Put into schools, he discovered the work of William Blake. After eventually escaping, he goes back and sees the destruction of his people. Once reunited with his people, the stories of his adventures angered them, he was called him a liar and given the name “He who talks loud but says nothing” (but he prefers to be called Nobody). Pride made his tribe deny him as a person so he became a true outcast. Ridiculed by his own people, left to wonder the earth alone, he was then able to realize his true identity: a nobody.

Even with a fellow outcast who has experienced and learned first hand the negative effects of evil, Blake has trouble following his master. Blake does not always listen to his guide and frustrating him, causing him to lose focus, delaying the quest. As a result, the guide leaves him from time to time. He does this in order to allow Blake to grow on his own. Nobody hints at why he leaves him to fend for himself when he says that “quest for vision is a great blessing… to do so one must go without food and water, all the sacred spirits recognize those who fast, it is good to prepare for a journey in this way.” Here, Nobody leaves Blake because he knows that his student is unable to fend for himself so fasting is really his only option. He must experience the world for himself not rely on others. Through this he will be ready to let go of the desires he holds so dear. Blake, at this point, wants some peyote but Nobody says it is not for him, he is not ready for this part of the spiritual journey. The visions would be too much for him at that point. On the drug, Nobody sees Blake for what he is, a dead man, in the form of a skull. That is what we all really are as far as the flesh goes, but as Blake shows, the spirit goes on anyway and searches for meaning despite eventual death.

Returning to the scene where Blake kills the two marshals, this concept becomes even more interesting. In shooting them dead, one observes Blake beginning to accept his new way of life. When they see Blake in the distance, they ask “are you William Blake?” He replies “yes I am, do you know my poetry” and shows them his new talent by killing them. While he does this he quotes the poem “some are born to endless night.” In this scene, Blake demonstrates that he now embracing the quest that he has undertaken and all that comes with it. Although he is committing unlawful acts that one could argue are wicked in nature, he does what the quest demands of him. Things of the world lose their importance in light of the truly significant. Urgency decides the odyssey. The old Blake is dead and the new Blake must accept his new way of life.

Underlying much of Nobody’s philosophy is the poetry of the historic William Blake which causes some confusion among Nobody, Blake (the character), and the audience. Early in the film after calling Blake a “dead man”, the two characters begin the following dialogue:

Nobody: What name were you given at birth stupid white man?
Blake: William Blake.
Nobody: Then you really are a dead man.

Nobody: You were a poet and a painter, now you are a killer.

In this sense, the past really doesn’t matter in the film as a whole, whether he was a poet or an accountant is not the point. The quest is infinitely within the present. What was done in the past is of little concern, but he cannot escape it. He is always responsible for his past mistakes but in the spiritual quest it is not the most important thing. The quest is in the here and now, the past does not dictate it, it only dictates where he is, not where he goes or what is happening. So when Nobody says “this gun will replace your tongue, you will speak through it, and your poetry will be written in blood,” he illustrates the fact that change is inevitable and Blake’s former life is no longer relevant. The irony of this case of mistaken identities becomes even more significant when looking at the poem “Auguries of Innocence” written by the historical William Blake frequently quoted by Nobody. Consider the last lines of Blake’s poem:

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some are Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro' the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

Here, Blake is discontent with the wickedness of humanity. Because man is wicked, he is a creature of the night, Cole and Nobody are both equal in this aspect. What separates them, however, is Nobody’s piety and Cole’s lack there of. This illustrates that everyone’s choices ultimately lead them to death but those with faith become souls who dwell in the day.

At this point it is helpful to turn to the historical William Blake, a painter/poet/printer known for his religious fury, argues that man’s corruption causes all suffering. This belief, shown best in his interpretation of “The Book of Job,” illustrates Blake’s indignation for his country and among other things religion. Blake believes that Job, for example, was not innocent and just. He feels that Job was punished for being too indulgent and greedy. In his painting “All of His Children were Eating and Drinking”, Blake shows Satan destroying Job’s family who chose pleasure over the love of God. The transitory life should give way to the religious life of faith in God and the world to come. In “Dead Man”, Blake is a man who indulges in sex and alcohol while lusting for money, qualities that ultimately kill him. His poetry is different than that of William Blake the poet because his is literally written in blood. Poetry for Depp’s Blake shine through as his character’s body count rises and he has thus damned his soul to Hell. This Hell is the one he has created through the sins that Blake criticizes. Our lives are a series of choices that we must live with which are echoed in Blake’s lines “It is right it should be so;/ Man was made for Joy & Woe;/ And when this we rightly know/ Thro' the World we safely go.”

Now that Blake is starting to let go of his former life, he begins to let his attachments drift away slowly fading into the universe. Death is approaching but now is almost ready to accept it but pride still attempts to end the quest. For example, finding a dead baby deer, Blake rubs its blood on his face. This strange sequence is meant to show the viewer that Blake is readying himself for his being one with the universe culminating in death. As he lies with the deer, spooning it, he looks up at the sky signifying his being in the world and his relationship to nature. He is preparing himself while at the same time blending into that spiritual world that he catches glimpses of in the sky. This is followed by a beautiful scene where Blake and nobody travel by horseback through dense forest of trees that are much older than America itself setting the journey in a timeless realm. In the past, present, and future these trees have stood, it is difficult to see the mighty sequoia in any other way than as a metaphor for infinity. Their lifespan, which can reach several hundred years passed the two millennia mark, until only in the last 50 years was thought to be the longest of any organism on the planet and the species still remains the dominate metaphor in nature for eternity.

Following this leg of the journey, Nobody tells Blake that he will be taking him to “the bridge made of waters, the mirror. Then you will be taken up to the next level of the world, the place where William Blake is from, where his spirit belongs. I must make sure that you pass back through the mirror at the place where the sea meets the sky.” Now he is almost ready to finish the journey and little more is need to prepare Blake for the end. He has all but let go of the world as we see in the episode where Nobody takes Blake’s eyeglasses. Even though Blake says “I can’t see anything without them,” he does so jokingly without much desire. This becomes even clearly when Nobody warmly replies “perhaps you will see more clearly without them.” His possessions no longer matter to him, the only thing that does is the quest.

