3 Disney Songs Considered

Edmund Hardy

"Where are the people?"

"I just don't see how a world which makes such wonderful things... could be bad." Ariel's chamber of sea-swallowed treasure is a material index with no access to the world it is the index of. This chamber is the teenager's bedroom, full of significant objects which stand in for a world of experience. Growing up will mean leaving this room, voyaging out or up - "I want to be where the people are". The voyaging out towards the people supposes that among others - among all of the others - is where reality lies. Or something easily substitutable for reality, or which 'points' to it, or which 'represents' it, to use William James' taxonomy from his essay 'The Essence of Humanism'. The song and its crystallised longing is directly parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut as "Up there!", sung by Satan in hell.

Ariel's desire is for a different way of framing, which is what the idea of the people points to. "I want to know what the people know, ask them my questions and get some answers..." Perhaps we can hear a mournful ethnographer singing along. "Wish I could be part of that world".

"Resurrection is a sense of direction"

Finding resurrection in all the old forms, this song's location is in the transition between the two zones of spirit and life, the two codes which continually translate and redeem each other, organising the realities of a world which stream back and forth in time. Spirit extends into matter in the form of a cathedral, a site where the translations into and back from life can occur, or can be at their most dynamic. But a dualism can also freeze over, fall into abeyance - the force of the world's interests and instrumentalities ("I ask for glory to shine on my name") diminishes the spirit, such that only a glorious shell remains. It takes a Disney heroine to bring life back to life, in relation to spirit - someone who says "I ask for nothing". The goat who appears in the cathedral at the close of the song shows us that the translation between the great codes has been resumed, "content" given back to the old forms, a life free among the stones. This is a form of resurrection which HD's Trilogy also asserts: "This is the flowering of the rod,/this is the flowering of the burnt-out wood". The Goat of the Absolute is both life and spirit, it gambols across the zones.

"On the side of speech"

The reluctance to speak a form of words - a form which may strike their sayer as too bossy, too ready-made for the intricacies of states felt to be interior and fragile, a straight repetition of past failure and thus constrictive of the self's desire to remake and be open to experience - this reluctance is also a withdrawal from the fabulating drive of language, backed here by the classical archive: Hercules with his hand out to grab onto, doo-wop's neoclassical chorus. What would a mythless love be, or a politics without story? What a strange speech-act, to place yourself in a fable ("This scene won't play"), even if the words sound to their bearer as if they're spoken by someone else. But this very hesitancy to speak, in the case of this song, is a guarantee of the statement's eventual, renewed veracity.

With your points about the little mermaid in mind, it is interesting and provocative to consider that when Ariel 'surfaces' she does so without a voice, she is silenced by the plot, by the octopus whose tentacles stretch metaphorically around her throat. She can not ask the questions that would help situate her in relation to the 'other' people. Interesting to that she mourns not just because of this, but because she can not communicate with the man (prince, lord?) which she is bound to love (commune with). So, although we might think the silence as representative of a kind of resistance to the ethnographer, a check on any uncritical desire to enter into another frame of reference, it is this silence (if my memory serves me) that intrigues her man, and further helps them to fall in love. Yet, as a mermaid, 'under the sea', she is an inter-special hybrid, above the sea her identity is fixed as is her species, the resistance in silence is betrayed and she comes into voice when she becomes firmly set within a new frame of reference.
Steve w.
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