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.


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.