Dark Knight Returns

Batman begins today and all the reviews have been glowing. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times hones in on the characterisation in a way that mirrors much of the discussion on the human/superhero duality that was explored at last weekend’s conference:

What Mr. Nolan gets, and gets better than any other previous director, is that without Bruce Wayne, Batman is just a rich wacko with illusions of grandeur and a terrific pair of support hose. Without his suave alter ego, this weird bat man is a superhero without humanity, an avenger without a conscience, an id without a superego. Which is why, working from his and David S. Goyer’s very fine screenplay, Mr. Nolan more or less begins at the beginning, taking Batman back to his original trauma and the death of his parents. With narrative economy and tangible feeling, he stages that terrible, defining moment when young Master Wayne watched a criminal shoot his parents to death in a Gotham City alley, thereby setting into motion his long, strange journey into the self.

This notion of the “strange journey into the self” ties in with much of my new thinking about my thesis which I am now conceiving as about the “remediation” of both apocalypse and self. This is not merely the traditional story line of self discovery of inner strength in moments of crisis. New modes of fragmented or plurivocal selfhood – the nomadic self – are archetypally appropriate for the apocalyptic moment. This self is always in danger of fragmentation but survives in a dance with apocalyptic forces which are always potent but always di(a)verted.

Further thoughts on method

Beginning to clarify further issues of method, texts and theoretical approach.

I think what I am interested in is the interaction of the cultural, political and religious fields and how the intertextual relations within these fields and between these fields produce myth, specifically in this case, the myth of the apocalyptic.

I will analyse film as a textual window on the cultural field, the president as a text in the political field and what I am tentatively calling new spiritualities as a focus for the religious field. Specifically I am interested in how film, the president and new spiritualities are ritually produced as intertextual events. In each case this will involve looking at particular film, presidential and spiritual texts and analysing their intertextual production through consideration of their historic precedents, the text itself, the media reception and promotion.

It is better expressed in this diagram

In terms of texts I think, Day After Tomorrow, Lord of the Rings and Manchurian Candidate are good choices for film. They represent different contemporary expressions of the apocalyptic myth in film; they also link directly to notions of the president/leader and to notions of spirituality in the case of LOTR. They also each have an interesting set of historical precedents that could be used to show particular shifts in the current expression of the apocalyptic narrative.

For presidential texts I would obviously look at Bush’s speeches but I think I would also look at how the image of president is expressed in presidential relations with his inner cabinet – how do “the Vulcans” come to act as an extension of the presidential image – and with other world leaders particularly Blair, Howard and Chirac. This last part becomes a way of tying in the image of the president as America in the world. Linking the presidential back to the cinematic, in terms of Bush’s media representation the press coverage of Fahrenheit 9/11 becomes an interesting case study.

For spirituality I definitely want to look at the Left Behind serries and how this mediates a very particular apocalyptic spirituality, linking this in to the rise of the religious right. But I also want to look at either an alternate “spiritual” movement such as the grass roots activism at Moveon.com or some aspect of the New Age movement. Another possibility in this area would be to look at “fandom” as a spirituality particualrly as it relates to an apocalyptic TV show such as Buffy or X-files. I need to clarify this section more.

I think this is a better model than either my original idea or the cold war idea. The cold war will still come in to the analysis at different times in terms of the intertextual history but wont be the central focus.


Trying to think more clearly about method and structure.

Although I was pleased with the cold war/war on terror comparative structure that Liz and I came up with at our last meeting, there have been a nagging set of doubts in the back of my mind. Partly I think that is because the focus might then become a history focus, and would involve a whole other set of historiography issues that I am not familiar with.

One of the advantages that it gives is that it provides a very clear structure and narrows the field of enquiry to a more specific set of questions. But I think that is also part of my problem with it.

I have been thinking about my evolving model of myth and going back to the MA thesis proposition that the concepts of narrative identity and intertexuality can help us to develop a better model of myth for working with journalism texts. Part of the notion of intertextuality is about the multiplicity of interpretation and reference. Certainly this could work in terms of an intertextual relationship between the two texts, or rhetorical structures “cold war” and “war on terror”. This shift the focus to texts rather than eras, which is helpful.

However I have a range of other questions that I also want to address.

First I have been thinking about what I am calling “the personal apocalypse” as opposed to the “communal apocalypse”. How do we think about apocalypse from the perspective of narratives of personal identity and psychoanalytic ideas such as hysteria and suicide? (Interesting book in terms of this: Knotted Subjects: Hysteria and its discontents)

Second in terms of a historic comparison there is an idea floating around in my head about the rhetoric of presidential images and a comparative look at Kennedy Nixon Reagan and Bush, which would obviously relate to cold war/war on terror but is more specific in terms of how the specific images of these leaders produce particular apocalyptic narrative. But again this takes me back to the domain of history and I think I am better equipped to handle contemporary texts. (Interesting book in terms of this: Nixon’s Shadow: History of an image)

Thirdly I am interested – and this is difficult – of finding a way, a form, to write the thesis that is imaginative, discursive and reflective as well as academic. I don’t want to come up with a structure that in a sense militates against eclecticism. One of the issues here is that I want the thesis to reflect the multidimensional intertextuality of the contemporary apocalyptic narrative, the broad range of expressions and their intertextual relations is in a sense one of the main reasons that I think apocalyptic narratives are so interesting as cultural phenomena.

