An interesting project for a sociology of knowledge occurred to me: Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds have done a fine job in my view in laying some foundations for an argument that something like an "interpretive community" (Stanley Fish's term) came into being around the Cyberculture Research Unit at Warwick University. With the inspiration of Sadie Plant and Nick Land, this "way of seeing" has spread out into the blogosphere, in addition to other manifestations (electronic music etc). Some of what I have to say here amounts to a kind of extension of an earlier post on this blog on the topic of "cultural journalism".
I don't wish to imply, with my [above] qualification, that this typifies the only possible response, so before getting to why I raise the issue in a posting ostensibly concerned with Ballard and technotheory, I can draw another distinction here. I think it unwise to lapse, other than when they are blatantly at issue , into discussion of personal motivations, so I believe the adoption of said approach by other critics in the blogosphere can be safely disregarded:
Perhaps the only part worth engaging with in the [above] link, has to do with the question of how to appraise the associated avant garde politics. Assessing the possible degree of truth in the satire might be a task that would benefit through comparison with the long standing critical exchanges between sociology and cultural studies. Perhaps one indicator of a search for a mediated position, which avoids the tar pits of a much older sociology of culture, is the formation of the new Sage journal Cultural Sociology. But this example also causes me to cast my mind back to the questions of disciplinary identity and politics, as they relate to interpretive communities. The one that most fascinates me has to do with the proximity of CRU to Steve Fuller at Warwick University; Fuller is a leading figure in Science Studies, and a known critic of Science and Technology Studies, especially in its most popular non-normative form of Actor Network Theory. In the absence of any published commentary by either party, my hypothesis is that Fuller's attitude toward the CRU would, in principle, be something like the position of "the intellectual" featured in the dialogue with a philosopher in his book "The Intellectual" (but see also the older posting on Acheron on "flexible fascism"). My feeling is that there is a story here waiting to be told, particularly as Fuller is increasingly trying to insert himself into debates ocurring in forums outside of the academy (witness, for example, his prominence in the "intelligent design" debate, on radio, assorted websites etc).
It can be no straight forward matter however of assuming apriori that one knows what constitutes "politics", and that a history of "British poststructuralism" could precede in the manner of Colin McCabe's (if I recall correctly) historical teleology, however much one might think such an exercise could tell us a great deal about the prominence of the journal Screen, as preparing the ground for the later cultivation of Lacan as pop philosopher, most notably in the form of Zizek. But this is hardly the only way of framing the Lacanian reading strategy. Reservations are also expressed by self-proclaimed post-structuralists and postmodernists of various stripes. For them, it simply will not do to propound Lacanian positions, when it might be said that Zizek, and their numerous clones and epigones, are themselves the paramnesiac symptom of a "body machine complex". This has to do in part then with reservations about the Lacanian reading method as being dependent upon an opposition between symbol and materiality. Lacanians, in this view, are simply a hindrance in coming to grips with the realities of technoculture, particularly its ascendant forms of power. This is a critique which is extended by posthumanists, who draw upon Deleuze and Guattari, and Luhmann, in an effort to move beyond the restrictions of an oedipalised subjectivity. Of interest to this blog's mission statement, this extends to consideration of forging new forms of interaction with non-human others, not least animals.
And then there is also, as alluded to in the reference to the "body machine complex", the consideration of human interactivity with technology, from the most mundane levels of tool use up to and including the crafting of new forms of subjectivity.
This introduction would seem to have finally brought this post up to speed on its foregrounding of the Ballardian chronotope. I am left wondering if it too needs to thought in terms of the limitations of "a paramnesiac symptom", and if the application of Lacanian procedures to his work [uncritically] confirms these limitations? On these grounds I raised the possibility of exploring a "circuit breaker" of the usual Lacan/Baurdrillard/Bataille lineup with Simon Sellars, the administrator of the Ballardian site (a thumbnail preview of which appears here):
Perhaps derridata and I might be able to collaborate on this project some day. Until such a time, I've posted for reference an excerpt from a feminist technotheoretical perspective here. It is too early to say whether, if the time comes, our response would diverge in any significant ways from this piece. But I am known to be paranoid about interesting material disappearing from the web before I have had a chance to follow it up, so a hefty sampling follows. The same principle applies to the resources on electronic music which appears below (and who is to say at this embryonic stage that no crossover in theoretical concern could take place?).
