A fine site

The Melancholic Monster

I’m still in the process of cutting out extraneous material from my paper.  I know it’s not possible to tie everything I want to mention together, but sometimes it’s difficult to let something go.  I have been thinking a lot about the stakes of my paper and my argument.  I think the melodramatic form of Melancholia is important and through this strategy the director is able to transfer actual emotion to the audience, which further reinforces his message.  However, when I really think about what is at stake and why this topic of happiness and the way it is handled in contemporary society is so prevalent in the texts we have read for this class, I feel drawn more to a cultural significance.  If one of the objectives of the film is to highlight what happens to the individual when a concept like happiness becomes commodified, then it seems to be a calling out of sorts for attention to this phenomenon.  It may be fairly common to conclude that aligning oneself faithfully to the constraints of Bourgoise norms would result in negative affects on the individual; however, Von Trier explores this concept through the depths of emotion and does so through melodramatic form.

Ophelia painting


I have done a close reading of these two images for obvious reasons.  I keep circling around an idea about why Justine is firmly grasping her bouquet of flowers, while Ophelia has released hers, arms up, palms open.  I argue that the similarities indicate that it is a picture of a dead Justine.  Is it suggesting that if Justine continues to force herself in alignment with Bourgeois norms, it will end in a type of death for her, but it will also mean that her death lies in the firm grasp of the bouquet (tradition, ritual) and a continuation of the performance, whereas, Ophelia releases these expectations in her “real” death?  Each time I sit down and write about this I keep getting close, but I still feel like I don’t completely have it yet.


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Naughty Illusions

While I was reading Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem, I kept thinking about my Melancholia project. When the burger joint is destroyed, much more is dismantled for Perkus than an alteration in his routine.  Its degraded state is described in great detail, ending with, “a ragged black smile in that concrete that was meant never to betray us, with tiny waterfalls of pulverized drywall like chalk trickling into the corners of that new mouth” (237).  Perkus had counted on that building always being there and with that assurance came a sense of security for it “was meant never to betray us” but it did and with it came an inquisitive impulse and a chain of illusion destroying events.  Once Perkus discovers the truth about the cauldrons, that they are only a hologram, its value as arbitrary as any commodity in the real world and its value transferred in that way, it led to the breaking down of other “known truths”. As the narrator explains, “For now that Perkus had begun to distrust one assumption he had to question them all” (337).  This is similar to Justine, as she continues to confront the meaninglessness of rituals, it leads to the realization of her reality, the breakdown of illusions, these things that are meant to bring comfort and security in that they are “known” and can be counted on.  When those institutions are dismantled, all other ideology that accompanies them breaks down as well.  Perkus is hesitant to reveal his new truths to Chase, “don’t rupture another’s illusion unless you’re positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you’re wrenching them”(341).  As I study Part II of Melancholia more extensively, I see Justine as a guide for Claire toward the “rupture of illusion”.  What alternative is Justine offering Claire? Is there an inherent responsibility to have the “right” answers once all accepted answers have been shattered? How does Justine’s ability to see things others can’t and know things others can’t situate her in this position? Perkus focuses on knowing what to look for as a vehicle toward truth.

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Mediating Melancholia

I started my exploration by looking at the representation of depression as a disability in Melancholia. I was getting too caught up in positive/negative/accurate portrayals and how that related to social realism.  After watching Beginners, my focus changed from depression to the concept of happiness. Depression put in its most simplest way is an inability to feel the emotion of happiness we hear so much about.

Okay, so here is the connection as I see it:

In Beginners we see images, presented to us by Oliver, “This is what happy looked like…” Just like dogs, we are trained to picture happy in a very specific way and for very specific people.  Oliver provides us with a history of sadness in which sadness is invented after the Earth.  The following images represent the institution of marriage and the institution of medicine. Adrianna helped me to see this connection in that it is the invented myths associated with these institutions that helped to create/invent sadness.  The belief that the fulfillment of normative expectations, (getting married, having children, earning a good living, behaving “appropriately”/”normal”, mentally healthy) will somehow guarantee happiness not only supports the dominant ideology, but more specifically, the images that create the illusion that doing this/having this=satisfaction/contentment, create performative expectations of emotion.

