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Dead Flesh: The Presence of Norman O.

Brown in the work of David Cronenberg

Paul OSullivan

Contents: 1. A Dangerous Method: Discovering Norman O. Brown in the work of David Cronenberg 1.1 Grotesquely Brownian: Fascinatingly Cronenbergundian 1.2 The Zombie Complex: The Aberration that Proves the Rule 2. All Too Human, Not Enough Brown: The Failure of Sexual Organisation in Shivers 3. Conclusion: Finding Closure in a Brownian World Works Cited

1. A Dangerous Method: Discovering Norman O. Brown in the work of David Cronenberg

While undergoing my research into Norman O. Brown for sake of this thesis, I was all the time conscious that by todays standards Browns writings can often seem quaint and archaic. After all, his writing comes from that radical period of American history where all orthodoxy got thrown out the window and the wilder the new ideas the better. This held through in academic circles too, where the most intellectually bold ideas got the greatest applause. Norman O. Brown was a true child of the 60s, and no doubt it was the freedom of this period that allowed him to undertake the boldest and most wide reaching interpretation of Freud that has ever been produced. Life Against Death begins as Freud did, by drawing our attention to that which we are most prone to overlook in our daily lives: the significance of dreams, and the unexplainable behaviour of insane individuals, for which he proclaims, psychoanalysis is the only theory that can provide an answer. But Brown wasnt as content as Freud in keeping psychoanalysis within the domain of these anomalies in human behaviour. He takes psychoanalysis to the full cultural level, claiming that we are all neurotic and that all the great cultural institutions are products of neurosis and, in a strange catch-22, are also attempts to cure the neurosis. Life Against Death is admittedly too big and bold to be taken seriously in todays academic climate. But in light of the direction film studies is now going the hopelessly conservative cognitive theory - perhaps big and bold is precisely what is called for. To quote Brown: New ideas will not come if their entry into the mind is subject to conformity with our old ones and with what we call common sense, this book demands of the reader as it demands of the author a willing suspension of common sense. The aim is to open up a new point of view (Brown xvii).

Brown opens Life Against Death by returning to the fundamentals of Freudian psychoanalysis. He proclaims that all mankind experiences repression and we are all

therefore neurotic (6). Unlike Freud, who for the most part tried to avoid the implications of universal neurosis, Brown takes this problem and attempts throughout the course of Life Against Death to discover a way out. In so doing he takes as his starting point the only time in life where man was unrepressed: childhood. Brown attributes the formation of neurosis to the uniquely prolonged infancy of the human being, during which time, protected from the brutal realities of the world, the infant revels in unrepressed bodily pleasure, in a state which Freud called polymorphous perversity. This is the sexual state of being that occurs during infancy and early childhood when the libido is unified and multi-directional. The polymorphously perverse infant has not undergone genital organisation (focusing the libido onto specific organs of the body) and so they can attain sexual satisfaction in every organ of the body because they have not yet undergone repression. They have not acquired that sense of shame which, according to the Biblical story, expelled mankind from Paradise, and which, presumably, would be discarded if Paradise were regained (Brown 31). During this period of polymorphous perversity the child goes through the three stages of the oral, the anal, and finally the phallic. Each stage is a significant step towards the socialisation and repression of the child as it begins to attach its libido onto specific zones of the body1 (but not yet genital). During this period of parental protection the childs only goal is to attain as much pleasure as possible, he therefore holds allegiance with the pleasure-principle. But later, when the reality-principle begins to impose, he must undergo repression and socialisation, and so loses his polymorphous perversity under the conditions of sexual organisation. But as Brown points out:

Later on in this thesis we will discuss the full significance of the oral and anal stage through our study of Cronenbergs Shivers.

Parent discipline, religious denunciation of bodily pleasure, and philosophical exaltation of the life of reason have all left man overtly docile, but secretly in his unconscious unconvinced and therefore neurotic. Man remains unconvinced because in infancy he tasted the fruit of the tree of life, and knows that it is good, and never forgets (31). Mans sexuality is therefore intimately connected with childhood sexuality, and mans unconscious goal is to recover his childhood. Brown notes that for Freud, the clue not only to normal adult sexuality but to our whole repressed and hidden ultimate essence lies in infantile sexuality (30). What is repressed in us are the desires we had, unrepressed in childhood; and they are sexual desires (23). And so as Brown envisions, if man can eliminate his repression, he will return to a state of polymorphous perversity not unlike the unrepressed state experienced in infancy and childhood. The idea of a return to the state of polymorphous perversity cannot be considered without first understanding repression, and repression cannot be fully understood without understanding the instincts. In Browns words: The Freudian instinct is a borderland concept between the mental and biological, because Freud is seeking an explanation of man as neurotic or repressed in terms which would relate mans specifically human characteristic (repression) to his animal (bodily) nature (79). Over the course of Freuds career, the theory of the instincts has taken a number of different forms: hunger and love, sexual and self-preservation, and love and hate. But whatever their form, Freud maintained that there can only be two instincts and they are mutually antagonistic to each other. Freud was insistent on this instinctual dualism and his final incarnation became one which could not be threatened by ambivalent fusion Eros (life

instinct) and death. Eros, seeks to preserve and enrich life, and the death instinct, seeks to return life to the peace of death (Brown 80). However, these irreducible and irreconcilable instincts pose a problem: If it is the conflict between the instincts which causes repression, and if the instincts are innate, then how can repression be eliminated? Freuds theory of the instincts brings great pessimism to psychoanalysis because if all organic life is partial to Eros and the death instinct, all organic life is then sick (82). It would mean that man is not unique in his neurosis, and that there is no hope of a cure. But in Browns biggest deviation from Freud, he proposes an alternative to instinctual dualism: If, on the other hand, psychoanalysis is to retain hope and keep open the possibility of therapy, it must find a way to avoid Freuds metaphysical vision of all life sick with the stuggle between life and death. It must hold fast to the vision that man is distinguished from other animals by the privilege of being sick. [] We need a metaphysic which recognises both the continuity between man and animal and also the discontinuity. We need instead of a dualism, an instinctual dialectic (83) Essentially, what Brown proposes is the existence of a state of being at the organic level2 in which the dualities can exist in a unified state. He states that man is distinguished from animals by having separated, ultimately into a state of mutual conflict, aspects of life (instincts) which in animals exist in some condition of undifferentiated unity or harmony (83). Browns instinctual dialectics, which he proposes to replace Freuds instinctual dualism, does not dismiss the polarities of dualism; it merely proposes a more dynamic

Brown uses the term organic to describe a level which is more primal than the human level. He proposes that at this level, all dualities are in some way unified. He also refers to this level as the animal level although we might dispute the idea that animals do not undergo any form of repression. Although these terms might invite criticism, we should simply understand the organic and the animal as the states of being which precede repression and the formation of human neurosis.

