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March 04 2005

Chaos? An Article on Illyria. An academic essay on Illyria, from a postmodern point of view.

Spectacular. A perfect amalgamation of post-modernism and chaos theory. Best brief summary of Illyria's philosophical implications I've ever read.
Good find. Actually a very good find. I do like a link I can get my teeth into. Ta very much.
I didn't care for it. Post-modern philosophy seems to me to be what happens when people trained in the study of literature, and not trained in philosophy, try to do academic philosophy. It just descends into jargon.

The description of post-modernism is so vague as to apply to nearly anything. The characteristics of what is supposed to be post-modern thought have always been around (ancient Greece and so forth), just in clearer and less confused forms. Many expressions (like "Self with a capital S") are apparently used with some special meaning that isn't revealed to us. A lot of this sounds deep, but is so vague that it is unclear what would have to be the case for the claims to be true or false.

Full disclosure: I couldn't stomach any more after I read about half of it, so I just skimmed the second half. Looked like more of the same.

The author does raise some interesting issues, but I don't think she really sheds much light on them.

[ edited by fruit punch mouth on 2005-03-04 21:48 ]
Illyria probably made me think more than any of the characters in the last half of A5.

I think the essay's strengths lie in its appreciation of Illyria, as the application of postmodern and chaos theory are a little tenuous (although postmodern theory, in general, misappropriates chaos theory in its own reading of fragmentation, the author certainly isn't the first to make this error). The whole rehearsal of postmodern theory is a little too much, especially since it feels a bit grafted on to what is a pleasant series of ruminations on Fred and Illyria. Fruit Punch Mouth is right, postmodern theory is notoriously vague and the author does little to make it better. Still I thought the second half of the article was better than the first.

Another criticism: chaos theory has more to do with the orderly structures that arise from apparently chaotic systems. Prigogine's ideas on chaos describe the unpredictable appearances of order within nonequilibrium systems (of which life is an excellent example).
Anyway, I think it's right to associate Illyria with chaos, but not because she becomes more chaotic, indeed, the appearance of complex orderly systems are what mark her developing identity.
Remember when Angel says that he didn't want Fred's death to be one more random event? The chaos of Fred/Illyria is more pre-AHITW, the unpredictable trip to Pylea and all of the twists of seasons 3 and 4. Illyria's rise becomes a kind of unpredictable ordered system that appears out of the chaos that preceded Fred's death.

It's also an element that structures the rest of the season. Angel uses Fred's death to set in motion his infiltration of the Black Thorn. Wes, Lorne, Gunn and Spike all alter their behavior throughout the rest of the series as a response to the grief occasioned by the loss of Fred. In that sense, her death organizes a series of compartmentalized episodes into an organic whole. So, the connection with chaos that Joss suggests is completely appropriate. in fact, it avoids a more simplistic application of chaos theory that merely suggests that things get more chaotic.

I did like the article and am glad that it was written. I spend a lot of time thinking about chaos theory and art and it made me think more about it. Sorry if I bored anyone.
Loved this! Thanks!
I found Illyria a fascinating character and it's a crime we didn't get more. This was a very good read and, though there's a few parts I disagree with, it was an excellent indepth look. Without going too deep here, I wish to explore the opening and closing lines of Illyria:

From 'Shells':
"This is grief. I'm watching human grief! It's like offal in my mouth!"

to:

From 'Not Fade Away':
"Wesley's dead. I'm feeling grief for him".

A book can be written on the changes Angel, Spike, and Wess had on Illyria. I so wish there was a sixth season.
I know that there is all this talk about Fred's possible return and sharing a body with Illyria, blahblahblah but I just have to disagree with the writer's theory that Fred would REALLY resurface each time Illyria switched identities. Fred would never act so taunting to Wes, nor would her voice be all Illyria mode when she sometimes spoke. I think Fred would try very hard to separare the two.

I'd probably guess that Fred's tears could be blamed on what little memories or feelings of Fred's were left in Illyria. She KNEW how much they cared for eachother and she was beginning to understand human emotions. It was her gift to Wesley, and I think that aswell as putting on an act, she actually felt grief on her behalf.

I'm not much for philosophy.. too much thinking involved and the more one knows, the more we are doomed to suffer, right? Argh.
I just hope that someday Joss finds a way to finish what he started with Illyria/Fred. We all know he was going somewhere with this (these) character(s) and then the rug was pulled out from under him. I'd really like to see what he had in mind. Of course, I'm sure we'd all like to see that.
Pretty much agree with every word fruit punch mouth (and Biff Turkle) wrote. Those postmodern "philosophers" that I have encountered appropriate concepts that in the scientific disciplines have fixed meanings and then bend them into whatever shape suits their purpose. Maybe their works say something very profound about existence. Or maybe not. I can never actually tell what they're saying because the words used by Baudrillard et al seem to connote and denote an infinite number of "signifiers/signifieds" according to the author's whimsy.

I continue to believe that Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont nailed the more ridiculous traits of PoMo in their piss-take Fashionable Nonsense. If the author of this article, who clearly knows her Angel, had set forth a thorough character interpretation of Fred/Illyria I would have found it quite fascinating. But dressed up in pseudo-science, it does nothing for me at all.
Chiming in with SNT, FPM and BiffTurkle...can't trudge through stuff that gets (for me, at least) more caught up in its own academic trappings rather than trying to actually explain something. Sokal's hoax was truly inspired.
I actually help edit an academic literary journal and end up "trudging through" this kind of stuff with some frequency. Postmodern theory can be helpful and interesting, but only when done really, really well. It's much too easy to just say "everything's relative" or "there is no referent" or "fragmented subjectivities" and that just leads to sloppy criticism. (It's particularly satisfying to reject those kinds of articles.)

