Charlie Brown Existentialism

Senior English: Distance Learning

  • WELCOME TO MR. ZOUBEK’S 

    SENIOR ENGLISH CLASS

    DISTANCE LEARNING BLACKBOARD!

    HOW TO USE THIS WEB PAGE: Each weekday morning, Mr. Zoubek will post a new Senior English lesson to this webpage. Each new lesson will build on the last. Lessons will be posted one after the other, each day, until the unit is complete. Each lesson will consist of:

    (A)  A review of old material;

    (B)  An overview of new material, such as informational readings and insightful video clips; and

    (C)  A brief assessment.

    Mr. Zoubek’s expectation is that you will log onto this website each day, read the review material Mr. Zoubek posts, engage in new material, answer any comprehension questions, and participate in any application assignments. You are responsible for reading all text, clicking all links, exploring additional readings and video clips, and completing assignments throughout. “Skimming” or skipping sections is not advised. Mr. Zoubek tries to be as detailed and in-depth as possible, which is especially important given that we are not in a traditional classroom. Read everything carefully!

    ALL SENIOR ENGLISH LESSONS AND ASSIGNMENTS

    FROM TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2020 THROUGH THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2020

    HAVE BEEN MOVED TO A SPECIAL ARCHIVE PAGE,

    WHICH YOU CAN VISIT BY CLICKING HERE.

    SCROLL DOWN FOR ALL NEW LESSONS.

     

    FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020

    HIGH FIDELITY (DAY FOUR) / FINAL (CREATIVE) PROJECT

    PLEASE READ EVERYTHING BELOW.

    ALL OF IT

    EVERY SINGLE WORD.

    DON'T "SKIM."

    ANY EMAIL CONTAINING QUESTIONS THAT ARE ALREADY ANSWERED BELOW WILL NOT RECIEVE A RESPONSE

    Foremost, please watch these final excerpts from High Fidelity. After Rob reflects on his past, he realizes his wrongs, and faces his fears. He goes through a dynamic character change. 

    To watch High Fidelity clip 12, click here.

    To watch High Fidelity clip 13, click here.

    To watch High Fidelity clip 14, click here.

    Your "Phenomena/Nounema" worksheet (based on information provided in all High Fidelity clips, dating back to the start of the movie) will be due next Tuesday with... your final creative project!

    AGAIN, READ EVERYTHING. NO "SKIMMING."

    PROJECT TITLE: “The Soundtrack of Our Lives” [Soundtrack “Mix” and Personal Narratives]

    Recall the literary concept of dynamic characterization. Dynamic characters change (for better or worse) as a result of the major events that take place over the course of a story. Now consider High Fidelity—the novel and film. Protagonist Rob Gordon is a dynamic character. Rob’s dynamic growth reflects your growth as a dynamic character. Albeit, you are not in your early thirties. Nor do you own a record store. But the conflict between Rob’s perceptions and his reality? Rob’s attempts to mask self-doubt? These ideas are universal.

    Realize this: Your life is an ongoing story. I said that from Senior English Day One. You are that story's author and its forever-changing dynamic protagonist.

    You are to create "the soundtrack of your life" to demonstrate how you make sense of yourself and your place in this world.

    Before music "went digital," listeners would purchase CDs or vinyl records containing liner notes (a booklet of comments or explanatory notes about the recordings). 

    Your soundtrack requires liner notes. You will write a series of short but extremely specific personal narratives that explain the lesson-bearing meaning or connotation of each song. Reflect on concepts learned throughout the First and Second Semesters—notably self-exploration and Plato. (In those terms, what have you determined to be “shadows” on your “personal cave wall”? What made you “see the light”? In what ways has popular-culture meshed with or defined these moments?)

    You are creating an autobiographical soundtrack to your life. You must create a “Top Five” list of songs that signify, align with, played a key role in, or remind you of any noteworthy, essential instances in your autobiography. Using that list, you must create what are referred to as “liner notes” (cover artwork, song list, and extensive interior text). The songs, along with your visuals and short stories, should “bring to life” each song’s implications.

    To be clear: Your soundtrack has nothing to do with the plot of High Fidelity. Rather, I am asking you to do what the characters in the book and movie do when they are trying to make sense out of their lives at moments of uncertainty. You are about to graduate. These are uncertain times. Think about events in your life that you reflect on to get you through, to help you perceive, to keep you pushing.

