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28:06:42:12: ho nyn kairos Or: The Time That is Left to the Teenage Messiah an Interpretation of Donnie Darko

28:06:42:12: ho nyn kairos Or: The Time That is Left to the Teenage Messiah an Interpretation of Donnie Darko

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Published by Rowan G Tepper
To be read shaken, not stirred.

More to the matter at hand, these are a few guidelines that should be kept in mind while reading this essay. First, as a matter of critical principle, I regard this film, like all films, works of art and texts, as a text divorced from its author. While there may be an intended meaning, the task for interpretation is not to discover this meaning. Just ask the author if you’re concerned with authorial intent. Second, the categories used herein are drawn from all areas of the philosophical tradition, however, I am drawing most significantly upon Benjamin, Agamben, Nietzsche and Heidegger. I will attempt to thematize my interpretation in terms of these thinkers, however, undoubtedly many possible connections that I do not address.

Comments and discussion are welcomed. [Note (23 February 2011): Having decisively turned away from Heidegger and the phenomenological tradition, I am uneasy about making this essay public. Nevertheless, as my first formulation of the kairos problematic this thought-piece was my point of departure.]
To be read shaken, not stirred.

More to the matter at hand, these are a few guidelines that should be kept in mind while reading this essay. First, as a matter of critical principle, I regard this film, like all films, works of art and texts, as a text divorced from its author. While there may be an intended meaning, the task for interpretation is not to discover this meaning. Just ask the author if you’re concerned with authorial intent. Second, the categories used herein are drawn from all areas of the philosophical tradition, however, I am drawing most significantly upon Benjamin, Agamben, Nietzsche and Heidegger. I will attempt to thematize my interpretation in terms of these thinkers, however, undoubtedly many possible connections that I do not address.

Comments and discussion are welcomed. [Note (23 February 2011): Having decisively turned away from Heidegger and the phenomenological tradition, I am uneasy about making this essay public. Nevertheless, as my first formulation of the kairos problematic this thought-piece was my point of departure.]

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Published by: Rowan G Tepper on Feb 24, 2011
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28:06:42:12:
ho nyn kairos
or: the time that is left to the teenage Messiah
an interpretation of Donnie Darko Rowan G. TepperWritten: 12 November 2004
 Instructions for Use 
To be read shaken, not stirred. More to the matter at hand, these are a few guidelines that should be kept in mind whilereading this essay. First, as a matter of critical principle, I regard this film, like all films,works of art and texts, as a text divorced from its author. While there may be an intendedmeaning, the task for interpretation is not to discover this meaning. Just ask the author if 
you’re concerned with authorial intent. Second, the categories used herein are drawn
from all areas of the philosophical tradition, however, I am drawing most significantlyupon Benjamin, Agamben, Nietzsche and Heidegger. I will attempt to thematize myinterpretation in terms of these thinkers, however, undoubtedly many possibleconnections that I do not address. Comments and discussion are welcomed. [Note (23 February 2011): Having decisivelyturned away from Heidegger and the phenomenological tradition, I am uneasy aboutmaking this essay public. Nevertheless, as my first formulation of the
kairos
problematicthis thought-piece was my point of departure.]  
Finitude and Concealment: The Dialectic of Authenticity and Inauthenticity
 Shortly after the opening of Donnie Darko, we see a brief shot of a sign for theHalloween Carnival. This seemingly innocuous and inconsequential sign sets the social/ cultural framework in which the film takes place. Halloween carnivals were theinventions of people concerned with the moral implications of celebrating Halloween, anoriginally pagan holiday. Halloween carnivals were invented to shunt celebration of theholiday into a controlled form that most importantly detracted from the amount of celebration on Halloween itself. This is suggestive of the nature of the inauthentic,
“they”
-pole of the dialectic of Authenticity in the film. This is to say that the thrown,fallen world in which the film is set is a society greatly concerned with propriety andmorality, a society exemplified in the false messianic figure Jim Cunningham.
1
To this 
1
One should note the initials, J.C., a symbol that, nigh universal in western literature, is seldomused unintentionally or with other intent than connoting a messianic figure. In this aspect then, the symbolis here used ironically.
 
