Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Julie Rivkin's article "English Without Shadows," speaks of the increased interest in Orientalist theory.

Scholars began to take note of the fact that many great works of English literature promoted beliefs and assumptions regarding other geographic regions and other ethnic groups...The promotion of such beliefs and assumptions in literature...was just one part of a larger processes of discursive construction in a variety of forms of writing...that represented other peoples as less civilized or less capable and as needing western paternalist assistance.

So it is surprising then, after this rise in curiosity in the subject, to find such incredibly overt promotions of Orientalist perceptions. One such example is Disney's film Mulan. In this first scene we find stereotype upon stereotype, and an interesting commentary in regards to casting and scoring.

Not only does this song follow the very typical form of a Western ballad, the voice cast for the role is Western. The film is about culture, heritage and familial honor, but Disney does not follow their own apparent moralities. All of the prominent roles in fact are played by seemingly Westerners. Supposed 'culture' is only interspersed sparingly, when humorously or conveniently applicable to the story line. Western versions of Chinese-ish music is tossed in the background of what could be any American show tune. The comic relief, as well as the source of tension is portrayed as 'more' Asian, and the intention seems to be seen as more authentic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

For our group project, we divided up the workload by subject. Each member then sent their researched information to me and I prepared the slide show. I decided to incorporate different modern and postmodern pieces of art in our presentation to add another, albeit embedded explanation to our subject, as well as give the audience something worthwhile to look at.
I think our opening slide is such a great representation of what postmodernism wished to convey. Margritte's "Treachery of Images" not only questions reality and objective truth, but also references Derrida's concept of Difference.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In Catherine Malabou's article, "Plasticity and Elasticity in Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle," she examines the relevancy of Freud's theory of death and libidal drives, and a human's attraction to repetition.

Freud never uses the words "plastic" or "plasticity" to characterize the work of the death drive. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the death drive is said to be "a kind of organic elasticity, or, to put it in another way, the expression of inertia inherent in organic life" [36]. An elastic material is able to return to its initial form after undergoing a deformation. Elasticity is thus opposed to plasticity to the extent that a plastic material retains the imprint and thereby resists endless polymorphism. As we recall, what is said to be imperishable in psychic life is the permanence of form, not the absence of form. But instead of bringing into play the two opposite meanings of plasticity within the same phenomenon—the permanence of form—Freud sets to work, contradictorily with what he is looking for, a pure opposition between plasticity and elasticity. Instead of a fascinating face-to-face between creative plasticity and destructive plasticity, we have a disappointing contrast between plasticity and elasticity. Form means life. Death is without form. Life and death lose their similarity.

Freud states, however, that the profound meaning of the death drive is that death is immanent to life. It means that life forms its own destruction. That is why Freud affirms that "the organism only wishes to die in its own fashion" [39]. The organism fashions or forms its own death. There may be an elasticity of inorganic matter, but it is attained only as the result of a formative process: the process of repetition. But Freud does not succeed in characterizing the proper—the temporal—form of the death drive. There is finally no plastic work of the death drive.

In Wes Andersen's film, The Royal Tenenbaums, Richie's character chooses the process by which he hopes to die.

The suicide attempt is a failure, but he is later rewarded for his actions, and his aggression toward himself is then transferred to mutual affection for Margot.

It appears that plasticity can only characterize the good shape of the form, if I may say so. Plasticity means health, the ability to cling to a form without getting destroyed by it. As soon as the libido loses the right measure between attachment and detachment, it also loses its plasticity. Once again, there is no plastic work of negativity. Elasticity appears as the natural limit, or boundary, of plasticity.

Richie's love for Margot was not initially elastic, which came close to destroying him because there was not a balance between drives.

Loss of vitality, destruction of objects, repeated impossibility of loving are analyzed in terms of tenacity, adhesiveness, or elasticity. They never appear as negative plastic tendencies, as destructive forms. The intermediary state between life and death that Freud is looking for dissolves itself in what appears to be a poor opposition between life and death. Deprived of its form, the tendency to restore a previous state of things, to return to the very first moment, remains inexplicable. A mysterious natural elasticity contaminates the plasticity of life.

As Malabou questions, we witness the natural and eventual bend toward elasticity with Margot and Richie. The two characters reach a moment of clarity and understanding. And that sudden elasticity, to return to a balanced state is inexplicable.

