Dionysius: God of ecstasy and revenge

“Dionysius is, in essence, a god of ecstasy and retribution.” I will be looking at the tales of Dionysius, and how these tales support his role as god of ecstasy and retribution.


As the god of ritual insanity, Dionysius has the ability to make people go insane at will. He makes people go into a trance where they lose all awareness. He uses this skill for both good and bad reasons. The Maenads, also known as the Bacchantes, are sent into a state of joyful delirium through performing rituals in honour of Dionysius. This ecstasy is a good way in which insanity is associated with Dionysius. However, it is mostly used as a form of punishment for those who disobey Dionysius or deny his cult. The four daughters of Cadmos are representative of the four types of insanity and intoxication; drunkenness, loss of awareness, sexual appetite and madness. G. S. Kirk describes Dionysius as “the focus of an ecstatic religion” and that he “represents the irrational element in man.”

Dionysius is the god of wine, and at his festivals a vast amount of wine is drunk. In artwork he if often depicted with a drinking vessels and with a thyrsos made of vines and ivy, which represent the vines on which the grapes to make wine grow. “The thyrsus indicates that those who have drunk a lot of wine cannot function with their own two feet, but need thyrsoi for support” (Cornutus 30). Old Silenus is a famous character in the followers of Dionysius. He is a middle-age man with a pot belly and he rides on a donkey, because he is too drunk to stand or walk by himself.

Dionysian rituals were very noisy; with singing, music, dancing, screaming and shouting. These rituals were also seen as very sexual and were linked with a loss of inhibitions: “wine is a stimulant to intercourse.”The Satyrs were another mythological group that were part of Dionysius’ entourage. They were male followers who had the ears of a goat and the tail of a horse. They were naked, usually with erect phalluses and were associated with pipe playing. The erect phalluses signify their lust for the Maenads, who they would pursue. The Maenads were never pictures facing outwards, and this was to create the illusion of movement and dancing while they are in extasis.

Disney’s Fantasia contains a representation of a Dionysian ritual. In the film we can see centaurs preparing for the ritual by gathering grapes. It is a time of celebration for them. The fauns, which are half man and half goat, help to squeeze the grapes and play pipes or horns. These are similar to the Satyrs in their goat-like appearance and their choice of musical instruments. Dionysius is depicted as a figure which may be confused with Old Silenos. He is overweight, drunk, carrying a goblet of wine and is attempting to ride a donkey. He has grapes and ivy leaves as a head piece. All the characters join together in the celebrations. There are sexual undertones in this scene: Dionysius chases the female centaurs trying to kiss them yet they keep managing to evade him and in his drunken state he ends up kissing the donkey. The festivities are interrupted by Zeus, who throws thunderbolts out of the sky. However, Dionysius manages to forget all his cares with the help of the wine. The film is only takes the Dionysian rituals as a loose model for its own story, yet we can see them bowing down to the Dionysius character and laying red carpet under his feet.

Disney’s Dionysius/Silenos

The best example of both ecstasy and retribution regarding Dionysius is the myth of Pentheus. Dionysius’ mother Semele was killed when Zeus, Dionysius’ father, revealed himself to her in his true form and accidentally burnt her alive with a thunderbolt. Semele’s sisters spread rumours that she was killed by Zeus as a punishment for lying about Zeus being the father of her unborn child. One of the sisters was named Agave and it is her son Pentheus who became the King of Thebes. He banned the cult of Dionysius, believing it was unlawful, dangerous and promiscuous. In Euripedes’ play The Bacchae, Dionysius tells the audience about this; “[Pentheus] fights against the deity in my person, pushes me from my libations and makes mention of me nowhere in his prayers.” We know Dionysius wants to punish Pentheus for doubting his greatness. Not only does he want to punish Pentheus, he wants to punish all those who slandered his mother. Dionysius sends the women of Thebes insane and they go into the mountains to take part in an orgiastic festival. He puts them in a state of ecstasy to keep them from returning to their homes and families. In The Bacchae, Dionysius disguises himself as a human who spreads the word of Dionysius. Yet Pentheus is stubborn and refuses to back down. What Dionysius does convince him to do however, is to dress up as a woman and to spy on the Maenads. Pentheus is unaware that the penalty for spying on the Maenads is to be subjected to sparagmos, where they tear the spy limb from limb while still alive. The women of Thebes find Pentheus, but in their ecstatic state they believe he is a lion and the women, led by Agave, tear him apart. Dionysius is able to punish those who have wrong him using his ability to send people insane and lose awareness of their own actions.

