an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, February 2006, ISSN 1552-5112




Scarring the New Flesh:

Time Passing in the Simulacrum of Videodrome

Jason Sperb

“In the final scene of Videodrome, the television set explodes and burns, but this is only part of a repetitive video loop in which Max is trapped.  He shoots himself after seeing himself shoot himself on TV.  The quasi-religious doctrine of ‘the new flesh’ pushes Max to a limit, but holds out no promises as to what he will encounter on the other side.  The film ends with the sound of his gunshot—perhaps a finality, or perhaps a rewind to one more playback.”

—Steven Shaviro, The Cinematic Body[1]





           The ending of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1982) would seem self-evidently nihilistic—the marker of postmodernity.  The main character, Max Renn (played by James Woods), apparently commits suicide after seeing an image of himself show him how to do it on a television screen.  Afflicted with a tumor behind his eyes which causes him to see hallucinations and to lose all sense of reality, Max resorts to a fatal, self-inflicted head wound to alleviate the pain and confusion of his existence.  But this occurs offscreen, in the darkness, after the image fades out.  We hear only the gunshot.  For Fredric Jameson, this is a “blank screen that registers James Woods’ salvational suicide.”[2]  Max Renn may be dead, but what life does he still have?  As Steven Shaviro notes above, Max’s “death” may be “a finality, or perhaps a rewind to one more playback.”  And if the end of Videodrome is always a rewinding to another presentation, then the film in a sense is always already playing itself in an endless loop, since the end (as they say) is the beginning.  And yet this is not just to say that Videodrome foregrounds simulation, repetition, or any other theoretical model of representation (or resists such a model)—this is more precisely to say that Videodrome is always out there, always in circulation, always doing work of some kind.  That there is still much to be said, I believe, about the cultural value of a cult 80s horror film which has been run through the postmodern ringers ad infinitum is a testament to the effects it achieves.  Paradoxically, as I will argue, Videodrome’s continued circulation at once both intensifies Videodrome’s postmodernity, and challenges it to go further.

           Of course, one of Videodrome’s many mysteries is that Max may not be dead, even if his physical body has expired.  One of the lingering practices of postmodern thought still present today, it is difficult to speak of “closure” at the end of Videodrome, which itself immediately questions whether or not Max really dies.  “Closure in the postmodern,” wrote Jameson about Videodrome in the early 1990s, “[. . .] has itself become a questionable value, if not a meaningless concept.  It will be desirable therefore to speak of a closure-effect, just as we speak of mapping out or triangulating, rather than perceiving or representing, a totality.”[3]  So, what closure is effected in the film, if Max isn’t quite dead?  After Max has acquired the tumor from watching episodes of the “Videodrome” episodes and begun having horrific hallucinations, he is hailed by Bianca O’Blivion (Sonja Smits), the daughter of the film’s media theorist, Professor Brian O’Blivion, to become “the new flesh”—a state of pure simulation, always already in transmission.  This is how Prof. O’Blivion lives his life, on an endless series of videotapes.  He cannot exist and interact in the bodily flesh; he can only be broadcasted—monologue being the “preferred” form of communication.

“A new subject is being constituted” in Videodrome, writes Scott Bukatman, “one which begins its process of being through the act of viewership.”[4]  The act of representation becomes inseparable from the act of being, as O’Blivion spreads his word through videotape.  His daughter thus encourages Max to do the same, becoming the new flesh of simulation.  Writes Christopher Sharrett, “Bianca in effect ‘baptizes’ him by showing him how to become the ‘new flesh’ (a very Burroughsian concept), that is, to acquiesce to his visions and physically merge with his technological nightmare.”[5]  The distinction between Max’s hallucinations and reality evaporates, and suicide of the bodily flesh seems a necessity to take on this new flesh.  “Max doesn’t merely lose any point of reference outside what is imprinted on the video screen,” Shaviro writes, “he comes to embody this process directly, as he’s transformed into a human video machine.”[6]  It is entirely possible that when Max kills his human form, he is freeing himself to exist only in transmission (in a form that the television image of himself, telling himself to kill himself, suggests has taken shape already).  “The more images are flattened out and distanced from their representational sources,” adds Shaviro, “the more they are inscribed in our nerves, and flash across our synapses.”[7]  This new flesh then is inseparable from the image itself. 

However, Sharrett reads the film (and the conclusion) nihilistically, not allowing for a rebirth—“the tortured subjectivity into which Max Renn dissolves is Cronenberg’s new vision of apocalypse.”[8]  Instead of merging with new technological potential, Videodrome offers “the impossibility of spiritual evolution.”[9]  As I will return to later, however, I believe that Videodrome is at once both a certain nihilism and that certain nihilism passing in time, and thus opening out away from that nihilism.  Videodrome is an extraordinarily rich, poetically dense film, filled with acerbic wit,” he adds, “yet unequivocally pessimistic.”[10]  This seems fair enough if we accept at face value that Max does kills himself in a fit of delusion and insanity, and thus ceases to be.  Yet closure is questionable, and we are invited to a playback.  If Max does take on a different life of his own, in circulation (if he does become “the new flesh” of simulation), matters become quite different.  Videodrome may not be about the end of life, but about the beginning of life, just as Shaviro notes how the ending of the film might be really just a replay.  Clearly, in Videodrome, the medium is (literally) life—“life on TV is more real,” O’Blivion says, “than life in the flesh.”  O’Blivion exists on videotape in the film, and that appears to be Max’s destiny as well.  Max is destined to be reborn as a simulacrum. “The body is not erased or evacuated,” writes Shaviro, “it is rather so suffused with video technology that it mutates into new forms, and is pushed to new thresholds of intense, masochistic sensation.”[11]  Like O’Blivion, Max emerges as simulation, as television image, and as such is fated to circulate and proliferate endlessly in culture.

           Positing an age of the new flesh, Videodrome is both about the simulacrum and is itself a simulacrum.  These are both the assumptions and the conclusions of my inquiry.  They may be apparent enough—yet my explicit concern here is how saying that today in 2005 is radically different from saying that in the 80s or 90s, when writers such as Jameson, Shaviro and Sharrett were first compelled to write about Videodrome.  In other words, how the film is about the simulacrum and how the film is itself a simulacrum is of course complicated, and unpacking these conclusions means not just to regurgitate earlier pieces on the film, but also to challenge notions of the simulacrum and, with it, notions about postmodernity.  I am arguing that Videodrome’s postmodernity is a particular kind of postmodernity—more precisely, it is a particular period of postmodernity.  Even Shaviro himself, today, acknowledges Videodrome for what it is—something from “Cronenberg’s earlier work.”[12]  It is a simulacrum—but it is a simulacrum in time.  By circulating in the present, the film Videodrome reveals its past.  “Thus the image has to be present and past, still present and already past, at once and the same time,” Gilles Deleuze writes of the crystal image in Cinema II: The Time-Image, “If it was not already past at the same time as the present, the present would never pass on.  The past does not follow the present that it is no longer, it coexists with the present it was.”[13]  The crystal image of film is a flat depth whereby the present and the past passing come into relief together.  The past of Videodrome—that nihilistic, Baudrillardian moment co-exists with the film we watch today.  In circulation, in endless replaying, Videodrome is at once present and past.  This is what re-approaching Videodrome today forces us specifically to re-consider. 

