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A magical ritual to pay my rent

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Jane Campbell

16 Comments

  1. Sean Dillon
    February 14, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

    Welcome Back Jane! And what a way to come back with (though, I suppose in hindsight there was really only one way (well, not really, but still, of course you were going to talk about this show)). I look forward to seeing what comes next.

    Reply

    • Jane
      February 15, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

      Thank you, Sean, it’s good to be back. 🙂

      Reply

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  2. JDX
    February 15, 2017 @ 8:59 am

    I’m very glad you’re writing about this, as it’s the most Eruditorum thing I’ve seen in a while. When the opening credits appeared, I couldn’t help but burst into awe-struck laughter. Whatever its flaws, I’ve been flawed by the audacity of this show. And I think it has definitely earned the kind of deep reading you’re giving it. I’d like, at some point, to address some of my reactions to your reading, and I’m sorry to be engaging with it indirectly in in this comment.

    But I wanted to take an opportunity, since I don’t yet have a home, to talk about something very specific, an Earthly aspect of this show which has, to my mind, gone largely unexamined. As a blind person, I absolutely dreaded this, based on the blurb. I do not like the lost/restored sight trope, partly because it casts blindness as being an inferior state, which doesn’t fit with my worldview, but also because it associates sight with identity. If someone has lost their sight, its return completes/restores them.

    I also have issues with mysticism around blindness, because that suggests it might be a superior state. It’s not part of my identity. Like birth, death and marriage, it’s something I’ve reacted to, and every blind person’s reaction to being blind is different.

    So why did I not hate this show? I’ll talk only about the first episode for the moment. A few mundane things pleased me, e.g. She used a real screen reader, and I cheered. But what was more interesting was the fact that neither blindness nor sight were treated as superior states. It was clear that the OA was a person with superior insight, but it wasn’t implied that she gained this from either losing or regaining her sight. When she’s overwhelmed, she retreats into blindness, which in that moment feels like a place of safety. She also retains some of the habits of a blind person. But she also uses sight to her advantage throughout the episode, and also recognizes the advantages of her sight when she needs it. She’s always watching people carefully, and observing a lot about them very quickly. In this way, her temporary blindness, which could have been a terrible plot device, is treated as an experience, with some good and bad aspects, which she reacts to differently depending on how she feels. The restoration of her sight didn’t complete, or break her character. She didn’t go back.

    When Nina loses her sight, it seems like the cruel and brutal act of a higher power. But it’s done out of a desire to protect her, and so despite its Old Testament vibe, it’s neither punishment nor reward, in a way which strongly speaks to my own personal experience. There’s a lot more to unpack about this which I didn’t anticipate when I started writing. The politics aren’t perfect, and there are many I’m sure who would disagree with me. But personally, I mostly respect the way blindness is treated here, and I honestly think it’s a uniquely nuanced engagement with an issue which is frequently treated very badly.

    Thanks for reading, if anyone did. Look forward to the next entry.

    Reply

    • Jane
      February 15, 2017 @ 3:39 pm

      Thank you for this insight, JDX. I’ve never been blind, though I’m definitely myopic and I have lost hearing in one ear. (Some point soon I really have to learn how to sign.)

      I lived with a blind man for several years, though, and there were touches in this episode I really appreciated — like the same computer voice software, for example, that he used. The keyboard with braille on the keys.

      But I really like your point about how there can be an Old Testament vibe to stories of blindness — it’s one thing to apply this experience as a metaphor, it’s quite another to literalize it as indication of divine favor or otherwise. And in this show, the people who take the restoration of sight as a “miracle” and who focus on that aspect of OA’s journey, rather than her interiority, are treated with disdain. The show is aware of this dynamic, and something to say about it.

      Anyways, I’ll be looking forward to your future comments, and don’t feel like you have to hold back your reactions to my essays — you don’t have to wait until the end. I’m happy to incorporate other lines of thought into these pieces, but of course it’s your choice. Forking paths, and all that.

      Yours,
      Jane

      Reply

  3. Anton B
    February 15, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

    Oh yes! Welcome back Jane. I’m so glad you’ve chosen to unpack (of course it’s what you do when you come home) the OA. I’ve yet to complete it. I put it on hiatus after the fourth episode. I’m not sure if I was enjoying it or even understanding it. Of course its metaphorical metatextual, unreIiable narration and open ended attitude to plot development immediately conjured LOST to me too, and the more interesting corners of Moffat’s writing it has to be said. I will return to it now guided through the murkiness by the light of your exegesis.

