Thursday’s Children

The magazine ads for the 1948 release of John Ford’s “Fort Apache” featured an illustration (above) that could almost be the romanticized historical painting of “Thursday’s Charge” referenced in the film’s devastating final sequence, in which John Wayne’s Captain Kirby Yorke (now a colonel) declines to disillusion a group of newspaper reporters on the subject of the now-legendary heroism of his former commanding officer, Henry Fonda’s Owen Thursday. The film, of course, shows a very different event — a pointless massacre that results from one man’s refusal to change with the times.

Now available from Warner Home Video in a magnificent Blu-ray edition, “Fort Apache” remains among Ford’s finest achievements — a difficult, tightly-knotted, highly personal film that seems to contradict itself with every scene. J. Hoberman reads it as a call for a militarized America in his excellent history of Cold War cinema, “Army of Phantoms,” yet it’s a film that profoundly questions military authority and sides with the Apache “enemy” against the duplicity and exploitative policies of the US government. Ford’s remote outpost is at once a kind of idealized, democratic community (its harmony suggested by two beautifully filmed ballroom dances) and a site of loneliness and devastation, of mysteriously fragmented families and rigid class distinctions. I don’t think I’ll ever come to the bottom of this one, though here’s another thousand words of thrashing around, in this week’s New York Times.

288 comments to Thursday’s Children

  • My feelings about Kubrick are the opposite of many people here: Kubrick is more interesting as a visual stylist than as a thinker or social commentator. His use of color, composition and camera movement can inspire, even as his ideas sink clunkily. Watching the astronaut inside HAL in a bright red, red, RED spacesuit is a fascinating experience.

    A US Customs agent once stopped Arthur C. Clarke on one of his many journeys, and refused to let Clarke into the US until he explained the end of 2001. Clarke loved this story…
    *
    Barry and Junko,
    Good points about brevity.
    Short stories and brief plays are often much better works of art than novels.
    At least, that’s what many people thought before 1970, back when short tales were popular.
    I still agree.

    Science fiction expert Gardner Dozois has twice as many recommended short story collections than novels, in his canon for science fiction:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20080125134625/http://www.sfwa.org/reading/rec_dozois.htm

    LAPIS (James Whitney) is just 10 minutes long, and DUEL OF HONOR (Joseph H. Lewis) is 23 minutes. They are much richer than most features.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gee, I don’t know Fredrik. One thing that we all seem to agree on is that Kubrick has a pretty grim view of life. If my banker was telling me that it struck him as being very realistic, I might want to take my money elsewhere.

    Maybe to somebody who finds Spielberg to be very realistic.

  • David Cohen

    Don’t have to much add here other than to say I’m glad to see there’s someone else out there who is truly fond of NO NAME ON THE BULLET.

  • Brian Dauth

    Sorry for my delay in responding: no home computer and a hectic work schedule have left little time to write.

    Fredrik: Actually, I think the philosophical issues are the ground of the disagreement. For centuries, it was postulated that humans had a core to their being, variously referred to as “soul”; “human nature”; “sacred core”; etc. Being male or female; gay or straight; black or white – these were mere variations on the core of what it meant to be human. Posthumanism (and again – I hate the term, but it seems we are stuck with it for now), simply says that there is no soul/human nature/core common to all people. But while the statement is simple, it has many ramifications. Take for example – aesthetic response.

    If there is no core, then the artist in creating the art work is not trying to manipulate form in order that the core of the viewer can come in contact or connect with the core of the artist – and by extension, the core of all human beings (a line of aesthetic thought that goes back to Kant). Jettisoning the concept of the human core, also throws into disarray notions of universal/eternal truth/meaning/art. Suddenly, works of art can no longer be proclaimed to be universal (fill-in-the-blank) anything. Also, the reader/viewer/listener who does not “get” a particular work for which universalist claims have been made is no longer some deviant/undeveloped spectator in need of education. No longer is a queer or feminist perspective something to be worked through and then set aside, in order to get to the heart of an artwork – as Gertrude Stein wrote: there is no there there. My queer response may not be replicable by everyone else, but no longer is my coming from a queer space a handicap that prevents me from seeing what a work of art “is really about.” Hence, the authority of a critic is no longer vouchsafed by being able to identify the universal/eternal aspects of a work of art that are available to all people (if they are properly educated). All a critic can do is write of her own response and ground it as well as possible in the form and content of the artwork, while acknowledging at the same time the personal space she is writing from.

    Such an understanding of the subjective nature of aesthetic experience has not “always been the case,” since for a long time, human subjectivity was believed to be grounded in a shared “human nature” (hence the phobia about using “I” in critical writing – the critic does not write from his own body, but from the part of himself that he shares with all other people). Postmodernism/posthumanism denies the existence of the common core and replaces it with shared discourse through which conventions are established. These conventions will become the shared core only for those who adopt them; and not adopting these conventions will no longer be viewed as a deviation or going against “human nature.” As a result, no longer can a person speak of a work of art representing the universal/eternal truth of what it means to be human, since what it means to be human is the result of discourse and discourse can and will change.

    As for Barthes and the “death of the author”: the author that Barthes declared the demise of was the author I described above – the connector of cores. Foucault, Derrida, and others picked up on this concept and expanded upon it – ending up as X359594 noted where Buddhism had arrived hundreds of years earlier. This place was radical within the Western tradition, but not new to human thought.

    Gregg: I am not trying to make an argument for Kubrick as a radical or progressive. But I do not think that Kubrick aims to “underline the impossibility of positive change,” but rather point out its high degree of difficulty (with which I agree). Kubrick does not deny the possibility of an exit, but rather demonstrates that a) the exit can be elusive; and b) that society exerts constant pressure to divert people from reaching it. Existence is rife with Grady’s (whatever their first name happens to be) blocking people’s passage to where the fun is; quite often, denied their ultimate goal, people willingly become Grady’s themselves in order to experience some meager sense of power, when in fact all they have accomplished is a minor lateral move. Am I whistling in the dark? Maybe. But as a queer teenager, I learned to find and hold steadfast to the faintest glimmer of hope that change was achievable in my life. Since that faint hope turned out to be right, I have learned not to dismiss even the most Lilliputian evidence of possibility. I do not seek or want “exhortations or instructions from Kubrick about how to save [myself] or tear down the machine or rebuild the machine.” Such I would expect from a propagandist, not an artist. I will take my glimmers and proudly proclaim that – good times and bum times – I ‘m still here (sorry – I had a Sondheim moment).

    Does Kubrick show women as victims of male aggression? Yes. Are women victims of male aggression in today’s society? Yes. Should Kubrick avoid showing women as victims of male aggression? No—or at least not any more than he shows people walking, talking, eating, sleeping and, in general, behaving as they do in real life. Do Kubrick films have homophobic elements? Not that I have noticed (but then again, I only watch three Kubrick films with any regularity). I have always believed that Captain Grogan in BARRY LYNDON was gay and presented in a neutral light; and in FMJ, I thought the scene in the bathroom where Joker and Cowboy negotiate sex with each other was a clever representation of men negotiating sex with each other when there are no women around (which friends in the military have told me is the way it occurs).