So firstly, here is the link for the interesting piece which deals, in part, with Cronenberg's adaptation of Ballard's "Crash", which argues that the film is deeply misogynistic:
"David Cronenberg’s allegiance to body culture is useful in illustrating how the man/machine interface affects the way female characters are portrayed in popular culture or cinema.For the purpose of this study, two of his films that I consider of paramount importance in investigating the representation or the treatment of women in science fiction and future noir texts, as they capture the paranoia about the insertion or invasion of machine/scientific experimentation into a human body, are The Fly and Crash. I would argue that whereas The Fly falls into the category of science fiction/horror hybrid, Crash is a future noir film. Famously (or notoriously?) dubbed as ‘ “King of Venereal Horror”, “the Baron of Blood”, and “Dave ‘Deprave’ Cronenberg’”,75 Cronenberg’s fascination with the human body is regularly epitomised by his films like Shivers, Videodrome, Rabid, The Fly and Crash. Critics of these films label him the master of body rupture and transformation, observing that he creates images that are truly the ‘most shocking, perverse, disgusting and truly inventive scenes of horror and bodily mayhem ever conceived for the cinema’.76 Indisputably an auteur, Cronenberg’s oeuvre is tied together by his interest in dissecting a human body that has been torn asunder, investigated and sometimes contaminated: in the case of Shivers, by excretory-like parasites. The genres’ different ideological frames consequently affect the meanings attached to the representation of the female characters especially at the level of ideological symbolism, which are vividly dramatised by these films – The Fly and Crash. I will be using them to demonstrate how the fundamental difference in ontological uncertainties moves the latter into the future noir territory. These uncertainties indeed are their most potent forces.
Whereas The Fly falls within the realm of the science fiction/horror hybrid, Crash is a future noir text in which the atmospherically bleak world is chaotic; ‘human beings’ struggle to find new meanings in their relationships with machines, culminating in the inescapable human/machine interface. What this suggests is that, unlike The Fly’s ending that is subliminally cathartic, Crash is sombre and cold throughout, sans peur et sans reproche, denying any purgation of the (audience and characters’) emotions. Likewise, although their interests in the interception of the machine by/in the human body are somewhat similar, the watershed lies in the ontological uncertainty of future noir that focuses on the interest in the way the female characters are represented. The films’ ontological instabilities, moreover, are drawn from the different metaphor that the interface represents, influenced in turn by the hybridity of the genres themselves. The fusion of science fiction and the gothic horror in The Fly is characteristically prevalent in the making of a tragic and melancholic hero (Although Cronenberg himself claims that The Fly is a metaphor for the ageing process and denies the idea that it is intended as an AIDS metaphor77), the film’s romantic angle is a chrysalis from which the treatment of the female character can be divulged, whereby, according to Chris Rodley, we see the film’s ‘triumph of love story over special effects’.78 Arguably, Crash, which is adopted into a film from one of J.G. Ballard’s novels, retains the future noir elements of the original text by combining science fiction elements with noir pessimism and inescapable fatalism – a postmodern hybrid. This bleakness may be a result of two authorial visions: Martin Barker, Jane Arthurs and Ramaswati Harindranath argue that Crash ‘is a very self-conscious film […] very evidently formed out of a combination of the visions of J.G. Ballard and David Cronenberg’.79 This is concurred with by Cronenberg who observes that ‘the sci-fi-ness [of Crash], comes from [J.G.] Ballard anticipating a future pathological psychology’,80 a vision that he himself tries to accomplish. This shared bleak vision of the future world engendered by psychopathology is the embodiment of noir’s vision of postmodern nightmare. Therefore, embedded in both films’ ideological differences are their ontological conflicts that offer different ways of reading the female characters. In other words, the portrayal of the female characters in The Fly and Crash as ‘hopeless romantic’ is also emblematic of the genres’ reaction towards Western culture’s interest in investigating a female body, sexuality, and subjectivity; and this is referred analogously to the human/machine interface.