Revenge is a key theme in the myth of Dionysius and the Pirates. They Tyrrhenian pirates try to hold Dionysius against his will. In Apollodorus M4, they wanted to sell him into slavery, in Hyginus 134 he has concealed himself as a young boy, so they want to rape him and in Homeric Hymns 7, Dionysius was captured on land and forced onto the ship by the pirates. Only one man on the ship tried to defy his captain and the other pirates but they abuse him. To get his revenge, Dionysius turns the mast and oars into snakes and filled the ship with ivy and the sound of flutes. In Homeric Hymns, Dionysius turns himself into a lion and makes a bear appear. The pirates are sent mad and jump overboard to escape his wrath, and they are turned into dolphins. Only the pirate who went again his captain was spared, and he was praised by Dionysius for his compassion. This shows Dionysius is not a cruel god, he only punishes those who have done him harm.

The story of Lycurgus is another where Dionysius is mistreated, and Lycurgus is made to repent for what he has done. After drinking too much wine, Lycurgus felt the urge to rape his mother. After this experience, he declared wine was evil and he tried to uproot the vines that grew the grapes. Dionysius drove Lycurgus mad as reparation for his wrongdoings. Ina state of frenzy and unawareness, Lycurgus killed his wife and son. Afterwards, Dionysius fed him to panthers. Again, we see how Dionysius can be powerful if crossed, and we should be fearful and respectful of him.

Dionysius uses his power of ecstasy as a form of reward, and a form of punishment. He can send people into trances; send them from rational to irrational thought. Susan G. Cole sees this; “One moment a place for ritual and source of spontaneous nourishment, the next… a place of murder and bloody dismemberment.” Dionysius punishes only those who have mistreated him or his cult; he is not a malicious god. His main method of retribution is sending people into a mindless frenzy, making them hurt those they love and care for. His role as a deity in charge of wine helps him to transport people into this condition. Though just like the pirate who tried to save him, if you are reverent and respectful of Dionysius, he will reward you; by putting you in a blissful state of extasis.

Works cited

  • Primary text: Trzaskoma, S. M., Scott Smith, R. and Brunet, S. (ed.) (2004) Anthology of Classical Myth. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Cole, Susan G. (2003) ‘Landscapes of Dionysos and Elysian Field’ in Cosmopoulos, Michael B. (ed.) Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults. London: Routledge, pp 193-217.
  • Euripides. (1999) Bacchae and Other Plays. Translated by James Morwood. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Fantasia (1940) Directed by Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley and Ford Beebe [Film]. Los Angeles: Walt Disney Productions.
  • Kirk, G. S. (1974) The Nature of Greek Myths. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Zielinski, Thaddeus. (1926) The Religion of Anceint Greece; an outline. Translated by George Rapall Noyes. London: Oxford University Press.


Hey everyone,

Just to say I have reached 1500 views! I know for a lot of blogs that is a tiny figure, but to say I only started this for a class project, I am surprised it has come this far!

Thanks to everyone for visiting and hope it continues this way! I was going to put something funny and meaningful but I couldn’t think of anything so this will have to do!

See what I did here??

I’m in the middle of exams, hence not much posting recently, but come June I will be free as a bird!


Luhmann, Mass Media and Cinema Paradiso

Describe and explain Luhmann’s philosophy of the mass media both as it pertains to and in relation to the film Cinema Paradiso.

Niklas Luhmann was a 20th century philosopher who wrote extensively on the topic of mass media. Cinema Paradiso (1988) is a widely-acclaimed film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore which tells the story of a boy as he falls in love with cinema. I will talk about Luhmann’s systems theory in general, before looking at how Cinema Paradiso features the doubling of reality, cinema as entertainment and consensus among viewers.

Luhmanns’ Systems Theory

In The Reality of the Mass Media, Luhmann tells us that for him the term mass media “includes all those institutions of society which make use of copying technologies to disseminate communication”(2). He believes that our society is made up of three types of systems; physical systems, biological systems and social systems. Out of these three only social systems can communicate.

