Download Cinematic Body (Theory Out Of Bounds) PDF

TitleCinematic Body (Theory Out Of Bounds)
PublisherUniv Of Minnesota Press
ISBN 139780816622948
CategoryArts - Film
File Size11.3 MB
Total Pages292
Table of Contents
I: Film Theory and Visual Fascination
	Appendix: Deleuze and Guattari's Theory of Sexuality
II: Contagious Allegories: George Romero
III: Comedies of Abjection: Jerry Lewis
IV: Bodies of Fear: David Cronenberg
V: Masculinity, Spectacle, and the Body of Querelle
VI: Warhol's Bodies
VII: A Note on Bresson
VIII: Conclusions
Document Text Contents
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The Cinematic Body

Page 146

1 3 2 , 3

critical misunderstanding. Cronenberg's films have been the target of the most
violent polemics. The usually perceptive Robin Wood, for instance, regards them
with unqualified loathing; he sees them as expressing a hatred of the body and a
rabid fear of sexual difference and sexual liberation (Wood 1985, 216-17; to be
fair, I must note that Wood eliminated this entire passage when he rewrote the
article for his book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, 1986). Wood is correct in
apprehending that there is no Utopian moment, no vision of redemption, no escape
from the ambivalent pressures of monstrosity, in these films. But he is wrong in
therefore categorizing them as reactionary and defensive. As Cronenberg has said,
"I have to tell people that some of the things they think are repulsive in my films
are meant to be repulsive, yes, but there's a beautiful aspect to them as well.
There's true beauty in some things that others find repulsive" (in Rodley 1992,
66). Wood simply misses this beauty, just as he fails to grasp the political implica-
tions of Cronenberg's extreme literalism. To foreground the monstrosity of the
body is to refuse the pacifying lures of specular idealization.

By insisting on the gross palpability of the flesh, and by height-
ening (instead of minimizing) our culture's pervasive discomfort with materiality,
Cronenberg opposes the way in which dominant cinema captures, polices, and
regulates desire, precisely by providing sanitized models of its fulfillment. Shivers
(They Came from Within\ in which a phallic/excremental parasite transforms the
inhabitants of a chic condominium into a band of violent, frenzied erotomaniacs, is
not (as Wood argues) a paranoid rejection of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Its
mood is one of dark comedy rather than unqualified repulsion. There's a certain
"glee," as Cronenberg has put it, in the way in which the film tears apart "bour-
geois ideas of morality and sexuality" (in Rodley 1992, 50). It is not Cronenberg
but Wood who responds to the sexual monstrosity in which the film revels with
phobic disgust, and who regards this monstrosity as an objection to the life of the

B o d i e s o f F e a r : D a v i d C r o n e n b e r g

Page 147

body. Shivers does not adopt such a phobic position; its own investments are
entirely on the side of shock and spectacle. Everything is at once hideous and
hilarious, from the gory apparition of the parasitic creature in the bathtub to the
zombielike 1960s orgy in the swimming pool at the end. The film neither idealizes
nor condemns these transgressive movements of physical violation and orgiastic
excess. If anything, it slyly suggests that the 1960s bourgeois sexual "revolution" in
fact merely reproduces the aggressive, hysterical logic of a commodified and com-
petitive society. Transgression is not transcendence.

Cronenberg is thus equally skeptical of "left-Freudian" visions
of personal and social liberation through the lifting of repression, and of right-
wing claims that desire must always be repressed because it is inherently evil and
disruptive. These positions are, in fact, mirror images of one another. They both
posit a soul, an originary human essence—whether good or evil—and ignore the
shady complicity that always already contaminates desire with the regulation and
repression of desire. Humanist visions of unlimited freedom and conservative
visions of original sin (or of inevitable limits) both strive to reject monstrosity, to
deny the violent ambivalence of bodily passion. Harmonious Utopian projections
and anxious defenses of the status quo alike betray a continuing need to idealize, a
panic in the face of excesses of the flesh. Both ideologies are trying to transcend
the anxiety and insecurity implicit in the state of being a body.

Scanners: The Politics of the Body
Conversely, a refusal of these myths of transcendence is at the heart of Cronen-
berg's politics of the body. His films remind us that everything is implanted
directly in the flesh. There is no getting away from the monstrosity of the body, or
from the violence with which it is transformed, because there is no essential

Page 291

Silverman, Kaja, 13, 20, S3; on Fassbinder, 167-68, 177,
180, 190, 196, on Lacanian theory of lack, 16-17, 34,
259; on masochism, 57-59, 196

simulation, 5, 36,138,208, 230-31; as physical process of
production, 18-19, 120-21, 203, 233-35; as postmod-
ern conditon, 9,120-21, 166-67,201-3, 233-35

Singin' in the Rain (Donen), 42
Sirk, Douglas, 162, 166
Sleep (Warhol), 210, 214,216
Smith, Adam, 67-68
Sontag, Susan, 241, 244
Spinoza, Baruch, 130, 257-58
Steinberg, Leo, 229
Sternberg, Josef von, 4
Studlar, Gaylyn, 57-59,116
stupidity, 208-10
Symbolic order, 15-16, 22-23, 47, 70-72, 74, 77,143

Tashlin, Frank, 117, 121
Taussig, Michael, 52-53, 87
Tavel, Ronald, 226
Terror at the Opera (Argento), 49-50, 61

Thomas, Robert, 228

Three on a Couch (Lewis), 122
Three Stooges, 109
transgression, failure of, 6, 134, 161, 179
Trash (Morrissey), 210, 216, 218,223
Two or Three Things I Know about Her (Godard), 29-30

Vertov, Dziga, 30-32, 39-42
Videodrome (Cronenberg), 138-44

Warhol, Andy, 18-20, 25, 36, 38, 201-39, 241-43, 245,

Watney, Simon, 229
Weekend (Godard), 28-30
West, Mae, 226
Whale, James, 61
Which Way to the Front? (Lewis), 122
Who V Minding the Store? (Tashlin), 117
Williams, Linda, 13, 20-22, 62
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 205, 235, 237, 266
Wollen, Peter, 216
Wood, Robin, 133,145^6

Page 292

Steven Shaviro
is associate professor of English

and comparative literature at the University of Washington.
He is the author of

Passion and Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory (1990)
and of several articles on the politics of difference,

libidinal economy,
and theories of sexuality.

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