    Of course, you experience these same elements differently and build a different narrative out of your experience. But unless you are making an essentialist argument that portraying women as victims is inherently misogynist, then it is a matter of you experiencing one thing and others experiencing something else. As for Kubrick’s “contempt for humanity,” I want to go back to what I wrote about “human nature/soul.” Having read many times here on the continent about filmmakers who have contempt for their characters and – by extension – humanity, I have formulated the following tentative surmise: if a spectator does not sense in a film’s characters some type of core/soul/shared human nature, the spectator may experience this absence as the filmmaker having contempt for his characters. I think certain viewers come with the expectation that characters in a film will exhibit particular traces of a “common humanity,” and judge the success of an artist’s depiction of “people” on whether or not they (the audience) perceive it. This spectator expects more than just depictions of possible human actions on screen – they want to experience a character with a recognizable human core engaging in these possible human actions (which they then can identify with). The above is just my speculation and offered for ridicule, chastisement, engagement, and whatever else you can think to do with it.

    Peter: I am not sure I agree that “Lang and Bresson both do a better job than Kubrick coming down even-handedly on both sides” – 50% fatalism/50% free will? RANCHO NOTORIOUS and LANCELOT DU LAC (my favorite films of these two directors) seem as grimly deterministic as FULL METAL JACKET. If we include from Fassbinder (whom Gregg mentioned), EFFI BRIEST and MARTHA, we have a clutch of films none of which are not exactly festivals of autonomy: Altar’s Chuck-a-Luck is as merciless as Danny’s Big Wheel.

    Yet I do respond to your comment that “Lang and Bresson show it is possible to be severe as well as softly in touch with what runs through people.” Not with the “what runs through people” part – I am still not an essentialist. But the films of Fassbinder, Lang, and Bresson do strike me as “pleasanter” than Kubrick’s. What I mean by “pleasanter,” I am not at all sure – your post has just made me aware of the differences I experience in these films despite what I perceive as their shared determinist outlook on life.

  • Hello again Brian! Yes, of course the philosophical issues are at the bottom of the discussion. They always are. I just didn’t feel like this was the right place to continue discussing them. But..

    You say that there is no human nature, or soul or core. So be it. But from this you extrapolate that “If there is no core, then the artist in creating the art work is not trying to manipulate form in order that the core of the viewer can come in contact or connect with the core of the artist” But even if we do not share a common “human core”, we all have our own “cores” so why shouldn’t we be able to connect, one posthuman to another, through a work of art. If not, isn’t that similar to denying the existence of love (“Do you love me?” “Of course not, there is no human core so I cannot contact or connect with you.”)

    You say that “All a critic can do is write of her own response and ground it as well as possible in the form and content of the artwork, while acknowledging at the same time the personal space she is writing from.” and I couldn’t agree more, while also including the personal space of the artist. To me this is self-evidently true. But I’m curious if it was really the case that up until fairly recently everybody felt the opposite, as you seem to be saying, and that if you didn’t understand a work of art there was something wrong with you. Has that ever been the case, outside possibly a select group of elitist critics? If what you’re saying is true, it would imply that all critics back in the days felt that same way about all art works, because if they disagreed, that would mean some of them were “deviants”.

    Barthes, and other French writers and critics, had the annoying habit of using phrases like “we now know”, which I think is a pain. Lionel Trilling was also a friend of the “we”. Funnily enough, in the introduction to his essay collection “Beyond Culture” Trilling makes a kind of apology for this, because he had gotten a lot of complaints from his readers and other critics. He mentions one who ‘angrily declines to be included in the “we” that is being proposed, and denounces the presumptuousness in putting him where he does not belong’.

  • Brian Dauth

    Fredrik: We thank you for your response. I am on an iPhone again, so I will try to get to a computer tomorrow to respond properly.

  • “even if we do not share a common “human core”, we all have our own “cores” so why shouldn’t we be able to connect, one posthuman to another, through a work of art.”

    The argument is that we don’t have our own “core” or some sort of entity that stands behind or apart from experience. “Deeds there are but no doer. Thoughts there are but no thinker.” So goes an ancient Indian aphorism. You can hypothesize a “core” or soul or atman or ego from a selection of experiences and call that your true self, but that is a useful fiction, nothing more. This is not to deny the existence of an empirical self, but the proprioception of that self is an abstraction.

  • x359594, it sounds like you’re agreeing with that old posthumanist John Locke’s idea of tabula rasa (which is of course older than Locke is), that we humans are empty vessels at birth and then build up our minds and selfs during a lifetime of experiences. Of course experience shapes us, but that’s not a contradiction of what I just said. I am me, and the artist is she, and together we can connect, through the art work. The rest is just definitions.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Brian, I’m in the midst of attending the SF Film Festival, so a more considered engagement with the philosophical notions you express may take a while. Given your theses on the non-existence of a shared humanity I don’t know however that we have a shared vocabulary to usefully discuss art. As you say, “it is a matter of you experiencing one thing and others experiencing something else.” Any response is equally valid. As a line of defense for Kubrick, it seems pretty last ditch.

    Indeed, in mulling over the whole “posthuman” argument in the two weeks this discussion has been fallow, I’ve been thinking that Kubrick fans who admire his distinctive style, and those who admire his world view, and those who find him a great director of narrative cinema in line with other great directors of narrative cinema, all have opinions that I may disagree with, but offer views that can be useful and interesting to me, and which I can learn from. I could make a case for Kubrick myself based on the way he’s influenced subsequent directors I admire (David Lynch being an obvious example, but there are others), as well as his uncontested ability to create strong images that have had demonstrable sticking power within our shared culture. But we would still share a common vocabulary. I think however that the whole posthuman thing asks us to measure Stanley Kubrick by some other yardstick than that his other supporters offer. He’s a director not from the hotel room in 2001, but from earth in the mid-20th century, and his work is inextricably tied to its time and place. The “posthuman” argument abstracts him; I would instead seek to contextualize him within a very real history. THE KILLING came out the same year as THE SEARCHERS. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE came out the same year as DIRTY HARRY. EYES WIDE SHUT came out the same year as MAGNOLIA. Treating him as a “posthuman director” even as his fellow directors were foolishly trying to “exhibit particular traces of a ‘common humanity’” is to me flashing a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for him. You’re asking me to see him as either “Wile E. Coyote – Super Genius” or as the Starchild, next step in evolution.

    “Does Kubrick show women as victims of male aggression? Yes. Are women victims of male aggression in today’s society? Yes. Should Kubrick avoid showing women as victims of male aggression? No” – this is a reductive depiction of what I was saying. There are ways and ways to depict victimization and various other real and unpleasant events. As I cite a filmmaker like Fassbinder (whose work hardly avoids these topics) as superior to Kubrick, I’m hardly denying or against depicting such events. Moreover, in more than one of his films Kubrick depicts victimization (as well as war, torture, etc) a) in an overtly formal, and/or b) in a satirical, ironic, humorous fashion. This combination of the stylistically remote and the emotionally remote (but see below) seems more of an evasion than a fruitful way of facing unpleasant facts.

