Thursday, November 5, 2009

Adam Blue and the Bastard Boys of Fedaliya

This are the first five pages of a chapter in progress. I am nowhere near happy with it yet. So consider that a warning.

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Chapter 11

Night, Day 40: Adam Blue and the Bastard Boys of Fedaliya

The buildings in Fedaliya emerged from the sparse landscape like cracked clay pots; ragged mud walls framed the crumbling family compounds which had been loosely tossed over the landscape by the blind architects of momentary convenience to create a winding community of intermittent, populous and filthy estates. The gaps between these tiny fiefdoms were clotted with refuse, makeshift shacks and stagnant pools of water ranging the entire spectrum of spent automobile fluids, giving the entire impoverished Shiite neighborhood the feel and appearance of an occupied landfill. The passage between Fedaliya and the abutted, and only modestly better to do, community of Kamaliya was a rough and serpentine unfinished thoroughfare sitting atop a large dirt fill, comically referred to amongst Americans as “Dead Cow Road”, a name the locals seemed determine to immortalize by dragging their dead livestock up the steep slopes on either side to rot in the open air. The intended effect was two-fold: to dissuade Americans from entering the neighborhood and to make apparent their disgust with the broken incinerator they had once used to dispose of trash and that same ruined livestock. Their passive-aggressiveness failed to accomplish either of these ends. The soldiers charged with the daily patrols had grown accustomed to the stench and relished the opportunity to ferry unsuspecting officers, those who had grown bold enough to temporarily venture from safety of their swivel chairs on the FOB to test their mettle, through the putrid corridor.
At night, in the absence of an electric grid, the only sources of public lighting were the headlamps of American humvees and the flickering fluorescent bulbs bolted to the side of the Al-Kinani Beverage Market and Husayniya. It was a singular self-sufficient oasis, a one-room, concrete building bisected by a tarp to separate a small and reverent worship area from crowded shelves of dry goods and a single humming refrigerator filled to bursting with cans of juice and soft-drinks. With its steady supply of junk food and illumination, the shop was a popular destination for Fedaliya’s more listless, less well to do inhabitants: which is to say, most of them. The hubbub of activity made for a convenient stopping point for visiting Americans to connect with the locals, quench their pallets and generally jam an obtrusive thumb into what was in all likelihood the asshole of Baghdad.
Adam’s squad and an Iraqi interpreter, Buster, stood like hunched vagrants at the shining cultural nexus of that asshole, leaning against a tattered mural of Mohammad Sadiq Al-Sadr on the east facing side of the beverage market.
“I’ll tell you what, you know, when I went out on patrol with the armor guys last week I saw the weirdest fucking thing.” Jane glistened with sweat in the balmy night; her eyes were dark and plump from lack of sleep as she stepped away from the wall to address her companions.
“So there we are, down in Sumer Al-Ghadier, really nice neighborhood, sort of walled off with Ministry of the Interior roadblocks. Apparently, there’s some Iraqi high up there and he’s got guys in street clothes armed with AKs just standing around and looking tough, and he had a bunch of private bodyguards hanging out, fucking goons, biggest goddamn Iraqis ever. But anyway, we’re there and I see this dude on the other side of the roadblock looking over a fence, and here’s the thing… he doesn’t look Iraqi. You ever see an Asian hanging out on the street? I bet you fucking haven’t. Well, we go over and start trying to talk to this guy, and he doesn’t speak English or Arabic. Why? The motherfucker’s a Chinese national, just chilling out in Baghdad. What the fuck are the Chinese doing here?”
Sergeant Alcott’s spun to face his soldiers. A candy bar fell to the earth, a plume of dust rolled outward from the site of impact. Alcott bobbled quickly toward the group from the semi-circle of trucks providing security for the dismounted soldiers. His massive frame was made even more imposing by his protective vest and the huge assault pack slung across his back.
“Why didn’t you tell me you caught spy, Sergeant? Goddamn inter-fuckin-national espionage, that’s what that was. Anyone say what the interrogators got out of him? Probably some sort of wonton eatin’, commie superspy. Good job, Davenport, nothing gets by my soldiers. Highly trained. Combat ready.”
“We let him go.” Jane shrugged. “He wasn’t doing anything.”
Alcott’s jaw dropped. Cowboy slammed his hat against the horizon and let out a drunken holler. The two were stunned. Cowboy collected his rage first.
“Dagnab, woman! How you gonna go and let the Red Chinese slip outta yer hands! You listenin’ to this horseshit, Adam? What’s she mean he weren’t doin’ nothin’? He was there weren’t he? He was bein’ Chinese plain as day weren’t he? Since when don’t that constitute somethin’ ain’t right? Need him to hand ya a fortune cookie says, ‘Golly, miss, I been up to some no good commie bullshit’n tryin’ to destroy yer way of life’ or somethin’? Hot damn, that gets me riled.”
“What do you mean he wasn’t doing anything? Did you search him, did you search his house?” Alcott spat a brown lump of cud at his feet, it splattered on his toe. “Anything?”
“No, he was just standing there. We asked some of the neighbors and they said he was a fixing satellite service or something. It’s not like I was in charge, they said leave it alone. I did.”
“Satellitin’ yer goddamn location right back to them goddamn Maoist cocksuckers!” Cowboy’s face flushed, thinking about far away pandas and all the evils they embodied.
Alcott drew a hand up to the side of his head, blood pounding in his ears, his mind skirting a terrible realization: the Chinese had turned American Army officers against their own government.
“Davenport, come here. We need to talk offline. Get in the truck.” Alcott grabbed Jane by her sleeve and led her away from the group.
---
“You guys been taking dumps off the side of the tower or something?” Lieutenant Brenard called over the push-to-talk radio clipped to Peter’s chest.
Peter grasped at the radio, tugging it from its perch.
“Maybe, why?”
Peter had been put in charge of the squad communications. This all important social distinction primarily came about because Peter had lobbied Brenard personally, pitting the Platoon Leader’s hatred of Alcott against every reasonable objection to having to listen to Peter’s incessant and often distracting diatribe against the social injustices perpetuated by the American military industrial complex.
“You got some kids eyeballing the fuck out of you. Where’s fatty going?”
“He’s all worked the fuck up because Jane let a Chinese super spy get away.”
“What?”
Peter thumbed the transmitter, letting static pour over the connection for a moment to create a sense of the dramatic.
“Word on the street is he’s smuggling the secret location of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Only one man can keep all those pork wontons out of terrorist hands.”
The occasional clever wise-crack at the expense of Alcott and Alcott’s blubbering inexpressible rage at the political content crackling through the device filled Brenard with such a deep satisfaction that he couldn’t help but intercede and buck the tried and true system of giving the coolest shit to the people with the highest rank. By all rights, the radio should have gone to Jane. The only time this system of distribution could be bypassed was when, as in Peter’s case, a soldier had immediate access either through social privilege or by virtue of job position. This common supply loophole explains why soldiers busy prosecuting the war outside the American barbed wire encampments often had to make do with substandard equipment, while soldiers who were in charge of distributing new gear were armed with state of the art implements of war. Often one could determine a soldier’s proximity to the supply chain simply from the accoutrement festooning his or her rifle. Peter was proud of the number of widgets screwed into his gun, not so much because they made him a more efficient killer as for the fact that they clearly illustrated his gilded position within the military social hierarchy. Alcott often glanced from the bareness of his own rifle to the cluster of infrared lasers, high-powered scopes, ergonomic handgrips and personalized slings crowding the actual functioning parts of Peter’s rifle with disgust and wonder. The brand-spanking-new bipod affixed to Peter’s barrel was left ever open and extended for all the world to envy, the firearm equivalent of a shameless public hard on. It was a hard on equivalent that Alcott couldn’t look away from.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Autogenesis: The Terminator and the Art of Self-Conception