    I was struck by your analysis of the open door thing. The opening of the front door by the ‘woman of the house’ during the meal is an important part of the Seder or Passover ritual in Jewish tradition. It symbolises the ‘openness’ of the house to strangers (anyone outside should be invited in to partake of the meal) and the fearlessness of the family in observing the ritual (there are many stories in my family and I’m sure others regarding the bravery of following this edict in Nazi Germany or Tzarist Russia for instance).
    It is also a ‘just in case’ action, tradition has it that the angel Yeshua will appear at Passover to herald the coming of the Messiah or, in some versions, the Messianic age. So any mysterious stranger should be welcomed lest you miss out on ‘entertaining angels unawares’. This possibility used to fascinate me as a kid.

    Thanks for the water.

    Reply

    • Jane
      February 15, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

      Oooh, this gives me chills, Anton. Obviously I’m not Jewish, nor are the rituals of Judaism something I’ve studied, so thank you so much for your perspective on this, and please let us know when you realize any other similarities. 🙂

      As to entertaining angels unawares, it’s a funny thing. I mean, if you treat every stranger as a potential angel, that really changes the kind of interactions you have with other people. When I studied LOST back when it was airing, I often had the feeling that some of the people I was talking to on the Internet were people who were actually behind the scenes in the production of the show, or friends thereof. There was a rumor that the writers, for example, had recruited their allies to play on various forums to encourage elaborate theory-building and delve into some of the more interesting… implications of the show.

      Talking to someone with the idea that they know way more than me, which for me is contradictory to my natural arrogance, was a humbling experience; I think it made for better relationship-building as well as being more open minded and flexible to my own approach to the show.

      Of course, there are other possibilities to be aware of when we think along these lines, as the next chapter of The_OA aptly demonstrates…

      Reply

      • AntonB
        February 16, 2017 @ 10:26 am

        The aspect of your writing that I most enjoy Jane is the connections you construct which I wouldn’t necessarily have seen and the paths they lead us down. So it’s cool that I was able to reciprocate with a path of my own.
        Despite my ethnicity I’m no expert on Judaic lore. My knowledge comes mostly from childhood memories and subsequent dabbling in kabbalistic imagery, tarot, magick etc.

        I talk a little about that on the podcast ‘But…That’s Impossible’ which my friend Amy and I host.
        https://www.podbean.com/media/player/939cn-6754d7?from=yiiadmin&skin=2&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0
        Please give it a listen if you have time and let us know what you think.

        I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what paths your OA Exegesis takes us on.

        Reply

  4. Patman
    February 15, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    You’re covering this! Yay!

    I absolutely love this show, and have served as a vector to assist its spread as a sleeper hit (everyone I’ve talked to about it has loved it, and other viewers seem to be doing the same). Yes, you could call the thing self-consciously esoteric (like another flawed work I deeply love, Grant Morrison’s ‘The Invisibles’), but so what? The thematic and motif depth is real.

    (My wife, who is an intelligent viewer but demands a clear narrative or character through-line, likes this even more than I do, and prompted us to watch it twice, which is nice and says something about why the show works.)

    Reply

    • Jane
      February 15, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

      Patman, I’ve tried getting my Mom to watch this, but I haven’t had any luck. She’s someone who appreciates questions of narrative reliability, but she’s so damn skeptical and disdainful of anything that even remotely smacks of mythology… so I’ve had no luck. I’m glad, though, that you’ve had more success. 🙂

      And sure, The_OA has its flaws, but isn’t this the way of the Universe? What with all the entropy and suffering, and how all the people of the world… we all have our failings. Or, maybe this idea of “flaws” is itself flawed, for things are what they are — “it is what it is” seems to be gaining cultural currency as a phrase the last few years — and maybe it’s only our own ideas of what “should be” that make other things and other people seem flawed. In other words, I can’t help but wonder if “flaws” actually exist only in our heads, a derivative of our “maps” not matching the “territory” (which is always going to be the case, necessarily, as no map can fully capture the territory without being a duplicate of the territory, and then we need another map to capture the existence of two territories, omg its turtles all the way down) and that as such “error” is itself a fiction.

      Um, that last sentence, it got away from me, yeah.

      Reply

      • Patman
        February 15, 2017 @ 5:54 pm

        re: Flaws = Good

        Oh, absolutely. If I wanted mechanical precision and a lack of sharp edges, I’d watch, I don’t know, the latest Marvel movie again. Or something. Something with as much sheer ambition and bravado as The OA (as you point out, leaving the title credits for the last two thirds of the first episode, and not really laying down the premise of the work until…the third…one?) is bound to have all kinds of squiggly bits. It is, as you say, what it is.

        Reply

  5. Kat
    February 16, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

    Hurried over here as soon as I knew this was up, and you didn’t disappoint. I love how you’re integrating the themes and ideas with your LOST exegesis (a comparison which struck my to a certain degree but I hadn’t fully articulated in my own head). Looking forward to the rest!

    Reply

    • Jane
      February 18, 2017 @ 6:22 pm

      So glad you’re here, Kat, and that you enjoyed the first entry!

      Reply

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