CTT Slacker and Structure

Capture the Tag Slacker:


In the blog post “Slacker and Violent Media”, Madison asserts: “while there may not be much happening in the film, there is a lot happening on the periphery of what is being shown”. This decentralizing of content in Slacker is but one way in which the structure of the film can be discussed in terms of Adornian fragmentation and queer passivity/nonproductivity.

Stephanie, in her post “Thoughts on Slacker” notes how Linklater’s pseudo-scientific “alternate realities” monologue at the beginning of the film might be read to echo Halberstam’s “detours”, i.e. alternative methods of solving theoretical problems within an “undisciplined zone of knowledge production” (Halberstam 15). To supplement Stephanie’s point, I would add Halberstam’s citation of Foucault, which highlights how hegemonic ways of knowing and relating are a constructed phenomenon: “The social worlds we inhabit…are not inevitable…in the process of producing this reality, many other realities, fields of knowledge and ways of being have been discarded and…”disqualified” [Foucault]’ (Halberstam, 9). In his rambling speech about reading in dreams and missed opportunities for bus station romance, Linklater also mentions how each choice a person makes theoretically denies countless other realities. We can stretch this a bit and consider Foucault’s concept of the construction of history in hegemonic discourse as a series of chances, either taken or ignored, that give way to one reality only in the suppression of others. In this context, the conspiracy theories that crop up repeatedly in Slacker can be understood as a paranoid response to literal or figurative violence inherent in the production of a single historical reality.

More generally, the anti-narrative structure and lack of character development can be usefully considered from the angle of Foucault and Halberstam. “We [don’t] get to see any of the characters develop” Stephanie states, “so, by society’s standards, they are all unproductive”. In allowing characters to disappear, the structure of the film also facilitates a characterization of them as failures. The characters are denied profit-based success not because they don’t have jobs (although it seems almost certain that most of them don’t) but because Linklater has manipulated what we see andas a result, how we interpret his characters’ (non)productivity. As Stephanie astutely notes, this fragmentation of form can be read against Adorno’s “false totality”. I want to elaborate on this idea, for it is this fragmentary formal constraint that offers us a disruption beyond that of mere characterization. If fragmentation betrays the truthful counterpart to a totality that, in its generalization, hides holes and disqualified realities, then, by denying the hierarchical structure of narrative, the fragmentary condition of Slacker reveals such realities by its commitment to pursuing the secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc. characters that standard narrative disqualifies in its orderly pursuit of central character(s), climactic event, resolution or other such formal mainstays. “Never looping back to main characters in the way other vignette movies do” Angelica states in her entry “Transaction and Meaning in Slacker”, “the film…[resists] traditional movie storytelling.” She goes on to say that this resistance mimics the resistance to capitalism many of the characters demonstrate, which I think is a fair assessment. For considerations of length, however, I will only say that the content of resistance is as complex as the form (free weapons giveaway, anyone?).

Formally, Angelica is concerned with a device that she has deemed the “switch off”—a kind of passing of the baton that the camera follows. This is precisely how the film gives us the ability to encounter so many characters in such a short time, while still maintaining a structural through-line and providing what Stephanie calls a “wandering or lingering” quality that cultivates the feeling of nonproductivity. Angelica sees this transference of attention as a “transaction” between individuals that, although it may involve goods, “isn’t mediated by goods at all”. I agree that the switch off is a human interaction, but I think it is most certainly mediated by goods. It is the qualities of these goods that make the switch off different. Firstly, they are often free (although sometimes they are not, ex. the latte, the soda, the diner coffee—mostly beverages, it seems) or stolen. Cigarettes, entry stamps, cameras and books are passed without charge from one person to another and incite the switch off. Secondly, the goods are arguably only valuable in the Slacker economy—the tape of the student hostage-taker, “oblique strategy” cards, the old man’s cassette—and sometimes not even in there (the Madonna pap smear). The transactions themselves often involve bartering, charity, or the aforementioned law-breaking:  when the old anarchist tells the would-be burglar to “look around, take anything [he] like[s]”, or the guys steal the car parts from the pick n’ pull. What makes the economy of Slacker go ’round may not be typical goods or exchange transactions, but both are still present.

