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.

Quicksand, the Aesthetic Gaze and the Heterogeneous Subject

I would like to look at how the role of aesthetics in Quicksand relates to the “irritation” noted by Sianne Ngai in Ugly Feelings  and informs Helga’s racial consciousness.

Helga relies on the semiotic capabilities of beauty in order to string together a rational narrative of her life from the outside in, despite the inconsistency and tumult of her psyche. It is evident from the beginning, when Helga “smiles inwardly” at the message her small hats and elegant shoes send to the prim-minded employees of Naxos, who find them “positively indecent”(52). Early on, too, we learn that her entire life Helga has “loved and longed” for beautiful and pleasing “things” (41). It is in this desire for material beauty that we can find Helga’s method of anestheticizing the pervasive irritation that motivates her throughout the novel.

When the signifiers of her appearance are co-opted by the Dahls Helga enjoys it—at first. Helga invests her emotional capital in the “business” of her manufacture as an exotic aesthetic product, “[giving] herself up wholly to the fascinating business of being seen, gaped at, desired” (104). It is important to remember that Helga consents to this “aestheticization” in the beginning and that it is “intensely pleasant to her” (104). The eventual pleasure Helga finds in her beautiful appearance dissolves the initial “perturbation” (103) or irritation Helga experiences at being a “peacock” (103). In this moment Helga rejects any racial obligation to feel ashamed of her marketability in Copenhagen as an exotic and beautiful object. Her willingness to “try on” the identity the Dahls fashion for her, to try to locate her subjectivity through the eyes of her aunt, uncle and Copenhagen society, echoes the impulsiveness with which she relocates herself geographically. Helga’s attempt to locate or identify herself from the outside-in can be viewed as an attempt to arrest the queer condition of her ontological flux and non-binary racial consciousness. By cultivating her own objectification Helga obtains the ontological glue, so to speak, that temporarily alleviates her riven condition.

In Copenhagen Helga purposefully seeks to claim her blackness through the gaze of the Danish. “Intentionally” she speaks the “slow, faltering Danish” she thinks makes her more attractive for its indication of foreignness, and is gratified by the attention she receives (104). In the same turn Helga criticizes black Americans as hypocritical, denouncing that they “didn’t want to be like themselves”, and desired instead to “be like their white overlords” and “were ashamed to be Negroes, but not ashamed to beg to be something else. Something inferior” (104). In adopting her aestheticized and fetishized identity Helga cultivates a counterintuitive racial pride in opposition to both whiteness and blackness. In her above critique we can read Helga’s earlier criticisms of racial uplift, here characterized as the white washing of an essential quality of blackness. That this critique emerges from Helga’s being recast as a fetish object—a luxury item with the power to promote social buoyancy—is problematic, to say the least. Helga’s attempt to locate or identify herself from the outside-in can be viewed as an attempt to arrest the queer condition of her ontological flux and non-binary racial consciousness.

If Helga’s racial consciousness only manifests from the outside-in, as mediated by her beautiful environment, possessions, or appearance, then it follows that this identification exists only in that it is refracted through the eyes of another. In accordance with this triangulated aesthetic gaze, instances of beauty in the novel become representative of a symbolic observer that has the power to confer upon Helga a particular kind of social capital. Aesthetically objectified and “appraised” (81), Helga is contracted into a value (product) and thereby unified into a singular subject (paradoxically) by another’s objectifying gaze.

To be beautiful and to have beautiful things is a way to surrender to the gaze of another and so solicit the unified value that evades her internally. The pursuit and attainment of beauty alleviates temporarily the irritation Helga cannot seem to escape. In Helga’s characteristic attraction to beauty we can read her desire to anestheticize the irritation that stems from her incongruity with an ever-nagging racial binary. Even the “miraculously beautiful” (149) community she experiences in Alabama is refracted through the fervently religious eyes of Reverend Pleasant Green, her marriage to whom was tonic to the irritative rupture that occurred after her final meeting with Dr. Anderson. Helga chose, chased and conquered the Reverend as a way to still herself, to arrest her roaming consciousness and identity in favor of the numb bliss of religiosity and domesticity. Of course, at the end of the novel, in the bed after childbirth, Helga returns to her nomadic state, if only psychologically, and by the last sentence teeters on the edge of self-obliteration.

