Monday, May 17, 2010

Iron Man: Messiah of Post-National Capitalism

It's tempting to look at hollywood cinema as purely entertainment, and in many ways, that's not an inappropriate viewpoint to take. Hollywood films are after all primarily a commercial enterprise that makes money by entertaining the audience. However, as Terry Eagleton points out with regards to Literature in Literary Theory: An Introduction, film is always already political. It's not a radical perspective to treat film as political, indeed, it's naïve to treat it as being apolitical.
Marxist film theorists have long focussed on the political aspects of cinema, with a central question of Marxist criticism being how works produced within the capitalist system can serve an emancipatory function. The answer, most commonly, is that emancipatory or radical ideas can be concealed within hollywood films. In some cases, as argued by James Kendrick, these liberatory ideas can be more overt. However, in other cases, the covert message of films can in fact be antagonistic towards a liberatory goal. Sometimes a film can appear as simply mindless entertainment and contain themes that actively reinforce the capitalist status quo. Such is the case in 2010's Iron Man 2, the sequel to the 2008 blockbuster Iron Man.
The two films, despite being the product of the same creative team, seem to have a different social meaning contained within them. Iron Man, it can be argued (as I have in prior work), is a film that is directly hostile to the military-industrial complex and the capitalist system of which it is a part. The sequel, however, presents an altogether different view, praising capitalism and private enterprise while diminishing the working class. Taken together, the two films offer an almost Messianic tale or the redemption of capitalism. So, while the first film does offer a critique of capitalism, the second transforms this criticism into a test and trial that capitalism must endure in order to emerge stronger and more triumphant. The capitalist system must confront all opposition, even that from within in order to become stronger.
The first film is a retelling of the origin of the character Iron Man, updating his story to the contemporary era. It is the story of how billionaire inventor Tony Stark is captured by terrorists who want to force him to build a weapon for them. Instead, he constructs a suit of powered armor and uses it to escape. Upon his return to America, he must confront his business partner, who had in fact hired the terrorists to kidnap and kill Stark. As such, the film offers a critical view of the military industrial complex and global capitalism in general. It presents a world in which global capitalism is responsible for supporting terrorist groups like Al Quaeda. It's hero, while he comes from the bourgeoisie, must leave behind his old life in order to confront these evils in the world.
Stark, to confront his nemesis and the forces of capitalism, must leave behind his concerns with private property and become what Marx calls an independent man.
A being only considers himself independent when he stands on his own feed; and he only stands on his own feet when he owes his existence to himself. A man who lives by the grace of another regards himself as a dependent being. But I live commpletely by the grace of another if I owe him not only the sustenance of my life, but if he has, moreover, created my life – if he is the source of my life, and if it is not my own creation, my life has necessarily a source of this kind outside in. … The transcendence of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human sense and attributes because these sense and attributes have become, subjectively and objectively, human. (qtd. in Kendrick 42)
When Stark is captured by terrorists, he is forced to give up for a time, his private property. To literally survive, he must make himself a new. If he were to have done as his captors wished, they sure would have killed him in the end. Even upon his return to society, he continues to display the characteristics of an independent man. He chooses, on his own, and despite outside pressures, to devote himself and all resources at his disposal to making the world a better place. He is mocked by the capitalist system, as portrayed in the film by the CNBC broadcasts, and eventually forced out of his own company by the board as he wishes to get the company out of the arms manufacturing business. Finally, he is forced to confront and kill his business partner who uses Stark's own technology against him.
In the first film, Stark is initially portrayed at least partially in a negative light, a womanizer with a drinking problem. He must make his life anew in order to become a good person. By contrast, there are those characters who are consistently presented as good, all of whom come from the working or middle classes. Stark's assistant is good throughout the film. The soldiers and officers of the military are good throughout. These characters are not figured of the bourgeoisie even as they work for the bourgeoisie. The working class, while it is subservient to the bourgeoisie is the site of morality in the film. By contrast, the capitalists of the film are portrayed negatively. The true villain of the film is Stark's own business partner. The business media mocks and ridicules Stark for attempting to take his company in a moral direction.
While the military is presented in a positive light in the first film, to be a force for good, Stark must be independent, he must create and control his own destiny, and he needs to be honest to thw world. While government agents assist Stark in his final confrontation with Stane (his business partner), they do so because their interests are aligned with Stark's, and not because they have sanctioned Stark's activities. This only further reaffirms Stark's indendence; while he has aid from others, he stands alone in the end, “he owes his existence to himself.”
Ideologically, the first Iron Man makes sense. It was made and released at a time when the general populous of the country was upset with major corporations, in the wake of the Enron scandal and corporate greed causing a recession that was severely hurting average men and women across the country. The film may not have truly suggested socialism as a solution, but it was certainly critical of capitalism. At least it appears to be so.
What is the critic to make of Iron Man 2 then, and how do we rectify the two apparently different treatments of capitalism presented. The circumstances at the release of the second film are still bad nationally. The recession is still ongoing, and while major corporations and their stock values are recovering, the unemployment rate is even higher than before, and average working people are still suffering. It would make sense for the second film to continue to be oppositional towards global corporations and capitalism. Instead, the film is fully in support of capitalism, and oppositional to a working class that attempts to stand apart from the bourgeoisie.
Stark, in the second film, is part superhero, part business man and part rock star. His keynote speech as his corporate expo bears resemblance to a rock concert, complete with scantily dressed dancers on stage with him. Far from being mocked by the business world, he he hailed as the wave of the future in business, even his business rivals are afraid to appear jealous or resentful, so great is his popularity.
Just as in the first film, it appears to be an alliance of business and criminal forces that Stark must confront. However, there has been a substantive change. Whereas in the first film, the corporate leader is manipulating the terrorists, in the second, the corporation is manipulated by the criminal for his own ends. Hammer, a business rival of Stark's also in the arms business, hires Ivan Vanko in an effort to diminish Stark in the business world. Vanko, however, has other goals, he wants to kill Stark, and he doesn't care who he hurts in the process. Hammer is hardly the villainos mastermind that Stane was, instead, he's just a bumbler, seemingly unaware that he's being used by Vanko. The first films Al Quaeda like terrorists are dupes of the bourgeois capitalist, the second films capitalist is the dupe of the working class rogue physicist.
If the villain of the second film is from the working class, what of the other characters, those clearly identified as being good in the first film. They remain, however, how they are good has changed. No longer are they good because they stand by the independent man. Instead, they are now good to the extent that they remain loyal to the bourgeoisie. Stark's assistant Pepper Potts, for her unflinching and unfailing loyalty is promoted to CEO of Stark Industries. Col. Rhodes, however, for standing loyally with the military and not with Stark, is unwittingly made a part of the plot against Stark. He is redeemed at the end precisely so that he can stand with Stark in the final confrontation against Vanko. From this we see a consistent approach in the film to the working class. Those who attempt to rebel against the bourgeoisie (Vanko) are criminals and should be dealt with as such, those who place their loyalty in something other than free enterprise and the capitalist system (Col. Rhodes) are merely ignorant, and finally, those who support the bourgeoisie unfailingly (Pepper Potts) will be rewarded. Instead of holding up the working or middle class as a model of what it means to be good, the working or middle class are good precisely to the extent that they support capitalism, free enterprise and the bourgeoisie.
Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 is a twisted reflection of Marx's independent man. He is independent, certainly. He meets the requirement of creating, being responsible for and taking ownership of his own existence. However, he hasn't done so by giving up private property, instead he's done so by have complete and absolute control of his property such that he no longer needs to rely on the property of others at all. He fights in the film, and triumphs, to keep his property; whether it be from other corporstions or from the government. This hardly seems to be what Marx intended when he spoke of transcending private property, rather its an absolute exaltation of private property.
The film goes a step further in its exaltation of private property, when it has Stark announce before a Senate committee that he has successfully privatized peace. Indeed, at that point in the film, by his presence in the world as Iron Man, he has forced nations of the world to come together and work for peace. His technology is so superior to that of any nation on earth, including the U.S., that all nations must work for peace. Stark further proves his point and his technological superiority by showing video of other nations and corporations laughably failing to come anywhere close to building technology like his suit.
It appears at first in the film, that Vanko coming onto the scene with technology that can rival Stark's will call into question this privately enforced peace. Stark is shown to be falling apart personally, slipping back into alcoholism as he copes with his own mortality. The government comes to him, to show him that there is a way to resolve the problem of the toxin that is slowly poisoning him. Superficially we have at this moment, a melding of corporate and government interests. The private corporation or individual cannot accomplish everything on its or his own, and must turn to the government or public sphere for assistance. This moment, however, is short lived in the film, and doesn't shape the overall meaning substantially. This is because at the same time Stark has been forced to turn to one part of the government for help, another (the military) has chosen to steal his property (one of his suits) in a desperate attempt to acquire the technology for themselves. The military then turns to Hammer to further weaponize the suit, which turns out badly. Hammer does add weapons to the suit, but they are largely ineffective. What is instead effective is that Vanko is able to rewrite the computer software of the suit such that he can control it remotely even while there is a pilot inside. In this way, Vanko attempts to force Col. Rhodes to participate in the killing of Stark.
The conclusion of the film, while plot wise being rather unimportant and just another way to plug the Marvel comics film francise, is very important thematically. It features Nick Fury from SHIELD (a government intelligence agency) showing Stark a report that has concluded that while they would like the Iron Man suit, they don't particularly want Stark and furthermore, that since they have acknoledged that the suit is his, they will not have either. Instead, it is implied that the world will continue to have Stark's privately enforced peace, at least for the foreseeable future. He will continue to act as he sees fit to maintain the peace, independent of any governmental or other oversight.
What we have between the two films then, appears to be thematically and ideologically oppositional. The first film appears to support at least partially a Marxist critique of capitalism, or at the very least a liberal critique of corporations. The second film, however, is an exaltation of capitalism and the corporation, and a direct opposition to any working class revolt or questioning of the corporations or capitalist system. How then, is the critic to treat the two films together as a single artifact? Is it just that the first film is responding to a time when the people were desiring to see corporations as evil, and the second is from a time in which people are once more looking to corporations to improve things? Or is there an ideology that can rectify the two apparently distinct and oppostional meanings?
What I posit, is that the two films, taken together, show and exalt the transition from the old way of the military-industrial complex, the alignment of corporate and governmental interests, to a new form a post-national global capitalism. Yes, the first film does feature corporations and capitalism working for evil. However, looking again, the evil that Stane represents can also be seen to be a reinforcement of free-enterprise. This is because Stane is eventually destroyed and Stark triumphant. What Stane has done, is attempt to get ahead by turning for help to those who are opposed to free-enterprise and capitalism as a whole (Al Quaeda like terrorists). So, we can see Stane as evil because he abandons the capitalist way of doing things. Stark then, is not a redeemed member of the bourgeois who has seen the evils of capitalism, instead, he is an agent of capitalism transformed and sent to destroy those who have abandoned capitalism. This reading is much more in keeping with the second film, in which we once more see Stark triumph over someone who is opposed to or outside of the capitalism system. He does so, not by turning to the government for aid, instead, the government has become a crutch. Stark must now chart a course independent of the government, a future in which corporations and capitalism are no longer tied to or reliant upon the nation state. Instead, nations are brought together in peace because global capitalism has demanded such.
The Iron Man films, then, are a messianic tale for global post-national capitalism. The story of one man who will arise from hardship and suffering, and lead capitalism into an era in which it is no longer shackled to government at all. As Stark says, he has privatized peace. Free private enterprise doesn't need governments or nations to create a peaceful environment in which to do business. Instead, when it is in their interests, corporations can and will bring peace to the world.

