Welcome to Hamilton. Population: 505,000. Who knew?
I recently embarked on a weekend road trip to Hamilton in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. Together, we were visiting an old elementary school comrade who is enrolled at McMaster and studies ArtScience, an academic paradox nearly as perplexing as McMaster itself, which is an attractive, reputable University situated in this blue-collar, smog-filled capital of Canadian steel. Of course, as a Carleton alumnus, I’m still puzzling over my chosen phrase “attractive, reputable University.”
If you want to enjoy an evening in downtown Hamilton, with some nightlife akin to Ottawa’s Byward Market, Montreal’s Rue St. Laurent, Halifax’s “pizza corner” and Toronto’s Toronto, then you’re out of luck. However, they do have the Hess Village, a very cute little area which amounts to, at best, a couple of blocks. Here we did see some compulsory student nightlife – frat boys trying to outdrink each other, frightfully underdressed bleached-blonde girls screaming into cell phones, and the like. But certainly, we did not see an abundance of youthful stupidity. The problem, my ArtSci friend tells me, is that downtown Hamilton is neither close enough nor interesting enough to McMaster students to encourage the desire to go there regularly. It serves as an adventurous alternative, to be taken only rarely. The student population generally sticks to their own bars and clubs, located either on campus or in the student ghetto.
In the Hess Village, we plopped down in the “Che Burrito and Lounge,” a curious place dedicated to the late revolutionary, motorcycle diarist and apparently burrito enthusiast. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to eat any of the famous burritos. There we were, a Humanities graduate, two artsy ArtSci students, and a Human Kinetics student. We immediately began a discussion concerning psychological trauma and its implications within the original Star Wars film. My ArtSci friend declared that the destruction of Alderaan (and the subsequent disturbance in the Force) had always troubled him greatly. Specifically, it was the reaction of Princess Leia that troubled him. Leia bears witness to the terrifying destruction of her home planet in a matter of instants, and yet she rarely seems disturbed by it during the remainder of Episode IV, and indeed, throughout the remainder of the trilogy. This is not something we can simply brush aside and blame on Carrie Fisher’s bad acting. My friend argued that, in truth, the act of bearing witness to the destruction of one’s own planet would be beyond traumatic – it would be nothing less than mind-collapsing. In that instant, he opined, Leia witnesses the obliteration of the entire world to which she had been conditioned, and therefore, the obliteration of her personal frame of reference.
In retrospect, I realize that my friend was attempting, either consciously or unconsciously, to invoke some of Hannah Arendt’s general opening remarks in The Human Condition, which I know he had been reading at some point. Following Arendt, “men are conditioned beings because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of their existence.” (pg. 9). Leia’s homeworld, which provided all of the context for conditioning much of her life, is destroyed. And let’s not forget, let’s NOT forget, that the destruction of Alderaan constitutes a great disturbance in the Force, and that said Force runs strong in Leia’s family, regardless of whether she knows it or not (somehow, she’s always known). Thankfully for Princess Leia, Arendt is quick to point out that human beings are not only conditioned by their natural environment, but by everything that they create as well. And while Alderaan has ceased to exist, the Corellian Corvette is still very real, as are Grand Moff Tarkin’s unusually high cheekbones.
I responded to my friend by agreeing that something about that part of the film had always troubled me. I recalled that the destruction of Alderaan is mentioned again later in the film, when Commander Willard expresses his relief that she is safe: “when we heard about Alderaan, we feared the worst.” Apparently, the mass genocide of two billion innocents and the utter annihilation of a peaceful, idyllic planet is not “the worst.” The subject of world-obliteration, however, called to my mind Girard’s speculations on the effects of torture affected upon the human subject. But I won’t trouble you with the idle speculation of a Frenchman. You know what they say about a Frenchman: all of his henchmen are Frenchmen.
So yeah, Hamilton’s pretty good I guess.