Villains in Arts One Litterature

Recently I got a chance to read the newest book by one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. He’s generally writes creative non-fiction with a heavy emphasis on culture studies. His newest work, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Read and Imagined), explores how some villains and bad guys are depicted fictionally, but spends more time on how we treat/think about/craft real people publicly deemed to be “evil” (see: O.J. Simpson, Newt Gingrich, N.W.A.).

As the name might suggest, Klosterman also explores his own relation to villains. The preface closes with a conversation between Klosterman and his editor in which his editor suggests that Klosterman is writing the book because he’s concerned that he himself is a villainous person. Klosterman sort of addresses his editors suggestion at the end of the novel.

The Arts One texts I read while working my way through I Wear the Black Hat led to a kind of blending of ideas. Klosterman’s thesis is that a true villain is someone who knows the most but cares the least.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to apply Klosterman’s ideas to the villains we’ve encountered so far in the Arts One readings.

The villain in Genesis is kind of hard to pin down. The snake is probably the more obvious villain, however the entire story casts quite a bit of light on Klosterman’s theory The snake certainly knows quite a bit; he knows that the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden will grant Adam and Eve great power, but also that it will come at a price. He definitely cares the least in the story, showing little remorse in convincing Eve to eat the fruit. Inevitably, Adam and Eve gain the power of knowledge, and therefor the ability to be a villain – in some ways, Klosterman’s view falls within a very Christian notion of ethics.

Kreon, most likely the villain of Antigone’s speaks an awful lot to the structure of power and our own fear of radical change. He also fits very snugly into Klosterman’s criteria. He’s aware that Antigone is his niece, he’s aware that his son Haimond loves Antigone, and he’s aware of the laws restricting and supporting Antigone’s burial, but he cares the least, up until Tiresias’ prophecy at least. At the same time, Kreon’s position as upholder of state laws forces us to re-asses our allegiances to and faith in government.

The Devil, as presented in Dr. Faustus and The Master and the Margarita, is a far more complex character to work with, and I’ll touch on him just briefly. There are some definite inconsistencies between the character in the two plays, however I think that both are intrinsically linked to knowledge, and knowing. On the side of caring, the Devil in Dr. Faustus is more than a tool of Faustus’ moral transgressions than anything else. The Devil in The Master and The Margarita is incredibly interesting to me because he doesn’t seem to really do anything particularly bad: he predicts a death, but its ambiguous as to whether he causes it, he fools a lot of people, however its mostly their own greed that clouds their vision to the trickery, and it seems as though he’s actually punishing them for that. It’s difficult to call such a character a villain, and I think he’s outside of Klosterman’s criteria, because he’s a tool for a critique of Stalinism.

More important than the criteria for a villain, I Wear the Black Hat gathers significance in the literary realm in the way that Klosterman describe his own psychological interactions with villainy. Throughout the book, he argues that the way we think about villains says a lot more about us than we care to admit.

This brought me to explore the idea of a sort of “methodology of the villain” – by reading a text through the presentation and interactions of the villain, we can gather a very significant amount of meaning. This is a methodology I hope to employ (maybe half-seriously? I’m not sure how seriously I take this idea yet to be honest) in future readings for Arts One.


Whenever I read I’m often struck by similarities to other things I’ve seen/heard and sometimes I laugh a little bit at these moments. The people around me are usually pretty used to the sight/sound of me laughing randomly and sometimes they ask me what’s up. In the absence of people being around me while I’m at home and insist on reading quietly, here are some random thoughts I had on Antigone and Antigone’s Claim.

1. RECENT: Taylor.

“Indeed, consciousness seeks a retrieval of itself, only to recognize that there is no return from alterity to a former self but only a transfiguration premised on the impossibility of return.” (Butler 14)

On that page of Antigone’s Claim, I have a sticky note reading “TS: ‘I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it’”. The quote is a line from a song, “All Too Well”,  which she wrote about a relationship which, to my best knowledge, lasted about three months. With that in mind, the song sounds very serious and very sad. Under the lyric is an arrow and my own note: “you can never really go back”. This whole discussion in Antigone’s Claim about trying to go back comes out of one of Butler’s commentaries on Hegel’s work, which are always confusing because like a lot of other people (I would think), I’ve never read Hegel’s analysis of Antigone. Sometimes I find myself in situations where I’m reading a critique of something that I never even knew existed.

A little bit of what I remember from our last seminar which reminded me of this note is Miranda talked about splitting and seeing past versions of ourselves as permanent, with reference to post-structuralism. Naturally, having a brain stuffed full of irrelevant bits and bobs, I brought up Horcruxes.

Naturally, since this post is supposed to be about Antigone, how does she relate to all this? Honestly, I don’t know. The idea of going back is the only thing that jumped out to me in a passage that was otherwise bamboozling and more than a little reminiscent of something else that came up during the seminar: the feeling that at points in Antigone’s Claim, Butler (figuratively) pulls aside a group of people with deeper knowledge and goes, “by the way, here’s this little offshoot of interesting stuff”.

So, I guess, a little tip for Taylor (in case that she hasn’t already figured this out for herself, which I doubt): It’s okay. You can’t go back. Things don’t un-happen.


2. ANCIENT: Elizabeth.

Also on page 14 of Antigone’s claim is a sticky note reading “EB Browning poem”. Rather, this poem. This is in reference to the mentions of Lacan’s idea of “pure Being” (Butler 14, 48). Going back to #1, I think the first time I ever saw this poem was in a commentary about how weird the concept of loving someone for no reason is. How do you do that? I guess it’s one of those ideas that I’ve dismissed with, “Give it some time. I’ll understand it when I’m older”. I’ve dismissed a lot of ideas like this. It’s worked before. Still waiting on this poem, though. Maybe I should go outside more often.

Of course, any thoughts about Elizabeth Barrett Browning are probably accompanied with some nod to this poem. I remember reading this for English 10. This poem makes more sense to me now. I also remember our English 10 teacher talking about how every time you go back to this poem, it has some new or deeper meaning. She was right about many things.



The opening of the second chapter discusses the importance of making Kreon’s declaration heard (Butler 27). I thought about this for a bit before adding a note on page 29, in comparatively cramped writing, about something I read once on Joni Mitchell’s Wikipedia page about her writing and giving up her daughter for adoption. I’m not going to quote it, because it doesn’t seem to be cited, but I did just spend some time digging this relevant bit up from one of her interviews:

“When my daughter returned to me, the gift kind of went with it. The songwriting was almost like something I did while I was waiting for my daughter to come back.” (from here)

I think it helped me interpret Antigone’s rash behaviour a little better: she doesn’t have her family to talk to, so she doesn’t mind if everyone knows what she’s doing.


In closing, here’s a music video I like, which is also sort of related to what we’ve been reading lately. Thanks for reading, everyone.