In the trading post scene, the audience sees how far Blake has diverged from his old life. As he walks into the post, the man behind the counter is a religious figure who dresses like a monk. The monk blesses him on his journey and as he is choosing ammunition he tells him that the bullets were “blessed by the archbishop of Detroit.” When Nobody walks into the general store, the owner says “now Lord Jesus Christ, wash this earth with his Holy light, then purge its darkest places from heathens and Philistines.” Nobody, referencing William Blake’s poem “The Everlasting Gospel,” retorts “the vision of Christ that thou dost see is my vision’s greatest enemy.” With clear racial tensions present within the scene, Nobody asks to buy tobacco but is told that they are out, he is then offered beads or a blanket. These items, it has just explained, are deliberately contaminated with the small pox virus in order to infect “his people.” After this blatant disrespect, William Blake asks for some tobacco to which he is given a few “twists,” he explains, out of his own personal stash for only personal friends. Because of the wanted posters that are literally everywhere (posters with his likeness are found in the depths of the forest where very few are likely travel, they almost cover a building, and occasional are seen blowing in the wind) Blake is recognized as the fugitive on the run. For a moment the situation becomes tense as the audience and Blake believe the man is going to pull out a weapon in order to collect the hefty sum of money offered for his capture, however, the man pulls out a pen so Blake may sign one of them like a celebrity would sign an autograph. Instead of signing, Blake stabs the man in the hand with the quill. While this particular scene in the film marks another instance where Blake embraces the pilgrimage and its necessary responsibilities, the truly important image here is that of the monk/shop owner. Like Sally Jenko before him, this figure is another allegorical figure of religious hypocrisy. The monk, however, transcends Jenko’s bigotry because he actually understands the scripture yet uses it to justify the part he plays in the genocide of the native people.

Shot again outside of the trading post, Blake is now a magnate for “white man’s metal.” But the two continue on their path now abandoning their horses as they float down the river of forgetfulness leaving that world behind. Blake asks “is this the boat that will take me across, into the mirror of water?” Acceptance has almost come for Blake but he still must go further which Nobody illustrates when he answers “this boat is not strong enough for that William Blake.”
As they follow the current into the unknown, Nobody witnesses signs of destruction to the homes of his people. Teepees and canoes are burning just off the river’s edge, but he also sees signs of hope in nature and also in a totem pole which stands tall as a reminder of faith. It is again important to remember that this quest is not only Blake’s but also Nobody’s. While Nobody had his own spiritual breakthrough long ago, he still finds himself on the course being called to fulfill a greater destiny. Even though he has already reached a destination of sorts, the spiritual quest never really ends. It is like the fish that swims toward the great shore which it can never reach but swims on anyway. It can only end in death.

With the journey coming to an end, the two happen upon an Indian village. Here he is accepted and finally belongs. However, due to his own desires he is still searching for acceptance in the temporary world which in the framework of the film is only a short-term-solution. In his clouded, faltering mind he begins to realize this and has visions leading to a kind of peace. He is finally ready to let go, he is ready to die.

After drifting in and out of consciousness, Blake finds himself on the canoe that will end his journey. The fact that this lake is called a mirror by Nobody is also significant because mirrors are an alternate reality. They are fixed and empty yet show an infinite world that one cannot cross over. Recall Blake’s lines “Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour,” these lines illustrate the significance of death that one cannot comprehend while holding on to life. It is impossible to comprehend Infinity and Eternity because of our limited understanding just as it is impossible to crossover without death. The mirror of water is a strange motif in another way. When looking down at water, one sees the reflection of him or her self, but, if this person were to become submerged then the mirror is not what it appeared to be and our perceptions have been fooled.

Just before setting him out to sea, Nobody assures him “it is time for you to leave now William Blake, time for you to go back to where you came from.” In a darkly humorous moment, clearly on the brink of death, Blake asks “you mean Cleveland?” But he understands that the venture is coming to its close and the spirit is finally separating from the flesh that has taken him so far. Nobody confirms the ultimate, saying “back to the place where all the spirits came from and where all the spirits return. This world will no longer concern you.” After pushing Blake’s canoe into the unknown, Nobody encounters Cole (thus pride) who even to the very end attempts to hinder Blake’s progression. The scene haunts the audience in part because of the contrast between Nobody and Cole. Totally opposing forces, one represents piety and the other the destruction of religion and the soul. Nobody practices his religion and respects his fellow man while Cole is a despicable character that does nothing outside of his own self-interests. In the end these two characters cancel each other out. Blake, however, has already been set free by this time. Not only does evil lack any power over him but his guide as well is of no more use to him illustrated by the two shooting and killing each other in a final showdown. Barely looking up, his final attachments have been removed.

While everyone’s journey in this world leads to death, the journey does not end there for Blake the poet or the character. Depp’s Blake is in Hell and it is not until he lets go and accept his death that he is able to end his suffering. For Blake the poet, this world is one that is corrupt and filled with suffering. It is only the peace of death that ends suffering for all.

[1] To further this argument it should also be noted that Benmont wouldn’t give Blake any beans even though he clearly had a surplus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Medium is the Massage

Visually stimulating, Marshall McLuhan’s study The Medium is the Massage is, in a word, cool. When I purchased this little cool book back in April, I was working on a research paper dealing with the “electronic church” and how televising religious phenomenon undermines the meaning and the message of that phenomenon which I titled “The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer,” which I thought was clever.[1] It seemed like a book that would be popular among indy kids because of its cult status and coolness as well as for people like me who hate television, though McLuhan doesn’t seem to think TV is all that bad of thing. In this regard, I am more attune with Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death and, of course, DFW’s essay “E Unibus Pluram” but I do find this book to be informative and stimulating. It works in this way, by being stimulating and informative, the book which incorporates the work of graphic designer Quinton Fiore into the body of the text mimics the medium it is critiquing, critiquing in a more favorable way than I should like, probably. That is also sort of why I didn’t like it, I am sure, since I don’t think a book must resemble television to be relevant or popular, not to say that was really the intention of McLuhan, which it wasn’t, but I think its intention was to overwhelm us, if I am not mistaken, in the way that television overwhelms us. But as a product of a television culture, I don’t think anything can overwhelm us sensually. This is most likely the product of always living in a television culture as opposed to McLuhan’s “Age of Anxiety” where our mental faculties, at present that is, are much better equipped to sift the constant bombardment of images—it is all we know. The “mind control”[2] like images are well within our ability to handle.

