Friday, January 09, 2009

Booker on sex and violence

... if the conclusion of The Terminator finally shows the archetype of the Self [as opposed to the ego] winning the day, in one sense it always wins the day in stories, because, even on a sentimental level, this is the only way in which any story can be brought to a proper resolution. The archetype cannot be cheated. If it is defied, the story is doomed just to peter out, or to be forced into some implausible 'pseudo-ending' which leaves its audience curiously unsatisfied. None of the other stories we have looked at in this chapter have been able to reach anything like such an all-resolving conclusion, The ending of Fanny Hill is just a little cardboard fake; that of Justine is like a final despairing gesture of defiance at the values of the Self which the whole novel has tried to deny; that of Ulysses is a last forlorn act of masturbatory make-believe in a meaningless wilderness of the ego. Lady Chatterley peters out in vacuous wishful-thinking. At least in Psycho the monster is finally shown, in rather half-hearted fashion, as having been brought to justice. By the time we reach Last Exit to Brooklyn and Saved the values of the Self have passed so far out of sight that their stories scarcely try to resolve at all. In A Clockwork Orange the psychopathic hero does eventually seem about to change, but only to re-emerge at the end in the same monstrous state in which he began. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the monsters simply live on, as they do in Silence of the Lambs and Basic Instinct. Nothing in any of these stories is ever properly resolved, because their only real purpose has been to titillate the fantasies of their audiences with a stream of Self-defying images which by definition are incapable of leading to a resolution.

The only real value of this explosion of sex and violence in the storytelling of the late twentieth century lies in the evidence it provides of how quickly, when human fantasy ventures down this path, it runs into a dead end. We soon become familiar with the same repetitive handful of cliched images, mechanically revolving round in the same claustrophobic little circle, unable to lead anywhere and totally divorced from any deeper meaning.

"The Seven Basic Plots", Christopher Booker, p.494

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