This brings me closer to the connection with Melancholia.  Many of the characters perform a variety of emotions, but I intend to focus on Justine and Claire.  The performance of emotion is a logical extension of Judith Butler’s gender performance in that the performance works to reinforce the expectation and is a socially created behavior.  Justine says, “I smile and I smile and I smile” because smiling is performing “happy” and yet she is not convincing due to her slippages (Bhabha) Claire performs the emotion of compassion and she too has “slippages” evident in her whisperings to Justine, “Sometimes I just hate you”.  Both Justine and Claire perceive these expectations as they relate to social class.  In a capitalist society, those that achieve the list of accomplishments of individual success prescribed, should be the ones that are happy. So, what happens when everything has been chased and acquired (chasing the ball, really wanting the fox-metaphor from Beginners) and the performance of happy is still necessary? I’m thinking of Louis Althusser with his concept of images that support an illusion.  Has happiness been so contrived for us that we don’t even know what the fox is? Or does the fox even exist at all anymore? (if the fox represents happiness) Justine seems to imply this as she has stopped chasing the ball and the fox because to her, happiness is just an illusion. Oliver on the other hand is just starting to chase the fox.  (Not sure about that one)  To flip this concept around, a threat to this ideology would be seeing a blissful person with no home, no job, and no money.  There are different expectations of emotion depending upon social class.

Happiness as a commodity in a capitalist society (marx-commodity fetishism).

This emotion is bought/sold, or rather portrayed as something that can be bought or sold.  Advertisements do this all the time and many of Oliver’s images are reminiscent of this.  The message may vary but it is always one of “buy this and you will be______” All of it comes down to being happy.  If you buy this product and it makes you beautiful, isn’t that in the end a pursuit toward happiness, and beauty is seen as a way to achieve that?

What I’m trying to get a better handle on is the connection between the depiction of depression and the critique of bourgeois norms.  Steven Shaviro sees Part I of Melancholia as a subjective view of depression and Part II as an objective view.  So, in other words, depression from Justine’s perspective and then from Claire’s.  Depression doesn’t just stem from Justine’s inability to adhere to social norms, because she is able to achieve all the success required of her, but with that success comes expectations, and Justine is not able to fulfill the expectation of emotion that is dictated by her current social class.  She got everything she was supposed to get and this feeling of happy remains elusive.  Exhausted and realizing the futility and arbitrary nature of normative rituals, Justine stops. In Part II, Justine’s performance ends and Claire’s performance of compassion heightens.  Claire seems to believe that by acting supportive (I’m not trying to demonize Claire, I do see her actions as sincere, but misguided) this will somehow cure Justine of her depression.  Part II opens with Justine arriving to the estate via a cab that Claire has called for her.  It is interesting that as concerned as Claire is acting, she didn’t go get Justine herself, but chose to send a cab for her. Perhaps the film represents the two sides of depression.  Claire embodies the frustration, love, sympathy, and anger of a family member’s response to the illness, but she covers these emotions with her performance of compassion, because that is what she is supposed to be feeling.  Like everything else in her life, Claire finds comfort/security and solutions in the rituals and bourgeois norms that Justine sees as meaningless, and that have added to the meaninglessness of life itself.

I’m also thinking of completely taking Beginners out of my project.  I’m intrigued by the relation to Melancholia and it allowed me to see things in a different light, but as I’m writing it just keeps feeling too big for this project.  So, I may take the insight Beginners gave me, especially the tennis ball/fox metaphor as a way to work through my analysis of Melancholia.  As I’m writing, I’m noticing that I’m using Beginners more as a reference point and my textual analysis remains focused on Melancholia.

Open-mindedness is a skill that I have depended upon with this project so far.  I keep revising my argument and perspective while rejecting that which feels forced.

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My Personality Was Created By Someone Else And I’ll I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

In Beginners, Oliver explains the process of dog breeding and how it oftentimes conflicts with innate characteristics.  Oliver tells Arthur, “You think you’re you when you want to chase foxes, but other people planted that in you years ago” and he goes on to explain that Jack Russells are now bred to be cute, not to chase foxes.  Oliver seems fascinated by the idea of personality creation that he attributes to John Russell. The link between Arthur’s breeding and Oliver’s “breeding” lies in the imposition of will that is inherent in the act of training.  Oliver, clearly influenced by his parents, often mimicking exact phrases or activities, is even treated as a dog by his mother.  She teaches him the trick of playing dead and this is most often the extent of their communication or interaction, aside from teaching him coping mechanisms like screaming alone in a room “and then it’s out of you”.  Immediately following one of these instances, Oliver says to his therapist, “I’m a human I’m not a dog”.