In regards to the name of the book, the “Massage” here is not a typo on my part; it was actually a mistake on the part of the typesetter who originally made the mistake of setting the e in “message” to an a thus “massage.” When showed the mistake, McLuhan was reportedly thrilled with the typo since the book deals with the effect media has on all our sensory perceptions.[3] As McLuhan says “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”[4]

One of the main themes McLuhan explores in the text is the idea of a global community with the world becoming a smaller, more media dependent place as technology evolves and becomes more accessible to the world at large. He pretty much considers this a good thing, something I for the most part disagree with since this is somewhat presumptuous of us to assume everyone in the world want this—I mean this type of invasion was one of the reasons the media savvy Al Qaeda cited among others for the 9/11 attacks.[5] Such is the nature of community that determine and develop who we are. Children, for example, are no longer raised by only their parents, nor are they solely the products of their immediate surroundings, as McLuhan illustrates, technology means that “all the world’s a sage.”[6] He adds “electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ‘space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism… Nothing can be further from the spirit of the new technology than ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ You can’t go home again.”[7] This comes in 1967, a full two and half decades before the internet totally obliterated the need for the two as we can now carry our information and community with us in high-speed-global-networking with technology allowing us instant access to all the world’s entertainment at any time and at any place, whenever we choose, 24/7/365, from “womb-to-tomb.” [8]

One of the areas McLuhan’s media theory is most genius and spot-on is with the idea that “all media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical.”[9] According to this theory, the wheel is an extension of the foot, just as the book is to the eye, clothing to the skin, electric circuitry is to the central nervous system and so on. I do agree with this assessment, however, this has the potentially scary implications that McLuhan seems to think more positive than I could ever admit writing “Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense [perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act—the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change.”[10] The reason he sees these as being good things, and superior to gaining knowledge through “book learning,” is because they compel, according to him, people to interact with the medium and with others. Books, on the other hand, he believes are opposed to social interaction since they are read typically alone by solitary individuals and thus isolate and alienate the individual. I tend to agree that being a reader does alienate from others who are more of the television watching variety and I do believe that this is the product of new technology that has made our literature far less relevant, but I think this is a very negative development and instead of producing a more intelligent/connected community, in this case global, in its vastness in its bombardment of fragmented/contextless information, it destroys the real sense of community people once shared with their family and neighbors and classmates and coworkers because in this world of internet and television and cell phone and email dominance, the individual is left even more alone and silent only knowing a machine while fooling themselves into thinking they are actually part of a real community.

So when McLuhan, whose book I really like and agree with in terms of how we are shaped by our media though I am critical of some of his interpretation of their effects on modern society, makes statements like “[mass culture is] a world of total involvement in which everybody is so profoundly involved with everybody else and in which nobody can really imagine what private guilt can be anymore”[11] and “information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously” and “as soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information “ and “our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition”[12] to illustrate that they are preferable to the old way of reading outright, I have to say he misses an important characteristic of mass culture and fails to see the significance of life that was known more fully and intimately before the whole technological revolution that is a product far newer than we can imagine with mass media having always been a part of our lives. In his view, people are unhappy because they are trying to use “outdated mental and psychological responses”[13] in order to experience and make since of the world which is complete horseshit. What would he have us do than, give up on such concepts as family and instead let our televisions, or worse yet, the internet, raise a child so things like love and understanding don’t get in the way of development in this postmodern, media addicted hyper-reality.

This idea, less naive than insane and twisted, also carries over into other areas of our lives such as our work and especially our education. To McLuhan, “today’s television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute ‘adult’ news… and is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules.”[14] Here, again, one has to wonder what he would have us do about it, accommodate the child who he says is “growing up absurd” by integrating our educational system with technology, which is what has happened, and you have a media savvy little kid who can give you a lot of facts but you sacrifice theory and breadth in doing so. Of the television generation—i.e. those who are more or less raised by the set—he does say they are “a grim bunch”[15] but not for the reasons that one might expect. In this rare instance when he is somewhat critical of television but this is more of the crap being produced on it than of the medium itself, a development I found surprising considering the book is about media effects and such saying that “commercials” are the best reflection of understanding the medium since in them “there simply is no time for the narrative form, borrowed from earlier print technology.”[16] With that, he seems to be saying that we should embrace the fact that the medium and stuff we watch on TV is necessarily short and viewer friendly. However, he does make mention the medium in a somewhat critical way at least (and for as far as I can recall only) once when he talks about what is on the old tube, which he sort of defends saying “The environment as a processor of information is propaganda. Propaganda ends where dialogue begins.” Thus in this assessment, the television medium has the potential to be a negative that reinforces itself self-referentially in that when used to process and distill information, it enforces its cultural authority simply by its own design, a design that I argue inhibits us from true dialogue. However, in a hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner type argument, he tells us defends television content wise by writing “You must talk to the media, not to the programmer. To talk to the programmer is like complaining to a hot dog vendor at a ballpark about how badly your favorite team is playing”[17] Despite the terrible and somewhat misleading analogy, he does have a point, yet he undermines it with the fact that most of what he has to say about the medium of television is overwhelmingly optimistic and even goes so far as to defend it against critics who miss the significance of the medium itself.

The defense, which I completely agree with in terms of theory but again disagree in terms of the way we see the results that are more or less the same in both of our assessments, illustrates his deep understanding of the television medium and also how he believes in it. Responding to a 1965 cartoon from The New Yorker with the caption “When you consider television’s awesome power to educate, aren’t you thankful that it doesn’t,” it states the following:

The main cause for disappointment in and for criticism of television is the failure on the part of its critics to view it as a totally new technology which demands different sensory responses. These critics insist on regarding television as merely a degraded form of print technology… Critics of television have failed to realize that the motion pictures they are lionizing… would prove unacceptable as mass audience films if the audience had not been preconditioned by television commercials to abrupt zooms, elliptical editing, no story lines, flash cuts.