I feel like this could still use some tweaking. I was limited to about 4 pages, so I couldn't cover everything I wanted to say. If it seems like I leave a point shy of fully explored, I apologize. If you can think of ways to change it without changing its length, I'm all ears. The last sentence is sort of in place-holder status right now--I haven't fully settled.
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It takes no great act of intellectual gymnastics to draw a reasonable connection between the elements of James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator and what can be euphemistically called a woman’s technology of choice. In the film, a machine disguised by a biological human exterior travels into the past in order to “terminate” Sarah Connor’s unborn child, John Connor, who happens to grow up to lead a post-apocalyptic resistance against the robot overlords: a job he can use to pad his resume at Kinkos once the mechanical-ragnarok settles down. Apparently, freedom fighting is a tough to market skill set, but nobody deals with a broken copier like John Connor. Now, an attempt to justify that tangent: John’s mother is the copier, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is the ultra-buff cyborg sent from the future to blast her toner cartridge apart with a shotgun. The Terminator’s globally scaled technophobic nightmare centers on the control of one working class woman’s reproductive equipment, a narrative which on the surface appears to present a heroine breaking away from a life of mediocrity to overcome impossible odds and seize mastery of her genitive processes away from a terrifying embodiment of an oppressive patriarchy. Closer examination of the gendering of the film’s characters reveals a far less liberating subtext, one which puts to question how our culture chooses to frame reproductive technologies and the evolution of gender roles in the modern world.

The unseen driving force behind the Terminator’s hunt for Sarah Connor is the enigmatic Skynet, the artificial intelligence responsible for the future near-extermination of humanity. Skynet itself is a non-gendered entity; its apparatus of interaction in the film is a hulking visually imposing male figure. Of course, the maleness of the Terminator itself can be called into question: is gender defined by appearance or motivation? As a machine, the Terminator does not possess a “male” mind, but rather a gender neutral mind. It seems unlikely that the cyborg’s appearance bears any relation to Skynet’s sense of self; rather, it draws on a cultural understanding of what is intimidating. This could be a formulation on the part of the artificial intelligence, but the decision to mold a cyborg specifically designed to infiltrate the tattered remains of humanity in the shape of a looming six-foot-two bodybuilder appears a bit conspicuous and as such seems to be a somewhat impractical decision for a super computer to make, pointing instead to a preference of human origin: that of the film makers. So, ignoring the aesthetic display of masculinity—a mask really—Skynet and its Terminator ultimately exist as a technology with a singular purpose in the film: to usurp authority over Sarah’s baby-maker and stop it.

If the Terminator is an instrument of abortion and Sarah Connor the film’s everywoman, then one of the implications presented is that abortion is harmful to every woman; a point driven home by the cyborg’s murder of Sarah’s mother and all the Sarah Connors in the phone directory. All these women, by virtue of their alikeness, are essentially unidentified casualties of a conflict surrounding motherhood and reproductive decisions being waged by forces situated beyond the periphery of knowable existence.

Time travel in The Terminator aside from being a practical method of naked transportation between two points, provided those points are separated by time instead of space, also works as a form of what Petchesky describes as womb surveillance. The characters from the future possess special knowledge of Sarah’s unborn child. The importance attached to this knowledge upon delivery, that she must save her own life and secure her role as mother, anchors her to a destiny which she has had no part in devising. The case presented by the male hero, Kyle, mirrors the function, argued by both advocates and opponents of abortion, of a sonogram in that it is meant to bond the woman to her progeny through the anthropomorphizing of the fetus, even going a step further by assigning the unborn child a name and purpose. Kyle is also represented as a human opposite to the machine hunting Sarah down, a rescuer, but his mission is no more liberating than the Terminator’s, both present the same binary option: embrace motherhood or face catastrophe. If Sarah does not have a reasonable opportunity to self-assign gender roles, then with whom does the power actually rest and whose power is threatened by the cyborg? At the start of the film, Sarah is merely another Sarah Connor, one of many on a list, and only through embracing the goals of a traditional patriarchy, a cultural institution built largely on the management of the female genitive process, can she be fully realized in the fictional world of The Terminator. Cameron’s narrative establishes an illustrative, if paradoxical, cycle of womb administration as a reproductive custody passing from father to son to father, the mother first surrendering to the ambitions of the father and then deferring to the son’s wishes. John Connor’s implied manipulation of his own conception breaths vivid life into the sometimes tired and overly-speculative art of diagnosing an oedipal complex.

John and Sarah, when judged in terms of free agency, make for more interesting foils than Kyle and the Terminator, who act only on behalf of another’s will utilizing imperfect knowledge of Sarah’s womb-destiny to steer events. Sarah is by far the least powerful figure in the film, acted upon by agents of entities not yet existent, devoid of special intimate awareness of her body, and forcibly assigned the role of motherhood. John, on the other hand, is the most powerful character in the story, having all but defeated Skynet—the only other entity capable of orchestrating actions based on knowledge of events situated in Sarah’s future—and having self-defined to what should be an impossible degree of specificity. John Connor is his own maker whereas Sarah is made, defined by a family line over which she has no authority.

The Terminator presents itself as a cautionary tale of technology gone awry, claiming free agency for women and trumpeting the defeat of a masculine archetype. Instead, it makes a case for what every woman should want: a benevolent patriarchy which bestows upon her a precious baby boy to maintain the continuity of human existence. John Connor is, through his own paradoxical origins, an immaculately conceived savior with no clear beginnings; when he looks back over his own history he does not see the agency of others but rather the workings of his own hand. He is a sort of modern divinity reasserting the power of men over life and death, invoking a mythical tradition of male parthenogenesis to defeat technologies which threaten patriarchal order. The film recasts gender neutral forces, giving technology a sinister goal and appropriating the feminist understanding of the enemy as a hyper-masculine bogeyman in order to achieve a pseudo-feminization of the womb-management of the classical patriarchy by presenting a female character as being strong in the face of an invented mutual enemy. The Terminator generates an argument against reproductive technologies that it cannot possibly lose, because who sides with killer robots?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Where are the Greek Villains?

Where are the Greek Villains?

Greek mythology introduces a pantheon of heroes, superhuman beings capable of performing impossible deeds, unbound by human limitation. Modern narratives typically dictate a force in opposition to heroism: villainy. Often the Gods and heroes themselves are embodied as agents of both forces. Gods punish wantonly, demanding vengeance, blood, destruction and sacrifice from those who offend them; heroes slaughter entire cities kit and caboodle for the sake of glory and treasure. While morality certainly does exist within the scope of Greek literature, the characters are reflections of an imperfect world capable of good and evil. Perhaps one of the keys to reconciling the context in which a laudable hero can commit acts of treachery and wholesale slaughter is an understanding of the one-world model of Greek mythology. The gods do not inhabit some other plane of existence, but rather make their homes at the peaks of mountains and within the temples of their favored cities and islands. While their domains are rarely accessible, they are present in the lives of mortals. Even the land of the dead can be reached by a particularly bold traveler. The entire spectrum of being existed in this mutually shared space. A world model which does not separate goodness from evil into meaningfully distinct camps precludes the creation of villains as they appear in modern works.