Works Cited
Althouse, Matthew T. “Kevlar Armor, Heat-Seeking Bullets, and Social Order: A Mythological Reading of Judge Dredd.” Comics & Ideology. Eds. Matthew P. McAllister, Edward H. Sewell, Jr., and Ian Gordon. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006.195-219.

Byers, Thomas B. “Terminating the Postmodern: Masculinity and Pomophobia.” Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 5-33.

Dassanowsky, Robert von. “Catch Hannibal at Mr Ripley's Fight Club If You Can: From Eurodecadent Cinema to American Nationalist Allegory.” Film International 5 (2007): 14-27.

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. 3rd Ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Kading, Terry. “Drawn Into 9/11, But Where Have all the Superheroes Gone?” Comics as Philosophy. Ed. Jeff McLaughlin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 207-227.

Kendrick, James. “Marxist Overtones in Three James Cameron Films.” Journal of Popular Film and Television (1999): 36-44.

Marx, Karl. “Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. July Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 665-672.

Marx, Karl. “German Ideology.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. July Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 653-658.

Marx, Karl. “Wage Labor and Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. July Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 659-664.

The Elephant Man

My group is tasked with presenting on David Lynch's The Elephant Man. In this case, its hard to pin down exactly what my contribution was, as a result of the nature of our process. We worked collaboratively in the planning the entire way through, discussing various theories, how these theories might be applied to or reflected in the film. If I were to hazard a particular contribution I brought to the table, it would be my own broad ranging background in theory of all sorts. I was able to bring in theory from sociological and psychological sources, as well as film theory drawn from art history as much as from literature. In this way, I contributed to the broadening of our own process and the final decision to open the discussion to our colleagues in what theories were reflected in the film.

Rococco Marxism

I'm doing this theorizing from the comofort of a graduate level course. I work, but comfortably in an office, at my own convenience while I attempt to better my mind. I don't have to work in a factory or at a construction site. I'm not digging ditches or building houses. While I may struggle economically, it's hard to call myself a member of the proletariat in the original meaning. At best, I'm petit-bourgeois. I can recognize to an extent that my intrests are more closely aligned with the working class, but I'm not truly part of the working class. Am I then a Rococco Marxist? Do I just put on the trappings of a Marxist sensibility despite my own relatively comfortable life? Do we all?