How does time affect the new flesh?  By scarring it.  “A scar is not the sign of a past wound,” Gilles Deleuze writes in Difference & Repetition, “but of ‘the present fact of having been wounded.’  We can say that it is the contemplation of the wound, that it contracts all the instants which separate us from it into a living present.”[14]  There are profound implications with juxtaposing the metaphors of Deleuze’s “scar” (time presently having past) with the mantra of “the new flesh” (existence in a pure state of simulation and repetition) which permeates Cronenberg’s Videodrome.  By foregrounding the cultural role of the simulacrum, the sci-fi/horror picture presents us with a world where the copy has supplanted the original permanently in a state of simulation.  By scarring this new flesh, however, I am arguing that time is always already at work in the simulacrum, and that as Videodrome continues to age, it highlights postmodernity’s age as well.  And yet, I am not simply arguing that either Videodrome or postmodernity has passed; I am arguing that we cannot think of either particular body outside time, and that both entities—by their presence—increasingly affect a time through their passing.  My method will be largely reception-based—how have others received Videodrome (and to a lesser extent, postmodernity) and how those receptions increasing affect a sense of time.  Videodrome seems to articulate a “new flesh” of simulation outside time, but that flesh seems scarred by this sense of time which emerges from watching the film today.  Videodrome isn’t a film “about” time (in the way that a cotemporaneous film such as Somewhere in Time [1980] is explicitly “about” time); and yet as I will show, in Videodrome, I see time.  How is time presently in a state of passing in Videodrome, and how does that scar the new flesh (the simulacrum) in the film?  How do we see time in Videodrome, and how does this reconfigure our understanding of postmodernity?  In this paper, I will explore the role time plays in relation to the simulacrum and to postmodernity, with a primary focus on the work of Videodrome.  I want to show how time scars the simulacrum in Cronenberg’s film as that which has passed.  Videodrome can be seen as a film which typifies an earlier period of postmodernity.   So while we can still look to Videodrome, and we can still look to postmodernity, it is always already through the crystal image of time, the present fact of passing.  Time affects our viewing and re-viewing.  Time pushes us out; Videodrome pushes us to touch a different postmodernity . . .

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There is first Videodrome’s past.  In a very early academic essay, “The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory,” Tania Modleski first noted that in Videodrome, the “video itself becomes monster.”[15]  Modleski posited Videodrome as an important film in emerging postmodern discourses of the mid-1980s, working off of Roland Barthes’ discussion of pleasure and jouissance in The Pleasure of the Text, which she saw as an exemplary postmodern text.  “The contemporary text of horror could aptly be considered an anagram for the schizophrenic’s body,” Modleski wrote, “which is so vividly imaged in Cronenberg’s film.”[16]  This emphasis on the schizophrenic, so prevalent in discussions of postmodernity (such as in Jameson’s Postmodernism), marked the chaotic uncertainty—filled with slippages and ruptures—of the self’s role and identity in this theoretical period.  Naturally, Videodrome would thus speak to a death of the fixed subject.  This then opened up the possibilities of the “ruptured body” (which leads, I would argue, to the self as pure simulation, effect over cause)—“the hero’s situation becomes that of the new schizophrenic described by Jean Baudrillard in his discussion of the effects of mass communication.”[17]  Videodrome, added Jameson in a separate book, translates addiction and schizophrenia into “a society of the spectacle or image capitalism.”[18]  This uncertainty, this panic, in the postmodern caused feelings of terror, for Modleski; it also caused for her Baudrillard (as for Jameson, Debord).  In a particular time, Videodrome created the effects of Baudrillard in criticism.  Moreover, Videodrome reflected a period of postmodern thinking as expressed by Marshall McLuhan, Jean Baudrillard and Guy Debord.  For me today, Videodrome can be read still—as others have—as a product of postmodernity.  Yet my point is not so much to repeat this argument as it is to show how Videodrome is at once both an articulation of that period and simultaneously something completely different.  Videodrome can be read as a postmodernity in time—stretching at least as far back as Modleski in the early 80s.

Bukatman too once posited Cronenberg in the tradition of these thinkers.  “At times Videodrome seems to be a film which hypostatizes Baudrillard’s own polemic,” he wrote,  “here, with remarkable syntactic similarity, Baudrillard and a character [Prof. O’Blivion] from Cronenberg’s film are both intent upon the usurpation of the real by its own representation; upon the imbrication of the real, the technologized and the simulated.”[19]  In The Geopolitical Aesthetic (one of his earlier postmodern works), Jameson argued that the film “carefully explains its ‘themes’ to us—the social perniciousness of television and mass culture generally, McLuhanite reflections on physical changes and perceptual mutations.”[20]  Shaviro, meanwhile, put this same didacticness in the film (Prof. O’Blivion’s lectures) in a more playful light, suggesting the film itself is in on the joke: 


Cronenberg relentlessly materializes not just information systems, but the entire range of referentless media images that are so often said to constitute the postmodern world.  Simulation is forced to display its body.  The brutally hilarious strategy of Videodrome is to take media theorists such as Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard completely at their word, to over literalize their claims for the ubiquitous mediatization of the real.[21]


Following Modleski, Barbara Creed extended the effects of Videodrome—“he has become—to cite Baudrillard—a ‘pure screen, a switching centre for all the networks of influence.’”[22]  Like the experience of Videodrome, Baudrillard is always being replayed.  “What is the new flesh?” asked Bukatman, “One postulation might hold that Max has attained the paradoxical status of pure image—an image which no longer retains a connection with the ‘real.’  Videodrome comes striking close to moving through the four successive phases of the image characteristic of the era of simulation as described by Baudrillard.”[23]  Everywhere in criticism on the film, the same theorists remained in circulation.  It is almost as though McLuhan and Baudrillard were themselves affective—not as people but as ideas.  They hovered within the film and provoked people into quantifying these famous theories in the course of their own readings of Videodrome.