    You say “if a spectator does not sense in a film’s characters some type of core/soul/shared human nature, the spectator may experience this absence as the filmmaker having contempt for his characters.” I say, if a filmmaker has an actor playing the role of a human being kicked and beaten by another actor who is also playing a human being, directed while performing his kicking to sing a comic song that has in previous movies been used to express a joy in being alive, I would say that the filmmaker is portraying human beings in a schematic fashion that is indeed contemptuous of the portrayed victim. It points the way to a shock-reponse, Ludovico-like cinema of torture, which of course is very precognitive of Kubrick, as he anticipated the M.O. of Fox News, but hardly helpful to those who wish to resist it. To be “posthuman” is by your yardstick to lack empathy, which is simply the perception of a common humanity in yourself and other human beings (a perception you argue is false). If you wish to reject the notion of a common humanity, you are of course free to, but A) Politically, this is very regressive, as reformers/socialists/radicals everywhere wish to use empathy as an engine to bring about positive social change. Imagine a boot stepping on your face forever, while Big Brother sings in the rain. B) Aesthetically, you are discarding a tool artists have used for many centuries for their art works, calling up as they do feelings of shared pity, terror, shame, joy and laughter. C) Psychologically, I think you are in error, as there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that many living creatures do feel empathy for others. The mid-20th century behaviorism the “Ludovico” process in CLOCKWORK ORANGE is meant to represent is now pretty much an intellectual back number (which relates again to my insistence on inserting Kubrick firmly into his mid-20th century context).

    Happy Earth Day!

  • Gregg Rickman

    “This combination of the stylistically remote and the emotionally emote” — I of course mean “emotionally remote.” The edit function is dysfunctional on my early 21st century machine.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Hmmph, I see my attempt to edit my “emotionally emote” text has led my 5:53 posting into expanses of gibberish. I will repost.

    Brian, I’m in the midst of attending the SF Film Festival, so a more considered engagement with the philosophical notions you express may take a while. Given your theses on the non-existence of a shared humanity I don’t know however that we have a shared vocabulary to usefully discuss art. As you say, “it is a matter of you experiencing one thing and others experiencing something else.” Any response is equally valid. As a line of defense for Kubrick, it seems pretty last ditch.

    Indeed, in mulling over the whole “posthuman” argument in the two weeks this discussion has been fallow, I’ve been thinking that Kubrick fans who admire his distinctive style, and those who admire his world view, and those who find him a great director of narrative cinema in line with other great directors of narrative cinema, all have opinions that I may disagree with, but offer views that can be useful and interesting to me, and which I can learn from. I could make a case for Kubrick myself based on the way he’s influenced subsequent directors I admire (David Lynch being an obvious example, but there are others), as well as his uncontested ability to create strong images that have had demonstrable sticking power within our shared culture. But we would still share a common vocabulary. I think however that the whole posthuman thing asks us to measure Stanley Kubrick by some other yardstick than that his other supporters offer. He’s a director not from the hotel room in 2001, but from earth in the mid-20th century, and his work is inextricably tied to its time and place. The “posthuman” argument abstracts him; I would instead seek to contextualize him within a very real history. THE KILLING came out the same year as THE SEARCHERS. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE came out the same year as DIRTY HARRY. EYES WIDE SHUT came out the same year as MAGNOLIA. Treating him as a “posthuman director” even as his fellow directors were foolishly trying to “exhibit particular traces of a ‘common humanity’” is to me flashing a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for him. You’re asking me to see him as either “Wile E. Coyote – Super Genius” or as the Starchild, next step in evolution.

    “Does Kubrick show women as victims of male aggression? Yes. Are women victims of male aggression in today’s society? Yes. Should Kubrick avoid showing women as victims of male aggression? No” – this is a reductive depiction of what I was saying. There are ways and ways to depict victimization and various other real and unpleasant events. As I cite a filmmaker like Fassbinder (whose work hardly avoids these topics) as superior to Kubrick, I’m hardly denying or against depicting such events. Moreover, in more than one of his films Kubrick depicts victimization (as well as war, torture, etc) a) in an overtly formal, and/or b) in a satirical, ironic, humorous fashion. This combination of the stylistically remote and the emotionally remote (but see below) seems more of an evasion than a fruitful way of facing unpleasant facts.

    You say “if a spectator does not sense in a film’s characters some type of core/soul/shared human nature, the spectator may experience this absence as the filmmaker having contempt for his characters.” I say, if a filmmaker has an actor playing the role of a human being kicked and beaten by another actor who is also playing a human being, directed while performing his kicking to sing a comic song that has in previous movies been used to express a joy in being alive, I would say that the filmmaker is portraying human beings in a schematic fashion that is indeed contemptuous of the portrayed victim. It points the way to a shock-reponse, Ludovico-like cinema of torture, which of course is very precognitive of Kubrick, as he anticipated the M.O. of Fox News, but hardly helpful to those who wish to resist it. To be “posthuman” is by your yardstick to lack empathy, which is simply the perception of a common humanity in yourself and other human beings (a perception you argue is false). If you wish to reject the notion of a common humanity, you are of course free to, but A) Politically, this is very regressive, as reformers/socialists/radicals everywhere wish to use empathy as an engine to bring about positive social change. Imagine a boot stepping on your face forever, while Big Brother sings in the rain. B) Aesthetically, you are discarding a tool artists have used for many centuries for their art works, calling up as they do feelings of shared pity, terror, shame, joy and laughter. C) Psychologically, I think you are in error, as there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that many living creatures do feel empathy for others. The mid-20th century behaviorism the “Ludovico” process in CLOCKWORK ORANGE is meant to represent is now pretty much an intellectual back number (which relates again to my insistence on inserting Kubrick firmly into his mid-20th century context).

    Happy Earth Day!

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, Leaving aside the “posthuman” issue of your previous discussion, I’d like to comment on your final two sentences in paragraph 3. Is not Kubrick employing the satirical mode of one of his favorite writers, Jonathan Swift, whose “A Modest Proposal” evoked cries of outrage from his contemporary readers? Swift’s excremental vision, fully understood by Norman 0 Brown whose LIFE AFTER DEATH, was also one of Kubrick’s key texts, is crucial to this vision. Like many of his contemporaries, Kubrick was well-read (so were (19th authors), and he was using a well-known tactic to evoke viewer response in the same way but hoping they would go beyond outrage towards analysis of grim facts.

    In terms of the fourth paragraph, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE presents a dehumanized culture whose objects have been manipulated into either passive acceptance of the status quo or acts of violence as long as these acts do not take revolutiomary directions. The Kerova Milk Bar provides drugs for its teenagers, is frequented by trendies, and parallels charges made by black activists in the 60s that the authorities were flooding ghettos with drugs to defuse revolutionary activities. Thus is is not surprising that the culture is one of debasement on all levels with humans reduced to objects. ubrick does not intend us to see them as fully rounded human beings but as social types, one derived from his fascination with the films of Pudovkin.

