Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stone CONTRA Žižek?

Yesterday I contested Slavoj Žižek's proposition that we do not have a narrative that helps us make sense of our current situation by suggesting that, to the contrary, we are "awash with narratives." Nevertheless, I may have ended up supporting his point by suggesting that the narratives we do have may not serve our sensemaking very well because they are not "narratives of rationality," which led me to address the question of why we, as "consumers of narrative" (basically the way Hollywood views us) no longer tolerate such narratives of rationality. Thus, the narratives we have do not "work" (Žižek's word choice) any better than the ideological narratives enumerated in the quote I cited.

I was thinking about this line of reasoning as I read John Hiscock's review of Oliver Stone's W for the London Telegraph. Like any good newspaperman, Hiscock gets his main points out in his first sentences:

Oliver Stone has said he wanted to understand, not to hurt, George W Bush and to give a fair and true portrait of the man. And with W, the filmmaker - who stirred a firestorm of controversy with JFK and Nixon - has presented a relatively even-handed and entertaining portrait of the current US president, although it is sure to raise White House hackles, nevertheless.

W covers Bush's life from the age of 21 up to his invasion of Iraq, portraying him as both an arrogant, egotistical bully and a confused, sad and almost tragic figure manipulated by his aides and helplessly unable to come up with an exit strategy for Iraq.

This returned me to my thoughts of the role narrative can play in sensemaking. While Žižek is right about the predominant ideological narratives not working, could it be that they have distracted his search for alternative sensemaking narratives? Should we be looking, instead, for biographical narratives that can serve as models of behavior or cautionary tales (or, perhaps, both at the same time)? Karl Marx said that "Men make their own history;" but, in making it for themselves (whether or not it comes out "just as they please"), they also make it for the rest of us. Biographical narratives thus become narratives of the historical context in which we are then embedded, and that context can serve our need to make sense of our present situation. If Stone has, indeed, taken an even-handed approach to his biographical task, he may have provided us with the sort of narrative that Žižek has been frustrated in finding. In the process of doing so, Stone may have also managed to twit Marx by casting his narrative in a Hegelian synthesis of tragedy and farce!

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