Inglourious Basterds: Fairy-Tale War Film and Conservative Ideology

According to Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition, knowledge is justified narratively. In prior periods of time, there were meta-narratives that people ascribed to. Such meta-narratives provided a framework for understanding and knowledge all sorts of different ideas and knowledge claims. Now, however (at least in the United States and the West), there is a general distrust of meta-narratives. In particular there is a distrust of dominant meta-narrative of the enlightenment, that of reason and the scientific method. While some people certainly believe in meta-narratives (witness the number of people who take the Bible as literal truth), culturally, we no longer have a single meta-narrative that we believe in or that provides unity. Instead, we have fragmentation and a diverse array of narratives which we use to justify all sorts of different knowledge claims.
For some time, it seemed that there was however, one narrative that people did not question by and large, that of history. People tend to believe that the past has actually occurred as we understand it. Certainly there is an understanding that history, our stories of the past, were written by individuals and groups and so may not be completely accurate. There remained however a general idea that the past happened, and while our understanding may be imperfect and partial, it is not wholly inaccurate. As such, we preferred our stories of the past to match up with our understanding of the past. This was particularly true in entertainment. Stories of the past needed to reflect our understanding of the past.
Now, however, we can see that something has changed. We have come to the point that we take everything as just another story, another fiction, to be received and interpreted by the audience. In August 2009, we saw the release of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which seamlessly blends depictions portrayals of Nazi-occupied France with a modern day fairy-tale. Judging by its popular success, the audience was perfectly willing to forgive that the film clearly portrays events that never happened with the successful assassination of Hitler in a movie theatre in Paris in June of 1944. The ireverance towards history is forgiven because the film is entertaining. The audience takes pleasure in watching American soldiers scalp Nazi's, and has not complaint that there is a blending of fact and fiction.
In addition to the blending of fact with fiction, there is a clear and conscious blending of style. On the one hand, it is a war movie with a motivational speech given by Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine that is clearly reminiscent of the film Patton. On the other hand, the film opens with the text “Once Upon a Time,” just as many children's fairy tales do. This, however, is not a fairy tale in a far away lad a long time ago. This is a fair tale set in 1944 France, during the middle of the Nazi occupation. A time and place in which there are still people alive today who were present. There are references to and portrayal of real historical figures alongside the characters from Tarantino's imagination. The setting is real, individual scenes are clearly portrayed to evoke a sense of reality, such as when a Nazi soldier asks a young french woman her name and she interprets this as a demand to see her papers, a demand he had every right to make, and which she could not refuse.
Tarantino is often understood to be a postmodern film-maker. His films are very consciously a pastiche of different styles, of scenes derived from different films. Many of his films have been narratively fragmented, such that an understanding of the order of events of a film can only be gleaned at the conclusion of the film as in Pulp Fiction, in which the opening scene is the end of the film and the rest of the scenes are all a jumble in when they occurred in time. Inglourious Basterds follows a much more conventional narrative structure, only occasionally fragmenting its story with unannounced flashbacks. Instead, Inglourious Basterds betrays its postmodernity in that is is a pastiche of genres, and a parody of that staple of modernist cinema, the war movie.
Postmodern theory or philosophy is often critiqued as being value neutral. That is, it is unconcerned with real socio-economic conditions or the reality of oppression in society. Instead, it is concerned with language and symbols. It takes everything, even us as people to be nothing more than constructions of language, a collection of signs to be unpacked. Others have ctiricized postmodernism for offering an explanation of oppression for which there is no resolution. While such oppression is seen as only a construction of language, we too are a construction of language, so we can never escape from our linguistic situation. As such, postmodern theory is generally understood to be only offering an explanation, and not actually critiquing the conditions of people in the world at all, that is there is no suggestion that the conditions are to be seen as good or bad, merely understood. Building upon this, postmodernism is critiqued as lacking any morality. That is, following the line of postmodern reasoning, all morality is just a linguistic and cultural construction, as such, there is really no ground upon which to stand and assert that something is immoral, simply that it is from a different cultural construction, and not inherently better or worse than our own beliefs.