One of the strategies employed in The Fly involves locating the metaphor of the interface in the ‘spatialisation’ of a female body. As an exploitable space, it is both intriguing and threatening, signifying the films’ inherent curiosity about the female body; thus, treating it like an object of investigation. There is no denying that the ‘spatialisation’ of a female body marks a new cultural attitude towards the human body itself; it is, however, mostly characterised by the pejorative representation of a female body as a landscape to be explored, manipulated, and ‘tamed’, but ultimately replaceable or dispensable. In David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) declares to Ronnie (Geena Davis), “What I am working on? I am working on something that will change the world and human life as we know it”. The ideological significance of Brundle’s experiment is embodied in the womb-like teleports, which in turn carry a bifurcate metaphor: In one sense, the teleports’ role, notwithstanding the fact that the fly’s being trapped in one of the teleports is purely an accidental circumstance, is to ‘reproduce’, taking away a woman’s unique ability to reproduce. When the teleports turn into a ‘gene splicer’, it creates a new breed of being - Brundlefly. The teleports in effect function as a mother’s womb and Brundlefly is its progeny. At one stage of the film, in encouraging Ronnie to experiment with the teleports, Brundle claims that ‘It makes you feel sexy’. It is sexy because the teleports ‘are’, for him, a female body that can be penetrated and analysed, the centre of his unique invention and exploration. Therefore, to a certain extent, Cronenberg’s The Fly can be seen as the modern reworking of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in which the ‘scientific request is described in terms of sexual aggression against (female) nature’.81 The teleports in effect represent everything that is associated with a female body or a castrated mother: a symbol of fertility, fatal, evil, and mysteriously seductive; hence is required by patriarchy to be annihilated or controlled.
The Fly also manifests the paranoia of technological invention gone wrong, whilst simultaneously placing the female body at the centre of the chaos. ‘Locating horror in the body’, argues John Costello, ‘is therefore logical, with no spiritual battleground of “good” versus “evil”, and no promise of afterlife’.82 Costello’s argument is rather problematic, partly due to him eschewing a human body as a cultural site, making it a gradual yet incessant construct. Notwithstanding that, his view of the body as a site for horror gives prominence to the body as an abject essence, a site where ‘cultural abomination’ is finally personified. To a great extent, this is explained by Mike Merrin, who quoted Cronenberg’s talking about ‘the AIDS epidemic […] and asked the interviewer to see it from the point of view of the virus’,83 highlighting his tendency to dig deep beneath the surface of representation. Apparently, for Brundle, ‘I wasn’t just talking about sex and penetration. I am talking about penetration beyond the veil of flesh’, signaling his epistemological quest that directly puts the female character at the centre of his personal conflict with technology. This conflict is a construct, in which, Cronenberg, through his male protagonist, has moved the body out of the realm of the representational, making allowance for the protagonist’s flawed judgement to snowball. Technology is the enabler of the bodily transformation, but Ronnie’s body that raises Brundle’s curiousity is the catalyst, hence her role as his nemesis.
