Kubrick and Foucault: The menagerie of man



First time I saw A Clockwork Orange. I kept away from this cult classic mostly because it seemed a bit too silly for my liking. I was right, but for all the wrong reasons. The silliness serves the function of colourfully depicting the trickster protagonist.

The 70’s showed a noticeable interest in the subjects of madness and deliquency. After having been through the revolutions of the 60’s this does not come as a surprise. In Kubrick’s film, Alex, a mad snake-petting trickster, is on a shortlived violent stroll in his young adulthood; he embodies the chaos that the viewers would be well aware of and familiar with in their short-term memory in the early 70′s. What starts out as a shambly set of harlequinade scenes, soon becomes more coherent and disturbingly tangible ( I could almost feel the physical pain ) as the disciplinary powers take hold. Everything starts to make more sense. The erratic kaleidoscopic beginning makes room for a less improbable and coherent display. The excess of life, which led to an equal amount of death, has dwindled to a manageable degree. The agency of the protagonist is partly cancelled out of existence as a guarantee for a more ordered world. But at what cost?
This film poses many questions, most still left unanswered, as they touch the deep core of modernity.

By the end of the decade Michel Foucault would gain an equal cult following and status analyzing this very topic. He argues that the means and ways of imprisonment are applied on far more levels than pure deliquency. The whole of modern society is effectively managed in the same way a panopticon is, where the (assumed) presence of an anonymous power causes us to almost voluntarily inscribe ourselves in the power relation in which we simultaneously play both roles; we become the principle of our own subjection. The name of Jeremy Bentham’s design is a reference to the hundred-eyed Greek giant Panoptes. It is also no surprise the utilitarian thinker would come up with such an idea, turning man into a self-subservient utility for the whole.

Set to the tone of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in which Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy is sung, praising how “all men become brothers”, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is keen in pinpointing and stressing Alex his fondness of the music. He identifies with his exclusion from brotherhood of man. Therefore the song takes on a circus-like remix in some of the scenes. The carnavalesque is the trickster’s abode. Alex is at home in this travesty of a life he has made for himself. As soon as he is disciplined by the machinery of power and belongs to the universal brotherhood, he cannot stand the music anymore. He cannot live with himself. His inclusion is his death. When the disciplinary powers have taken hold of him and molded Alex into a more pleasant image, he can only respond with disgust and suicidal tendencies.

The fraternity of modern mankind is nothing but a menagerie of manageable oddities for the society to exploit. ‘Talents’ they are called, but could be best described as the leftovers of primordial vitality and total unicity of and in each and everyone of us. Its (increasing) panoptic force filters and subdues the perceived toxicity of this overdose of vitality, of will, out of each of its members and values itself in its success to extend in width and depth of its membership.
But the more it succeeds, the more this menagerie turns into a taxidermy.

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