Lee Chang-dong’s “Oasis” (2002) And The Undoing Of A Narrative

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Lee Chang-dong's Oasis (2002)

Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis (2002)

I’m often amazed by how little respect the world shows reality, and, by extension, how little respect the people who inhabit this reality end up getting. This is especially true in how kids, the mentally retarded, transgender folks, minorities, the handicapped, and victims (both real and imagined) are treated in the world’s meta-narrative, which is the sum of every bias, policy, opinion, perception, artwork, and the like, available to us. They are at turns fetishized, sobbed over, exaggerated in importance, distorted, and otherwise demeaned by the very same people who claim to be giving them agency and respect. I mean, who wins, here? And how could “winning,” in such an arena, ever be construed as such, anyway, when the gain is so temporary and small?

Thus, in watching Lee Chang-dong’s 2002 film, Oasis, I was struck by how anti-Hollywood it was — that purveyor of the mess, above — in not only how it treats its subject matter, but also how it chooses to present the two main characters: a woman with cerebral palsy (Gong-ju), and a mildly retarded sociopath (Jong-du) who develop a relationship pretty much everyone disapproves of. Jong-du is seen doing all sorts of odd things: eating a block of raw tofu, asking school-girls for spare change, wrecking his boss’s motorcycle, leaving his shoes as “insurance” when he cannot pay for food, walking around in the cold with nothing but a t-shirt, climbing a tree to saw it off, and even attempting to rape his future girlfriend. He is not, then, some caricatured “harmless retard,” but a man with motives (limited as they are) and an unsympathetic streak. Gong-ju more or less stutters through the film, plays with light and glass, and, in a number of poetic little scenes, imagines herself as a perfectly normal girl, living the sort of life she sees others live. Given the meta-narrative described, however, one would think the film would take the banal angle, showing us how “deep” and “utterly complex” such people are, when in fact they are shadows of us, and our wants. It doesn’t, for the best art portrays reality as a corrective to such things, despite what may or may not be “wanted.” Nor are their disabilities glossed over, but are front and center for nearly two hours of oddities that must have taken some time to perfect without turning the two into circus freaks, or degenerating them — on the other extreme — into mere victims. One gets the feeling that they will go on, they will live, even if it’s not in the way that we desire or expect. The film, in short, is their turf; or rather, it is their turf as it gets eaten away by the outside’s bias and expectations.

That said, it is difficult to empathize with the characters, at times, a fact that Lee Chang-dong continually ensures. Jong-du is not exactly evil, but amoral. For the most part, the things he does do … Continue reading →

Confucius, Lao Tzu, I Ching, Chinese history, & some inklings of the future.

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The Analects Of Confucius. Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm. Retrieved from Wikipedia.

The Analects Of Confucius. Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm. Retrieved from Wikipedia.

This is an old (2012) e-mail I sent to the Cosmoetica e-list, after I’d re-read Ezra Pound’s translation of Confucius a few times, and began studying the I Ching– or, ‘divination sans divinity’. My views have not changed much, and there have been few philosophers as underrated as Confucius, mostly because what Western kids know him for (ideas on family, the practicum of government, etc.) occlude not only the truer depth of his thoughts, but also the clarity through which they’ve been communicated. Say what you will of the importance of Aristotle or the allure of Wittgenstein, but Confucius was, in many ways, an artist, first– which makes his ideas even deeper.

I’ve long suspected that the Chinese, as well as some other ‘older philosophers’, had hit upon a special way of viewing the world that simply had no concrete value to the (then) world of bodies– that is, war, hunger, poverty, and other forms of mass delusion. Because, in a sense, that’s what these qualities are: a means of keeping people stuck in the more transient stuff, wherein history is mere event after event, and generations, if you slice a time period just right, look pretty much identical. Such concerns, big as they are, have crowded out potentially more interesting ones, which are only now making a comeback, albeit mired in the form of New Age stupidity. Confucius, Lao Tzu, and others can easily be misappropriated by the faux spiritual (or, hell, even by the ‘truly spiritual’!), but this only means that they haven’t really found their place. I am not yet sure what role these names will play in our future, but they’ll have a part, eventually, more deep than some of the things we presently consider to be ‘important’, stuck, as we still are, in base, physical concerns, and unable to see outside of the limits of these mechanical roles.

So, let us begin:

Two from Lao Tzu:

For those that try to grasp, it’s gone.

People must learn to take death seriously, and stop wasting time in distant lands.



And the rest from Confucius:

Hence the man who keeps rein on himself looks straight into his own heart at the things wherewith there is no trifling; he attends seriously to things unheard.

The master finds the center and does not waver. The mean man runs counter to the circulation about the invariable.

The empire, kingdoms, families can be governed harmoniously; honors and salaries can be refused, you can tread sharp weapons and bright steel underfoot, without being able to stand firm in the unwavering center.

No, people do not use the main open road.

There are few men under heaven who can love and see the defects, or hate and see the excellence of an object.

To see high merit and be unable to raise it to office, to raise it but not to give such promotion precedence, is just destiny.

The Continue reading →

Police Brutality Is A Simian Thing: An Argument In 3 Parts

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Police brutality quells an ultra-violent protest. (c) Israels-Law.com

Police brutality quells an ultra-violent protest. Image via IsraelsLaw.

[Update 12/3/2014: I’ve written an update on these events, here, after both Grand Juries failed to indict.]

In Memoriam:

Eric Garner & Michael Brown

Preface

To the un-attuned, the last few weeks have seen a “spike” in incidents of police brutality. To those with a little more discrimination, however, the spike is merely in the popular reportage, not in the incidents, themselves. Sure, Eric Garner’s death (which kicked things off in July) was all the more dramatic because it was captured on video, wherein 4 or 5 incompetent cops decide they cannot cuff a single nonviolent ‘resister’ without the use of an illegal maneuver, while 6+ witnesses (as of 8/27) in Ferguson, MO, all contradicting a lone cop’s account of self-defense, certainly feels sensational.

Yet such things occur on and off camera all the time, to blacks AND whites, with arbitrary degrees of public scrutiny. Often, there’s simply no criticism at all, and following the countless lawsuits and/or complaints filed by victims of police brutality, it is clear that cops rarely get punished for their misdeeds. I mean, just consider how the cop in this story — who allegedly broke a 10 year old’s leg for legally recording him, then sexually assaulted the kid’s mother — was not only NOT charged (as per the lack of any news stories, 6 months after the fact), but also never even named, despite the fact that civilians accused of the same would be hunted, harangued, and lambasted all over the media for days, until they’ve been caught and properly chastised.

Of course, there’s a very simple reason for this. It’s not that America is still quite dishonest vis a vis race, to the point of international embarrassment. It’s not simply because cops have bullets, and we are empty vessels waiting for their fill. And it’s certainly NOT because cops used ta’ be so respectful, in some Golden Age of such, and have merely become brats in the interim. In fact, it’s really because the police force, like the military, is an autocratic body, with little to no accountability, except in the most extreme cases. There are no elections to force some sort of compromise; there is no police conduct review board of any real power. Sure, people can file lawsuits, but they’ll often languish. Cops can speak out against abuses, but will be ostracized. And, to top things off, cops are seemingly bound by a very different set of laws, just like the autocrats of yore, with every violation explained away as a ‘necessity’, and every gray area (hell, even what’s black and white) deferred to the cop’s judgment, again out of a perceived necessity.

I mean, think of it. If a black guy shoots someone around ten times, without provocation, as recounted by ALL SIX (as of 8/26) official witnesses to the death of Michael Brown, with NO witnesses in support of the killer’s account, he’d be named and … Continue reading →