    The music you select and your “liner notes” should, in sum, showcase whatever ultra-significant life stories make “you” . . . well . . . you . . . It should serve as a soundtrack to your “Top Five” noteworthy, important events in your life of your choosing, complete with artwork, explanations, and the like.

     Consider these thought-provoking passages from various class readings:

    "The discovery [of my adolescent and young-adulthood mix tapes] immediately took me back to my favorite scene from the now-classic romantic-comedy High Fidelity. [Our protagonist] reorganizes his music collection. Not chronologically. Not alphabetically. But rather autobiographically. A mode of menology he refers to simply, and accurately, as “comforting.” Creating and later revisiting mix tapes is an act of retracing life’s steps through autobiographically-organized artifacts . . ."

    "The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art,” Gordon famously intones. “Many do’s and don’t’s. First of all, you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing . . .”

    "[We prove to be] exactly the kind of [people] who . . . experience and express the infinite gamut of emotions contained in 120 minutes of [recorded] music: affection, jealousy, allegiance, piety, hostility . . ."

    Consider this passage from the novel High Fidelity:

    "… if [Barry] has seen a good film, he will not describe the plot, or how it made him feel, but where it ranks in his best-of-the-year list... or his best-of-the-decade list... or his best-of-all-time list... Barry thinks and talks and ruminates in 10s and fives. As a consequence, Dick and I do, too."

    In the past, because my students had in-class time and access to design technology, we made actual soundtrack compact discs and cassettes. Students created and printed real liner notes and recordings. (You might recall those big boxes in my classroom, sitting on top of a supply cabinet. Those were the final soundtrack projects of every Senior Mr. Zoubek has ever taught.)

    Given the circumstances we’re facing today, you are not asking you to create anything physical or tangible; since we do not have access to design technology, you may be limited in terms of the supplies necessary to make an actual “product.” But you do need to get creative.

    CHECKLIST: By noon on TuesdayMay 26emailed to Mr. Zoubek (anthonyzoubek@u-46.org) all at once:  

    1. Your completed High Fidelity “Phenomena/Nounema” worksheet (containing examples and information from ALL FOUR DAYS of clips and readings);

    2. Links to your Top Five songs so that Mr. Zoubek can actually hear them;

    3. Five short narratives (explaining the significance of your songs) along with art work that you would include in the liner notes of your soundtrack if it was an actual “album.” Each narrative must be a minimum of 250 words in length. Note: That's 250 words each.This is to say that, you can’t write three sentences and be done with it. (This example is NOT a narrative: “I really like this song. I listen to it when I’m working out or when I’m sad. It hypes me up. The end!”) A narrative is a story. Your narratives must be significant. Five songs, five narratives, some imagery you would have incorporated into the project if we had the capability at school to actually lay out and design a physical soundtrack album.

    AGAIN: You are NOT expected to put together something that's visually complicated or overly intricate. (If you Microsoft Publisher on a computer, there is a liner notes template that you can use to get really creative. That template will be posted below.)  Your work, however, MUST be creative, extensive, thorough, and thoughtful; anything that was clearly "slapped together" in five minutes will NOT be assessed. If you send work that is unacceptable or does not meet quality expectations, your work will be sent back to you without hesitation, along with a note: “I cannot accept this as-is. Please revise.”

    Several years ago, Mr. Zoubek created his own Top Five soundtrack to demonstrate his expectations. You can click here to see his project; it's “double-sided.” Page one is the “inside” of the soundtrack liner notes. Page two contains additional content: the cover and the back of my album. (AGAIN: You are NOT expected to put something together this complex. It is JUST an example.) When printed and folded, this became a replica of actual album liner notes! If you are remotely interested, here are his five songs...

    1. Can't You See by The Marshall Tucker Band (click here).

    2. Eruption/You Really Got Me by Van Halen (click here).

    3. BAM! by The Jerky Boys (click here).

    4. Your Name by Willie Nelson (click here).

    5. Won't Back Down by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (click here).

    If you have MS Publisher on a computer and would like to use a liner notes template, click here. (It is NOT required. It will NOT open as a Google Doc.) For a .PDF template, click here. (It is NOT required. It will NOT open as a Google Doc.)

     

    THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2020:

    HIGH FIDELITY (DAY THREE)

    REVIEW: Today, you will continue to watch "record store Rob" grapple with his existential crisis. This requires watching several more clips from the film and reading another exceprt from the original novel. Tomorrow (Friday), you will finish watching the movie, submit your worksheet, and start your final (creative) project for the course.

