Becoming All of the Above: Madness and Trauma in the Characters of Christian Bale

a map of the mind . by April Durham . 5 October 2012

This project is a hypertext map of becoming-mad in the Guattari-Deleuzian sense of that activity. It began when watching Dark Knight and a friend of mine mentioned that he found a paranoid schizophrenic subcharacter to resemble Bruce Wayne. Then I was thinking about Christian Bale as a superhero and I just kept seeing him as a serial killer in American Psycho and I made a mental comparison of Batman and Bateman the name of the character in American Psycho. Expanding this line of thought, I realized that most of Bale’s films, since he was 13 years old, have involved his playing pathological characters, some more severely affected than others.

I’ve been interested for some time in challenging the visual and semantic structures we use to build up meaning, because I find them to be very limiting. Specifically, I have been focusing on the way that language that is supposed to make sense, is oppressive. Applying something like Jean-Louis Comolli’s apparatus theory to language structures, I have been working on challenging semantic “rational” sense-making toward a semantics of affective logics which I have coined as Gothic Logic. The space of Gothic Logic necessarily entertains entwined logics, multiple orders of time and reality, and an insistence on the space to be out of sync with accepted wisdom, common-sense, linear thinking, and Aristotelian logic while at the same time engaging in rigorous and thoughtful, subtle and expansive thinking-being action.

So I wanted to work with the way these films, where Christian Bale is the star, use pathology and its “cure” or resolution to drive the narrative and the characterization of the Bale protagonists, to propose a range of possibilities, including but not limited to the ones that conclude the films. In other words, to explore how is the madness of Bale’s characters functioning and what might it do in addition? While I have a grave respect for Trauma Theory and its serious investigation of the horrors of modern life, I am interested in honoring difficulty rather than eliminating or curing it. Never minimizing the very real pain involved in mental or physical illness and it’s vast and difficult repercussions in the life of the sufferer and his or her family members, I am curious about the possibility of allowing madness to give voice in an arena that exists alongside that of the curative or recuperative.

So I built a web map of Bale’s characterization/embodiment of a range of mad and frightening characters. From Jim in Empire of the Sun, to Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, I explore the embodiment and resonances of pathological mental states, including those that appear to be good or noble (like Jim or Batman) but in fact are reflections of the disintegration of social and subject structures brought on by the traumas of war and imprisonment, or late capitalism and shifting ethical paradigms.

By way of introduction to the web-map, I would like to mention that part of this inquiry into semantic and visual mechanisms involves messing up linear progress through a text. So I want you to have to start, browse around, peer in to various windows and frames, and then go back again to one or more windows to continue the path of inquiry or to start again and go a different direction. It is intended to be slightly confusing and rather awkward, in that navigation is not keyed to intuitive moves we are used to making when navigating websites in 2012. There should be enough strangeness that you feel a little pain while engaging with it but not so much that you will just get frustrated and leave the game altogether. The idea here again is to confound expectations but leave something familiar, a memory of something known, that allows for moments of rest but that require you to move on. The model is based on Deleuze and Guattari’s orchid (that draws the insect) and wasp (which pollinates the flower) to evoke an exchange that is constantly changing the terms of identity discourse, embodiment, and even thinking structures.