“You don’t know what you are saying”

   While I was watching Slacker I found some narrative threads similar to Samuel Beckett’s Murphy—beginning in the sequence that takes place with a women turning to her companion while walking and announcing “the next person who passes us will be dead within a fortnight.” This premonition is followed by the passerby seeking out a paper which reminds me of Suk’s celestial diagram in Murphy—not similar in content, but instead as a cataclysmic force. As the passerby approaches the newspaper vendor, he is greeted by fortune, a “two for one special.” He is hesitant—deciding instead to pay for the paper. He then uses his change in the vendor and is cheated out of a paper because the mechanism has malfunction. This hapless passerby has passively deflected a fortune and is bitten in the ass because of it.

  To worsen matters, a female walks by, he asks her for change (meaning break change rather than spare change) and she defensively shouts “you gotta strong back, get a job.” This perturbed misunderstanding led me to think of Celia’s demand for Murphy to “get up out of the bed…and walk the streets for work” (25).  The consternation on the pedestrians face is still mild and he is propelled into the marketplace, a diner to read their free copy of the paper. The diner is then full of people with slightly antagonistic tendencies that resemble the patients at Murphy’s ward. The utterance of “you should quit” aimed at the exceedingly confused pedestrian is repeated by a disturbed customer in this scene. This reminded me of the red lights that Murphy saw while on the job, yet dismissed: his acknowledgement of his growing comfortability and popularity with the patients, and an indulgent connection to Endon. Unlike Murphy however, this pedestrian is visibly uncomfortable with his surroundings and leaves the diner as the camera then follows with another customer’s exit. We hear in the unseen vicinity the threat of death follow the previous character through the sound of a car nearly hitting him. I wonder myself, was this woman’s premonition true—was he somehow a marked man? These resemblances, though not exact in likeness to Murphy’s, shared an upsetting strangeness, a haphazard fatality. It is both the word of the Suk (a paper) and the search for the newspaper that lead both characters on a journey ripe with misfortune that they are willingly passive about.

  The scenes that follow not only echoes tinges of Beckett’s Murphy, but also Adorno’s Minima Moralia. Linklater’s camera follows the robed man with coffee coming from the diner and walking into his apartment. As the scene unfolds the robed smoker reads his paper, while his girlfriend sits on the bed and suggests the two “go do something…go to the park and play frisbee.” In a candid and memorable diatribe, the boyfriend retorts “I hate shit like that…all that nature. Sunlight is so oppressive now…you don’t just go to the lake you have to prepare for it…[it’s like] pre-meditated fun.” The clever girl answers back, “Did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re what’s oppressive..let’s never go out, let’s never venture out of this one square mile area.” I couldn’t help—since the intertextual likenesses had been already made—but picture Celia and Murphy arguing back and forth on the bed (25). Murphy the ever so apathetic companion refusing to be removed from his stationary comfort zone in order to fulfill the demands of ordinary motivations. Celia, much like this female, points out his inability to be anything other than himself, inflexible and complicated, as she says to Murphy “you twist everything” (25). 

   After reading Adorno’s rants and ravings throughout Minima Moralia, I also thought of this scene in reflection. During a meditation on consumerism, Adorno posits “The fascinated eagerness to consume the latest process of the day not only leads to indifference towards the matter transmitted by the process, but encourages stationary rubbish and calculated idiocy” (118). These sentiments strike me as such a fitting encapsulation of the eager girlfriend’s plea of “let’s go out” and the disenchanted boyfriend looking to remain stationary and hiding behind calculated indifference for her desires. His words echo Adorno’s meditations, pointing out that it isn’t just going to the lake (the latest process), its something “you have to prepare for it…[it’s like] pre-meditated fun” (the matter transmitted) (118).

   Upon finding these threads, which seem to have been spun from similar fabrics, I wonder about the structure of Slacker. The movie seems like an open inclusion to the viewers’ production of connections that are generated by the thoughts carried through the film’s conversation. Linklater himself, describes in the opening scene, speaking about his dreams, “every thought you have becomes its own reality.” I think that the free flowing camera narrative mimics the quality of a free association, stream of conversation (or consciousness), and as it travels and splinters off, creating separate realities, the viewer transfers onto it—their own realities. This random effect the movie produces leads me to make one final association, in Minima Moralia Adorno warns us “The abundance of commodities indiscriminately consumed is becoming calamitous” (119). And what a productive calamity Slacker is.

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1 thought on ““You don’t know what you are saying””

  1. I found the discussion of “fortune” in your post interesting, and wanted to pursue the thread further. You offered that fortune is presented in Murphy and Slacker as a “cataclysmic force” that is “passively deflected”—inactivity, somehow, equates to a cheating of fate. If we superimpose Adorno’s theory of a totalizing social order borne of free-market capitalism onto the “Thema Coeli” section of Murphy or the matter of prophecy in Slacker, the “upsetting strangeness” or “haphazard fatality” you noted can perhaps be interpreted as a byproduct of this non-normative inactivity. An irrational model of social order like “fortune”, one that evacuates one’s choices of meaning on the basis of a hidden future, thereby promoting an apathetic response to life and death in general, is irreconcilable with a competition and value-driven vision of the world. Murphy’s horoscope gives him an excuse for passivity—absolving him, for instance, of looking for work until “The very first fourth to fall on a Sunday in 1936” (34). In this way the horoscope is a mediating agent between Murphy and the exchange economy, directing Murphy away from productivity in the present in favor of the imagined future productivity as delineated in the horoscope.

    If we compare the role of “fortune”, as represented by Murphy’s horoscope, with that of the free market as described by Adorno, we encounter some interesting similarities. The horoscope figures “fortune” as an arbitrary and external mediating force to which Murphy is subject and over which he has no control. Oriented toward an imaginary future happiness and security, the horoscope designates what one should and shouldn’t do in accordance with the cosmic powers that be. Murphy understands it as a “corpus of deterrents”(34)—a diagram of discouragement against action that lets him off the hook of productivity. This system, in comparison with that of Adorno’s capitalist machine, that maintains itself in the instrumentalization of individual lives to endlessly produce and reproduce exchange values, is similar in that both recruit an imaginary telos that retroactively negates the value of individual choice. Murphy’s disaffection with his world, rendered in the figure of the horoscope, is a recognition of the meaninglessness of his choices and so a rejection of the “good life” fantasy (Berlant 11). We can see how the horoscope functions according to the same temporal, i.e. future-looking, conditions of Adorno’s capitalist machine but with an inverse result—in subscribing to an alternative force of order and authority that defies rationality, Murphy cultivates indifference to the prospect of capitalistic “success” and “opts out” of productivity.

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