However, such critiques do not always hold true to art (particularly cinema) that is considered postmodern. As a cultural artifact, film is almost always ideological, particularly those films that are intended for entertainment value that fall into the realm of popular culture. Popular culture always contains ideological elements, either in support of or opposing dominant ideologies. According to the article “Just Like Independence Day!” The Falling Towers on 9/11 and the Hegemonic Function of Intertextuality, the film Independence Day was a work of modernist cinema, and though it was released prior to September 11, 2001 and the events of 9/11 the spike in rentals following 9/11 and a close textual analysis of the film reveals that it was taken following 9/11 to reaffirm the dominant American ideology of the day, particularly the rhetoric of President Bush. By contrast, the same article argues that the postmodern film Fight Club undermined and questioned the dominant ideology of the day. The article argues, following the reasoning presented by Boggs, that postmodern cinema with it “thematic emphasis on chaos, intrigue, and paranoia, death of a hero, disjointed narrative structures, and embrace of dystopia,” questions and critiques hegemonic ideologies. As such, the article breaks down how Independence Day supports the hegemonic ideology through the modernis focus on form, design, determinacy, and genital/phallic featured and contrasts this to the postmodern Fight Club with its anti-form, chance/chaos, indeterminacy, and polymorphous/androgynous features. These elements, which clearly delineate the two films as being modernist and postmodern in approach respectively also reflect how the two films relate to hegemony. The modernist features of the former reinforce hegemony while the postmodern features of the latter question hegemony.
The same article, likewise, treats Tarantino's earlier film Pulp Fiction as a work of postmodern cinema; evidenced by its disjointed narrative, lack of a clear hero, chaos over design and indeterminacy. By extension, the article implies that Pulp Fiction and all postmodern cinema should in some way question or subvert hegemony. How then, are we to treat Inglourious Basterds; is it a modern film, or a postmodern film; does it support or subvert a dominant ideology?
Given its subversion of the narrative of history, its pastiche of styles (fairy tale and war movie),
it seems to clearly belong to the category of postmodern cinema and not modern cinema. While its narrative is more linear that Pulp Fiction, it is still fragmented as it is broken up into chapters that have either thematic or temporal gaps between them. As such, the film seems to most clearly fall into the realm of postmodern cinema. However, looking at the film ideologically, Boggs' conclusion that postmodern cinema questions or subverts the hegemonic ideology comes into question.
Structurally and narratively, the film is clearly postmodern. However, the film also seems to have a clear delineation between good and evil, it is after all a story of American soldiers fighting the Nazi's in occupied France. The American soldiers led by Brad Pitt are clearly masculine, while the Nazi's, particularly Colonel Landa are more effeminate. There is no crisis of American masculinity present in this war film, in contrast to Mark Straw's take on how American men are emasculated in Gulf War films and how this is crucial to the perceived victimhood that is part of American national identity. In Tarantino's war film, the men are men, the women are all beautiful dames, and the Nazi's are effeminate villains to be destroyed.
While it is easy to read the Nazi's as clear villains, reviled as they are in contemporary mainstream culture, Tarantino's American soldiers can be harder to read as traditional heroes. These are not soldiers fighting in a battlefield, or storming the beaches. These are soldiers behind enemy lines, whose express purpose is to terrorize the enemy and inspire fear in them. To this end, they beat their victims mercilessly, scalp them as they lay dying on the ground, and mutilate those they allow to live by carving a swastika into their foreheads. Such are clearly not the actions of soldiers, at least not as commonly depicted. However, the film inspires no revulsion in the fewer at such actions. Instead, the film plays such actions as being justified. In Tarantino's world, such actions are justified in the fight against evil.
This is similar to how the Bush administration authorized the torture of prisoners to extract information, and indeed, former members of the Administration continue to argue in support of such activities occurring with the justification that they saved lives. Inglourious Basterds doesn't offer a critique of American soldiers torturing the enemy to extract information, instead it revels in and seems to clearly support such activities. While the film was released in 2009, it was made during the years of the Bush administration when the military was sanctioned to carry out activities that we ourselves considered to be torture following World War II.
So, Tarantino's postmodern fairy-tale war film seems to be fully supporting a hegeminic ideology of us against them, of American militarism, and the justification for torturing the enemy in pursuit of liberty and vengeance. It is telling that Tarantino's soldiers are all Jewish-Americans, and that the cinema owner responsible for locking the German high command in the theatre and burning it to the ground was a Jewish girl who witnessed her family murdered by the Nazi's when they were found in hiding. In the name of vengeance for the atrocities carried out by the Nazi's against the Jewish people and bringing liberty to occupied France, atrocities of war are fully supported and justified. Just as following 9/11, in the name of revenge against the terrorists and bringing freedom and liberty to the Middle East, the American government authorized torture and other atrocities.
This brings into question Boggs' argument that postmodern cinema questions or subverts the dominant ideology. With Inglourious Basterds we have a postmodern film that seems fully in support of, to the extent of relishing in, the activities authorized by the dominant ideology. As such, calling a film postmodern is not sufficient to mark it as being critical or subversive. Indeed, the stylistic features of postmodern cinema, going so far as the very questioning of meta-narratives that Lyotard defined as the core of postmodernism can be used to support a dominant ideology. There may be cases where postmodern films are indeed critical of dominant ideologies, but this can hardly be seen to be a feature of postmodern cinema. Nor can it be said that postmodern cinema is totally nihilistic or devoid of any value claims whatsoever as others have argued about postmodernism in general. Indeed, Tarantino's film clearly advances a moral judgement and can also be read as being in support of the dominant ideology. As such, postmodernism, at least in its cinematic form, for all that it plays with narrative and received meaning is certainly not devoid of meaning or argument.

