Best Responses from the 2003 Mid-Term


Choose three of the following four quotations. Identify the excerpt (author and text), then state the significance of the quotation (10 points each; 3 X 10 = 30 points). [What you should note is that merely stating the source and context of the quotation is not enough: you need to say something about the significance of the quotation; how does it tie in with the issues and critics we've been discussing? Each of your three responses in this section should be just as detailed.]

Suggested Time: 22 minutes

    "You're a homicidal maniac."

This quote comes from the X-Files episode, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." In the episode, Clyde Bruckman, a man with psychic abilities, says this to the murderer who has just asked him why he does the things he does. Throughout this episode, both Clyde Bruckman and the murderer experience visions that allow them to see the future. For Bruckman, the visions are of how the people he comes into contact with are going to die; for the murderer, he visualizes himself taking the lives of others. Both characters feel like they have no control over their lives because their visions make everything seem predestined, through the action of the narrative. Bruckman and the murderer have no control over their actions because they are characters within a narration. The very scene in which Bruckman tells the murderer that he is a homicidal maniac shows the post-modern reflexivity of the narrative. If Bruckman and the murderer were actual people in an actual city, the chances of Mulder and Scully "hiding" Bruckman in the very hotel where the murderer worked would be improbable. However, because it is a narrative, this coincidence must occur in order to bring the story to full closure. The use of the quote "You're a homicidal maniac" reaffirms what the viewers already know about the killer, and the quote also answers the hermeneutic questions that have been driving the plot.

Grade: 10

    Let. Jack Shaffer: "I don't know if any of this is really happening. I don't even know if you're real."

From X-Files, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." Analysis: Jack Shaffer says this to Fox as he is questioning him in the diner. On the level of story, Jack simply seems to be paranoid. Yet, discursively, the comment has many layers. This entire episode is meant to question the idea that "seeing is believing," especially when what you are seeing is from a narration. By having Jack say this, the episode self-reflectively points out that it, itself, is all a narrative and not real. Yet, all narratives fall into this category, and usually audiences are willing to suspend their disbelief and pretend what they are seeing is the objective truth. However, this episode even questions that behavior. The scene between Jack and Fox is being relayed to us via Dana's conversation with Jose, and she heard it from Fox. This entire episode is filled with nested frame narratives, many of which contradict each other. For example, we are later presented an alternative to the diner scene in which fox is alone. Thus, the audience shares Jack's confusion. We don't know what is real, even within the diegetic world of the X-Files.

Grade: 10

    "The cards have been sufficiently randomized."

Data says this in the Star Trek: TNG episode, "Cause and Effect." "The cards have been sufficiently randomized," and yet the other characters recognize the sequence. It is not just a clue that the crew of the Enterprise is in a time loop, it is a metaphor for discourse. All the parts of a story seem to be randomized in narration, and yet they are exactly where the author puts them. A narration is stacked by the author through discursive elements, and this episode of Star Trek: TNG is a conglomeration of discursive elements. The quote shows the paradox of the situation; the cards are random, but the crew is experiencing the repetition compulsion.

Grade: 10

    "Truth is as subjective as reality."

This quote is from the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space.'" It is significant for several reasons. It sums up the attitude for the entire episode. From the very beginning of the episode the director uses discursive camera techniques to fool the viewer. From that moment on we have to question the entire story. There are other scenes that are either objective or subjective. It is up to the viewer to decide whether or not what they are seeing is the "truth" or not. Usage of focalization and framed narratives further push the viewer to question each character's account.

Grade 10

    "This is the story of a man marked by an image from his childhood."

This quote, taken from the narrator in the beginning of Chris Marker's La jetée, has the effect of giving the viewer the story of what is being presented before the viewers are tainted by the discursive elements of the film. By stating the general story like this so early, the viewer are encouraged to recall that particular image we are given near the beginning, of the man being shot and the woman looking on, throughout the rest of the film; in a sense, we are forced to live as the narrator lived: fixated upon a single scene throughout his life (throughout the movie for us), and embodiment of the death drive. We follow his need to relive this experience as we progress, and see how the moment of death rules his life, even into how it affects his pleasure principle, in that he becomes obsessed with a woman seen in the image from his youth. The image so affects him that it eventually drives him to reliving that scene, whereupon he learns that it was his own death.

