Sunday, 27 July 2008

Obama/Wayne 2008? McCain/Wayne 2008? (x-posted) Having failed in my attempt to compel Adam to discuss The Dark Knight in terms of Schmitt, Benjamin, or Agamben — the perpetual state of emergency and what-not — I was content to let the matter drop. But as a future professor of literature somewhere, preferably in the near future, I can’t let the conservative push to lionize Bush-as-Batman or the liberal push to demonize Batman-as-Bush stand. Both interpretations are naive inasmuch as they mistake the depiction of an issue for an endorsement of it. The conversations on Unfogged about the impossibility of an anti-war film always annoyed me because they either 1) knighted those most likely to misunderstand the most basic literary devices — like irony — the final arbiters of meaning; or 2) devolved into polite-but-pointed accusations about who really loves watching people-bits scatter across the sky. In professional-literary-type terms, the conversations flat-lined somewhere between Fishian reader-response and crude Freudian insinuation. Needless to say, neither of these modes produces much in the way of value. To return to The Dark Knight: although not immediately evident, the film is profoundly critical of the current administration and its policies. Its utilitarian compromises — the surveillance system, Batman in the box with the Joker — are criticized by sound moral agents as they occur: Lucius threatens to quit, Gordon breaks for the door. The problem, in both instances, is that neither Lucius nor Gordon has the authority or muscle to stop Batman. Their attempt to stop Batman from compromising his moral authority fails; and their failure leads directly to Batman’s debasement at film’s end. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. (Way ahead of myself, as I meant to note that one of the reasons I’ve written so much about The Dark Knight isn’t because I’m a fanboy — although I am — but because it’s a such a rare horse: a film as substantial as it is popular and can be discussed with an audience unaccustomed to literary analysis. It’s as if the world itself has done the reading.) In Batman Begins, the formative event in Bruce Wayne’s life is the murder of his unambiguously good parents. To young Wayne, their commonplace death — nothing atypical about urban violence in impoverished cities — represents a radical wrong in the moral order of his universe. The depth of his belief in its wrongness is evident in the lengths he goes to combat it: the years of training, thieving, imprisonment, &c. It was all for naught. As Ra’s al Ghul said, when a city is so corrupt criminal organizations can infiltrate its highest offices, only a purging fire can set matters right. Nothing more unusual here than the standard revolution-as-social-reform, proceduralism-won’t-work line. Given the dystopia that is Gotham in the first film, Ra’s al Ghul is certainly right. Wayne’s solution is quasi-proceduralist, inasmuch as he introduces a radical element within the extant social structure in order to provide Gordon, Dent, and Dawes time and space enough to prosecute via conventional means....
Brain-damaged historians (x-posted.) Somewhere in Silas Weir Mitchell's voluminous correspondence on the brain damage of Civil War veterans—my notes are in California, I'm now in Texas—is an account of a Confederate soldier whose bullet-struck head recoiled into a dry-stone wall and performed a fortuitous auto-trepanation. The insult to his brain had been mitigated by the hole in head, but Mitchell feared the soldier would never regain normal cognitive function. As time tripped over nothing, cursed in tongues, begged passersby for aid and, roundly rebuffed, stumbled on, the soldier slowly found himself again. Eventually he could move, see, speak, form new memories and remember the old ones. He was as he'd been before the war, but for the brutal fact he saw in still life: The dog is across the room curled before the fire. Blink. The dog is on its hind legs staring out the window. Blink. The dog is in the middle of the room facing him. Blink. The dog is sinking its wet nose into the crook of his arm. Blink. The dog is across the room curled before the fire. The soldier suffered what we now call akinetopsia or motion blindess.* The effect represented by crude blinks above is better, if more crudely, represented about 5 minutes and 14 seconds into this clip, which captures the fear and paranoia Mitchell assumed would accompany akinetopsia. Items like fans would be particularly disturbing because they produced a constant impression upon the skin by a process undetectable to the patient, for whom the blades would jump—jump—jump instead of spinning. But Mitchell was less concerned with akinetopsia itself than one of its side-effects: the ghostly motion trails produced by items in motion. Stand before a motion-blind person, do a jumping jack, and he will describe two scenes: a first in which your arms are at your sides, and a second in which your arms stand solid above your head, but are followed by a faint trace of the space they traveled, like the long exposure photograph on the right (original) only far less pronounced. Mitchell believed these traces might be related to what would have been his crowning achievement were it not for Charlotte Perkins Gilman: phantom limb syndrome. Normal brains need not speculate as to how your arm moved from Point A to Point B because it registered Points A.001 up through A.999; that is, it receives sequential sense impressions of your arm as it travels from hips to head.** A motion-blind brain only receives sensory impressions from Points A and B, but because it knows arms must move through space, it compensates for what it can't perceive by drawing diaphanous snow-angels in the air. It does so, Mitchell believed, because even damaged brains know how they ought to behave. They know what stimuli they should be receiving and, in their absence, choose to receive them anyway. For Mitchell, the brain is but a forlorn lover refusing to acknowledge its loss: lop off an arm at the elbow and it will insist...

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