An Invitation to explore the Viaducts of our Minds

Ideology Critique in American Literature and Film during the Seventies

by Sandra Schenk (Author)
©2014 Thesis X, 108 Pages


Artists explored the dark places of the American experience during the seventies. After providing an overview of the rhetorical device allegory, Barthes’s concept of mythology and Foucault’s concept of power relations, the author establishes a connection between the works of art under discussion. The early seventies are represented by Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, Peter Watkins’s Punishment Park, and Hubert Selby, Jr.’s The Room. The late seventies are represented by Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Gustav Hasford’s The Short Timers and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The book traces a shift from relations between bodies and authority towards bodies and technology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface: To carry death in your smile is pornographic violence
  • Contents
  • An Invitation to Explore the Viaducts of our Minds: Ideology Critique in American Literature and Film during the Seventies
  • La Couleur du Temps
  • Illuminer à la Fois l’Intérieur et l’Extérieur des Hommes
  • Misuse and Abuse of Authority
  • An Analysis of Sadistic Authorities
  • The Last House on the Left (1972)
  • Punishment Park (1970)
  • The Room (1971)
  • A Body Confused with Technology in its Violating and Violent Dimension
  • An Analysis of Commodified Relationships
  • A Scanner Darkly (1977)
  • The Short-Timers (1979)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1979)
  • Jetons Bas ce Vieux Plâtrage qui Masque la Façade de l’Art! or Real Innovations Attack the Base
  • Additional Notes on Authors / Auteurs
  • Works Cited

← X | 1 → An Invitation to Explore the Viaducts of our Minds: Ideology Critique in American Literature and Film during the Seventies

La Couleur du Temps

L’art feuillette les siècles, feuillette la nature, interroge les chroniques, s’étudie à reproduire la réalité des faits, surtout celle des mœurs et des caractères, bien moins léguée au doute et à la contradiction que les faits, restaure ce que les annalistes ont tronqué, harmonise ce qu’ils ont dépareillé, devine leurs omissions et les répare, comble leurs lacunes par des imaginations qui aient la couleur du temps, groupe ce qu’ils ont laissé épars, rétablit le jeu des fils de la providence sous les marionnettes humaines, revêt le tout d’une forme poétique et naturelle à la fois, et lui donne cette vie de vérité et de saillie qui enfante l’illusion, ce prestige de réalité qui passionne le spectateur, et le poète, car le poète est de bonne foi. Ainsi le but de l’art est presque divin: ressusciter, s’il fait de l’histoire; créer, s’il fait de la poésie.1

Victor Hugo’s famous preface to Cromwell, which developed into a manifest on Romanticism, still has an enormous impact on how to perceive art in general. There is a timelessness about his writing that transcends time and literary movements. The key terms of relevance for this thesis are omissions, lacunes, couleur du temps, and prestige de réalité. Hugo outlines the color of a particular time should not only be visible on the surface of a work of art but it should be infused with it.2 Within the focus of this interrogation are American literature and film during the seventies. Henry Miller once wrote that America does not ← 1 | 2 → exist. “It’s a name you give to an abstract idea…”3 America as an abstract idea is created out of the imagination of artists who focus on the dark side of the American experience. Christopher Priest describes in his novel The Prestige the three stages of illusion. The third stage is the effect or the prestige, which is the product of magic. One category of the magical trick is the production that consists of the creation of something out of nothing.4 The combination of Priest’s meta-fictional reflexivity with Hugo’s idea of an illusion he terms prestige de réalité leads back to Millers non-existing America. Art has to create what has been omitted, it has to imagine the blank spaces of history or the abstract idea itself. From a Marxist perspective literature must be understood in relation to historical and social reality. Georg Lukács argues literary works reproduce the dominant ideologies of their time and they incorporate in their very form a critique of these ideologies.5 The basic foundation of this argument is that art is not created in a social void but bears the mark of time and place. Historical reality (place) refers to an American context and social reality (time) refers to a particular point in time. The works of art are analyzed with special regard to historical and social reality under the influence of ideology. Ideology blinds us to our own conditions of life and misrepresents the world to ourselves. In Marxist usage, ideology makes us experience our life in ways that make us believe the way we perceive ourselves and the world is natural. Ideology distorts reality and renders what is actually artificial and contradictory as natural and harmonious. Marxism describes submission to ideology as a state of false consciousness.6 Louis Althusser argues ideology ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects by interpellation.7 The distortion of reality and the mechanism of subjection are of special interest here. Ideology is a focal point here but there is no desire to restore ‘the truth beneath the simulacrum.’8 The spaces inhabited by the works of art under discussion are analyzed as allegorical spaces, or hyperreal spaces. Referentiality is not an illusion nurtured and certainty is not a mirage cherished within the range of this argument.