Oliver’s “sadness” seems to stem from similar causes as Justine’s depression in Melancholia.  In a world where pictures represent universal happiness and even the dog is asking “are we married yet?”, Oliver and Justine both seem lost and sadness becomes represented as a constructed illness, a response to an apathetic society.  Through his relationship with Anna, Oliver is able to escape into a world of their creating.  When the employee at the roller rink asks them to remove Arthur because it’s against the rules, they decide to create a rink out of the hotel, rather than comply with the norms/rules of the “real” world.  So, maybe these texts are critiquing or redefining the norm through the representation of disability.  Instead of Depression being seen as “abnormal” with a stigmatizing label and an illness very few people feel comfortable talking about, it is represented AS the norm, although still a very real illness.  People are trained or implored to confine these conversations within certain discourses (Dr., therapist, close family, close friends) and even within these “safe” spaces, there are feelings of shame.  I’m thinking of Foucault here when he discusses the management of sexuality and that conversations are not repressed but they are only “appropriate” in certain places with certain people and talking about it in a certain way.  I think this also ties into a questioning of medical authority when Oliver talks about homosexuality at one time holding the diagnosis of mental illness.  So much faith and certainty is associated with these institutions that have historically been incorrect, especially in the treatment of those that are different and do not adhere to the norm.  Maybe this is the type of “historical consciousness” that Oliver refers to with his “bigger than himself” project.

Another connection I see with Melancholia is the history of sadness, that starts with the world beginning, sadness not yet created.  Both texts, as well as Seven Types seem to speak to more than just the dismal state of things, there is a specific critique of the apathetic state of things and this being a cause for those that feel/think too deeply to experience the sadness that can be debilitating for these characters.

At the very end, Oliver asks Anna, “What happens now?” to which Anna replies, “I don’t know” and Oliver rhetorically asks, “How does that work?” They seem to be setting out to try a new way “to be” by discarding the previously held expectations of “What happens now?” and the rules for what should happen next.  Maybe it is also these expectations that are impossible to fulfill that cause this sadness, as it all seems to be just an illusion anyway.  As Oliver points out, “This is what happy looked like in 1955” and he does so by showing an advertisement of a white, middle-class, attractive, smiling, woman.

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Blurred Vision: “The Picture of Mental Health”

I’m not sure where to start because there is so many interesting dynamics in Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity.  Similarly to Melancholia, there seems to be an embedded theme throughout of Depression, not as an illness/disability, but rather, Depression as a normal response to the ambiguous and often conflicting, tension-filled environment of contemporary society.   Simon, like Justine, sees the world as it really is.  Alex is captivated by Simon for this reason, among others, as Rachel discovers from his own writing, “More and more as I make my way through the journal I see him talk bout a division between those people who are burdened by the clarity with which they see the world and those who are not. For those who are not, any semblance of emotional stasis or equilibrium is threatened only by things particular to them” Rachel goes on to explain, “Was he really prepared to categorize only the fortunate and simple or obtuse as mentally healthy”(609)? So, while Alex clearly has terrible boundaries; perhaps it is not that he is a bad psychiatrist, maybe he is just an unwilling participant of the institution of Psychiatry, with its concrete labels and categorizations.  Experiencing Depression himself and in awe of Simon’s depth of feeling and passion, Alex could not have been objective, but he certainly was empathetic.  Simon, always championing for empathy and questioning the status quo, represents a sort of humanity that Alex has a difficult time labeling as “illness”.

Moral ambiguity:

Morality and ethics seem to stem from not only childhood but more specifically, the “rules” taught and adhered to during that time.  For Anne with her Catholic upbringing, the rigid constraints of a world interpreted through punishment and confession, suffocates and complicates her morality.  Anne’s turn in telling the story was much anticipated for me.  I kept wondering right along with Alex, what was so special about Anne? After I read her perspective, it seems that Anne is ordinary.  She makes the same choices and focuses on the same things as many contemporary women (marriage, kids, money, status) and then complains about her confinement as a “forced” enslavement in a world of her choosing.  Anne relies on others to dictate her actions/beliefs/opinions, very much in the same way that a child would need to do.

