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The Philosophy of David Cronenberg

The Philosophy of David Cronenberg

Edited by Simon Riches
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of David Cronenberg
    Book Description:

    Initially regarded as a cult figure with a strong following amongst sci-fi and horror film fans, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg emerged as a major and commercially viable film director with mainstream hits such as A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). With his unique ability to present imagery that is both disturbing and provocative, Cronenberg creates striking films, noteworthy not just for their cinematic beauty but also for the philosophical questions they raise.

    The Philosophy of David Cronenberg examines Cronenberg's body of work, from his breakthrough Scanners (1981) through his most recognizable films such as The Fly (1986) and more recent works. Editor Simon Riches and a collaboration of scholars introduce the filmmaker's horrific storylines and psychologically salient themes that reveal his pioneering use of the concept of "body horror," as well as his continued aim to satirize the modern misuse of science and technology. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg also explores the mutation of self, authenticity and the human mind, as well as language and worldviews. While Cronenberg's films have moved from small-market cult classics to mainstream successes, his intriguing visions of humanity and the self endure.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3617-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Simon Riches

    There can be no doubt that the widely renowned and influential Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg (1943–) has produced a diverse contribution to modern cinema. With his propensity to create imagery that is at once disturbing and provocative, Cronenberg has come to mainstream prominence with a striking collection of films. There were the breakthrough shockers, likeShivers(1975) andScanners(1981); subversive media critiques, likeVideodrome(1983); and mainstream hits, likeThe Fly(1986), which were both horrifying and appealing in equal measure. These early films revealed Cronenberg’s pioneering employment of the concept of “body horror,” but perhaps more significantly,...

  4. Part 1. Body Horror and Bodily Transformation

    • The Fly and the Human: Ironies of Disgust
      (pp. 9-23)
      Colin McGinn

      Different animal species evoke distinctive emotional reactions in human beings. On the positive side, we feel affection, admiration, attraction, and aesthetic pleasure. On the negative side, we feel fear, contempt, revulsion, and aesthetic displeasure. Pandas, elephants, whales, cats, dogs, birds, butterflies, turtles, and kangaroos are examples that tend to fall on the positive side. Sharks, bears, worms, rats, mice, spiders, bacteria, bats, snakes, mosquitoes, and lice are apt to fall on the negative side. With some animals we smile; with others we shudder. Toward a small minority (or is it a majority?) we feel something like envy: this is particularly...

    • Tragedy and Terrible Beauty in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises
      (pp. 24-35)
      Cynthia Freeland

      Many of David Cronenberg’s films highlight, and even relish, images of violence done to the human body. Heads explode and parasites crawl around under people’s skin. A man develops a vaginal opening in his abdomen, a sexy woman is equipped with a knifelike appendage under her arm, a pregnant woman births multiple freakish mutant babies. In Cronenberg’s films, the body develops new orifices or abilities to engage in physical relations with the rest of the world, in ways that are often shocking and disgusting. InCrash(1996) the characters find sexual fascination with wounds and scars created by automobile parts...

    • Cronenberg as Scientist: Antiessentialism, Sex as Remixing, and the View from Nowhere
      (pp. 36-52)
      Peter Ludlow

      Much of the writing on Cronenberg’s work has focused on his literary influences and the literary quality of his screenplays.¹ And to be sure, Cronenberg has spoken of being deeply influenced by writers J. G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, and Henry Miller, among others.² There is less attention paid to the fact that Cronenberg began his undergraduate career in the sciences (with a special interest in biochemistry) at the University of Toronto. Of this, Cronenberg once said:

      If I had stayed the course, I would have been in biochemistry. I was never interested in hardware sciences. Chemistry was more interesting...

    • What Happens to Brundle? Problems of Teleportation and Personal Identity in The Fly
      (pp. 53-66)
      Paul F. Snowdon

      What is there inThe Fly(1986) of interest to philosophy? Sometimes films deliberately aim to stimulate philosophical reflection by manifestly engaging with philosophical themes. I will argue thatThe Flydoes not do that Rather, philosophy engages withThe Flywhen we stand back from our natural involvement in, and reaction to, the plot and ask what sense, if any, can be made of the story. Considering the plot brings us face to face with two large philosophical debates. The result of this encounter is that it is very difficult to say what happens inThe Fly;in particular,...

  5. Part 2. Psychology, Skepticism, and the Self

    • eXistenZial Angst
      (pp. 69-76)
      Duncan Pritchard

      One of the key motifs of David Cronenberg’s filmeXistenZ(1999) is the idea that one might not be able to tell the difference between appearance and reality. This is conveyed in the film in terms of the protagonists—Ted Pikul (Jude Law) and Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh)—being progressively unable to be sure they aren’t inside the game they are playing, rather than in the real world. Although the circumstances in play in the film are of course highly unusual, and very distinct from normal circumstances, there is a general philosophical difficulty at issue here—indeed, it is...

    • “Freaks of Nature”: Extrasensory Perception and the Paranormal in the Films of David Cronenberg
      (pp. 77-90)
      Keith Allen

      Extrasensory perception (ESP)—the ability to gain knowledge of the world by paranormal (literally, “beyond normal”) means—features in a number of David Cronenberg’s films. Cronenberg’s first feature film,Stereo(1969), is a documentary-style art-house film about experiments into telepathic powers conducted by the Canadian Academy for Erotic Enquiry. The film is set in a brutalist concrete building and shot entirely in black and white, without an accompanying soundtrack (just a series of clinical voice-overs). It follows eight subjects who have had the speech-processing centers of their brains surgically removed (two have also had their larynxes removed) to enhance their...

    • Deception and Disorder: Unraveling Cronenberg’s Divided Minds
      (pp. 91-112)
      Simon Riches

      Amid a growing sense of paranoia and fear, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) sprints back from work to save his wife and children from the horror that might ensue when ruthless gangster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his henchmen arrive at his home. On his arrival, he realizes his panic is a false alarm triggered by the events from a day earlier when he apprehended two mobsters at his diner, and he remarks, with plausible exasperation, “I think I’m losing my mind.” By this point in the story, viewers ofA History of Violence(2005) can already see that a strange...

    • Psychological Determinism in the Films of David Cronenberg
      (pp. 113-124)
      Daniel Shaw

      One of the most fruitful ways to interpret a film philosophically is to explore what it has to say about a fundamental issue in the discipline. My intent here is to survey the films of David Cronenberg with two questions in mind: (1) Do his films reflect a deterministic view of human nature, or is he an advocate of human freedom? and (2) Does his oeuvre embody a consistent position on this issue, or does his position vary from film to film?

      I begin by offering an in-depth analysis of what, to my mind, is Cronenberg’s masterpiece,Dead Ringers(1988)....

    • Self-Creation, Identity, and Authenticity: A Study of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises
      (pp. 125-140)
      Daniel Moseley

      David Cronenberg’s early work in science fiction and horror may seem to bear only a faint similarity toA History of Violence(2005) andEastern Promises(2007). These later films broaden Cronenberg’s repertoire into the genres of action and gangster movies. However, there are important thematic continuities between these films and his earlier films. Cronenberg’s work continuously explores questions about the nature of the self and the relation of the self to the human body:Shivers(1975),The Brood(1979),Scanners(1981),Videodrome(1983), andThe Fly(1986) all raise challenging philosophical questions about personal identity. It is helpful to...

  6. Part 3. Words and Worldviews

    • The Fiction of Truth in Fiction: Some Reflections on Semantics and eXistenZ
      (pp. 143-154)
      Graham Stevens

      It is a fact that Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the part of a character called Allegra Geller in David Cronenberg’s filmeXistenZ(1999). It is a fact that Jude Law plays a character called Ted Pikul in the same film.Withinthe fictioneXistenZ,however, neither Geller nor Pikul is played by anyone, for according to the fiction, these characters are real, existing people, not fictional characters portrayed by actors. What is the case in fiction is not generally the case in fact. But a fiction presents things as factwithinthat fiction. That Allegra Geller exists is not a...

    • Re(ct)ifying Empty Speech: Cronenberg and the Problem of the First Person
      (pp. 155-174)
      Brook W. R. Pearson

      The life of a moviegoer is not always as simple as it seems, particularly when we step into the world of David Cronenberg. Like Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons) inDead Ringers(1988), we can experience in ourselves a desire to dominate and control the films’ interpretations, fashioning instruments for ourselves to allow access to their mysteries; at other times we become enmeshed in their narratives, sinking into them until it is difficult to determine where we end and the filmic reality begins. Our William Lee (Peter Weller) fingers mesh with our Clark Nova; we ingest the drug and fall under...

    • The Politics of Mad Science in The Fly and Dead Ringers
      (pp. 175-196)
      R. Barton Palmer

      Surely the most provocative recent study of director-screenwriter David Cronenberg’s varied cinematic oeuvre is Mark Browning’sDavid Cronenberg: Author or Filmmaker?¹ Although Browning never definitively answers the question posed in the book’s title, his assessment is that the most useful approach to Cronenberg’s filmmaking is through a complex web of literary intertexts, the other works to which his films refer and that they often remake or recycle, ranging from those authors whose works the writer-director has adapted for the screen (notably J. G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, and Patrick McGrath, each a practitioner of what we might call scandalous modernism)...

    • From “Impassioned Morality” to “Bloodless Agnosticism”: A Philosophy of David Cronenberg through the Burroughs/Ballard Axis
      (pp. 197-216)
      Jones Irwin

      In this essay I will provide an analysis of the vision that lies behind two key films in the Cronenberg canon,Crash(1996) andNaked Lunch(1991), so as to open up a macroanalysis of the philosophical themes that provide a framework for Cronenberg’s enigmatic art. I will explore such themes as the relationship between the social and the individual, the experience of mortality, the nature of artistic integrity, and the distinction between morality and immorality. Cronenberg has professed a long-standing obsession with William S. Burroughs as a writer (and figure of cultural myth);¹ and Burroughs’s subversive approach to existence...

  7. List of Contributors
    (pp. 217-220)
  8. Index
    (pp. 221-224)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-226)