For Benjamin, the linking of disparate images becomes a constellation. A constellation of stars forms a fictitious unity with a certain truth value and thus ← 2 | 3 → becomes an allegory. “The creation of a meaningful constellation is the same as the creation of allegory.”9 The aim of this argument is to create a constellation between six important works of art with focus on how power relations affect / transform bodies. “Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses.”10 Henry David Thoreau observes the body is the primary target of the State with the goal of control. For the auteur David Cronenberg the human body is the first fact of human existence.11

Everything comes out of the body and the fact of human mortality. It’s natural that my film would focus on that. […] It’s a discussion of the body. It’s a discussion of human existence as a physical event and phenomenon. Then add to that the level of metaphor I like to deal with, and you get what I do… It protected me, the genre.12

Cronenberg connects the themes of human existence and how bodies are transformed with metaphor in order to create art. Metaphor as well as genre work together and form a combination, which protects his freedom as an auteur and also increases the enigmatic quality of his art. This also holds true for the works of art within the range of this argument. Michel Foucault offers some important insights into the mechanisms of power, which are relevant for this argument. Discipline is a type of power and comprises a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets. Foucault outlines the historical moment of the disciplines was the moment when an art of the human body was born. This art was directed at the formation of a relation whose very mechanism makes the human body more obedient in the event of making it more useful. The human body was introduced to a machinery of power, which broke it down and rearranged it.13 The key phrases here are ‘an art of the human body’ and ‘machinery of power.’ What kind of mechanism does emerge in the works under discussion and what kind of connection can be established between the works? Foucault recommends to study power with focus on how relations of subjugation ← 3 | 4 → can manufacture subjects.14 The analysis of relations of subjugation is the main objective of this argument.

For Hugo, language is not fixed. The human spirit is in continuous motion and language as well. Every era has its very own ideas and its very own words to describe them. Language is like an ocean whose waves are in constant turmoil.15 Language is an essential part of this argument and special focus is laid on the ideas, which define the seventies as well as the words used to describe them. Roland Barthes states a semiologist sees the sign moving in the field of signification. The semiologist has to enumerate the valences of the sign and traces their configuration. The sign is perceived as a sensuous idea. Each consciousness of the sign (symbolic, paradigmatic, and syntagmatic) corresponds to a certain moment of reflection, either individual or collective. A ‘certain moment of reflection’ is of vital importance for this interrogation as the moment of emergence is regarded as crucial. According to Barthes, the syntagmatic consciousness unites signs on the level of discourse itself. It foresees the sign in its extension and is an imagination of the chain or the network. Barthes describes it further as an arrangement of mobile, substitutive parts whose combination produces meaning.16 The aim of this argument is to establish a network of mobile parts between works of art in order to create a combination. This particular combination is perceived against the backdrop of historical and social reality with focus on relations of subjugation.

Meaning can be produced but as the parts are mobile there are innumerous constellations and consequently multiple meanings. Certainty is not an option.

“My glimpse of an unmoving world, of the thousands of drivers sitting passively in their cars on the motorway embankments along the horizon, seemed to be a unique vision of this machine landscape, an invitation to explore the viaducts of our minds.”17

J. G. Ballard describes his novel Crash as an extreme metaphor for an extreme situation, a kit of desperate measures only for use in an extreme crisis.18 America during the seventies had to face extreme states of crisis and its very foundation was challenged. The unique language applied by Ballard serves as point of ← 4 | 5 → departure in order to illustrate a certain scenario: Artists exploring an unmoving / frozen world, traveling through machine landscapes and diving into the viaducts of minds as into an ocean. Like Ballard’s language they dive into the gaps between the natural and the unnatural and hence illuminate the lacunes of history. They present us with the prestige de réalité← 5 | 6 → .


1{see Victor Hugo, Cromwell (Paris 1990), pp. 90-91. [italics mine] “Art leafs through the centuries and through nature. Art studies history and tries to reproduce the reality of facts but primarily the reality of morality and character. Art is invested in doubt and contradiction and restores what historians have disfigured as well as harmonizes what they have fragmented. Art conjectures their omission and mends them, it fills the gap with the power of imagination which has the color of the time. Art combines what they have left scattered and reconstructs the game of providence with human puppets. Art conceptualizes all this in a form that is poetic as well as natural. It gives this form a life of authenticity and observation which produces an illusion. This prestige of reality fascinates the audience and the naïve poet. Thus the aim of art is almost divine: history revives whereas poetry creates. [trans. mine]}


X, 108
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Siebziger Jahre Mythologie Allegorie Ideologiekritik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. X, 108 pp., 9 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Sandra Schenk (Author)

Sandra Schenk studied English and French at Cologne University of Applied Sciences and North American Studies at Cologne University.


Title: An Invitation to explore the Viaducts of our Minds
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120 pages