Monday, January 08, 2007

An Inside Job

Here's a sorta fun New Republic article by Christopher Orr about movies that "send mixed messages" by broadcasting contradictory themes; the two self-negating films he discusses are Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly (which I saw) and Robert Altman's A Praire Home Companion (which I didn't see). While Orr points out that A Scanner Darkly was conceptualized as a "stern moral lesson" on the evils of drug use from former addict Philip Dick, he argues that the D.A.R.E bulletin, or the film's overt content, is undermined by its form--the implicit playfulness of the actor's performances and the "giddy, trippy feel" of the animation. I skipped the part about Prairie Home, but I'll assume that Orr contends that the "mixed message" is casting Lindsay "Ho"han in a wholesome family film.

To be honest, I'm unconvinced that an animated film could truly convey the proper tone of any serious issue, or at really convince me of anything (except for Waking Life, which convinced me that armchair existentialism sucks). But then again, I know next to nothing about "serious" animated films, other than the fact that The Chipmunk Adventure was seriously epic. Please, no one leave comments about "really high quality" anime.

So what sort of work do "mixed messages" do? Louis Althusser has one answer: In his response to Andre Daspre's La Nouvelle Critique, where Daspre accuses him of depreciating art by including it in his definition of ideology (for Althusser, ideology encompasses the very mediated relations that constitute our subjectivity, both imagined and real), he responds with a counter-example not unlike Orr's critique:
"Balzac and Solzhenitsyn give us a 'view' of the ideology to which their work alludes and with which it is constantly fed, a view which presupposes a retreat, an internal distantiation from the very ideology from which their novels emerged. They make us 'perceive' (but not know) in some sense from the inside, by an internal distance, the very ideology in which they are held."
So for Althusser, it is the discrepancies between form and content, what Marcherey calls "decenteredness," that makes ideology visible. This follows the Freudian model: Just as transference, displacement, condensation, etc. are the true objects of Freudian dream analysis, so too are mixed messages--those "internal dissonances" that Marcherey imbues with significance--the objects of artistic analysis that often prove the most compelling, or serve the greatest political purpose.

But while it's easy to identify the subversive intent of the device in, say, Balzac's satire, identifying internal distantiation (what a word!) in films such as Natural Born Killers (Ridley Scott's hypocritical criticism of the bloodthirsty spectator culture in the ultra-violent Gladiator also comes to mind) raises the question: For modern-day directors, is such conceptual dissonance satirical or simply accidental?


JD said...

Hey now, Bob Solomon is legit! And he just died, take it easy. . . The thing that sucked about 'waking life' was that annoying long-haired kid.

David said...

"begging the question" is a term from rhetoric. it is a fallacy wherein one assumes as true what one is trying to prove (or has the burden of proving). it does not mean "raise the question" or "ask the question."

spread the word.

i know i'm whatever said...

Not only does Balzac "give us a view of the ideology" from within which he writes, but his realism (at its best) allows conclusions to be drawn from it to which that ideology would never agree. Although I would never say Balzac gives us Paris as it really was, certainly ideological distortion is not the entire frame--I don't even think it is necessary (in Balzac's case) to bring up "internal dissonance" when Balzac is already (in that "writerly" way announced by Barthes) directing the Marxist reading (supposedly Marx's favorite novelist), without being a "subversive."

Matt said...

You've obviously never heard LL sing backup vocals on the title track of her sister's classic xmas album, "Lohan Holiday." I guess ERC's vaunted feminism doesn't apply to beautiful, talented, and sexually liberated young actresses. How inadequite.

The Chaunce said...

there's this part in all of your Critcism pieces where you explore ideas for a bit, then due a text quotation, then start the next paragraph, the paragraph where you are going to assert your point with "So."

"So we Author Man, we see that"
"So we can now understand Author Man's ideas as"
"So now we can view the three works as a whole"

and so on.

Don't worry, I think it's a fun habit.

PEG said...

You mean Louis "Halte, tu serres!"


God, that is such a nerdy joke.