Monday, March 8, 2010

What If It Were Agreed that "Proper" Meant Wearing a Codfish on Your Head?"

In their essay "Introductory Deconstruction" from Literary Theory, An Anthology, Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan explain that one implication of Jacques Derrida's concept of differance is that it becomes very difficult to ground the notion of "truth" in any authority.  In Derrida's construction then, truth, as the authors explain, is a deferred presence grounded in representations.  Furthermore, its presence is "shaped by conventions regarding how those acts of representation work.  It must be haggled over and settled on through agreements" (261).

Tim Burton's recent adaptation of Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass finds Alice pensively posing this post's titular question to her mother, while en route to a formal engagement party.  Alice's mother discovers that she (Alice) has failed to don the appropriate undergarments.  Angrily, she exclaims: "but you're not properly dressed!"

"What if were agreed" retorts Alice, "that 'proper' meant wearing a codfish on your head? Would you wear it?"  Pleased at her mother's befuddled nonresponse, Alice demurs "to me, stockings are like a codfish."

Burton's reproduction of Alice in Wonderland casts Alice in a role that contests the notion of what is proper and who has the authority to make such conventional agreements.  As such, she is a classically poststructuralist heroine who resists the meta-narrative of her proper gender role in three different but parallel strings.  First, there is the question of marriage--whether or not she will marry "Hamish," the effete aristocrat who proposes in the first scene.  Second, the notion of heroes and damsels in distress, which is turned completely on its head as Alice is called upon to be the White Queen's champion in battle against the Jabberwocky.  Finally, there is her deceased father's business which has been purchased by her would-be fiance's family.

Furthermore, there is the allusion to what amounts to a very queer,  (albeit heterosexual) attraction between the Mad Hatter and Alice.  Also Absolom seems somehow meant to signify Alice herself in her state of always "becoming".  This conflation of identities queers the gender narrative in the movie as well.

[Still in progress. Seems lately I finish nothing.]


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