Best Responses from the 2003 Mid-Term


Choose three of the following five 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: 30 minutes

    "It just seems like everyone's having sex except for me."

This is a quote from Clyde Bruckman from the X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." This statement relates to the Pleasure Principle and the death drive—Freudian notions. Throughout this episode, we see a man so consumed with death, that he "can't see the forest for the trees," or he can't truly find pleasure in life. He is so consumed by this "death drive" that he loses all sense of pleasure. This phrase may also relate to "the gaze" of seeing his own death, or head earlier on in the episode. This gaze totally destroyed all pleasure that he was able to experience. As a result, he is destined to go through life fixated on death's face, totally separated from pleasure or fantasy. Anything relating to pleasure (such as having sex with Scully) really refers to his own death or the consummation of the death drive.

Grade: 10

    "Who are the gentlemen?"

This quote is from the Buffy episode, "Hush." This quote comes from a scene in which Giles tells Buffy et. al. about the Gentlemen. This scene shows the episode's self-awareness through Giles adding discursive music. Giles also uses a projector which itself mimics film frames and a television screen. The slides are much like a silent film with pictures and words in between. Giles has slides to answer the characters' questions which emphasizes the scriptedness of the show. The quote itself represents the hermeneutic code in that the episode is driven by wanting to find the answer to the questions such as who the gentlemen are.

This statement enacts the hermeneutic code in that it presents a problem or the who/what and then looks to solve the problem like a detective story. Also you can look at the gentlemen as both sides of name-of-the-father and father-of-enjoyment or père-version. On the one hand, the gentlemen are the idea of politeness and perfection. They are within the law, dressed to a 'T', constantly smiling, and acting according to what is considered 'right'. On the other hand, they are outside of the law and more toward enjoyment or père-version. This is seen with the psychos in straight jackets following the gentlemen around. Also in that they carry doctors bags just to rip the hearts of people out. They are out of the reality of the world and in the 'real'. They have no language so they lack symbolic order. The gentlemen are children's story goblins who truly do not exist. They are not part of reality [rather, the real] but a fantasy come into life b/c of the lack of language in the episode and loss of reality.

Grade: 10

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

This quote is from the narrator of La jetée. La jetée is a postmodern film about death and repression. The opening and closing images in La jetée, the Jetty, are both the place of birth and death, the beginning and ending of the story. The main character is fixated on two images from his childhood, that of a woman and the death of a man. The entire narrative tries to make sense of these images. This relates to Freudian theories of trauma, regression, and repetition principle. The young child in the opening scene sees the death of a man (his own death) which is highly traumatic. Freud says that we repress trauma or constantly repeat it until we are able to make sense of it and move on. The main character is driven by the death drive (his own death) and the sex drive (the woman he sees on the jetty). Throughout the narrative, he moves into the past trying to make sense of these images and access the woman, his object of desire. As soon as he gains access to the woman, his desire (the brief moment of moving film), his sexual desire is filled and he has nothing but death left to face. This is also seen in the match cut of the grave yard and the jetty, a metaphor that the jetty is where his death will be.

Grade: 10

    "all narrative posits, if not the Sovereign Judge, at least a Sherlock Holmes capable of going back over the ground, and thereby the meaning of the cipher left by a life."

Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot. The differences between life and fictional narrative are distinct in that the latter requires circular closure. Brooks maintains that a narrative is a form of mechanized life, that narrative therefore only chooses the dramatically satisfying moments in life, just as Sherlock Holmes would search for only the most relevant facts regarding his case. An example we examined in class is the Star Trek universe. While the episode "Cause and Effect" thrust us into the mundane and daily routines of its crew, we realize that the other episodes never show any of the crew using the bathrooms. Hence narrative avoids these mechanical details to offer a heightened reality that chooses to display only the most dramatically satisfying elements. Life may not offer a closure and reality dictates that we spend much of our time participating in sterile activities. Narrative just chooses to, just like the detective, go to the relevant clues.

Grade 10

    "A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph, for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being."

This quotation is from Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror. Its significance is highlighted in "The Body" episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. In this episode, Buffy is confronted with the dead body of her mother. According to Kristeva, there are a few items which are completely abject, like rotten food and a dead body. The abject, according to Kristeva, can be purified through art and religion and we see elements of this purification in "The Body" episode. We are given a quick introduction with the appearance of the body and then we are given a Christmas (religious) dinner scene. In keeping with the abject theme of the episode, the characters joke about vomit during the dinner. Later in the episode, when Buffy is explaining the death to her sister Dawn, we are presented with different frames in an art class setting. The frame of each individual drawing is, of course, a frame, but the image we see of Buffy and her sister through the glass is also nicely framed for us. Of course, we are given the image of a "flat encephalograph," as Kristeva mentions, in Buffy's living room when the paramedics arrive. It is after this image that Buffy realizes the abjectness of the situation and vomits in the next room.

