Since the midterm we’ve covered a fair bit of territory, from postwar “domestic suspense” and film noir to the ghosts haunting American Empire to the struggle to build Paradise (or find asylum) in a fallen and violent world. Each of these focal points serves as an opportunity to see US American history and culture through a dark lens. The ground we inhabit has bones in it. Society’s benign surfaces conceal destructive forces and irrational appetites. The obverse of the Dream is a nightmare, and any effort to understand this nation and its people must confront the chiaroscuro character of US American life.
Like film noir, domestic suspense is a kind of laboratory– an experimental scenario where the norms and ideals of US culture are flipped. It is a commonplace that not every house is a home but in the Noir universe that modest insight is fully elaborated. Men are doomed. Women are spiders. There are no exits. In other words, midcentury modernity has transformed an open vista into a labyrinth of snares and lures. To some extent this trap was already set in Manhattan Transfer, where ordinary people fuel the city’s engines, propelling its mechanism as they burn. Did you read the stories assigned in TDTW? Did you take notes on the film noir documentary?
Antonia Bird’s Ravenous explicitly addresses the ideology of Manifest Destiny. By now you should know what that term means. It is related to the notion of Providence, a concept tightly intertwined with American Exceptionalism, which supposes that the US is unique among all nations, a people chosen above all others to lead the world. This myth could be called an enabling fiction: it provides an alibi for all manner of aggressive behavior. The American War in Vietnam (not “the Vietnam War”) offers one of the starkest examples of ideology translated into action. Even now, the dominant narrative of that conflict is riddled with self-serving fallacies. The Sorrow of War should be understood in part as an effort to correct misperceptions. What do Kien’s experiences tell us about American Empire?
Shutter (Shudder) Island, I thought, represents a gothic counterpart to Morrison’s novel. Read the 2014 foreword carefully. According to it what are the defining characteristics of Paradise? Which of those traits are most likely to go sideways and yield Hell? Does Heaven have to have gates?
Remember that you can use 1 page recto/verso of handwritten notes. Review the readings on gothic. Be sure you have a grasp of the formal terms of film analysis. Meet with your classmates and talk. We’re almost done.