"Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."
In Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and his brothers have a run in with the Cowboys, an organized pack of gangsters who end up killing one of Wyatt's brothers. In the aftermath, Wyatt goes on a rampage, hunting down every Cowboy and killing him.
In one scene, he seems to overcome all possible odds through sheer will, walking into the open to shoot and kill the Cowboys who shoot at him from the safety of cover. One of Wyatt's cohorts can't believe what he's just seen. To make sense of it — to make sense of such an extreme display of will, to explain what looks like madness — this cohort says, "Well, if they were my brothers, I'd want revenge, too."
To which Doc Holliday, a man beyond good and evil, replies: "Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."
A reckoning can seem like revenge in that it can be read as the settling of a debt — and, as Nietzsche taught, debt is guilt and guilt is revenge. But I think there is a more interesting way to make sense of a reckoning, the way I think Holliday means it in this instance. A reckoning is a calculating of one's position within a situation and taking the necessary steps, doing what needs to be done, not just coming to terms but settling that which needs settling.
If revenge is a confrontation with another, reckoning is a confrontation with life itself and one's place in it. Acting out of revenge exhausts one's energy — after all, he who seeks revenge spends all his energy thinking about and going after someone else. What a waste. A reckoning, however, is a revitalization of one's energy, a shifting of alignment into a place of great fecundity, of great power.
Look at Wyatt Earp in Tombstone. He's married to a junky he doesn't love. He tries to be a good man, a proper man, earning money for his wife and family. But after his brother is killed by the Cowboys, it's as if he wakes up. He sheds his wife and bourgeois propriety and enters the wild — the wilds of killing, the wilds of uncertainty, the wilds of potential poverty, the wilds of love. Where he was once not just introverted but involuted, closed in on himself, he is now extroverted, exuding vitality.
A reckoning is an inflection point, a juncture, a turning, a transformative moment that redirects one's flow of energy. A reckoning shifts the very terms of the apparatus: it is a metabolic realignment.
The brilliant Breaking Bad is the portrait of a reckoning. When Walter White is given his diagnosis of cancer, he realizes that the very manner in which he lives is literally killing him. He is a weak man. Nice, maybe, but he does little that fuels his health. His teaching is his only thread to life, giving him a flow to his passion, chemistry. Otherwise, every tic, every decision, every move he makes siphons his vitality.
He presumably begins to cook meth because he wants to leave money for his family after he's dead. But that turns out just to be a spark that ignites his reckoning, his coming into his power: the show tracks his metabolic transformation, the realigning of his energy distributions.
A reckoning is messy as it disrupts flows long established. Reckoning is painful and loud (even if silent) and sends ripples through the network as this node affects others — Wyatt's wife, Walt's family.
And it can look like revenge. But just as Wyatt does not kill the Cowboys out of revenge, Walt does not beats this asshole kid in the store out of revenge. He's not exhausting his energy: he's igniting it. Revenge is ugly, always. Reckoning, on the other hand, even though violent and even grotesque, is beautiful.
“De Sade insists that for passion to become energy it has to be compressed, it must function at one remove by passing through a necessary phase of insensibility; then its full potentiality will be realized.”
“Crime is more important than lewdness; crimes committed in cold blood are greater than crimes carried out in the heat of the moment; but the crime ‘committed when the sensitive part has been hardened, that dark and secret crime is the most important of all because it is the act of a soul which having destroyed everything within itself (it’s ego) has accumulated immense strength, and this can be completely indentified with the acts of total destruction soon to come’.”
These are the lines that I found in one of Bataille’s chapters, which he had dedicated exclusively to De Sade. I believe your idea of reckoning is the same as his understating of De Sade. I love his critique on De Sade’s “sovereign man”- the true criminal who burns himself in pleasure (violence) to the point where he burns his own soul, and thus destroys his capacity to feel any pleasure or pain. Such is the true criminal, who after spending his time reckoning, surpasses his own meek self, and thus commits crimes fearlessly.
Thank you so much for your articles. They truly help me understand certain things!
This was really nice man. I really like the take on Tombstone - that was always one of my favorite movies growing up and me and my friends still recite lines.
What I love about Breaking Bad is that I'm drawn to something really enigmatic. I don't really like the characters - well I like Jessie and I liked Gus's right-hand man - and sort of Gus. Okay, so well, yeah I like some of the characters.
But what draws me to the show isn't character - it's narrative. The narrative is beautiful and always surprising - like reading a Barthelme story.
I wrote about this a few months ago - me and a couple buddies were comparing it to Dexter - basically just because we like both shows. And through the conversation it became obvious that the narrative to Dexter is rarely surprising - though there are always "shocking" moments. But I was Dexter because I like the characters - I love Bautista - he's a bro. But the seasons of Dexter follow a formula - it goes strong for about 5 episodes - spins its wheels for about 3 episodes - and then ends with a bang. But you always know who will end up on Dexter's table at the end of the season.
Breaking Bad isn't like that. Every season I'm constantly made uncomfortable because I don't know where it's going. Perhaps that is the nature of a reckoning.
Excellent call on the Bataille! I've been revisiting him as of late and you are spot fucking on. But I have to admit that Bataille still scares me a bit: his demand, I fear, is exceeds me (in every sense).
As for the messiness of BB< look at this blog from friends of mine: http://vinylisheavy.blogspot.com/2011/12/bang-bang-jenny-stewart.html
I agree with you. I can see how his demands are sort of terrorizing, maybe unrealistic. But I see his point. And then when I keep that particular point in view, which he keeps stressing in his chapters, I see why he talks about violence and Sade like he does. With him, there is a whole language of desire, the inner, hidden movement within us which is nothing but a force of life. And that force of life phenomenaolizes itself fully in the extreme moments, moments that are silent, moments in which the erotic is at it’s highest point, moments in which violence (the desire to murder someone) is at its highest point, moments in which the desire to live, to the point where death is visible, is at it’s highest point -The point where differences collide with one another; where paradoxes reveal, where the sacred world shows itself (the world which the profane world conceals!) That’s the point where man realizes that he lives, and that very realization that he experiences, at the same time, makes him experience his death as well! Because life and death, and all the opposites and paradoxes are always already woven together, but we rational men, who have the narrowest vision of all, fail to see this eternal balance of the opposites!
How Heraclitean of him! How wonderful! These pre-Socratics are indeed brilliant! The most human species on this planet!
This is really beautiful — the best rendering of Bataille I've read, at once descriptive and performative.
Awesome post. Very informative and i like the examples given
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