    To watch High Fidelity clip 10, click here.

    To watch High Fidelity clip 11, click here.

    After watching clip 11, click here and read a chapter from the novel about what is going on inside Rob's head at the end of that sequence.

    As you watch and read, add more information to your ongoing High Fidelity worksheet. Do not submit any work today. You will be required to submit a completed worksheet that demonstrates you watched and read materials from each day this week.

    WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2020:

    HIGH FIDELITY (DAY TWO)

    REVIEW: Yesterday, you met Rob, a record store owner facing an existential crisis in the novel and film High Fidelity. You were asked to read an excerpt from the book, watch several clips from the film, and keep notes using a worksheet. (If you misplaced that worksheet, you can find it here or here). Today, please watch a series of additional clips from the movie version and continue to keep notes on whichever worksheet opens on your Chromebook or computer. Do not turn in your notes. There will be a due date set soon. Tomorrow, we will watch several concluding clips from the film and read another excerpt from the novel. At the end of the week, we will tie it all together with a final creative project.

    To watch High Fidelity clip six, click here.

    To watch High Fidelity clip seven, click here.

    To watch High Fidelity clip eight, click here.

    To watch High Fidelity clip nine, click here.

    TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2020:

    HIGH FIDELITY (DAY ONE)

    REVIEW: Existentialism is a philosophical theory that emphasizes the existence of “the individual person.” According to existentialistsyou are a free and responsible “agent.” That is, you—and not anyone else—determine your development through acts of your own freewill. Dealing with this realization is not an easy task. With that in mind, we will examine a literary text (excerpts from a book and the movie made from it) about a protagonist going through an existential crisis.

    NEW MATERIAL: High Fidelity began as a novel by British author Nick Hornby. First published in 1995, it has sold over a million copies and was later adapted into a feature film in 2000, a Broadway musical in 2006, and a television series in 2020.

    In the book, Rob is a London record shop owner in his mid-thirties whose girlfriend, Laura, has just left him. At his record shop, Rob and his employees, Dick and Barry, spend their free moments discussing constructing “desert-island Top-Five” lists of anything that demonstrates their knowledge of popular culture. Over the course of the book, Rob recalls his Top-Five most memorable breakups and sets about getting in touch with his former girlfriends. This reexamination of his failures makes him aware of the fact that what he remembers isn’t always what actually happened.

    Today, please start by clicking here to read the opening chapters of the book. (While there are vocabulary words underlined throughout, you are not required to document their definitions. However, if you find yourself confused by the language, look up the words.)

    The film version features actor John Cusack as Rob, and the setting is Chicago instead of London. To achieve “the voice” of the first-person narrator in the novel, Rob “breaks the fourth wall” (talks directly to the audience) throughout the movie.

    Please watch these clips from the film, which are based on the excerpt you just read...

    High Fidelity Clip One: Click here.

    High Fidelity Clip Two: Click here.

    High Fidelity Clip Three: Click here.

    High Fidelity Clip Four: Click here.

    High Fidelity Clip Five: Click here.

    If we were in class, we would watch clips from the film and complete this worksheet (click here). However, that version of worksheet will likely not open (or be properly formatted) using Google Docs. As such, you can find a "Google Doc-friendly" version by clicking here. DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR WORK JUST YET. You will watch additional clips over the next several days. Start this sheet and save it so that you can come back to it. (You will eventually turn in a finished sheet.)

    RECALL: That, according to philosopher Immanual Kant, we are subject to...

    Phenomena: Things as they appear (“Truth”).

    Nounema: Things as they really are (“truths”).

    “Negotiating” between (“dealing with”) the conflict between both makes us feel angst. Angst, in turn, leads to a constant state of despair.

    Subsequently, the meaning of life is all about how we confront these conflicted emotions on a regular basis. And when we are afraid to confront them, can’t confront them, or when we don’t know how to confront them, we find ourselves facing an identity crisis.

    KEEP THESE IDEAS IN MIND AS YOU READ THE EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL AND WATCH THE CLIPS.

    MONDAY, MAY 18, 2020:

    "MIXING" IT UP, KANT-STYLE

    REVIEW: Existentialism is a philosophical theory that emphasizes the existence of “the individual person.” According to existentialistsyou are a free and responsible “agent.” That is, you—and not anyone else—determine your development through acts of your own freewill. Dealing with this realization is not an easy task. According to philosopher Immanual Kant, we are subject to...