    Yes, Kubrick does anticipate Fox News, but as Brian has perceptively noted, he provides no easy answers and resolution as in the climax of a Jack Arnold Western but reveals the problems in their most ugly manifestations and challenges his audiences either to work on them or ride away with Audie Murphy into the sunset. At the end of the film, Alex rides away into the sunset but his escape is one manipulated by the system to its own advantage. Also, the CO culture is one that debases the original escapism of a Gene Kelly number in the same way that the system and its liberal Guardian adherents (of the type who hate the working class and supported Blair) do to Alex, namely by taking Beethoven and using it as an instrument of Pavlovian torture. Thus, in a film that has its problems, Kubrick does the unthinkable, namely making us sympathize with a violent thug when he undergoes the treatement and revealing the culpability of authoritarian and oppositional forces who are both responsible for the malaise that has affected that particularly world. Alex’s housing estate resembles those ugly concrete jungles erected by Old Labour in the post-war era and I’ve commented elsewhere on Kubrick’s deliberate use of the banality of a popular culture that affects everyone.

    Like all great artists and historical thinkers, Kubrick transcends his era and presents a film that offers no easy resolution like that Battle Royale-inspired, Romero and Juliet HUNGER GAMES whose leading talents have made facile comparisions to the Occupy movement when the film is in reality merely another subliminal Marine Corps recruiting ideological tactic.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Tony, am off to the film festival to attend a lecture on Tati and Chaplin, and then a tribute to Barbara Kopple. May write more later in response. However, I will take the time to say – very quickly, and without the detailed discussion your response demands out of respect for you – that I don’t agree with you about the social utility of Kubrick’s work (how can we know his intentions? I sense projection), nor about his “transcending his era.” This is the “Stanley Kubrick, Super Genius” argument. NO ONE transcends their era. We all live in history.

    I may be a humanist, even an essentialist, but I am a very materialist one. Stanley Kubrick and Jack Arnold were human beings who were walking around Hollywood in the mid-1950s, trying to put together a project. When directing a film they worked within certain norms of classical narrative cinema, made specific shot selections, inflected the performances of their actors in particular ways, and dealt with studio interference as best they could. One of them was clever enough to establish himself as an international director working within more of a post-classical mode of filmmaking, but that hardly transcends his shared, common humanity.

    BTW, the merits of Chaplin and Kopple have a lot to do with what can be called the humanist nature of their work: an evocation of empathy with society’s victims. Tati, in PLAY TIME, depicts a “posthuman” world, and the pleasures of that film stem from the survival of humanity within it.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, we seem to be in double overtime over here with no tiebreakers in sight.

    Since Jack Arnold has somehow become an ongoing part of the discussion, I would like to point out for the record that, to the best of my recollection, he only made one film with Audie Murphy; a little number called NO NAME ON THE BULLET. As I remember it, the manifestations got pretty ugly in that film (if that’s your yardstick for profundity) and the answers, easy or not, were not forthcoming at the climax. Audie Murphy does indeed ride off at the end of the film, but I can’t imagine anybody wanting to ride with him unless you would have also wanted to ride off with Randolph Scott at the end of DECISION AT SUNDOWN.

  • “Literary criticism can be no more than a reasoned account of the feeling produced upon the critic by the book he is criticizing. Criticism can never be a science: it is, in the first place, much too personal, and in the second, it is concerned with values that science ignores. The touchstone is emotion, not reason. We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotions and nothing else.” at least according to D.H. Lawrence

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, I will wait for your reply but will mention that I’m exploring comedy at the moment and need to see more Tati than is available here in an area where the type of venue such as the SF Film Festival is clearly impossible. But by “transcending his era”, I equate him the type of talent such as Herman Melville, Hawthorne, Marx, Trotsky and others who create works that speak to different eras other than their own in relevant way. Here I include Kubrick in a category that I clearly do not see Jack Arnold who is very much confined to his historical content despite the fact that he did do some interesting films but not on the level Kubrick aspired to.

    I think the current dismissal of Kubrick does reflect the type of attitude of school board members who demand the removal of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK form book shelves because it is “too down beat.”

    As interesting as NO NAME IN THE BULLET is it can never match what Kubrick achieved and the latter was driven out of Hollywood as a result of his experiences with SPARTACUS although Robert Aldrich believed that he should have stayed. However, although Arnold and Kubrick may, in the 1950s, have worked within “certain norms of classical narrative cinema” one was more innovative than the other in adding certain stylistic inflections and breaches of standard conventions as THE KILLING and Mario Falsetti’s and Thomas Alan Newman’s different studies of this film clearly show.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony, I have no problem with yours and Brian’s and Alex’s and many others’ reasons and arguments in favor of Kubrick and his films. However, I, and possibly many others, am getting a little irritated by the constant condescending assumptions being made about those who don’t like Kubrick’s films.

    I do not cringe in fear or shrink in horror from the unflattering hard truths that Stanley Kubrick is revealing about my all too human failings. I have no objection to “The Diary of Anne Frank” appearing on public school book shelves and have enjoyed reading Zola, Dreiser, Frank Norris and many similar writers for well over forty years.

    My objection to Kubrick is the same as my objection to the George Stevens film of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. That is, I don’t think that they are very good movies.

    And all I can do is echo Fredrik in wondering why it is that Kubrick’s many admirers find it so impossible to accept that there are perfectly reasonable people in this world who don’t share their enthusiasm.

  • Brian Dauth

    Fredrik: Locke’s notion of tabula rasa and the Buddhist concept of no-self are not at all similar. Locke believed that humans were designed by God and were his property. Locke’s slate may have been blank, but there still was a slate to be written upon provided by God. In Buddhism, there is no God (as Locke would understand the term), and you do not even get a slate!

    In postmodern/posthumanist terms, one could say that there are performances but no performers, where a Buddhist would say there are deeds but no agent. This rejection of the idea of an agent/core by both Buddhism and postmodernism/posthumanism does not, however, lead to a rejection of empathy as you argue Gregg. I cannot think of any philosophy that emphasizes the importance of empathy more than Buddhism. The Western tradition has used what Gayatri Spivak calls “strategic essentialism” in order to argue for empathy – the postulation of an essential core of humanity in each person which is then understood to demand recognition by all other persons, since to deny that essence in another is to deny oneself. As I wrote in one of my first posts, this formulation was wildly successful in bringing about advances in human culture with regard to equality, justice, and freedom. But as I also noted, the concept of a “core humanity” has gone past its sell-by date. Basically, it has two interrelated major problems: 1) the assertion of a shared humanity has remained exactly that for centuries – an assertion. The only thing that has changed is that the assertion has gotten shakier as the years have passed and knowledge of other cultures and ways of being have grown; and 2) if a person refuses to go along with this assertion due to its lack of provability, then the moral imperative that flows from it is null and void.

    As I posted before, this deed-without-doer understanding of the world has a great effect on the creation of art and subsequent spectator response: the traditional identification response is disrupted – 1) no longer is an artist under the stricture that she must produce characters who evince a common core; and 2) no longer does a viewer watch to see if a character is presented as possessing a shared human core. Actions up on screen are no longer examples of what any human being could be capable of doing under the right circumstances. When I am looking at the screen, I am no longer looking to identify with the characters and seeing aspects of myself in them – I am looking in a more distanced way and evaluating if their actions are consistent with what I would regard as probable human behavior. This can result in what you Greg describe as a “combination of the stylistically remote and the emotionally remote . . . [which] seems more of an evasion than a fruitful way of facing unpleasant facts.” For me it is not an evasion at all, since it eschews the warm-and-fuzzy approach of shared humanity-style identification. Kubrick is a master at providing what William S. Burroughs calls the “frozen moment when everyone sees what is at the end of the fork.”

