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CORPOREAL NARRATOLOGY A Corpusemiotical Analysis of a Postmodern Alice-Tale. Embodied Nonsense in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland

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CORPOREAL NARRATOLOGY A Corpusemiotical Analysis of a Postmodern Alice-Tale. Embodied Nonsense in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland
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  PostmodernReinterpretations of Fairy Tales: How Applying New Methods Generates New Meanings . Ed. AnnaKérchy. Lewiston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011. (pp. 520, ISBN10:0-7734-1519-X ISBN13:978-0-7734-1519-5) CORPOREAL NARRATOLOGYAnna Kérchy. A Corpusemiotical Analysis of a PostmodernAlice-Tale. Embodied Nonsense in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland  Lewis Carroll’s nonsense fantasies about Alice’s peculiar adventuresin Wonderland and through the looking glass, where everything is sostrange that nothing is surprising, seem to hold an everlasting charmon account of their curious incomprehensibility fostering a proliferation of interpretations and re-interpretations. The books provided a favourable ground of experimentation for Victorianauthors’ subversive, didactic, parodic or political revisions collectedin Carolyn Sigler’s anthology of   Alternative Alices (1997), andremain a rich source of inspiration for challenging postmodernrepurposings. These latter includeliterary rewritings as in the recentcollection entitled  Alice Redux or Jeff Noon’s cyberpunk trequel  Automated Alice , as well as popular recyclings in a variety of mediaranging from American McGee’s gruesome computer game, to AnnieLeibovitz’s stylish Vogue fashion-photographs and an Underlandrevisited in 3D in Tim Burton’s 2010 movie.Despite radical changes, these adaptations keep iconicCarrollian characters, such as the Cheshire Cat, vanishing into thinair, leaving behind only a disappearing felinegrin and a conundrumundermining its truth value by suggesting “we are all mad here,”Humpty Dumpty, the egg man who breaks to pieces just like hislogical justification about signification being a matter of our efforts tomake words mean whatever we wantthem to mean at our whim, or the Mad Hatter and the Smoking Caterpillar whose philosophicalramblings challenge the reliability of Alice’s discursive identity whilethey are wandering and wondering aimlessly around tables set for aneternal five o’clock tea or awaiting transformation into someone else,like a butterfly. In my view, the essence of Carrollian fantasy thatstimulates postmodern imagination so much resides precisely in the461synchronic coincidence of the misbehaviour of bodies, discourse, aswell as of truth-and knowledge-claims –illustrated by the abovefigures –which provide readerly excitement through their playfuldestabilization of significations.My paper proposes to introduce a corpusemiotical analytical method   –interfacing fantastic bodies in the text with fantastic textson/by the bodies –with the aim to argue that in contemporaryrewritings of Alice-tales the revisited Wonderland provides a  PostmodernReinterpretations of Fairy Tales: How Applying New Methods Generates New Meanings . Ed. AnnaKérchy. Lewiston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011. (pp. 520, ISBN10:0-7734-1519-X ISBN13:978-0-7734-1519-5)  particularly appropriate meta-fictional terrain to foreground the postmodernist epistemological crisis. I shall reveal how the confusionof meanings becomes curiously enacted upon liminal bodily surfaces,revealed as metamorphing depths of linguistic and imaginativeconfusion, peaking in the embodied experience of ’tongue-twisting,’’tongue-in-cheek’ nonsense.Alice’s initial long-lasting fall down the rabbit hole –and her accompanying cognitive dissonance, experienced by readers alike – reminds of the “postmodern condition.” This has been convincinglydescribed by theoreticians like Baudrillard (1994) and Lyotard (1984)as a paradoxical yet adequate means of reading artistic and livedexperience, by virtue of allowing for the recognition of the plurality,ambiguity or insufficiency of the available interpretive strategies,representational apparati and narrative frames meant to make sense of the reality surrounding us. This self-reflexivity nearly necessarilyelicits a “serious play” (Ahmed 1998, 17) with the culturallyapproved yet increasingly destabilized, defamiliarized means of knowledge-production and discursive conventions. I wish to suggestthat the emerging epistemological endeavour to challenge claims of truth and belief, justificatory methods, linguistic transparency, and todenaturalize the viability of reality-models on grounds of their socioculturalconstructedness coincides with an “anatomical scrutiny” (seeKiss 2005) of the speaking subject’s corporeal de/constitutions. Thefocus of increasingly suspicious attention is occupied by those462spectacularly grotesque embodiments which stage the “abjectificationof the subject” (Kristeva 1982, 4), the disintegration of thediscursively, performatively organized self through the uncannyreturn of the repressed, unspeakable carnality of our (non)beings.I believe that the difficult pleasures of postmodern adaptationsare accessible through a focus on the body’s potentials to (un)makesense, especially since recognizing translinguistic, corporeal, sensualinteractions and physical realities’ experiences as fundamental basesof linguistic signification seem to result from our very