understanding of the instincts via dialectics3. And the theory of instinctual dialectics must assume a state at which all polarities are united. If indeed there is a level of being in which life and death are unified, then the possibility of eliminating repression is theoretically attainable. But the question still remains: How can repression be eliminated and how can polymorphous perversity be attained? According to Brown, if man is to elliminate the antagonism of life against death, then he must first learn how to die. In this thesis I will examine the influence of Norman O. Brown on filmmaker David Cronenberg, with particular focus on his first major film production, Shivers (1975). Cronenberg is a Canadian filmmaker renowned for his unique ability to depict the most perverse sides of the human psyche: Dead Ringers (1988) was the first film to ever shine a light on the taboo subject of gynaecology; M. Butterfly (1993) explores the murky subject of gender ambiguity; Crash (1996) shows us a subculture of people who derive sexual pleasure from the experience of a car crash. His subject matter is not chosen for its shock value; these are in no way exploitation films. Cronenberg takes the greatest care to incorporate these anomalies of human nature into a unifying aesthetic, whereby they appear as mere variations in the spectrum of sexual possibility. Indeed on an obvious level Cronenberg and Brown appear like the perfect pairing of artist and theoretician; Cronenberg appears to provide answers to (or at least attempts to provide answers to) the very questions any reader of Life Against Death were left wondering: What would polymorphous perversity look like? How can the Eros and death be united in the human being? In Shivers we witness the results after a mad scientist attempts to medically induce a state of polymorphous perversity. In The Fly, a scientist spices himself with a creature that is not subject to human repression and

Brown is not clear on the definition of his instinctual dialects. But as close as I can determine, it is a fluid and dynamic understanding of the instincts, and determined by time and conditions.

therefore does not know the duality of life and death. The Brownian themes in Cronenbergs films are no coincidence; Cronenberg himself cites the influence Life Against Death has had on him: I had read Norman O Browns Life Against Death where he would discuss the Freudian theory of polymorphous perversity; the kind of sexuality that a child has, that is completely non genital and its not focused and its in everything. Its a sort of suffusing sexuality or sensuality almost. Even old Norman had some trouble when it came time to figure out how that sort of Dionysian consciousness would function in a society where you had to walk down the street and cross the road and not get hit by a car, you know. I mean, how does that all endelving sexuality work when youre just walking down the street? Its tricky (Long Live the New Flesh). This thesis will explore Browns influence on Cronenberg, but it will also rely on examples from Cronenbergs work to illustrate and give clarity to the more complicated points of Brownian theory. In the next two sections of this chapter I will examine two aspects of Cronenbergs work in relation to Browns deviation from Freuds theory of the instincts. In the first section, I will explore Cronenbergs unique grotesque aesthetic and I will examine how it adheres to the Brownian idea that Eros and death are unified at the organic level. In the second section, I will analyse the place Shivers occupies in relation to the zombie film genre and how this in turn reflects upon Freuds theory of the death instinct and Browns criticism of it. In the second chapter I will undertake a more comprehensive examination of Shivers. I will examine the various modes of repression that are presented in the film and I will analyse the possibility of polymorphous perversity that the film suggests. In the concluding chapter I will take a wider look at the role of art from a Brownian perspective

1.1 Grotesquely Brownian: Fascinatingly Cronenbergundian

David Cronenberg is one of those rare directors whose style is so unique and identifiable that he is not only charged with the venerable distinction of auteur, but like Fellini, Lynch and Bergman, is given his own adjective as tribute to a style that has found its way into the collective unconscious. Cronenbergundian4 is a term that could refer to a combination of recurring motifs, themes and genres that have consistently recurred right through his career: science-fiction, horror, sexual anomaly and/or violence. But none of those adequately match the recognition that is immediately produced by the word. Cronenbergundian really only refers to a single recurring element of his films, and that is the fleshy grotesque. The fleshy grotesque, to attempt a fuller definition, is a sort of violent overflow of malignant, mutated, alien flesh, which so often appeared in Cronenbergs earlier films.5 It could take the form of growths and mutation in the human body, as in Rabid (1977), Videodrome (1983), The Fly(1986), eXistenz(1999) or of an alien creature or autonomous parasite, as in Naked Lunch (1991), Shivers (1985). Of course similar manifestations of the grotesque have been a part of horror and science-fiction in cinema for a long time before Cronenberg. Films such as Gojira (1954), Them! (1954) and Le Belle et le bte (1946) have all played with disturbing aberrations of the body. What is puzzling then is what has made Cronenbergs representations of these bodily anomalies so disturbing, fascinating, and distinctive? The answer is to be found not in the alien-ness of these grotesque bodies but in their familiarity; specifically the fascination and disgust of early sexual discovery. As Helen W. Robbins writes in More Human than I am Alone:

The director stated in an interview his preference for the term Cronenbergundian over the more common variation, Cronenbergesque. 5 In his later films such as A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) he dropped this grotesque form of horror (to the chagrin of his fans but most likely due to its growing failure to shock audiences) and developed instead a style of violent realism.

In The Fly, shortly after Seth Brundle has fused with the housefly but is still unaware of his condition, he stands before the bathroom mirror examining his strangely blemished face and biting a fingernail. Unexpectedly, the entire nail sloughs off against his teeth. When, in his horrified fascination, Seth examines, probes and finally squeezes the naked pad of his finger, it disgorges a thick whitish fluid against the mirror. The image is overloaded with double entendre, suggesting simultaneously the two furtive adolescent rites of masturbation (the fingers phallic shape) and pimple squeezing (the splat of goo that Brundle wipes off the mirror with a tissue) (140). In Naked Lunch, Cronenbergs grotesque is more blatantly connected with sexuality. Following the scene where he accidently shoots his wife, Bill Lee sits quietly at bar, sipping his drink, when he is immodestly asked by a homosexual, Are you a faggot? Bill reacts passively to the question and slowly begins to rumble out a reply that never reaches an answer, when the homosexual re-interrupts: Id like you to meet a friend of mine he specializes in sexual ambivalence. Sexual ambulance, did you say? Bill replies. The homosexual leans back on his stool to reveal on his adjacent side a hideously grotesque alien creature, who sits in an almost mirror imitation of Bills posture. The creatures slimy and malignantly coloured skin resembles a carcass left in the sun. It exudes slime from large elongated pores on its spine and head. And in a fascinating close-up we see its long snailcoloured tongue poke around inside a long and thin glass of a mysterious sticky orange drink. Bill again responds passively, with a nonchalant my God. Mysteriously, up to this point in the scene Bill hadnt seen the giant creature sitting two seats over from him. What makes the scene compelling is the strange revelation that this creature had been sitting there all along and whats more, nobody has thought it abnormal. But the key to the scene comes from the choreography of the mirrored image of Bill and Mogwai (the creature) at the bar. The mirrored image suggests identification, and this identification with the mutant creature who

deals in sexual ambivalence, comes about through the blunt proposition of the homosexual. In Lacanian term, this puts the alien creature in the fantasy space known as objet petit a. This surplus fantasy space, that represents a lack in the real, is caused by Bills denial of his homosexuality, which would have forced him to confront the fact that his wifes death was no accident. The aforementioned identification with Mogwai was only a displacement of his identification with the homosexual. The parasite in Shivers no less justifies the interpretation that the fleshy grotesque in Cronenbergs films is deeply connected with sexual immaturity, but we will discuss that in more detail later on. If we now look at the grotesque in a wider context of art we will begin to understand its resonance with Brownian theory. In his essay, On the Grotesque in Science Fiction, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. writes: Its [the grotesques] characteristic awe, the fascination of the anomalous and chaotic, comes from experiencing combinations of elements that cannot occur, or should not occur, according to the established categories of scientific reason or customary observation (80). This unassailable characteristic of the grotesque, that is the combination of elements that should not occur, is precisely what gives the grotesque its transgressive and artistic value.6 It forces the observer to question powerfully rooted assumptions about natural law. 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