With this, assuming as it does that we actually prefer this medium because we conditioned to it, it is clear he is much more optimistic and far less critical of the medium than I am as a born, nay, conditioned cynic, which is true of most technology, I would imagine.

88 My own upbringing and subsequent adult life resulting from that upbringing, has virtually lacked all forms of mass culture, thus I am more adept than most at assessing and critiquing that culture, according to McLuhan, so maybe I have something here. He writes that “whoever sharpens our perception tends to be antisocial; rarely ‘well-adjusted,’ he cannot go along with currents and trends. A strange bond often exists among antisocial types in their power to see environments as they really are.”[18] This may account for our differences in the way we perceive media effects—I am rather far from away from being “well-adjusted” and pride myself on being an individual immune to trends of fashion or thought or whatever—as I do have a decent ability to see things “as they really are,” or so I am told. Maybe I could be sort of like the Tocqueville of mass media or something; but that is a world I choose not to visit—or spend very much time in anyway. I don’t think I will ever conform to it because it is something I cannot imagine really finding pleasure in, thus to suddenly spend time watching and learning from a culture that I am thoroughly uninterested in would be paradoxical and lose for me the status of amateur. Don’t get me wrong, I do watch the occasional program and spend a lot of time thinking about them, Lost would be the best example here, but I never get my news from the box, preferring print media to all others with NPR a distant second and relegated to time commuting to and from work in my car—but even that is only when there are no good songs on the alternative station and ESPN radio is talking about I sport I don’t care about like baseball. And I never connect with or through that culture—about the only thing I can talk about and sustain a decent conversation in is in the world of books, which are clearly very important to me. But as uninterested as I am in television culture, I am interested a thousand times more so in media theory, which some find dissonant, however, all of the great media theorists in my mind are those that McLuhan would call “antisocial” in that they go against the popular grain and choose to live outside the box that dominates American discourse. Such greats, to me at least are the likes of DFW and Jonathan Franzen (neither of whom are media theorists per se but deal with television culture as a whole) and Francis Wheen and Neil Postman, and none of them share McLuhan’s optimism. In fact, those writers are as or even more critical of the culture than I am.

With all of that said, I think McLuhan is a genius and I think this work is genius even though I tend to disagree with some of the outcomes he sees from the visual medium so a part of our lives. Plus I find the concept thoroughly interesting and engaging—the collage type images and words mingled in book form—and think it well worth anyone’s time reading. Some of the most memorable images from the book, which I will close by discussing, are one that depicts a sculpture of a giant woman with people around it to give its size some perspective and an image of women sewing onto a quilt the phrase “Keep into circulation the rumor that God is alive.” The first image, depicting a woman 82-feet-long and 20-feet-high that is titled “The Biggest and Best Woman in the World”, is interesting because it shows that you can walk around inside her, entering through the vagina like sperm. The concept and picture, of which all I can say is it is cool and interesting, are intriguing and make you think about the strangeness of modern art. The second image, which references Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead” is meant to be ironic I think. I am not sure what these women who are quilting the piece are motivated by or intending to convey—I suspect that they are suggesting people still have a need for church even though technology has made God unnecessary or killed Him/Her or whatever. Regardless, it is very apparent that the “the groundrule of [our] universe,” namely God, “upon which so much of our Western world is built, has dissolved”[19] and this quilt is meant as a representation of that fact. And it is for this reason and for making connection impossible that I find our media so toxic. Because even if religion is a fiction, I believe it is a necessary one for most of us, and keeping that in circulation can actually be a good thing so long as it is not tied in with the status quo, which means reinforcing that infernal piece of furniture.

See also:

[1] The title derives from the William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming” which is one of my favorite poems. In this second line of the poem, Yeats uses the falconer and falcon as metaphors for man (or woman) and technological advancement respectively. Man’s inability to call forth the product of its own imagination to control its message is the point of using this as a title. So it is clever.
[2] It kind of reminded me of the “Reorientation Film” that poor bastard Carl had to watch in ABC’s Lost which moved by at breakneck speeds and flashed words and images on the screen. I am like 99% sure that the show’s director had this book in mind when creating the montage. In fact, Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly claims to have been given “secret documents” that suggest McLuhan’s work had even more influence on the show than with this one instance giving a version of the DHARMA Initiative’s mission statement, a mission statement I have never seen, that goes into specific detail about the effect of this work on the good old DI which can be found here. Plus there is a reference to mathematician Michael Faraday, the name of the guy that Lost’s Daniel Faraday gets his name from.
[4] Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 1967), p. 26.
[6] McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, p. 14.
[7] Ibid.. p. 16.
[8] Ibid.. p. 12.
[9] Ibid.. p. 26.
[10] Ibid.. p. 41.
[11] Ibid.. p. 61.
[12] Ibid.. p. 63.
[13] Ibid.. p. 63.
[14] Ibid.. p. 18.
[15] Ibid.. p. 126.
[16] Ibid.. p. 126.
[17] Ibid.. p. 142.
[18] Ibid.. p. 88.
[19] Ibid , p. 146.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Amendment to “Black Friday”

On a day that I posted about how in the service industry “there is no such a thing as being human,” I witnessed one of the most tender, least bull shitty acts human understanding I have seen in some time, and I must say, it actually moved me. The act, described below, was performed by a girl around 18-yearsold who is somewhat self-conscious and insecure and seemed to desperately want to make an impression on her new co-workers—which is understandable—but these things have nothing to do with why she did what she did or the act itself. While I don’t know what to make of it, in an act of full disclosure considering what I wrote yesterday in my piece Black Friday, here it is.

Sometime during the dinner rush around 7:30 or so, with every table occupied and on a 25-minute wait and the big screen playing the UNC-Notre Dame contest in a town where everyone either loves UNC or goes to Wake and people are intent and focused on food and football, a kid with severe mental disabilities starts shouting very loudly some general football terms that are audible even from the recesses of the kitchen. And people getting uncomfortable in a really bad way—I have people asking for their checks and holding their temples looking down at their crotch and whispering about the kid and the scene he is making—and this isn’t really good for anyone. Servers begin whining, people are staring, I here someone say “why don’t they just leave.”

