In a prior post, I referred to the films of Richard Linklater as “logocentric,” by which I mean – in a good way – that no matter how visual Linklater’s films may be, they are fundamentally word-centered. (The same could be said of Godard’s.)
The term is appropriated from the late Columbia professor, literary theorist, and cultural critic, Edward Said (Orientalism), who used it to describe any texts, e.g. the writings of Joyce, Beckett, and Eliot, in which the word (the logos) is accorded an almost mystical significance or centrality. A Scanner Darkly, book and film, is logocentric, but certainly no more so than 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. In FranÃ§ois Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451, the camera lingers with fetishistic intensity on images of burning books and of words going up in smoke. The same film ends with characters becoming “living books.”
One of Professor Said’s favorite examples of a logocentric text was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In Heart of Darkness, seaman Marlow travels downriver, through a jungle of dense verbiage, to locate the mysterious Mr. Kurtz. Throughout most of the tale, all we know about Kurtz is what is said about him – the words others use to describe him. By the time Marlow finally reaches Kurtz at the jungle’s heart, there is hardly anything left of the man but a mouth voicing the words, “the horror … the horror.”
Orson Welles famously chose Heart of Darkness as the first project he wanted to make after being given his initial “dream contract” at the RKO studio. (You can listen to Welles’s radio adaptations of Heart of Darkness and other stories here.) When the Heart of Darkness project aborted, Welles went on to make Citizen Kane, whose central character also ends his life as little more than a mouth, in this instance voicing the word, “Rosebud.” Welles liked to blame the Rosebud concept on his screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz – who most likely came up with the particular word that was used – but the idea of a man’s life being reduced to (defined by) a single logos was in all probability Welles’s, by way of Conrad.
ADDENDUM (6/21/06): For more on logocentric radio drama, click here.