The other thing that happens (and did happen in this article) was that an author will recite the standard theoretical quotations and then jam the text (novel, film, television program) through them. It's really sad that so many academic critics write that way, although I guess it makes it easy to make fun of us. We really need that from time to time.

I think it ironic that Buffy and Angel are so often identified as postmodern texts. While the constant undercutting of archetype and expectation would seem to suggest that kind of postmodern play that people so often misinterpret, Buffy and Angel are really about true things. They're very seriously about love, family, responsibility, atonement, existence. In that sense, they reveal why people get so fed up with much of postmodern theory. The constant play of signifiers and signifieds in postmodernism is ultimately quite hollow. Buffy, Angel (and Firefly) are anything but empty play.
Yes, BT, yes. I understand, or try to understand, postmodern theory in the context of literary criticism. But, as you say, employing postmodernist rubric, combined with some cutting-edge scientific buzzwords like "chaos theory," to make an otherwise worthy piece sound more intellectual is, well, just silly. And I wholeheartedly agree with your statement that Buffy and Angel are *not* consciously postmodern but, rather, are concerned with deeply classical motifs. And it seems as though Joss has said something similar in at least one interview that I've read - any links anyone has would be appreciated. (Of course, the fact that Joss has a certain take on his own work holds little or no interest to the postmodernist. Which is another reason I don't have much time for the theory . . . )
Good points, SNT. I've been looking for links, but it's all people trying to tie Joss and the postmodern together. Doesn't help that everyone has a different definition of what it means. It's such an empty term that you have to spend all your time defining what it means before you can ever get to an interpretation.

I think there's a kind of "test tube envy" that happens where certain theorists try to appropriate science as a way to make what they say sound "true". Like you said, it's just silly. In fact, it evinces a lack of faith in the validity of what one has to say.

On a side note, I think it's funny that (almost) the only people to take Lacan seriously are literary theorists. The psychologists lost their patience with him years ago. Same with Freud. In fact, I think one of the clues that something was seriously wrong with Maggie Walsh in B4 was that she taught Freud as a legitimate psychological theory in one of the episodes (was it Wild at Heart?).

Well, I've probably beat this to death now. Sure would have been nice to see more Illyria and Fred. All theory and intellectualizing aside, I had my heart ripped out and liked it over and over again during the last half of A5.

[ edited by Biff Turkle on 2005-03-08 22:37 ]
Illyria was a far more interesting character on STAR TREK. Her outfit looked better on the last Power Rangers villain; though when it was on the Power Rangers, the outfit didn't look so cheap.
misbegotten3, what are you talking about?
Don't really know enough about the specifics of PoMo theory to really comment (my exposure to it has been through the visual/fine art field, not its philosophical or literary underpinnings), but aside from that, I liked this comment in the text:

To complicate matters, Illyria’s new form is barely able to contain her primordial powers (which include telepathic communication with plant life)...

Kind of makes me consider Fred's little conversation with the potted plant in "Waiting in the Wings" in a whole new light.... Since Joss wrote WitW, I have to believe it was intentional, that he was setting Illyria up that far in advance. What an amazing journey it would have been, seeing how she would have developed and grown in S6.

Curse you, WB! Curse you with a thousand maladictions!
misbegotten3, please respect this room. We don't appreciate that kind of nonsense. Enough said.

Wiseblood, thank you for the reminder of 'Waiting in the Wings'. I'd completely missed that. You may be right in Joss' intentions. Was he setting up the character Illyria?
I've heard the Illyria/Trek comparisons before on other boards. I didn't agree with them there either.

People tend to think that if something they see on a current show resembles something they have seen before then obviously the writers of the new show are ripping off the old one. Thing is, if you watch enough television series then eventually everything you see is going to be similar in some way to something that went before it. There are only so many ideas to be had, what matters is that you find something original to do with them. That is most definately what Joss did with Illyria, she was one of the most unique television characters i had seen in a very long time and so the Trek comparison is especially unfair.

Or perhaps Angel himself is just a cheap rip off of the Highlander with added fangs? I guess it's all down to how you view originality in this day and age.
Vampire with a Gun - also don't forget "Forever Night" where the lead policeman is a vampire. Whenever I think of Angel I think of Forever Night but to me they are two very different shows, even though they both have vampire males helping people. No way do I see Angel as a Forever Night rip off.

There are only so many ideas to be had, what matters is that you find something original to do with them.

Pete Townshend said something to the same effect in an interview and he also carried it one step further. He said each artist is lucky if they get one good orginal idea. My Generation, Tommy, Quadrophenia - he said he has just been re-wrting My Generation all these years.
I skimmed this article and thought "uhh, bored now," but then reading the comments made me want to reread and then defend the author. I certainly understand the disgust with academic blather. I doubt I absorbed much of the parts surrounding "Lacan" because my middle-aged brain filter is no longer open to anything connected with that name. But I didn't find the parts about chaos offensive. I didn't get the sense that the writer was trying to legitimize her ideas by shoehorning a scientific concept around them - rather that she was struggling to find an analogy in science for something that doesn't really have handy analogies in the humanities.

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