Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Levinas & the Lear scene in Lonergan’s Margaret

A key scene to the best movie of the last decade- Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret - involves a class-room discussion about the meaning of Gloucester's line- As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods, They kill us for their sport. (King Lear Act 4, scene 1, 32–37). The teacher, a diabetic, is trying to steer the discussion to its canonical, Levinas & water, conclusion- Rich people,  powerful people, are like the false gods of the Goyim Epics whose Olympic interpersonal Soap Opera requires the deaths of thousands at Troy which matters coz, like, not everybody is a Goy as is proved, in the book of Job, when some contretemps in Heaven leads to the testing of a righteous man and the humiliation of his comforters.
Job has two alternatives, one is to turn his face to the wall, curse God and die. Goaded beyond endurance by young Elihu ('you're rich- this proves you've been stealing from widows and orphans') he seeks a particular type of Justice- a face to face Justice.God grants him this, in a sense, by revealing His own impassable alterity and somehow this makes everything better because...urm... it's like 'authentic'? and like didn't Heidegger say something about Dread and... anyway, as Woody Allen says, Life is absurd but you still need to pick up your dry cleaning.
But since wealthy Jewish New York is being reinvented In Lonergan's film something different happens-  the diabetic teacher is thrown into a tizzy when a student (the class odd-ball?) makes the opposite point. We might be as little able to understand God's Justice as are insects our human world and this is made manifest when we attribute malice or caprice to a type of consciousness which, necessarily, can neither cognize nor be capable of such motives.
This means face to face Justice, Levinasian first philosophy, discovers as alterity nothing save its own  adolescent self-dramatization. True, the Opera may harmonize this and make it inter-personal and redemptive in some particularly tear-provoking way but only because it does so in a language and manner so foreign that it is forbidden in advance to interrupt and accuse the other of deliberately  obfuscating speech acts- which is like totally Nazi-  and can I just tell you what I think, because though I don't yet know what I think, this drama is about me and did I mention you're like totally a Nazi?- no, don't interrupt, let me finish- you are too definitely a Nazi but much much worse because you don't even know you are a Nazi and what was I saying... see? You made me lose my train of thought. Happy now? Fucking Nazi cunt. Think I'll go live with Dad- yes, Mum, I know his ho-bag sings the Horst Wessel song in the bath but at least she isn't a total bitch.

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