1. The Searchers revolves around the question articulated by its very first word: who is Ethan?
So if the Searchers’ conclusion gives us a family that is somewhat fraudulent, and that threatens to enclose the audience in its deception, then what would it mean by contrast to have eyes and genuinely see?
What does it mean that Ethan’s own expectations about himself turn out to be wrong? And what does it mean that all of us were wrong who shared Laurie’s certainty, if not her enthusiasm about it, that Ethan fully intended and desired to put a bullet in Debbie’s brain?
3. What is the significance of the fact that the second marquee star of the film, Nathalie Wood, doesn’t appear until so late in the movie? For The Searcher’s original viewers, the question of when the recent star of Rebel without a Cause would make her appearance must have weighed increasingly heavily until she ultimately shows up only in the film’s final chapter. In a way, from Wood’s fans’ point of view, her absence from the bulk of the film parallels Debbie’s absence in the film’s narrative. This compounds the significance of the fact that when Wood finally does appear she’s wearing an exotic Indian costume, speaking Indian language, and above all she appears in a group of Scar’s concubines and then holding several of his trophy scalps. So Woods is not only withheld from her fans for most of the movie; when she’s finally revealed she’s basically framed in the the sights of the hero’s gun, the emblem of everything the movie’s disparaged up until then. Ford is clearly toying mightily with his audience’s affections: just as he has the lovely Laurie spew the movie’s worst racial invective, he has its biggest female star and sex symbol appear as the very embodiment of the racist caricature Laurie describes; why?
1. on the third page Lethem names two kinds of worry provoked by the film; what are they and how are they related?
2. “By overestimating it, then claiming myself as its defender, I’d invented another, more pretentious way of underestimating it.” Explain what this means both in Lethem’s life and in the movie. how does this relate to the essay’s conclusion: “…caring has worm me out. The Searchers is…too willful to be bounded in my theories…The Searchers strides on…everywhere shrugging off categories, refusing the petitions of embarrassment and taste, defying explanation or defense as only great art or great abomination ever could.”
nb. this is simply amazing; i really encourage you to take the time to read and absorb it.
1. Explain the difference Lear emphasizes on p. 4 between a claim about the world and a claim about one’s psyche (which amounts to the difference between saying i am or my people are depressed and saying events or history or the world has come to an end).
2. The wager of Lear’s book is that the latter claim offers some “insight into the structure of temporality:” (5) that at a certain point things might stop, and that this possibility is an aspect of human vulnerability generally (6). like Zizek’s second death Lear casts this at a higher order than other familiar human vulnerabilities, and says it’s a vulnerability we “inherit” as a “a result of the fact that we essentially inhabit a way of life” (6); this relates to the claim that “an event become such as it is interpreted” (9), but there can be no ‘cultural’ way of responding to the devastation of one’s culture; like the second death the possibility of such devastation “will tend to be the blind spot of any culture” (83). So for Lear Plenty Coups’ claim that ‘after this nothing happened’ is “as radical a claim as is humanly possible” (10): it’s a claim about the death of the possibility of (interpreting) events; an (implicitly sublime) limit-case of claim making.
3. What makes the planting of the coup stick “an existential declaration of impossibility”? (14)
4. What does Lear mean by saying “there is a certain symbolic excess in counting coups”? “Why should the tribe treat such an act as bravery, rather than as unnecessary, and thus as foolhardy showing off?” (16) This question is tantamount to the question of what distinguishes the fight for recognition from the fight for survival (16), and both serve to highlight what it means to live “in a way of life,” and for events to depend upon interpretation.
5. How does the law of the excluded middle relate to Lear’s account of the cultural destruction (25)? what is the difference between “failure” to fulfill a certain cultural norm and lapse in “insistence” upon the relevancy such a norm (34)?
6. what is the difference between the question of who gets to tell a narrative and that of whether one has or hasn’t “lost the concepts with which they would construct a narrative” (32)? what does Lear mean by saying that “the planting of a coup-stick has ceased to be an intelligible act” (32)? To what extent could this problem of having lost concepts to interpret action apply to Ethan’s actions in The Searchers?
7. Why does Lear say “the Crow ran out of time” (41)? What’s the difference between describing something as part of a way of life and as a symptom of the loss of a way of life? One symptom of the loss of the Crow way of live according to Lear is that a new irony becomes possible, namely the question: “among the Crow is there a Crow?” (44ff). The irony juxtaposes a use of the term Crow (or warrior, or chief, etc.) as a merely empirical identity label, and another use linked to the lost Crow way of life; so the question is tantamount to: among those whose ancestors lived the Crow way of life, is there one who still lives the Crow way of life? According to Lear this is particularly the case because “the idea of a Crow subject requires more than [merely empirical identification]. It requires internalizing the ideals associated with the standards of excellence associated with social roles. And it requires making those ideals a life’s task” (43); “part of what it is to be a Crow subject is to be aiming at being excellent as Crow” (49). Would you say that this is true of your subjectivity identity? how would you evaluate the question? can one ask, for instance, ‘among the students is there a student?’
8. What is the point of Lear’s chess analogy on pp. 48f? Why does he claim that “intending and hoping and wondering and desiring are not just up to me: they are not just a matter of exercising my will. And my inability to do so is not just a psychological issue: it is a question of the field in which psychological states are possible” (49)?
9. Explain the following statement (reminiscent of Nietzsche on friendship and nemesis): “One of the ironies that comes to light is that groups of people can be the bitterest of enemies in real life, yet ontologically they are on the same side; and a real-life ally can turn out to be one’s ontological nemesis” (50). Do you agree?
10. Why does Lear claim that poetry is the condition of hope in the face of cultural devastation? what does the following mean? “the possibility for such a poet is precisely the possibility for the creation of a new field of possibilities. No one is in a position to rule out that possibility” (51).
11. What’s the difference between saying that anxiety is “about nothing,” an emotion without meaning, and saying that “with anxiety there is a systematic and enigmatic unclarity as to what it is about” (76)? how does Plenty’s Coup’s dream provide an “unusual resource” for dealing with the latter (76)? what makes this dream “an act of radical anticipation” (78)?
12. How does the dream “use the chickadee to radicalize a second-order virtue” (82)? Lear’s term for this second order virtue is radical hope, the notion that it is possible to be practically committed to a kind of goodness or value without understanding it (95). Do you share Lear’s belief in this possibility? why does Lear say irony is the condition of such commitment? (97). Consider such commitment in comparison with Kierkegaard’s “teleological suspension of the ethical” (92), Benjamin’s angel, and to Lacan’s claim that the “ethical imperative is the mode of existence of the real in the symbolic.”