Structure of Trauma

 

The structure of trauma in Sasha’s narration deteriorates the exchange value of experience. Within Good Morning, Midnight, we are able to witness consciousness attempt to exile and omit trauma, only to fail and amplify its impact to the point of diminishing the rest of experience by comparison. Sasha’s projected gaps, understanding of herself as spectacle, breaks into isolated spaces, reliance on transaction, and ambiguity of interaction all contribute to and furnish an alienated experience after trauma. The words, events, and understanding are all distant and malleable to the point of non-existence.

One characteristic of the ellipses and gaps in the narrative are the repeated words or phrases that serve as their precursor – on page 17 (“Here this happened, here that happened. …”) page 26 (“Say something, say something. …”), page 33 (“quiet, quiet…”), page 34 (“A beautiful room with a bath. A room with a bath. A nice room. A room. …”), a not insignificant five times on page 59 (“money, money, money for my son; money, money….”, “Money, money for my son, my beautiful son….”, “Money, money….”, “Money, money.…”, “A beautiful, beautiful baby….”), and sustains a structural pattern over the course of the novel. It treats the language as an object, launched continuously into a gapped and narratively gaunt memory. These images narratively managed to be the sources and sequiturs of the trauma.

 

The novel opens with Sasha describing the interior of a room –

“There are two beds, a big one for madame and a smaller one on the opposite side for             monsieur. The wash-basin is shut off by a curtain. It is a large room, the smell of                   cheap hotels faint, almost imperceptible. The street outside is narrow, cobble-                       stoned, going sharply uphill and ending in a flight of steps. What they call an impasse.”

On 35 –

“And there I am in this dim room with the bed for madame and the bed for monsieur              and the narrow street outside (what they call an impasse).”

Sasha reiterates the environment’s hierarchy and concludes with its general indisposition. The depiction is an indecisive and pictorial form of literature, holding a reserved similarity to Emily Dickinson – “Delight – becomes pictorial -/When viewed from Pain.” The first is an assumedly content moment from which she withdraws. Within the second is a sense of a snared indifference. The prose has lost its momentum and separation, the language its coherence while the depiction is relatively the same. The meaning alone is near identical as the feel is undone due to its structure.

Sasha’s ambiguous interpretation of interaction following hostility also distances the narrative from experience. It first appears in her confrontation with Mr. Blank. After the confused, labyrinthine route Sasha takes from a misunderstood word, Blank, condescending and inimical, asks Salvatini whether or not he agrees on the fact that Sasha is hopeless.

“Salvatini makes a rolling movement of his head, shoulders and eyes, which means:              ‘I quite agree with you. Deplorable, deplorable.’ Also: ‘She’s not so bad as you think.’             Also: ‘Oh, my God, what’s all this about? What a day, what a day! When will it be                    over?’ Anything you like, Salvatini’s shrug means.”

Another example occurs after the tall and thin English girl at Theodore’s publicly humiliates her. On her way out, Theodore reappears.

“Theodore comes out from behind the bar and opens the door for me. He smiles, his                pig-eyes twinkle. I can’t make out whether his smile is malicious (that goes for me,              too) or apologetic (he meant well), or only professional.”

She has come to approach interaction transactionally. The other is alienated to an economical and indeterminate meaning, independent from the world itself. Salvatini is telling “anything you like” while Theodore’s emotions are away from function. It allows for her structure to elevate above what the narrative itself has to say. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. She has admitted to supposing the world and outcome are unreliable outside of oneself.

When words repeat, the narrative leaves in the gaps and when confrontation occurs, the narrative eschews interpretation for indifference. It is as if Sasha refrains from the irony of picking what physical language and narrative language mean. You might say that the exchange of interaction and experience are devalued after trauma and its continuous echo. The novel, in my opinion, is brilliant because it demonstrates how structure can exile its own words.

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.

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.