In order to advance this argument, it must be first demonstrated that despite the fact that many of these tales are born of a more distant past, they do actually reflect the world view of the Classical Greek audience. Within the texts of the Epic Cycle there are repeated indications that the events occurring are not contemporaneous with the poet. The opening invocation of the muses indicates a lack of firsthand knowledge in the matters being discussed; after all, why should a poet need to invoke a minor goddess to tell him how to describe an event he bore witness to? (Carpenter, 24) Archaeological findings confirm the separation between the Mycenaean Greek origin of these myths and the Classical Greek cultural prism through which modern readers interact with them. The degree to which Homer, as an Archaic or early Classical Greek, is capable of detailing the warriors’ impedimenta and the architectural style is doubly significant in that he describes them in great specificity and equally great historical inaccuracy. The implication is that he substituted what he knew for those things which he either did not know or did not see value in repeating. (Carpenter, 31) It stands to reason then, if Homer altered the story to reflect details which would be familiar to a Classical Greek audience then he likely emphasized or introduced themes which would also resonate culturally. Though these myths may be the product of another age, the form encountered by modern readers is certainly one which was intended for, and therefore reflective of, Classical Greek audiences. Were the opposite true, then The Lion King and West Side Story might be called accurate portrayals of Shakespearian drama, an assertion unlikely to win praise in any scholarly circles.

Having established that these texts were composed with a Classical or pre-Classical Greek audience in mind, it becomes necessary to turn to the works of Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days to define the nature of the Greek cosmos. Greek cosmology occurs entirely within the scope of that which is observable; Hesiod describes all of existence, excluding that which is generated exclusively by the yawning nothingness of chaos, as the product of the Earth and the Sky, everything in existence lies between. “In truth at first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth[…]And Earth first bore starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.”(Hesiod, “Theogony” ln.116-126) The Earth, Gaia, created a domain in which the Gods would dwell, and by extension the creations of the gods. Within the Greek tradition, the Gods take on a decidedly anthropomorphic form, reflecting successive familial lineages stemming from the origin of existence, leading to an ordered cosmos under the rule of Zeus. (Clay, 13) Within this existence the gods create humankind, which takes on varying permutations through the ages as the divine powers apparently attempt to get the formula right. The final incarnations of the human race, the races of heroes and iron, would seem to blend into one another, a progression characterized by a diffusion of the divine stock present in the gene pool. (Clay, 93) This distinction between the mythological races of men is vital to the Classical Greek understanding of Homer’s works, as the mortal characters belong to the race of heroes and the audience to the race of iron. It is additionally useful in illustrating the mixture of good and evil within their world. “For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labor and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils.” (Hesiod, “Works and Days” ln.176-179)

The fact that Homeric characters exist in a world without absolutes helps to explain why Hector, the mightiest Trojan warrior in the Iliad, with his perfect filial loyalty and prowess in battle can also stiffen out of fear at the thought of fighting Achilles. It can also serve to explain how Athena, the goddess of wisdom, can engage in trickery to convince him to fight Achilles by posing as his brother and successfully goading him forward with the prospect of victory through dirty two-on-one tactics, only to disappear, abandoning him at his final moment. Hector’s lapse of courage and brief abandonment of honor do not rob him of his heroic status, nor do Athena’s actions make her monstrous, instead it fixes them within the framework of functioning singular cosmos. In this sense, Greek mythical figures, though exaggerated, are made compelling by their realism, as opposed to exemplifying a purely static and impossible ideological archetype. Ancient Greeks allowed for the possibility that their heroes might, in certain circumstances, behave badly. This is not to say that these characters go without judgment, on the contrary, the gods constantly weigh the virtues of their actions and mete out punishment as they see fit. The gods, being themselves imperfect, often appear heavy or light-handed in their verdicts. The magnified scale of Greek mythical figures often results in an almost absurdist system of crime and punishment. Within a single story one might find both a hero, Odysseus for example, who is guilty of genocide and is sentenced to slowed return home, waylaid by the inconvenience of erotic extramarital episodes with divine beings. In that same tale, one also finds a group of lousy houseguests, at worst guilty of conspiring against the host, who are met with wholesale slaughter. These inequities of justice are reflective of a reality which is not always fair to its participants. It should be noted that, in spite of obvious favoritism in the distribution of justice, proportionality is essential to the Greek concept of virtue versus guilt. In a world without purely manifested ideological extremes, the sum of a character’s actions determines his or her fate. A person who has done more evil than good is subject to divine wrath, whereas a character that is largely virtuous is likely to be reprieved. In the Agamemnon, Clytemnestra can be seen as just for killing her husband out of vengeance for the duel crimes of sacrificing their virgin daughter to Artemis for the sake of sacking Troy and the utter destruction of Troy itself. However, the fact that she is also an adulteress who, along with her lover, profits from the execution by usurping the kingdom dooms her. The righteousness of her actions is outweighed by the evilness of her intent. Had she been otherwise virtuous she might have escaped punishment. Orestes, her son, in killing her, balances the crime of matricide by avenging the murder of his father.

In an ethical system founded on the principle of doing more good than harm, true redemption does not exist. A character cannot achieve spiritual forgiveness, they can merely stave off the wrath of the gods by not pushing so far beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct that divine favor completely abandons them. This is reflected through the competing agendas and judgments of the gods. Odysseus, to his credit, manages to appease most of the gods, but consistently brings down the wrath of Poseidon on himself and those around him. Judeo-Christian monotheism differs in that divine forgiveness is absolute; this is reflected in the clear separation of mortal and divine affairs with the deity existing on another plane of being. Absolute goodness exists in Heaven and absolute evil exists in Hell, the mortal realm exists as a testing ground, but eternal forgiveness or damnation are uncompromising ends to which a mortal can aspire. A polytheistic one-world cosmic model differs from a monotheistic multi-world model because one offers an eventual release from the dictates of knowable existence, while the other anchors the soul to the mortal experience. Monotheism offers two possibilities, complete bliss and complete suffering, whereas the Greek system delivers the dead into a grayish limbo which is, at its finest, reflective of Thesiod’s view of the best possible life—a balance of good and evil.

Aristotle’s work Poetics provides modern scholars with a significant insight into the workings of Greek narratives. In this work, the philosopher considers the nature of the tragic narrative as well as tragic elements of the Epic Cycle. His work helps modern readers to distill the elements of Classical Greek narratives valued by those chronologically proximate to the texts.

Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear […] There remains, then, the character between these two extremes—that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. (Aristotle, “Poetics” ch.xiii)

This Aristotelian view of tragedy conceives it as a narrative detailing the downfall of a person who is neither completely virtuous nor wicked, one who is not brought to ruin through sin but rather through miscalculation, ignorance or inability which leads to a tragic turn of events. At the risk of contradicting earlier assertions regarding the moral balance of characters, it should be noted that Aristotle seems more concerned with the shocking immediacy of a narrative’s turn of events than the justness of the circumstances. (Jones, 14) Central to Aristotle’s argument is the idea that human beings are caught in the snare of fate or circumstance, in which case the morality of the participants is a secondary consideration dictating the action (response), but not necessarily the outcome. This concept can be seen to function in a variety of ways in Classical Greek narratives; the most accessible example is perhaps those warriors of the Iliad who are destined to fall in combat. Patroclus is slain because he ignores Achilles’ warning to not venture too far into battle, his mistake is hardly relevant since Apollo orchestrated his death at the hands of Hector. The role of Patroclus’ actions in this case becomes negligible since it is divine will which decides his fate. Beyond the maneuvering of mortal and divine characters within the text it is clear that Patroclus’ death serves the narrative function of drawing Achilles into battle, turning the tide of war. A direct corollary can be therefore be formed between the divine will present in the text and those things which occur to advance the narrative. Returning to the question of morality in regards to the actions of Athena and Hector, his timidity in the face of danger and her ignoble methods become nearly immaterial byproducts of fate and artistic design. In order to avoid the somewhat conspicuous contradiction between the previous claims made regarding the balance of morality and the endorsement of Aristotle’s view of the dramatic form, it becomes necessary to refine the primary argument being made. The ancient Greek world, while wholly contained within a single sphere of existence is not egalitarian in nature; fate always takes precedence over mortal ambitions. Therefore, the miscalculations of characters which are often presented as poor moral decisions serve to deliver them to their fate. The simple fact that they are destined, in the narrative sense, to make a particular choice does not preclude them from being judged.

It is fitting, having moved from discussion of a one-world cosmic model to Aristotelian dramatics, to briefly address the ontology of 5th century BCE Athenian philosophers. Firstly, the work of Plato is a two-world metaphysical model consisting of physical and metaphysical existence. The actual distinction between these planes of existence does not divide the world in a way which meaningfully damages the properties of the one-world existence previously mentioned. Plato’s two-world model separates perfect from imperfect concepts, and while he would surely argue that all perfect concepts are “better” than their imperfect counterparts, it is doubtful that he would consider them inherently “gooder” since a concept can exist in perfection without existing in a state of goodness. This separation of pure divine concepts from impure mortal concepts advances the argument that the Greek cosmos was hierarchical in nature, even outside the domain of folklore. Aristotle, Plato’s student, returns to a one-world ontological model in his Nichomachean Ethics, thus returning the divine to the immediate human experience. Aristotelian virtue relies on a concept of proportion and moderation, essentially systematizing the traditional Greek worldview to reflect a clearly defined ethical system. Returning to the fallen warriors of the Iliad, Patroclus and Hector, when their cases are applied to the Aristotelian definition courage, their actions can be further explained.

Now the brave man is as dauntless as man may be. Therefore, while he will fear even the things that are not beyond human strength, he will face them as he ought and as the rule directs, for honour's [sic] sake; for this is the end of virtue. […] Of the faults that are committed one consists in fearing what one should not, another in fearing as we should not, another in fearing when we should not, and so on; […] The man, then, who faces and who fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and from the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions, is brave; […] the man who exceeds in confidence about what really is terrible is rash. […]The rash man, however, is also thought to be boastful and only a pretender to courage; at all events, as the brave man is with regard to what is terrible, so the rash man wishes to appear; and so he imitates him in situations where he can. […] The man who exceeds in fear is a coward; for he fears both what he ought not and as he ought not […] The coward, the rash man, and the brave man, then, are concerned with the same objects but are differently disposed towards them; for the first two exceed and fall short, while the third holds the middle, which is the right, position. (Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics” book iii, sec. 7)

Patroclus, in defying Achilles’ warning, demonstrates brashness in the face of danger; he puts on Achilles’ armor and imitates his courage in battle, but ultimately falls short of the Greek virtue of bravery because he chooses not to demonstrate reasonable fear of danger. Hector is not a coward by this Greek definition as the fear he harbors is reasonable given Achilles’ prowess in battle. By choosing to face Achilles he demonstrates moral virtue. It could be argued that his momentary willingness to abandon honorable combat is indicative of cowardice; however, the fact that he stands his ground against his opponent even after Athena abandons her ruse illustrates his true nature. The mere act of considering dishonorable action in the face of certain death does not, by Greek standards, make him a coward.

The ultimate effect of the Classical Greek worldview is the production of works devoid of true villains. At most two mythical figures might find themselves in opposition to one another, each performing virtuously in accordance with their own telos. This absence of ideological extremes is brought about by the formulation of a world view which does not subscribe to the concepts of absolute good and evil, but is more mindful of the orderly procession of a hierarchal existence. This relegates morality, in the sense that it applies to good and evil, to a secondary consideration mediated by circumstance and divine necessity. This worldview is not completely removed from modern audiences, but rather quite close to the reality which we exist. Though modern western thinkers would like to consider themselves virtuous creatures driven by a desire to perpetuate a greater good, the reality is that seemingly moral decisions are rarely absolute. These choices are made on the basis of a limiting ideology centered on the self, the social unit or the political unit. Frequently, people are called on to make decisions which benefit one group over another, and while these actions may not be called evil, they are likewise not wholly good. Ancient Greek narratives embrace this ambiguity of action, accepting that individuals and groups often work in their own interest at the detriment of others. Perhaps the modern constructions of heroism and villainy are manifestations of a deep cultural denial which seek to conceal the failings of absolutist thinking by inventing a world in which a human being can act in an irreproachable and categorically impossible inhuman manner.


Works Cited

Aristotle. (c. 350 BC) Poetics (S.H. Butcher, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.mb.txt>

Aristotle. (c. 350 BC) Nichomachean Ethics (W.D. Ross, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.mb.txt>

Carpenter, Rhys (1962). Folktale, Fiction and Saga. Los Angeles: University of

California Press

Clay, Jenny Strauss.(2003). Hesiod’s Cosmos. New York: Cambridge University Press

Hesiod. (c. 350 BC) Theogony (Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Hesiod/hes.th.html>

Hesiod. (c. 350 BC) Works and Days (Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Hesiod/hes.wd.html>

Jones, John. (1980). On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy. Palo Alto: Stanford University

Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Not Update?

I feel alright today. That's good.


Where am I? I suppose that's more or less an irrelevant question to ask on the internet, a place that is not fixed, which can be conjured to any location with a wire and an electrical pulse (but seems most at home in places that serve espresso.) To answer that question which may not have needed asking, I am alone in my apartment--procrastinating. Taking my time getting to writing a small fleet of papers for school, holding my breath for a serviceable novel to appear on my screen, I just finished watching The Devil Wears Prada (it was free OnDemand, and came out in the last two years... I jumped out of survival instinct, it wasn't bad.) But where am I? I am situated sometime in between here and there, here being where I was when I started, whenever that was, and there being where I'll end up when I finish, wherever that will be. Location, in this sense, is not reflective of geoposition, but rather life position. Which is to say, like the internet, I'm all over the place no place all at once.

I don't understand people of any stripe. I can parse them: motivations, wants, failings, virtues. I can appreciate them. I just don't understand how the core of one person can be so different from another. If people were volcanos, I would be a snow capped mountain. Sure, I'm not likely to blow anyone up, but no one is going to turn on the news to see what I do next... at most I might humble those people stupid enough to suffer my pointless jaggedness.

Anyway, once these papers are out of the way, I've got some promising notes on new material for the book.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Environmental Factors, Order and Chaos in Late and Post-Victorian Literature

Here's something to "entertain" you. This is a paper I wrote for a literature class, a topic I am by no measure qualified to speak about.


