Reading Michael Cimino's the Deer Hunter: Interpretation as Melting Pot

By Burke, Frank | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 1992 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Reading Michael Cimino's the Deer Hunter: Interpretation as Melting Pot


Burke, Frank, Literature/Film Quarterly


I

Race, gender, and ethnicity often tend to function in contrasting modes within a postmodern/poststructuralist climate. On the one hand, marginalized groups seeking cultural definition and political power focus on things such as finding out who they are, defining themselves apart from dominant culture, forming a single, coherent sociocultural (hence political) unit. These are relatively essentialist activities, presuming the possibility of stable and fixed entities or conditions (self, dominant culture, unity, coherence, singularity, and so on). On the other hand, analyses of race, gender, and ethnicity-especially from a poststructuralist perspective-tend to emphasize the instability of all three terms and of any essences to which the terms presumably relate.1 Bridging and, at the same time, distinguishing both modes is the notion of "difference." Cultural definition demands that the formation, traditions, and needs of one race, gender, or ethnic group be perceived as "different" and unique-and be acknowledged as such by other groups, dominant culture, the political system, etc. This kind of "difference" is, however, designed to affirm a kind of foundational "identity"-a self-sameness within a group which grounds it and makes it what it is. Poststructuralist analysis emphasizes a "difference" that is beyond identity, beyond grounding, because it results from a dynamic cultural and political process of signification and resignification-a ceaseless play of "differing" and "deferring." For Henry Louis Gates. Jr., "Race" is a term always in quotation marks-"a trope of ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief systems which-more often than not-also have fundamentally opposed economic interests. Race is the ultimate trope of difference because it is so very arbitrary in its application."2 As Susan Bordo notes, "for some feminist literary theorists, gender has become a 'discursive formation,' inherently unstable and continually self-deconstructing. The meaning of gender is constantly 'deferred,' endlessly multiple."3 Anthony Julian Tamburri notes that "pertinent to a recent discourse on ethnic recovery ... is the notion that ethnicity is not a fixed essence passed down from one generation to the next,"4 and Michael M.J. Fischer claims that "ethnicity is something reinvented and reinterpreted in each generation by each individual."5

The "difference" in these "differences" is fundamental to discussions of the politics of race, gender, and ethnicity, particularly in poststructuralist discourse. If everything exists solely in an endless system of play or signification, where does political agency come in? How do subjects-whether individual or collective-bring about change? And, if power itself is just an effect of signification and difference, how do subjects access power or alter the relations of power in society? There seems to be the need for some essentializing activity, provisional though it may be: the consolidation, on a site- and issue-specific basis, of definitive (albeit quasi-fictional) unities-e.g., interest groups-as sources of political agency and efficacy. Identity (individual or group) can itself be seen as precisely this kind of provisional, ceaseless, quasi-fictional process of consolidation (and dissolution) which at moments approximates-yet in the long run radically differs from-essentialist forms of selfhood.

While the politics of difference is a crucial contemporary issue, it is not the focal point of this essay. Rather, I am concerned with the way in which narrative and/or conventional forms of narrative criticism can efface both types of difference discussed above: fixing the play of meanings so that interpretation settles on a single, totalizing, and abstract interpretation to a text. In the case of The Deer Hunter, this process of abstraction deprives an ethnic group of its cultural difference. In the parlance of American culture, we might term this the "melting pot" approach to meaning.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reading Michael Cimino's the Deer Hunter: Interpretation as Melting Pot
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.