In comparison to surrealism, the grotesque is defined by a natural framing. While surrealism also combines elements that should not occur, they remain distinctive from the grotesqu e due to their dreamlike framing. In the surreal world the logic of natural law does not exist and so the combined elements do not hold the same meaning as for the grotesque which is always framed by the real world, and so the grotesque attains an intrusive and arresting power that forces us to assimilate it rather that allowing us to relegate it to the realm of dreams.

systematic undoing of these distinctions, on every possible level, is the major structural principle of all of Cronenberg's films (Shaviro 115). Cronenberg takes full advantage of this strength by never rushing past grotesque images for the sake of immediate shock. Instead he lingers on them in fascination and forces the audience to meditate on their fleshy textures and palpable physicality. Cronenbergs fleshy grotesque forces us to observe two seemingly incompatible elements in a living body: Unbound, ambivalent sexuality, and death. In the previous examples from The Fly we have already seen their simultaneous occurrence; Brundle simultaneously re-enacting a scene of sexual discovery at the same time as his body decomposes; in Naked Lunch, Mogwai specializes in sexual ambivalence and yet his flesh has the colouration of a rotting carcass. Sexuality and death. According to Norman O. Brown these seemingly opposite elements of sexuality and death are not opposed to each other but fused together at a fundamental organic level, namely, in the domain of the body - as is the case of Cronenbergs grotesque creatures. For Brown, Eros (sexuality) and death are not an innate duality of man, as Freud has stated, but a duality formed by mans flight from death and repression of sexuality. In Cronenbergs grotesque forms sexuality and death co-exist organically in singular bodies and so they are distinctively Brownian in that they undermine the duality of Eros (life) and death. In The Fly, when Brundle fuses with the housefly and becomes Brundlefly; the human (the neurotic man) fuses with the organic (the housefly). The Brundle half continues in rationality; he only cares for scientific pursuit, he is obsessional, and unaware of his own desires. On the other hand, the housefly is the perfect metaphor for instinctual, ephemeral life; born almost in full maturity, it lives for only a short time on pure instinct and then dies. So in Brundlefly we have a creature that will fulfil lifes mandate and accept its own death,


and a neurotic human who seeks to prolong life and capture time by scientific innovation. When Brundle first becomes Brundlefly he is surprisingly uncurious about his new condition as would be expected of a scientist. He makes nothing of the strange hairs which grow from his back. Instead, he revels in the instinctual bodily exuberance of the fly, enjoying the new vitality his body brings him and unashamedly seeks out sexual partners. Like an infant, he discovers the possibilities of his new body with blind ignorance of the other life force (death) that he must come to accept. Later, when he must confront the degradation of a body that is instinctually unified and therefore unafraid to die, Brundle recoils and returns to science to find an answer to the problem of death. Once again, in flight from death, Brundle separates Eros and death into opposing instincts and becomes neurotic. Cronenberg eventually gave up on his unique form of grotesquery in his later films and in light of our dissection of its purpose its easy to understand why. The fleshy grotesque simply grew too familiar to his audience. It was no longer binary breaking or duality combining. Like a true Brownian, he knew when it had to die. Harpham put it most eloquently when he said that, to the Parisian who strolls by Notre Dame on his way to work, even the gargoyles must seem as comfortable as old slippers. Domesticating our grotesqueries, we applaud or admire them, and finally pay them the ultimate tribute of ignoring their deformity (Harpham, 463).

1.2 The Zombie Complex: The Aberration that Proves the Rule

Zombie films, as a sub-genre of the horror film, have experienced a major resurgence in recent years. 28 Days Later (2002) was one of the first. Followed by the re-make Dawn of the Dead (2004), the hit comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004), and even Romero himself


returned with Land of the Dead (2005). Yet none of these incarnations have added anything significantly new to the zombie genre (unless you count the faster moving zombies in 28 Days Later). The zombie remains fundamentally the same: they are dead-headed and inactive, they are drawn to familiar places from their past lives (the shopping mall, etc.), and they eat the living. But in 1975 David Cronenberg took the familiar genre and brought it somewhere wholly different. Shiver (a.k.a. They Came from Within), re-invents the zombie in such a way as to make it much more compelling than its popular form. Although they are not officially zombies, there are enough similarities and enough clues throughout the movie to suggest that Cronenberg welcomed the comparison. The basic premise that applies to all zombie films, including Shivers, is that there is an unstoppable epidemic which turns all the afflicted into aggressors. But the zombies of Shivers are not driven by a desire to consume the flesh of the living but by a sexual desire. They dont appear to lose their higher brain functions; those functions are simply no longer necessary for the most part. Cronenbergs zombies are not proclaimed to be inhuman creatures (a distinction that is usually reiterated throughout most zombie films), in fact, the gap between who is human and who is zombie is very unclear in Shivers. Zombies are usually conceived as the living dead, but in Shivers Cronenberg makes the distinction between living and dead completely ambiguous. It could even be argued that Cronenbergs zombies are more alive that the people they attack: the regular people are droll and lifeless while the zombies are active in fulfilling their very human desires. With Shivers we dont just see Cronenbergs deviation from the zombie genre; we also see Browns deviation from Freuds understanding of the death instinct. The traditional zombie in its dead-headedness, its compulsion to repetition and its aggression towards the living, represent Freuds three characterisations of the death instinct: The Nirvana-principle, the repetition compulsion, and the sado-masochistic complex. The Nirvana-principle aims at

inactivity, rest, or sleep, the twin brother of death (Brown 87). The repetition compulsion is a general instinctual tendency to restore an earlier state of things, ultimately derived from a tendency in all organisms to return to the inorganic or dead level out of which all life arose (88). And the sado-masochistic is the aggressive introversion and extroversion of death against others or the self (sadism being the extroversion of a primary masochism). And so it is clear from the Freudian perspective why zombies are called the living dead: they are the embodiment of the death instinct. However, Brown points out that the death instinct is not as clear cut as Freud proclaims it to be. Each of Freuds characterisations of the death instinct are contradicted by their equal claim to Eros, the life instinct. Brown undermines Freuds attribution of the Nirvana-principle to the death instinct through an analysis of the relationship between the Nirvana-principle and the pleasure principle. In Freuds own words: The Nirvana-principle expresses the tendency of the death-instincts, the pleasure principle represents the claim of the libido (Freud 257). Yet Freuds distinction between the Nirvana-principle and the pleasure-principle does not hold up against his own definitions of them. According to Brown the Nirvana-principle is essentially what modern biology terms homeostasis; a balanced equilibrium between tension and release (90). The pleasure-principle which is associated with the life instinct is essentially another term for the Nirvana-principle, albeit the pleasure-principle is a uniquely human variation. Freud own interpretation claims as much: We must perceive that the Nirvana-principle, which belongs to the death-instincts, underwent a modification in the living organism through which it became the pleasure-principle (256), yet this would entail a transformation of the death instinct into the life instinct. According to Brown, Instinctual repression transforms the static homeostasis principle in animals into the dynamic pleasure-principle in man (90). And if, as Brown has claimed, the distinction between man and animal is mans repression of death, then the only difference between the Nirvana-principle (homeostasis) and the pleasure13