    Gregg, you experience Kubrick as “portraying human beings in a schematic fashion.” Looking up the word “schematic,” I found this definition: “in the form of a diagram that shows the main features or relationships but not the details.” Sounds like something which is schematic is missing its core. Kubrick does not present his audience with fully-rounded, humanist core-possessing characters. It is perfectly acceptable to want such characters from an artist – to wish so is what Michael W. would rightly identify as a matter of taste. But the failure to present such characters is not a signifier of bad art (unless one posits that a work of art must present fully-rounded characters in order to be considered great).

    You also write that Kubrick’s “work is inextricably tied to its time and place.” I agree. I have been reading a wonderful book “Late Modernism” by Robert Genter. Although he deals mainly with painting and literature, many of the points he makes can be applied to other arts as well. Kubrick is a modernist who has no use for modernism. Like many artists of his time, he is struggling to move modernism ahead, and I find his work to be symptomatically postmodern (a great term I recently learned). As I have said, I like three of his movies – BL, TS, and FMJ. His early movies seem like dissatisfied thrashings about in modernism. He makes a break with modernism in parts of 2001:ASO and a few more with ACO (though in my eyes ACO serves more as an example of how not to break with modernism than as a successful severing). Finally with BL, he breaks as much as he ever will, and makes the first of his three great movies. As you wrote, Kubrick has an influence on filmmakers who more clearly work in the postmodern mode (David Lynch among them), but I think ultimately Kubrick is an artist-in-between – a late modernist who uses many of the tools of postmodernism without ever tapping into its potential for play (which may explain why I find his films less “pleasant.” They are movies which engage in postmodern tropes without ever cracking a smile).

    To focus on the example that you Gregg cite from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: “an actor playing the role of a human being kicked and beaten by another actor who is also playing a human being, directed while performing his kicking to sing a comic song that has in previous movies been used to express a joy in being alive.” I can imagine a human being acting that way in real life – the events at Abu Ghraib come to mind among others – so your conclusion that Kubrick’s portrayal “is indeed contemptuous of the portrayed victim” seems unearned since Kubrick is just showing how people in this world have treated and continue to treat other people. Contempt would have been in evidence if Kubrick had reneged on his depiction of reality and fudged on the horror of what he showed. Should the way certain characters are treated in ACO occur in real life? No. Do people in real life get treated as some of ACO’s characters are? Yes. I do not believe there is anything contemptuous about telling a truth.

    Gregg, you further write that: “If you wish to reject the notion of a common humanity, you are of course free to, but A) Politically, this is very regressive, as reformers/socialists/radicals everywhere wish to use empathy as an engine to bring about positive social change.” Notice the substitution you make from “common humanity” to “empathy” as if “common humanity” and “empathy” were synonyms. They are not. The practice of asserting common humanity as a path to empathy is a historical fact, but it is not the only path (or even the best one as I argue above). Audre Lorde, the last person anyone could ever describe as regressive, non-radical, or anti-reform, wrote: “Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.” There is an entire school of thought that posits acknowledgement of human difference as being the most reliable generator of empathy.

    As for my: “discarding a tool artists have used for many centuries for their art works” – I am not the only one to do so or even the first (by many hundreds of years). Those tools were used in particular cultural situations by particular artists, but they are not universal. The passage from Audre Lorde that I quoted above comes from a piece entitled: “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” There are new tools and new toolboxes in the world that are achieving the ends you advocate for without using yesteryear’s implements.

    So Fredrik, yes, coming from a postmodern/queer perspective, I have been regarded as different and deviant by editors who have read my work. Either it has been too gay or too queer or did not address the universal qualities that reside in every great work of art. A bourgeois humanist approach is still what sells, and the myth of the shared core is widely accepted (sans evidence). Places such as this continent and other radical/progressive precincts where new ideas about art and aesthetics and life can be kicked around, analyzed, and developed are rare.

  • This has been unusually stimulating, and I’m glad that someone at long last talked about posthumanism in a coherent and intelligible way. So thank you for your lengthy posts Brian. Judging from what you’re saying I was a posthumanist when I was a teenager (and I didn’t even know it) but that I’ve now moved beyond it.

    The other day I read that we are now living in a post-digital world. Just for the sake of expediency, may I suggest a universal moratorium on the prefix “post”?

  • Brian Dauth

    FredrIk: So you are post-posthumanist?!? How cool is that. Also, thanks for the compliment, and I do agree that the prefix “post-” is one of the great missteps in human history along with allowing Fred Zinnemann to direct a musical.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well now you’ve done it Brian! Fredrik will be able to accept wherever you are in relation to both post and humanism, but he REALLY likes Fred Zinnemann. He may not be able to forgive you for that one (even though you are right).

  • dm494

    Brian, Locke’s tabula rasa differs from Buddhism not because Locke believes in a personal God but because it’s a doctrine about how humans learn about the world. The Buddhist denial of the self has nothing to do with such a question and it also has no bearing on whether there is such a thing as human nature. If I understand Buddhism correctly, the religion does not deny the empirical self, the bundle of perceptions, memories, feelings and thoughts that I call “me” and that I consider to be somehow associated with the body that I see reflected when I look in a mirror. What it does deny is a transcendental self, the Ego or soul which is the alleged subject of these thoughts and feelings and which, for some philosophers, has no necessary connection with what we think of as personality. This transcendental self is what Kant insists on when he says in his incredibly obscure manner that ‘the “I think” must be able to accompany all my representations’. Buddhism disagrees with Kant then, as well as with Descartes, Berkeley, and the later Husserl, but probably has no conflict in this regard with David Hume, Nietzsche, the early Husserl, or Sartre. Incidentally, I don’t know how Buddhism reconciles this denial of the transcendental self with its belief in reincarnation; I seem to recall an attempt at this in the Milindipanha (it involved a simile with a candle lighting other candles), although I also remember that I found the defense unconvincing. And when Buddhists deny “essence”, I’m not so sure they’re talking about a Western notion at all. In Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamikakarika and in scholarship I’ve read on the Madhyamika sect of Mahayana Buddhism, denial of essence or affirmation of sunyata (emptiness) is a denial that there is anything self-subsistent, anything independent of all other things for its existence. Needless to say, this doctrine of “dependent co-arising” has no apparent link with the belief that things have common natures or properties which are necessary to their being the sorts of things they are.