    Phenomena: Things as they appear (“Truth”).

    Nounema: Things as they really are (“truths”).

    “Negotiating” between (“dealing with”) the conflict between both makes us feel angst. Angst, in turn, leads to a constant state of despair.

    Subsequently, the meaning of life is all about how we confront these conflicted emotions on a regular basis. And when we are afraid to confront them, can’t confront them, or when we don’t know how to confront them, we find ourselves facing an identity crisis.

    YOUR WORK FOR TODAY: After clicking here, please read two newspaper articles, written about columnists reflecting on their teen years and how music represented phenomena and noumena. As teenagers, homemade collections of music (known as "mix-tapes") help both columnists confront their mixed teen emotions and the "mini-identity crises" we all go through as young adults.

    Once you are finished reading both articles thoroughly (the information will pop up again, and the articles may not be posted when you are asked to demonstrate the extent to which you read them), please look up and document the definitions of vocabulary words used throughout the articles. Click here to complete the vocabulary worksheet; use dictionary.com to find the grammatical forms and definitions of each word. Submit your work at any point today. I am well-aware that many of you are working on AP tests. So long as the worksheet is received at some point that's still "technically" Monday, it's all good! 

    THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2020:

    WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF KANT

    Let's move from Freudian Theory onto something new...

     AN INTRODUCTION TO EXISTENTIALISM AND KANTIANISM: Existentialism is a philosophical theory that emphasizes the existence of “the individual person.” According to existentialists, you are a free and responsible “agent.” That is, you—and not anyone else—determine your development through acts of your own freewill. The term is applied to the work of certain late 19th- and 20th-century European philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the “thinking subject,” but the acting, feeling, living human individual. “Authentic existence” is “the human experience,” and it involves “creating one’s self” and then live in accordance with this “version” of yourself. (To quote acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, from his book Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

    Existentialism proposes that your “existence” precedes “essence.” That is, the essence of a person is determined by her or his subjective actions and not some objective standard imposed upon her or him. In other words, people are defined by who they are, not “what” they are. A person is defined as a cruel man because he acts in a cruel manner, not because he is fundamentally (“naturally”) cruel. Similarly, a person is defined as fundamentally (“naturally”) compassionate because he acts in a compassionate manner, not because he is fundamentally compassionate. The implication is that people have no “core nature”; they can be whatever they choose to be by acting like it.

    Despair, in existentialism, is generally defined as a loss of hope. More specifically, it is a loss of hope in reaction to a breakdown in one or more of the defining qualities of one’s self or identity. If a person is emotionally invested in “being” a particular thing, then finds her or his “being-thing” compromised, she or he will normally be found in a state of despair, or hopelessness. For example, a successful singer who loses the ability to sing may despair if she has nothing else to fall back on—nothing to rely on for her identity. She finds herself unable to “be” what “ defines” her very being.

    In short: Despair is an infinite, universal human condition. Life’s ultimate lesson? Learning how to live and deal with that despair.

    IMMANUEL KANT (1724 –1804) was a German scholar and thinker who is considered the central figure of modern philosophy. Kant argued that fundamental concepts of the human mind are those which structure human experience; that reason is the source of morality, that space and time are forms of our sensibility, and that the world as it is “in-itself” is unknowable. Kant also argued that our experiences are structured by necessary features of our minds. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience so that, on an abstract level, all human experience shares certain, essential structural features.

    KANTIANSIM: “Knowledge” cannot be limited merely to “Truth” by definition. Instead, according to Kant, “we know about the world insofar as we experience it.” Knowledge (or our “personal truths”) stems from how things appear to us, not how things are in-and-of themselves. We can never “know” anything about things we do not “experience” and thus “organize” (to make sense of it).

    According to Kant: “We will never know if our ideas about the world are true. We have to redefine reality as that which we experience rather than that which experience represents…(Hopefully, this sounds familiar; the idea that the way we perceive the world is rarely how the world actually operates was at the heart of Senior English last fall!)

    Kant continues: “If we are limited to phenomena, we will never know if our ideas are true. We have to redefine what truth is… Our mental abilities only give us knowledge of [‘phenomena’—things as they appear] and not things-in-themselves [‘nounema’—things as they really are].