Works Cited
Catherine Malabou. "Plasticity and Elasticity in Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle." diacritics 37.4 (2007): 78-86. Project MUSE. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 13 Apr. 2010 .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's Thanksgiving. Grandma's been up all night, preparing and slaving away. The setting is beautiful. Finest china and whitest tablecloth, waiting, ready for the inevitable spills and memories. Everything is finally ready; the family is once again whole, rustling around the house, chattering away, unloading food and children, filling every open space with holiday noise.
A hush moves over the house and we are summoned to the table. A Thanksgiving prayer is offered up by Grandpa before Grandma triumphantly enters with her masterpiece. There is a moment of inhaled magic as she sets the bird on the table, and we are completely, wholly, beautifully...Family.
We've come from the far corners of the county, making long drives of twenty minutes and some even an hour to be together. Despite the distance, we make a strong effort to see each other... at least twice a year. Life's busy you know... work. friends. life. But we're all here now right? And as we hold our breaths before we start the meal, eyes glazed, and plastered smiles, somehow I think we all know the same thing; that it's a lie. None of us want to be here. Poor Grandma's best attempt is to hold us together with mashed potatoes. But we are not together, or happy, or whole. We are forced, and fake and obligated. With each passing of the cranberry sauce one more judgment of each other is added, and by pumpkin pie we can nearly see the pile of annoyances and frustrations and indifferences growing between us. We want the idealized holiday magic, and create it for ourselves the best we can, but at the end of the night, that exhale is nothing more than relief, because we can once again be honest. At least until Christmas...
Rockwell's iconic painting for so many evokes a sense of family, safety, home, and happy togetherness. I can see a peace attached to this family feasting together. But in studying Shklovsky and his work "Art as Technique," I grew to wonder if the peace and joy that surrounded this picture was simply another societal construct. Shklovsky states that "as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic," and he describes this act of 'defamiliarizing' in order to create new perception and vision.
Though the story above seeks to change the original, or at least widely accepted perception of the painting, more than anything it demonstrates the power of automatization and habit. At the same time it shows the power of shocking the audience, and forcing and alternate vision.
So much of family holidays and get togethers are filled with dread, obligation and frustration. Family is forced together through blood, not common interest or unadulterated and unmotivated care. Depressing and pessimistic, yes. But in fact closer to many people's realities than what we are led to draw from Rockwell's "Freedom from Want." Maybe the family still desires freedom from want.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Truth in Grotesque

Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of carnivalesque is largely one of licensed transgression (according to Terry Eagleton) as well as liberation and emancipation. It's a form of release from ideological, political and legal constraints.
Carnivalesque is often characterized by sacred parody, abusive language (especially directed toward God), grotesque realism, and masks and clown figures.
Though initially it may seem a stretch, and I suppose I could be missing the point entirely, but much of our modern forms of comedy seem to take after the carnivalesque strand. This idea of humorously and wildly pushing boundaries with purpose that this concept represents is very much apparent in Eddie Izzard's stand up bits.

Not only is he making light of integral traditions of the Christian faith, he is also known for rather course language, and there is even an element of a mask and costume with his attire and heavy makeup.
Laughter is most definitely an important part of carnivaleque ideologies, as we see in chapter one of Rabelais and His World. And even though we laugh nonchalantly at Eddie Izzard or any other comedian who references religion, or even our own faith, we laugh because we recognize truth in the individuals' words. That possible truth then, like much of what is considered "art," forces us to question our perceptions and realities.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010


“For the effect of elevated language is not to persuade the hearers, but to amaze them; and at all times, and in every way, what transports us with wonder is more telling than what merely persuades or gratifies us.” (Longinus, 114)

Longinus’ work On the Sublime chronicles his thoughts and arguments on the source and definition of great writing, and more generally speaking, great art. He insists that the reader or audience be transported, uplifted, and inspired, in order for a work to be considered great and worthy of the title sublime.

On the other hand, those works that do not meet the criteria for greatness, according to Longinus, fall in three categories of failure: Tumidity, the Bombastic, or Puerility. He says that quite often when a work is not sublime, it appears arrogant, childish, rhetorical, and overdone; and generally unworthy of a second read.

The talk show host of the Late Late show, Craig Ferguson, gives a humorous and yet insightful explanation to this abundance in pueril and bombastic individuals in recent generations.

Mr. Ferguson claims that recent generations have grown to value and love the youthful, the childish and the stupid. And I think Longinus would have to agree. Even if we run with his reference to the Jonas Brothers, which sadly we must equate to a representative of today's art, it is obvious that the focus is quick, cheap, uninsightful satisfaction, rather than the sublime, which characterizes itself as something which collectively and intensely effects and inspires its viewer.

In a world of texting, Twilight, and Hannah Montana, one can only wonder what harsh criticism Longinus would grace us with. It is pueril. Pop culture is inundated with the simplistic and the childish. And it is bombastic and tumid. These simplicities are then over hyped and inflated to unimaginable proportions, screaming alleged importance and whining for constant attention.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plato's Ion

In Plato's whirlwind of an argumentative dialogue between Socrates's and the Homeric rhapsode, Ion, we witness the arrogance of an idiot who is easily beaten at his own game. Socrates turns Ion’s logic upside down as he questions poetic source, muse, and skill, as well as the place of these so called “Interpreters of Interpreters” (Plato 6).

Question after question, musing after musing, we see Ion’s standing as an intellect crumble, and his severe foolishness surface. By the end of the conversation, it is as if Socrates laughs at Ion’s supposed divinity, lessening him to nothing more than a puppet, reciting someone else’s genius.