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  • Anti-Oedipus:The Ethics of Performance and Misrecognition in Matsumoto Toshio’s Funeral Parade of Roses
  • James Phillips (bio)

A story goes that the king of Scythia had a highly-bred mare, and that all her foals were splendid; that wishing to mate the best of the young males with the mother, he had him brought to the stall for the purpose; that the young horse declined; that, after the mother’s head had been concealed in a wrapper he, in ignorance, had intercourse; and that, when immediately afterwards the wrapper was removed and the head of the mare was rendered visible, the young horse ran away and hurled himself down a precipice.

(Aristotle, History of Animals 631a1-8)

If Oedipus Rex moves a modern audience no less than it did the contemporary Greek one, the explanation can only be that its effect does not lie in the contrast between destiny and human will, but is to be looked for in the particular nature of the material on which the contrast is exemplified. […] His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours – because the oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that that is so. King Oedipus, who slew his father Laïus and married his mother Jocasta, merely shows us the fulfilment of our own childhood wishes. […] Like Oedipus, we live in ignorance of these wishes, repugnant to morality, which have been forced upon us by Nature, and after their revelation we may all of us well seek to close our eyes to the scenes of our childhood.

(Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams)

The atmosphere of the planet Uranus is said to be so heavy that the ferns there are creepers; the animals drag along, crushed by the weight of the gases. I want to mingle with these humiliated creatures which are always on their bellies. If metempsychosis should grant me a new dwelling place, I choose that forlorn planet. I inhabit it with the convicts of my race.

(Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal) [End Page 33]

Something is awry in Matsumoto Toshio’s contemporary retelling of the Oedipus legend in Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no sōretsu, 1969). The catastrophe in which Eddie blinds himself with a knife is an act that foregoes a preceding moment of Aristotelian tragic recognition. The truth of Oedipus as the intolerable realization of incestuous unions with a parent cannot be said to have broken in upon Eddie. What survives of the legend in being transposed to the subcultural Tokyo of Shinjuku’s bar scene is external performance. Freud’s universalization of Oedipus’s predicament is treated, in one respect, with an exaggerated literalness: not only is the presence of incestuous desires acknowledged as a phenomenon of psychical life, but the unwitting homosexual incest between Eddie (Peter) and his estranged father Gonda (Tsuchiya Yoshio) furthermore issues in the son’s self-blinding. But whereas the actor playing Eddie ostensibly steps out of character to discuss the Oedipal dimension of the relationship in an interview within the film, Eddie himself is denied the evidence on which to convict himself of incest. The myth of Oedipus is hollowed out, with its sequence of actions transformed into a ceremony whose meaning has grown opaque. Since the punishment no longer stands in corrective antithesis to the transgression, it is a violence with no claims other than to the spectacular: blood streaming from his now sightless eyes, Eddie feels his way fittingly out into the street where a crowd gawks at him, recalling the crowd that looks on in bewilderment at the performance artists’ happening earlier in the film.

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Figure 1.

Oedipus is not a private tragedy in Matsumoto Toshio’s Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no sōretsu, 1969).

[End Page 34]

A question to which Funeral Parade of Roses gives rise asks: Can there be an ethics and a politics to superficiality? There is...


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pp. 33-48
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