Grade: 10


"Am I supposed to supposed to believe that's a real name?"


Jose Chung, the author of the first ever "non-fiction, science fiction," says "Truth is as subjective as reality" in the X-Files "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." He makes this comment to Scully to explain why he has so many different stories of the same events. This line could be the theme of the episode, which leaves us without any closure. At the end of the episode, where Jose Chung finally meets Fox Mulder the audience expects Fox to give us the "real" story, as in a typical frame narrative. But in true Post-Modern fashion, Fox refuses to satisfy the audience with his response How the hell should I know?" The whole episode is geared to make the viewer question what really happened, with conflicting 1st-person narratives, and the Men in Black who make us doubt that seeing is believing. This episode contrasts the mantra of the show and in doing so keeps the viewers watching by using the hermeneutic code. How can the "truth be out there" if "truth is as subjective as reality"?

Grade: 10

    "the metaphoric work of eventual totalization determines the meaning and status of the metonymic work of sequence—though it must also be claimed that the metonymies of the middle produced, gave birth to, the final metaphor"

Brooks compares the "metaphor" and "metonym" to the "death drive" and "pleasure principle" of the narrative structure and in life itself. A narrative often contains a general metaphor, the paradigmatic aspects, that extends above the limits of the narrative itself, which constantly drives the narrative towards its end. The metonym, the syntagmatic aspect, is like the syntax within a sentence—it drives the sentence forward in a line. Ultimately, the metonyms within a narrative all work together to reveal the final metaphor. An example is found in "Clyde Bruckman's...," with the metaphor of the palm/hand, which represent the eye of the camera, which controls the entire perception and ending of the narrative. All of the metonyms within the episode, like quotes from the characters, etc. build up to form this grater metaphor which ends the episode. Thanatos to eros, so to speak.

Grade: 10


Choose three of the following four terms and explain the significance of each (10 points each; 3 X 10 = 30 points). [Note: Again, I need more than a one-sentence definition. How does the term or name tie in to discussions we've had this semester? What is its larger significance within the class? Can you provide examples from the works we've examined?]

Suggested Time: 22 minutes


Narration is a form of discourse that provides a point of view that a story is being told. Narration can be told in first-person (from one of the characters within the story), third-person limited (by an outside voice who explains the thoughts and feelings of only one character), or third-person omnipresent (who has access to all the characters' thoughts and actions). In film, narration is much harder to do than [in] fiction. Sometimes directors will create the effect of a first-person narration through a voice-over technique. A point of view shot can also be used to create the feeling that we are seeing what the narrator sees.

(Grade: 10).

    A metaphor is the use of 2 disparate objects together to show a connection between the two. This term is closely related to match cut which places 2 scenes on top of one another to create a connection between 2 disparate scenes. The use of metaphors is very important in this class in allowing us to fully understand the plot of our stories. Examples of metaphors used in works we have examined include the scene in La Jetée where a match cut is used for a scene of a graveyard and the jetty, thus indicating that the jetty was the main characters graveyard or place of death. Another example is found in "Clyde Bruckman" in Chantilly lace. At first the lace is shown as a squiggly line symbolizing the dilation of the story/plot, while the final shot of the lace is a full circle indicating that the story has completed its loop and was thus ending the narrative.
    repetition compulsion

The thanatotic/death drive, so Freud put it, is the most primal, perhaps, of all human psychical drives. It is the need to go back to a time before the trauma of birth: quiescence. To repeat it then, being driven by Thanatos, is to try to inoculate oneself, deaden one's nerves to the shock and pain of trauma. For real world trauma, a man may compulsively rpt. it in his mind to ease his pain. If we extend this notion to the theory of narrative, its purpose is clear: the rep'n comp. is mirrored in the repetitive nature of the whole enterprise. If the end of story, the realization, coming circular of the metaphor (replacing trauma in the real) is the end of the person, we can say its repetition is a calling up of that dead thing, a resurrection.

(Grade: 10).

    subjective shot

This is a camera shot through the mind's eye. It plays on the fact that the person can interpret an event in any fashion. It is their perception of what really happened. It is limited by memory and perception of the person. In X-Files: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," Clyde is seeing the future through the subjective shot of the killer. Later the killer says "This is not what's supposed to happen." The subjective shot of the killer was what he wanted to see, but not what would actually happen. These shots add a little discourse to the film because viewers think one thing that turns out to be another different thing.

(Grade: 10).


Discourse is the way a chronological story is portrayed, through camera angles, order of events, narration. As with X-Files' "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," discourse is presented through a frame narrative.... La jetée tells its story as a long analepsis—showing us "photos" of the past. Few times are discourse and story shown as they would actually be: in real time. Even if presented this way, though, discourse—like film—is a sort of time machine. It can bring us forward (prolepsis—flash forward) or take us back in time (analepsis). It can also change space/position to show us different perspectives, point of views, or connect seemingly random, unrelated events. Sometimes, as with X-Files' "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," discourse may completely cover up the actual story, leaving us viewers wondering what really happened.

Grade: 10

    frame narrative

The X-Files episode, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" best exemplifies this type of narrative. In one scene, Rocky's story of his experience is being told through a screenplay, which is being read to Scully by Mulder, which is being described to Jose Chung by Scully, which is ultimately written in the form of a narrative in Jose Chung's book From Outer Space. Why use this frame narrative? The frame narrative both distorts reality and also represents Freud's "repetition compulsion." All of these narratives retold a story of sexual trauma. Freud believes it is of human nature to reexperience and retell trauma. By retelling, one can "pass the wound" and transfer the trauma to someone else. The entire episode is an example of this transference of trauma. The frame narrative, as I discussed earlier, also distorts the viewer's perception of reality. Which retold narrative is true? Which events actually occurred? Through this repetition, a framed narrative reveals many aspects about human nature and life itself (through the lens of a camera).

Grade: 10

    death drive

The death drive—Thanatos, what all stories, people, everything is half made up of (other half being pleasure principle—Eros). Marked by repetition compulsion (desire to repeat traumatic events in search of making sense of them, which Freud figured out from the fort-da game a child played involving repeatedly losing and bringing back a personal item—symbolizing losing his mother. (Like Star Trek, "Cause and Effect": the crew repeats destruction of Enterprise until they solve it and escape safely; or a detective reworking a crime to solve it and catch the guilty person.) The death drive is rampant in narrative—the desire to return to one's natural state in one's own way, or coming full circle (ourobouros), symbolized metaphorically (paradigmatic pole!) in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" by the closed loop of chantilly lace when Scully figures it all out—hence the end of the narrative, of Bruckman's dream of death (complete w/ comment to Mulder about Freud) or Bruckman's and the killer's impotence (obsession w/ death drive only, no pleasure principle). Where pleasure principle is the squiggly detours through narrative [picture here], the death drive is a straight drive to the end (or beginning?) [image of circle], but both are necessary together to achieve successful and fulfilling narrative, or life.

Grade: 10


Transference is the transferring of emotions (and events) from one person to another in order to sort of relive those certain emotions (and events). Such reliving of events (especially traumatic ones) led Freud to believe that there was another motive in addition to the pleasure principle (thanatos—the death drive). Transference also brings about repetition compulsion, as on must "repeat" events to retell them (transfer). Veterans often retell war stories to their friends or family; horror moviegoers will spout details of the gruesomeness to their friends. This is often done to relieve a person of the emotions felt, yet it also makes them relive the emotions (hence, the repetition compulsion).

Grade: 10

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