Noting Cronenberg’s “sensitivity to the atmosphere of the postmodern,”[24] Christopher Sharrett similarly sensed the figures of this period in Videodrome.  Like the other writers, Sharrett noted that Prof. O’Blivion was “a figure deliberately modeled on the late Marshall McLuhan.”[25]  Here, though, we find a much darker take on the film, its director and on postmodernity.   “While Cronenberg has professed an interest in McLuhan’s theories,” Sharrett wrote, “it is difficult to ignore the criticism he offers of the media and the soft-headed utopianism of his McLuhan figure.  The film is especially deft in satirizing the one-way nature of the media, their inability to foster genuine communication, and their tendency to turn the spectator into consumer and voyeur.”[26]  This reading led Sharrett to different conclusions about Videodrome.  “It seems apparent, particularly as we read such critics as Jean Baudrillard and Jean Francois Lyotard,” he wrote, “that the characteristics of the postmodern style are written under the sign of the apocalypse—or at least have affinities with a certain millennic temperament.”[27]

For Sharrett, the end of Videodrome was Max simply losing his sanity and killing himself; there is no salvation in the image, which “remains a delusion.”[28]  In contrast to others at the time, Sharrett saw in Videodrome a larger tendency towards nihilism and apocalyptism in postmodern film.  “We find in Cronenberg’s work an extraordinarily rich body of mythic content,” he added, “that interfaces with apocalyptic thought.”[29]  While Shaviro felt that the film jokingly literalized theory’s relationship to technology, Videodrome for Sharrett “is decidedly not a film that lauds technology and shows its development coextensive with intellectual progress.”[30]  Sharrett’s cynicism, however, is not isolated.  Videodrome’s political and social implications, taken up and augmented from Scanners,” wrote William Beard more recently, “are also much more serious: deep and widespread, offering a kind of postmodern paranoid model of manipulation of helpless private individuals by predatory corporate forces under conditions of universal technological penetration and colonization.”[31]  And at a certain time, these critiques may have been true, but I think there is still positive and affirming work that Videodrome did and continues to do.  Something that has evolved over time, not unlike how Professor O'Blivion evolves on tape in the film.  His name itself points to an earlier nihilism—a lack of substance or depth.  Yet he is not negated, but rather seems to proliferate over time as his images duplicate and spread out.  The very fact that it has survived in time allows the film to slip out of the nihilism once thrown around its neck. 

Today, I do not see a postmodern in Videodrome as much as I see what other postmodernists saw.  I see that it had an effect—by 1992, Jameson himself had acknowledged Videodrome’s “canonical, well-nigh classical position” within postmodernity.[32]  As Beard put it, “Videodrome has attracted perhaps more commentary than any other Cronenberg film to date.  Its thematization of media as an ubiquitously intrusive and identity-threatening force, of the transformations enabled and threats posed by information overload, of the dissolution of borders between simulacra and the real and between spectacle and the body, of the politics of image manipulation, of sexuality and subjectivity as unstable cultural constructions is irresistibly attractive to postmodern cultural theorists.”[33]  By 2001, Beard was able to reflect back on Videodrome’s lasting appeal to postmodernists and cultural theorists, even while he continued to circulate the idea that Videodrome was still being marked by its postmodernity, which for him “introduces an element of reflexivity”[34] and ushered in a period of Cronenberg’s films’ newfound “self-understanding.”[35]  Even after almost 20 years past the film’s initial debut, Beard continued to reiterate how:

Marshall McLuhan is of course the starting point for Cronenberg here (and Brian O’Blivion is clearly a ‘radical’ pastiche of McLuhan as ‘media prophet’), but scholarly commentators have immediately gravitated to Foucault, Debord, and especially Baudrillard as providing models according to which the film can be explicated. [36]

Thus the postmodernity of Videodrome remained (and remains through this essay) in circulation, almost to the point of cliché.  Videodrome highlighted Debord’s insistence on representation as a substitute for human interaction and lived experience, McLuhan’s understanding of media as an extension of the self, and Baudrillard’s contention that the image has supplanted reality.  This was the rhetoric of the day.  “Media images no longer refer to a real that would be (in principle) prior to and independent of them,” wrote Shaviro, “for they penetrate, volatilize, and thereby (re)constitute that real.”[37]  Both then and now, the video flesh is made real.  “The scene is real because it is televised,”[38] Bukatman wrote, “Diegetic reality shatters in a gesture which reflects on the experience of the real through the experience of the cinematic.”[39]  He went on to say, “Cronenberg, then, does not reify the cinematic signifier as ‘real,’ but continually mutates the real into the image, and the image into the hallucination.”[40]  So, as Bukatman (and others) fairly argued, Videodrome compels us to consider how reality and the image have collapsed into one another.  But, where can the film go from there?  Beard showed an awareness of the dangers in always already recirculating the same texts and the same theories (however legitimate or sturdy):  “Indeed, this [method of using Foucault, Baudrillard, McLuhan and so forth] is putting the cart before the horse, since the project of so much theoretical writing in the field of popular culture is not to use theory to explicate texts, but rather to discover texts that will illustrate theory.  In this respect, Videodrome is an object of almost pornographic appeal for scholars seeking an explicit textual embodiment of some of the most powerful contemporary currents of cultural theory.”[41]

I suppose I too am guilty of such self-gratification.  I was not fighting off the writings of the likes of Modleski, Jameson, Beard, Bukatman, Creed, Sharrett and Shaviro.  Quite the opposite—what initially drew me to Videodrome was precisely its ability to (re)invoke (yet again) a particular moment in the postmodern period when Baudrillard and McLuhan were common currency, and the simulacrum was the buzzword du jour.  Yet unlike past scholars such as Beard, I am not attempting to establish here Videodrome’s present (see below), but rather its past.  Could we see time present in earlier postmodern texts such as Cronenberg’s films, or have earlier periods of postmodernity become a time which is presently passing in the (present) image of Videodrome today?

