Download The Philosophy of David Cronenberg PDF

TitleThe Philosophy of David Cronenberg
PublisherThe University Press of Kentucky
ISBN 139780813136042
CategoryArts - Film
File Size1.5 MB
Total Pages233
Table of Contents
                            Front Cover
Title Page
Copyright Page
Part 1
The Fly and the Human: Ironies of Disgust
Tragedy and Terrible Beauty in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises
Cronenberg as Scientist: Antiessentialism, Sex as Remixing, and the View from Nowhere
What Happens to Brundle? Problems of Teleportation and Personal Identity in The Fly
Part 2
eXistenZial Angst
"Freaks of Nature:" Extrasensory Perception and the Paranormal in the Films of David Cronenberg
Deception and Disorder: Unraveling Cronenberg's Divided Minds
Psychological Determinism in the Films of David Cronenberg
Self-Creation, Identity, and Authenticity: A Study of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises
Part 3
The Fiction of Truth in Fiction: Some Reflections on Semantics and eXistenZ
Re(ct)ifying Empty Speech: Cronenberg and the Problem of the First Person
The Politics of Mad Science in The Fly and Dead Ringers
From "Impassioned Morality" to "Bloodless Agnosticism:" A Philosophy of David Cronenberg through the Burroughs/Ballard Axis
Series Page
Document Text Contents
Page 2


Page 116

Deception and Disorder 109

practical utility of delusions. And this reopens the issue of where we draw
the line in cases where we cannot trust our perception of reality. Allegra
Geller is the creator of the videogame that she enters and thus the instigator
of her own deception. She then appears to be deceived by it; but how is this
so? Is this a sophisticated way of conducting a “project” of self-deception?
Did she create eXistenZ as a vehicle of deception and then enter it? We
might think that people arrange their world in certain ways and that this is
a futuristic metaphor for self-deception of this kind. Th is question is further
complicated by whether she created the game-within-a-game transCendenZ,
as a self-deception within a self-deception. We cannot be sure. Consciously
motivated self-deceptive strategies may have some practical utility, but
where does this leave our desire for honesty—both in ourselves and in our
relationships? Freud once said that “being entirely honest with oneself is a
good exercise.”43 Th is might be true in an ideal world. Th e Tom Stall mask
clearly creates a better world for Joey Cusack for a while, but the problem is
that his previous identity eventually catches up with him. Freud’s view raises
the question of whether such honesty is realistic: aft er all, as the tagline for
A History of Violence says, “Everyone’s Got Something to Hide.”


Th anks to Sophie Archer, Fern Day, Liam Ennis, Anna Ferguson, Craig French, Poly
Pantelides, Terry Rhodes, Jill Riches, Suzanne Riches, and Jasmine Synnott for comments
and suggestions on earlier draft s.

1. For a good introduction to the history of asylums, see Roy Porter, Madness: A Brief
History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). For further analysis, see Michel Foucault,
A History of Madness (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), and Erving Goff man, Asylums: Essays on
the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (London: Penguin, 1997).

2. Unlike the inhabitants of Shivers (who are not Hollywood zombies of the “living
dead” type anyway), distinctively “philosophical zombies” (as they are known), which
are supposedly physical replicas of humans but lacking phenomenal consciousness,
have been much debated in philosophy of mind thought experiments because they raise
important questions for understanding human consciousness. See Robert Kirk, “Zom-
bies,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

3. On another level, it is clearly possible to argue that Cronenberg is satirizing a
certain kind of genre cinema, and deliberately caricaturing insanity in an attempt to
subvert the stereotype. Even with this level acknowledged, it is the general depiction of
insanity that I will focus on in this chapter.

4. René Descartes, Philosophical Writings, trans. and ed. Elizabeth Anscombe and
Peter Th omas Geach (London: Nelson’s, 1975).

Page 117

110 Simon Riches

5. I adopt the convention of italicizing for fi lm titles such as Spider, eXistenZ,
and Videodrome, but not italicizing for Spider the character, eXistenZ the game, and
Videodrome the TV show.

6. As Cronenberg’s fi rst original screenplay aft er Videodrome, eXistenZ resumed the
earlier fi lm’s theme of the distinction between appearance and reality. For more on this
development, see Cronenberg scholar William Beard’s Th e Artist as Monster: Th e Cin-
ema of David Cronenberg, rev. and expanded ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
2006), 424. Interestingly, 1999 was Hollywood’s year of radical skepticism. Beard com-
pares eXistenZ to a spate of fi lms released in 1999 that deal with the skeptical scenario:
Dark City, Th e Matrix, and Th e Th irteenth Floor. He makes the interesting point given
the present discussion that “those fi lms, together with a couple of other contemporary
artifi cial-reality movies such as Pleasantville and Th e Truman Show (both 1998), are a
striking refl ection of the anxieties felt by American culture at the end of the twentieth
century about the loss of authenticity and the omnipresence of simulations” (424).

