Friday, May 09, 2008

Heckman, Davin. "Unraveling Identity: Watching the Posthuman Bildungsroman." CTHEORY.NET May 7, 2008.

I have been puzzling lately over a genre of film which is hard to situate: films which deal with forgetting and remembering, in which we ride shotgun with protagonists who are just as interested in character development as we are. While the genre itself has not been fully mapped out, potential candidates for inclusion include Abre Los Ojos (1997), Vanilla Sky (2001), Memento (2000), Minority Report (2002), The Bourne Identity (2002), Paycheck (2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and, most recently, A Scanner Darkly (2006). I call this genre the "Posthuman Bildungsroman." The Bildungsroman label is commonly applied to "coming of age" tales or novels of education. For reasons discussed below, this common usage is not entirely accurate, but taken in the larger context of Western Literature such usage makes sense. The traditional questions associated with Western Literature can be summarized in this way: What is a story? An account of change. What is a good story? An account of change that all people can relate to. The assumption is that in order to be sufficiently engaging, change must center on "the human." And in practice, "the human" has overwhelmingly been depicted as an individual. Outside of non-modern folk tales, children's stories, religious texts, and legends, there is little room in this essentialist construct for distributed cognition, nonhuman characters, and environmental agents. Philosophy, literature, and the self grow together/merge under the common characterization of the Bildungsroman. The result is a tradition of "good stories" about the formation of an identity that is rooted in interior personal growth. In the Posthuman Bildungsroman, the individual is present not as the expression of a coherent self, but as the central problem of the story. Rather than triumph over external obstacles through force of will, the will itself is formed through the effects of outside forces. The story remains a tale of growth and education, but the end of this process is an attempt to stabilize the subject and construct a coherent representation of the self that is consistent with the expectations of its cultural milieu (or, perhaps, the genre). . . . Read the whole article here:


  1. We might call them amnesiac films. I liked Memento the most of these.

    Would Fight Club count?

  2. 'Amnesiac' films, that's an interesting way of putting it. FIGHT CLUB might very well count. What about FALLING DOWN, with Michael Douglas, I think?