Our society is made up of many different systems that help to manage our society ; the legal system, the health system, the political system, the economic system etc. These systems have codes, which allow them to interpret an event in a way relevant to that system. For example, in the health system the code is healthy/unhealthy. Events happen outside of any system, but are then copied into a system through observation.

The code for the media system is information/non-information. The mass media is not interested in what is true or false, it is concerned with what is appealing or exciting. This is why so many people like to read gossip magazines. For Luhmann, the mass media speeds up our society. Once a piece of information is reported, it is no longer new. This leads to a constant search for new information. The mass media teaches society about itself through what information we deem important.


My own example is what happens if a person who drunk driving knocks down a cyclist. This involves the health system and the legal system. The legal system is concerned with the responsibility and punishment of the driver, because he has done what is illegal rather than what is legal. The health system is more concerned with treating the cyclist and looking at the injuries that were caused. Driving under the influence is illegal due to the results that alcohol has on the body, as studied by the health system. While the systems are functionally different and work with different codes, the systems can interact.

The mass media system is unique in that is ‘doubles’ the other systems. The legal system is only interested in what falls under legal/illegal but the mass media system can look at all of the other systems. It connects with the other systems and interprets them using the code information/non-information.

At the start of Cinema Paradiso we are introduced to Salvatore Di Vita, affectionately nicknamed Toto, who is a mischievous, cheeky, young boy. He seems to take nothing seriously, until we see him in the cinema. His facial expression and his actions are that of wonder and awe. We see him more in the cinema than anywhere else.

The cinema and the films that are shown mirror Salvatore’s own ageing process. His personal growth is always tied to the cinema in some shape or form; he smokes his first cigarette in while watching a film, he loses his virginity on the floor of the cinema, he gets his first job there as Alfredo’s replacement and he kisses Elena for the first time in the projectionist booth.

Giancaldo is a working-class village where there is no chance to gain real fame or fortune. Only money can help the people get out. Alfredo feels stuck in Giancaldo, a fate he wants Salvatore to avoid. He wants Salvatore to make a real life for himself, something he can only do by leaving.

During the screening of La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare (Luchino Visconti, 1948), we can see all three of Luhmann’s program strands. There is advertising for a new John Wayne film, then the news is shown, before finally getting to the entertainment. However, for the young Salvatore, worried about his own father in Russia, the projection booth again acts as his escape. Instead of watching the news he turns to the booth, imagining the lion’s head coming to life and roaring. This distracts him from his fears until the film begins.

Cinema as entertainment

For the people living in the small town of Giancaldo, the cinema is entertainment. For them, it is a social occasion, which everybody gets involved in. As a group they laugh, cry and shout together. To not have seen a film is embarrassing. This is what leads to troubles from locals when they can’t watch the latest film to be shown. When the cinema burns down the priest remarks “What do we do now? No more entertainment in the village, nothing”. Luckily, Ciccio wins the pools and decides to rebuild the cinema, re-naming it the ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’. The entertainment is brought back to Giancaldo. Entertainment is a big part of Luhmann’s mass media system. The films are a treat for the townspeople. They are not on all the time,  this is what makes them special. It provides them with a temporary distraction from their work, without being so long that it hinders the running of their lives. Luhmann declares that “every piece of entertainment must come to an end, and must bring this about itself” (56). It is only by it ending, we can move onto newer and more exciting pieces of entertainment.

This brings me onto Luhmann’s theory of redundancy and variety (Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems,134). In our society we want both of these. If we have a favourite television show, we like to know that it will be on the same channel, at the same time, on the same day of the week, but we want there to be different content each time. In The Radical Luhmann, Moeller defines it using democracy as an example by stating that democracy becomes stable because it allows for instability: “governments change, but the system thereby remains intact” (91). In Cinema Paradiso we see desire for both redundancy and variety in the cinema-goers. They want to be able to watch a film in the cinema, at set times, on set days, but have a different film to watch each time. The viewers have their routines: there is one man who repeatedly falls asleep, there is a man who continually spits on those from the balcony and the children always sit at the front. Alfredo tells Salvatore he works nearly every day of the year, a continuing task that he has to perform. The people of Giancaldo want to see a new film as often as they can. While there is redundancy, the latest film provides them with the entertainment. When Salvatore goes to get Part Two of Catene, Ciccio says he can just replay Part One, but this isn’t what the audience wants.