    Apropos of your defense of anti-essentialism (which, unlike Buddhist theories of the self, Locke’s empiricist epistemology might possibly have some bearing on): you say that belief in human nature is merely an assertion, one which looks increasingly untenable as we learn more about other cultures. Really? You must know that Chomsky and his colleagues would strenuously object that linguistics research in the past 60 years has amassed a great deal of evidence for the existence of shared mechanisms of language acquisition and universal properties of human language. (There is, for your purposes, a book by Dan Everett based on his work with the Piraha Indians which contests these views–apparently the Piraha cannot count and their language does not involve recursion, which is believed by Chomsky to be a minimum defining feature of human language.) In addition, the linguist Ray Jackendoff and the composer Fred Lehrdahl co-authored a book, A GENERATIVE THEORY OF TONAL MUSIC, which advances Chomskian arguments for the universality of (broadly understood) tonal music, and there have also been attempts to identify moral universals. Obviously there’s a great deal of variation in that last department, but do you know of any culture that does NOT consider it wrong to commit robbery or murder–at least against members of one’s own local community? In any case, there are ways in which your thesis is trivially false–e.g., no one can appreciate images that use ultra-violet or music that employs pitches audible only to dogs.

  • Tony Williams

    Barry, In view of the detailed and eloquent postings that have been made on the subject so far I think that the term “condescending” really refers to the nature of your own posts. Whenever a serious point is made you resort to sarcastic and sniding remarks more than anybody else on this site. Your comments certainly do not reflect anything “perfect;y reasonable” in nature but merely snipe at those trying to interrogate aspects of a film in detail, especially those by a director who does not share your “enthusiasm” for the kind of films you like. So let us know please try to comment in a reasonable manner on the excellent points Brian and Frederk have been making and not engage in sarcastic commments that reflect an inability to debate in a rational manner.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony, I hardly think that Brian and Fredrik needed anybody’s help in making the points that they were making in their most stimulating debate (although both x and now dm have made interesting additions).

    I did think that as they admirably wound up agreeing to disagree with jovial comments and mutual compliments, it would be funny if a disagreement then broke out regarding Fred Zinnemann. But that’s irony, not sarcasm.

  • Peter Henne

    I think that dm494 at 4-24, 8:28pm has a very useful post. That is exactly what I remember from Locke’s writings on personal identity from my college course on “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” from a quarter-century ago. I think that dm494 has also revealed that there are many variants within Buddhism, not just a single “Buddhism,” which does not seem like a revelation to the West any longer.

    Brian, You make so many assumptions that I don’t know where to begin. I’ll pick one. You assume that because a concept began to be talked about at some certain point in history and not prior, therefore that concept is a social construct only. But that is hardly grounds for settling the realist question. All you have proven, instead, is merely that concept C began to appear in the literature at time x, a historical claim but not a philosophical one. It says nothing at all about if C exists independently. After all, if C exists independently, and positing the reasonable belief that we make progress in gaining knowledge, then C would be or will be discovered at some time or other, right? If not at x, then at some other time y. Thus you are simply stacking the deck by prejudicially disallowing an argument to the contrary. You haven’t gotten your argument off the ground.

  • Peter Henne

    Excuse me, dm494’s post was at 4-22, 8:28pm.

  • Alex

    “Kubrick’s many admirers find it so impossible to accept that there are perfectly reasonable people in this world who don’t share their enthusiasm.”

    Perhaps this is true of SOME of “Kubrick’s many admirers.” Perhaps, it is more true of Kubrick admirers than it is of admirers of other directors –perhaps not.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Have a little more time to respond now than my hasty response to Brian last night (took merely an hour to compose… at 2 am!) and even quicker response to Tony this morning. Per Brian’s comment at 4-21, 7:08 pm, it’s Tony who is, I think, “trying to make an argument for Kubrick as a radical or progressive.” I’ll respond to Tony (who has different concerns than Brian) in a second post.

    Brian: In your 4-21 post you write “Posthumanism … simply says that there is no soul/human nature/core common to all people.” On what evidence do you make this truth claim? As I’ve mentioned I am a materialist. I believe in the theory of evolution; I therefore believe that we are evolved animals. Dogs have a shared nature, which can be quantified and analyzed; among other things it’s based on the structure of their brain as it has evolved through time. The same, I assert, is true of humans. (I am not making, in short, any metaphysical claims. Your use of Buddhism as an authority – and I agree with Peter and dm “that there are many variants within Buddhism” – may make a metaphysical claim, unless you are treating this ancient religion as a philosophy.)

    I have generally seen the term “posthuman” used in reference to the wonderful world of tomorrow wherein we will evolve, in common with our machines, into some sort of new entity. (See for example the “Singularity” movement.) However you don’t seem to be making this sort of claim.

    You write at 4-22 5:53 pm “the assertion of a shared humanity has remained exactly that for centuries – an assertion.” However until you have refuted evolutionary theory you have not refuted this concept.

    You write in the same post that I had made a substitution “from ‘common humanity’ to ‘empathy’ as if ‘common humanity’ and ‘empathy’ were synonyms.” This however did not come out of the blue in my earlier argument, for in my 4-22, 6:09 am response I wrote “To be “posthuman” is by your yardstick to lack empathy, which is simply the perception of a common humanity in yourself and other human beings (a perception you argue is false).” I carefully define empathy as I am using the term in this argument, which does equate the two terms.

    Do you, then, have another definition of empathy? You offer this: it’s “strategic essentialism” (Gayatri Spivak’s term): “the postulation of an essential core of humanity in each person which is then understood to demand recognition by all other persons, since to deny that essence in another is to deny oneself.” Empathy, then, is a social construct, a “postulation.” (This chimes with Peter’s comment above “You assume that because a concept began to be talked about at some certain point in history and not prior, therefore that concept is a social construct only.”) In this case you don’t address my (essentialist?) counterargument, which I had made above, that “there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that many living creatures do feel empathy for others.” It’s not, then, merely a construct. It is a common trait shared by many (not all) human beings, found as well in various animal species.

    I will add however that a lack of empathy is a marker for various human mental illnesses. Kubrick does deal with this as a major (maybe THE major) theme of his work. I am not saying anything here about SK the man, just SK the artist.

    A problem with much “post” theory (posthumanist, poststructuralist, etc) is its complete denial of what we can learn from science about the human beings who both make and take in art. Scare words like “essentialist” get deployed as a way of shutting down approaches more grounded in observable reality.

    Where’s the science on “acknowledgement of human difference” as a generator of empathy?

    Other topics: I’m in general agreement with considering Kubrick as a modernist-inflected artist. Your tolerance of “schematic” depictions of human beings makes sense within your aesthetic; but “schematic” is another way of saying “cartoon,” which doesn’t sound so good. Your comparison of Kubrick and Burroughs is very astute. You reject “the warm-and-fuzzy approach of shared humanity-style identification.” Is it not possible for works of art with “shared humanity-style identification” to be anything other than “warm-and-fuzzy”?

    You haven’t addressed my comment that “I think however that the whole posthuman thing asks us to measure Stanley Kubrick by some other yardstick than that his other supporters offer.”

    You compare A CLOCKWORK ORANGE with depicting the torture at Abu Ghraib. You write “Kubrick is just showing how people in this world have treated and continue to treat other people.” A brutal portrayal of torture, as part of an intelligent political argument, would have been fine. MURIEL is a good example of how a fine film artist can make this work; so are, in very different registers, films by Dreyer, Mizoguchi, Bresson, Fassbinder. In CLOCKWORK Kubrick failed to thread this needle; the intellectual argument of the film is incoherent so the beating under discussion is merely grotesque without being intelligent. (How many felons in clown suits sing a tune by Arthur Freed while maiming their victims?) Kubrick hardly “reneged on his depiction of reality” or told any truths, as I see no reality in what he depicts. Here however is an area I think where we can simply agree to disagree.