7. Richard Bentall, Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature (London:
Penguin, 2004), 481–83.

8. Bentall, Madness Explained, 204.
9. In what follows, I interchange between “he” and “she,” as and when appropriate.
10. Jonathan Glover, I: Th e Philosophy and Psychology of Personal Identity (London:

Penguin, 1991), 28.
11. David Pears, “Motivated Irrationality, Freudian Th eory and Cognitive Disso-

nance,” in Philosophical Essays on Freud, ed. R. A. Wollheim and J. Hopkins (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1982), 264–88.

12. See Alfred R. Mele, “Self-Deception,” Philosophical Quarterly 33 (1983): 365–77,
and Irrationality: An Essay on Akrasia, Self-Deception and Self-Control (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1987).

13. For instance, at the Adolf Eichmann trial, which began in 1961, political theorist
Hannah Arendt famously observed what she regarded as “the banality of evil.” See Han-
nah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (London: Penguin,
2006). As it appeared to Arendt, Eichmann’s Nazi crimes were somehow at odds with
his ordinariness, his banality. With the Nazi crimes in mind, Yale psychologist Stanley
Milgram’s experiments, which also began in 1961, showed how obedient ordinary people
could be in the face of authority, even if this meant that they were asked to perform
awful acts like severely harming others. See Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority:
An Experimental View (New York: HarperPerennial, 1974).

14. Plato, Th e Republic, trans. H. D. P. Lee (London: Penguin, 1955), and Phaedrus,
trans. R. Hackforth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

15. Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (New York:
Norton, 1964), 73.

16. Donald Davidson, “Deception and Division,” in Problems of Rationality (Oxford:
Clarendon, 2004), 211.

17. Donald Davidson, “Paradoxes of Irrationality,” in Problems of Rationality, 185.
18. Davidson, “Paradoxes of Irrationality,” 171.

Page 232

Th e Philosophy of Popular Culture

Th e books published in the Philosophy of Popular Culture series will illu-
minate and explore philosophical themes and ideas that occur in popular
culture. Th e goal of this series is to demonstrate how philosophical inquiry
has been reinvigorated by increased scholarly interest in the intersection of
popular culture and philosophy, as well as to explore through philosophical
analysis beloved modes of entertainment, such as movies, TV shows, and
music. Philosophical concepts will be made accessible to the general reader
through examples in popular culture. Th is series seeks to publish both es-
tablished and emerging scholars who will engage a major area of popular
culture for philosophical interpretation and examine the philosophical
underpinnings of its themes. Eschewing ephemeral trends of philosophi-
cal and cultural theory, authors will establish and elaborate on connections
between traditional philosophical ideas from important thinkers and the
ever-expanding world of popular culture.


Mark T. Conard, Marymount Manhattan College, NY

Th e Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick, edited by Jerold J. Abrams
Football and Philosophy, edited by Michael W. Austin
Tennis and Philosophy, edited by David Baggett
Th e Philosophy of Film Noir, edited by Mark T. Conard
Th e Philosophy of Martin Scorsese, edited by Mark T. Conard
Th e Philosophy of Neo-Noir, edited by Mark T. Conard
Th e Philosophy of Spike Lee, edited by Mark T. Conard
Th e Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, edited by Mark T. Conard
Th e Philosophy of David Lynch, edited by William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman
Th e Philosophy of the Beats, edited by Sharin N. Elkholy
Th e Philosophy of Horror, edited by Th omas Fahy
Th e Philosophy of Th e X-Files, edited by Dean A. Kowalski
Steven Spielberg and Philosophy, edited by Dean A. Kowalski
Th e Philosophy of Joss Whedon, edited by Dean A. Kowalski and S. Evan Kreider
Th e Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman, edited by David LaRocca
Th e Philosophy of the Western, edited by Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki
Th e Olympics and Philosophy, edited by Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin
Th e Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, edited by Steven M. Sanders
Th e Philosophy of TV Noir, edited by Steven M. Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble
Basketball and Philosophy, edited by Jerry L. Walls and Gregory Bassham
Golf and Philosophy, edited by Andy Wible

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