    Contemporary philosophers believe the ideologies of Kant and Plato (as exhibited in his “Allegory of the Cave”) are one in the same.

    THE CONCEPT OF "ANGST": An inevitable consequence of existentialism, however, is angst (also known as dread or anguish). Paradoxically, we only feel angst when we also feel complete freedom of action. Imagine you are standing on the edge of a cliff. Naturally, you fear falling, but you also fear jumping. You understand that there is nothing preventing you from throwing yourself off, that there is no predetermined essence that can make you jump or stand still. Rather there is only your own will. And with that understanding comes the realization of your own freedom of action; whether you jump or not is entirely your own choice.

    Angst is defined as the anxiety that comes from the realization that (i) we are free to act as we see fit, and (ii) we are responsible for those acts. There’s nothing inherent within us that acts for us beyond our control; that is, there is no “one thing” that we can blame if our actions (choices) cause harm. We are fully responsible for the consequences of our actions. It is, however, this very freedom and responsibility that makes us individuals by becoming part of ourselves.

     KANT’S IDEAS AND THEIR IMPACT ON POLITICS, SCIENCE, AND LITERATURE: In wake of Kant, Europeans of political, scientific, and philosophical importance preached that people give up their pursuit of Truth (singular, with a capital “T”) and begin thinking about their individual truths (more-than-one, with a lowercase “t”). We can see the influence of these ideas reflected in post-Kantian texts.

    In sum…

    Phenomena: Things as they appear (“Truth”).

    Nounema: Things as they really are (“truths”).

    “Negotiating” between (“dealing with”) the conflict between both makes us feel angst. Angst, in turn, leads to a constant state of despair.

    Subsequently, the meaning of life is all about how we confront these conflicted emotions on a regular basis. And when we are afraid to confront them, can’t confront them, or when we don’t know how to confront them, we find ourselves facing an identity crisis.

    ASSESSMENT: The reading above provides a lot of information and tricky, unfamiliar vocabulary. Please answer some reader-responses questions to demonstrate your understanding. This worksheet (click here) will direct you to the most essential ideas from the reading. If, after completing the worksheet, you understand the questions, then you will be able to apply this new theory to literature next week. You have the full weekend to complete this worksheet and send it to Mr. Zoubek (anthonyzoubek@u-46.org). There is no “virtual school” on Friday due to teacher Zoom meetings. No rush!

    WEDNEDAY, MAY 13, 2020:

    PSYCHO ESSAY (TWO)

    LET'S DISCUSS THE NEXT FEW WEEKSToday is your last Psycho-oriented assignment. Tomorrow (Thursday), you will learn your last literary theory for the school year. It's called Kantianism, and we use it to "internalize" literature. That is, the theory helps us look at literature in a way that makes us self-reflective. Consider that we started the school year by talking about self-reflection. See? I told you things would come full circle!

    So that you have an informal schedule... We will end this school week with Kantianism. Next week, we will explore this theory through two excerpts from a book and a series of clips from the film version. Rather than doing a short prompt, you will create a fun final project involving Kantianism. (I may have told you about this project when we were still in the classroom.) This project will be due on our very last "virtual class day," the Tuesday after Memorial Day. (Yes, that's a school day!) The project will be treated as your "final." Trust me, it really is a fun project. I created one for myself, to show you what my project would look like if I was a senior. I had a blast doing it. Hopefully, you will, too.

    Now... onto today's Psycho clincher!

    CONTEXTWhile the plot-points, characters, and twists of Psycho were clearly influenced by Diabolique, the story of Psycho itself (Norman, his mother, murder, "stuffing things") was actually inspired by the true story of our nation’s first media-covered serial killer—a fat, balding man whose criminal defense was based largely on Freudian analysis. That case inspired crime-thriller and “pulp” novelist Robert Bloch to write Psycho.

    When the book was turned into a movie, filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock decided to skew the audience’s perceptions of the protagonist. In traditional storytelling, the typical protagonist, or “main character” (whom, by the way, is not always “heroic”) is typically introduced at the beginning of the story. An inciting incident establishes that protagonist’s conflict against a specific antagonist, or antagonists, or some antagonistic force. In any case, the influence of the antagonist seems to exist outside of the protagonist’s control. Throughout the rest of the story, the protagonist must overcome specific obstacles (rising actions and complications) on her or his way to meet some specific goal(s) and overcome the established conflict.