Grade: 10


Choose three of the following five 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: 30 minutes

    real time

Real time in cinema is when a scene is shot without any edits, cuts or jumps, such as the X-Files episode, "Triangle" and several minutes of Buffy reacting to the death of her mother in the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer episode "The Body." [Professor's note: Note, though, that the tv series 24 does have cuts yet is still in real time. There are just no edits in time: no time span is cut out.] In literature, it is a step-by-step list of events (first this happened, then that, then that...) without any extra narration. This is almost achieved at the end of the Odyssey, where Odysseus tells Penelope of his actions. Real time is the closest that a narrative can ever get to pure story: the chronological sequencing of events. As it is, most narratives retell the order of events, or add other discursive elements, such as narration, background music, and metaphors. It could be argued that real time is representative of Lacan's "Real," which is the pure materiality of things as they are, without subjectification: the camera shoots the events as they are, with no interruptions or editing of "boring" time. However, as we can never enter the Real, so we can never represent it in narrative, since we discursively add elements to the story.

Grade: 10

    proairetic and hermeneutic codes

Proairetic and hermeneutic code are two of the codes Roland Barthes named to explain the structure of narrative; these two in particular explain narrative progression and why a reader keeps reading or an audience keeps viewing. The proairetic code is concerned with actions (proairetic meaning"choose before"): if a man draws a gun, we feel suspense, excitement; will he kill his opponent? Will his opponent kill him? Will someone interrupt the two? By contrast, the hermeneutic code is concerned with questions (hermeneutic meaning "interpret"). In the first five minutes of the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode "Cause and Effect," we see the Enterprise blow up. While sitting through the opening credits and commercials, fans are left to wonder "What happened? How did that happen? Did it really happen? How will my favorite character survive?" As we want all our questions answered, since a narrative must have proper closure and must make sense, we continue watching in order to glean our answers. This usually happens at the end of the narrative such as when Hero Wolfe or Sherlock Holmes gathers everyone in a room to explain the entire plot of the story to them.

Grade: 10

    symbolic order

The symbolic order is a term referred to by Lacan of the final stage after we develop language. Once we develop language we enter into society's rules and laws, stripping us from "The Real." In this Symbolic Order, we develop fantasies about ourselves and our desires. These fantasies are mere projections of our own narcissistic ego-centered primal urges. We see an example of the symbolic order in "The Body" in which Buffy uses terms like "Mom" which we associate with the family... Once buffy experiences the abject of confronting the "Real" of her mother's dead body, she loses all sense of the symbolic order. She even catches herself calling her "mom" "the body" instead. This symbolic order cannot be replaced until Giles arrives and re-establishes law through his position as "the name of the Father."

Grade: 10


Trauma is discussed at great length by each of the psychologists/philosophers we have read. Freud says that trauma causes repetition compulsion, as we keep revisiting that trauma in an attempt to understand and ultimately overcome it. Lacan claims that humans experience trauma whenever we are brought in contact with the REAL. This happens often when we are forced to witness death. Kristeva explains the side effects of this trauma, of coming in contact with "the border of [our] condition as a living being." These are all demonstrated in the Buffy episode, "The Body," in which we are repeatedly shown the body as a way of overcoming the trauma, and by the conversations about "barfing" and by Buffy physically becoming ill. As explained by Lacan, it is our lack of language for these events that cause our trauma, and this is why death is so commonly feared.

Grade: 10

    metaphor and condensation

Condensation occurs when the entire metaphorical significant is projected onto a single thing. This chosen thing can thereby effectively represent the metaphor within the plot of the story. An excellent example of this technique is the Giles dream sequence in Buffy's "Restless." In this scene, the metaphorical condensation is placed on Giles' watch. This serves both as a play on words (because Giles is "the watcher"), but also as a reminder of the situation at hand--that time is "running out" both for the characters in the situation and for the narrative itself. The fact is underlined after Giles follows the microphone "back stage" (another play on words?) on his hand and knees, effectively regressing, and finds at the end his "watch"--which is what, ultimately, allows the last slayer to capture him. [Professor's Note: the relation to Freud's dream theory should be noted.]

Grade: 9.5

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