Thursday, February 07, 2008

Remix: A Scenario on Kurtz

This is draft post I stumbled on this morning. I tidied it up a bit (sort of) and here it is, in the half light of day:

Ok, Consider this. I would like to try to follow a particle, an idea, an image through a sequence of narrative manifestations as remix. Lets take the figure of the lone rebel lost in the other, the man who knows morals but is immoral:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

T.S Eliot made references to Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness (1899) in his poem The Hollow Men. A central theme of both works is the morality that goes with (or is absent in) power. In Heart of Darkness power is contrasted with what is alluded to as the biblically constructed Agapē (IPA: /ˈægəpiː/[1]) (Gk. αγάπη):

We talked of everything," he said, quite transported at the recollection.
"I forgot there was such a thing as sleep. The night did not seem to last an hour.
"Everything! Everything, of love, too."
"Ah, he talked to you of love!," I said, much amused.
"It isn't what you think," he cried almost passionately. "It was general. He made me see things--things." (Heart of Darkness)

Kurtz, as we all know, 'lives' on:

T.S Eliot published The Hollow Men in 1925. In this video from Apocalypse Now Redux (2001), in a scene deleted from the original cut (1979), Kurtz (Marlon Brando) reads the first stanza of Eliot's poem. The themes of The Hollow Men are well known but can be summarized for the purposes of my narrative trace with a paragraph from Jeff Willard:

A full, line-by-line annotation of Mr. Eliot's poem is painfully tedious and, I believe, robs the poem of its intended final effect. The reader feels an overall mood of disgust laced with pity for these men, who, upon realizing their imminent damnation, make one final lunge at salvation. But the impetus of their effort is not a thirst after salvation for salvation's sake, but rather a fear of damnation. However, a general understanding of some of the more important allusions and the progression of the poem lends a great deal to the enjoyment of this masterpiece. Literary Allusion in "the Hollow Men" By Jeff Willard

Now we fast foward to The Proposition (2005) a film written by Australian cultural icon Nick Cave. In The Proposition three brothers are pitted against one another in the unforgiving space of the colonial Australian outback in 1880s. One brother, Charlie Burns, must find and kill his older brother Arthur if the younger brother, 16year old Mikey is to be spared execution. Arthur is the Kurtz of The Proposition having gone into the interior, befriended the natives and committed several acts of extreme violence. Arthur has taken on the near spiritual dimensions of Mista Kurtz:

Jellon Lamb: [speaking about Arthur Burns] "We are white men, Sir, not beasts. Oh, he sits up there in those melancholy hills; some say he sleeps in caves like a beast, slumbers deep like the Kraken. The Blacks say that he is a spirit. The Troopers will never catch him. Common force is meaningless, Mr. Murphy, as he squats up there on his impregnable perch. So I wait, Mr. Murphy. I wait.

Charlie has three opportunities to kill Arthur. The morality of the situation, institutional power over life and death, blood being thicker than water, the value of life and the power relations of colonialism are all themes in The Proposition.

The questions raised by The Hollow Men, the cavity left by the morally bereft, are answered in a soliloquy by Arthur to his brother, who has been sent to murder him by the allegedly moral forces of frontier establishment (the police):

Arthur Burns: Love. Love is the key. Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you? What could be more hollow than to die alone, unloved?

Between the publication of Heart of Darkness (1899) and The Proposition (2005) 106 years pass. There are many other texts that take up the themes of humanity interconnected, the power of some over others and the morality of dominion (see The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda) and I think there of course will be more. The transmission of the narrative image of Mista Kurtz through the 106 years is not just intertextual as it develops and changes, takes on a life of its own. The questions raised by Kurtz/Arthur remain the same. A textuality that moves beyond the page or screen needs to be constructed for us to account for the life and legend of Kurtz remaining so powerful now in the 21st Century. This textuality I am tempted to call Remix.

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