By returning yet again to the object with an “almost pornographic appeal” to postmodernists past and present, I am not trying to illustrate what Videodrome is, so much as I am attempting to excavate in the back of the crystal image what Videodrome was.  While I hope Videodrome will in a way “illustrate theory,” I am open to what theory it will ultimately lead to.  I am trying to resist the theory prematurely, but I am also aware of how the timing of Videodrome compels me to another way of thinking.  Writing shortly after the film’s initial release in the early 1980s, Sharrett wrote that “Videodrome quickly became a commercial and critical failure, although it is certain to gain respect as an innovative work to judge from its already apparent cult following.”[42]  We can clearly say now that Videodrome did gain that respect; and it did so through the film’s continued circulation.  It provoked people into seeing Baudrillard and McLuhan through the work that it did.  Or, more simply, it just induced pleasure of some kind.  And I believe the film continues to do work.  I am hoping that Videodrome in circulation both looks back to a past postmodern passing, and a new postmodern yet to pass.  This postmodernity is still present, but it is present as having past when Videodrome is seen today (or when those old books are re-opened and re-read today).  Just as I believe that Videodrome may have moved into respect, may have moved beyond the nihilism Sharrett had once described and into the new sensory experience Shaviro articulated, I believe the film can move again.

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There are other ways to see Videodrome, and they work with the ways articulated above.    When looking at the film’s conclusion and how we do not see Max shoot himself for good, Bukatman writes that “beyond representation itself, such an image could not be represented, and thus the film ends.  Videodrome, then, enacts the death of the subject and the death of representation simultaneously, each the consequence of the other.”[43]  The ending of Videodrome—the sound of a gunshot but not the image, the repetition, the replaying of that moment—pushes Bukatman into the unrepresentable, into (I would add) virtuality.  Max is reborn in simulation and repetition and, as such, thus exists outside representation.  “It is ultimately the body without an image,” Brian Massumi writes about Ronald Reagan’s emerging awareness of his own presence on the silver screen, “that takes his body.”[44]  The potential of Max (as with Reagan) takes over his existence, the possibilities of circulation and reproduction, what he could be.  In the dark screen, with the unseen death shot, Max assumes a body without image.  And likewise there are ways in which we can begin to think “beyond representation itself,” into the virtual, into what Videodrome could be—its potentiality.  What does Videodrome affect?  “What is being termed affect,” Massumi writes:  “is precisely [. . .] the simultaneous participation of the virtual in the actual and the actual in the virtual, as one arises from and returns to the other.  Affect is this two-sidedness as seen from the side of the actual thing, as couched in its perceptions and cognitions.  Affect is the virtual as point of view, provided the visual metaphor is used guardedly.[45]

We can approach Videodrome affectively; we can approach postmodernity affectively.  “If cancer in The Brood was an articulation of affect,” Shaviro writes, “in Videodrome it materializes the very act of perception.”[46]  Likewise, the tumor in Videodrome approximates affect in the film’s narrative.  The tumor (like affect) is what emanates from the “Videodrome” broadcasts and which then pre-personally constitutes perception (hallucination) for Max.

But what do we sense when we see the film today, or when we read the criticism today?  What tumor is implanted behind our eyes as we watch Videodrome?  “As processional as it is precessional, affect inhabits the passage,” Massumi writes:  “It is pre- and postcontextual, pre- and postpersonal, an excess of continuity invested in the ongoing: its own.  Self-continuity across the gaps.  Impersonal affect is the connecting thread of experience.  It is the invisible glue that holds the world together.  In event.  The world-glue of affect is an autonomy of event-connection continuing across its own serialized capture in context.”[47]

When I speak of affect in Videodrome, I am speaking of that which moves alongside Videodrome, that which inhabits our experience of Videodrome, that which constitutes us as individual viewers of Videodrome, that which provokes us to thought, that which provokes the “spiritual automaton.”  Deleuze refers to the spiritual automaton in Cinema II: The Time-Image, where he suggests that this concept emerges from automatic movement.  At this point in his discussion of film, automatic movement is now a given in the image itself.  Since movement is implied in the duration of the cinematographic image, since the image creates movement by its very nature, he argues, movement must necessarily be automatic.  The film is always already movement.  From this predetermined quality of the film, then, there arises “in us”[48] a spiritual automaton, which:

“[. . .] no longer designates—as it does in classical philosophy—the logical or abstract possibility of formally deducing thoughts from each other, but the circuit into which they enter with movement-image, the shared power of what forces thinking and what thinks under a shock; a nooshock.”[49]

Certainly, there is a way in which we can begin to think here about how Deleuze is specifically bringing the audience into the discussion of cinema.  He is no longer just articulating the essence of cinema or of the philosophical concepts in cinema, but rather is moving on to the ways in which we ourselves as audiences are compelled into thinking about that essence or those concepts.  If the crystal image is one of those concepts which we see in Videodrome, or that through which we see the direct time-image and time passing as co-existents, for example, then the spiritual automaton is that which arises from the experience of seeing time in such a way.

           And yet Deleuze is not neglecting, of course, the ways in which the spiritual automaton is still to an extent in the cinematographic image.  Though it arises in us, he also argues that the spiritual automaton is the “artistic essence of the image” realized once movement becomes automatic.[50]  Or at least I believe it is the spiritual automaton to which he is referring in that passage, because the artistic essence of the image is “producing a shock to thought, communicating vibrations to the cortex, touching the nervous and cerebral system directly.”[51]  When he was writing about Videodrome, Shaviro argued that:


…the function of vision [in the film] is no longer to show, but to excite the nerves directly.  Sight is not a neutral source of information, but a gaping wound, a violation of the integrity of the body.  In this implosive embodiment of vision, spectacle is indeed abolished, but so is the digital coding that Baudrillard sees as taking its place, for there are no more simple images, no more simulation models, no more surfaces.[52]


What is provoked in Videodrome instead is affect—the nerves and the body excited and violated—and this constitutes the spiritual automaton in Shaviro.  In the film, Max “is seduced, stimulated, ‘turned on’ by the affective overload of new sensations in new organs.  Such a subject position is also that of the viewers of Videodrome.”[53]  Shaviro recognized the affect of Videodrome on himself as well as on Max—communicating vibrations.  “Cronenberg’s strategy is the perverse opposite of Brecht’s,” he added, “it shatters identification and ‘alienates’ the spectator by virtue of too great a proximity to bliss and horror, and not because of any rational distancing from them.”[54]  As Deleuze argues in the passage quoted above, the automaton is a shock to thought then—the nooshock—a shock from (or in) the film.  For Shaviro, I suspect, Videodrome’s shock to thought is “too great a proximity to bliss and horror.”  However, it is not simply the film’s affect on him.  Deleuze also mentions that the “automatic movement gives rise to a spiritual automaton in us, which reacts in turn on movement.”[55]  The spiritual automaton is also “in us.”  How can we begin to reconcile these understandings of the spiritual automaton which initially seem to be contradictory?

