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Icarus to Lazarus (from academic footnotes to a leap of faith)

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academic-footsteps

For the 40th anniversary of the release of The Man Who Fell to Earth, I am revisiting my 2003 essay on the film and its themes of identity and difference. The work has been bfi-part-1through several iterations primarily because my aim was to find a way of rescuing Thomas Jerome Newton, the stranded and broken alien. Presented at three conferences, read by David Bowie himself and written as a chapter in the book David Bowie: Critical Perspectives (Routledge 2015), I have never considered myself fully finished with the work. This is partly because the stage play Lazarus (2015) by Enda Walsh and Bowie makes explicit those themes of rebirth I highlighted in the film. But also partly because my writing relies on some difficult theorising in order to argue against the film’s language which oppresses Newton. Some readers feel oppressed by academic language and footnotes.

A conversation between Bryce and Newton, set against the barren New Mexico desert sums 4kthis up. Bryce asks if there have been other visitors and Newton replies that he’s “seen their footsteps”.  For Bryce, a jaded academic, this is no kind of answer at all. “We’ve all seen them. That’s for theorists,” he insists. And that is where I realise my academic footsteps are too small, that if I want to leave my mark, I have to find bigger shoes. So this new version of my essay has more than just a new name (a name change that boasts the Lazarus connection): it is serialised and written in a less jargon-filled language, one accessible to all.

‘What’s in your mind?’ asks Bryce. And like Newton, I want to reassure you that I don’t want to hurt you with my theorising … it’s just a bit lonely out here in this academic hut. And now you come along …

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