This brings me to some complications/questions about Anne, Roger, Simon, the representation of disability within this text and what type of questioning it seems to beg.

The character of Roger kept feeling like a ghost or a haunting, a representation of fear and didn’t really seem to represent a “real” person.  But, interestingly, he kept popping up.  Most of the space that Roger gets in the narrative is through Joe, initially, and then only through Anne.  Personally, my two least favorite characters, which may explain the type of space that Roger gets or maybe it doesn’t.  Joe and Anne portray a typical, middle to high-class family and their fears and anxieties about having a child “with eyes like Roger” may seem typical as well, but the way that Roger is explained sends a strong message and perhaps naively, I hope that it is a way to tell the reader something about Anne or to draw attention to the inattention given to the group that Roger resides within.

Below is Anne’s perspective of Roger at her infant’s funeral:

“There was just the priest, Sophie, and my parents, Joe’s mother, one of his sisters, and his retarded brother, Roger. Someone, not Joe, had on his mother’s instructions picked Roger up from the home they kept him in, put a tie around his neck, and told him to stand still at the graveside.  But try as he probably did, Roger couldn’t manage to stay still. He shuffled back and forth as Joe’s mother hung on to him with one hand, all the time whispering to him to keep quiet.  But he couldn’t do that either, and instead, talking over the priest, he said what everyone else was thinking. ‘Just a baby…just a little baby, Mamma.  Wasn’t he?'” (479)

I italicized the parts that stood out most fiercely to me.  Roger is described as child-like and is treated as such.  “His retarded brother, Roger” by wording it in this way it completely identifies Roger with his disability, as if that is what defines the person. His label comes before his name.  Disabilities of different types seem to be dealt with on a type of hierarchy with mental illness far above developmental delays.  Imagine Anne referring to Simon as Depressed Simon.  I mention in one of my tweets that Roger is “kept away” in the story and in the narrative, but I also think the exact wordage is interesting, because it implies an element of safety, maybe for both Roger and society in general but either way, it works to reinforce the misguided placement of individuals in institutions in the first place.  The other language that stands out works to depict Roger as child-like, with no self-control and on page 479, we get the first spoken words from Roger and it is socially inappropriate.  I see Anne’s fear of Roger having something to do with her own child-like state and discomfort with motherhood.  Seeing Roger as a forever child and worrying that if one of her children were the same she would be a forever mother.  There is so much to say about her visit with Roger (representation of sexuality) and Anne’s dream.  These two characters are connected for sure and maybe it’s as simple as Roger representing a threat to Anne’s way of life.

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Melancholia: rituals, performance, and depression

Part One of Melancholia opens with a familiar scene of a bride and groom, traditionally dressed, glowing with happiness, and on their way to the wedding reception.  As the character of Justine unfolds, it becomes clear that this bliss is merely an illusion or more specifically, a performance.  In Undoing Gender, Judith Butler describes the social construction of gender and explains the ways in which the performance of gendered expectations works to reinforce the norm, “The norm only persists as a norm to the extent that it is acted out in social practice and reidealized and reinstituted in and through the daily social rituals of bodily life”(48).  By participating in a traditional, expensive, wedding ceremony, Justine performs her female gender as well as her high social class.  The ritual of weddings and all the intricacies involved when performed according to the norm, secure the status of these rituals as a norm.  One example is the tradition of throwing the bouquet.  To illuminate the different attitudes toward this type of ritual; Justine hesitates to throw it and Claire steps in and carelessly tosses the flowers.  Even though Claire is intent upon fulfilling all of the aspects of a wedding ceremony, she lacks enthusiasm and behaves as if she is just completing the steps necessary for it to be over.

Justine and especially her mother are much more overt with their dismissal of such conventions.  “Give me a break please from all your rituals” Aby implores of Claire.  While Claire performs her role in order to maintain her comfort, as any transgressions appear to be a threat; Justine performs for the sake of others.  Throughout Part One, Justine’s family repeatedly asks her if she is happy or makes statements wishing that she would just be happy.  In order to please those around her, Justine attempts to “fake” happiness.  The audience views glimpses throughout of Justine’s impeccable appearance starting to shift and fade.  As if to indicate these “slippages” (Homi K. Bhabha discusses this concept in relation to colonialized performance, but it seems applicable here as well) Justine’s smile disappears when no one is looking, replaced with a far-off stare, and her perfectly done hair begins to unravel.  As this continues, so does Justine’s departure from the performance and her eventual immersion into depression.

