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  • Edward Schizohands: The Postmodern Gothic Body
  • Russell A. Potter

A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world . . . while taking a stroll outdoors . . . he is in the mountains, amid falling snowflakes, with other gods or without any gods at all, without a family, without a father and a mother . . . .1

—Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

A schizophrenic out for a walk . . . thus Deleuze and Guattari frame the peripatetic, or as they would say, the nomadic position of their classic critique of Freud’s Oedipus complex. The world of this schizo subject is profoundly machine-made, “everything is a machine. Celestial machines, the stars or rainbows in the sky, alpine machines—all of them connected to those of the body.”2 And it is in just such a way that Edward Scissorhands, in Tim Burton’s film of the same name, enters the world; left alone and unfinished in the huge gothic mansion of his dead Inventor, not born but built, his only company other dusty machines, filling his days trimming intricate ornamental hedges with his bladed hands. And yet Edward’s own mark is that of the wound, for everything he touches is cut, severed, disjointed. In contrast, down below the mountain on which his mansion stands dwells a sedately postmodern collection of pastel-hued modular homes, each with its nuclear, Oedipal family, its pastel-hued automobile, and its well-watered, neatly manicured lawn.

And yet to simply construe Edward Scissorhands as an incarnation of Deleuze and Guattari’s schizo would be to do both texts an unwitting violence, for like the prose monolith of the Anti-Oedipus, Edward Scissorhands discloses a cut, a blade, that severs the very narrative and theoretical strands that would seem to hold it together; coming-apart is what they are all about. Just so Milton, in a moment of delirious excess, wrote Comes the blind Fury, with th’ abhorred shears And slits the thin-spun life.3 Edward’s hands, though, are not hands of fury but hands of desire, of a desire that inescapably wounds everything it embraces. In this sense, they might appear to be thoroughly Oedipal hands—if one reads the wound they inflict as the mark of castration. Yet this wound is deeper and wider, it is the social wound which bleeds out the deferred pain of a banalized generation, the stain under the plush beige carpet, the leak in the somnifacient waterbeds of a suburban existence so attenuated that it has become, in Baudrillard’s terms, a mere simulacrum of itself.

Television and film, of course, are replete with such plateaus, whether it is in the encapsulated fragments of America’s Funniest Home Videos or in the hyperreal simulations of the “holodeck” on board the starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yet Edward Scissorhands stands somehow apart, a strange territory where the passions lost in the kitschy planet of Suburbia U.S.A. are recovered via—what else?—the Gothic. With its visceral excesses, its gargoyles of blood and sensuality, the Gothic offers a perfect compensation for the dead historical machinations of the postmodern. Founded itself in a reconstruction of a past that never was, the Gothic does not re-enact history, but withstands it (and its loss). Tim Burton’s twist—and a brilliant one it is—is to conjoin this vividly baroque Gothic with the Industrial Gothic of Charlie Chaplain’s Modern Times, where men re-enact catatonically the stiff and jerky motions of the machines they service, and that service them. Like the nefarious automated feeding-machine that nearly drives Charlie to distraction, the principal of the Burtonesque (as of the Chaplinesque) machine is that it do less well something which could be done far more easily by hand. The Inventor’s early inventions, like his cookie-making assembly line, precisely re-enact this scene, breaking eggs and cutting cookies with overcharged zeal; Edward, lacking precisely hands, is himself a consummate machine, in that he does everything less well, except cutting. Therein lies his mad art, and with it, at least temporarily, he...

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