October 18, 2005

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k-punk: A seamless tissue of fantasies K-punk has an interesting critique of my reading of A History of Violence. Here is an excerpt but one should really read the whole thing. Link: k-punk: A seamless tissue of fantasies. Jodi's reading also surreptitiously resolves the film's ontological tension, by assuming that the 'Joey reality' is ontologically inferior to the 'Tom reality'. On what grounds, though? As Jodi herself notes, the Stall domestic Paradiso is no more 'real'(istic) than the organized crime Inferno; it is just that, in the first case, the fantasies derive from melodrama, while in the second, they are taken from the gangster genre. (In this respect, A History of Violence can be compared with The Shining, which similarly mediates between the conventions of family drama and those of another genre, in that case, Horror. See Walter Metz's intertextual analysis here.) Paradoxically, the Stall family only seems realistic once it is menaced by mobsters who are no more realistic. If there is 'realism' at all, it is generated by the tensions between the conventions of two genres. Jodi says that my reading was too quick to remove fantasy. But I would want to argue that Jodi, like Graham Fuller in Sight and Sound, contains fantasy by giving it a diegetic motivation. What this leaves out is in a way the most obvious fantasmatic level: that of our own fantasies. It is not that the events of the film can be reduced to the fantasy of one of the characters; no, the film forces us to...
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Response to K-punk: we are figures in our fantasies K-punk's rejection of my reading of A History of Violence rests on one claim: that I "surrreptitiously resolve the film's ontological tension, by assuming that the 'Joey reality' is ontologically inferior to the 'Tom reality'. Yet, as he quickly concedes, I, in fact, do not do this: "As Jodi herself notes, the Stall domestic Paradiso is no more 'real'(istic) than the organized crime Inferno..." Nothing in my reading of the film suggests this ontological prioritization. Rather, as I emphasize throughout my discussion, the film is a set of interlocking fantasies and I read these fantasies as primarily those of the son (the possible angle of the wife's fantasies are clearly subordinate in that we don't get any sense of what sort of dilemmas she may be encountering; thus, the fantastic quality of the long-term, sexually hot, loving relationship with a perfect man who is ultimately a stranger seems, in a way, stifling, already resolved; so, in whose world would marriage be so resolved? the fantasy world of the son). The son faces, grapples with, what it is to become a man. He confronts, on one side, fantasies of the perfect family which provide unbearable, suffocating, impossible answers to the question of what it is to be a man. He confronts the obscene flipside of these fantasies in violence. Each side is as fantastic as the other--as I make clear in my reading of the film. Whatever symbolic resolution appears in the final scene is, of course, held together by fantasies....

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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