Friday, July 17, 2009

Clever Words: A User's Guide

'Antichrist circles relentlessly around acts of transgression. The violence is defiantly excessive and beautiful. It is gendered but more misanthropic than misogynistic.'
Joanna Bourke, professor of history, Birkbeck College, in the Guardian.
Rough translation:
'Stuff happens in this film that will upset little people who lives in places like Bromley who are nowhere near as clever as me. The stuff is nasty but I, being sophisticated, find it beautiful. The humans involved are a man and a woman but we smart people know it's not that simple and, though Trier has a bit of form when it comes to being rotten to women, he's still one of us because he hates both sexes equally, sorry genders.'


  1. Gendered, but not misogynistic, violence.

    It's a delicate balancing act. Takes a truly sensitive artisan, that.

  2. You could also try a literal translation:

    'Antichrist shows things considered unacceptable. The violence is carelessly extreme, there's too much of it and it's made to look attractive. The violence is tailored to each sex but it demonstrates hatred of both'.

    Remove the top dressing and it doesn't sound so exciting.

  3. It amazes me that nobody is talking about the Bible here. Von Trier is doing nothing new. This month I've been teaching ancient Sumerian texts and if you know anything about the history of text you'll know that this kind of gendered - but NOT misogynist - violence is as old as human culture.

    Take my particular interest; Grayson Ellis has been accused of misogyny for using the term "a can of meat" in relation to the female sex in his important poem Innocence Lost. Nothing could be further from the truth - it is merely a mature and honest look at the issues around gender in a post-feminist, most-Marxist, post-(organised) religious world.

  4. "Equal opportunity haters." I think that covers it. One of the *worst* -- and also weirdest -- movies I ever saw was by Von Triers. I can't remember the title, but it had Bjork and David Morse, involved lots of violence...and singing! It was a murderous musical, but nothing like Sweeney Todd.

    Tell me I didn't dream this. Anyone know the film of which I speak?

  5. PS: In terms of films glorifying hate, violence, malevolence, another director/writer who seems to specialize in that is the guy who did "In the Company of Men." (I'm blanking on his name now.) I try to avoid these kinds of films/plays/books. They show a real side of humanity, but it's not the one I want to witness, explore, or promote by giving my energy to it.

  6. From the comfort of their well salaried jobs, transgression must seem exciting to these academics and critics. It’s a bit of the ‘rough stuff’ to be discussed over dinner with a nice wine. Come live in outer nowhere, they’d meet people leading aimless lives, paying off the debts they amassed buying their big screen TVs which they *simply* had to buy because art to them is spending their nights watching Murdoch’s stream of effluent pumped in for £50 a month. Transgression doesn’t sound that exciting when all you naively want art from art is to be reminded that there’s something better in life. Certainly something better than genital mutilation.

    [At this point in leaving my comment, it became this rant. Bryan, your blog is bad for my health.]

  7. Excellent satire from Janice above.

  8. What the fuck is 'gendered' supposed to mean? It sounds like a process for turning an asexual embryo into a male or female foetus.

  9. Susan, the Bjork film was Dancer in the Dark and In the Company of Men was by Neil LaBute.

    I think some people perpetrate what we might call anti-art: an attempt to attack or deny the transcendent.

    They tend to state the obvious and yet miss the point, like saying "Look, we have bowels full of shit, we're just animals, therefore we can behave brutishly". As you say they show a real side of humanity, but one we must surely seek to transcend.

    It's spawned by misanthropic despair I think - they rage against what they perceive to be an empty universe, as though they have decided that there is no God and they can't quite forgive him for not existing. Julian Barnes was wiser when he wrote: "I don't believe in God, but I miss him."

    There's a hypocrisy in their position because they assert a sort of aggressive anti-idealism, yet they do so in a very demonstrative and aspirational way, as though they're saying both 'Look! Look! This is important!' and then sneering at the idea that art has any transcendent meaning. To claim importance for any work of art is surely to imply the possibility of an ideal of beauty, which can then be used to judge - if some art can be important, other art can be unimportant.

    I don't simplistically mean that all art must be jolly or given to happy endings. Art can depict tragedy and brutality and still be beautifully inspirational in a poignant sort of way - some depictions of the crucifixion for example. Modern art, abstract art can be beautiful without looking like anything, what does a rose look like after all, except itself?

    Inspirational doesn't have to mean fortune cookie, it just has to remind us that there is a transcendent absolute to things, beyond the ephemeral, something more than the sum of its parts, something which can make us feel complete, however briefly.

  10. Michael, thank you for that wonderful comment. I believe you've nailed it. Last night I finished a good novel that took on this same theme in a slightly different way: "Appassionata," by Eva Hoffmann. I see it came out last year in the UK under a different name: "Illuminations."

    Good meditation on art and anti-art, need to create things of beauty v. need to destroy (or deny) them.

  11. Illuminations? I shall have to look it up.

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