For Salvatore, the cinema is a way of escaping his worries. It is his slice of heaven. Our first view of the projection booth shows it with a spotlight coming from somewhere high in the room outside the shot, casting a shaft of light onto Alfredo and his equipment. This gives the booth a divine feel, reinforcing the idea that it is Salvatore’s sanctuary. In the Cinema Paradiso he can take a break from his own reality and join the reality of the film through his imagination. In The Reality of the Mass Media Luhmann agrees that this entertaining, saying “it is extremely tempting to try out virtual realities on oneself” (59-60).

The Doubling of Reality

The film doubles the reality of Salvatore and Alfredo’s lives. The film in many places seems to predict what will happen in the rest of Cinema Paradiso.

The first film that we see playing in the Cinema Paradiso is Verso la Vita (1936). It was directed by Jean Renoirand features a group of poor people hoping for a better future. In the clip we see, Vassilissa saying to Wasska: “One day everything will be ours, we’ll go away together… to live the good life.” This is exactly what Alfredo hopes for Salvatore. At the end we see that by Salvatore fulfilling this dream of Alfredo’s. They have both won.

During the film the narrator tells us the fishermen must endure “12 hours of  blood and sweat to take home the bare minimum required not to die of hunger.” This shows the poverty of the people. After the film is over there are men being told that “Here you work from dawn to dusk … and no questions about pay.” The poverty of those in the film is contrasted with the workers outside the cinema. It merges the reality of the film with the reality of Giancaldo.

The fact that Alfredo and Salvatore are in a film, talking about and quoting films, makes Cinema Paradiso postmodern. Television shows such as The Simpsons are very postmodern because they make many references to films, books and even other television shows. For us as viewers, the film is separate from our lives, we know that these characters are only actors playing out a role. However for a short while, we are supposed to buy into the fictional reality of the plot. Luhmann says “the mechanism of generating the text must not appear again in the text itself” (57). If we were to see a crew member in the film, we could no longer take it seriously, and it would lose its entertainment value. The films the characters of Cinema Paradiso talk about are in our world. We can go and watch these films. These numerous references to other films blurs the lines of reality. It places the story line somewhere in between reality and fiction.

When Salvatore takes over from Alfredo, we see him mimicking Alfredo’s actions. When Salvatore is in trouble later on, he quotes Alfredo. The film becomes self-referential by doing
this. Salvatore keeps invoices how Alfredo did, he eats out of a tin that looks very like Alfredo’s, he put up posters in the booth like Alfredo did. Salvatore’s imitation of Alfredo repeats what we originally saw Alfredo doing.

At the end of the film, it is Giuseppe Tornatore that works as Salvatore’s projectionist. This cameo makes Tornatore both a character and the director: both fiction and non-fiction.

Consensus among viewers

Luhmann says that viewers do not have to agree on what they have watched, they are perfectly entitled to their own opinions. After the screening of La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare the audience is leaving, chatting among themselves about the film:

“Nice film. That young man worked so hard”

“Why did he go and buy that boat?”

“Idiot! You didn’t understand anything”

Everybody is different. Certain things in a person’s past may make them react to a piece of film differently to the person sitting next to them. It depends on, but is not limited to the personality of the viewer: their likes, dislikes, past and current situation.

However, the people of Giancaldo nearly always react as a whole to the films. When they watch Catene, most of the audience are crying. We are shown all types of people dabbing their eyes. The films are seen as social gatherings, and we repeatedly watch the audience members reacting in very similar ways.

Luhmann’s system theory regarding the mass media is easily applied to Cinema Paradiso. We can analyze it regarding the doubling of the mass media, cinema as entertainment and the consensus of audiences. Cinema Paradiso is a film about the greatness of film. It’s many references to other works make it easy to talk about in the sphere of the mass media.

Works cited


  • Borch, Christian. Niklas Luhmann. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
  • Luhmann, Niklas. The Reality of the Mass Media. Trans. Kathleen Cross. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. Print.
  • Moeller, Hans-Georg. The Radical Luhmann. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Print.
  • Moeller, Hans-Georg. Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems. Chicago: Open Court, 2006. Print.