           The easy answer, of course, would be that the spiritual automaton is both in the film image and in us, while simultaneously not in either.  Like the movement-image, which generates our perception (more so than we perceive it), the spiritual automaton generates our thinking through shock.  And yet we are also given in us to a power of thought and of thinking that is independent of the essence of the cinematographic image.  “It is the capacity, this power [of thought], and not the simple logical possibility, that cinema claims to give us in communicating the shock,” Deleuze writes, “it is as if cinema were telling us: with me, with the movement-image, you can’t escape the shock which arouses the thinker in you.”[56]  Even while we are propelled by the shock of Videodrome which we “can’t escape”—the violence, the grotesqueness, the sadomasochism—we still tap into the thinker within ourselves.  Or precisely because Videodrome is so shocking we cannot help but think about what is so shocking in the film.  The spiritual automaton is at once both the essence of the image and that which arises within ourselves.  Or put another way, perhaps the spiritual automaton is that—thought—which is generated within ourselves by the artistic essence of the image.[57]  This would explain why we keep watching James Woods, and yet somehow see Jean Baudrillard instead.  More precisely, we watch Prof. O’Blivion, and yet we somehow see Marshall McLuhan.  The image generates thought—this is one way to define the spiritual automaton in the film.[58]  Videodrome generates images of McLuhan within us.  And yet, for me, there is more than a Canadian media scholar from the 1960s within when I watch Cronenberg’s film.  What is it in Videodrome that provokes, in us, a “spiritual automaton”?

           I think of Baudrillard every time I see Prof. O’Blivion on one of his TV screens in Videodrome.  Or, Videodrome creates in me an image of Baudrillard every time I see it.  Baudrillard is an affect, the unrepresentable, the virtual—what is there in the film which I sense but do not directly see.  But in Baudrillard, and in Videodrome, I also see time.  The film creates time within me.  Videodrome creates time for others, too.  We can say that it is a more “historical” way (for lack of a better word) to look at Videodrome.  But I prefer to think of time as affective, not cognitive.  “Becoming becomes history,”[59] writes Massumi, and I sense that Videodrome is likewise experiencing such a becoming.  Following the research of Ian Conrich, Michael Grant positions Videodrome historically, noting how the film was released during “the height of this so-called moral panic” of the “video nasties campaign of the early 1980s.”[60]  Meanwhile, Conrich himself posits Videodrome within the emergence of Fangoria magazine in the early 1980s, again seeing the film as—to some degree—a historical document.[61]  In a very recent Film Criticism article, Steffen Hantke implicitly suggests that Videodrome is dated, pointing out how the visual effects in this and other Cronenberg films are specifically pre-CGI:  “On a banal level, the relative degree of an effect’s conspicuousness is directly related to its cost.  Up to Dead Ringers in 1988, special effects in Cronenberg’s films avail themselves only minimally, if at all, of CGI and instead use make-up, body casts and prostheses, and full or partial body models.”[62]

Many of those devices would be not needed or even effective in the post-CGI era of filmmaking.  In other words, effects like those in Videodrome—however revolutionary at the time—seem low-budget and primitive to the viewer today.  Though not crucial to his argument, it is curious that Hantke would note this.  Time has caught up with Videodrome, and with scholars.  In a much different article from the mid-1990s, Marty Roth examined the different types of representation in Videodrome:

Despite the general erosion of the real, we can easily tell the difference between reality and representation: representation is faulty television reception, a TV picture that is bad in both the technical and moral/aesthetic senses.  Videodrome is the name of the film and a video series that we watch in the film.  The difference between them is that the quality of the second transmission is noisy and grainy: reality is unmarked, apparently unmediated, perception, while representation is both textured and distorted.[63]

While I’m not sure that I agree with Roth’s formulation of the distinction between representation and reality as embodied in Videodrome, I do think his discussion points us in some fascinating directions.  Roth is looking at Videodrome in the late 1990s, and notes the imperfections in the video images in the film.  Like Hantke, he cannot help but see (affectively, that is) the primitiveness of Videodrome’s technical world.  It is a primitiveness I can see as well.  Roth sees something off in the image, which for him marks it as representation.  I would suggest that what he sees, and what we see, is time.

And there are subtler ways in which time affects my reading of Videodrome, and my readings of readings of Videodrome.  Shaviro noted how “Max is programmed by the cassette to be a killer for Spectacular Optical.”[64]  In 2005, the word “cassette” generates in me a sense of a different time.  In fact, what I see in Shaviro’s work is time, every bit as much as I see it in Videodrome—I see a scholar working in a different period of postmodernity, where figures such as Baudrillard still retained a currency that seems to have fallen into cliché today (or disappeared entirely).  “Videocassettes and TV monitors begin to throb like living, breathing flesh”[65] in Videodrome, he added.  I can see that videocassette throbbing—an historical artifact throbbing in time.  And as it is rewound and replayed, it increasingly throbs with time.  The affect of time in Videodrome is more complicated than just the dated technology, of course, but I see Shaviro locating Videodrome as both a Baudrillardian moment, and simultaneously pushing us beyond Baudrillard.  Baudrillard’s formulation of the simulacrum does not work for Videodrome in the way that Deleuze’s might.  I would argue very simply that in each case above what the scholar saw and is seeing is time; what affects them is time.

*                                 *                                   *


The differences repeating Videodrome:

The “Criterion” Edition DVD of Videodrome (2004)


“[In Videodrome,] we gaze, not at people, but at a conspiracy made into a whole world, in a landscape of media objects now endowed with a delirious life and autonomy of their own.”

—Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic[66]


I would like to finish the body of my essay with a case study—using a close analysis of the kind of work Videodrome continues to do in circulation today, and how this increasingly affects a sense of time.  In respect to reception, time is certainly more relevant to Videodrome now than it was then.  I wish to examine the 2004 “Criterion” edition DVD of Videodrome, which is packaged on the cover to simulate an 80s “beta” tape—a bootleg copy such as that which captures the “Videodrome” transmissions we see in the film.  We also see old television color bars on the package.  In other words, the very packaging of Videodrome seems to simulate time—it says to us that the film, while still present, is of the past.  If anything, the legitimacy conferred upon the film by being “worthy” of a Criterion edition would seem to authenticate the film as an important document which is not only in time, but which (literally) has stood the test of time.  “The Criterion collection,” the DVD states, is “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films.” The point of a Criterion version is not only to mark a film as important, but to further preserve it for time.  Criterion’s reputation from film restoration plays a big part in this equation.  And indeed this version of Videodrome prominently advertises on the back that it is a “new high definition digital transfer of the unrated version, with restored image and sound and enhanced for widescreen televisions.”  The two disc set features objects both from the original debut of the film and from the new re-release—containing within itself both “Forging the New Flesh, a new half-hour documentary featurette,” and “Fear on Film, a 26 minute roundtable discussion from 1982.”  The features on the Criterion Videodrome thus reveal themselves as a time-image—we see in the present documentaries both past and present.  We “Forge the New Flesh” presently at the same time that “Fear on Film” is seen passing.  We see the time of old publicity photos returned to the present by the advent of digital video technology.

