Long Live the New Flesh
By Lukas Barr
here for David Cronenberg films, books, and soundtracks
What do you think about this phone, first of all?
It's kind of interesting, isn't it? I mean, it's not as revealing as
one might have thought. And people are just getting used to the incredible
mobility that a remote phone gives you, moving around, doing stuff while
you're talking on the phone, so I wonder whether this is going against
the momentum of that freedom.
What do you think is happening to the mind-body opposition in the
context of digital technology?
Well, I think the tendency still is for the separation of the two.
I think rather than integrating those things, what all of this technology
is doing is further separating the two. I think the mind is easier digitised
than the body, and so it's flowing further and further away from the body.
I think that's really what the end result of it all is.
Of course that's the opposite of what's supposed to be happening--all
the hype around virtual reality is proclaiming the collapse of that distinction
as it becomes increasingly possible to exist inside a computer, for example.
But I wonder if that's really what's happening. I mean of course it
wouldn't be the first time that our perception of what some technology
is doing is one thing, and what it's actually doing is quite something
else. I don't mean to be alarmist, because I'm not sure--you're kind of
throwing this at me and I'm kind of thinking well...I mean for example,
what we're doing now--is it...is the fact that I can actually see you,
and get a sense of what your body is like--is that really integrating you,
your mind, and your body for me, or not? Or is it separating it more? The
telephone voice, separate from a body, is about as close as we get to mind
reading. You know, you close your eyes, you imagine someone...I'm not sure
what the effect of it is, it's kind of problematical. Are you more disembodied
from me now that I can actually see you--I've never met you of course,
so, it's kind of an interesting experiment.
Your earlier work seems to centre on technology. M Butterfly
Yeah, but for me, technology is an expression of will and human inventiveness
and creativity, and in that sense, it's no different really, than what
happens in M Butterfly. I think MButterfly is just a more
subtle, spare, austere version of some of the other stuff, because in it
you do have two people who are creating the opera of their lives together--they're
creating their own sexuality. But they're not doing it surgically, let's
say, the way I might have shown it in a earlier film. They're doing it
by the force of their imagination, and their own self-delusion. So in a
way, I do connect M Butterfly with all those other movies. It's
sort of approaching some of the same themes from a very different angle.
Thematically it feels very connected.
Talk about viral film.
Well, it's really a matter of self-replication, and the fact that a
virus can't exist in a vacuum--it has to have a host, it has to embed itself
in something. I mean viral film making sounds like film making as a disease,
art as a disease, but also as something that embeds itself in your genetic
structure, your chromosomal structure, and in that strange way becomes
part of you even though it's not. So that's really what I think that means.
Video especially, because it can be reproduced so easily, and cassettes
can be handed around and passed off and spread through a whole network
Right, and virus mutates as you do that, because things get lost from
generation to generation, and the image starts to change--things are added--the
remnants of what other people are taping over. It's the same but it is
mutating into something else, and that's carried on the next generation.
So it is very viral. It's also in a strange way half-way between being
alive and being dead. I mean, viruses really are on the edge of being machinery
that's alive. I think the images we create are like that too -- they have
the feeling of life, they have the semblance of life, and we're not sure
whether it really is alive or not -- is the communication, the life that's
embedded in it still there, is it really there or is it just an illusion?
And because of video -- the fact of video and what it's done to film --
it's an alternative form of literature in a way, because you can keep your
movies with you, you have access to them, you can look at your favourite
parts, the way you can with books. So it means that your movies have a
chance to shift with time, and become re-perceived in another context.
Maybe that's what has to happen.
In Dead Ringers: what is the virus that enters into the relationship
between the brothers? Is it the drugs, is it the woman, Claire, is it their
technology, their tools? What happens to them?
Well, I think the virus is the mirror, the fact that there are two
of them that are not complete separately. And that they're constantly watching
themselves and so in a bizarre sense there's no privacy when you're a twin,
because you're always seeing yourself. Video only begin to give us what
a twin has all the time: how many times have you seen yourself walk down
a hall from behind? You know--it's a very revealing, shocking thing, to
see your body language, your posture, your size relative to everything
else--most people don't see that. And of course, before there was film
and video no-one ever saw that, no-one in the history of human life ever
saw that, except for twins. That's when you see yourself all the time.
You're never allowed to be unselfconscious when you're a twin.
A question about AIDS, since we've talked about viral film making:
do you see any relationship between what's happening in the real world,
all the political movement that is going on around AIDS, and the discourse
that you're operating in?
I think it's something that comes around continually, it's a cyclical
thing. It's interesting -- disease is politics, and always has been, whether
it was syphilis in the old days, and even herpes, which very hot for a
while. I don't mean to diminish the importance of AIDS, it's huge, at the
same time if you can step back you see that this is a cyclical thing, and
every disease had politics attached to it. Based on who the people are
who are the most common victims of the disease, how people try to separate
themselves from those people who have the disease, whether it's the black
plague, or whatever, it's just politics. And I don't think that's ever
going to end, I mean that's innate in the human condition.
Burroughs says the human race itself behaves like a virus,
in the way it mutates and adapts to--and alters--its environments. How
do you read that?
That's a metaphor that meant to shock you into a perspective of human
beings as not the centre of the universe, but only one more instance of
some kind of energy that goes through it, so I think that's what Burroughs
is talking about there. He was probably depressed that day.
But because AIDS is a virus, and behaves like a virus, it's transfigured
the we understand the human body quite radically I think.
I wonder, I think the real breakthrough in understanding a virus is
still yet to come, and I don't know that it's going to be necessarily because
of research that's triggered by a disease like AIDS. There's something
about virology that's incredibly charismatic and potent for the human imagination--I
don't think we've really connected with that yet. I'm not even sure that
it's a medical phenomenon, or will be, so...