One can say, with no measure of doubt, that a particular work cannot be both exclusively pertinent to a singular era while also transcending the passage of time to inform and engage modern readers. The writings of Ibsen, Mann, and Conrad persist in their relevance beyond their simple revelations as historical texts reflective of their Late and Post-Victorian origins by exploring topics which invite speculation outside the purview of the period allotted to them by the sweeping hands of history’s keepers. This is not to say that these works are not products of their time, but rather that the extremity of the overarching aegis of the Victorian Era was such that it provoked in these writers an urge to address the philosophical assumptions of their day, assumptions which were not by any means unique in a historical context, but were elevated to such a point of social import whereby they became virtually synonymous with the age. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, explore the relationship between the axis of order and chaos versus the axis of goodness and evil in relation with the human experience through the eyes of individual Victorian characters. Each author in his own way challenges the western preconceptions which tie goodness to order and chaos to evil by stripping away the veneer of good and orderly existence to reveal the absolutist correlation between these axes to be an artificial construction divorced from the actual human condition within the reality of Victorian culture and beyond.

The Role of Travel and Geography

In shaping each of these works the authors took care to juxtapose the austerity of Northern European cultural standards of order against more viscerally passionate locations to the south: Italy in the case of Ibsen’s and Mann’s work, and Africa in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. These locations serve not only as a cultural manifestation of Victorian strictures or the lack thereof, but also as a metaphorical bridge between geography and anatomy. The northern origins of the characters identify spatially with the brain, the supposed source of Victorian superiority and civilization: intellect, stoicism, Apollonian thought and western refinement. The north to south travel of the principal characters can be seen to correspond with an acknowledgement of, or awakening to, Dionysian impulses manifested at least partly in all cases with sexuality; thus this travel can be viewed as a shift in the anatomical center of thought downward from the head to the sexual organs. This change in locality also manifests itself as a change of atmosphere from cool to warmer climes. In A Doll’s House, Nora and Torvald’s trip to Italy, occurring prior to the story, is made evident through Nora’s fiery tarantella dance to provide a contrast against the frigid Norwegian winter. Heart of Darkness similarly opens beneath the oppressive darkness of London’s overcast sky and quickly thrusts the reader into Marlow’s sweltering account of Africa, home of Kurtz’s wild mistress and all the primal energy Conrad assigns to its thick jungles. At first glance, Mann’s Death in Venice, would seem to defy this pattern by placing the protagonist Gustav van Aschenbach in an unseasonably warm and humid Munich to begin with and then moving him to an unusually dreary and cool Venice; however, when viewed not as a comparison between the physical temperatures of the locations but rather as a contrasting indicator of the relative heat or passion of Aschenbach’s temperament as he moves between these environments, one can further assert the importance of the imagery of environmental temperature change in demonstrating the effect of location on the character. Assuming for the use temperature as a metaphorical representation of passion, Aschenbach, as he appears in Munich, is cooler than his surroundings; this is an allusion to his status as an exemplar of stoic ideals. It stands to note that amongst a society which reveres his mentality, he is set apart by his unusual lack of romanticism. His relative warmth in Italy signifies the stirring of a suppressed and excessive desire, one so great that it defies the capacity of a city as symbolically romantic as Venice.

The Role of Illness and Its Link to Food

Having asserted the role of temperature imagery in advancing the common thematic elements of these three texts, and having similarly identified the role of individual temperature in the case of Aschenbach, it is only natural to extend this to an analysis of the role of fever specifically and disease in general within the context of the Victorian sentiments which manifest themselves in the writers’ works. In each of these texts, disease (a manifestation of both passion and disorder) plays a two-sided role as a liberator of social constraints and as a potentially lethal killer.

In A Doll’s House, Torvald’s illness, which precipitates most of the events in the play, is cured through travel to Italy’s warmer climes which, as previously noted in relation to her dancing, results in an awakening of a sense of unusual passion within Nora. The circumstances by which the trip was made possible, Torvald’s illness and Nora’s subsequent forgery of her father’s signature on a loan document, further demonstrate the good that can arise from a state of disorder. Torvald’s position of financial executor is hampered by his disease, but Nora is able to overcome the problems facing her marriage through a criminal act of forgery which both cures her husband and quietly liberates her from Victorian social expectations. The collective cultural repertoire from which these three authors drew contained more than a few concepts which might be alien to the modern reader. Not the least amongst them, the widely held belief that disease was the result of unnatural sexual and culinary appetites advanced by the American temperance leader Sylvester Graham[1]. This causal link between food and disease is most directly formed in A Doll’s House, wherein Nora and Rank discuss the nature of his fatal illness.

“Rank. My poor innocent spine has to suffer for my father’s amusements.

Nora. I suppose that you mean he was too partial to asparagus and pate de foie gras, don’t you?

Rank. Yes, and to truffles.

Nora. Truffles, yes. And oysters too, I suppose?”

Rank. Oysters, of course, that goes without saying.

Nora. And heaps of port and champaign. It is sad that all these nice things should take their revenge upon our bones.” (Ibsen, 38)

While on the surface, this brief dialog might seem to the modern reader to subtly hint at sexuality, the actual connotation within the context of the time is much more significant given the outspokenness of the Grahamite movement during the Victorian era. Nora’s shift in topic from the unseemly frankness of the sexual act to euphemistic dietary habits opens a window of opportunity for the two to speak flirtatiously. Rank personalizes the discussion by alluding to Nora’s personal vice, macaroons, by mention of their confectionary cousin the truffle. In this light, the macaroons which Nora secretly hides from her husband, but flaunts in front of her friends, come to represent a hidden sexuality which Torvald is not party. Nora’s mention of oysters, a reputed aphrodisiac, advances the sexual dialog by linking a specific food to the act of sexual intercourse. Torvald’s overbearing enforcement of order and strictures within the house results in two evils: the suppression of his wife’s passions and her intellectual infidelity. The balance of relationships are directly upset by Torvald’s strict adherence to social mores; thus Ibsen is able to demonstrate that order does not always yield goodness and that goodness, Torvald’s good health and Nora’s self-actualization, can be born from disorder.

Mann similarly links food with disease in Death in Venice by having Aschenbach ignore warnings about eating fruit which might be contaminated with cholera. Fate takes a more sinister turn for Aschenbach who is compelled to expose himself to disease by the unbridled passion he feels for Tadzio. His decision to stay in the city and partake of luxury foods in spite of the growing epidemic is indicative of the irrationality of his passion which manifests to such an extent that he allows himself to be corrupted by agents of disorder to offset the imbalance of his life. Through Aschenbach’s classically inspired reasoning Mann is able to show the arbitrariness of social order in the context of differentiating between good and evil acts. At the same time, he recognizes through Aschenbach’s eventual death the inherent dangers of completely ignoring prudence. Aschenbach’s fever is indicative of his growing passions and also the onset of cholera. Again, temperature plays a role in expressing the character’s inner motivations and desires. As Aschenbach grows sicker, so too does his appetite for sex and disorder: his feverish dream of the bacchanalian celebration and its phallic idol and his musing on the adventures to be had with Tadzio once the rest of the city had succumbed to disease are both manifestations of the corruption in his mind and body. The fact that he succumbs to the disease of his desire for the boy is not necessarily an indictment of disease or desire, but rather a charge levied against the living of an imbalanced life. Aschenbach’s tale demonstrates the inevitable destructive spiritual backlash against the stoic Victorian ideal. The prediction set forth by Mann’s depiction of Aschenbach was perhaps vindicated by the excesses of the post-war 1920s and the subsequent economic failure of the 1930s, a rise and fall mirroring Aschenbach’s own journey from direness to disaster by way of elation.