Misogynistic, the film is a strict revision of the Fall narrative, blaming the female character for the male protagonist’s downfall.The Fall narrative constructs the interest in Brundle’s experiment around the need to put fundamental blame on the central female character, alluding to her role as his nemesis.Though Brundle’s ultimate goal is to experiment with an animate object, his jealousy of Ronnie’s relationship with her boss precipitates the experimentation on his own body. Following the tradition of a romantic hero, Brundle is ready to cross the boundary of human possibilities by using his own body as the guinea pig in order to prove his heroism, taking the risk to change Mother Nature. If in the Fall narrative ‘what simultaneously subverted and energized the subject of Western culture was not desire per se [Original italic], but transgressive desire haunted by the death which it brought into being’,84 the transgressive desire in the film leads less to the invention of his project, and more to his own tragic death. His status as a tragic hero is due to the flaws in his own judgement, turning him into a sympathetic figure as his human body gradually disintegrates while the ‘fly’ concurrently takes shape. The film does not ‘let go’ of Ronnie that easily, complicating her in the loop of Brundle-fly’s desire to resist his dehumanisation, as he pleads with her to get into the teleports with him so that they can form ‘a family of three … more human than I ever long for’. When Brundle is transformed into a horror figure (or what Robin Wood classifies as ‘superego figure’ discussed earlier), the strategy of the rest of the narrative is to build around the conviction to complicate or punish her. Ronnie’s ultimate punishment is not only to carry the burden of her unwanted pregnancy, but also to be forced to ‘kill’ Brundle. The narrative strategically places Brundle as a tragic hero by demonstrating how his humanity supersedes his fly/machine side. In the end when Brundlefly pleads with Ronnie to shoot ‘him’, his heroism is again centralised, turning Ronnie into la belle dame sans merci instead. This narrative impulse can be cathartic, an element of science fiction that severs it from the future noir territory.
Crash, which according to Ian Sinclair is ‘the posthumous dream of a book that no longer exists’,85 is the manifestation of Cronenberg’s curiosity and vision about the interface of human and machine. It unashamedly investigates female desire, sexuality, and body, reminiscent of canonical noir’s treatment of women. This interface signifies the bleak collapse of the future into the present (“Vaughan: It’s the future, Ballard, you’re already part of it”), combining the physical fusion of a human with technology, which therefore undermines the Western binary system. The film’s ontological uncertainty originates in the conflicts between its spatial-temporal and ideological framework, culminating in the creation of a catalogue of characters who are blasé about their surroundings and are brought together by the obsessive desire for pleasure. The sexual act, as the narrative trajectory of the film itself, is an expression of the characters’ actions to transgress theological-cultural (the main characters are married) and physical boundaries. The result is a tremendous blurring of identity and sexuality, while consigning the female characters in the narrative of becoming the Other, who are usurped by hedonistic ‘epicurean’ ethics. These hedonistic ‘epicurean’ ethics are reminiscent of the portrayal of women as the embodiment of male fantasy, shaping them into bona fide femmes fatales. One may ask: are the female characters in Crash liberated? My analysis tries to prove that this is possible, especially by looking at noir elements available in the film.
Crash relies heavily on its visual86 style to articulate the basic premise of the story. The stream of light created by moving cars is resonant of the ‘running’ light in Chandler’s mean street or the neon lights of ‘techno noir’ in James Cameron’s Terminator, thus creating an atmospheric feast of noir darkness and a double-edged world that is not what it seems. The film’s tendency to invest a lot of its visual focus on both the body of a human and a car underlines the voyeuristic desire at play. The voyeuristic camera angle that focuses on a naked female body, scarred male and female body, and a wrecked car in equal measure creates a series of visceral images in an effort to unbalance and destabilize any moral judgement attached to the sexual body, resulting in the fragmentation of the ‘humanist’ self. These catalogues of conflicting images, coupled with some raw sex scenes, give the idea that all of entities in the film are penetrated bodies or perhaps penetrable, as body eroticism and car crashes are intertwined. Cronenberg’s characters are transgressors that reflect the insanity of society and challenge the spectators’ moral ground, as they are often covertly placed within a voyeuristic distance, the very essence of what constitutes noir disorientation of the audience. The antagonistic force that the inhabitants of this noir world have to face is no longer the gangster underworld but their own bodies and uncontrollable, ungratified sexual desire, which can only be satiated with mechanical invention and intervention. Cars are eroticised, as illustrated by the way Vaughan sensuously describes his James Dean look-alike’s car in great detail and with pleasure, before re-enacting some famous crashes involving celebrities like James Dean and Jayne Mansfield. The association that is made between car crashes and celebrities (who cash in on their public images) is also a sign that ‘auto-eroticism’ is related to obsession with images - in this case injured and scarred images of humans and automobiles. The characters in the film are to a certain extent eroticised, but they are fundamentally flat and ‘lifeless’, highlighting the sense that Crash is a film about visual fascination and not character development.