principle is that man has denied the death inherent in the Nirvana-principle (homeostasis) and thus creates the pleasure-principle. From this we can say that the Nirvana-principle only becomes part of the death-instinct because it is the original form of the pleasure-principle, whereby death is not denied. The pleasure-principles ultimate goal is to return to the Nirvanaprinciple which would incur an acceptance of death, thereby from the paradigm of the pleasure-principle the Nirvana-principle would appear like a return to death, or a death instinct. But before the Nirvana principle was skewered by human repression it was a balanced equilibrium between tension and tension release (Brown 90). If we now turn to the repetition compulsion, we will find here too that it is repression which turns the repetition-compulsion into the antagonist of the pleasure-principle (Brown 92). At the unrepressed organic level, the repetition compulsion seems to be a biological principle imposing the limitations of a species essence on each individual member of a species and directing the individual to enjoy life proper to his species (92). But in man, under the conditions of repression, the repetition-compulsion establishes a fixation on the past and commits man to the unconscious quest for the past in the future (92). Therefore only in man does the repetition-compulsion establish itself in time and history. If man were

unrepressed, the repetition-compulsion would be a life-instinct which would compel man to repeat pleasurable experiences (much as an infant consistently repeats a pleasurable activity), but because man is repressed the repetition compulsion creates what man perceives as time7 and commits him to the fruitless project of trying to recover his own past. Both the Nirvana-principle and the repetition compulsion call for the abolition of repression but as Brown observes, we see no connection between the Nirvana-principle or the repetition compulsion and the state of being dead (97). So far, it is difficult to see why Freud

Brown postulates that time and history are created by man due to repression and the repetition compulsion. Although it is a fascinating claim, I cannot go into it in any more detail in this thesis.


insisted on the death instinct at all. It is only when we get to the third form of the death instinct do we see a real connection. Freud was convinced of an innate aggressive tendency in man and this aggression takes the form of the sado-masochistic complex. The sadomasochism complex is death either externalized (sadism) or internalised (masochism). Yet Freud concluded that sadism arose from a primary masochism and so the tendency to die is more innate than the tendency to kill. His [Freuds] idea- which he argues, is not contradicted by biological theory- is that organisms die for internal reasons; death is no external accident; death is an intrinsic part of life (Brown 99). Brown does not disagree with Freud on masochism and its drive towards death; he simply draws a different conclusion from it. For Brown, if Freud can acknowledge that the goal of all life is death (Pleasure Principle 50), there is no reason why he should separate life and death into two separate instincts. The sado-masochistic complex, even in Freuds own definition, is proof in itself that life and death are united at the organic level. What is most interesting then, if we return to our discussion on zombies, is that the popular manifestation of the zombie not only depicts Freuds conception of the death instinct but in the zombie we also see the externalisation of the only characteristic of the death instinct that is connected to the state of being dead masochism. The zombies do not attack each other, they attack the living, therefore they are sadists and display behaviour that is associated with escape from death despite the fact that they are supposedly already dead. But I will not risk further extrapolation on the degree of death in zombies. According to Browns analysis, life and death are one-and-the-same and unified at the most fundamental level. In the zombie genre we see movement towards this understanding of life and death in the form of the zombie monster or the living dead, in that they are both dead and alive. However, like Freud, the popular rendition of the zombie film is always too keen to keep life and death separate from one another; by maintaining firm distinctions between the human survivors and

the inhuman zombies, and by adhering to a Freudian partitioning of death from life in the form of the death and life instincts. In Shivers, Cronenberg plays with the zombie genre by working within the parameters of the genre but at the same time undermining the safety nets which the genre usually offers. Typically, the zombies in zombie films act as other: they are peopl e who have become more dead than alive but they are always kept at a safe distance. In Dawn of the Dead, Romero uses the zombie as a criticism of consumer culture; the dead return to the shopping mall out of a sense of habit. However, Romero seems to overlook the fact that the survivors appear to be getting more pleasure from being in the mall than the zombies. Death (in this case repetition compulsion) is always kept at a distance. In Shivers Cronenberg does not provide this same distance from death. Cronenbergs death is not an attribute of the other, and it is not characterisable because Cronenbergs death is a Brownian death; that is to say that his death is unified with Eros (the life instinct). In Shivers the roles are reversed. The zombies are not used as an analogy for a cultural malignancy; it is the unafflicted that propagate death and malignancy through the dreariness of their lives. The zombies of Shivers are unrepressed and so unlike the unafflicted they do not repress death and consequently do not repress life. Cronenberg recognises the ubiquity of death as a part of life and does not wish to relegate it to the realm of the other. With Shivers Conenberg achieves what the zombie genre has always set out to do, unite life and death.


2. All Too Human, Not Enough Brown: The Failure of Sexual Organisation in Shivers

If Eros and death are united at the organic level then theoretically the human being has the potential to obtain a state of existence that is unrepressed and free from neurosis. The question that remains is: how can this state be realised in everyday life and what would it look like? In Shivers, Cronenberg attempts to answer this question. Taking an ordinary setting of an apartment complex as his starting point, Cronenberg explores the means by which sexual organisation and repression manifest themselves in everyday life, and the tyrannical role they play in preventing the realisation of our desires. He then, by way of science-fiction, introduces the possibility of a medically induced elimination of repression and the end result is a clash between mans neurotic will to repress himself and the troubling realities of his true desires. Shivers falls directly into the category we call Cronenbergundian. It utilizes his trademark style of objective narration and it is filled with Cronenbergs unique brand of grotesquery that is never without humour. The film is set in a new apartment complex called Starliner Towers; located on an isolated island which is connected by bridge to a major city. The complex is modern, has all the latest amenities, and attracts a rather dull catchment of middle class professionals, young couples, and retirees. Life at Starliner Towers appears to consist of walks, work, and occasional visits to the doctor. But in a shocking early scene, which is intercut8 with the manager of the tower showing another generic young couple around the complex, we see a brutal attack occurring in one of the apartments. It appears first like a sexual assault on a young girl, but its nature quickly becomes unclear as the girl (Annabelle) is laid out naked on a table and an incision is made into her abdomen. Her assailant (Dr. Hobbes), clad in medical gear, pours acid into her wound for purposes unknown. The

Intercut: The interweaving of two separate scenes in order to create a connection between them, be it to create a parallel or a contrast or merely to show that they are occurring simultaneously.


violence and strangeness of the scene reveals a hidden underbelly to the dull life at the Towers which hangs over us in tense suspension as the dull lives of the tenants continues on in silent discontent. Cronenberg allows the enigma to swell by not giving in to the draw of the mystery but instead by introducing us to the key characters of the film who are absorbed in their own isolation and are either oblivious or uninterested in the tragedy. There is Nick and Janine, the young married couple who are no longer able (or willing, in the case of Nick) to communicate with each other. There is Betts, a sensuous single woman who wastes her days away in her apartment sipping wine. And there is Dr. St Luc and nurse Forsythe, who work together in the in-house medical facility; they are ostensibly a couple, yet St Luc either ignores or is oblivious to Forsythes sexual advances. Everyone we meet is either sexually closed off or sexually dissatisfied. It is at this point in the story that the purpose of Dr. Hobbss strange operation is revealed to us. His work associate, Dr. Rollo Linskey, tells Dr. St Luc: Hobbs believes that man is an animal that thinks too much. An over rational animal that has lost touch with its body and its instincts. So he created a parasite thats a combination of Aphrodite and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful mindless orgy (Shivers). Hobbess parasite resemble faecal matter and moves like a giant slug. It passes amongst its victims by entering any orifice of the body and once it does it transforms them into crazed sex fiends. We soon find out that the success of the parasite turns out to be far greater than even Hobbs could imagine: he killed Annabelle in an attempt to contain it but he failed. It travels rapidly throughout the apartment complex in the manner of a venereal disease and at epidemic speed, leaving in its wake an orgy of violent and sex crazed tenants. But Shivers never becomes a character driven film. Cronenberg is not interested in taking a psychological observation of any one individual. His characters are character types and their relationships to one another are reminiscent of soap-opera melodrama. The true lead