Zeitgeist. InHorst Ruthrof’s term, a contemporary corporeal turn succeeds to thelinguistic and the pictorial turns historically associated with the postmodern paradigm-shift, and necessitates a “perceptually orientedinvestigation of natural language” (13). Like many recent bodytheories(from cognitive neurolinguistics to the phenomenology of the material subject) Elizabeth Grosz’s “corporeal feminism”interconnects embodiment with narrativity, as “the very stuffof subjectivity.” The body is simultaneously read as a cultural,discursive artefact with disciplinary social, ideological expectations  pre-in-scribing  its surface –in a Foucauldian manner (see Foucault1980) –and as a heterogeneous, fleshly, mat(t)er-real corporealityendowed with a trans-discursive, counter-narrative  potential todeconstruct from the inside its superficial re-presentational  frameand its carefully interiorized, privileged modes of polite corporealconduct. (Grosz 1994, xii)My assumption here is that this Moebius strip-like structure of   PostmodernReinterpretations of Fairy Tales: How Applying New Methods Generates New Meanings . Ed. AnnaKérchy. Lewiston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011. (pp. 520, ISBN10:0-7734-1519-X ISBN13:978-0-7734-1519-5) the mutually constitutive bodily ‘inside out’ and ‘outside in’ (of regulative discourse and subversive corporeal performance, prescriptive re-presentation and mat(t)er-real counter-text) is precisely theshape literary/artistic nonsense takes on, simultaneouslyactivating seemingly incompatible layers. One is the meta-(image)-textual rhetorical facet of nonsense praised by Jean-Jacques Lecercle.This elicits a self-reflective awareness of the ambiguity of common463sense and the (mal)functioning of our sense-making methods throughrevealing the inherent poetic-metaphorical, associative-imaginativesurplus, as well as the authoritative ideological charge, sociohistoricalresidue and cultural framing of ‘ordinary’ language/representation at large (Lecercle 1994, 2-3). The other is the translinguisticcorporeal facet calling into life the physicality of therepresented and representing bodies and revivifying the materiality of signifying activity’s lived experience. Surplus non-meanings areactivated by the affective-sensual charge of their incarnated voice,corporeally lived sounds, transverbal fleshly rhythms. We can paradoxically make sense of these only in terms of a “revolutionary poeticity” (see Kristeva 1984) that will necessarily displaceincarnation’s ultimate directness, substituting sound with sense.Visual adaptations of literary nonsense further enhance the bodilysensations excited in recipients (of meanings). Genre fiction, like“body horror cinema” –  Tideland  can be loosely associated with it onaccount of expressing anxieties over the diseased, disintegrating body(Hayward 188) –attests to a particularly sensitive awareness of theaudience’s corporeal involvement in sense-making. The calculablecorporeal reactions of recoiling spectators (sighs, screams, anxiouscompensatory giggle, or nauseous silence) challenge signification’s“disembodied immateriality” (Warner mentions as an antithesis of Svankmajer’s films, too [2007]) by stressing the trans-verbal, fleshly,non-sensical, sensous nature of the speaking subject.My corpusemiotical analysis is inspired by Peter Brooks’endeavour to interface the  semioticization of the body narrated in thetext  with the subversive  somatization of the text on the body (1993)and Daniel Punday’s “corporeal narratology” studying how “anoverarching corporeal atmosphere establishing a fundamental contact between reader, writer and text” is created and how narrative aspects(plot, characterization, setting, perspective) are shaped by culturallysupported ways of imagining and representing the body (2000, 10,464also see 2003). However, in my view, seeing, knowing andnarrativizing the body driven by a  scopophiliac, epistemophilic urge does not necessarily lead to an exposition of truth “written in theflesh” (Brooks 1993, i), an empowering access to the symbolic order and a satisfactory mastery of the very creation of significance, asBrooks seems to suggest (8). On the contrary, it results in a postmodern recognition of the necessary destabilization of truth,meaning, subject and body alike, an awareness concerning thesimultaneous inevitability of miscomprehension and impossibility of   PostmodernReinterpretations of Fairy Tales: How Applying New Methods Generates New Meanings . Ed. AnnaKérchy. Lewiston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011. (pp. 520, ISBN10:0-7734-1519-X ISBN13:978-0-7734-1519-5) meaninglessness, and an endless play with versions of reality andmateriality.Terry Gilliam’s 2005 movie Tideland   based on Mitch Cullin’scult novel of the same title is a prototypical example of a postmodernist adaptation of the Alice-in-Wonderland theme. Its‘poetic horroristic’ imagination de/constructs a multitude of coexisting complementary and contradictory alternate realities, allfostered by bizarre bodies. Dismembered, decomposing, disabled bodies turn nonsensical here on losing their capacity to denotesubjectivity, due to being deprived of their deformed embodiments’cultural meaningfulness, their discursive (non)interactions’comprehensibility, or a coherent interpretive frame. The story’sfocalizer is a little girl, Jeliza Rose, abandoned –after the death of her overdosed heroine-addict parents –all alone on the Texas prairie. Her  barren reality is invigorated by the twisted world of her