The DVD is accompanied with a forty-page booklet which features essays on the film.  This inclusion, too, seems to highlight the film’s legitimacy as a classic.  Carrie Rickey’s 1983 essay from the Village Voice is revised and reprinted.  The sense of Rickey’s past essay existing within the present essay also creates an image of time to accompany Videodrome.  The new version opens with the declaration that “although it wasn’t obvious upon its release in 1983, Videodrome is a key work in the Cronenberg oeuvre.”[67]  At work here is an attempt to remove Videodrome from the new flesh of simulation, and reposition it within the timing of the director’s career, as it “anticipated [not, anticipates] Cronenberg’s mature masterpieces, The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988).”[68]  Rickey repositions Videodrome as explicitly prior to later films, heightening and intensifying its age, while also making the (Freudian slip?) mistake of referring to Videodrome in the past tense—the film once anticipated Cronenberg’s later films, but apparently does not do so anymore.

Rickey’s reworked work is accompanied by an essay by Tim Lucas (appropriately subtitled “Reflections on Videodrome”), which opens with, “in 1981, it seemed to me that a new era of fantastic cinema was upon us,”[69] and then is followed by a historical (and nostalgic) discussion of his experiences with the making of Videodrome in the earlier 80s.   For these writers, it is now impossible to think of the film outside the time is which it was born, even as it continues to be reborn today.  Thus, even the booklet itself simulates, in its visuals and layouts, the old technology of the film.  And playing the DVD itself, one finds the motif of time continued—the menu pages of the Videodrome DVD are not crisp and clear, but seem to recreate the wavy, grainy, unstable images of “Videodrome” and the technology which perpetuated it.  This is an implicit perspective increasingly taken up by others who write about Videodrome today, including Rickey and Lucas.  Though they continue to articulate how the film challenges our sense of reality and the tensions between the mind and the body, they also wish to articulate Videodrome as a moment in the early 1980s when they first discovered it, and articulate it as a moment within Cronenberg’s larger filmography. 

Interestingly, a 2000 short film called “Camera” accompanies the film on the new Criterion DVD.  The film was probably included with Videodrome because it was directed by Cronenberg, using regulars from his crew, and stars Les Carlson, who played Barry Convex (the chief villain) in Videodrome.  The title itself—“Camera”—clearly foregrounds issues of representation.  Yet the film is not reproducing the same nihilistic or unrepresentable themes which seem to haunt Videodrome.  “Camera” is a film expressly about time.  Clearly showing the wear and tear of the last 15+ years on his face since the earlier horror film, Carlson plays an older man (maybe himself) who thinks back upon his long life in representation, and how representation made him older and more aware of his age.  He sits at a kitchen table as kids run around, waiting as the children prepare to photograph him with a 35mm camera.  “One day,” he says to open the short, “the children brought home an old camera.”  He later mentions again how the camera is old, and how “the camera itself had aged.”  By “growing old together” with the camera, Carlson also suggests that time is in reproduction and vice versa.

The film follows the kids as they haul the camera into the house.  “I used to be an actor,” Carlson adds, emphasizing again his age, “the best days are behind me.”  Carlson displays anxiety about the kids playing with the camera.  “If you look at it in a cold light,” he says, as a cold light bounces off the background and onto the digital camera (the use of digital film is itself a new marker of time), “Photography is death.  It’s all about death.  Memory and desire . . . aging . . . and death.”  He emphasizes that this is all the more haunting for an actor, someone who sees himself forever shown back to him, as though always looking into frozen mirrors.  “I had a dream,” he admits quietly:  “[. . .]  a long time ago, before I had achieved anything professionally.  I dreamt I was in the cinema, watching a movie with an audience.  And suddenly I realized I was aging rapidly, growing horribly old as I sat there.  It was the movie that was doing it.  I had caught some kind of disease from the movie and it was making me grow old, bringing me closer and closer to death.  I woke up terrified.”

On the one hand, the “disease” from the movie makes “Camera” a perfect companion to Videodrome, which is also about a man infected with a virus from images he sees.  Yet, the infection is much different—Max Renn has his perception altered.  Carlson has his sense of time altered.  Time which seemed so irrelevant to Convex and Spectacular Optical in Videodrome now floods over Carlson as the years progress.  If the virus in Videodrome is a perfect actualization of television and affect, this moment in “Camera” is a perfect realization of the time-image.  The movie in Carlson’s dream creates in him time itself, allows time to take him over, and thus generating time at a rapid rate, which causes him to age likewise.  “Look at me now,” he then says, “look where I am now.”  He is on an image, and he is showing his age.  He implores the audience to see time—“you see?  The dream is coming true.”  The image of “Camera” is not merely representing age, but creating age in Carlson—accelerating his aging and his awareness of his aging.

“When you record the moment,” he says later, “you record the death of the moment.”  The moment is frozen in the image, but as that moment is continually replayed, time is generated anew.  The moment becomes increasingly that which is present and that which passes to the past in the present.  “Camera” then appropriately ends with Carlson being photographed with the 35mm camera—its soft, glossy, professional look contrasts strikingly, grotesquely, with the harsh immediacy of the digital camcorder.  It is fitting precisely because Carlson repeats the film’s opening lines—“one day, the children brought home an old camera . . .”  Thus, as in Videodrome, the film ends in repetition.  We are compelled to think about the endless circulation of the film and its image—that which will generate time anew.  Carlson will forever be dying in the presence of this frozen image.  And, likewise in Videodrome, the repetition of the film’s conclusion asks us to consider what is generated by the repetition of images.  Of course, I have argued here that what is generated is time.  “Camera” is a perfect companion piece to this particular moment in Videodrome’s distribution.  Though it is never explicitly stated anywhere, I think this short film (which, like the earlier sci-fi flick, is a film about media and mediation) is a response to Videodrome, and more specifically, to the timing of Videodrome.  Is it Videodrome which he dreams of watching (in his nightmare)?  Does he dream of watching a younger self?  It is in part—but not only—the “younger selves” in Videodrome (such as a young James Woods), which I sense compels me to see time in the film.  The brief film makes it impossible for contemporary viewers of both the film and of the short together not to see time in the images, to see time in Videodrome (and in Les Carlson)—to see recorded “the death” of Videodrome.  Even the latest version of Videodrome—the Criterion simulacrum—continues to circulate the image of Videodrome as a film in time, its death moving further and further back into the presence of the film.