At the very end, quite literally, Claire still tries to cling to a performance of that which is expected as a way to provide comfort.  Asking Justine to have wine on the terrace with her and Leo, Claire admits, “That would make me happy” to which Justine replies, “Do you know what I think of your plan? I think it’s a piece of shit” Justine fully realizing the meaningless nature of rituals, no longer caring what others think, and finally attaining acceptance and peace provides the most fitting alternative to Claire’s cocktails on the terrace.

Earlier in the film when Claire fully realizes their impending doom, she is seen struggling to carry Leo in her arms; the feeling of weight  and  fatigue palatable for the audience.  Unable to save her son, she desperately wants to care for him in some way and Justine provides a way for her to do so at the end.  Giving up on her plan, Claire joins Justine and Leo in “The Magic Cave” and is able to give her son the gift of serenity in his last moments of life.


Guilt: The Great Motivator

During much of The Brief Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, the identity of the narrator is left ambiguous.  As the novel progresses, hints are given that it may be Yunior, however, it is only on page 305 when the narrator is relaying a phone conversation he had with Oscar and Oscar addresses him, “I kissed a girl, Yunior” that  his identity is indisputable.  Yunior as narrator complicates the issue of reliability.  It is not just the subjectivity of the character, but his professions of guilt lead one to wonder if the telling of Oscar’s story is a way for this character to assuage these remorseful feelings.

Yunior’s relationship with Oscar progresses dramatically throughout the novel.  Initially, Yunior views Oscar the way most people do; as odd, nerdy, and the ever-present outsider.  Yunior admittedly takes on “Project Oscar”(176) as a way to help himself after a difficult break-up.  Yunior proclaims, “I decided that I was going to fix Oscar’s life” (175) and proceeds to take it upon himself to improve upon Oscar in ways Yunior deems necessary.  Because this project was about Yunior and not Oscar, it was not successful.  Yunior, in a moment of honesty with the audience, lending him more credibility, states, “These days I have to ask myself: What made me angrier? That Oscar, the fat loser, quit, or that Oscar, the fat loser, defied me? And I wonder: What hurt him more? That I was never really his friend, or that I pretended to be” (181)? Yunior’s epiphany not only raises his self-awareness, but it is the first time he seems to understand how Oscar may truly be feeling.  It is from this that Yunior has a “guilty conscience” (312) and works throughout the rest of the novel to counteract this by having a sincere presence in Oscar’s life. La Inca is also on a “civilizing mission”(259) as the result of her guilt towards Beli.  Both La Inca and Yunior experience dissatisfaction with their quests, because it is an imposition and while well-intentioned, is unwelcome by its recipients.

As reality becomes a murky concept, with cyclical implications, in a world where “nothing ever ends” (331) and it is up to each reader/individual to contemplate, this novel does seem to suggest that there are some truths or realties that will always persist: people will be people, so to speak.  As Yunior reminds the reader, “some things (like white supremacy and people-of-color-self-hate) never change” (264).  There will always be an “other” and in turn, there will always be those that feel a responsibility (born from feelings of guilt and/or superiority) that feel the need to “fix” the transgressor, attempting to mold the individual into that which is comfortable, reliable, expected, and “safe”.


Paratexts: “The Beating Heart of a Text”

Expertise Project:

Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts by Jonathan Gray. Introduction: Film, Television, and Off-Screen Studies & Chapter 1: From Spoilers to Spinoffs: A Theory of Paratexts.

