Extract from
Postmodern Modes of Ethnicity
in Lester D. Friedman (ed), Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema
(University of Illinois Press, 1991. Reprinted in Peter & Will Brookner, Postmodern After-Images, Arnold, 1997)

By Vivian Sobchack

[E]thinicity does not seem to be so much repressed and disguised in such films as Blade Runner or Jim Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise (1984) as it is dispersed and defused - explicitly part of the mise-en-scène, yet subordinate to what seem to be the more pressing problems, pleasures, dislocations, and curiosities of constructing identity in postmodern culture. (p.338)

[---]

Suffering no angst about his mixed ethnic origins, no dis-ease with his lack of rootedness in time or space, Buckaroo's [the hero of W.D. Richter's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension] philosophy could stand as the celebratory slogan of those living in the ahistoricist present tense of postmodern culture: "Remember," he says, "wherever you go, there you are."

Indeed, this philosophy seems to inform the entire narrative and esthetic structure of Stranger than Paradise and Jarmusch's second film, Down by Law. Here, too, we see the vestiges of ethnic identity, traces of something which has lost nearly all its meaning - as has the specificity and distinctiveness of time and space. In Stranger than Paradise, sixteen-year-old Eva has come from her native Hungary to visit her cousin Willie and his friend Eddie in New York City before going to live with her aunt in Cleveland; after being bored in both New York and Cleveland, the three drive off to be bored in Florida. The cultural and geographical specificity here is hilarious by virtue of its meaningless differentiation and the characters' general indifference to it - and to everything else. Eva's "Hungarian-ness" is barely marked and she expresses only a minimal and short-lived curiosity about things American. Wherever they go, there they are - the characters' spontaneity about going on the road and their adventures comically fragmented and minimalized both by their passivity and lack of discrimination and the filmmaker's (who uses the same long takes, fades, and static set-ups to record everything and every place with an equivalent lack or plenitude of emphasis). In sum, although the cultural logic of postmodernism is liberating in its capacity for self-invention, its embrace and leveling of difference, and its effacement of discrimination, it achieves this liberation through a correlative flattening and dulling of his historical and political consciousness. (p.340)





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