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The Dude, as representative of the carnival aspects of the
postmodern experience, is also presented as a grotesque body, in
Bahktin's sense of the word. He is shown with his head being plunged into
a toilet, drinking White Russians and smoking joints, being beaten by a
the psychotic chief of police of Malibu, immersed in the two hallucinatory
dream sequences, slouching and assuming un-classical, non-disciplined
bodily postures, smelling milk in a supermarket, performing sloppy Tai
Chi on his rug, thumping his car roof in time to his Creedence tapes, crashing
his car, burning his crotch with a still lit roach, listening to a walkman
stoned and his most important transgression of the Protestant ethic, failing
to enjoy full-time employment. Much of the comedy of the film results from
the efforts of the grotesque stoner bum to discipline himself so
as to play the classical rational and reflexive sleuth - a sleuth
who has to go on a "strict drug regimentation" to "keep his mind limbre"
so as to keep up with what he describes as "a very complicated case..[with]
a lotta ins, a lotta outs, and, uh, a lot of strands to keep in my head
man, lotta strands in little duder's head".
The Big Lebowski also plays on postmodern anxieties about
the ability of thought to correctly interpret and model an objective terrain,
describing instead a world of radical interpretation and the superficiality
of claims to a transparent truth. This epistemological crisis of modernity
can ultimately be read as a crisis of Protestantism. The Reformers expulsion
of an immanent "truth" found in human embodiment and the effervesence generated
by communities of embodied humans, and the resultant transformation of
the sacred into a transcendent sublime reflected on only by the cognitive
engagement with texts (the Word of God), has led to a culture of panic
This panic reflexivity revolves around a profound positioning of "truth"
in the symbolic and in texts, yet concomitantly is aware of the self-referential
nature of that symbolic. Baudrillard, theorising the profound superficiality
of signifiers, describes this post-Nietzschean world as a world of "seduction",
where "every interpretive discourse (discours de sens) wants to
get beyond appearances: this is illusion and fraud. But getting beyond
appearances is an impossible task; inevitably every discourse is revealed
in its own appearance, and is hence subject to the stakes imposed by seduction,
and consequently to its own failure as discourse".24
He speaks of "the dangers of seduction, whose domain is the sacred horizon
of appearances", where "to be seduced is to be diverted from one's truth.
[And] to seduce is to divert the other from his truth".25
Baudrillard, in Symbolic Exchange and Death, describes the postmodern
turn in thought as delivering us into a world of "tests", where simulations
result from the effect of the observer on the observed, where the question
presupposes the answer. "It is not even certain that we can test plants,
animals or inert matter in the exact sciences with any hope of an "objective"
response. As to how those polled respond to the pollsters, how natives
respond to ethnologists, the analysand to the analyst, you may be sure
that there is total circularity in every case: those questioned always
behave as the questioner imagines they will and solicits them to".26
This deconstructionist recognition of a profound superficiality of discourse
is part of Jameson's wary typology of the postmodern; an aspect of a world
which "loses its depth and threatens to becomes a glossy skin, a stereoscopic
illusion, a rush of filmic images without density".27
A film featuring German techno-pop nihilists must have something to
say about postmodern theories of a world of radical perspectivism, and
the Dude, as he wanders through his narrative, is confronted with various
interpretations of the kidnapping told by characters whose perception of
events are coloured by personal motivations. The result is a particularly
postmodern sense of exhaustion and disorientation, compounded by the Dude's
frequent grotesque lapses. The seductive nature of the Dude's encounters
with the "Millionaire" Lebowski, Jackie Treehorn and Maude Lebowski is
mirrored by the seductive nature of their presentation of self. The "Millionaire"
Lebowski in particular is surrounded by commodity signs which create an
appearance of what he himself writes himself as; that is, a self-made man
in direct opposite to the "bum" Lebowski. Yet, if we are to believe Maude,
he in fact has terrible business sense and lives off an allowance from
the estate of his dead wife. He is aware of the mechanics of seduction
though, and when accused of manipulating the Dude for ulterior motives
replies, "You have your story, I have mine!".
To Conclude: How does the Dude manage to abide?
The Dude proves himself extremely resilient in his ability to survive
his everyday encounters with nihilistic hyperrealism, post-Nietzschean
deconstructionism, and the seduction of profoundly superficial signifiers.
Jeff Lebowski appears to transcend any metaphysical anxieties by his very
nature as grotesque body. The profane terrors of a hyper-reflexive
Protestant modernity seem to elude him, and in this sense he is exemplary
of the postmodern schiz, as compared to Jameson's angst-ridden monadic
hysterics of modernism. His function as representative of that which was
expelled by the civilising processes of the Protestant Reformation and
rationalising modernity enables him to emerge from his confrontation with
seduction unscathed. "The Dude abides", perhaps due to his unreflexive
immersion in his own enfleshment, his ability to engage with the postmodern
figural, and his strong ties with the popular traditions of carnival.
In this sense he is an emblematic site for the playing out of postmodern
tropes, a "baroque-modern" body, who negotiates the tensions between a
Protestant modernity which favours a distanciation from the body and a
valourisation of cognitive reflection (which ultimately can end in the
terrors of hyper-reflexivity) and a carnival postmodernity - a postmodernity
of carnal immersion, schizophrenic presents, and the corrosion of boundaries
between artifice and the real.
23 Mellor and Shilling, Re-Forming,
p 98 - 127
24 Jean Baudrillard, "On Seduction"
in Mark Poster [ed], Jean Baudrillard - Selected Writings, (Oxford, Polity
Press, 1988), p 150
25 Ibid, p 160
26 Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange
and Death, p 67
27 Jameson, Postmodernism, p 76-7
Baudrillard, Jean, Symbolic Exchange and Death, (London, Sage, 1993).
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Ebert, Roger, “The Big Lebowski”, at Chicago Sun Times Online.
Featherstone, Mike, “Postmodernism and the Aestheticization of
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and Identity, (Cambridge, Basil Blackwell, 1992).
Harvey, David, The Condition of Postmodernity, (Basil Blackwell, Oxford,
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