The Text and the Conversation:

Jonathan Gray focuses his introduction and chapter 1 on detailing the concept of a paratext, as well as exposing the need for English and Cultural studies to give proper attention to this inherent part of what is considered, “the text.” Paratexts contribute to the meaning-making/interpretation of the overall piece, are a part of the text, and accomplish far more than providing enhancement or add-ons.  Some examples that Gray provides of paratexts include but are not limited to: movie trailers, film previews, interviews, internet discussion boards, entertainment news, reviews, merchandising, games, and DVDs. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis creates what Gray terms, “saturation of everyday life with media”(1) with its inescapable and alluring pull that does more than promote a film or television show, it creates an image in the audiences’ mind which is full of expectations.  The producers of this “hype” alert the general public of the upcoming text and while doing so also work to inform how that text will be read. sherlock Paul Benzon explores the significance of the paratexts found within a DVD (special features, format, style, etc.), in his article, “Bootleg Paratextuality: Towards an Alternate Present of the DVD.”  Benzon recognizes a “paratextual ‘aesthetics of more'” in the special features, an overabundance of “new” information, which indicates the ever-changing concept of a text, a point Gray also makes clear. This implosion of content appears to Benzon as a means of defending against societal anxieties that the DVD will disappear altogether.  As Gray indicates in his text, some of the power behind paratexts is the ability to reference previously acquired knowledge; working off a foundation of experiences. Benzon points to the Baywatch and Pamela Anderson reference within the film, “In addition to relying upon Borat’s audience’s awareness of Baywatch‘s visibility as a global media property, this scene also depends for its humor upon their awareness of Anderson herself as a global media icon”(98).  In order to fully “get” the scene, the audience must have prior knowledge of the back story, which includes more than knowing who Pamela Anderson is and what Baywatch is.  The paratexts of interviews, gossip columns, her sexualized image, the “home video” with Tommy Lee, all work to create a specific image that the creators of Borat are relying upon to get their message across.  Both Gray and Benzon recognize the need for a comprehensive paratexutal analysis, as a linear or close reading approach alone is likely to miss key elements within the text.

*Gray and Benzon credit their use of the concept, “paratext” to Gerard Genette, a pioneer in discussing this term in relation to literary texts.

Why Do Paratexts Matter?

While Gray recognizes the importance of close reading media texts, he warns, “Taking the eye off the paratext, as media studies has often done, impoverishes our understanding of production and regulation cultures, and hence our ability to intervene meaningfully in these cultures”(16). He articulates a call for “off-screen studies” as a way to more comprehensively understand a text, while also exposing all that goes into the making of that text, specifically the role of paratexts.  The cultural significance of a media text cannot be measured by a vacuum analysis, just as contextualizing and historicizing are essential in the study of literary texts.  In his review of Gray’s book, Christopher A. Medjesky speaks to Gray’s ability to defend the need for paratextual study, “Gray effectively shows how close readings of singular texts fail to capture textuality as thoroughly as studies that combine paratexts”(462).  Gray sees this link as appropriately inevitable when he states, “There is never a point in time at which a text frees itself from the contextualizing powers of paratextuality”(45).

Gray explains that paratexts work in a similar way as advertisements; attaching an image to a product, hoping that the association will stick.  Pete Bicak reviews Gray’s text in the New York University Press and considers , “the recent Olympic sponsorships [are] an example of products that borrow Olympic values and then see the sponsored products and services reinserted into the culture laying side-by-side, so to speak, with those values”(33). Mcd's olympics
McDonalds is notorious for this type of campaign, another example of image bolstering “hype” as a way to defend against societal anxieties, in this case, of the unhealthy lifestyle associated with eating fast food.  The image and messages associated with the text undoubtedly influence and affect one’s perception of and anticipation of the actual viewing.

Iron Man Trailer/Film Anticipation Through The Onion’s Eyes


In Season 2, epsisode 2: The Hounds at Baskerville, John Watson and the audience experience the power of the paratext.  All the moments leading up to Watson’s caged experience in the lab led to his conclusion (and possibly the audience’s) that he was in danger of attack from a monstrous beast that had somehow managed to find its way into the lab.  His “vision” of the hound is solely based upon previous information given to him (red eyes, black fur, enormous stature) and the audience shares in the visceral effect.  Without the eye witness accounts, Watson would likely have deduced a less threatening cause to the noises within the lab. Reality is then questioned once Watson doubts his perceptive abilities. The show seems to be suggesting the development of a filter/questioning empirical evidence/trusting nothing, as so much of our thoughts and perceptions are framed by outside forces.

