The other side of the story


I do like Rodoreda’s writing and this analysis struck me as interesting:

In Writing Beyond the Ending Rachel Blau DuPlessis points out that displacing attention to the other side of the story is one of the strategies frequently used by twentieth-century women poets when they rewrite classical or Judeo-Christian myths. This narrative displacement ‘offers the possibility of speech to the female in the case, giving voice to the muted’ (108). Such a change in perspective radically alters the nature of the story and its underlying assumptions. Eurydice’s or Penelope’s values, after all, are not those of Orpheus or Ulysses. Although DuPlessis’s analysis focuses on the revisionary mythopoesis of poets whose language is English, the concept of the other side of the story is relevant to the writing of Catalan novelist Mercè Rodoreda and her 1962 novel, La Plaza del Diamante, in particular. The protagonist is a woman whose life, like that of Goethe’s Makarie, would appear to be without external events, ‘a life whose story cannot be told as there is no story’ (Eichner 620). Rodoreda, however, is well aware that female experience is not minor and that women writers can, in the words of Virginia Woolf, choose ‘to make serious what appears insignificant to a man, and trivial what is to him important’.
The protagonist of Diamante is a simple, unlettered, working-class woman who recounts her courtship, marriage, the birth of her two children, her widowhood, and her remarriage, the birth of her two children, her widowhood, and her remarriage. Natalia’s narrative spans a period of some twenty-five years, running from shortly before the advent of the Second Republic into the post-Civil War period. Chapters 1-17 portray her daily life and its ‘small headaches.’ In chapters 18-32, political events assume increasing importance and the headaches become big ones. In chapters 33-49, Natalia gradually rebuilds her life in postwar Barcelona. A series of binary oppositions structure the narrative: story/lack of story, speech/silence, presence/[-p.61]absence, power/powerlessness, open/closed spaces, male/female. The movement is from oppression and dispossession to repossession and partial liberation in the final section of the novel.
Much of the impact of Diamante derives from the use of an innocent as the center of consciousness. There is an air of bewilderment about Natalia. She tends to take people at face value, and their actions and words are often incomprehensible to her. Rodoreda creates the impression of oral communication, and as we listen to Natalia speak we are struck by the judgments she does not render, the protests she does not voice, the feelings she either does not articulate or does not examine. Wolfgang Iser has called attention to the importance of the empty spaces of a text, describing gaps as the pivots on which the text-reader relationship revolves and blanks of Natalia’s narrative that stimulate our interaction with the text. They lead us to establish the connections she does not make and to listen to the implications of what she does not say. When we examine the pattern of incidents, important symbols, and stylistic devices, the submerged text comes into focus. The other side of the story stands out in bold relief.” (pp.60-61)

“In Diamante the political turmoil of the 1930s is presented indirectly and in the contest of Natalia’s life. She makes no comment on the significance of events, because public affairs are remote from her privatized existence as a woman. The Second Republic is for her simply the time when her small problems turn into big ones.” (p.64)

Ref: (italics in original) Kathleen M. Glenn (1986) La Plaza del Diamante: The Other Side of the Story. pp.60-68 Letras femeninas – Voces femeninas en la literatura de la guerra civil española; una valoración crítica al medio siglo de historia 1936-1986. Vol XII, num 1-2

The Age of Clandestinity


Introducing their book, The Spy Story, in 1987, John G. Cawelti and Bruce A. Rosenberg wrote:

We live in a time that has become deeply obsessed with espionage, conspiracy, and other forms of clandestinity. What Edward Shils called ‘the torment of secrecy’ has pervaded our national life, as the exposure of the Watergate cover-up revealed. But Watergate was only one in a series of developments in American culture that had their roots in the aftermath of World War II. That conflict thrust America into a new global position where our potential vulnerability to the economic and military strengths of other countries came to seem more threatening than ever before. With their anxieties intensified by the fear of atomic weapons, political leaders and ordinary citizens became deeply concerned about secret conspiracies, both at home and abroad. While such obsessions have often appeared in the aftermath of wars – both the Civil War and World War I left a disturbing legacy of suspicion and suspension of due process in the attempt to counter secret conspiracies – it was only after World War II that Americans institutionalized clandestinity on a large and permanent scale. Our generation has harvested the first fruits of that major cultural change.” (p.1)