Bush and Blair

The Guardian’s Ros Taylor makes an interesting comparison between Tony Blair’s and George Bush’s rhetorical strategies.

And there was a great deal of Bushery about today’s speech. Like the US president, Tony has developed a winning habit of acknowledging his opponents’ views, plucking them out, and flicking them far away into the bushes of the Rose Garden. “People say I’m …” opens George. “I know people say …” echoes Tony. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

This may well be the case but after a quick sail through the text of Blair’s speech to the current Labour Conference, what struck me were the differences of style. Blair punctutaes the speech with humour and rhetorical questions that creates a humour and a sense of inclusion that often seems to be lacking from Bush’s presidential pronouncements.

I need to do a close reading of the speech and compare it Bush’s convention speech.

Some more pertinent and funny comments from Taylor:

God may move in mysterious ways, but the Labour party – well, Tony knows just how to elicit their forgiveness. It’s part belief, part a base appeal to their love of power. “I’m like any other human being,” he told delegates, “as fallible and as capable of being wrong.” The difference, of course, is that when Tony’s wrong, he’s still fundamentally right….

“It’s been hard for you,” he said. “Like the delegate who told me: ‘I’ve defended you so well to everyone I’ve almost convinced myself.’ That’s loyalty for you.”

This was startling stuff, when you thought about it. Tony was thanking a delegate for lying on his behalf. Still, that’s what it takes to be a Blairite – the courage, not of your own convictions, but of Tony’s: the belief in a higher cause, and the readiness to endure the dirty fighting, the sexed-up dossiers, the unsavoury bedfellows along the way. He denied that the battle is a religious war. But it sure as hell sounds like a crusade, and a damned uncomfortable one at that.

The rhetorical strategies of Bush, Blair and Howard and how these played to the American, British and Australian media would make for a very interesting study. Maybe this is an alternative point of comparison rather than the historic comparison of the cold war.

First supervisory meeting

First official meeting with my Ph.D. supervisor Liz Jacka

We talked about my proposal and approach, trying to boil down the grand plan into manageable portions:

My two key conceptual tools are

- Myth
- The apocalypse

My two key textual areas are:

- Journalism
- Film

My theoretical aims are:

- To build on my MA research in developing a heuristic model of myth appropriate to journalism studies. Although a lot of this work has occurred already, it is diverse and much of it seems under or narrowly theorised.

- To develop a model that looks at the fields of journalism and the fields of cinema as inter-related fields of cultural production.

- To develop a typology of apocalypse as a mythical model for understanding current journalistic and cinematic discourse.

(Note the diverse range of terms here: myth, narratives, discourse, fields, texts. How do these all relate to one another?)

So the question becomes how to make all this manageable?

How to come up with an appropriate corpus for study?

One possible model that we discussed was:

- A comparative study of journalistic and cinematic apocalypse narratives from the cold war period and similar narratives of the current war on terror.

- A focus on America and American texts but with an acknowledgment that “America” was being studied from the perspective of a non-American (Australian) site.

This is potentially an interesting way forward. My task for the next few weeks is to try to flesh it out as a potential model.

There are dangers with creating an easy fit between the cold war and current environment but there are more and more connections which are surfacing in common discourse such as the Ted Kennedy comments I listed this morning

Liz and I also talked tactics, process, staying on track. Short-term goals in terms of publications can work and I set myself the goal of having a draft of a “myth in journalism studies” paper done by the end of January.

Apocalyptic narratives

This is my Ph.D research weblog.

My Ph.D is exploring the relationships between the interlocking fields of news media, literature, film and television drama. While each of these cultural fields are defined by their particular forms and inherent possibilities, their boundaries are permeable and each functions as part of the network of sense making structures available to postmodern nomadic subjects(Braidotti 1994; Brown 1996).

Specifically the study will focus on an analysis of eschatological narratives of apocalypse in a series of case studies from each of these genres. I will be looking at Time Magazine covers stories; The Lord of the Rings trilogy; The Matrix trilogy; Buffy The Vampire Slayer and other texts.

Although it will not focus exclusively, or primarily, on texts that explicitly evoke the events of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, this event and the subsequent war on terrorism provide a compelling contemporary political and cultural context for an examination of apocalyptic narratives.

For more download my proposal