The role of disease in Heart of Darkness is not as internal to Marlow’s experience as it is to Aschenbach’s in Death in Venice, nor as integral to his motivations as the characters in A Doll’s House. Rather, the lurking diseases of the jungle serve to mirror the psychological effects of Africa’s alien environment on its European colonizers. The specter of sickness shadows Marlow’s journey from the outset, a threat which provides a constant reminder that whites are unwelcome intruders. The depiction of natives as direct extensions of their wild environment serves to further illustrate who belongs in the Congo or perhaps more appropriately: who belongs to the Congo. “…but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at.”(Conrad, 21). This passage was similarly noted by Dr. Achebe in his essay An Image of Africa as an example of Conrad’s fixation with assigning value to cultural presence of location (Achebe, 122). This depiction of healthy Africans interacting seamlessly with their environment is both complimented and complicated by the image of Africans brought inland by Europeans to work, who upon leaving their homelands succumb to many of the same maladies as the whites they accompany. Still, even in their similarity to Europeans they are depicted as being separate, closer to the primeval wilderness.

“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light…” (Conrad, 27)

“Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost to uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.”(Conrad, 28)

This is perhaps one of the few places in Heart of Darkness where Conrad offers a gray area, a position between the polar opposites of black and white, between African and European cultures. Africans acting outside of their environment are stricken with disease, just as Kurtz is later in the novel. If Conrad means for Africa to represent some primal otherworld to Europe’s civilization, then the disease afflicting both Kurtz and these dying Africans serves as a warning to the reader about the dangers of upsetting the natural order. At the same time, Conrad depicts the possibility of free-agency within this hierarchal division between order and chaos, in at least as far as Europeans are concerned. The Central Station Manager’s uncanny ability to survive in Africa is highlighted by the uneasiness he instills in others, the sense that he is unnatural belongs to a nothing. Kurtz, on the other hand, is able to elect to exist temporarily within the Congolese world, embracing it and ultimately seeming to abandon the existence of order he was born into for one of chaos. Marlow is ultimately confronted with this same decision, at least in his own mind. His awe in the face of the jungle and its people’s passionate culture is tempered by his understanding of social arrangement. While it seems clear that Conrad, vis-à-vis Marlow, views African culture as being inferior when compared to its European counterpart, he does not recognize it as evil, but rather as an alternative suitable to those born to it. Upon his return to Europe, Marlow views those who have not experienced the choice between order and chaos as being uninformed, passive recipients of culture, inferior in their understanding of the human condition, thus tying enlightenment to having glimpsed both alternatives and chosen according to one’s nature. In Conrad’s work, the disaffection of evil from chaos and goodness from the order of civilized life further dispels the unnatural linkage between these two axes of ethics.



[1] “If it be admitted that the dietetic doctrines herein taught are founded upon correct principles, those who make such admission, and neglect a reformation, have much to answer for. Is there any reasonable difference between the man who shortens his life by intemperate eating or drinking, provided he be not ignorant of their effects, and he who terminates a miserable existence by the sword or the pistol? Have we a right so to conduct as to become the victims of disease? Do we not owe a duty to ourselves, to the community at large, and to our families, that renders it criminal when we voluntarily disable ourselves from fulfilling such obligations? Is a man justified in calling his friends around a bed of sickness, robbing them of their natural repose to minister to his wants, and afflicting their minds with his situation, when he might have avoided it? And even if we have, with the most virtuous courage, corrected the abuses of our own lives, have we accomplished our duty? Is it virtuous, is it just to transmit, to posterity, the diseases with which we, ourselves, are afflicted? Does it not devolve upon us as an imperative duty, to our progeny, to educate them in such a manner, that they may be capacitated to enjoy all the happiness, of which, by a perfection of their nature, they are susceptible? Are we not accountable for the health, morals, and happiness of our offspring?”(Graham, 29).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Gotham Ethic

This is my final paper for my philosophy class. It's a bit contrived, I admit, but done is done.


 “Like the unfortunate madman who says he’ll climb down to Dovrefjell to blow up the whole world with a syllogism, what was needed was someone who could, to everyone’s knowledge, climb really deep down into the whole world of mediation, mediocrity and spiritlessness to plant there, for all to see, the explosive either/or.”

–Søren Kierkegaard, (Kierkegaard, 1852)

 

The Gotham Ethic

The world of Batman, as it appears in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, presents the viewer with a conflict between several competing and sometimes complimentary forces. The city of Gotham is firstly divided into two distinct groups prior to the introduction of the key characters. Each of these groups has its own code of conduct and social mores: the law abiding citizens of Gotham and the criminal underbelly governed by their distorted code of honor. Within the context of Gotham’s history, the Batman and Joker are relatively recent and radical newcomers who appear in the city as agents of change seeking to undo what they view as a corrupted or flawed social order. Each of these characters espouses an ideology that seeks to unseat the entrenched and stale status quo of Gotham and unify the city’s population through the establishment or disestablishment of order. At the end of the film it is unclear which ideology was victorious because both had suffered serious blows. So, to perhaps untangle the somewhat muddled conclusion to the tale it is necessary to determine which philosophy better serves its ends by studying the ethical ramifications of the intent, action and outcome of the story by comparing it with the philosophical theories of more traditional voices: Kierkegaard, Plato and Aristotle.

            To start with, we can say that Batman and the Joker are philosophers since both characters have a clear desire to define and propagate a world view with a specific ethical system similar but not entirely identical to their respective camps of origin (again, law and order versus criminality). The dialog between the two characters occurs mostly through indirect means, each attempting to prove his theory through the reaction of Gotham’s citizens to their actions. Each of them adopts certain conventions from traditional philosophers in order to effectively present their world views. In some ways these characters transcend the role of philosopher in that they transform themselves into perfectly embodied symbols of their philosophies capable of assuming authority higher than that entrusted to those they impose upon. In this sense, the Joker and Batman can be viewed according to Platonic political thought as, if not Philosopher Kings as in The Republic (Plato, 360 BCEa), then as the near ideological cousin: Moderate Tyrants as in Laws (Plato, 360 BCEb). Philosopher Kings and Moderate Tyrants share many of the same virtues in Plato’s writings, the difference being that Moderate Tyrants arise as a means of political segue into a more perfect government whereas Philosopher Kings are a perfect state.

            Viewing Batman and the Joker as Moderate Tyrants, one can better understand the struggle over the District Attorney Harvey Dent. According to Plato, in order for a Moderate Tyranny to become a perfect state the tyrant requires a skilled legislator.

“Cleineus: You would assume, as you say, a tyrant who was young, temperate, quick at learning, having a good memory, courageous, of a noble nature?

Athenian Stranger: Yes; and you must add fortunate; and his good fortune must be that he is the contemporary of a great legislator, and that some happy chance brings them together. When this has been accomplished, divine fortune has done all that it ever does for a state which it desires to be eminently prosperous.” (Plato, 360 BCEb)

Batman’s alliance with Harvey Dent was pivotal in almost completely eradicating the deeply entrenched criminal hierarchy that plagued the law abiding citizens of Gotham. Batman was poised to relinquish his power to a society governed by ethical laws in which a tyrannical vigilante enforcer was no longer necessary. The introduction of the Joker complicated this transformation of Gotham. The Joker sought to impose a different code of ethics and he recognized the need to destroy and usurp the relationship between his rival tyrant and the skilled legislator. In turning Harvey Dent against Batman and the order he sought to establish, the Joker effectively recruited him to impose his chaotic ethical system through the abandonment of law and order. Harvey Dent was important to both Batman and the Joker as the symbol of legitimate and consenting governance, in that he would rule Gotham by the grace of a people seeking out an ethical ideal as opposed to the Moderate Tyrants who would rule ethically by decree.  