  • Catene.Dir. Raffaello Matarazzo. Titanus Distribuzione, 1949.
  • Cinema Paradiso. Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore. Miramax Films, 1988. DVD.
  • La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare. Dir. Luchino Visconti. Compagnia Edizioni Internaionali Artistiche Distribuzione, 1948.
  • Verso la Vita. Dir. Jean Renoir. Arthur Mayer & Joseph Burstyn, 1936.

“How we read” according to N. Katherine Hayles – a look at online literature

In her essay “How we read: Close, Hyper, Machine” N. Katherine Hayles makes some interesting and thought-provoking points.

How we read?

She talks about the differences that we have seen in how we read. From the printing press, to newspapers, to novels and now to e-books, there have been huge technological advancements in this and every other, part of our lives.

In the introduction she tells us that there has been less literary reading, and suffering reading skills. This has been blamed on video games, social media, television etc. Why read the book when we can watch the film? Instead of reading a book, many students now turn to sits like Sparknotes or Wikipedia for a shortcut. Hayles reveals that when literary studies expanded into looking at other types of texts, literature itself took more of a backseat role. There was less focus placed upon it and so it lost popularity.

In today’s society, we are used to having everything at our fingertips. We are used to having everything easily accessible, whether it is food, information, people, or entertainment. People are now busier than ever and always like to save time where they can. Students today are heading in a new direction – “the digital direction.”


I believe that technology such as the Kindle and other e-readers have made it easier for people to read. They do not have to leave their homes every time they would like a new book, and they now have access to a much broader range of literature. There is more research done into helping this technology not strain our eyes or give us headaches, and they are easier than books to hold, especially for longer periods of time. This said, there will always be those who prefer to sit down with a book, rather than yet another device, another screen to look at.

Technology is adapting to how we find it easiest to read, and we are adapting to the ever-increasing use of online reading. When studies showed that people look to the top and left of a webpage, many websites adapted to this.

Without this adaption, we are only limiting ourselves. The internet is a priceless tool for finding information. It would be stupid not to use it, again we must be aware or what we are reading, its sources and how much it really benefits or harms us.


‘Life is but a Motion of Limbs’ – the theme of motion in the Leviathan

This post is a short summary regarding the theme of motion in the Leviathan, and how Thomas Hobbes uses it in his scientific analysis of society.


Galileo was a great influence on Hobbes and scientific method of examining the world. Galileo had come up with inertia; that a body will continue endlessly with the same velocity unless an outside force acts on it. Hobbes agreed with this idea, stating it is “a truth that no man doubts of”. This differed greatly to Aristotle’s ‘final cause’ theory, which stated that every object or body had a final purpose or end, and that each object or body moved towards this goal or its telos. He criticizes Aristotle’s personification of material objects, calling it “absurd”. In many places throughout Leviathan Hobbes totally dismisses Aristotle’s work and the dogma of the Catholic philosophers. For Aristotle, motion is only to help an object to move towards its telos. There were three other causes; the material, the formal and the efficient. Hobbes disregards the causes, and believes everything can be explained scientifically. Hobbes says that motion is caused from motion, and that there is a constant stream of cause and effect.

Hobbes believed there was motion for the sake of motion. At this time William Harvey had discovered that blood is circulated around the body and it happens continuously until death. This fell in line with Hobbes theory. There is always motion, even if it appears there is none. Even though we may be sitting or lying down, the blood is in motion, and this motion keeps us alive; “Life is but a motion of limbs.”

Mechanical Heart – gizmodo.com

Hobbes sees motion in a mechanical way. The motion within the body is very similar to the motion that helps machines or automata to run. Even thought we may not see it, there are many cogs and springs and wheels all moving to make the machine move. He believes this can also be applied to society, but it must be created by us. In the same way we give machines artificial life, “the sovereignty is an artificial soul”. If everybody performed their duties and obeyed a set of common laws, then society would function properly. This is reflected in Durkheim’s Organic Solidarity; while people may have different jobs, all are interlinked and interdependent, and if each group worked efficiently it would result in an efficient society.

In chapter six, Hobbes identifies two motions within humans; vital and voluntary. By vital he means things we must do to stay alive such as sleeping, eating and breathing. These are continuous actions that stop only when the body has died. Voluntary motions however are not necessary for our survival e.g. speaking and walking. These movements are brought about by our imagination and our thoughts, which lead to our ‘endeavours’. Endeavours start as thoughts in our mind which causes actions related to those thoughts. There is motion in these thoughts and imaginings, even if we can’t see them. These motions lead to motion of the body, one constantly leading to another. “Nor can a man any more live, whose desires are at an end, than he whose senses and imaginations are at a stand.” This shows that Hobbes believes motion is necessary for living.