fantasies, peopled by imaginary creatures such as the Barbie doll heads shewears on her fingertips and personifies as her best ventriloquizedfriends (Plate 11), as well as freakish ‘wonders’ that exist in reality.These include her father’s drugged, delirious, then dead andtaxidermied body becoming her oversized ragdoll, and her strangeneighbours: the glass eyed, half-blind, crazy Dell, clad in black gauzemask for fear of bee stings, who impersonates the infantile phobia of a witch, and the mentally challenged, epileptic, Quasimodo-like465Dickens the little girl calls her sweet captain and husband. (Plate 12)The deserted, delusionary world Gilliam creates for his Alice livingin a curious claustrophobic cottage on an infinite Texas prairie is thatof the Baudrillardian hyperreality (1994), where the simulacrumsupersedes the real, so that the imagined, a perverted/pretended imageof the real becomes truth on its own right.As Gilliam stresses in his filmic foreword (2005), the movie isshocking because of its innocence: it unconditionally adopts aninfantile perspective ignorant of fear, prejudice and preconceptionsresulting from socialization, determined by a systematic nondifferentation between normal/possible and abnormal/impossible. InJeliza Rose’s world, the most corrupted, taboo-transgressingdeviations, paedophilia, necrophilia or substance abuse (silly-kissingwith a young man, administering a heroine injection to one’s parent,or cuddling daddy’s corpse) can coexist unproblematically side byside with sugary-sweet childish fantasies (antropomorphization of dolls, waiting for Prince Charming, belonging to a loving nuclear family) as parts of the very same daydreams. However, the illusorilysafe representational/interpretive sphere of the intertextuallysummoned fairy-tale fantasy make-believe and our ravishment by the postmodern Alice’s unlimited imaginative capacities is fatallytroubled by Gilliam’s socio-realist framing of the abused,disadvantaged child archetype. The minimization of fantasy elementsapart from a dream sequence, and the unreliability of the narratorfocalizer,a junkie baby provokes an “imaginative resistance” (seeWalton and Szabo Gendler in Nichols 2006) or imaginative  PostmodernReinterpretations of Fairy Tales: How Applying New Methods Generates New Meanings . Ed. AnnaKérchy. Lewiston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011. (pp. 520, ISBN10:0-7734-1519-X ISBN13:978-0-7734-1519-5) reluctance1 felt upon the sight of dubiously unpunished or even justified violations of trans-culturally sustained, fundamental humanvalues and moral laws deemed worthy of unanimous respect in lifeand art alike. In Tideland  , the world’s unintelligibility is easilyresolved by relying on imagination to fill in knowledge-gaps. ButJeliza Rose’s tales fail to provide the psychological comfort sprung466from their Bettelheimian (1977) therapeutic potential. Daydreamsturn into nightmarish delusions instead, while the homely transformsinto a “purgatory” (Gilliam 2005, DVD extras) between dream andawakening, innocence and experience, normal and insupportable,heaven and hell.Since the only meaning that can be attributed to the ultimatelyinconceivable/insupportable (death of the father, the loss of reason,an evil mother) belongs to the realm of incomprehensible, traumaticevents necessarily gain mythologizing interpretations: the painfullylived experience of the nonsensical is imaginatively transformed intoa more liveable sur-reality. This is what Slavoj Žižek calls thetraumatic kernel, the return of the repressed Real, inapt to beintegrated into (what we experience as) reality, (re)embodied as theUnimaginable Impossible itself, as a “nightmarish apparition,” an“unreal spectre,” a spectacular semblancethat can be sustained onlyfictionalized, a “reality transfunctionalized through fantasy” (18-20).Ambiguously, fantasy’s Janus-faced nature is revealed: it issimultaneously pacifying through an imaginary scenario enabling usto endure an abysmal loss constitutive of our subjectivity, anddisturbing through its being inassimilable to reality. However, aneven more considerable cognitive dissonance is provoked by thecoexistence and clash of referential/literal/mimetic and metaphoricalreadings resulting in disruptions of fictional(real)ities and distortions by fictionalizations (by being narratively mis-re-constructed as acharacter (be)coming to the story told). This is epitomized by the popular opening scene, where the body endlessly tumbles down therabbit hole (“Down, down, down... Would the fall never come to anend?” –as Alice/Jeliza Rose repeatedly asks) to be radicallydismantled, pointing towards the Unimaginable’s excess or lack of meaning. In the following, I wish to demonstrate how the activationof contradictory interpretive strategies involving self-corrections, rereadingsor ludic deconstructions, and a multifocal perspective is467required for the sake of attempting to resolve the likely emergingimaginative confusion.A par excellence example of this imaginative confusion can berelated to the functioning of metaphor memorably materialized interms of visual puns and embodied nonsense in Gilliam’s film. Wehave known since Lakoff and Johnson (1980) that metaphor is a poetic device pervadingeveryday language, thought and action.However recent cognitive research has also amply revealed the bodyas a frequent source of metaphorical conceptualization simply because even the most abstract ideas can be intuitively made sense of 
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