Paratexts are inescapable and important in creating meaning and affect each audience member differently.  Some will be lured in and others will reject the whole text based upon the meaning created within the paratexts.  Gray notes that so much is derived from these introductions to the text that many will experience repulsion without even encountering the actual film or television show itself.  Howard Stern once said that the majority of people that stated a strong dislike for his show never listened to more than a few minutes. Stern’s controversial image has been so well-conceived that it often trumps his actual text, his radio show.  Gray discusses this phenomenon in relation to The Simpsons, as it is more of a brand than it is a show.
Bart Paratexts are then inseparable from the actual text, as it is an integral component that deserves the same attention that the close readings of movie/television scenes currently attract. Gray borrows the theories of Henry Jenkins (convergence) and Will Brooker (overflow) to understand the relationship between paratexts and the whole, complete text, “Rather than choose between metaphors of ‘overflow’ or ‘convergence’ I find the ebb and flow suggested by employing both terms indicative of the multiple ways in which many media texts are now both movig outward yet incorporating other texts inward, being authored across media. Between outward overflow and inward convergence of paratextuality, we see the beating heart of the text”(41). 

Some important terms:

Hype-“over, beyond, above”(4).

Synergy-“the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate parts”(5).  *How all the paratexts work together to create an individualized interpretation of the whole text

Promotion-“the commercial act of selling, but also of advancing and developing a text”(5).

Text According to Roland Barthes:”the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse, experienced only in an activity of production”(30). *Speaks to the ever-changing nature of a text.  It differs from “a work” in that it requires a certain engagement with an audience, it is considered an experience, a process.

Paratext– “both ‘distinct from’ and alike-or I will argue, intrinsically part of-the text…constructs, lives in, and can affect the running of a text”(6).

*Entryway Paratexts-“control and determine our entrance to a text”(35). EX: Movie Trailers

*In Medias Res Paratexts-“inflect or redirect the text following initial interaction”(35). EX: “Previously on…”

Supportive Intertextuality-reinforces a text’s meaning (38). EX: Soap Opera Magazines

Speculative Consumption:”creating an idea of what pleasures any one text will provide, what information it will offer, what ‘effect’ it will have on us, and so forth”(24). EX: Buying a movie ticket=act of faith.

Works Cited

Benzon, Paul. “Bootleg Paratextuality and Digital Temporality: Towards an Alternate Present of the DVD.” Narrative, January 2013:88-104. Print.

Bicak, Pete. “Gray, Jonathan. Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts.” New York: New York University Press, 2010. 32-34. Print.

Gray, Jonathan. Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press, 2010. Print.

Medjesky, Christopher, A. “Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. Jonathan Gray.” New York: New York University Press, 2010. 462-463. Print.

*All images were retrieved from


The Representation of Disability in Sherlock: Addiction, Disguises, Psychosis, Oh My!

The recent 2010 BBC adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, entitled Sherlock, provides what Jim Collin’s describes as “hybrid cultural entertainment”(119) in his text, Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture.  This hybridity is a merging of worlds: literature and cinema. It could be argued that literature represents the traditional while cinema embodies the contemporary; however, it may not be necessary to cast these two industries so far apart, because the distinct culture within each compliment the other, allowing for potentially successful adaptations that incorporate a new/alternative/progressive perspective.

The consistencies between the television show, Sherlock and the literary text, Sherlock Holmes become immediately apparent.  Names, locations, personality traits and even Holmes’s eating habits align with the fictional characters that Doyle created. Dr. John Watson records their “stories” on a personal blog, an updated version of his literary counterpart that uses the traditional pen and paper method; however, both pieces rely on Watson to be the narrator.  In a sense this seems surprising, as this role carries with it an air of authority.  Clearly, between the two, Sherlock Holmes is the one in charge, both personally and professionally.  And yet, is he not trusted with the story? Is his perspective flawed?

Holmes is repeatedly described as a psychopath, to which he retorts, “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research.” In the early twentieth century, Holmes’s “odd” behavior would likely be deemed “eccentric” especially as it coexists with an impressive intellect.  Very few developmental disabilities or psychiatric illnesses were understood or diagnosable during this time, creating an ecology of misunderstanding, fear, and isolation. On the surface, Holmes’s personality traits and apparent disconnect from humanity would lend one to wonder if he does in fact have some sociopathic tendencies.  However, these same symptoms are often found within those with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, specifically, Aspergers Syndrome, its most notable characteristic is the impairment in social interaction (DSMIV).  Holmes is not void of feeling, as is consistent with sociopaths, he just feels differently.  The question of Holmes’s mental state may not be new, however, it seems the way it is now being represented needs proper attention.  As mentioned above, Holmes is rejected, not just called a psychopath once, but is referred by that label throughout by his supposed colleagues.  Most importantly, this is not addressed, it is expected. While the show does gesture toward the issue of disability, it is done in an indirect way, never fully confronting it directly, thus leaving the viewer with an ambiguous message, much in the same way that Holmes’s sexuality is dealt with.