*                                 *                                   *


But if Videodrome is time present as that which has passed, then what can we still say about postmodernity—that older 80s postmodernity of Jameson and Baudrillard—of which (as older critics above have shown) the film is so exemplary?  What does Criterion say about Jameson?  As noted, Jameson himself once wrote about Videodrome as a marker of a different period of postmodernity.  Yet, in The Geopolitical Aesthetic, Jameson also asked rhetorically, “who would wish to argue that Videodrome represents a serious contribution” to the development of postmodern and mass communication thought?[70]  Clearly, he believed, no one would argue that.  And yet, though Videodrome may not have made a new contribution to thought, it did keep old thoughts in circulation, all the while accumulating time itself.  Time in Videodrome increasingly becomes something we see and which compels us to thought.  I am not exactly arguing that Videodrome is dated (though it is that as well); I am trying to argue instead that time increasingly passes in the presence of Videodrome.  And this in turn compels me and others (such as Rickey and Lucas) to think of the film historically.  Moreover, I am compelled to consider if postmodernity has passed within itself, too.  Has postmodernity passed, or does postmodernity in its presence show itself passing?  Postmodernity is in an awkward situation.  How can postmodernity continue to suggest the end of history when it itself is receding into the past?  To a certain extent, I am attempting to position Videodrome as an historic artifact, a relic from an earlier time, and as a particular moment in postmodernity.  But it is also an artifact with continued relevance, continued presence, today.  Yet, by suggesting a historical angle to the film, I am not trying to lament or mourn what Videodrome once was, but rather I am trying to consider what the film today continues to do to the past.

In the late 1980s, “it [was] at least empirically arguable that our daily life,” wrote Jameson in Postmodernism; or, the cultural logic of late capitalism, “our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time.”[71]  Yet Jameson’s timely pronouncement cannot itself resist categories of time.  Like Videodrome, we cannot see postmodernism (or Postmodernism) outside this time.  Whereas once “the new spatial logic of the simulacrum [could be] expected to have a momentous effect on what used to be called historical time” which had become “a vast collection of images, a multitudinous photographic simulacrum,”[72] I can now see that those “vast collection of images” have themselves re-produced time.  We still have the spatial logic of the simulacrum—we still have Videodrome in circulation as video, as film, as TV, as Universal DVD and as Criterion DVD.  But these new spatial positions have since generated (and generate) time.  For Jameson, “the past as ‘referent’ [found] itself gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether, leaving us with nothing but texts.”[73]  Lest it be overlooked, let me emphasize that I do not disagree with Jameson here.  Instead, I am asking about what has happened since.  What is the past fact of having been wounded which is still present in these texts?  The referent is still gone—it will not return.  But the texts are still present—they will not leave.  In their timing and in their repetition, since Videodrome and Postmodernism, these texts have re-created time (that is, created time anew) in their affects.  As long as we see the simulacrum in culture—both see Videodrome’s “new flesh” (however old) and see the circulation of the new flesh (Criterion, for example)—we will still see the possibilities of postmodernity in our presence.  And yet, paradoxically, we can no longer afford to see this postmodernity outside time; for to attempt to do so, to see an atemporal postmodernity, is to not see postmodernity, at all, anymore.

I believe postmodernity can continue to be viable if we too see it as a time image, if we see Jameson as present, and Jameson as passing in his own presence.  Does Videodrome “record the death” of Jean Baudrillard?  In a sense, yes.  What we see in Videodrome is the pastness of McLuhan, and Baudrillard, and Debord.  But, their pastness is still present.  I am not criticizing their theories or attempting to rewrite them.  In fact, I have implicitly argued that their continued presence here speaks to their continued relevance (however posited).  Instead, I am (not so) simply going into the past of postmodern theory and bringing forth the simulacrum as a present of the past.  Yet even this is not quite true—I am actually attempting to articulate how (for me) Videodrome goes back into its own past, and pulls back out the simulacrum, as a new flesh showing the scars of time.  The simulacrum now is not the death of an actual referent so much as it is the birth of a virtual feeling.  The texts of an older postmodernity presently do work within the context of a time which cannot outrun the precession of the simulacrum or stand outside the society of the spectacle, but which is a time that is in fact generated (in us) by the simulacrum and the spectacles themselves.  So what I am ultimately attempting to articulate here is a new reterritorialization of postmodernity.  Or, at least, the possibility of reaching out to touch the limits of a new postmodernity not yet quite conceived, but only felt.  I am suggesting that the emergence of affect theory—a reclamation of Jameson’s earlier waning (itself misunderstood)—compels us to a different postmodernity, even if momentarily.

Affect (time as affect) allows us not to destroy the simulacrum as an analytical tool, but rather compels us to ask what is outside the simulacrum, if not quite the indisputable, transparent “referent” or “Real.”  I am trying to understand how I specifically see postmodernity differently than an earlier generation of postmodern scholars (Shaviro, Sharrett, Modleski, Jameson and so forth).  And what I see that they didn’t (couldn’t) see then is time.  They could see only the suicide of James Woods, the endlessly repeating suicide of James Woods.  But I see a young James Woods, and I can see how far that endless repeating has come today.  I can see how the continued death of Woods actually makes it impossible for him to really die.  After every time I see Videodrome “record the death of the moment” of Max Renn’s suicide, I immediately see Max Renn alive again.  We must have him alive to die again—always.  Thus, we have the most perfect visual actualization of the simulacrum and its logic.  And yet every time I see this moment, I also see a younger and younger James Woods—thus time also is generated in the simulacrum—scarring the new flesh.  The “categories of time” must be reintroduced to a new, still emergent postmodernity which could thrive in the 21st century, long after “a new depthlessness” (the “new flesh,” perhaps?) and a “consequent weakening of historicity.”[74]  Time increasingly prioritizes itself in another postmodern cinema today—both in postmodern films released in the last few years (such as Lost in Translation [2003] or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004]) and in those films from the 70s and 80s still present today, such as Videodrome.  Time is present in Videodrome—but it is present in the film as passing and having past.  Postmodernity is present in Videodrome as having past.  Yet time is still present, and postmodernity is still present.  And time compels us to a new postmodernity not yet present in the presence of the older one.  Perhaps there, we will feel Jameson’s “closure-effect.”


an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, February 2006, ISSN 1552-5112



[1] Shaviro, The Cinematic Body (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993), p. 142.

