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9.2.10

Cronenberg: 'Imagination is dangerous'

Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg on the subversive power of the imagination
Peter Weller stars in David Cronenberg's 'Naked Lunch'

Chris Rodley interviews David Cronenberg on his adaptation of Naked Lunch, the politics of imagination, and the dangerous act of writing:
Naked Lunch was to see Cronenberg working through his long-standing conceptual and visual association not only with Burroughs's work, but with his beliefs that writing is a dangerous business. Cronenberg himself had often linked imagination with the idea of disease: something that is catching and can cause harm.

David Cronenberg: To make a metaphor in which you compare imagination to disease is to illuminate some aspect of human imagination that perhaps has not been seen or perceived that way before. I think that imagination and creativity are completely natural and also, under certain circumstances, quite dangerous. The fact that they're dangerous doesn't mean they are not necessary and should be repressed.

This is something that's very straightforwardly perceived by tyrants of every kind. The very existence of imagination means that you can posit an existence different from the one you're living. If you are trying to create a repressive society in which people will submit to whatever you give them, then the very fact of them being able to imagine something else - not necessarily better, just different - is a threat. So even on that very simple level, imagination is dangerous. If you accept, at least to some extent, the Freudian dictum that civilization is repression, then imagination - and an unrepressed creativity - is dangerous to civilization. But it's a complex formula; imagination is also an innate part of civilization. If you destroy it, you might also destroy civilization.

We've become very blasé in the West about the freedom, the invulnerability of writers. We take it for granted, particularly on the level of physical safety. But look what happened to Salman Rushdie. And now we find that under their dictatorship, Romanians had to register their typewriters as dangerous weapons! They couldn't own photocopiers. Every year you had to supply two pages of typing using all the keys so anything typed on your machine could be traced back to you. That is true fear of the power of the written word.

But even in the West, writing can be perilous. Taking his cue from Jean Genet, Burroughs says that you must allow yourself to create characters and situations that could be a danger to you in every way. Even physically. He in fact insists that writing be recognized and accepted as a dangerous act. A writer must not be tempted to avoid writing the truth just because he knows that what he creates might come back to haunt him. That's the nature of the bargain you make with your writing machine.

Cronenberg on Cronenberg
Edited by Chris Rodley
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