Monday, October 31, 2005

Binaries anyone?

Here's the quote I read from Shaviro's Cinematic Body, which touched off our discussion of how or whether binaries are initially represented then collapsed or vice versa in Videodrome (the one that Dr. Grusin disagreed with): "New arrangements of the flesh break down traditional binary oppositions between mind and matter, image and object, self and other, inside and outside, male and female, nature and culture, human and inhuman, organic and mechanical. Indeed, the sytematic undoing of these distinctions, on every possible level, is the major structural principle of all of Cronenberg's films" (129). In response, Dr Grusin (in his email to the class) made a distinction between directors like Ford or Hitchcock who establish binaries only to collapse them and Cronenberg who, he argued, is primarily interestd "in presenting a world in which clear-cut binaries do not exist, or can only be established with some significant interpretive effort." What Grusin finds significant is that Cronenberg's starting point is the groundlessness or overlapping of experiences, the indivisibility of fantasy and reality. For Grusin, "[I]t is not insignificant that Cronenberg does not present clear-cut cinematic distinctions between Max's fantasies and "reality."

I tend to agree with this account, but I wonder if Shaviro and Grusin are in opposition after all. The crucial point Shaviro makes above is that "new arrangements of the flesh" cause the break down of "traditional binaries." Perhaps a distinction needs to be made between "traditional" or culturally produced binaries and binaries that one might claim are essential and/or inherent. That is, these "new arrangements," produced by the cinematic experience, *return* us to what we always already were, or to the spaces we have always already occupied -- the simultaneous space of thought and matter. Traditional binaries, which are never stable to begin with and which therefore invite and produce this *return*, are derived, for Shaviro, from the influence and dominance of "Cartesian dualism." This dualism, which attempts to effeciently divide mind from matter establishes a distinct and ordered system of perspective and is, finally, a historically derived construct. Shaviro describes the cinematic experience of a Cronenberg film as ambivalent I think precisely due to the splitting open of constructed binaries at the sight/site of the body itself, so traditional binaries are indeed collapsed as they are incorporated: "The bodies of Max Renn [James Woods in Videodrome] and Seth Brundle [Jeff Goldblum in The Fly]... are zones of intense receptivity; they capture and render visible a wide range of sinister and usually impalpable social forces, from implicit codes of social behavior to the financial transactions of multinational corporations. The word of late capitalist power is literally made flesh" (134 emphasis added).
Cronenberg's literalization of this fleshlike arrangement may be the source of the dilemma. For Grusin: "There are no clear visual cues.... In refusing to demarcate in any definitive semiotic fashion the fantasies from the realities, Cronenberg seems to me to be suggesting that (or presenting a world in which) such binaries do not exist as givens or starting points." On the other hand, rather than dividing up the cinematic experience (whether onscreen or off) between the visible and the palpable, Shaviro suggests that Cronenberg, by literalizing the visible/flesh interface re-arranges, dis-organizes, and reveals the abject ground upon which and of which capitalistic regimes maintain their hegemonic control. In other words, The capitalist system, which maintains itself through a binarizing discourse (refer to Shaviro's list of oppositions above) is itself nothing more than an abject and groundless, series of flows. So, yes, in Cronenberg binaries "do not exist" because what binaries essentially do is blind us to this fact. Because, for Cronenberg, binaries are a constructed "fantasy" that serve as cover and that work by covering over the "reality" of forces, this, as Grusin notes, "proves" that they are not givens or starting points, i.e., grounds, but serve instead as invisible obtacles.

1 comment:

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