extreme figure  of inauthenticity is opposed the character of Donnie Darko, one to whomauthentic experience in the Heideggerian sense is most proper and inescapable. Indeed,
one could argue that Donnie’s entire experience in the course of the film is dominated by
the mood that Heidegger describes as
Angst 
, a dread without specific object, which is,however, revelatory of Being, or of the truth of being. In a similar manner, I propose, thecharacters of Frank and Roberta Sparrow are opposed, being instead opposing aspects of 
“god”, the finite, negative and destructive as opposed to the infinite, positive and
redemptive. Thus, in the film we have a dialectic of authenticity and inauthenticity,concealment and un-concealment. However, if the world is largely inauthentic and thisinauthenticity constitutes itself as a concealment, what is concealed in the inauthenticityof the they? Precisely that which is revealed to Donnie, i.e. human and cosmic finitude,revealed through Frank, the figure of human and divine finitude. This finitude is revealed
as the radical solitude of being unto death, the fact that “everyone dies alone”. Thi
s
solitude is radically opposed to the “being
-
with” of the inauthentic. Authentic being
-unto-death tears us from the company of the they and throws us into an intimate relation with
oneself and with ones own finitude “If the sky were to suddenly open up, t
here would
only be you and your thoughts, your memories and the choices you’ve made, there wouldbe no law, just you…” This is precisely that which “everyone” conceals from themselves
in everyday existence, this is what the false positivity of the false messiah wishes to coverover. He urges us to eradicate and overcome fear, while fear is a necessary onticmodification of the ontological angst which colours our existence in the experience of being unto death. The false messiah essentially urges us to render ourselves foreverincapable of authenticity. Thus Donnie is rendered forever incapable of inauthenticity by
his constant proximity to the experience of radical finitude; and in following Frank’s
instructions, he works to shatter the calm complacency of the inauthentic world. 
Cosmic Finitude/Messianic Time
  
As insinuated by this essay’s title, the time proclaimed to Donnie by Frank that
indicates the time of the end of the world should be seen not as a chronological interval,but as the time in which it takes the world to come to an end. This end should not,however, be seen in the customary apocalyptic sense. This end should be seen in light of 
 
Walter Benajmin’s
On The Concept of History
, in which Benjamin describes theredeemed world as not another world, but this world only with a slight alteration. I assertthat this slight alteration between worlds in the Benjaminian sense is the life of DonnieDarko himself. The death of Donnie Darko is to the outside world but an instant, but tohim, it takes four weeks and six hours. These durations correspond despite their disparatedurations, for according to Giorgio Agamben, messianic time is characterized as acontracted time, time no longer in the regular chronological mode.
2
As such, we canconstrue the entire
duration of the film’s events one “now”, and as one moment, in the
sense of the term
Augenblick 
in Nietzsche and Heidegger as opposed to
Moment 
.
3
  
In this “messianic interval”, Donnie is in dialectical opposition to the everyday
world and Jim Cunningham. He must negate them because of his own experience of radical finitude and thus his authenticity; he cannot slip back into being with othersanymore than he ever was with others. Furthermore, Frank, the specter of finitude and thenegativity of the cosmos, prevents any slippage back on his part. His actions indeedattempt to draw the world into an authentic experience, however, this always is halted,
there’s always a blockage, a stopping
-short.This blockage and stopping short is exemplified by the repetition of a car nearly
hitting Roberta Sparrow, the interference of Frank in the discovery of Donnie’s activities,
etc. Thus, on both sides of the dialectic of Authenticity a blockage occurs, and it is
Donnie’s task to remove this blockage. The removal of th
is blockage can be seen as themessianic event and the difference between the two
aions
. This is suggested by the finalmoving tableau of people awake in bed, seemingly startled, upset or in tears. That whichis intimated there is that in the moment corresponding to the entire prior duration of thefilm, each character has an experience of authentic being toward death, notably even thefalse messiah, to whom it seems to have the most impact. Thus, in the end, the messianicevent is accomplished and the dialectical standstill ended. Thus, the world has ended, andyet it continues. 
2
 
Giorgio Agamben, “The Time that is Left” in
Epoche
Volume 7, Issue 1 (Fall 2002), 1-14. This issuggested in the film by the increasing frequency of screens indicating the date and the amount of time leftof 
the “messianic interval”.
 
3
Thus the significance of the affirmations of existence expressed by Donnie and Gretchen. If theduration is considered to be the
Augenblick 
of the Eternal Recurrence or the
Augenblick 
of authentic time,then these affirmations acquire an entirely new stratum of significance, and this interpretation is furthered
by Donnie’s speech about “Destruction as a form of creation,” with it’s Niezschean
-Dionysian overtones.

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