Throwing Stones at Kubrick’s Shit House (From My Blog Fortress of Glass)

Throwing Stones at Kubrick’s Shit House of Cards:
(From My Blog Fortress of Glass)

It’s been just like old times around here lately, no? I rant about the philosophical/political implications of pop culture,  complain about Frank Miller, and get into drawn out discussions in comment-threads with Charles Reece (except that I never used to be able to hyperlink to the Holy Texan’s home)!

Our latest bone of contention? Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. See, Charles interprets the film as an uncompromising assault upon a certain tendency toward “moral management” and the instrumentalization of art/culture in modern liberal society (a kind of Orwellian/Chomskyan critique of fascistic/homogenizing media influence–with a dash of Foucauldian anti-institutionalism), while I see it as a thuggish celebration of aesthetics triumphant over intersubjective ethics–which is my working definition of “Fascism” as an historical phenomenon, from its Renaissance blueprint in Machiavelli’s Discourses (traveling under the deceptive name of “republicanism”) to its practical realization in Nazi Germany; built upon a (to me) naive (and dangerously aestheticized) conception of “Will.”

Charles’ analysis builds toward the following crescendo:

The film isn’t, therefore, a desensitizing excuse for violence based on a cynical view of society (although Kubrick was certainly a cynic). The violence demonstrates to the audience, like it does for Mr. Alexander, the need for free will in determining responsibility. Nor is the film a right-wing fantasy as other critics have maintained. When the government fails to contain the challenge Alex’s willfulness has proven to be to the ruling management theory, it does what managers do best, and makes a deal with him to maintain a semblance of control. If anything, the film is a civil libertarian parable warning of the dangers of our tendency towards bureaucracy, where treating every aspect of culture ( from people to morality to art) as mere means will ultimately serve to justify any choice, belief or action so long as it perpetuates the system itself.

This is good stuff, but does it tally with the film as I remember it?

Of course, you may recall that my work on Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme proceeded entirely from the assumption that a certain instrumentalization of culture is unavoidable, and, in fact, desirable (what, after all, are schools?). The true drama comes at the level of the “programmers,” if you will. Is foundation inevitably solipsistic? (with the proviso that even solipsism isn’t ever “simple,” because a “founder’s” consciousness is always founded upon something else).  And, if it is, is that any argument against it? Ultimately, I concluded that it isn’t “being brainwashed” that sticks  in our mental craws (we are ALL brainwashed–that’s what being a part of a culture means), it’s doing the brainwashing–and living with the predictable outcomes of that act–that we cannot face (and that, in fact, no one has ever been, or probably ever will be, crazily confident enough to enact in toto).

Given that backstory, I’m sure you can understand why I see a thing like Clockwork Orange as fatally compromised by its attachment to an untenable psychological model (i.e. the protagonist’s love of violence and Beethoven are twin aspects of his “REAL” nature). Alex’s easily-discernible environmentally-determined taste for the “ultraviolence” is no more “real” than the recessed cultural gene which tells him that “Ludwig Van” wrote beautiful music. In making this argument, I am by no means discounting the incredible power of the aesthetic experience, I am simply taking a stand against the sentimental notion that this experience can bring about an impossible alignment of the subjective and the objective realms. Of course it’s supposed to make you feel that way. That’s what we have these days, instead of god… but an aesthetically-enraptured hooligan is no more worthy of celebration than a divinely-enraptured one. Both are merely thugs enjoying a culturally-prescribed moment of euphoria–and neither is doing anything like “rising above/against” his/her cultural context.

Bonjour les amis!



One comment

  1. I think you’re both overdoing the theme statements in the classic “he wrote THIS so that he could impress everyone with THIS deep and soul-stirring thought.”

    You might want to check out what Nabokov says about intellectual statements of theme in his preface to LOLITA. I suspect that what’s true of him is true of Kubrick, too– that the story, not the theme, comes first.

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