The use of secret identities by these philosophers to perpetuate an ideology stems from the need for the perfection of an ideological belief system to be delivered by means of a likewise perfect embodiment of that ideology in order to perfectly govern less perfect people. To reveal their identities would effectively tarnish the perfection of the ideas by tying them to the human flaws of their originators. Kierkegaard’s use of pseudonyms in his writing performed an eerily similar function to Bruce Wayne’s use of the Batman identity to present his ideas: both men are wealthy and noted for their lavish lifestyles, and in order to be taken seriously both had to divorce themselves from the aesthetics of their social personas and adopt an unknown identity. The Joker too, wears makeup to maintain anonymity and frequently revises his personal narrative to confuse his origins. In that sense, the adopted identities remain always true to form in a way that their true identities could not. This is perhaps the same reason that Plato does not personally espouse his philosophy, but rather he attributes it to Socrates who, in death, becomes a perfect embodiment of the ideas free from the failings that a living Socrates might possess. It is perhaps this same reason that Batman and Commissioner Gordan are forced to conceal the collapse of Harvey Dent from the people of Gotham so that he can embody the philosophical ideal that the city should strive toward.

In terms of supporting the two disparate ideologies through the writings of traditional philosophers we can observe that Batman’s view holds up to scrutiny more readily than the Joker’s. Batman enforces justice day to day in Gotham; he is a relentless actor working to achieve philosophical supremacy in a constantly shifting environment in which success is achieved only so long as he is able to maintain his virtues. The Joker on the other hand seeks to prove the validity of his thinking through singular acts in which his unwilling participants are forced to make decisions which inevitably result in turning them against their own ethics. The Joker’s reliance on isolated acts to prove his ideology runs counter to both Aristotelian and Kierkegaardian thought in that it ignores the constant struggle to act virtuously in a changing world by presenting a moment for weakness to take grip and ignoring the entire scope of the subject’s existence. Kierkegaard would argue that one act, while romantic and aesthetically pleasing to the storyteller, the Joker, does not signify the larger truth of a person or validate the ideological narrative being related: in this case, anarchy and natural human wickedness or selfishness. “Then let your consolation be, as it is mine, that we are not to read about or listen to or look at what is the highest and most beautiful in life, but are, if you please, to live it.”(Kierkegaard, 70) Batman on the other hand, through a constant struggle seeks to instill a working ethic into the citizenry, to establish a habit of virtuous conduct that Gotham might live justly and not just act justly in specific circumstances. Where both characters succeed is in the Kierkegaardian sense of choice. “Do it or do not do it, you will regret both.” (Kierkegaard, 72) Batman is capable of making difficult ethical decisions because he is able to reconcile the regret he feels by knowing that he is acting virtuously and that his sacrifices ultimately benefit the city. The Joker, on the other hand, delights in pushing others into a choice that guarantees regret, though he is flawed in his thinking that the regret constitutes an admission of ethical failure. Additionally, the situations posed by the Joker do not meet Aristotle’s criteria for voluntary actions, as laid out in Book III of Nicomachean Ethics, since the agent doing the action is compelled to act by threat of violence to others. (Aristotle) The Joker does make effective use of Socratic irony in evidencing, if not proving, through their own actions that people are not as just or ethical as they believe themselves to be,

            An informal straw poll of the internet, by way of search engine, reveals that a common theme viewers and critics feel is expressed in The Dark Knight is that evil triumphs over good. I suppose it could be viewed in that light since Batman failed to turn over the reigns of justice to Harvey Dent and thus usher in a more perfect state, Dent himself is destroyed, their mutual love interest Rachel Dawes is dead, the police force is shown to have been corruptible, Batman is perceived to have stepped beyond the bounds of his ethics and is hunted for crimes he was forced to accept blame for in order to hang on to the possibility that the society he envisions will come to be. Batman does, however, win some decisive victories over the course of the struggle. His position as a symbol of absolute virtue is transferred to the dead Harvey Dent, whose memory cannot be compromised in the same way that he was in life. His goal of bringing down the criminal underground in Gotham is furthered not only through his own actions, but also the destructiveness of the Joker’s philosophy since the Joker not only kills key members in the criminal hierarchy through his own actions, but also through the actions of the corrupted Harvey Dent, and he essentially bankrupts the massive criminal enterprise through robbery and the burning of their cash reserves. In that regard, the Joker furthered the means by which Batman seeks to bring order to the city by denying the criminal class of leadership and capital. Also, by Batman assuming the blame for Dent’s crimes he was also able to overcome the limitations of his own ethical code since criminals can no longer rely on the fact that he does not take lives in the pursuit of his goals. In the end, Batman was not able to achieve his ultimate goal of a more perfect state, but he is well poised to continue his crusade for order and the end of criminal rule in Gotham. The Joker can take solace in his corruption of Dent, but ultimately Batman retained his ethical footing on a personal level and prevented the Joker from completely undoing the means by which he can accomplish his goals.
Works Cited

Kierkegaard, S. (1909) Søren Kierkegaard’s Papirer. Copenhagen: Gyldendal (Original work published 1852).

Kierkegaard, S. (2000) The Essential Kierkegaard Princeton: Princeton University Press (Original work, Either/Or published 1843).

Plato. (c. 380 BC) The Republic (B. Jowett, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.mb.txt>

Plato. (c. 380 BC) Nichomachean Ethics (B. Jowett, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/laws.mb.txt>

Aristotle. (c. 350 BC) Nichomachean Ethics (W.D. Ross, Trans.). Web.

< http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.mb.txt>

Monday, March 30, 2009

LNHFCOJ Update: Chapter 1... Again

For those of you who have been following the project, this is probably about your fourth time or so reading this chapter. I resubmit Chapter 1.


Chapter 1

Late Night, Day 1: Adam Blue and the Eyes of the Cosmos

 

The universe flung itself to and fro, dramatically slinging its bits and pieces against each other. Galaxies collided, their spiral arms wrestling in a mockery of the spectacle in their midst. The petty rustling of mankind had drawn the curious eyes of the cosmos to a splintered desert nation. The icy fingers of death were snapping a catchy tune, and humanity was stomping and clapping in time with every ounce of enthusiasm it could muster.

---

The airstrip used by the Coalition Forces in Baghdad sprawled into the desolate quiet of the Iraqi night. Private Adam Blue stood airsick and stupid in the rough gravel pit on the east side of the tarmac. The far off lights of the Baghdad International Airport hung dully in the mottled black air like tallow candles creeping beneath the whispers of the full orange moon.

“Look at you, Adam. You and your friends look so brave.”

Adam squinted upward at the muffled sounds of adoration. He removed his ballistic goggles so that he might take in the full round face of his admirer. He could then see the charitable curve of her lips and he could know better the bunched lines formed at the corners of her eyes as she beamed down upon him. His hearing, however, was no better for it and so his own face held tightly to its pinched display of puzzlement.

“All of you are standing down there, dressed up like soldiers and looking so strong and fine. I am both proud of you and frightened for you.”