But just as people are about to stampede for the door, a hostess who started a week ago to the day, came over to the clearly frightened severely mentally disabled boy and his ancient companion (who I assume was his grandfather[*]) and squeezed her way into a one person booth, taking up very little of the kid’s space but still setting with him and just talking and listening to his pleas of “score!” and “touchdown!” Maybe part of it was the fact that he had a very pretty young girl sitting next to him actually giving him her undivided attention that calmed him down, I know it works for me when I am freaking out and my unbelievable female companion shows me that I am worthy of such lavish and unwarranted attention. But as with the case with my female companion, there was something else that transcended simple circumspection. It is shown in words and tone and body language that all say it is ok and you are a person and you are human and you are worthy without having to actually say it.

So as she sat there talking to the unlikely pair, she provided comfort for everyone around her. Obviously for the kid, but also for the grandpa in listening to their story, which she barely mentioned afterwards to the inquiring minds, and then the paying customers who were annoyed with the outbursts and the servers who were having to damage-control their tables and on down the line of employees and customers all with a single act of kindness. It visually illustrated the fact that we all are connected and that can be a good thing. When it was over and the two were gone, I told her something along the lines of “nice job” but it was insufficient sounding like some work related issue which it was not, not really. It went beyond that and I hope she realizes this and retains this quality.

After I had some time to reflect on this event, this lone instance of actual, really deep caring, I started to think that maybe this actually shows how most of us are broken by such places. In this line of thinking, I figured it would take someone who has only been working at it for only a week to do something like this. Later, a newer server who has worked at other branches of the company who is one of the most negative people I work with and bitches a lot and calls people “redneck” or “ghetto” depending on race and is pissed off about something virtually every night though he is a nice enough guy for the most part and has been doing this far longer than I have and is also “educated” apparently had some sort of talking to with the hostess because it was late and she was forced to set people in his section around the bar (though she tried to sit at least two of these tables in my section but the TVs aren’t over there and who wouldn’t rather sit in a table around the bar anyway) and it didn’t look like these folks really gave a shit about when we close (20 and then 15-minutes from when they moseyed on in) and were only drinking water (often times a sign of how cheap the table is comes from the drink order which tells you a lot about the way they are going to tip you[†]) and never even acted like they wanted to be there and have you prepare their drinks and dinners for them.

Afterwards, she was pretty upset and said that she is now “thinking about leaving.” Here is a young female who did an unbelievably kind thing that greatly benefited the restaurant in a way that pretty much went unacknowledged by anyone but me because everyone in there was so self-absorbed. I mean, this was a place where two weeks ago a severely mentally disabled employee (who is so handicapped he is actually appears happy) was coming out of the back when he not only slipped and fell on the hard tile but after landing awkwardly, he like sort of slid, sort of bounced, and racked himself on a pole of the platform where the guys in the back wash dishes. It was incredible as far as falls go. It was the worst one I had ever personally seen in that it was a double edged sword of wounded pride with the initial fall and then the skid into pole resulting in genital anguish. It was also, I hate to say, slapstick comedy. When it happened I couldn’t believe he had actually went down the way that he did, the odds had to be astronomical, and I was frozen for a second, everyone was. But, being right there only a couple of feet away dropping off dirty plates, I went over and helped the poor guy up. Once on his feet, he simultaneously grabbed his elbow with his uninjured arm and his crotch with the arm being held. That is when some people began laughing. It made me sick to my stomach but I can’t say that I blame them. Maybe in the future she will be one of those that laugh and say things like “he really shouldn’t be here” but today she is not. She is human. It is the staying human that I pray she keeps and pray that we all keep.

[*] Something that a lot of times will happen in cases like this is the severely mentally disabled will go unwanted by their biological parents and instead of institutionalizing this person, a family member will take the person in and care for them. My grandpa did this with a second cousin or something who was maybe ten years older than my dad who remembers my grandpa telling him to stick up for him and not let anyone give the guy any shit. So my grandpa and my dad took on a lot of the responsibility with this guy whose story was a very sad one indeed—he was dropped as an infant not once but twice by nurses and went unloved and uncared for by his own parents who wanted nothing to do with the burden of caring for a child with special needs (though it was a different time then, I suspect things like this still happen as they did back 40-years ago). When this guy died in 2003, my grandpa and my dad were the only attendees of his funeral, marking the sad end to a excruciatingly sad life. The point is, I suspect this was a situation similar with a relative stepping in to raise a child with special needs.
[†] For example, it has happened on occasion that a family will come in and when you prepare to ask about maybe bringing them a Samuel Adams Oktoberfest, which really are delicious btw, they cut you off mid-sentence and act offended like you are one of the many salesmen in their lives trying to dictate your purchasing/spending, which technically you are, or like you are stupid for not like knowing that they would never drink ever or at a restaurant that overcharges or in front of children or late on a Saturday night or while operating a motor vehicle or whatever. These people do not tip well. You are extremely lucky to get 10% out of them. The most telltale sign thoughthat your tip is going to be lousy, in my experience, is when the adults in this situation order “water with lemon” and then order the drink for the kids however diminutive such an action appears to everyone involved and makes a point of stating that their offspring would like whatever beverage of their choosing “in a kids cup” as in “he’ll have a kid’s coke” which is free and they typically know is free and involves extra work for you because they are tiny and have lids that make refilling and knowing when to refill a pain because they want to make sure you don’t charge them the buck fifty for a regular sized glass, which I never do anyway, and is yet another way of telling you you are too stupid to see this person is a child and thus gets a free beverage all before the adult themselves try and order a ½ order of ribs or steak off the kids menu to save a couple of duckets because it is the same quality of food at a slightly cheaper price and the whole thing just makes you want to quit and tell them they need to get with the fucking program here and acknowledge what they already know in that servers get paid like shit for an hourly wage and depend on your gratuity to make rent and we are working hard to get a paid just like you are and so on and so forth.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Black Friday