The central question that arises from this apprehension is: What is Cronenberg’s primary vision? I would argue that the film is misogynistic, characterised by the film’s effort to fuse desire of/for a woman with technology, which results in both the eroticism of technology and the castration of the female body. Technology, in effect, is the new expression of desire itself. The discourse of the encounter is gradually becoming the palimpsest of the interface, which is achieved not in stages but through the nullifying of female subjectivity. For instance, the use of the controversial three successive sex scenes at the outset of the film heralds and demonstrates Cronenberg’s vision of the Oedipal journey to reaffirm masculinity as normalcy, and femininity as its perversion. The first sex scene foregrounds the idea of a woman imitating technology. In the opening scene of the film:
As we float past the planes we notice a woman leaning against the wing of a Piper Cub, her chest against the wing’s trailing edge, her arms spread out to each side, as though flying herself. As we get closer we see her jacket is pulled open to expose one of her breasts, which rests on the metal of the wing.87
In this camera cue, Cronenberg creates a fusion with an image of a woman (Catherine) imitating technology while having sex; dehumanising her while simultaneously eroticising technology. Technology is aggrandised and has increasingly incorporated with the sexual scene, a strategy employed by Cronenberg to gradually fuse and eventually denounce the female body in sexual acts. In the second sex scene between James Ballard and his camera assistant, ‘[s]he is draped across a table strewn with camera parts’,88 signifying not only the curious blurring of technology, desire and the human body but also the fragmentation of the female body itself. Female identity and sexuality are constantly destabilized, the result of the inevitable fusion with technology. The third sexual scene finally demonstrates the detachment of desire for/from the female body, while foregrounding the theme of remoteness or alienation:
Their sex-making is disconnected, passionless, as though it would disappear if they noticed it. An urgent, uninterrupted flow of cars streams below them.89
The anal sex performed by the couple is designed by Cronenberg to show the distancing of desire from the female body and the lack of intimacy between them. A conventional female body, Cronenberg decided, is no longer attractive without the intrusion of technology, signifying a literal attack of culture on nature. The shift of desire from animate to inanimate objects signifies the vision of a neo-body as a masculine construct, enabling Cronenberg to create a mise-en-scene in which ‘passion’ is contextualised within the image of moving and crashed cars, apotheosising and eroticising technology as a result.
If Cronenberg himself admits to using sex as the plot,90 the characters are then reduced to being mere plot devices, which in turns helps to explain thecharacters’ ontological uncertainty, buttressed by their sexual practices that create not intimacy, but distance. The film centres on a protagonist couple (Jim and Catherine played by James Spader and Deborah Unger, respectively) who instead of exchanging everyday ‘husband-wife’ news, ask about each other’s sexual conquests (“Did you come?” and “Did she come?”). The couple’s quest for sexual gratification galvanizes the basic premise of the narrative, forming noir deterministic encounters with a series of other ‘damaged’ characters. Technology in the form of crashed automobiles is the bridge that brings them together, but never connects them at any level other than sexual gratification. Cronenberg creates characters who are both existentially detached (noir alienation) and suicidal/damaged (noir pessimism). When Jim is involved in a head-on crash, the line between physical pleasure and machine is inevitably crossed. Sexual pleasure and the crashed car are intertwining, marked by Dr. Helen Remington’s, the wife of the dead driver, accidental breast exposure at the accident spot. This intertwine eventually forms a knot of sexual gratification, when during a hospital visit, Catherine and Jim indulge in mutual masturbation whilst she is describing to him the condition of his wrecked car. Eventually, the couple (Jim and Catherine) meet Vaughan (Elias Koteas) who tempts them into the subterranean culture with a project that involves ‘something we are intimately involved in … the reshaping of human body with modern technology’, ‘the new flesh’ that the male protagonist, Max, in Cronenberg’s Videodrome is ‘forced’ to accept.