“Huh?”
            “You look like heroes.”

“What?”

“Take out your earplugs, dear.” The moon mouthed slowly.

“Speak up, please.”

“Take out your fucking earplugs, Blue!”

Jane hammered a coiled fist against the back of Adam’s helmet, the meat of her hand bounced harmlessly away from his armored skull. He spun around to face his squad leader. It was clear from her forward leaning posture that the time for negotiations had passed and that Adam had squandered her patience. He complied.

Adam tugged at his ear protection and the silence was vanquished by a brilliant burst of sound: the world flooded with noise. Adam placed the tiny yellow buds into an empty grenade pouch. The shuddering of black hawk helicopters washed over him; their mighty rotor blades beating angrily against the dome of the sky. Adam could hear everything: voices, chewing gum popping, an enthusiastic breeze whistling through the slick barrels of machine guns, and he could hear the faint crackling of distant bamboo chutes. Somewhere far away, there were pandas chewing contentedly as they conspired not to fuck. He heard the murmur of a billion Chinese laughing at a dispirited American zookeeper who had grown weary of the lack of romance in his professional life. More immediately, there was Jane, open-mouthed, breathing in and out with quick irritated pants and waiting for Adam to speak.

            It should be stated that Adam's brain was a nest of glistening madness, a lump of tissue riddled with pulsating veins and some fairly cockamamie ideas about the universe. Amongst them, the idea that things which were, were in fact not, and things that were in fact not, were. Over the years he’d learned to hide the fact that he was, for all intents and purposes, completely bat-shit insane.

            “I don’t know. Maybe they just don’t like one another, Sergeant. I don’t know that it’s any of anybody’s business but their own. I don’t understand love.”

            “What the fuck?”

            Adam mused silently on the nature of love. It was a mystery to him. He knew that he loved, his heart was bursting with it. He loved the enduring beauty of existence and the goodness that the human spirit could do. Knowing how he loved did nothing to help him understand what it was that moved lovers and whether having that knowledge would allow one to move them. He worried that they might drift apart, individually repulsed by scripted third-party overtures. Love, he feared, was not bound by the romantic logic born of good intentions. The idea that love ‘conquers all’ was an unproven theory which, even if true, did not guarantee that love could be instilled through actions. This suspicion made the American agenda in Iraq seem that much more daunting and improbable. After all, if America couldn’t coax a couple pandas to get it on, what hope could they have to form a lasting national unity amongst the juxtaposed interests of historically opposed ethnic groups?

“I think we may have overstepped ourselves when we decided to manipulate hearts and minds. We should have gone after their hands; they’re a lot more predictable.”

“Again, what the fuck, Blue?”

“Well, it’s just that if you can control someone’s hands, it doesn’t matter what their heart feels or what their brain thinks because you control the actions. Of course,” Adam clenched his jaw against his realization, “then, again, you’ve caged the heart and what good can come of that?”

“Alright, that’s great. Ground you gear, grab your weapon and let’s go get some chow. I’m going to find Potter. Don’t forget your weapon.”

            “So we’re fending for ourselves then?”

            “How do you mean?”

            “Hunting.”

            “Hunting?”

            “You told me to get my gun. What are we supposed to be hunting?”

            “We’re not hunting anything; they won’t let you into the chow-hall if you don’t have your weapon.”

            “Why?”

            “Shut the fuck up, Blue. Are you hungry or not?”

            “I am.”

            “So drop your shit in formation. I’m gonna find Potter.”

            “Roger, Sergeant.”

            Jane dwelled, staring at him for a moment before turning back to the mob of soldiers shedding their equipment. She wove through their bodies, around the mounds of camouflaged bags and doodads, disappearing into the mass of soldiers. Adam trailed behind her, looking for his place in line. He scanned the name tags, each sequence of letters painting an intimate portrait of the other members of his platoon. Each name had a face and vice versa. Adam shucked himself, dropping his equipment in a heap next to the pile labeled ‘Potter’. This was his place, at the far left of the row, furthest from the seat of power in the squad which was denoted by one’s relative rightness to the other soldiers in the line. As far as the Army was concerned, Adam was always less right than anyone else in the unit, regardless of how wrong they might be.

            Cowboy loomed above the formation. The old salt tipped back a shot of whiskey and wiped his whiskers clean. He tilted eastward on his dusty leather boots and let out a long hoot.

“Oooeee! Would you listen to them smug sons of bitches!” He sang in his western drawl. “Pandas! Chink sons of bitches think they’re so clever! Hidin’ their evil ways behind fuzzy faces. Like we’re gonna forget what they are on account of them exportin’ a couple critters. Cultural exchange? No thanks, y’all got nothin’ we want! Fuckin’ commies.” Cowboy snarled out the last word, pouring equal parts contempt and hatred into its syllables. Cowboy was stuck in the Fifties. In his mind, the Cold War raged on and pandas represented everything wrong with Sino-American relations.

            Adam's brain was a soggy clump of crazy snapping off millions of electrical impulses at the speed of light. His brain couldn't slow down, it twitched and tangled as fast as teeth sparkled. With every breath he took, his mind spun circles through loopholes in outer-space. Cowboy stumbled through those hoops and curlicues. His breath wreaked of booze, his tongue stumbled over slurred advice. His grizzled face was all pins and needles and his chin quivered with lack of sensation; he was an alcoholic. No one had the heart to say so: not Adam, and certainly not the moon.

            “Hey, darlin’. La Luna mon chair!” Cowboy called out, looking affectionately upon the blushing pock-marked face of the moon. He tipped his hat backward, his feet creeping slowly out from underneath him until he was forced to grab the massive seal of his belt buckle for balance. He hiked his dungarees up, pulling himself forward and grinning sloppily at the object of his francophonic flattery. The moon hid her abashment behind a veil of slow moving clouds. She had self-esteem issues, a result of her ruddy complexion and yo-yoing weight.

            “Hello.” She peeped, hidden behind the gauze of condensed air moisture. Still, the embarrassed glow of her face hedged the fringes of the clouds, painting them a timid custard haze. The pair fell into an awkward silence, as they always did when words failed between them. Cowboy quickly changed course, turning towards Adam.

            “You ready for this, buckaroo?” He asked.

            “I don’t think so.” Adam replied.

            “Well, you just do your best and things’ll fall into place. Usually do.” The whiskey in Cowboy’s blood lent backbone to his air of rugged confidence.

            “You’re a good kid. Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen to you.” He said, nodding with a wobbly reassurance.

            “I hope not.” Adam said. He couldn’t help but feel that the matter of his life and death was completely out of his hands. That sort of thing was decided by men far away, men with far more stake in what Adam was doing than Adam himself.

            “Blue!” A voice belonging to Sergeant First Class Ulysses S. Alcott bellowed. “Pick it up! We’re leaving!”

            Adam scrambled to gather his gear. His unit wouldn’t be going anywhere for hours, and everyone knew it. Everyone that is, except Sergeant Alcott, whose complete faith in the Army had filled him with the delusion that somewhere there was someone who knew what the hell was going on. There wasn’t.

            Across the sea of bobbing heads, through the mire of dusty air, Adam could see his friend Peter Potter at the edge of the crowd standing by the battered plastic shit shack. Jane was at his side. They watched with disdain for a moment as Alcott mustered the troops into formation, then with the utmost discretion they absconded to fill their bellies. Adam was left hungry.