Jacques Derrida, Freegal Music, the Titanic, and Character Development

This blog is a bit like cleaning off my desk – just what has been going on in my life this week?

Jacques Derrida – I had forgotten all about my methodological love affair with Derrida and the whole idea of deconstructionism.    A Facebook update this week that featured a Derrida quote brought it all back. “A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the laws of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible.” – Jaques Derrida (Thanks Chris!)

I was, at one time, blissfully lost in what Derrida describes as writing under the conditions of erasure – meaning is never fixed in language – it always escapes – we are forced to let go of each concept at the very moment we need it – the decisions we make are always made under conditions of lack of knowledge and lack of understanding – these decisions are always acts of madness – any decision to use language that doesn’t go through the ordeal of the un-decidable wouldn’t be a free decision at all – maybe legal, but not legitimate. Puts everything in perspective – right? It might also explain why I never finished that PhD dissertation, but that is definitely the stuff of another post!

I remember how sad I was when Derrida died and the way in which he was so vilified in a New York Times obituary. When an outpouring of negative reaction to the Times piece came out, I learned that Derrida was particularly remembered for his generosity toward students – when he held a 1/3 teaching position at Irvine, he taught more than was required of him and the time he spent with students was unparalleled. Derrida would attend conferences on deconstructionism and give serious attention to all presentations. He would take careful notes and ask thoughtful, respectful questions of each presenter – be they lowly student or peer. As a graduate student myself at the time, this only endeared him more to me.

My favorite Derrida compliment was written by Dr. Gerry Coutler of Bishops University in an article entitled – Passings: Taking Derrida Seriously  “From time to time there is nothing on earth like reading Derrida and I for one am glad he will be with us for as long as there are libraries and students to share his work with . . . I wish you fond memories of reading Derrida, late at night when it is quiet, when his prose haunts truth, and I hope you recall that night when you either fell in love with Derrida or passed through him.”

This week I discovered how to download popular music – free from the local library using something called Freegal – what does that stand for anyway? Each library card holder gets three songs per week – but there are two of us so that equals 6 songs – more than adequate for our needs. I can guarantee you that Bruce and I aren’t going to come across more than 6 new songs per week that we want to download to the precious IPod.

I bought the Titanic movie in VHS for 75 cents the other day at a Thrift Store. We still have a fully functional VCR and have no problem viewing movies in this format – though it causes my son-in-law to look at us like we have just emerged from a cave somewhere. What the heck – to him we probably have! I watched the movie the other night. I had seen it once in the theatre years ago. I was surprised to find myself totally caught up in the drama and taking one emotional hit after another. The storytelling is bloody brilliant – as my British buddies might say. (A heads up to the Ramgate Women’s Fiction Writing Group – I just became their first overseas member via Facebook this week!)

Sure, the whole Titanic movie is a bit smarmy and predictable and the sound track is enough to make anyone sit down and sob – but still – it got to me. It brings home the message that certain storylines will always grab an audience – boy falls for girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl – well, in the case of the Titanic – boy dies but girl goes on to live a fabulous and fulfilling life! Not a bad ending at all.

It makes me reflect on the enjoyable times I have had visiting my son and watching various TV series. He once commented on the diversity of things I seem to like – from Firefly, to The Shield and Gray’s Anatomy – to name just a few we have waded through together. I think this has to do with how it’s not really about the setting – I don’t care if the story is set in a Wild West outer space of the future, a gritty police precinct, or a hospital – it’s the characters that matter. They have to be interesting. They have to do and say things that seem real, things that make me think, things that make me care about them. I’m looking to see a story arc for each character that leads, by the end of a single episode or the series as a whole, to the realization that these people have changed and grown in some significant way and through my exposure, I too have been changed. This is the impact I want the characters I create to have when I launch them into the world.

Have the characters in a book, movie, or TV series ever really got to you? Let me know. I’d like to close this post by drawing the diverse threads of these gleanings together but am at a loss as to how. I suppose it is all about living and thinking and being – what more is there?

Julien Dupre – Peasant Girl with Sheep – Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco