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20 October 2010 @ 09:09 pm
Having Your Art of Catastrophe and Eating It Too  

"If it were not in the 'nature' of amorous madness to pass, to cease of itself, no one could ever put an end to it (it is not because he is dead that Werther stopped being in love, quite the contrary)."
RB, The Modular Calculus Part 17 (Preface) (p 143)

If you continue to read beyond this point, you are willing to give up your spirginity in the most florid and rhapsodic of manners (and I say that so you can stop reading in time if you really don't want to be spoiled, really you ought to hit the back button right about now), because now I have to talk about the ending of the series, or rather, that it doesn't have an ending.

It's going to get another season, so we get more of Suzy's eye-wateringly annoying ex-husband and sister, with their physical and moral pratfalls, about which I am only pleased insofar as the fast-forward button is available to me. (Though I love all the other characters, especially her kids.) The season finale: Henry gets in the Taxi-zum-Unendlichkeit, she cries and swims a lot, and several hours later, surprise, he returns, in a different colored tie and with all his ghost friends, because he "didn't want to be anywhere else." So we will get more of the day to day life of a ghost and his beloved, and how they will eventually fall out of it (love, that is). We will get the middle of the story, and not the end of it. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. Because it seems that the ending is happy only if you skip the middle bits.


When I first encountered this series, I thought OH PLEASE THE MOVIE AND NOT THE TV SHOW. For good or ill, the former is a contained narrative that is not itself a vehicle for other material. I loved the film for its conciseness: they meet, he waits, she dies, they're together. (Yes there is other dramatic bother, concerning a human rival to his affections, but essentially unimportant bother.) It's perfect, in that pre-teen anticipatory bargaining in the face of oncoming and flatly incomprehensible grown-up urges and behavior.

What the TV show, on the other hand, seems to have trucked in (from what I can tell via fansites and faqs) was the slapstick comedy of impish supernatural invisibility amidst the daily life of the schlub (ha she can see him and they can't *slaps knee*), interspersed only intermittently with the narrative of the ghost and his beloved, which turns out to be the B story (to the annoyance of my ten year old self). It seems to put off ending the narrative of them falling in love (which always ends in, [write it] disaster), the happily ever after(life), as any long-form, serialized version of the story necessarily would. His not being alive ceases to be a deal-breaker; he's no longer strictly supernatural, but domesticated. It seems to insist on the middle bits, and the pleasures, the interest of family squabbles and marital discord (however laugh-trackable they may be).

You could call the film science fictional (as opposed to the TV show's fantasy), insofar as a certain set of physical laws (however notional) cannot be transcended, only negotiated with, navigated. Hence the pathos, the romance.


Spirited seems to grok some of this. Or maybe they're doling out B Story more generously. I guess I just love the interactions between the two main characters—I love to watch them fence, collude, and, against their better judgement, flirt.

Suzy's gymnastic means of working out her anger and fear opens the first episode, and she later lets Henry in on the secret. (I still don't know if Claudia Karvan did her own stunts, despite diligent googling.)


He can't taste but he can smell (and he loves cheese), so she's brought him a platterful. Here he asks her to describe the taste. For the vacherin, she tells a weird, charming little story of her best friend suddenly kissing her and neither of them ever mentioning it again.

Socially awkward Suzy hides in the bathroom at a party until Henry scoots her out. Later, when she pulls him back into the bathroom, he quips, "You know I can smell, but I can't snort, if that's what this is about...."



It turns out they can touch each other while dreaming. He finds out she's ticklish, and she wakes up laughing.

(Claudia Karvan is ripped, I must say.)

There's a lot of time spent in bed not touching, watching each other sleep, as they can never quite coordinate their dreaming.

Matt King does this thing, a visibly inward turn, a shuttering of his face when things don't go Henry's way, interruptions he's helpless to stop, that is hard to capture in a screencap. Her cell phone ringing, her daughter saying in the room, "Wake up," as he's saying in the dream, "Don't wake up."

I think it's in these small moments the, ah, spirit of the 1947 film lies, the romance, the art of catastrophe that calms you down. His leaving is always imminent, and really the right thing to do, considering. The image that begins this post is from their last dream together, soundtracked to the marvellous Australian mid-80s alternative anthem "Another Day in the Sun" (by the Moffs). They stride out of an elevator to greet the paparazzi, and while she's sort of dazzled and distracted by the flashbulbs, he climbs into a waiting hearse that pulls away without her, trailing photogs. She wakes up, and he's gone.

I would have been happy had the series ended here. But insofar as Spirited, like the 60s TV show, imagines daily life continuing, his ghostliness being no longer a deal-breaker, it seems to say, to quote another Henry, “There is no fresh start, lives carry on,” and I'm fine with that too.

ETA: It just occurred to me that there's no free, digitized version of Barthes' book readily accessible online, and that you, dear perplexed reader, are not, unless you know me and my little jokes, going to get the references I make in this post. So without further ado,

Ideas of Solution
issues / outcomes
Enticement of solutions, whatever they may be, which afford the amorous subject, despite their frequently catastrophic character, a temporary peace; hallucinatory manipulation of the possible outcomes of the amorous crisis.
1. Idea of suicide; idea of separation; idea of withdrawal; idea of travel; idea of sacrifice, etc.; I can imagine several solutions to the amorous crisis, and I keep doing so. Yet, however alienated I may be, it is not difficult for me to grasp, through all these recurrent notions, a single, blank figure which is exclusively that of outcome; what I live in such complicity with is the hallucination of another role: the role of someone who "gets out."
Thus is revealed, once again, the language-nature of the amorous sentiment: every solution is pitilessly referred to its one and only idea—i.e., to a verbal being; so that, finally, being language, the idea of outcome adjusts itself to the foreclosure of any outcome: the lvoer's discourse is in a sense a series of No Exits.

2. The Idea is always a scene of pathos which I imagine and by which I am moved; in short, a theater. And it is the theatrical nature of the Idea form which I benefit: this theater, of the stoic genre, magnifies me, grants me stature. By imagining an extreme solution (i.e., a definitive one; i.e. a definite one), I produce a fiction, I become an artist, I set a scene, I paint my exit; the Idea is seen, like the pregnant moment (pregnant = endowed with a strong, chosen meaning) of bourgeois drama [DIDEROT]; sometimes this is a farewell scene, sometimes a formal letter, sometimes, for much later on, a dignified reencounter. The art of the catastrophe calms me down.

3. All the solutions I imagine are internal to the amorous system: withdrawal, travel, suicide, it is always the lover who sequesters himself, goes away, or dies; if he sees himself sequestered, departed, or dead, what he sees is always a lover: I order myself to be still in love and to be no longer in love. [DOUBLE BIND**] This kind of identity of the problem and its solution precisely defines the trap: I am trapped because it lies outside my reach to change systems: I am "done for" twice over: inside my own system and because I cannot substitute another system for it. This double noose apparently defines a certain type of madness (the trap closes when the disaster is without contrary: "For there to be a misfortune, the good itself must do harm"). [SCHILLER] Puzzle: to "get out," I must get out of the system—which I want to get out of, etc. If it were not in the "nature" of amorous madness to pass, to cease of itself, no one could ever put an end to it (it is not because he is dead that Werther has stopped being in love, quite the contrary).

**DOUBLE BIND: "Situation in which the subject cannot win, whatever he may do: heads I win, tails you lose" (Bettelheim).

ALD 142-3
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