character of the film is Starliner Towers, the apartment complex itself. In an early shot of the film, while Hobbes is still operating on Annabelle, the camera cuts 9 away from Hobbs to the outside of the building where it pans10 slowly across the various apartment windows until it pauses on one and the camera cuts to Nick in his bathroom shaving. Cronenberg shows us that it is through the apartment complex, a nondescript monstrosity, that all the characters are connected. This setting is obviously of great significance to Cronenberg, as the film opens with a promotional slideshow of the apartment complex and from that point on we never leave the location. However, even during the slideshow there are two narratives about Starliner Towers that are running in complete contrast to each other: there is the overt narrative of the managerial voice-over that describes Starliner Towers as an Island paradise, and constantly reinforces the idea that these apartments are akin to being on a cruise ship. Day to day living becomes a luxury cruise when you have made your home in Staliner Tower apartments. Then there is the implicit narrative of the directorial voice that exposes the darker, more chaotic dimension of Starliner Towers. This second narrative is driven by the dull, dreary and slightly ominous music score which undermines the managers description but not blatantly so. The tone of the slides we see show us a different picture of the apartments than the managerial voice-over would like us to see. The pictures are badly lit, and taken on a wet overcast day. The interiors are hauntingly empty and drained of warm colour tones. We could even go as far as saying that these interiors, vacant of people, with purely functional architecture, and stockpiles of household good, are reminiscent of the picture of Auschwitz after the survivors were evacuated. The contrast between the two narratives, which filters into our later impressions of the apartments (and their tenants), is subtly unsettling. On the one hand Starliner Towers sounds like the perfect place to live; each apartment is equipped with every amenity under the sun, is perfectly located, and indeed


Cut: An abrupt switch between shots. Pan: The movement of the camera either up, down, left or right.


represents a middle-class ideal. On the other hand Starliner Towers seems like a nightmare place; a stagnant, inescapable purgatory. What can account for the contradictory qualities of fantasy and nightmare in Starliner Towers? If it is the ideal life realized, why does it arouse such disgust? In his documentary The Perverts Guide to Cinema (2006), Slavoj Zizek says, We have the perfect word for fantasy realized, its called nightmare. It is for this reason that Starliner Towers comes so close to the ideal and yet drastically misses. The tenants of Starliner Tower are given everything they could want except a reason for their discontent. At this point we will look at various modes of repression that are play at Starliner Towers. These repressions derive from the sexual organisation that occurred in the early stages of childhood and begin with the first dualism of subject-object during the oral stage when the infant separates from the mother. Following the oral stage is the anal stage and the phallic stage which are all forms of sexual repression. Each of these stages attempt to recover the lost object and return to the protected domain of early infancy where the pleasureprinciple reigned supreme against the tyranny of the reality-principle. In other words, man undergoes sexual organisation in an attempt to recover the protected state of childhood, but in so do, represses himself. As Brown says: If we think of man as that species of animal which has the historical project of recovering his own childhood, psychoanalysis suggests the eschatological proposition that mankind will not put aside its sickness and its discontent until it is able to abolish every dualism (52). At Starliner Towers we witness the extremity of such an undertaking. The comparison of Starliner Towers to a luxury cruise ship is no arbitrary choice; such lethargic oceanic imagery connotes a return to the mothers womb:


The sexual organizations were constructed by that functional distortion which Ferenczi called amphimixis of eroticism, but also that the power which constructed them was what he called the thalassal [i.e. oceanic] regressive trend the desire to get back to the womb, the incapacity to accept the individuality of life, the morbid death instinct (Brown 290). And so we now understand the two different narrative voices in the opening scene: The manager, who through associative imagery, plays on the fantasy of the return to the womb (the thalassal [i.e. oceanic] regressive trend), and the directorial voice which warns us of the horrors of such regressive fantasies - the emergence of the latent death instinct. Although the impetus of Starliners narrative is the all-encompassing return to the womb state, in its actualisation it appears to have the attributes of the early stages of sexual organization. Starliner Towers, in its execution, is a regression to the oral stage. This is the stage at which: the child formulates the grandiose project of the pure pleasure-ego, the dream of union with the world in love and pleasure. But the construction of the pure pleasure ego is achieved by inaugurating the first repression, which takes the form of repudiating the external world and projecting out into the repudiation external world anything painful - that is to say, denying its existence (Brown 116). Starliner is the dream of union with the world in love and pleasure (166). In other words, it is a regression to the oral phase. In the oral phase, the child seeks to unite with the world in the same way the he was united with the mothers breast. This state of union with the breast is what Brown calls the primal anaclitic situation, whereby the infant experiences that primal condition, forever after idealized, in which object-libido and ego-libido cannot be distinguished. There are no dualisms in this state. However, to achieve this, the un-pleasures

of the world must be negated11 and it is here that we can see that Starliner Towers is a realization of this oral project. Starliner attempts to create a world within a world, where life is insulated from its harsh realities. Every amenity and comfort is provided for. Its philosophy is to treat life like an oceanic cruise, a sort of dream state where death is permanently negated. It is an attempt to create synthetically the instinctual harmony of the primal anaclitic situation which unites all dualisms. However, this (what we might call) aesthetic appropriation of the anaclitic situation, does not achieve the unity of subject and object, nor Eros and death. It is only a representation, a symbolic short circuit, and a product of sublimation and the death instinct. It attempts to take the human out of one the most lingering human desires of all. If we consider Starliner geographically, it is located on a small Island connected only by bridge to the rest of civilization. On the tip of this Island rests the tower itself, and rather than highlighting its phallic quality, one might instead note the combined resemblance of island and tower to the mothers breast. This short circuit to the primal anaclitic situation is essentially an attempt to bypass the repressive reality-principle, but the elimination of the reality-principle does not necessarily give rise to the fulfilment of the pleasure-principle. In other words, because Starliner is supposed to be apogee and end product produced by the impetus of the oceanic regressive trend (290) the tenants are left with no space or reason for their discontent - their fantasy realized has become their nightmare. Again, if we refer back to the contradictory narratives presented at the beginning of the film during the slideshow presentation, we might note that on first viewing, the overt managerial narrative that presents the complex as a luxury cruise is the one we are most inclined to believe despite what the directorial narrative shows us. And so we can understand the stagnancy of all the subject/object relations in the film (Janine and Nick, St Luc and


Negation is a form of denial which allows intellectual understanding without true acceptance. A good example of how it works can be found in the study of Freudian theory; one can agree intellectually with the most disturbing of phenomena but on the level in which one lives their own life they can deny it.


