Monday, February 27, 2017

If Anyone Says "Derrida" One More Time...

It's not that Jacques Derrida isn't a brilliant man. I think he was too brilliant for his own good. After an entire page of "Structure, Sign, and Play..." I was about ready to drill a figurative hole in my head. I do, however, find the idea of deconstruction fascinating. I knew there was a reason I didn't like Gatsby! That guy's a fraud.

AKA: the critical theorist with the good hair.
On the subject of the deconstruction, I do believe there is truth in the fact that literature contradicts itself, and that the "center is not the center" (Derrida, 1). Take Gatsby for example. He's supposed to be the hero, and the book touts him as the hero, but he made his living bootlegging and scamming people. This does sound like another favorite hero of ours, though...
Captain Jack Sparrow
The world loves conflict. We love complicated characters like Jack Sparrow, who, aside from being a conniving and plundering pirate, is a "good man." He's complicated, and he likes to complicate things. All for the Black Pearl. A boat. And here's where it gets tricky. What is the boat, really? He says it..."freedom." Probably more than that too, but I'm not going to deconstruct pirates. That would get so annoying. 

Instead, I will share some of my favorite complex characters in a list. Because I like lists. 

1. Jean Valjean.

At the beginning of Les Miserables, you don't think much of him. Especially when the priest is so nice to him and he ends up steeling from him. The reaction from the priest is admirable, and thank heavens for it. Then you can't help liking Jean Valjean.

2. Zuko. 

One of my favorite characters ever! He is almost ready to help the Avatar, and then BAM! Turns on his own uncle and betrays everybody. After that he realizes he's not happy. He ultimately confronts his own father and leaves to help train Aang as a firebender.

3. Max.

Max, the star of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, is a great example of one of the most basic complex characters we love. As children we can recognize the struggle within, the frustrations he deals with. Our only hope is that, like Max, we have a hot bowl of soup to come home to because despite our faults, our mothers (or another person we need) still love us.

4. Jesse Stone
Bleeding Cool

I don't know how a person can't like this guy. Fired for being drunk on the job, the police officer takes a position as chief in a tiny town called Paradise. He still drinks (he has a limit for the amount he can drink in a day), can't get over his ex-wife (still calls her quite frequently), and blatantly disregards rules he doesn't like. But he catches the bad guys, get the girls, and makes friends. Fear of intimacy? Yep. But he's a good guy.

5. Macbeth

Macbeth is driven to a state of insanity by three witches who prophecy his fate. In the beginning, his life seems fine. His wife trusts and loves him, he has a kingdom, etc. But when he learns of a man who is going to kill him, he falls apart at the seems. It's not that we all love Macbeth, but you have to pity him. If it weren't for the prophecy, he might have spared his own life.

Stepping aside from Derrida for a moment, what about Freud? A little (or a lot) of psychoanalysis would peel the layers away from these characters. Jesse Stone deals with a fear of intimacy, Zuko has family issues and a form of an Oedipus complex, and Jean Valjean is dealing with repression and regression so deep that he projects his fear onto the one man that makes sense; Javert.

Arguably, it is not analysis itself that makes a piece of literature (or a movie) good. But the best artistic pieces are riddled with complexities that are not just superficial. Good writing goes deep; the heart of the work is the center (and also not the center, according to Derrida), and all characters, settings, plots and subplots, and actions stem from it.

Oh yes. Books and movies are forever ruined for me. But in a good way.

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