Works Cited
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Friedberg, Anne. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Gournelos, Ted. “ Landscape and Instability in American Visual Culture: The Lord of the Rings, Matrix, and Terminator Trilogies.” International Communication Association, May, 2007, San Francisco.

“'Just Like Independence Day!' The Falling Towers on 9/11 and the Hegemonic Function of Intertextuality.” International Communication Association, May, 2005, New York.

Jameson, Fredric. “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” Postmodernism: A Reader. Ed. Thomas Docherty. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 62-92.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “The Postmodern Condition.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 355-364.

Sobchack,Vivian C. “The Postmorbid Condition.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. 6th ed. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. 414-418.

Straw, Mark. “Traumatized Masculinity and American National Identity in Hollywood's Gulf War.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 6 (2008): 127-143.


In honor of deconstruction being taken to its own logical extreme of all texts meaning all things, I present to you the following theoretical treatise.

1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, cream together shortening, brown sugar and white sugar. Mix in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the batter until moistened. Mix in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven, until the edges are light brown.

Structure, What Structure?

Coming down to us by way of Saussure's students, we have structuralism. One of the most radical changes in any theoretical movement. Structuralism's importance doesn't so much seem to me to be what it strictly ried to do, but how it changed how theorists think about language. The entire social-constructivist view of reality relies upon the ideas of structuralism. Of course, this has also given rise to contemporary pomo-nihilism, but that hardly removes its importance as a theoretical moment.

English and Politics

Eagleton's history of the rise of English intrigued me. Certainly, it does away with any grand notions as to why English departments came about, but really, isn't education always already political and ideological? It makes more sense to me to think of the rise of English departments and the humanities in general from viewpoint of how power is served, what ideologies are served or promoted through the educational changes. Education in what is now termed the humanities has been about creating and fostering national culture and identity going back to ancient Greece (though then it was likely as much about fostering an identity as an Athenian or Spartan as it was a Greek identity). Socrates was executed for corrupting the youth, why, because he tought things that didn't contribute to the reigning Athenian self-identity. At least now we just get fired, or can't get hired, if we teach in a way that questions power too much.