    As we probably also should about the utility of Kubrick’s work. What works in Kubrick (the measured-out no exit of THE KILLING, the focused polemic of PATHS OF GLORY, the savage satire of DR STRANGELOVE, even the enigmatic ending of 2001) are the old tools of the Master Narrative. I would be open to reading a lengthy essay by you on the trilogy of late Kubricks you love, though, where you’d demonstrate that those films do indeed use “new tools and new toolboxes.”

  • Gregg Rickman

    Tony, the SFIFF lecture on Tati, by Malcolm Turvey, was very interesting and thought provoking. You can find some comments (not by me) on what I saw today (well, yesterday) at http://bayflicks.net/2012/04/23/sfiff-report-jacque-tati-barbara-kopple/ Turvey really brought home Tati’s self-conscious placement of himself in the progression of screen comedy.

    Regarding your comments of 4-22 11:53 am, my argument has been since early in this thread that Kubrick is best defended AS a satirist (rather than as philosopher). It’s a matter of opinion as to the success of his various efforts. I don’t think he’s successful in getting us to identify with Alex in CLOCKWORK, although it seems probable to me that this is what the film intended.

    Again, we’ll have to agree to disagree here. I’ll add that I’ve caught up with JOHN CARTER (which you mention liking above at 4-10, 9:42 am) and here we do agree. I’ve always liked Mars as a site of utopian fantasy, and am very sorry that the film has become such a byword for failure. Setting aside the film’s (very interesting) political aspect, Stanton seems to have an appreciation for action that is positively Walshian (very high praise indeed). The conventions of contemporary cinema hurry the film along too much, though, for all of its beats to really register.

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, you are quite right. All of those qualifiers are needed. And it points to the necessity of waiting past a moment of frustration before making a statement which will wind up needing them.

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, Thank you very much for supplying this link. I agree with you that Kubrick is not successful in getting us to identify with Alex despite the film’s intentions. Yet, I see his targets are aimed at a manipulative and authoritarian society very much like the one we experience today. This is where I see his relevance. Hw may not have the optimism that concludes Thomas Wolfe’s YOU CANT GO HOME AGAIN but, at least, he diagnoses certain root causes.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Incidentally, I don’t know how Buddhism reconciles this denial of the transcendental self with its belief in reincarnation.’

    Word used is not reincarnation but re-birth having different meaning. There is mind stream consciousness that is existing without beginning, particularized in one human being because of other four factors of human self (body,sensation, perception, mental formations)are unique. Mind stream is taking new birth from moment to moment in physical life (and other 4 factors,) and Buddhist is saying there is metaphysical life where mind stream continues after other factors separate. Then when other factors come together with mind stream there is re-birth. Because memory is attached to consciousness someone can remember previous birth, but not same person even with memory of previous birth.

    That is explanation I have learned.

    X has quoted ‘Deeds there are but no doer, thoughts there are but no thinker.’ Used much by Zen sect of Buddhism. It is meaning that ‘you are what you do,’ there is no essential person

    ‘I think that dm494 has also revealed that there are many variants within Buddhism, not just a single “Buddhism,” ‘

    There is single Buddhism with variants. There is 4 seals of Buddhism agreed by all variants; if not agreeing to these 4 seals, then it is not Buddhism. 4 seal are 1) all compounded things are impermanent. 2)all emotions is painful. 3)there is no inherent existence for anything. 4) Nirvana is beyond concepts. Number 3 is subject of discussion in relation to post human discussion.

    Never thinking that Buddhism would be discussed here (except from comment on Buddhist movie theme.)

  • I do like Zinnemann, and just because I do I still haven’t gather enough courage to watch OKLAHOMA. When I’ve seen it I will let the world know what I thought. Watch this space.

    Three weeks ago this started out as a discussion about the characters in FORT APACHE, and now it has turn into a debate on the particulars of Buddhist beliefs. If that doesn’t show the depth and scope of this blog I don’t know what does. It was me who brought Buddishm into the discussion but I wasn’t expecting it to become a new subject in itself. I like it though. Incidentally Brian, I wasn’t saying that Locke’s writings and Buddhist beliefs were the same.

    I rewatched THE BIG COMBO yesterday. I wonder if there is another American film of the 50s which has such an effect on me. It’s like a cry for help over how rotten society and humanity is, as if Yordan and Lewis woke up one morning and said “We’ve had it with this world, let’s hold up a mirror to it so that it can look into its own heart of darkness.” Here indeed all emotions are painful. But it is still a heartful world, there is a sense of sadness, of loss. You could say that Kubrick’s films are similar to THE BIG COMBO in the view of the world, but there seems to be not the same sense of mourning or sadness in his work, but a matter-of-fact acceptance of the rottenness, and a sense that this is the way the world is and has always been like, and there is nothing we can do about it. There is anger in PATHS OF GLORY, which might be way I like it best, but more often there is little emotions involved, but detached observation, as if Kubrick was working with a microscope rather than a film camera. Maybe this is something “posthumanistic”?

  • dm494

    Junko, your seal number 3, “there is no inherent existence for anything,” is what I was talking about when I mentioned the doctrine of dependent co-arising, which states that everything is dependent on something else for its existence. However, I don’t see any connection between this denial of self-subsistence (inherent existence), which seems to be a view about causality, and Brian’s assertion that there is no such thing as human nature, an essence the possession of which entitles each of us to be called a human being.

    In all honesty, I can’t understand your explanation of re-birth. Yes, “reincarnation” suggests that an enduring soul migrates into a new body, while “re-birth” does not contain any implications about souls, but if this mind stream is, say, John Jameson, because of the four factors that come together and particularize it, then John Jameson will cease to exist when the factors break up. You say that the mind stream has memory, so that when it becomes particularized again through the re-convergence of the four factors it recalls its previous life. Okay, but how can it recall being Jameson instead of someone else who also no longer exists? Put another way, if there is only one mind stream, then when two people A and B die and are re-born as C and D, I don’t see how C can have a memory of having been A and D a memory of having been B–why can’t C have been B and D have been A instead?

    Another problem here is that we’re all using English–is re-birth really the most accurate translation? And Buddhist texts are in multiple languages–Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Classical Tibetan. Many of the original Indian texts now exist only in Chinese or Tibetan translations, which makes matters worse–the Chinese/Tibetan translation may be in error, and the error is then further distorted by translation into English.

    Regarding Buddhist sects, there is the later Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) and the original Theravada, which is now confined to Sri Lanka and which Mahayanists call Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). Mahayana in India broke up into two schools of thought, Madhyamika, founded by Nagarjuna, and Vijnanavada or Yogacara, founded by Vasubandhu. Madhyamika in turn split up into the Svatantrika school of Bhavaviveka and the Prasangika school of Candrakirti. Ideas of both Madhyamika and Yogacara were later combined in developments of Buddhism outside of India–Ch’an/Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Amida, etc.