Forsythe, Betts and everyone else) because they have all bought into the dream of anaclitic union which never materialized. There is a wonderfully subtle scene early in the film where

Nick enters an elevator with the manager (from the voiceover) and a young couple he is escorting around to see the apartments. The manager maintains his professional courtesy yet he clearly wants to partition Nick and his lifeless demeanour from his potential new tenants. Nick stands and stares at them unselfconsciously, almost rebelliously, while the manager distracts them with oratory of the convenience and comfort the apartments offer. In this short scene we see the tension caused by the failing negation in the oral project: the divide between the new tenants who buy into the managers vision and the old tenants who are silently discontent, is failing - the repressed is returning. This is where Dr. Hobbes and his parasite experiment come in. There are obvious parallels between the character of Hobbes and Norman O. Brown himself. Indeed Hobbess words could have been lifted straight from Life Against Death. His belief that, that man is an animal that thinks too much. An over rational animal th at has lost touch with its body and its instincts (Shivers), is distinctly Brownian. Like Brown, Hobbes is a Doctor and an academic but unlike Brown, Hobbes is puritanical in his pursuit to elliminate sexual repression and attempts to enact his conviction in life. However, his scientific experiment to forcibly induce the state of polymorphous perversity does not anticipate what kind of desires might be unleashed if humanity were to get in touch with its instincts. Hobbes uses a scientific method to induce what Brown hoped could arise from human reasoning alone. So where did Hobbes go wrong? Why did he murder his subject Annabelle? As David Sanjek points out in his essay, Dr. Hobbes Parasites, Hobbes either concludes that transforming society into "one mindless orgy" was a dubious enterprise that ought to be curtailed or he was overwhelmed by the voraciousness of Annabelle's sexuality


(Sanjek 62). Although both reasons have merit to a certain degree, one might risk another interpretation of his failure. Hobbes only appears in the film briefly, but his role is an important one. He is the catalyst through which the plot takes its form. His experiment ignites a new stage in the hopeless lives of the tenants of Starliner Towers. So far I have explained Starliner Towers as a failed oral project12. What Hobbes introduces to Starliner is the next logical step in mans attempt to recover his lost childhood the anal project13. We saw the final results of Hobbes experiment at the beginning of the film but we were left in suspension, with more questions than answers as Cronenberg focused instead on the daily discontents of the tenants. What we see before the mystery of Hobbes is revealed are the daily realities and dull repressed lives of the tenants who are still under the spell of the oral project. We meet Janine, the most sympathetic character in the film. She is completely alienated and constrained by her husband Nick who shows no interest in her anymore. She lives an entirely domestic life, cooking and cleaning and not finding much satisfaction in anything else except her little chats with Betts. There is an element of melodrama to her character yet her situation is familiar enough and painful enough to not become farcical. Her loyalty to her husband is touching and her attempts to console him tragic. Nick himself is emotionally removed from everyone from the very beginning of the film. We are aware that he has some form of illness yet its nature isnt revealed until later. Nurse Forsythe shares a similar distance with Dr. St Luc who remains completely unaffected and non-responsive to her constant sexual advances: she tries to kiss him but he turns his cheek: she strips naked for him but he is uninterested. The oral stage, in its true form is a symbolic incorporation and swallowing of the world, it unites the subject and object. However, we can see from these strained relationships at Starliner Towers that its oral project has failed. As a result of this we have Hobbes pursuit of the anal project.
12 13

An oral project is a project that arises from the proclivities of the oral stage. In this case, Starliner Towers. Likewise, the anal project arises from the proclivities of the anal stage in early childhood.


As opposed to the oral, the anal is identified as symbolic retention, mastery and possession of the world (Brown 121). The blatant resemblance of the parasites to human faeces is no coincidence. And their passive and active inhabitation of the abdomen region of the body is not without significance. The anal phase is defined by regressive fantasies of union with the mother and narcissistic fantasies of being both Self and Other; hence the playing with faeces contains its own internal drive to master and control them (Brown 116). In the anal stage, the faeces (or in this case the parasites) are endowed with a magical quality, as the regressive fantasies must be grounded within the body. This is why the distasteful term playing with faeces is used. The fantasmatic attributes of mastery and possession which the faeces are given is made clear in the scene where Nick lies in bed alone and begins to talk to the parasites that inhabit him. As he lies on his back he watches his stomach in passive fascination at the movement of the parasites within. They bulge and protrude from his stomach like lose potatoes in a canvas bag. It is clear from the concentration on his face that he is trying to control them internally, as if he had a specific use for them in mind. Then he speaks in a whisper to them: Come on boy. Here boy, here. Come on boy. Come on fella. You and me. You and me are going to be good friends. Good friends. That a boy. That a boy. His control and mastery of the parasite is made clear when his wife enters the room, believing he was speaking to her, and Nick becomes silent and his parasites dormant. Hobbes parasites, although they have taken over the role of faeces, are obviously of a different nature to faeces as well. In the exposition scenes between Rollo Linsky and Roger St. Luc, we learn that the original use for the parasite was to simply replace a faulty organ: You got a guy with a bad kidney. You put the bug in it. The bug goes to work on the kidney. It dissolves it and the body assimilates it. Now what do you got? You got a perfectly good parasite where you used to have a rotten kidney. Hobbes new upgraded parasite is a

combination of Aphrodite and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful mindless orgy (Shivers). We could say then that the new parasite replaces the function of the faeces in a similar fashion to how it was supposed to replace the function of the bad kidney. Faeces themselves are conferred this very same function: Brown states that the fantasies about faeces that Freud lays bare consist essentially in the attribution to faeces the value of some other bodily function (Brown 288). In other words, faeces are that by which we make our first sublimation. The dead faecal matter is conferred the value of Eros in the body: Freud saw the regression of libido from the genital to anal sadistic level represents what he calls a diffusion of instincts, a misbalancing of the relation between life instinct and death instinct such that the death instinct gets into the saddle. And because all human sublimation represents a dying of the body, all human sublimation whatsoever must pass through the anal complex; by the dialectic of negation and the return of the repressed, the negation of infantile anality confers an anal quality upon the entire life in culture (Brown 295). However, Hobbes parasites are not dead bodily matter but living creatures. Therefore they are resilient to the function of sublimation, and indeed prevent sublimation and sexual organisation from taking place. And through its aphrodisiac design, it only heightens the desire of the un-sublimated sexual desires. If we take each character in Shivers case by case, we can see that the parasite does indeed deliver their repressed desire upon them, though through acts of nightmarish violence. Betts, played by the sensuous Barbara Steele is the first to be attacked (after Nick who was infected from the beginning) in the films most iconic scene. As she takes a bath, the phallic/faecal parasite squirms its way up through the drain pipe and into the water. It swims up towards the


space between her legs and without being too visually explicit, we are left to believe that it rapes her. The scene is an inversion of the famous scene from Hitchcocks Psycho which ends with Janet Leighs blood washing down the bathtub drain; the crime hidden and the strain removed. In Shivers the horror returns up out of the drain and back into the tub. When the parasite attacks, the blood isnt washed away but instead it spreads profusely as it mixes with the water. In Psycho the killer is a man sexually repressed by his domineering mother; in Shivers it is as if we witness the return of this repression, whereby the parasite enacts what Norman Bates could not. But if we consider the attack from Betts point of view, we could argue that it arose from her own private desires. If we look closely at the scene leading up to the attack, something very strange can be observed in Betts behaviour. As she listens to the news of the bizarre sexual attack that took place in her building, she does not react in shock or fear, as would be expected from a young woman who lives alone, but instead with a casual indifference. During the broadcast she brushes and fixes up her hair, then sips from a glass of wine and places it with intention on the rim of the bathtub, as if she wishes to see it fall and shatter. She then proceeds to strip from her gown in a curiously performative manner, as if to invite a voyeuristic gaze. It is as though it is Betts and not the director who is trying to evoke the Hitchcock connection. Thus, when the parasite attacks, although a complete violation, it is also a product of her own unconscious desire. And once she is infected, she is freed from the passive role of object to the male gaze and can pursue her desire for Janine. In Janines case the parasite passes into her from a kiss with Betts. She is over at Betts apartment to be consoled about Nicks growing sickness, emotional distance, and aggression towards her, when Betts demands Janine to make love to her. She is surprising un-resilient to Betts advances and when Betts kisses her Janine quickly reciprocates. Again, it is her own latent desire that is being returned to her. 14


