Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Riches, Simon, Ed.: The Philosophy of David Cronenberg

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Riches, Simon, Ed.: The Philosophy of David Cronenberg

Article excerpt

Riches, Simon, ed. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2012. 215 pp. Cloth. ISBN 978-0-8131-3604-2. $40.

Cronenberg is one of the most versatile auteurs working in cinema today, which is why a book dedicated to his work is a welcome arrival. Cronenberg's significance as a filmmaker lies more in his role in pioneering "body horror" and his generic flexibility, which prove his talent, than in his commercial success. Simon Riches has curated this collection of essays in an ever-popular series of books that explores the philosophical ramifications of different popular culture artifacts.

The Philosophy of David Cronenberg has three sections: "Body Horror and Bodily Transformations," which provides a home for four essays; "Psychology, Skepticism, and the Self," which has five essays; and "Words and Worldviews," which has four essays. The first section deals with issues of identity and body horror as a challenge to the mind/body dichotomy in philosophy. The second section continues to probe the theme of identity, but more in relation to psychological issues and the philosophy of mind. The last section relates Cronenberg's films to important literary narratives. There is a brief introduction by Riches, as well as an index. Simon Riches has done an admirable job of collecting work that should appeal to both a general audience and an academic audience. It should be noted, however, that some of the essays actually attempt to delineate the philosophy of the director, while other authors use his films as a springboard for a discussion of philosophic topics.

The first essay in the collection is entitled "The Fly and the Human: Ironies of Disgust" by Colin McGinn. What follows, however, is a not very convincing amalgam of the philosophy of experience (lebensphilosophie) and semiotics. In it, Colin McGinn takes advantage of the recent surge in work on affect to discuss the choice of the fly as the organism that hybridizes with the human in the film. Unfortunately, his explanation of attitudes towards flies and their metonymic associations tends towards the normative and redundant. And in focusing so narrowly on the one film, the larger philosophy of Cronenberg with regards to disgust is left nebulous.

While there are a couple of very strong essays in the first section, including Cynthia Freeland's "Tragedy and Terrible Beauty in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises" and "What Happens to Brundle? Problems of Teleportation and Personal Identity in The Fly" by Paul F. Snowden, the section actually has relatively little to say about the human body and its transformations as compared to the issue of identity. Cynthia Freeland's introduction to her examination of two of Cronenberg's most popular films is strong: it paints some broad strokes to contextualize the films she discusses in his overall oeuvre. Furthermore, she very aptly draws upon Aristotle's aesthetic categories, especially recognition and reversal (anagnorisis and catastrophe), to discuss the two films. The main philosophical theme that links this first section is the mind/ body problematic charted by Descartes among others, and identity straddles both sides of this dichotomy. While Snowden discusses only The Fly, he does it in such a careful manner I cannot help but respect the elegant trajectory of his reason. He concludes in a rather contrarian but convincing manner that David Cronenberg is not a particularly philosophical filmmaker.

Peter Ludlow's contribution "Cronenberg as Scientist: Antiessentialism, Sex as Remixing, and the View from Nowhere," deals with several films including The Fly, Existenz, and Videodrome. While other critics have examined Cronenberg in the context of literary studies--especially with regard to the adaptations of J. G. Ballard's Crash and William Burroughs' Naked Lunch--Ludlow reappraises his work in the context of science. Ludlow identifies the very important stance of anti-essentialism in Cronenberg's films and re-positions Cronenberg as a scientist. …

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