    In Alfred Hitchcock’s movie version of Psycho, we are tricked into thinking that Marion Crane is our protagonist… until she is murdered about one-third of the way through the story. To that point, Marion and her conflicts were the focus of our attention and our empathy. Once Marion dies, we cannot help but shift our attention—and our sympathy—to the very thin, shy, "man-child" Norman Bates, his (Freudian) conflicts, and his antagonist, Mother. Even as Norman—an awkward momma’s boy—tries to cover up a murder “committed” by M other, we, as an audience, are asked to “root” for him. That’s pretty twisted—and in a weird way, it says an awful lot about our psychology as audience members.

    As mentioned in class, the movie is a fairly straight-forward adaptation of Bloch’s book… with one catch. In its first chapter, the novel clearly establishes Norman as the protagonist. In the book, Marion doesn’t appear until Chapter Two, where she is treated as a supporting character. Hitchcock changed this to "jerk us around" (a Diabolique-like plot twist). Furthermore, the first chapter of Bloch’s book is not featured in the film adaptation. Even though the chapter prominently introduces us to Norman (a fat, balding version, described in such a way that he looks like the serial killer who inspired him), this segment is often referred to as Psycho’s “lost chapter” (in that it was “lost” when adapted from print to a visual text.)

    Instructions: Having watched the film, please read “the lost chapter” by clicking here. Now, you are to provide an in-depth character analysis of the book's version of Norman—who he is, his overarching persona, his interests, his fears, his mannerisms, his characteristics (whatever is outright stated, but especially that which was inferred), his conflicts (internal and external), his antagonists (yes, there are more than one)—and how all of it makes us empathize with him—despite the fact that his is a murderer.

    Throughout your analysis, match specific information—events, dialogue, character relationships, situations from both the movie and the book chapter—to any of the Freudian tenants, which you can reread by clicking here.  (You must incorporate specific information from the film and directly quoted passages from the book chapter.) With regard to the chapter, when you find passages you wish to cite, in your essay:

    * Directly quote them. That means “quotes” (page number). It’s the same format you would use if asked to write an essay of literary analysis. Example:

     “Norman Bates heard the noise and a shock went through him” (9).

    * Next, in several sentences (more than one), paraphrase (“in your own words”) all that is happening in the story leading up to the quoted passage—that is, its context. (In other words, summarize what happened to that point in the chapter at which you found the cited passage.)

    * Finally, explain (explicitly and thoroughly) exactly how this passage illustrates, demonstrates, “connects with,” has some specific link to, or “aligns with” a Freudian concept. (There may well be multiple events from the movie or multiple passage from the book that worth quoting so as to demonstrate one Freudian tenet.)

    Don’t worry about a “formal” introduction or conclusion. Your only requirement is to write several well-developed paragraphs.

    DO NOT TURN THIS IN UNTIL 8:00 A.M. TOMORROW (THURSDAY). I am hard at work grading your prompts from yesterday. Take your time with this. DON'T OVERHTINK IT. It's a character analysis piece: "Who" Norman is (especially in the context of his relationship with Mother, as described in the "lost chapter" from the book. Reflect on Freud's terminology. Be creative! 

    TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2020:

    PSYCHO ESSAY (ONE)

    A quick, funny, true story… A man wrote a letter to director Alfred Hitchcock: “Sir, after seeing Diabolique, my daughter was afraid to take a bath. Now she has seen your Psycho and is afraid to take a shower. What should I do with her?” Hitchcock famously replied, “Send her to the dry cleaners.”

    The fact that someone would send Hitchcock such a letter in the first place indicates the extent to which audiences were keenly aware of the similarities between Psycho and Diabolique. The resemblances go beyond bathtubs and showers. How can we qualify (“define”) the intertextuality that exists between both movies? First, let’s review some terminology…

    Parody: A humorous imitation of a popular or influential text. (The “punchline” of “the joke” is our familiarity with the older text. We laugh out of recognition.)

    Homage: Any reference to an older text that’s made as a “special honor” or “sign of respect.” A tribute or acknowledgement by the teller of a “new story” that an “old story” provided inspiration.

    Pastiche: Originates from a French term with two meanings: “finger-painting” and “making a mess.” A storyteller uses elements (“colors”) from multiple stories of influence, “mashes them together” as the storyteller sees fit, and creates a new work. (A pastiche results when a storyteller takes specific components of multiple, sometimes unrelated influences and “smears them around” creatively, to make something completely new.)

