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Rebecca Bates: On James Franco’s Palo Alto

December 3, 2010

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By **Rebecca Bates**

rsz_bates.jpgI did it. I read James Franco’s book. I pretended that I didn’t want to. I told my friends that my editors were making me because they want readers to think they are tuned into the cultural moment. But that was a lie because I bought the book myself, and I even read it in public.

Palo Alto is actually ok in a fuck-the-world-because-I’m-a-socially-maladapted-adolescent-on-the-brink-of-adulthood-and-I-think-I’m-going-through-like-an-existential-crisis kind of way. It has short sentences. It is readable. It’s comprised of stories about upper-middle class teenagers who do a lot of really dope stuff like sneak out and shoot BB guns and vandalize property and drink their parents’ liquor and then, in a moment of sheer innovation and brilliance, replace the liquor with water. These teenagers also seem to perpetually suffer from a kind of Heideggerian boredom (“Profound boredom…removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference.”). They don’t really seem to give a shit about anyone. Not each other. Not themselves.

But this indifference actually becomes the book’s most redeeming quality. While the sparse prose mimics the characters’ apathy, we quickly find that the minimalist style betrays a repressed inner-life. Here’s how Franco ends his story “Killing Animals,” about a group of boys who spend the majority of their time shooting animals with slingshots and pellet guns: “We shot animals and people. But they were all small animals, and we didn’t kill anyone.” The boys confess their mischief and in the same breath try to qualify it as something less severe. The guilt is there, even if it isn’t directly stated.

Did I hate this? No. Did I love this? No. Did I hate it more than I loved it? No. Did I hate myself for wanting to read it? Kind of. So, verdict: James Franco’s Palo Alto is a good way to pass the time on that long stretch on the D train between 125th St. and Columbus Circle. But it’s probably not canon worthy.

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Rebecca Bates is a blog editor at Guernica. Read her last post “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/2142/rebecca_bates_guernicas_divers/.

To read more blog entries from GUERNICA click HERE .

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4 comments for Rebecca Bates: On James Franco’s Palo Alto

  1. Comment by Anonymous on December 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I recommend you return to Heidegger as the above is an outstandingly bad characterization of his thoughts about boredom.

    Ultimately, situating Heidegger within the context of your description of Palo Alton is not only ineffective, but wrong. Dasein does not suffer and the express concern of inauthentic Dasein is to give a shit for the other by caring for the other, not this mere shrugging off of concerns for individual and interpersonal well being to which you ascribe.

    Furthermore, for Heidegger, the mood of boredom is not some insulated, singular episode of subjective, cognitive activity. This is because if Dasein is bored, then the perceptual, sensate experience that is defined as the world for us is also, and most importantly, bored. Therefore it seems that what is felt by these boys in their experiences is remote from any notion of Heideggerian boredom, aligned instead with some level of adolescent, albeit recalcitrant wonderment with the world in which they find themselves.

  2. Comment by Lacey Hudspeth on December 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Actually, her use of Heidegger is rather avant-garde. Dasein is Heidegger’s use for a being that has its own being as an issue. He uses the term “Dasein” instead of a human being or “self” because a a “Dasein” can only exist in relation to those around it. Moreover, because it has its “self” as an issue, its essence is not centered around the self, but around its existence.

    The relationship between Dasein and das man is that Dasein exists in relation to das man; this is so, because the das man is the “they” or the publicness. Dasein is thus constantly trying to live as an authentic being by facing its own most impossibility of existence, whereas the das man ignores this, thereby living an inauthentic life. Dasein is trying to live in angst, in relation to its freedom, and das man is living “together…as one”, ignoring their freedom and thus creating “averageness”.

    Although the term “boredom” might not be appropriate for Heidegger because Dasein cannot be both bored and authentic…there is certainly a sense in which Dasein can enter into a place of what Bates calls the “fuck-the-world-because-I’m-a-socially-maladapted-adolescent-on-the-brink-of-adulthood-and-I-think-I’m-going-through-like-an-existential-crisis kind of way.” And, this seems to be a logical conjunct of both boredom and angst, where one plays off of the other. When we consider the role teenagers in Palo Alto, they are precisely this. They stand against das man, and struggle with their own identity. Indeed, they have their own being as an issue. This is the depth of Dasein: it is overwhelmed by the possibilities of its impossibility.

    I suppose my question is not about Heidegger then per se, but rather about the self-reflectiveness of Franco’s characters?

  3. Comment by Rebecca Bates on December 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Guys, it’s Friday.

  4. Comment by Kelie on December 4, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Lacey: Your comment here reads as kind of a Existentialism 101 textbook explanation of Heidegger that I think Anonymous is trying to counter in their comment. It’s my understanding that for MH, inauthentic Dasein is not equated with boredom or apathy. We are all inauthentic Dasein for Heideggar, unless we are facing our own death.

    But seriously, the line “Heideggarian boredom,” albeit a pop understanding of Heideggar, is just one line in the piece…let’s all chill our dicks.

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