When conventional female bodies are no longer desirable and intimate, the film sets out to fuse them with technology in an effort to establish their status as the Other. In the third sex scene of the film, Catherine stands facing the outside of her apartment, exposing her buttocks to James. This act of mooning, according to Ian Sinclair, is ‘a metaphor of otherness’. 91 In addition to the sexual encounters, the scarification of the female body by machine is what Cronenberg does in order to dislocate intimacy of the female body, not gradually but with urgency, as embodied in the automobile crash itself. In other words, Cronenberg places desire within the context of crashed automobiles, which in turns associates women with cuts and bruises, a metaphor for castrated woman and her monstrous vagina. In the first car crash involving James Ballard and Dr. Helen Remington, Ballard sees her as ‘the other woman in the other crashed car [who] inadvertently jerks open her blouse and exposes her breast to James […] / In the strange, desperate privacy of this moment, the breast’s erect nipple seems somehow, impossibly, a deliberate provocation’.92 The breast is metonymical of the nurturing female body, foregrounding the ontological quest of the characters’ ultimate existential experience (Vaughan: […] the car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event, a liberation of sexual energy). However, this very act of sexual liberation is placed within the metaphor of the Other. Therefore, the accident that Ballard was involved with is used by Cronenberg to decentre female subjectivity, causing it to function as a catalyst of his Oedipal journey into manhood. Cronenberg creates the visual language for Ballard to start seeing the women – Catherine and Helen – as ‘a bizarre mirror image’,93 ‘watches her (Catherine) microscopically […] as though, perhaps, she isn’t human’,94 or ‘Helen […] straightening her skirt around her hips like a department-store window-dresser jerking a garment on to a mannequin’.95 As a result, Ian Sinclair observed:
The ‘existential romance’ is between James Ballard and Robert Vaughan, that is the thrust of the narrative: a psychosexual alliance between the passive, voyeuristic Ballard and the deranged and driven Vaughan, with his prophetic tattoo and his programme of assassination/suicide.96
Women are hence castrated, and therefore disengaged from the narrative of quasi-homosexuality, consigning them to the role of the Other. In another instance, when Vaughan has sex with Catherine, the act is ‘like two semi-metallic human beings of the future making love in a chromium bower’, not only literally bruising Catherine’s breasts, ‘the marks forming a pattern like car crash injuries’, 97 but also symbolically marking the narrative’s usurpation of her subjectivity. Having relinquished a conventional female sex organ, bruises and cuts on the female body are important in Cronenberg’s oneiric visions, a masculinist effort to construct a ‘neo-sex organ’.98
As an oneiric vision, Cronenberg’s noir world is a mirage which alludes to the Oedipal dream itself, that is, a dream of castrating the mother in the Symbolic in order to identify with the Father. The man/machine interface in the form of cuts, bruises and the visceral, in Cronenberg’s vision, refers to the archaic - the primitive desire to blame the woman for the male’s downfall. In theoriginal script of the film, Cronenberg vividly demonstrates the dissolving of technology with human body, while at the same time putting the blame on the female character.
James There’s still a patch of blood there on the road. Did you see
Renata I saw the blood. It looks like motor oil.
James You were the last one I saw just before the accident. Do you
remember? We made love.
Renata Are you still involving me in the crash?
The film’s lack of moral foundation is increased by the visceral effect of watching the characters struggling to gain pleasure from car crashes. The more the couple associate themselves with Vaughan, the deeper they are sucked into the dark world of ‘psychopathology’ where ‘auto-eroticism’ and self-destructiveness are the order of the day, thus ‘redefining our relationship to the automobile in radical, psychosexual ways’.99 The crossing of the boundary between bodily pleasure and machinic intervention culminates in the death of Vaughan - but this is also the ultimate (sexual) goal of his ‘project’, rendering it a success (in the noir sense of the word). Forsythe in Cronenberg’s Shiver summarizes this sentiment, professing that ‘even dying is an act of eroticism’.100 The idea that the ultimate quest for pleasure has not yet been achieved ( Maybe the next one darling…Maybe the next one…”) leaves the film with a strong sense of determinism in which the characters are designed to be doomed and hopeless, that is, noir fatalism at its own zenith.