Madisonduarte’s observation that there is much happening on the periphery of the film is important, I think, because in a standard narrative we wouldn’t be asked to concern ourselves with it. Slacker draws out peripheries from peripheries from peripheries, and, as a result, is peripheral itself in both in its non-normative form, subversive content and cast of ephemeral “ultimate losers”. As such, the film lends itself to a queer reading that encounters these decentralizing, disruptive elements as a rejection of standardization, normative historical methods and adherence with the global exchange economy.


Rhys and Adorno: How Do They Compare?

How does the style of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys compare to Adorno’s “spiders’ web” writing style, “loose and irresponsible formulation” and the use of “vague expression” he praises in Minima Moralia?

In Good Morning, Midnight the protagonist, Sasha is living a life of constant uncertainty, confusion, grief, pain and trauma. Rhys’s writing style with her liberal use of ellipsis, chapter breaks, dialogue and monologue in multiple languages suggests she is writing in a “loose and irresponsible” way with “vague expression[s]” that leaves the readers open to analyze the text and fill in the blanks that’s left by the ellipsis.

The ellipsis that opens a sentence even after a chapter break tells readers that there is more to Sasha’s life and experience than what is written in the novel.  “…I got to a hotel near the Place de la Madeleline” (Rhys 143) is a sentence that starts the section after a chapter break and that preceded a sentence that ended, not with a period, but with another set of ellipses. This and many other passages in the text “permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in this case” (Adorno 101). It allows the reader to think, analyze and imagine what he is reading instead of having each part of the protagonist’s experience spoon fed to them. The time between the ellipsis is at times unknown. What takes place in the character’s life is also at times unknown.

Good Morning, Midnight is like a “spiders’ web” but not quite the “tight, concentric, transparent, well-spun and firm” (Adorno 87) web the Adorno speaks of.  It’s a spiders’ web but it has many holes. Some many argue that the holes are the seemingly frantic use of ellipsis. It may even be considered a poor use of grammar and an inability to start or complete a sentence on Rhys’s part, not literary genius. On the other hand, it could be that Rhys wants readers to read between the lines, or create their own lines in the case of the ellipsis and chapter breaks. The untranslated languages, such as the French and German that’s used in the English text can confuse if not amuse readers. The use of language can be considered the “[s]shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech…” (Adorno 101). The “shoddiness” is the natural speech patterns and the multi lingual mind one can acquire when residing in a global city.

Sasha’s life can be defined as or compared to a spider furiously spinning the web of her life and constant mending the holes the weather, flying objects and giddy children cause. An example of Sasha furiously spinning is when she was meeting Mr. Blank for the first time. Knowing that her skills are limited, she feels it is a good idea to practice her German in her mind. “I at once make up in my mind that he wants to find out if I can speak German. All the little German I know flies out of my head. Jesus, help me!” She panics and start producing silk. “Ja, ja, nein, nein was kostet es, Wein ist eine…” (Rhys 24). The broken German monologue ends with a panicked Solfège. She is working on shoring up her web before someone puts a hole in it. Sasha wants to blend in her environment and stay safe.

One may ask if Good Morning, Midnight would have the same effect if it was “edited” in the way a high school English teacher would edit and grade a written text with the use of ellipsis that doesn’t fit the standard, chapter breaks that may seem obsessive and the use of language that may frustrate the reader. Rhys’s novel reflects life and the “looser” style Adorno speaks of and leaves the readers open to multiple levels of interpretation.



Thoughts on Slacker

I found the movie Slacker to be fascinating. I loved how the characters and the plot were constantly moving. When the movie began, the guy in the taxi was describing his dreams about the possibility of a multitude of alternate realities. The film’s focus on so many people’s different lives play into this idea of consciousness and how everyone lives in their own sort of separate reality. This was also explored through the suspicion of alternate histories, or conspiracies.

The way that time passed in the movie was also interesting. It was mostly linear, but I felt like it passed at a different pace for different people. For example, the initial scene where the man killed his mother felt like it dragged on forever. Part of this was probably because I was uncomfortable. I was reminded of the Helmer’s article on queer time, where this lingering or wandering would be considered unproductive.

I am thinking of writing my final paper on this question of how time and space function in the movie. The hint of alternative realities relates to Halberstam’s method of using “detours” or alternate modes of thinking to approach queer theory. The dreaming mentioned in the beginning of Slacker could represent a liminal space used to think about life and the choices we have to make in it. I also mentioned in one of my previous posts how Vincent’s car acts as this constantly moving, liminal space where he can solely think instead of act. I also suspect there is something to be said about lingering and time, but I’m not quite sure how to approach it.