The economy is something I cannot begin to understand. I read reports, ask knowledgeable friends questions, listen to debates, but most of all, I get my feel for the economy by how much money I have left over (or rather how much more I owe) after the necessary expenses are taken care of. According to this system, the only system I can pretend to comprehend, after the bare essentials and one bi-monthly luxury item, my first since May came this past Wednesday so now that is becoming more of a biannual thing it would appear, I can afford to spend about $90 a month. I am someone who has reached a 5-digit salary only once in my life (and even then I literally just broke it) yet I have amassed a 6-digit almost entirely from my absurdly expensive education. While outstanding, my education has made me, I am estimating, about $15,000 in its totality. That is $12,500 for teaching and $2,500 for various writing jobs. That number, as depressing as it is, is about the same as the jobs I have had that require no education or even frown upon it. For example, the summers or 1999 through 2001, when I worked as a lifeguard, I made about $2,500 each year. The summers I was in college I made even less at J.C. Penney’s and landscaping, which was more accurately described as getting high and smashing things with a shovel, that goes for both of those jobs. In those summers I made around $1,500 and then did not work one of those years instead taking summer school. Out of college, post-academia, I did some internet database updating for some company, worked with my mom for a while, had a few sales jobs which I was terrible at and technically lost money, spent two weeks in advertising, and did a brief stint with FedEx. In sum with those odd jobs, I made something like $3,000. Now working in the service industry, don’t get me started on how badly I hate this job, I have probably made about $3,500 in the last three months.

I am not going to add all this up, it is too depressing, but I bet they are even keel. Plus if you count the year I was technically unemployed, a year I spent working for a bookie and gambling, I guess my main source of income that year would be picking NFL winners, filling out March Madness tournament brackets, and getting unbelievably lucky in basically blind draws with the sport of kings (horse racing), I would be better off, financially speaking, if I didn’t even go to school. Because starting in 1999, my schooling has cost me[1] an intimidating six-digit-number that overwhelms me just thinking about. And I have yet to even dent it. Two years at Park Tudor at $12,000 a year, plus four years at Kenyon totaling among the nation’s highest (#2 when I went there which is boasted as though it were something to be really proud of)[2] [3] with a whopping $38,000 price tag (that I consider well worth every penny [it at least in the time I was a student there] and upon my deathbed will probably consider the four happiest years of my life), though no one, save for Colin and Joe F. who are very well off but compared to some of the families there are practically beggars, and in full disclosure, I paid less and than half of that number, and then Wake Forest, in a program I am not even going to finish, I took out over $20,000 in student loans. I am actually starving here, I have lost over 50 pounds in the last year, where am I gonna get that kind of money?

I probably won’t. There are friends of mine here in a similar predicament as mine but are more responsible and these people actually know something about economics. They are basically saying the crisis will probably help us out because with all of this student debt that is going unpaid yet must be paid, the gov. will likely devise a new plan/strategy to deal with it. Our prosperity literally depends on it. Or so they say. Maybe that is one of the reasons the crisis doesn’t seem to scare me all that much, I am a survivor, I live simply and will continue to do so. Even if someone were to say, “Yo, AB! You the bomb! Here is a MacArthur fellowship for your bitchin ass! Have at it,” I would probably give most of money away and with what is left over start some sort of literary journal. I don’t own any big ticket items. The most expensive things I own, my car (which I inherited from my grandpa when he died, worth around $6,000 dollars though I take shit care of it and currently rock a donut as one of my tires) and my watch (my parents’ gift for graduating college which is an unbelievably beautiful and tasteful Swiss made Tissot worth about $600)[4] are things that were given to me and not things I would have spent money on myself to own. Its all just stuff and I pride myself on having virtually nothing.

So the point of this little musing, I guess, is to say that I see people freaking out all the time about this damn “Depression” and it doesn’t really scare me. The big-wigs macking it hard will still mack it hard and the poor are still gonna be desperately poor. Can’t people see that the system is incredibly fucked and one-sided and always going to end with inequality and oppression?

This “Black Friday” stuff I heard all over the radio today—from NPR to local rock-block to ESPN—has got people obsessing. My female companion talks about how scared she is about what all this is going to do to her credit score. Sometimes she gets pretty freaked out about it, especially when she starts inquiring about my debt and my credit, which I know nothing about other than it just has to be terrible.

Yesterday, before I heard any of this business, I went to the bank in order to cash my pay checks from work and found a line that practically went out the door. Wha? It turned out people were freaking out about this whole crisis and running to the bank to pull out their savings—ah la It's a Wonderful Life—or so I believe though it was late in the afternoon on a Friday so who knows. The line, dominated by old people, which makes me suspect that the line did in fact result from the quote unquote “Black Friday” thing, was so decrepit that at multiple times when the teller would call out “may I help you” the hard of hearing senior citizens would stand there staring strait ahead until someone with a better hearing aid finally tapped them and pointed them in the direction they needed to go.

When my turn finally came, I lucked out and came to the same woman I dealt with the last time I was in this particular branch. The first time I had went in there, this woman, young, somewhat attractive, huge rack, tried to set me up with a checking account with them. I went through the motions but I had recently been turned down with another bank because I joined an account with my mom in my name that she had overdrawn. Lacking $400, neither I nor my mom can pay it off, thus I am to remain bankless, at least for the time being. But I was going through this then because the woman said she would waive the check cashing fees on all my checks and maybe it would like go through or something as she said. Then, in late July or sometime around there, she was flirty and accommodating and said that whenever I got a valid ID, don’t ask, I could come in there and she would waive the fees, anytime.

So yesterday, hoping to make good on that proposition, I went to her and reminded her of this exchange. The look she gave me was not the flirty, playful look I witnessed back in July but one of annoyance seeing me now as something of a burden, or so I interpreted. “I personally said that?” she kept demanding to know, also asking a rhetorical “Why would I say that?” that seemed to imply I was either lying or had greatly misunderstood our conversation. She then informed me that the checks would cost $6 each to cash, although that bank did not charge some businesses to cash their checks there. This is what happened to be the case with my employer and this bank. It certainly did clear things up for me then, what I assumed was this attractive and flirty young woman doing something nice for me person-to-person was in fact just doing her job, caring out a function that was as part of her routine as bringing a to-go side of dressing is to mine.

