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Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor was actually first published in The New York Review of Books, so this entry could double for that. In it, Sontag challenges the victim-blaming language that is often associated with metaphor. She says that metaphors must be avoided altogether when talking about illness to avoid making attachments between a person’s character and the illness they’ve acquired. Could this be a slam against King’s depiction of a man’s alcoholism being quasi-externalized by a horrific, supernatural catalyst? In Kubrick’s version Jack is wicked from the start, not self-loathing, but innately vicious (Kubrick has stated in interviews that he views mankind as being innately violent and cruel–sorry, I forget where). The Overlook feeds on that, and turns his impulse extreme, but the film forces us to face Jack’s violence unsoftened, not couch it in his weakness to alcohol. King once described the difference between the novel and film as the difference between “warmth and cold”. In the sense that metaphor diffuses objective judgment, and realism draws us into uncomfortable proximity with objective judgment (in so much as either thing is possible)…I think King hit the nail on the head. But if Sontag is right, perhaps ironically, our warm tendency to use metaphor to soften blows can result in needless psychological stress, while a cold objectivity could help us to overcome personal tragedies without undue damage to our self-image.
In Sontag’s book, she talks a lot about cancer, and the way that cancer is externalized into the sufferer’s character, and so that would speak a lot to the buried cancer imagery and symbolism, like the ashtray atop these papers.
Sontag wrote a similar essay called Against Interpretation, where she basically fought against the intellectualization of art, and championed a more sensuous approach to criticism. I mention it because a) I doubt Kubrick was unaware of it, and b) you might think this view anathema to me, and perhaps by extension to Kubrick, given everything I’m uncovering, which he buried for us to find. On the contrary; I’m deeply sympathetic to it, and identify with it (hardly a day goes by I don’t regret the loss of Roger Ebert, for instance). Often I’m amazed that I was able to create Eye Scream for this reason (I’ve frequently thought of scrapping it entirely lest it over-inspire similarly detail-driven analyses). But I think the different between an “erotic” and an “intellectual” approach to criticism, is the difference between personality and specificity. And when it comes to Metaphor As Illness being name-dropped in The Shining, it doesn’t super duper matter what my personal opinion of Sontag is, what matters is that it is specifically where it is, on that coffee table, and not something else. I think what people who are obsessed by notions of good and bad (as points on an objective spectrum) mis-assume, is that the erotic critique is either the good or the bad way to interpret something, while the intellectual critique is the opposite. I would argue that the erotic critique is the one concerned with good and bad, with top ten lists, while the intellectual critique is the one concerned with what is objectively true. I don’t think anything I’ve observed on this site should stand as part of a testament to The Shining being a “good” movie. It’s arguably an impressive one, technically, and I’m a big fan of staring inside a super-complicated watch and being shown how it ticks (and I hope you are too). But complex, deep, and meaningful are not, as a consequence of their nature, good or bad. You’re allowed to hate Hamlet.
Speaking of which, Hamlet is referenced (“The play’s the thing”) at the end of this issue.
Moving on, let’s move fast through the other major points.
The other cover story is about a seeming narcissist who the writer felt had little reason to be so (sounds like Jack; though Kubrick might’ve seen this as a further critique on being a “designing” artist over a “feeling” artist). The title of which might be a reference to the Ibsen play of the same name.
Graham Greene’s depiction of a treaty signing in Washington feels like a real-life account of something like the Overlook’s ghostball. Also, kind of neat that the other copy of this magazine referenced a writer named Green on the cover.
The piece on Foucault’s critique of the French prison system sounds like it might relate to the way the hotel’s ghosts use their fiendish understanding of Jack’s narcissism to mould him into the hardened murderer they want him to be.
A hilariously arch review of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which takes no small joy in slapping Kubrick’s friend Spielberg around for his juvenile sense of fun, also takes a moment to praise the “genius” of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s special effects wizard, Douglas Trumbull. If Kubrick knew about that (and honestly, how could he not have?) that would make this the Alex-in-the-record shop moment of this film.
This review of a book about Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor sounds eerily like my little mini-essay about Sontag’s (perhaps false) dichotomy. But also, Marx is subtly referenced by the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” which appeared in chapter 10 of Das Kapital. Also, note that the other copy of this journal had a review of Marx’s supposed opposite, Adam Smith.
A review of two works on China brings to mind the book China Flight, which is also buried in this scene, and also the oil issue raised by the Scientific American.
This review of a war hero of Crete features the line, “So there are two maps, the imaginary and the real.” Crete is the island where Theseus defeated the minotaur. And the labyrinth that Danny defeats Jack in has a different design from the one Jack looms over in the lobby, and from the one on the billboard outside the front of the maze. Also, when Danny and Jack run for the maze at the end, it has rotated 90 degrees clockwise, so that the entrance faces north instead of west. The maps that attempt to describe the labyrinth are real, while the labyrinth that thwarts/rescues the Torrances is imaginary in some respect. What’s interesting, then, is that it’s Danny’s mastery over the imaginary that helps him defeat Jack, not his slavish adherence to the real.
There’s a review of a book (Black Odyssey) about what it was like to be a slave in America, which sounds both like essential reading, and also like the pinnacle of what can be achieved emotionally when abandoning a more archaeological approach to history (which, incidentally, is what Foucault was advocating for in his prison critique). I won’t pretend to know what Huggins’ approach was, or what his style is like in this book, but if the reveiwer tells true, it sounds like no footnotes were necessary to convey the truth of those lives. But also, there’s a box of Q-Tips back beside the bull figurine on the shelf behind Wendy, which I’ve always wondered could be a slight slavery reference. I’m not certain, either way, but this brings slavery literally into the Torrance living room.
Following on the heels of that is a fascinating (in terms of how we might contrast the discourse with modern discourse), if depressing, exchange of thoughts between people writing in about an older article concerning affirmative action, and the catalyst for those letters, Professor Ronald Dworkin, responding. It seems to be reproduced in full, so check it out if you’re interested. One thing I’ll note about it is that it contains another Hamlet reference, where Dworkin makes a strange series of suppositions about whether of not Hamlet could be played by a black man. Perhaps it made sense at the time.
Again, there are other articles you may like to peruse, but I think these were the major ones of note.
Next literary reference: My Name Is Asher Lev
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