It is interesting that Watson first appears with a physical disability. Holmes quickly surmises that this is psychosomatic, and practically insists upon Watson discarding his cane. While appearing to aid in his physical wellbeing, the “crutch” works to assuage his psychological trauma, which is seen as a weakness by all that encounter Watson.  All the while, Holmes is reliant upon nicotine patches for his daily existence.  In the original literary text, Holmes is an avid smoker.  Why in the adaptation do they choose to still incorporate nicotine, rather than completely eradicate this from the plot?  It seems implausible that someone so intelligent and logical could fall for the counterintuitive argument of nicotine replacement therapy.  How could a continuous supply of a drug into the bloodstream assist one in rehabilitation from addiction caused by that very same drug? Why would cigarette companies produce a product that would successfully put them out of business? Although some of the changes in the cinematic adaptation of Sherlock Holmes are certainly contemporary, I wonder how progressive they are and which audience (producer or consumer or both) are they serving?


Memory: Always a false truth?

If I wasn’t sure where to begin when writing about Mr. Peanut, I’m even more scattered with analyzing the intriguing text, The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits.  Although the reader is introduced to various narrators and points of view, none of them are reliable.  Mary is the most pervasive perspective and yet I’m left wondering at the end of the novel if I even like Mary or more importantly, if I even know Mary.  Perhaps that is the point.  As Dr. Hammer explains of Freud’s Dora and his Miriam, the fictional character cannot be truly known, even when inspired by an actual person.


Ida’s story is Mary’s story and it’s not.  On page 55 Mary discovers a story she wrote a little over a month before her disappearance.  Just as details of her abduction mirror Bettina and her dialogue with Dr. Hammer parallels Freud and Dora’s discussions, the details in this story seem almost completely extracted from her tales of K, which would be impossible since the story was written before her encounter with K.  Mary writes, “They stopped for gas.  The bearded man said ‘Stay here’ but Ida followed him to the pay phone.  She heard him say into the phone, ‘I’ve got her’”(56).  While her time with the ex-lawyer, phony amnesiac, appears to be real because of his encounter with Mary at the end of the novel, the re-telling of events/details seem fabricated by the obvious connections to previous narrations.  Is this typical of all memories? Maps of details woven by perceptions/truths/gap-fillers? Each character implores another to tell what happened, inform, bestow knowledge because just as the narrators are unreliable, so is memory and self-trust.  It is almost as if knowing what “truly” happened will provide peace, however, what if it is impossible to ever know? Mary, the only person throughout the novel that is capable of giving the reader the “truth” seems to withhold it, creating a sense of resentment.


I also found myself thinking about the film, Girl Interrupted while I was reading this text.  Themes of “teenage ennui” (268) and feeling lost, invisible, empty; searching for purpose, existence, each text speaks to the need to do “something” or have “something” done. While Mary’s motivation in her “game playing” may stem from typical adolescent pangs, the ramifications are only fully realized years later.  For some reason when Mary crashes Aunt Helen’s car into K’s house, turning the headlights off and crawling on her hands and knees, it seems to speak to Mary’s position fourteen years after her abduction.  “From this humbled position, she surveyed the damage”(277).  Mary initially escapes her history by fleeing from Boston and in a certain cliché type of way, is forced to confront her “demons” at her mother’s death.  So in this way, it at times feels a little formulaic.  Mary discovers aspects/layers to both her mother and her father that render them endearing.  In a dysfunctional, quirky sort of way Mary even makes peace with her sisters.  In some ways these devices are inevitable because they work and most effectively when re-used in a creative way.


At the close of the story, Dr. Hammer sums up Mary succinctly when he states, “Mary had been a useless girl, and I was putting her to use with her permission” (354).  Who was Mary useless to? She certainly considered herself to be, but why? How was this determined? Permission is a vague concept in this text.  Perhaps truth is the mutually agreed upon, mutually beneficial reality/story/fantasy that congeals as memory.