Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Transgression of Boundaries

In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation.
.....Luis Leal, Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature. Magical Realism. Ed. Zamora and Faris, p. 119-123.

Roh’s conception of magical realism was intrinsically interartistic. In his 1925 essay he asserted that “magical realist” painters created a new kind of imagery whose “special way of intuiting the world …can apply to all the arts, including music”.

(In Magical Realism)....all “seeing” is symbolic, and requires mental operations that literary critics take for granted when we speak about verbal “images.” The relation of consciousness to the visible world is more likely to be the purview of philosophers, and more recently, of psychologists and neurologists, than of literary critics. To apply Roh’s argument to literature, then, we must acknowledge the physical and cultural operations by which the apprehension of material objects (what the eye sees) become literary “images” (what the “mind’s eye” sees).

....Lois Parkinson Zamora, The Visualizing Capacity of Magical Realism: Objects and Expression in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges

May I be able to "see" as they see.

I've been tossing the ideas around for a week now. Scribbles after scribbles, Google searches after Google searches and I'm still unable to write a decent coherent plan. Here goes yet another "plan as I write" piece....

BOUNDARIES, in both the physical and non-physical sense of the word, play a very significant role in The Metamorphosis, Of Love and Other Demons and Amelie. Boundaries that we so often take for granted serve to provoke the reader "to actively interact with the text in order to ascribe meaning to the place where it collapses"(Pentony) and forces us to reexamine the existence of boundaries in our present lives. Here, I shall attempt to discuss the significance of boundaries in Kafka's book The Metamorphosis and Jeunet's film Amelie.

In The Metamorphosis, the first boundary we see are "the four well-known walls"(Kafka 4). Besides giving us a glimpse of how much time he had spent in his room, this physical boundary is significant in the introduction of more abstract boundaries in the text. These walls literally and physically prevents him from coming out and the house is a slightly bigger boundary that keeps the family in. This boundary comes into play as we learn that "standing out clearly on the other side of the street .... was a hospital"(Kafka 24). For some unexplained reason, no one sought medical help for Gregor. Was it because everyone felt that Gregor was no longer human?

We see Kafka's protagonist Gregor caught between two worlds: the animal and the human world. Due to his transformation, Gregor had to "hurl himself ... with all his force" just to liberate himself from the bed (Kafka 9). He had "an animal's voice"(Kafka 20) and his sense of taste gradually changed - he prefer leftovers and spoilt cheese over sweetened milk and white bread. However, he still retains characteristics that are recognizably human. "He felt a great pride that he had been able to provide such a life"(Kafka 34) and when his family had an argument, Gregor hissed in anger that "no one thought about shutting the door and sparing him the sight of this commotion" (Kafka 73). While physically, Gregor was a vermin, he retains the emotions and thoughts that separates us human from animals. The transgression of boundary between the human world and the animal world provokes the question of what makes a human ... human.

As I read on, I began to lose my ability to distinguish the humans from the animals. The fact that his family never sought medical help for Gregor disgusts me far beyond Gregor's transformation. Gregor's family, horrified that Gregor has become an enormous insect, keep him in his bedroom and refuse to interact with him. When Gregor broke out one day and ventured into the living room, his father threw apples to chase him back in. One managed to hit him in the back. Eventually the apple becomes rotten and infected. Gregor's health deteriorated. Despite being treated like an animal, Gregor "remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection"(Kafka 89) moments before his last breath. He "remembered his family with deep feeling and love"(Kafka 89). Just because one appears human, does it "naturally" make one better than animals?

Traditional boundaries that typically exist in every household appears to be blurred in The Metamorphosis. We learn that Gregor financially supports his parents and younger sister despite them being able of fully supporting themselves. The boundary between a younger sister and her older brother is usually one that is bound with unconditional respect. However we see this boundary transgressed as "the sister now kicked some food very quickly into his room in the morning and at noon"(Kafka 71) and how she "had grown tired of caring for Gregor"(Kafka 73). The transgression of traditional boundaries begs the question of the existence of such boundaries in the first place. Is it the jobs of fathers to go out and work? Is it acceptable not to work despite being able to do so? Should a younger sister respect her elder brother unconditionally?

Through the transgression of boundaries, Kafka might have wanted to alter our perspective on things that we might find not normal. For instance, the way we treat the physically and mentally disabled, the stereotypes we attach to people that are different from us - Muslims, Christians and Jews etc. Perhaps through the use of boundaries, he wanted to put across the point that boundaries are lines drawn by Man and it is something that can be redrawn by Man.

Besides provoking thoughts among readers, boundaries can help create a common ground between the audience and the literature that they read or watch.

In the film Amelie, Jeunet's explores a personal boundary that exist within us - the boundary that makes us either an introvert or an extrovert. His protagonist Amelie is an introvert who enjoys the simple pleasures of life. However, she transgressed the boundary that separates an introvert and an extrovert when she made the first move and eventually getting the guy of her dreams. The boundary between the possible and the impossible is also transgressed when we see Amelie's imaginary friends and her suicidal pet goldfish. The fact that Amelie ended up with the guy of her dreams despite her roundabout way of getting him evokes the question of it's possibility. Having created a common ground through boundaries that already exist in our lives, Jeunet's transgression of those boundaries moves us into doing something that we felt was never possible. By destroying the boundary that separates introverts from the extroverts, Jeunet introduces a new class that one can fall into - one that sets one's own boundaries instead of being bound by boundaries that had been created by others before them. The use of boundaries in Amelie inspires positive change.

Boundaries can either keep us in or keep us out. And there can also exist a world that knows no boundaries. The use of boundaries as seen in The Metamorphosis and Amelie serves only as a guide for us to decide the boundaries that should be created, those that should stay, as well as the ones that needs to go.

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