Friday, July 20, 2007

Ghost Dog

It is no longer possible to live a Homeric life.

This statement needs immediate qualification: from Ulysses and The Cantos to O Brother Where Art Thou, the Odyssey talks to modern life. What is not available to us Europeans is the Iliad. The word 'warrior appears in writings of Edgar Heap of Birds and Jummy Durham. First People have claims to the heroic which colonisers do not.

In Jim Jarmusch's film Ghost Dog the central character tries to live a Homeric life in contemporary New Jersey, and is as doomed as Achilles as a result. But his death is only a death. It is not, like the deaths of Achlles and hector, glorious. It is only a death among others.

The absurd effort to live by the samourai way has its own honour. What is most attractive about the film is that Jarmusch, in Homer's place, is unable to describe the glory without irony.

Observe the parallel positions of Ghost Dog, an African American mob murderer seeking the authenticity of the Way, and Jarmusch as auteur seeking an authenticity in his ironic telling: the trope of carrier pigeons as a refusal of contemporary communication, in a film you can watch in all the usual formats.

What we have lost sicne Homer is not presence. It is the authenticity of communication. Socrates was right to this extent: Homer stood in the ranks, bloodied and cruel. Many have stood in the same place, biut have not told us in the language of Homer. Most have been reporters, and wrote in the language of cliché. Homer had the luck of writing in an age when clichés could draw on a common speech which drew on telling nin all its dimensions: lexicon, syntax, metrics, narration. It is this mediation that Ghost Dog cannot access: his incommunicative milieu underlined by linguistic difference.

Authenticity demands not eye-witnessing but a worthy medium. Ghost Dog is a great movie because it reaches towards that state of a medium capable of heroism, only to recognise – with due modesty – that it is incapable of achieving it.

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