[2] Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1992), p. 35.

[3] Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic, p. 31.

[4] Bukatman, “Who Programs You?: The Science Fiction of Spectacle,”  Alien Zone ed. Annette Kuhn (New York: Verso, 1990), p. 197.

[5] Sharrett, “Myth and Ritual in the Post-Industrial Landscape: The Horror Films of David Cronenberg,” Persistence of Vision 3-4 (Summer 1986), p. 125.

[6] Shaviro, p. 139.

[7] Shaviro, p. 139.

[8] Sharrett, p. 128.

[9] Sharrett, p. 128.

[10] Sharrett, p. 123.

[11] Shaviro, p. 138.

[12] My italics.  Shaviro, “Spider,” review, The Pinocchio Theory (April 2003):  Perhaps, this is an obvious point, a point too obvious to be duly noted.  But my exact argument centers how ubiquitous time now is in Videodrome, even with people, such as Shaviro, who first cemented its postmodernity through a technology outside time.

[13] Deleuze, Cinema II: The Time-Image (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989), p. 79.

[14] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia UP, 1994), p. 77.

[15] Modleski, “The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory,” Studies In Entertainment ed. Tania Modleski (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986), p. 159.

[16] Modleski, p. 159.

[17] Modleski, p. 159.

[18] Jameson, p. 30.

[19] Bukatman, p. 203.

[20] Jameson, p. 24.

[21] Shaviro, p. 138.

[22] Creed is referencing Baudrillard’s essay, “The Ecstasy of Communication,”—Creed, “Gynesis, Postmodernism and the Science Fiction Horror Film,” Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema ed. Annette Kuhn (New York: Verso, 1990), p. 217.

[23] Bukatman, p. 210.

[24] Sharrett, p. 111.

[25] Sharrett, p. 122.

[26] Sharrett, p. 126.

[27] Sharrett, p. 111.

[28] Sharrett, p. 127.

[29] Sharrett, p. 111.

[30] Sharrett, p. 124.

[31] Beard, The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2001), p. 124.

[32] Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic, p. 22.

[33] Beard, p. 124.

[34] Beard, p. 162.

[35] Beard, p. xi.

[36] Beard, p. 124.

[37] Shaviro, p. 138.

[38] Bukatman, p. 207.

[39] Bukatman, p. 210.

[40] Bukatman, p. 206.

[41] Beard, p. 124.

[42] Sharrett, p. 122.

[43] Bukatman, p. 210.

[44] Massumi, Parables of the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2002), p. 63.

[45] Massumi, p. 35.

[46] Shaviro, p. 140.

[47] Massumi, p. 217.

[48] Deleuze, The Time Image, p. 156.

[49] Deleuze, The Time Image, p. 156.

[50] Deleuze, The Time Image, p. 156.

[51] Deleuze, The Time Image, p. 156.

[52] italics mine.  Shaviro, p. 141.

[53] Shaviro, p. 144.

[54] Shaviro, p. 144.

[55] Deleuze, The Time Image, p. 156.

[56] Deleuze, The Time Image, p. 156.

[57] Yet the spiritual automaton is not something purely within us.  In this respect, the spiritual automaton differs from the unconscious in that the shock does not trigger something repressed nor does it trigger something solely within us.  Its forces us to think, to respond to the movement image, but it does not symbolize or refer back to something we carry buried in our minds.  In fact, the spiritual automaton does not refer to the mind in the way the unconscious does, but really refers as much to the experiences of the body, of the seer, as to anything else.  The spiritual automaton refers to the ways in which “the sensory shock raises us from the images to conscious thought” (161).  We are working from the images rather than just from within ourselves.  While the unconscious generally is considered to be the repressed emotional content or suppressed past experiences within the human subject, the spiritual automaton is the artistic essence of the image which we then experience.  The spiritual automaton is a “higher control which brings together critical and conscious thought and the unconscious in thought” (165).  The spiritual automaton does not signify what is hidden or what we struggle to grasp through thought, but “indicates the highest exercise in thought, the way in which thought thinks and itself thinks itself” (263).  Through this concept of the spiritual automaton, thought is independent; thought has agency.  If the spiritual automaton is this kind of pure thought, derived from the shock of the real (the experience with the image), the unconscious is the absence of this kind of thought—the place where the imaginary and the symbolic endlessly defer the impact of the shock in a supposed state of repression or ignorance.

[58] Later, Deleuze will also argue that cinema is itself spiritual automaton (or psychomechanics), “reflected in its own content, its themes, situations and characters” (263).  And for this reason, I am tempted to argue that the spiritual automaton is not only the essence of film—or at least film beyond the movement image—but that the spiritual automaton is at the core of Deleuze’s method of understanding film.  Though he more explicitly outlines a method at the end of chapter 10, the spiritual automaton typifies what Deleuze characterizes as the essence of film—its own preverbal intelligible content, themes, situations and characters.  Equally important, however (and maybe more so), the spiritual automaton is that which compels Deleuze himself to write about film as he has.  He is attempting to articulate “cinema’s concepts, not theories about cinema” (280).  These concepts appear to stem from the spiritual automaton—the ways in which cinema presents itself to Deleuze rather than how the cinema is appropriate for Deleuze’s philosophical applications.  In a sense, Cinema I and II both constitute for Deleuze “the shared power of what forces thinking and what thinks under a shock.”

[59] Massumi, p. 77.

[60] Grant, “Introduction,” The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg ed. Michael Grant (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000), p. 23.

[61] Conrich, “An Aesthetic Sense: Cronenberg and Neo-Horror Film Culture,” The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg ed. Michael Grant (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000), p. 45.

[62] Hantke, “Spectacular Optics: The Deployment of Special Effects in David Cronenberg’s Films,” Film Criticism 29.2 (Winter 2004-05), p.43.

[63] Roth, p. 59.

[64] Italics mine.  Shaviro, p. 141.

[65] Shaviro, p. 139.

[66] My italics.  Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic, p. 24.

[67] Rickey, “Make Mine Cronenberg,” Videodrome Criterion DVD booklet (2004), p. 6.

[68] Rickey, p. 6.

[69] Lucas, “Medium Cool: Reflections on Videodrome,” Videodrome Criterion DVD booklet (2004), p. 15.

[70] Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic, p. 24.

[71] Jameson, Postmodernism; or, the cultural logic of late capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991), p. 16.

[72] Jameson, Postmodernism, p. 18.

[73] Jameson, Postmodernism, p. 18.

[74] Jameson, Postmodernism, p. 6.