In Freuds Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria he claims that it is common to experience


The most resilient character, or the most repressed, is Dr. St. Luc. He is the only character in the film that comes close to filling the role of protagonist. He is what Lacan terms the subject who knows15, he remains rational and logical throughout the hysterical epidemic and until the very end he is portrayed as the only hope for stopping the parasite. However, in every other way he fails to fulfil the mandate of his role. St Luc fails to perform the role of protagonist as he should: He does not avert or contain the disaster, he does not escape it himself. Since he functions as an exemplar of the principle of ego-control (as against that of the body and desire), his failure has obvious thematic relevance (Beard 42). The ego-control that William Beard describes here is essentially an Apollonian ego, an ego of logic and reason, as opposed to the Dionysian ego, an ego connected with bodily desire and one that the rest of the parasite infected tenants of Starliner Towers inhabit. St Luc is a prototypical Apollonian character, and thus his appropriation into the Dionysian carries the strongest symbolic significance of all the transformations in the film because the Dionysian ego in its purest form resembles the state of polymorphous perversity. St Luc represents repressions strongest advocate and so his infection marks the tipping point whereby all repression is now freely eliminated. In the films climax St Luc remains the only uninfected character and is reduced to physical flight from the remaining tenants who eventually pin him down in the swimming pool located in the basement of the complex. In this famous orgy scene the entirety of Starliner Towers occupants gather around St Luc inside the swimming pool where nurse Forsythe finally delivers the kiss he had for so long avoided. The film has come full circle, as the oceanic regressive trend (the return to the mothers womb) which was the impetus behind the oral project of Starliner Towers has now found its truest incarnation in the apt setting of the basement swimming pool of the apartment complex. The appropriation of St

regressive homosexual desires, that were common during the onslaught of puberty, when in adulthood one experiences extreme emotional distance from their opposite sex partner. 15 The subject who knows is a Lacanian term for a subject who are given the quality of all knowing, and thus even the blunders of the subject in the know are seen as intentional and of a higher understanding.


Luc into one of the infected in such a setting has the connotation of a birthing or a baptism. The Apollonian has been reborn as the Dionysian. This leaves us in an ambiguous position. We set out to examine Hobbes failure, and to the contrary we have proven his overall success. However, there is one important element yet unexplored; its the element that marks Browns biggest departure from Freud, and that which makes his theory distinctive. It is the element of the death instinct that troubling excess in the human condition that Freud struggled to integrate into his theoretical system. According to Brown, Freud supplied his life instinct with its logical opposite by making the assumption that extroverted aggression (sadism) in human beings is derived from a primary masochism, and by identifying this primary masochism with a death instinct (99). But as we have discussed in the section on the zombie genre, Freud was unable to properly distinguish the death instinct from the life instinct. Brown on the other hand, by replacing Freuds attachment to dualisms and proposing dialectics instead, was able to discover a level at which the two seemingly incompatible instincts are in unit y. Browns discovery is quite simple: It is not consciousness of death but flight from death that distinguishes man from animal (Brown 100). It is mans inability to accept death as a part of life that creates the death instinct. Animals use their death to simply die; humans are the unique animal that runs from its death and sublimates it into culture and history. As against Freud, we suggest that this extroversion of the death instinct is the peculiar human solution to a peculiar human problem. It is the flight from death that leaves mankind with the problem of what to do with its own repressed death (Brown 101). All sexual organisations are a product of the death instinct. In the oral stage it incorporates, and in the anal stage it seeks to control. So in light of the death instinct, what does Hobbes experiment now achieve? The tenants have not reached a polymorphous perverse state but their repression has only been forced back upon them by a reinvention of the faecal function; that is, by a new, man-made, sexual29

reorganization. It is not enlightenment but a sort of excessive hyper-anality. The faeces which themselves act as a displacement of other body organs are now further displaced by the faecel parasite that returns the sexual life instinct back from the expulsive dead matter onto the bodily organs. Through this anal excess, the repressed returns. It is as if Cronenbergs characters have sublimated so much of their life instinct into dead matter that the matter itself has come to life. The basic structure of sublimation is, to use the psychoanalytic formula, is displacement from below upwards, (Brown 193) and so under regular conditions we have the displacement of lower bodily functions into higher cultural forms. In Shivers, sublimation itself is displaced from below upwards, as the faecal parasites return up through the mouth in a strange combination of orality and anality. Anality is also marked by aggression. This is understandable because the narcissistic fantasies of being both Self and Other would naturally entail aggression towards the incontrollable other in the real world. With Hobbes particular brand of anal parasites, that override the ability to sublimate into culture, this aggression is fully realized in the infected tenants sexual violence. This is where Hobbes failure becomes clear. He attempted to induce a state of unrepressed polymorphous perversity by appropriating the very mode which induced repression and sexual organisation. He attempted to alleviate sexual repression without consideration of its strongest proponent the death instinct.


3. Conclusion: Finding Closure in a Brownian World

To conclude, we will take a brief look at the unique role Brown assigns to the artist in his theory, and in doing this we can understand Brownian theory as not just a theory of psychoanalysis but a theory of art. After all, if all culture is a product of neurosis, then art as a cultural product is the expression of a neurosis. Therefore, in terms of understanding the nature of our neurosis, art provides us with the clearest answer. It is then worth taking a look at the mechanisms of art. In Life Against Death Brown takes on such weighty subjects such as Christianity and economics, and he finds in them their neurotic core but also their in-build attempt to cure ourselves of human neurosis. Every institution follows the same pattern more or less, with varying degrees of repression involved (not even psychoanalysis escapes the neurotic trap). However, Brown finds in art a unique quality that is part enlightenment, part cure, but most importantly, part play. It is this state of play16 that is found in art which makes it more than a cultural artefact. For Brown, the creation of art is an act of polymorphous perversity in itself: Art has to assert itself against the hostility of the reality-principle and of reason, which is enslaved to the reality principle. Hence, its aim in Freuds words is the veiled presentation of a deeper truth; hence it wears a mask, a disguise which confuses and fascinates our reason. The mask which seduces us is derived from the play of the primary process (62). Cronenbergs Shivers is indeed a play of the primary process. The mixing up of bodily processes is a fundamental sign of this; it is an anti-sexual-organization. But in what way has


Play is the word Brown uses to describe what polymorphous perversity would be like if repression were eliminated.


Cronenberg masked his intention so as to seduce his audience? In a film that is so visually explicit, how did he veil it? An important part of Shivers, which has unfortunately been overlooked in this essay for the sake of analysis, is the humour that underscores the entire film. This humour is not the laughout-loud kind; rather, it is the subtly ironic kind that is never fully realized but only hinted at. It is a mutual understanding between the director and horror film aficionados. There are many elements of the film that parody other horror movies for this very effect. There is the aforementioned parallel with Psycho. There is the final scene, in which all the tenants drive in a strangely quiet order out of Starliner towards the city, which simulates the final scene of Hitchcocks The Birds (though in this version it is not some ominous and unexpected aberration of nature that is to fear but the people inside the cars). Beyond these inter-textual references there is an overall sense of parody towards the horror genre as a whole. When the attack in the bathtub happens or with St Luc in the swimming pool, the attacks do not appear so serious, they appear hyperbolically exaggerated, as if Cronenberg is making fun of his own film and as an extension the horror genre as a whole. This humorous play with genre provides the fans with a metanarrative appreciation of the film but it also has another function that is perhaps the true function. The humour creates a veil, a mask, and a distance between the audience and the intention of the film. Cronenberg is showing the audience the base-line of human desire but he is using the mask of parody in order to make it acceptable. Cronenberg himself has said that an artist should not feel socially responsible or morally obliged in their work: I would never censor myself. To censor myself, to censor my fantasies, to censor, my unconscious would devalue myself as a film-maker. Its like telling a surrealist not to dream (Cronenberg 99). However, although Cronenberg has dealt explicitly with subjects that are considered taboo, there is still an element of censorship in his work -


not in the form of omission but in the form of a playful veiling, be it through parody, absurdity, or otherwise. Cronenberg gives the audience enough distance from the film so as to allow them a safe place from where they can begin to identify. If we consider the parasites role in relation to the spectator, we might observe that its role is two-fold: it is simultaneously the id - that indestructible instinctual excess which contains the libido: and it also plays the part of scapegoat. Its role as the latter is very important. The scapegoat figure has a long history in cinema, and its purpose is to save the audience from unpleasant identification. Some of the earliest films used a peeping Tom character, which looked through keyholes, etc., so that the audience where given a villain to hate in order to distract them from their own voyeuristic guilt as film watchers. This tradition lives on, as the voyeuristic element of cinema has never been overcome. In Shivers the parasite is our scapegoat. It allows us to see everything we want to see, it allows us to enjoy the scenes of sexual violence, and most importantly, it allows us to identify. In its disgusting and grotesque appearance it repels us, but inversely this gives us the voyeuristic freedom to identify with its libidinal element. This seemingly contradictory idea of creating distance to allow identification is at play throughout the film. Cronenberg is highly aware of it and he uses it to his own advantage. In the scene where Rollo Linsky explains Dr. Hobbes eerily Brownian philosophy to St. Luc, we notice that there is the physical distance of the telephone between them. He is merely relating pure information to St Luc - Cronenberg has distanced us from Hobbes belief. However, Cronenberg intercuts this phone call with nurse Forsythes attempt to attract St Lucs attention by stripping in front of him. St Luc does not respond to her flirtati on and never breaks his focus from what Linsky is relating to him over the phone. The beauty of the scene is in the audiences relationship with St Luc. By this point St Luc has ignored all of Forsythes sexual advances to a degree that would frustrate any audience member. By this

scene the audience is conscious of what they desire to see, and so it is at this moment that Cronenberg chooses to reveal Hobbes Brownian philosophy, thereby making the audience complicit with Hobbes belief that man is too repressed. The audience is now in an ambiguous position towards St Luc, with whom they had previously identified with by virtue of his rationality and authority. He is now a frustration to the audience as his rationality continuously overrides his desire. This formula of distance and identification continues when nurse Forsythe relates her dream to St Luc in a late scene of the film, transcribed here in full: Roger, I had a very disturbing dream last night. In this dream I found myself making love to a strange man. Only Im having trouble you see because he is old and dying and he smells bad and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual you know what I mean? He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh. That disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other. That even dying is an act of eroticism. That talking is sexual. That breathing is sexual. That even to physically exist is sexual. And I believe him and we make love beautifully (Shivers). Again, there are obvious Brownian overtones; perhaps even more explicitly so this time. Yet, again we are also distanced from it. It is related to us through the remembrance of a dream. However, the audience is given reason to find identification and satisfaction in her dream because of the growing frustration with St Luc. Cronenbergs artistry has now made the audience identify with a characters unconscious desire but more significantly it forces them to acknowledge the co-existence of interconnection sexuality and death in the body. Of course what Cronenberg has us identify with is not Browns perfect state of polymorphous perversity. Browns quest was not to show us the way to this ideal state but to

simply show us that it is our natural state, and that everything else is a neurosis. Through the psychoanalytic method we can identify the primal desires that lay behind seemingly neurotic behaviour. As with Browns Life against Death, Cronenberg too sees no advantage in trying to discern what the primal human state might appear like, but instead, through humour, parody, and the fleshy-grotesque, he reflects our current neurotic state back upon us and makes no attempt to hide his own complicity in it. The artist depends on a third person, namely the audience, who must be suffering from the same repression as the artist, and thus identify. [] The relation of identification the artist has with the audience is based on liberation of the instincts (63). In terms of traditional narrative, Cronenbergs Shivers is a failure. Its protagonist is weak and often difficult to relate to, the film fails to resolve the threat of the parasite, and we are left with ambiguous feelings about everything we witnessed. It terms of what Brown calls liberation of the instincts (63) it is a great success, as it manages by way of veiling to get the audience to identify with that which they have repressed in themselves. In this respect, art in itself has become a form of cure for repression. Norman O. Browns theory is admittedly not an exact science. Scientifically speaking, it can seems archaic and out-dated, but then Brown was never a scientist, he was first and foremost a philosopher who wrote from within the psychoanalytic field. The mounds of quantitative and qualitative data required in such theoretical fields such as cognitive theory do not apply to Brown. Using the findings of Freud as his springboard, Brown gives us a very compelling what if? and it is up to us to either ignore it, disprove it, or take it further. In this thesis I have attempted to find Brown in the work of David Cronenberg and explore through Cronenbergs art the possibilities of Brownian theory.


Works Cited

Beard, William. The Artist as Monster. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2006. Print. Brown, Norman Oliver. Life against Death; the Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1959. Print. Cronenberg, David, and Chris Rodley. Cronenberg on Cronenberg. London: Faber and Faber, 1997. Print. Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: Norton, 1989. Print. Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962. Print. Freud, Sigmund, and Philip Rieff. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. New York, NY: Collier, 1963. Print. Harpham, Geoffrey. "The Grotesque: First Principles." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 34.4 (1974): 461-68. Print. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. "On the Grotesque in Science." Science Fiction Studies 20.1 (2002): 71-99. JSTOR. Web. 18 Dec. 2012. Johnson, Brian D. "A Dangerous Method in Cronenbergs Madness." Macleans, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. <>. Long Live the New Flesh: The Films of David Cronenberg. Dir. Laurens C. Postma. Perf. David Cronenberg. Victor Solnicki Productions, 1986. Tv Documentary.


Naked Lunch. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Peter Weller, Judy Davis, and Ian Holm. Twentieth Century Fox, 1991. The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Dir. Sophie Fiennes. Perf. Slavoj Zizek. Amoeba Film, 2006. DVD. Robbins, Helen W. "More Human than I Am Alone." Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. By Steven Cohan and Ina Rae. Hark. London: Routledge, 1993. 135-46. Print. Sanjek, David. "Dr. Hobbes's Parasites: Victims, Victimizations, and Gender in David Cronenberg's "Shivers"" Cinema Journal 36.1 (1996): 55-74. JSTOR. Web. 13 Jan. 2013. Shaviro, Steven. "Bodies of Fear: The Films of David Cronenberg." The Cinematic Body. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993. N. pag. Print. Shivers. Dir. Daid Cronenberg. Perf. Paul Hampton, Lynn Lowry, and Barbara Steele. Cinepix, 1975. Film. The Fly. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. 20th Century Fox, 1986. Film.