    Fredrik writes of Kubrick that he displays “a matter-of-fact acceptance of the rottenness, and a sense that this is the way the world is and has always been like, and there is nothing we can do about it.”

    I wonder if Brian and Tony can locate passages in Kubrick which would support their reading of him as a filmmaker who believed that the source of human evil is political, not metaphysical. For my part, the ape man section of 2001 inclines me to the metaphysical interpretation.

  • Mark Gross

    “I wonder if Brian and Tony can locate passages in Kubrick which would support
    their reading of him as a filmmaker who believed that the source of human evil
    is political, not metaphysical. For my part, the ape man section of 2001
    inclines me to the metaphysical interpretation.”

    Excellent point, dm! I feel that the circular form, and also circular narrative of both A CLOCKWORK ORANGE & THE SHINING would also support a metaphysical reading of Kubrick’s intentions, rather than a political one. In particular I would refer to the final track of THE SHINING into a close-up of a photo of jack Torrence from a time before he was born as implying a circular cycle of violence. Also in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, although there is indeed an attempt to criticize the Ludovico method, at the end, Alex and all the other characters are engaged in a continuing cycle of violence, so in fact, unlike the novel, nothing has changed. Also, in the original script of 2001, the Starchild was supposed to ignite a series of orbiting nuclear bombs above the earth and destroy everything. Although this was changed, one can see in the behavior of the apes after the monolith appears, as well as the hysterical violence perpetrated by HAL as examples of an almost metaphysical expression of eternal violence.

  • Tony Williams

    I would say Kubrick’s camera is a microscope analyzing the human condition in terms of personal factors and social conditions that cause the malaise he is examining. Even 2001 supports this since the monolith is a scientific object designed by the unseen aliens to advance the human condition. But the advancement of man presents problems and the gaze of the Star Child at the end of the film suggests “Where do we go from here?” as it looks at the audience (It echoes the final lines of the Clarke novel “What do I do now?” One dark alternative is the destructive world of Alex whose gaze at the audience opens A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

    Each Kubrick film involves the interaction of the personal and the environmental in very much the same way as Zola Rougon-Macquart series of novels when dealing with individual members of this unfortunate family. However, despite Zola’s notorious essay “The Scientific Novel”, he never (fortunately) followed this thesis 100% so the works contain various degrees of artistry and excess (see the vision of Father Mouret in THE SINS OF FATHER MOURET towards the end of the novel where nature appears to take over the church. Thomas Alan Nelson sees the late surrealism of Bunuel contained within the narrative as influencing Kubrick. An appropriation and development of cinematic naturalism is another way in which to understand what seems to be the cold nature of a Kubrick film that denies the audience any of the convenient mechanisms of easy identification and resolution. Such a path has to be complex.

    His work involves the integration of personal mechanisms ingrained within each individual from civilization (Freud), the environment, and the political system that develops in each particular world.

    For Kubrick, the personal flaws residing within every human is not the alcoholism of Tante Dede which affects each member of this unfortunate family in different degrees but a constitution indebted to Freud especially in his “Three Essays of Sexuality” and the later essays dealing with the Death Instinct in CIVILIZATION and ITS DISCONTENTS etc. Here, Kubrick follows the work of Norman O. Brown, LIFE AFTER DEATH (1957) and his use of the “excremental vision” from Jonathan Swift. Michel Ciment supplies such references. Each Kubrick film deals with this interaction with the social malaise of war, crime, slavery, dysfunctional families, the lure of a “room at the top” in a stagnant social system, military boot camp training, and sexual tensions within a marriage whose affluence owes much to alignment with a very corrupt social system, I need not name the films themselves but if Kubrick analyzes these “through a glass (camera/microsope) darkly” and does not emphasize directly, he does do this in indirect ways as in the final revolt of Draba, Spartacus’s son representing hope for the future, and the escape of Wendy and Danny from the Overlook Hotel.Yes, it is detached observation but it does not negate issues of pathos and the possibility that things could change if humans broke away from this circle of destruction.As a director, he is not going to offer any convenient escape hatch for audiences nor suggest easy solutions that are not there within the films within the narratives they occupy

  • Tony Williams

    Mark’s post appeared as I was writing the above. But, do not his points about the Star Child suggest a form of irony in the fact that this superior being still causes destruction? Thus, Kubrick chooses to end the film on a moment of ambiguity.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Regarding Buddhist sects, there is the later Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) and the original Theravada, which is now confined to Sri Lanka and which Mahayanists call Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). Mahayana in India broke up into two schools of thought, Madhyamika, founded by Nagarjuna, and Vijnanavada or Yogacara, founded by Vasubandhu. Madhyamika in turn split up into the Svatantrika school of Bhavaviveka and the Prasangika school of Candrakirti. Ideas of both Madhyamika and Yogacara were later combined in developments of Buddhism outside of India–Ch’an/Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Amida, etc.’

    Theravada was not original school. Was one of 18 schools that survived. There is historical councils where different interpretation of doctrine was made, and Theravada develops from Vibhajyavada described at Council of Pataliputra II during time of King Ashoka, developing to Theravada later. Mahayana also developing from this time from Mahasangika, later becoming 7 schools. Also, from earliest period Mahayana was always having many schools. It was not starting as unified school, only agreeing on certain points that was more different from small vehicle schools.

    Reincarnation is wrong English word because there is realm that is not flesh. There is light realm. Because cannot take flesh form in light realm, rebirth is better English word. You mentioned Amida, Amida is Buddha in light realm, existing only as light.

    About original language, there was many Indian languages. There is same sutra existing in Prakrit, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese. From comparison of key term, Japanese scholars have been able to find accurate meaning from comparison between same sutra in different language.

    ‘if this mind stream is, say, John Jameson, because of the four factors that come together and particularize it, then John Jameson will cease to exist when the factors break up. You say that the mind stream has memory, so that when it becomes particularized again through the re-convergence of the four factors it recalls its previous life. Okay, but how can it recall being Jameson instead of someone else who also no longer exists? Put another way, if there is only one mind stream, then when two people A and B die and are re-born as C and D, I don’t see how C can have a memory of having been A and D a memory of having been B–why can’t C have been B and D have been A instead?’

    I did not explain clearly. Mind stream is same as consciousness, fifth factor. Using term mind stream because suggesting a river flowing in one course even with different water. Real word for factors is skanda, meaning heap (because there is more sub-division, as many as a heap of rice.)

    Jameson could not recall previous life, because ordinary person without practice of meditation or other metal practice, but if Jameson had long practice then he could separate memory of immediate previous life and even 10 previous life. (I want to say now that I am making explanation that I studied in University. I was student of Western literature and Asian philosophy, and also belonged to Surrealist group, different topic, but it is my strongest identification.)If Jameson was once returner at death, then reborn in light world with memory of previous life and all previous lives, and soon to be enlightened. If on bodhisattva path, also having memory of many previous lives, and can choose place and circumstance of rebirth.

    One more thing to say, Western scholarship about Buddhism has many error and is not up to date with exception of Guenther and Kalupahana, maybe one or two other. Still saying that Theravada was original school is common error for Western scholar but it did not exist until until Third Council from 250 BCE, and just one of 18 school that also existed. It is the only school from that time surviving to present.