Noir fatalism is expressed through the characters’ obsessive relationship with death.For that reason, the film curiously explores the relationship between the sexual dissident and the death wish in an effort to feminise the desire for death itself. Jonathan Dollimore theorizes that
The sexually dissident have known that the strange dynamic which, in Western culture, binds death into desire is not the product of a marginal pathological imagination, but crucial in the formatation of that culture.101
When Colin Seagrave (Peter McNeill) - Vaughan’s stunt partner - dies in a road accident, that is, as the result of re-enacting Jayne Mansfield’s auto crash, he is found cross-dressed, and he has all the props needed to make it similar to Mansfield’s, including her pet dog. Since Seagrave’s ultimate goal is to die in the re-enactment of Jayne Mansfield’s ( a female) fatal car crash, it signals the importance of associating desire for death with femininity. Whereas Cronenberg aligns Seagrave’s death wish with femininity, in Vaughan’s case, the feminisation of the death wish is achieved by feminising his body and desire. Cronenberg feminises Vaughan’s desire by establishing him as a ‘feminine’ character, the one that is obsessed with being penetrated by both machine and another man. Dollimore argues that:
The Western preoccupation with death, desire and loss is also significantly gendered […] It was or is a narrative in which woman is held responsible for bringing death and mutability into the world […] there is no dearth of psychoanalytic explanations for this association of women with death, ranging from chronic unconscious male fear of engulfment or even castration during sexual intercourse, to the difficulty of the boy child leaving the mother for another woman.102
The extent to which his body and desire are feminised is later revealed as the personification of Catherine’s desire. Catherine, while having sex with her husband, Ballard, asks questions about Vaughan’s body and what Ballard would like to do with it, setting the sexual scenario subsequently implemented by Ballard. By being penetrated by Ballard, Vaughan’s body, as Cronenberg intends, is feminised. Therefore, his desire for death is not due to the castration complex, but due to his over-identification with the Mother. As the embodiment of an over-identification with the mother, Vaughan represents perverse sexuality, and in this case, he suffers from psychopathology.
Despite Cronenberg’s treatment of desire as feminine, which is conspicuously misogynistic, the film’s future noir elements allow the female characters to have their fair share of liberation. Catherine, as a wife in an open marriage, is in search for sexual gratification, to the extent that she is willing to cross the boundary between life and death. To a great degree, her quest for pleasure controls the narrative thrust of the film. It is her sexual fantasy about Vaughan that Ballard eventually experiences. She is therefore more than a wife, but also the controller of the narrative of ‘the next one’. Helen as a widow of the victim of the car accident caused by Ballard, also challenges the notion of a victim, having been ‘turned on’ by it. Her newly found pleasure resulting from the accident develops into a fetish that, like the protagonist couple, lures her into a world of obsession with the penetrated and injured body. She is a post-feminist figure whose principle in life is better explained by the popular adage of ‘been there, done that, bought the t-shirt’. Gabrielle’s (Rosanna Arquette) body sexily clad in an ‘S&M’ metal-and-leather outfit challenges the essence of scopophilia by stressing her vulnerability as an individual damaged by the flaw in her character. The effect is sickening voyeurism that challenges the viewers’ identification with the characters, disorientating them as noir texts usually do. In the original script, ‘it is obvious that they (Helen and Gabrielle) have become lovers’, a female bonding that signifies strength where everything else around them is falling apart.
Following noir tradition, the investigation of the female characters also exposes the instability and insecurity of the male characters. While having sex with her husband, Catherine vividly shows her interest in a scarred male body, asking her husband about Vaughan’s penis. She imagines and questions about the penis, creating a descriptive language that nullifies its symbolic power and displaces it in the realm of the real as a form of perversion or psychopathology, which is ‘suffered’ by Vaughan. Catherine’s line of questioning, ‘Is he circumcised? Can you imagine what his anus is like? Describe it to me’, is emblematic of Foucault’s philosophical understanding of ‘knowledge is power’. Her wanting to know, as illustrated by the questions, puts her in the position of the determiner of knowledge, the holder of the truth. That is why, at one point, she suggests to her husband, ‘I’d like to go back James …’, knowing what is ahead of her. In that vein, suddenly, the narrative engenders the idea that while scarification is associated with the vagina, it also generates interests that mystify a male body.