When money is involved it is hard to stay human and when money is tight it is harder still. On nights when I am in no mood to ask my tables what they want to stuff themselves with, as tonight I am sure will prove to be which I am already dreading, when a table of seven, one less than the number of people required to get an automatic 18% tacked on to the bill, spends $150 on food and drinks which constantly need refilling and leaves a $10 tip if I am lucky or a $1 tip on $80 and then say something like “you are an excellent server” and ask me “is that alright?” my job requires me to say “oh yes, thank you very much” instead of the obvious “no everything is not alright, you just gave me a shitty tip and I am working my ass off here” I certainly don’t feel like myself. On these nights, at that job, at any service job, there is no such a thing as being human. There is only the customer is always right and you have to live by it. To hell with you.

[1] My parents, barely making ends meet themselves, have not contributed a penny to my education unlike most people at the three wonderful and expensive schools I attended. Most of my peers were of families in the top 5% of yearly income, at worst, whereas my parents are more like at or below the national median making a combined $40,000ish annually. I tried to use the U.S. Census Bureau as my source here, then some other reputable agencies, but without any economic knowledge or skill, except buying things that are cheap, I couldn’t make heads or tales out of it. But hey, Wikipedia makes it easy, there I get the information I seek with minimal trouble, get class and money involved and information just disappears especially in an economic crisis. So anyway, here is my God damned source: Thus I have borrowed and worked, but mostly borrowed, seeing this education thing as an investment that right now is not paying out in dollars like I was told it would. But to be fair its not like I really motivated by moneys, I have never had and don’t really know what I am missing. Nor do I really care to know.
[4] Mom and Dad saved up for a year and half to buy me something special for I am the first one in my family to finish college—a family that is so large and reeks with so much Irish Catholic descent that to go through the names of aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins and so on and so forth would be incredibly involved. So anyway, this is an item I love and I don’t really love stuff. I am in constant panic that I own such a beautiful thing and I am always thinking I will or have lost and I get complimented on about once a month, the most recent one being from a co-worker whose name is Jordan who I think is the type of chick it is probably good to have on your side and reminds you of every cheerleader you ever met, I am sure you get the idea, who said while I was pouring tea out of a bucket into a dispenser “Oh my God, you have a really, really nice watch…It is seriously beautiful,” which, you know, doesn’t suck to hear, but nonetheless, I love it but I could never justify spending that much on myself.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Coetzee on Robinson Crusoe's Foe Pas

J.M. Coetzee’s 1986 book Foe deals with a story most of most of us are familiar enough with to pick up the names and the subtle critique of Daniel Defoe’s eighteenth-century island tale Robinson Crusoe. However, to fully appreciate the novel, you are going to have to put some work in by hunkering down and reread/read the book that Coetzee retells from a contemporary point of view giving voice, as Coetzee does time and again, to those who lack the ability to speak. You can make due by reading a RC summary if you are tired of island life from watching way too much Lost, as I am, but in my own case I can just tell that my depth here lacks because I don’t really want to read RC for the third time in seven years. To be fair though, I did read it just last year so it wasn’t too far removed but I get that as a contemporary writer he wants us to return to the classics and see how they are biased and how our own times and places are still very much screwed up because the whole thing—i.e. the combination of racism, sexism, oppression, silence, etc—is a systemic flaw in Western controlled societies. But I got lazy and time is money to be spent wisely, at least where books are concerned, and I have pay my dues and seen that dog-and-pony-show before, so I don’t feel too bad about skipping out on revisiting RC on his little desert island somewhere in the mid-Atlantic.

So here is the basic outline of what I can remember that is important to understanding the currently discussed book: a young cleric goes against his father’s demands and leaves what would have been a practical future undertaking a career in law to take up life on the high seas; he deeply and heartlessly (which goes beyond simply buying and selling humans but I won’t get into) in the course of one of his journeys; he winds up getting shipwrecked and as the sole survivor of the mishap, must make due on an island by his lonesome, spending his time reading and meditating on the good book as he has now found Jesus and all that and he begins keeping a diary and learns how to survive on an island where nothing is provided for him and he must do everything with his own two hands. Years later, he finds footprints on the beach and thinks they were left by Satan, RC is starting to lose it, and by this time he has started calling himself “the king” of the island so as the crabs and barnacles growing on his dingy (he is alone there after all) knows who rules this patch of land; after he comes to what you might think of as some lucidity, he thinks about how insane the idea of Lucifer walking around his island would be armed with the power of Christ as he is and all, thus coming to the logical conclusion that if it is not evil personified, it must be cannibals; despite what reason tells us at this point, RC’s island is overrun with cannibals and one day he discovers the aftermath of a cannibal Thanksgiving day feast. Watching the cannibals from a distance, he sees them slaughter some unfortunate soul while another awaits his turn; instead of offering himself up on a platter, I know, I know, that bombs, he breaks free and the cannibals give chance since dinner is on the loose; since the delicious runner runs straight at RC, he steps out of the woodworks to save the guy from rotisserie heaven, for the cannibals that is, by killing one of them and incapacitating the other whom supper steps up to the plate and kills holding an understandable grudge against the guy for wanting to eat him and all. This then leads the nearly consumed young man such gratitude that he gives up his freedom for RC as a type of ronin and, of course, RC accepts thereby giving him a new diminutive name, “Friday,” to commemorate the day that he willing gave up his freedom. Eventually this duo picks up another companion, this one a conquistador, and somewhere in their busy days filled with indiscriminate cannibal genocide, they get rescued and RC lives a long and productive life as a merchant in London —you know, the typical island/adventure stuff we are all familiar with.