Another interesting component of this movie that we touched on in our Thursday session is that all of these people are of the same class. This reminds me of the group’s discussion of the Adorno reading during Tuesday’s class. One of the conclusions we drew was that an equality without difference has no potential because of the lack of creativity, etc. I think this is ironic because all of these white students (who have the most potential based on their social position) are considered slackers, possibly because they have no one different to alter their perspective.

Pursuing Adorno’s argument that “totality is false” further, I think it’s important to note how the lives of all the characters were fragmented by the constant shifting of perspective. We didn’t get to see any of the characters develop, so by society’s standards, they are all unsuccessful. It seems that all of our characters who resist moving forward by participating in a form of work (Vincent… Murphy) are considered failures.

I also think it’s interesting that many of these so called “slackers” were college students. I wonder if Linklater was trying to make an underlying critique of capitalism for viewing labor as constructive, while knowledge unproductive. In other words, the exchange of theories or ideas as opposed to marketable assets is “valueless.” We can maybe talk later about how things such as knowledge are considered “priceless.”
Lastly, someone in class (I don’t remember who) mentioned how all of these college kids probably rely on their parents for money. I think the generational aspect of this deserves to be pursued further. I find it strange how the man killed his own mother, but also has had a type of shrine built in honor of her. During this scene, the camera also lingered on the video recording of his mother pushing him off on his bike with a kick. I think this symbolizes his frustration that despite her wanting him to launch, he is still living at home. That is however, if they were living together. (I feel like they were, but I also don’t know how his mom wouldn’t notice the shrine). Either way, I am interested in exploring these questions and contradictions further. Overall it was a really fun movie to watch.

Show Me.

Adorno’s marriage to the idea that whole series of closed systems are doomed to fail due to the inherent illusion that must take place in order for a closed system to exist is pounded out in a pointed and often contradictory fashion, if not convoluted. In this Adorn-ian way that he goes about making his point(s) the use of language is and can be at times unclear which in a way is “showing” us his point as much, maybe more, than actually “telling” his point. The idea that the more he explains a point the further he actually gets away from it, is a perfect example of the representation of language as a commodity, in that words no longer hold a valued meaning unless tied to the predominant enclosed system to which everyone is tied. In his words, “A writer will find that the more precisely, conscientiously, appropriately he expresses himself, the more obscure the literary result is though, whereas a loose and irresponsible formulation is at once rewarded with certain understanding,” (101).

Much like Adorno in the ways of attacking this issue, Linklater takes another, “outside” mode to the conventional way of making film to illustrate the issue of letting the points make themselves within the viewer and not making the point as writer/creator/artist. Not having a finely etched narrative to hang its coat on, so to speak, allows the film to follow the currents of discourse, that while having a very familiar casualness to them in tone or inception of how they come about, are nevertheless not conventional conversations to the majority in the predominant capitalist system in which we, in the U.S. are so prevalently tied to. The casualness that pervades throughout Slacker is an interesting device that allows the mostly unreferenced conversations or even monologues to have a thread running through them that keeps the narrative-starving audience at bay. Though not the conversations themselves, the “flow” of the film is similar to the Adorno notion of, “Shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech is taken as a sign of relevance and contact,” (101), replace “familiar speech” with just the word “familiarity” and you get my point hopefully.

Adorno goes on in the same passage under Morality and style, “anything specific, not taken from pre-existent patterns, appears inconsiderate, a symptom of eccentricity, almost of confusion” (101). The scene in the restaurant/café when the woman is directly addressing the coffee-drinker guy, there is no reference to what she is speaking about or to, although addressing him. There is no “pre-existent” pattern or reason for her speech and is therefore deemed or taken by the guy, if not the viewer/audience, as “inconsiderate” as he shuffles off in whatever form of irritation (buzz word) or confusion he feels. The same could be said of the “conspiracy” guy (Batman T-shirt guy) who follows, almost badgering, another guy who is listening but surely intent upon his destination to politely shake the guy. The conversation (or more accurately, monologue) is one of subversive content, seemingly, and is lost in the verboseness with which the “conspiracy” guy speaks. One can pick up on what he saying, but the friendly yet badgering manner “symptom of eccentricity” is more memorable than the specific, out of context speech he leaves behind. Once again asserting that, “Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case” (101).

The continuing point of the commodification, or the lack of value of words in a systemic context, is prevalent and poignant in the ritual scenes of Slacker. As an audience, we do not know the purpose of these rituals; is the son trying to have a remembrance of his mother by burning the pictures, or is he celebrating her departure/death. What do we make of the menstrual cycle demonstration? We never get to hear the point of such a ritualistic display. We as an audience, follow the more important and familiar path of the journey than the words or dialogue themselves. These rituals are deemed important in themselves and are a symbol of de-commodified language in that their mode is singular and unexplained.

In speaking of language, Adorno says, “It turns against the masters who misuse it to command, by seeking to command them, and refuses to serve their interests,” and Linklater’s Slacker is the manifestation of that refusal “to serve their [the masters] interests,” (102). It is filled with characters (if one can call them that) that are independently doing things outside of the commodified structure of their “masters” world. Whether by ritual (and why not keep the typewriter?) or the importance of the conventionally devoid of structure, non-narrative path, atmospheric river, or “bunny paths” over the words used to describe each individual path (Adorno is really getting to me now) the “how” is being shown to the audience, more than being told.

Adorno, Slackers and Language Exchange

In both the excerpt from Adorno and the film Slackers, the idea of language as a commodity is explored and how valuable it actually is. Adorno writes “A word is seldom banal on it’s own…the most abominable cliches are combinations words…utterly and completely, for better or for worse, implemented and effected,” (85). If a word is never obvious by itself, then it holds a lot of value based on the many interpretations it could have as opposed to a word that is less valuable if it has only one interpretation. Additionally, words lose value when they’re commonly used with words they’re familiar with. Using multiple words to essential reach the same interpretation diminishes the product as a whole. This would make sense because Adorno reinforces the idea that the length of text doesn’t matter, specifically, “should the finish text, no matter of what length, arouse even the slightest misgivings, these should be taken inordinately seriously,” (86) Tying this back into the value of words, if you’re sentence is forcing an interpretation, that would be a “misgiving” and should be taken seriously because it’s hurting the value of your language.

In turn, this thinking would imply that speaking with fewer words is actually more valuable because the importance of finding the value in each word is even greater. A longer sentence with larger words doesn’t equate to knowledge even though we’re conditioned to believe that. If anything, repetitious words and phrases only attempt to qualify the interpretation one is trying to reach in their writing. Exchange of language (and any other sort of capital) is at it’s most effective when it’s efficient and dealing with the smallest representation of capital available.

So how does this apply to the language and conversation in Slackers? Well if we look at the film’s scenes collectively, a common plot device we see throughout would be the use of declarations through speech. For instance whether it’s the talkative taxi driver in the beginning who walks with the young man for several minutes sort of rambling or the waitress in the cafe who repeats the same general message, “you shouldn’t sexually traumatize women,” they’re both attempting to convince the individuals of some truth. Where we see the value of language is while the taxi driver talks for what seems like forever, you never really get substance in his message other than conspiracy theories and that somebody is always “watching” us. The young man appears very disinterested and doesn’t want to spend capital in the form of time listening to him. On the other side, we see the waitress utter one sentence composed of five words. The man reading the newspaper, becomes intrigued and only loses interest when the waitress becomes flustered. Two forms of exchange through language with the more successful one being the more efficient and concise.

However in that example we saw the variable of the man’s interest not only being effected by the content of the message but also how it was delivered. There’s something to be said of the value of language not only being placed in meaning but also delivery. Adorno writes, “The poor chew words to fill their bellies…they maim the body of language, and so repeat in the impotent strength the disfigurement inflicted upon them,” (102). If we look at the final scene of the movie we have a man with speakers attached to his car belting out what appears to be support for a purge. The first viewing his words sound like noise muffled in his make-shift microphone. The disfigurement inflicted upon this man stems from his being an outcast, driving aimlessly and never declaring a destination. However, even though we understand his message he has “maimed” language with talk of a “fucking mass gun give away.” The value in his language stems in his ability to have a mobile broadcast. I think this highlights the importance of not only the value of language, but how we assess that value when taking language in or receiving it.