In conclusion, though the thrust of both films is towards scrutinizing female subjectivity, sexuality, and body, Crash’s bleakness sets it apart from The Fly as a future noir text. While the male protagonist in The Fly is resonant of the tragic hero whose greatness determines and informs how tragic his ending is later considered to be, it lacks both atmospheric anxiety and moral ambivalence which are two of the major defining criteria of a film noir. The Fly’s dark mood is raw gothic fear of the Other, or the personification of the evil and abject essence within a human body, as manifested by the Bundlefly itself. The protagonist’s disintegration, which culminates in his incarceration in a well-like prison, provides a closure and sympathy, giving a rather monolithic moral dimension to his fate, causing ‘him’ to function as a tragic figure in a cautionary tale rather than a transgressor in a noir world. On the other hand, the ending of Crash leaves the audience disorientated and to a greater extent disillusioned. The characters, in pursuit of the ultimate sexual pleasure, culminating in a fatal ending, i.e., death itself, are devoid of any moral standing or foundation. Their struggle represents a dormant anxiety that runs amok when triggered, leaving no space for moral speculation or anticipation. Knowing that the characters’ pursuit of the ultimate pleasure of death disregards their human dimension, the audience is left disconcerted. When their bodies are snatched by machines, the paranoia of ‘Maybe the next one’, which is embedded in future noir, begins".
Having digested Ballard's thoughts in this clip, which almost sound suspiciously like technological determinism, (the technology makes us contemplate "ITS WORLD"!!), I can return to electronic music. Here then is my reproduction of Sean Albiez's useful posting (I also understand that Simon Reynolds is updating "Energy Flash"):
There has been worked produced post-2000 that looks at early 21st century
currents in electronic (dance) music - but has often focused more on IDM and
the experimental extremities of glitch, microsound etc. rather than
mainstream forms - but even this work has diminished since @ 2004.
Here are some potentially useful references (some of which will have to be cut n' pasted into browser as not html):
Butler, Mark J. (2001) ‘Turning the Beat Around: reinterpretation, metrical
dissonance, and assymetry in electronic dance music’, Music Theory Online,
Vol. 7 No. 6 December 2001
10th March 2006 <>
Byrne, David (2002) ‘Machines of Joy: I have seen the future and it is
squiggly’, Leonardo Music Journal,
Vol. 12, pp. 7-10, 2002
Chapman, Dale (2003) ‘Hermeneutics of Suspicion: paranoia and the
technological sublime in drum and bass music’, Echo – a music centred
journal, Vol. 5 Issue 2, (Fall 2003)
10th March 2006 <>
Cranfield, Brady (2002) ‘Producing Noise: Oval and the politics of digital
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The Wire also regularly covers techno in one way or another ...
Nice work, thanks Sean.
I wonder if Tobias, who has also featured on this blog as my interlocutor, would fit in neatly with the interpretive community springing from CRU that I've referenced? My speculation may not be too off target, as he is in regular correspondence with Kode9, who Simon Reynolds associates with CRU (the Reynolds piece can be found on the kpunk blog). It sounds more plausible in light of the theoretical justifications offered on the following youtube clip. For the record, Tobias is known to have refused my association of his position with an historical avant garde. Let others decide perhaps. The clip is a bit old, but remains relevant as a indicator of Mutek as a possible nodal point of the aforementioned network. I should note at this point that I simply regard "network talk" as a more dynamic development of the conception of "interpretive community", with which I began this posting. However, I cannot speak here to the complication of such an assumption by the putatively more "posthuman" perspective of actor network theory, which was not the main focus of my argument anyway: