Sunday, 6 September 2009


What we have here is an encounter between continental philosophy and a selection of often obscure, often extreme horror films, many of Italian origin, that is premised upon the idea of “cinesexuality,” the cinema as a lover whom we entertain in a masochistic way.

As a text which brings into contact the likes of Deleuze and Guattari (both singly and in combination), Blanchot and Irigaray with such films as Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, D’Amato Beyond the Darkness and Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg, it’s intriguing but daunting.

Most people who are into such philosophy are not going to be into Italian horror, while most people who are into Italian horror are not going to know very much about continental philosophy.

While there are definite connections to be made, as around the role of faciality in The Virgin of Nuremberg, with its Red Skull-like plastination-faced ‘Punisher’, or the fact that the common inspiration for both Fulci’s absurdist horror entries and Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs” was Antonin Artaud, the general impression is of two bodies of texts that don’t come together terribly much, where the theoretical texts dominate their film counterparts rather than there being a dialogue between the two and where academic shibboleths are more important than everyday communication:

“The images in The Beyond and City declare war on organizations and organizing principles, of narrative, of causal movement and result and of the organized body. Death results not in Mars’ slaughter of desire and subjects but the Order of Venus. This is a war on war, against the Order of Mars which is the war against creativity and thought as productive imagination, thus it belongs to the Venusian Order: ‘In other words [they resist] a phenomenon of accumulation, coagulation, and sedimentation that, in order to extract useful labor from the Body without Organs, imposes upon it forms, functions, bonds, dominant and hierarchized organizations, organized transcendences.’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 159) Fulci too has it in for the organization of the organs, (di)splaying flesh in a number of increasingly gruesome ways – spiders chew out eyeballs, crucifixions and acid baths abound, Emily’s throat and ear are ripped out by her guide dog in a more bloody homage to Suspiria. In City brains extrude from scalp, eyeballs bleed, heads have holes through their apex, intestines are spewed up and bodies are punctuated by clusters of writhing maggots.

The body in The Beyond and City is only successful in disarray; those bodies that remain organized end up wandering the empty wasteland of the beyond of the title. Fulci’s message is ‘destroy the organized flesh or be relegated to a land of pure nothingness’. Or perhaps nothingness is plethora, and as minoritarian bodies are relegated to nothing in majoritarian culture it may be an attractive option, nothing as everything.” (104-105)

To this I would merely ask and add, isn’t the symbol of the beyond itself neither that for Mars nor Venus but for Saturn?

Author Patricia MacCormack’s response might be to say that I am being overly literal, too concerned with the facts, the truth and other outmoded phallologocentric conceptions that she and Fulci’s films are against.

My rejoinder, assuming I haven’t (de)constructed a straw (wo)man out of her arguments here, is that by making me think about the planetary/astrological symbolism here, she has started me on the road to developing a new truth, as I then consider the contrast between Cronos (Saturn) and Aeon in Deleuze’s Cinema books, to thus relate the logic of Fulci’s films to the time-image; in so doing I’m drawing upon a Deleuzean notion of the truth, where what matters is being productive in a Nietzschean will to power/will to truth type way rather than correspondence with an external object or being logically consistent with the rest of the theory.

But most horror fans aren’t going to want to do this, just as most film academics won’t have any familiarity with these films beyond what MacCormack tells them.

As far as the film specialist is concerned, it is also worth noting that MacCormack doesn’t engage with Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Although she mentions the work of Anna Powell, who has sought to relate concepts from these books to popular horror films, in passing, it is more to signal her difference in approach than build upon it in relation to less familiar films. (Suspiria is an exception, with both authors discussing it in their particular ways.)

Summary dismissal characterizes MacCormack’s approach to the likes of Michael Grant’s reading of The Beyond in relation to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The film, she claims, is not Gothic but Baroque, albeit (re)defined in a particular way that relates more to contemporary continental philosophy than art history. This may help us think differently about The Beyond, but why the need to deny an another alternative and the truth it creates?

Given that the book aspires to be “a pervert’s guide” to cinema, MacCormack’s choice of Italian horror films is also perhaps slightly disappointing: The pleasures of The New York Ripper are absent, along with those of D’Amato’s Dominican Republic films and the Cannibals Holocaust and Ferox.

At issue here, I suspect, is that certain (cine)sexualities, those that involve deriving sadistic pleasure from the non-concensual suffering of Others, remain beyond the pale, even (or especially) within the Queer Interventions series the book forms part of.

Away from film, one thing that’s telling in this regard is McCormack’s contrasting of Slayer’s 213, as a sufficiently genuine song about necrophiliac desire, and Cannibal Corpse’s “Necropedophile, where paedophilia, necrophilia and naughty swear words emphasize the act [of necrophilia] extravasated from desire at all, simply offered as something to shock by hitting sanctified lines of social values”: If Cannibal Corpse gets you off, has a use value for your pleasure, what’s the problem? You/they aren’t hurting anyone, after all. Also, where’s the mention of Slayer’s earlier cod-Satanist shock value Necrophiliac (“I feel the urge, the growing need, to fuck this sinful corpse”) here?

An 'it’ll never happen' imaginary round table idea: MacCormack and Pete Sotos discussing Maladolescenza


Gavin Hurley said...

Very, very cool. I may have to track this down. Continental philosophy and Italian horror sounds like an incredibly interesting synthesis.

K H Brown said...


Unfortunately this discourse is not one I am permitted to invoke...