In a nutshell, what Coetzee does to the RC story, outlined above, is he takes what amounts to an episode of ABC’s Lost and turns it into Castaway, that is, he takes a action filled tale that is too good to be true and makes it believable thus boring. But that is not the point of the novel, what Coetzee does with this tale is give an alternate account of someone who herself has a story, protagonist Susan Barton, and also the story of the real Friday, as Foe imagines him, a black, tongueless man who may or may not also lack genitalia. The real story lies with them in Coetzee reinvention of the classic tale, RC is just some boring asshole when you come right down to it. He is thus secondary, never appearing outright, only lurking in the shadows as a ghost from Barton’s past. In fact, he doesn’t even exist in the confines of the novel, the only glimpses we get of his adventures is from the letters Barton writes to Foe in her attempt to get the writer to capture the tale of her disheveled island love.

Barton’s tale, as it turns out, isn’t all that interesting either, the novel’s main focus is on her life away from the island, which in the first section comes in the form of letters written to Foe about RC and then progressing into her time there. In the second portion, the reader sees her voice mature, now fully telling her own tale while experiences the hardships of returning to life away from the island and her attempts to reintegrate back into society with Friday following behind as though he was her shadow. With life proving difficult for both woman and shadow as well as Foe, Barton travels to the writer’s abandoned home—he is on the lamb hiding from the strong arm of the law—and squats there buying food with money they earn from selling Foe’s stuff. The notes I took from this section consist of things like “where does she get off” and “she must have a set of brass balls” and “SB lives off of whatever man is unfortunate enough to wind up in her path devouring everything” and “she is not a woman, she is a parasite.” All this is mixed in with spider imagery and allusions mostly made by SB regarding all of these mean she bleeds dry, but never once does she realize she is in fact a black widow, the most deadly and poisonous spider of them all.

Coetzee, whose work I generally love, does have a few things working against him in not only this short novel but pretty much all of his work. In this I won’t even go into the bizarre sexual stuff that takes place in all of books that I have read to date, but I will look at four other points that are drawn from Coetzee’s body of work. The first thing I will mention is the fact that of the four novels by the South African writer (other three being The Life and Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians, and Disgrace) not a one of them offers us any redemption and the protagonists are left in the same place they were in when the novel began, having either learned nothing or unable to deal with the lessons they have learned, only they are now worse off in that same lot they are never going to escape—like the characters in Achebe’s work as well. The second thing that you notice is his novels are unbelievably bleak/dark look into the world and society that one must resolve is fucked and not going to get any better. If anything, it is going to get worse and you aren’t going to be able to do anything about it. The die have been cast, the hand you get dealt is the only one you get, trying to change them out or worse yet trying to change the rules of the game is a futile endeavor. You are still all in, riding high, whatever, and if you don’t make the most of your crummy hand, you are going to lose it all. This seems to be somewhat of a staple with African fiction in general and isn’t exclusive to the genre but the thing about Coetzee’s existential little books is that his are darker and more depraved and cynical even than the accounts I have read by former child soldiers and victimized refugees in North African camps. The last thing I will mention here is something is actually something from another one of his novels but extends to pretty much all of his work one would have to think. In Michael K, Coetzee’s narrator in a small passage taken as a diary entry from the life of a doctor treating MK in a refugee camp writes about a fictional conversation he has with the starving MK who was bent on getting out of dodge in bad way and has made his way out of confinement choosing instead what appears to be inevitable starvation. At that time we learn that he said to his patient that “Your stay in the camp was merely an allegory, if you know that word. It was an allegory - speaking at the highest level - of how scandalously, how outrageously a meaning can take up residence in a system without becoming a term in it.” Such an assessment was bad. It was wrong for reason I shall discuss momentarily but for now know that this was supposed to be ironic and in its irony show us that his work is not to taken allegorically no matter how badly we want to read it that way.

Coetzee work, as stated previously, is genius, but it is so because of and not despite the three things mentioned above he is often criticized for. The first article, that Coetzee seems against redeeming his protagonists or their plight, works because it is tragic in the same way that life is tragic. In the end, we all die and life rarely gets better toward the end. Plus, his novels aren’t supposed to be about redemption but about how the institutions we are a part of are full of inequalities and those aren’t ever going to change because there are checks and balances against them. To go against the grain in such systems would be suicide, depending on the severity of the protest/institution. Nothing will ever really change because our plight is always one of struggle, it's the way things have always been, the best we can do is minimize that struggle and our suffering by focusing on the little things. Coetzee’s solution than is to create order in the micro by doing what must do to survive and bring a few along with you. When things are as bad as they can get, we have no choice but to settle down and spend our time in the garden, as Friday does, or write our little letters and/or books, as Defoe, Barton, and Coetzee do. The second article then, that his work is too bleak, is thus a pointless assessment because it illuminates what we as individuals can do to increase our own wellbeing and the lessen the psychic burden of life. The third article mentioned above completely destroys any allegorical reading of Coetzee’s work. He doesn’t want us to make the same mistake as the doctor made in looking at his characters through our own set of lenses. To do so is to attribute our own Western ideals and misconceptions on the characters that are in and outside the text. This is a clear critique of the post-structuralist stance on text in that the reader’s perception when approaching a work are unprepared to make correct judgments regarding the text. Thus, his characters cannot or should not be separated from the text. That passage from LTMK was given as an example of the way we tend to look at peoples we try to help but in the end they don’t want it because it is yet another form of oppression. The organism cannot survive without learning on its own

Foe is yet another example of Coetzee’s virtuoso and exploration of his many themes, most notably the effects of Western imperialism on native culture. His analysis of authorship and authority are, as always, on point and forces the question on the ownership of history. Always giving voice to the marginalized, even Friday who has no voice, Foe’s conversation with Barton illustrates this most poignantly toward the end of the novel reading “‘his desires are dark to us, and continue to use him as we wish.’ No, Susan answers: ‘Friday's desires are not dark to me. He desires to be liberated, as I do too. Our desires are plain, his and mine. But how is Friday to recover his freedom, who has been a slave all his life? That is the true question. Should I liberate him into a world of wolves and expect to be commended for it? . . . Even in his native Africa . . . would he know freedom?”’ This tale, like most of Coetzee’s work, is well worth your time and will make you question everything from language, history, authority, and Western empiricism and how it is still very much alive and well.

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