Those in power and a substantial segment of the public have come to believe that clandestine operations are indispensable to the security of a modern nation. This belief, and the institutions, attitudes, and actions to which it gives rise, have had a profound cultural impact. Though we desperately need to understand the processes of clandestinity more fully, this is difficult because much of the necessary evidence remains buried in secret archives. Even if the historical data are available, to evaluate the actual impact of clandestine operations is very difficult and has become a subject of considerable controversy among historians. Some believe that such clandestine coups as British and American codebreaking during World War II made the difference between defeat and victory, while others assert that much information gleaned by espionage has been useless and largely ignored by commanders in the field. Manifold ambiguities cluster around the subject of historical espionage. What does one say about the terrible fate of those thousands who perished in agony during the destruction of Coventry because Churchill feared that to give advance warning of the bombing would reveal that the British had broken the German code? On the other hand, could the Allied invasion of Europe have succeeded without those clandestine operations designed to mislead German intelligence about the actual site of the landings?
Whatever the actual military, economic, and political importance of espionage, the twentieth century has become in many ways the Age of Clandestinity. One symptom of the pervasiveness of secret operations in our lives is the fact that the spy story has become one of the major popular genres of our time. The secret agent protagonist is now one of our favorite mythical heroes….” (p.2)

“…in spite of the long and fascinating history of spying, it was not until the twentieth century that the secret agent became the heroic protagonist of a major form of popular narrative. As the century progressed into the 1980s, the spy hero became still more important, increasingly replacing earlier popular heroic figures like the cowboy and the hardboiled detective.” (p.3)

John G. Cawelti and Bruce A. Rosenberg define the spy story “as a story whose protagonist has some primary connection with espionage. Clearly,” they elaborate, “there are many stories of which this is true which one would hesitate to call spy stories, and usually for good reasons. One example is Conrad’s The Secret Agent, which figures deservedly in almost any discussion of the spy story. However, other interests in The Secret Agent are as important as the protagonists’ involvement with espionage. Verloc is a pathetically comic figure, for one thing, and the real protagonist of the novel is the more tragic figure of his wife, Winnie. Spy thrillers, however gloomy and cynical, are not usually tragedies, as we can see if we [-p.6] compare the most glum of John le Carré’s stories of betrayal and corruption with a tragic novel involving espionage such as The Secret Agent. Though Alec Leamas, of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, is shot along with the woman he has come to love, there is a kind of moral triumph at the end. Leamas now understands the corrupt and evil nature of the forces he is involved with; he has learned how to differentiate between good and evil and to have the moral courage too reject a life of further servitude to these evil principles. Thus, his death is both a positive moral action and a symbolic stand against the perverted means used in fighting the Cold War. Leamas begins in apparent moral decay but his death at the Berlin Wall is a heroic as well as despairing rejection of the corrupt world of power politics.
In Conrad’s Secret Agent, however, there is no heroism and no meaningful conflict between good and evil. The true protagonist, Winnie Verloc, is not even involved in espionage, and her inexorable descent to murder and suicide is grimly unrelieved by any sort of spiritual triumph. The world of The Secret Agent is one in which no group of characters has a moral advantage over the others. With the sole exception of the mad anarchist professor, everyone is in pursuit of some kind of personal advantage. Even Winnie, the most selfless character in the novel, is in many ways a betrayer.” (pp.5-6)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) John G. Cawelti and Bruce A. Rosenberg (1987) The Spy Story. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London

vampires as political metaphor in Mamoru’s Blood


This was also a really interesting article… Christopher Bolton presents a very interesting analysis of Oshii Mamoru’s Blood: The Last Vampire, which includes discussion about the  semantics of anime that I really enjoyed. Bolton writes:

“In the films of Oshii Mamoru, political struggle is not only palpable—it is positively sensual. Oshii’s films chart the efforts of people to make a difference or leave a trace in a politicized, mediated world where the importance of the individual is increasingly uncertain.” (p.125)

Blood[: The Last Vampire, directed by Kitakubo Hiroyuki and a team of young artists working under Oshii’s tutelage] is a vampire story set on an American air force base in Japan during the Vietnam War. Released in 2000, it was one of the first anime to make heavy use of photorealistic digital effects, though at many points it preserves the stylized quality of conventional animation. While the vampires and human characters are largely two-dimensional, the planes taking off and landing in the background are rendered as more photorealistic three-dimensional forms. At one level, the planes disrupt the film’s fantasy by evoking the realities of Vietnam, realities that are in many ways more frightening than any ghost story. But at the same time, the planes have a ghostly quality of their own that makes them much more complex signifiers. They represent not only the reality of politics but its unrealities as well. [/] These unrealities include the cracks and contradictions in the national identity that was forged for Japan after World War II.” (p.126)

In Blood, the planes visually represent the weight and solidity of present realities, as well as the illusory quality of Japanese politics and the country’s suppressed but still-haunting memories of its own wartime aggression. At the same time, the film’s two-dimensional vampire heroine Saya seems at first to be a cartoonish fantasy—a camp parody of anime vixens. But Saya’s sexiness and violence have a reassuring physicality that promises an escape from the intangibility and uncertainty of politics. In this sense, Blood is a film that could only have been made as an anime: it is the work’s strange [-p.127] admixture of fantasy and photorealism that comments most provocatively on Japan’s present historical moment. This essay begins by examining political dynamics in Blood’s plot and then links this to the film’s physical dynamics—the way mass and motion are portrayed by the film’s unique combination of two- and three-dimensional animation.” (pp.126-127)

“In Western literature, the vampire is a privileged figure for otherness and a powerful metaphor for racial or cultural mixing. The vampire is familiar but also foreign; it crosses gender lines as an effeminately alluring male or a castrating female; and it breaches blood and body boundaries in a way that suggests sexual communion but also perversion and pollution.” (p.128)

“Kotani Mari argues that the vampire represents a similar kind of otherness in Japanese manga and prose fiction, but an otherness that is doubled because the vampire enters Japanese literature as a foreign genre. Kotani writes that vampires have represented the threat and appeal of a Western other since the first Japanese vampire fiction in the thirties.” (p.129)  “Blood […] shows the confusions and reversals that Kotani predicts. It is a film about familiarity and unfamiliarity: the way that one culture can regard another as monstrous, but also the blurring of boundaries between the monsters and us.” (p.129)

The chiropterans can probably best be associated with violence, militarism, and war itself—not only U.S. cold war imperialism and interventionism but also the Japanese militarism of World War II. Like the hibernating monsters, that militarism has lain dormant or disguised since the occupation, but now it threatens to reemerge. Clothed in a military-style school uniform and armed with a samurai sword, Saya seems to represent a truer, nobler, and more disciplined warrior spirit that will actually rein in the violence. In the logic of this and other films connected to Oshii, Japan is threatened by a crisis of that true spirit, symbolized by the sword that turns out to be fake. If it does not regain its martial and cultural identity, Japan will fall into the kind of violence represented by the chiropterans—supporting U.S. imperialism by proxy or resorting to military adventurism itself. Japanese and not-Japanese, Saya represents a new Japan that rediscovers its samurai values, a strong Japan that now fights against war itself. [/] The contradiction of a warrior who fights war stems in part from the collision of Oshii’s leftist politics with the violent military/action genre he favors. But it is also a tension that reflects the contradictions and conflicting desires of postwar Japanese national identity.” (p.132)

Blood seems to yearn for a Japan that is militarily strong and independent but also peace loving and noninterventionist.” (p.133)

“In the ironic, self-referential style that characterizes so many anime, the film is shot through with a stirring but always slightly sardonic optimism.” (p.133)

Thomas LaMarre has argued compellingly that the most interesting approach to anime connects its meaning with its specific visual qualities, particularly those qualities that set it apart from live-action cinema. LaMarre’s essay “From Animation to Anime” takes up the case of “limited animation,” anime’s practice of reducing the number of illustrations that make up an animated sequence. Originally a cost-cutting expedient, limited animation has given rise to a number of specific effects that have now come to be regarded as positive parts of anime’s aesthetic. Among these are long close-ups in which nothing moves except the characters’ mouths or eyes, a jerky energy when characters do move (caused by drawing fewer intermediate stages of a given motion), and an image-compositing technique that replaces an articulated moving figure with a single static drawing of the figure, which is then photographed as it slides in front of a static background. This last practice of “moving the drawing” instead of “drawing the movement” produces rigid [-p.135] figures that appear to float across the background in a layer of their own, rather than articulated figures that move in and out of the background in three dimensions.
For LaMarre, this last effect generates a kind of weightless, floating quality that creates a sense of freedom for the character and spectator alike. LaMarre supports this with a clever reading of the flying scenes in Miyazaki Hayao’s Castle in the Sky (1986, Tenkū no shiro Rapyuta), where these static figures in horizontal movement produce a sense of gliding weightlessly on the wind. In this way, the formal visual quality of the movement mirrors the story’s theme (and that of several other Miyazaki stories), in which characters gain freedom by harnessing the wind and their own inner potential rather than by relying on a mechanical technology fueled by scarce resources. “Minimum technology” becomes both the environmentalist mandate of Miyazaki’s films and the philosophy of their production.” (pp.134-135)

While many of the characters in Blood are two-dimensional caricatures, the planes in the background are rendered in three dimensions, in historically accurate detail (Figures 3–5). Harnessing a persistent bias that cinematic or photographic realism is somehow closer to unmediated experience than two-dimensional drawing, the filmmakers use this photorealism to associate the planes with a more profound reality. As they take off or return from [-p.136] a destination we can imagine as Vietnam, these aircraft are the film’s most prominent signifier for the world of war and geopolitics outside the vampire story.” (pp.135-136)

“At the most intuitive level, Blood lulls us into a fantasy world not only with its occult plot but with its flat visuals; yet, whenever a plane appears, it has a cinematic realism that calls us back to the reality of Vietnam.” (p.136) … “The planes also gain a ghostly quality by combining detailed three-dimensionality with a drawn quality that they never lose. They become uncanny by approaching cinematic realism and stopping short.” (p.136)

Blood leverages the uncanny limitations of CGI to good effect, using them to acknowledge and foreground issues of lost agency and lost or repressed memory. For a Japanese audience, this includes the perceived loss of Japan’s [-p.139] historical or political agency after World War II, as well as the fear of reclaiming that agency and risking a return to prewar aggression. For many in and out of Japan, what has been repressed is thoughtful debate about Japan’s wartime responsibilities and history. U.S. viewers may also be reminded of America’s own repressed complicity in all of the above, as well as the willfully forgotten lessons of Vietnam. This is why the F-4 Phantoms and other planes are the film’s true ghosts, spookier and scarier than the chiropterans: they haunt us with the return of an uncomfortable reality—not just an everyday reality we set aside when we entered the theater but political truths we have suppressed in our everyday lives.” (pp.138-`39)

Ref: Christopher Bolton  ‘The Quick and the Undead: Visual and Political Dynamics in Blood: The Last Vampire’ Mechademia, Volume 2, 2007, pp. 125-142

Reference is to: Kotani Mari, “Techno-Gothic Japan: From Seishi Yokomizo’s The Death’s-Head Stranger to Mariko Ohara’s Ephemera the Vampire,” in Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, ed. Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 194.

Thomas LaMarre, “From Animation to Anime: Drawing Movements and Moving Drawings,” Japan Forum 14, no. 2 (2002): 329–67.