    Should Psycho be considered an homage to Diabolique? There’s evidence to suggest it. For one, neither story follows a traditional plot. (Arguably, both texts contain more “set-up” than “story.”) It is well-known that Hitchcock wanted the copyrights to the novel upon which Diabolique was based. (The book was written by collaborators Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who would go on to work with Hitchcock on Vertigo—which some people consider the greatest movie ever made. If this is a topick you wish to explore further, consider reading about it by clicking here.) Both Psycho and Diabolique are examples of what we now call “detective fiction.” But figuratively speaking, Diabolique “laid the foundation” upon which the Bates Motel would later be built. Even writer Robert Bloch, author of the book Psycho (upon which Hitchcock based his film), stated in interviews that his all-time favorite film was Diabolique. (He called it “the epitome of what a horror film should be.”) Ergo, is Psycho “a tribute” to the influence of Diabolique’s twists, characters, and overall craziness?

    Should Psycho, at least in part, be considered a parody? Recall that a parody imitates, so as to find humor in, something of cultural significance. You could argue that the moments in Psycho that replicate moments in Diabolique aren’t intentionally funny. However, consider this information culled from a “lost interview” with Hitchcock, which was recorded, but never aired, by the BBC about four years after Psycho was released:

    Hitchcock was “horrified” when moviegoers took his subversive 1960 classic Psycho seriously. In a 1964 sitdown uncovered in the BBC archives, the director says he intended the film to be “a dark comedy” made “rather tongue-and-cheek.”

    “The content was, I felt, rather amusing,” Hitchcock said. “It was a big joke. I was horrified to find some people took it seriously.

    “It was intended to make people scream and yell and so forth – but no more than screaming and yelling on a switchback rollercoaster.”

    Hitchcock referred to himself as a rollercoaster engineer: “[the] man who says in constructing it, ‘How steep can we make the first dip?’ If you make the dip too deep, the screams will continue as the car goes over the edge and destroys everyone. Therefore, you mustn’t go too far, because you do want them to get off the [rollercoaster] giggling with pleasure!”

    A spokesperson for the Hitchcock family estate told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper: “Hitchcock's true intentions for Psycho have been the center of debate since the ‘60s. This fascinating archive interview appears to suggest that Hitchcock had always intended Psycho to be comedic, rather than terrifying.”

    Should Psycho be considered a pastiche? That is, does Hitchcock take the most compelling, interesting, influential components of Diabolique and “smear them around” into something completely new? Consider the extent to which Psycho and Diabolique both contain similarly flawed characters in desperate situations; both contain characters motivated by physical abuse, mental abuse, and guilty consciences; both contain similar scenes, settings, and plot setups; the “scariest moments” from each contain striking similarities; both lean heavily on irony, mood, tone, building tension, plot twists and (to use a Hitchockian term) McGuffins; both contain dark humor; and both lean heavily on Freudian psychology. (In fact, you may wish to reflect on the Tenants of Freudian analysis, which you can revisit by clicking here.)

    Recall that the concept of intertextuality, as defined by Julia Kristeva, suggests that “The meaning of any text—any novel, short story, film, photograph, painting, stage drama—is based on a network of prior texts. Every image, every narrative, every musical note: these are mosaics of references to other texts; collages of other genres. Whatever meaning we discover within a new text can only occur when we understand the web of prior texts referenced within… All texts participate with each other in the space of our culture.”

    In a multi-paragraph essay, make an argument about the extent to which Diabolique and Psycho “participate with each other.” That is, in its intertextual relationship with Diabolique, Psycho is parody, an homage, a pastiche, a combination of at least two, or an example of all three? Your explanation must be based in comparing and contrasting specific scenes, events, characters, or dialogue—you cannot base your conclusions on broad generalities. (Writing something along the lines of “Both stories are similar because they both involve a bathroom” isn’t enough to prove your point.)

    Don’t worry about a “formal” introduction or conclusion. Your only requirement is to write several well-developed paragraphs exploring the connections between Psycho and Diabolique (using the terminology of intertextuality and Freudian theory.) A paragraph is generally longer than eight sentences.

    I am aware that AP testing is happening today. As such, your Senior English essay can be submitted at any point today or this evening—so long as it is received at some point, that is “officially” Tuesday, May 12. Submit your writing by email (anthonyzoubek@u-46.org).