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August 1995, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mike Frank <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 21 Aug 1995 10:23:49 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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on thinking further about this vexed problem of how to read cinematic
violence in kubrick and in others, a problem that just won't go away, it
seems that at the core of it [or at one of its cores] is the question of
whether some material is itself so powerfully charged with negative [or, less
commonly and less probelamatically, positive] meanings that no amount of
bracketing can overcome it . . .
to put the question simply: is the citation of something objectionable itself
a classic instance:  in "catcher in the rye" holden caulfield goes around
erasing obscene graffiti . . . but the words he is devoted to erasing appear
in the book . . . they appear there under the clear and explicit sign of
erasure, but they do appear there nevertheless . . . with the result that
many moralists [a term that for the moment i use purely descriptively] found
the book itself obscene . . . and note, to carry the issue one step further,
that in this communication i myself am refraining from quoting the term that
holden erased for fear that its very appearance on this electronic screen
might offend . . . so even here, in an abstract professional discourse at
least thrice removed from the discourse of those who, in the novel, wrote the
graffiti in the first place . . .
i don't think there is--or can be--a definitive answer to this question . . .
to some, the material itself can never escape its primary (one almost wants
to say primal) charge . . . to others what matters is the kind of bracketing
that places the material in a particular discourse with a particular
rhetorical and discursive purpose . . .
now it's of course true that one of the questions that has shaped this thread
on "clockwork orange" is the question of just what kind of bracketing kubrick
is doing in the film, i.e., exactly what is he [or the film] saying about the
violence that is so manifest in the film? . . . this, at least in principle,
is a matter of resolvable fact . . . but even if his rhetoric were less
richly ambiguous than it typically is, even if we knew exactly how the movie
meant us to take the violence, that information could never help us resolve
the question of whether that is a "good" or "bad" thing . . .
perhaps the only way to even think about this question is to begin with a
set of axioms about the purposes films are supposed to serve, and then to ask
whether violence, direct or bracketed, helps to serve those purposes or works
to undermine them
mike frank  <[log in to unmask]>
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