11 October 2004

Two in one blow

They say these come in threes, so I'm dreading losing the third.

Jacques Derrida

father of deconstruction

Like many American intellectuals my age, I cut my teeth on mad French theorists. I loved Foucault, Baudrillard, and Cixous — and one could argue that all three of them really had more to say — but Derrida always had one thing going for him that the others didn't. Reading him was hard work, but he was always funny ... if you could find it.

I won't go on any longer, because if you ever picked up some Derrida, you should just see what Thorn has to say.

Thank you Derrida, for furrowing my brow, making me laugh, and letting me use an outrageous, Pythonesque voice to pronounce your name. "Deh-hrree-da!"

And if you're puzzled about what I'm talking about, Wikipedia again comes through with as good an explanation as is possible of “what the $&^*!! is 'deconstruction' anyway?”

Update: Michael Bérubé comes through in spades. First he posted this luscious little summa ...

Gallantly carried on the hundred-year-old Continental tradition of killing Plato dead. Wrote some interesting and playful stuff. Forged his own signature once. Was haunted by Marx at one point.

... then he was kind enough to say in a much longer post, Jacques Derrida, resquiescat in pace, and may his work trouble us all ...

... maybe it might make sense for me to post here the first intro-to-Derrida I wrote for advanced undergraduates, in a postmodernism-and-literature seminar I taught way back in 1991. It’s not a comprehensive introduction to everything Derridean; it’s just a guide to one difficult and important essay, “Signature Event Context.” But here goes ...

... and it's long, and good, and if you have any love or curiousity toward Mr. Derrida, I say check it out.

Christopher Reeve

super man

I won't add much to the pile of schmaltz we will undoubtedly get about Reeve's inpsiring example of living a life with the challenge of paralysis. It's all true, but I don't do that stuff. (Okay, one thing: thanks to Reeve, we know stuff about recovery from paralysis that we just didn't know before.)

Instead, I want to say what one fears that it's silly to say: Christopher Reeve was a terrific Superman.

It's easy to be dismissive of a silly genre rôle like Superman, but when you think about how often these things are done badly, you realize that it's really fucking hard. Hugh Jackman said of playing Wolverine that he had thought that the greatest challenge an actor could face would be to play a famous person who was still living, but that he discoved that playing a famous, beloved superhero was much harder.

Yeah, there were special effects and other actors and a screenwriter and a director and all those other things. But for Superman to work, Reeve had to stand there in the dorky costume and sell it to you, and if he lost the tone for a moment, the whole thing would have collapsed.

There's a handfull of indelible genre character performances in the history of film. Sure, lots of other people have played the rôle, and even done it well, but you feel like they are just filling in for the real guy. There's Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, Christopher Lee's Dracula, Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes ... and Christopher Reeve's Superman.

Good work. I'm sorry to see him go.

Update: Scott Kurtz of PvP has a magnificent tribute cartoon:

And Lance Mannion offers another appreciation.


Nina said...

Thank you for invoking Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes. I'm still haunted by his perfect performance and I thought I was the only one.

Anonymous said...

The three were Janet Leigh, Rodney Dangerfield, and Christopher Reeve.

Derrida stands/stood alone.