Aversions / Desires

Endeavours can appear as desires or aversions, both of which signify motions. If you desire something, you move towards it and if you are averse to it then you move away from the object. By having aversions, you also have desires, one creates the other. If there are two drinks on a table, by moving towards the one you prefer, you are at the same time moving away from the other. Desires and aversions appear when the object is not present. When the object is present, we either love or hate it. If we want or desire an object, we call it good, and what we don’t want is bad. Good or bad is individualistic and differs according to the person’s desires or aversions rather than a moral good or bad. This means that motions are also individualistic.

This urge to fulfill our desires is reflected in Hobbes’ account of power. We want power after power that “ceaseth only in death”. After we achieve one power, we instantly move towards our next goal. For us, power is important to help us achieve our future wants and desires, and to protect us from future aversions.

How Ingmar Bergman uses landscape in ‘Wild Strawberries’

In this post I will be looking at how Scandanavian director Ingmar Bergman uses landscape to help portray meaning and themes in his film Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället).

Isak Borg

Professor Isak Borg, played by Victor Sjöström, seems to be simply too logical when dealing with matters of the heart, and this has led to him leading a very solitary life. Sjöström wrote and directed the 1921 film The Phantom Carriage, a film in which Sjöström  himself played the main role of David Holm. The Phantom Carriage also deals with a troubled man examining his life.

Isak Borg takes a scientific approach to everything, and this has led to him having strained relationships with his family and friends. The film follows Professor Borg evaluating the decisions he has made in his life, and looking back at his past. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he is haunted by his past, present and future choices. The landscapes in this film acts as the backdrop for this introspective journey.

Bergman himself was sick in hospital at the time of writing this script. Facing death forces many people to review their lives and assess the choices they have made. This film has autobiographical qualities for Bergman.

Isak's luxurious house

The film opens with Professor Borg sitting in his study, in what is a very large and decadent house. He is obviously wealthy, and even though he is surrounded by pictures of his family when he talks about them there is no emotion, he is merely describing who they are. He does not tell us about their personalities, only their place within his world. At the start of his drive to Lund, his daughter-in-law Marianne point this out his coldness to him. She talks about the money that she and her husband, his only son Evald, owe him. It is ruining their marriage. This has no effect on Professor Borg, who says “A promise is a promise. And I know Evald respects that.”

In this film dreams play an essential role in Professor Borg’s maturing process. In these dreams Isak cannot escape what he can ignore while awake. The first dream he has involves him walking through an empty town, where eyes are watching him and the clock has no hands. He is small and vulnerable. A hearse goes past, and hits a lamppost, knocking the coffin to the ground. The body inside the coffin is Professor Borg, and it forces him to face his own mortality.

Subconscious messages

Professor Borg takes Marianne to the house where he spent his summers as a child. He fondly remembers this time with his large family. The house is overlooking a lake, surrounded by trees and fields. It’s idyllic landscape reflects the loving memories that Isak associates with it. He sees a vision of the girl he was once in love with, Sara, sitting in the bushes. Sara acts as a ghost from his past. She will end up marrying his brother, an event which probably triggered his bitter attitude regarding relationships. The Isak that Sara talks about is so different from the old Professor Borg we are confronted with. There is a young girl who interrupts his thoughts, ironically she is also called Sara – played by the same actress too. She and her two friends join Professor Borg and Marianne on their journey.

Sara at the summer house

When driving along in the countryside, they are nearly crashed into by an arguing couple, Alman and Berit. They are constantly insulting and belittling each other. This unhappy pair represent how Professor Borg has let the relationships in his life turn to ruin. His marriage was also a failure, they make him think about his wife Karina. After a violent outburst by Berit, Marianne leaves them on a stretch of road by a forest. These two also serve as ghosts from his past, more specifically from his marriage.

They then reach some beautiful scenery when Professor Borg talks about where he had his first practice. The middle of the film signifies the middle of his life (Erikson). It symbolizes a time when he was happy, and the landscape reflects upon this; the sun is shining, the road winds through the hills, with many trees either side, and water in the distance. The place he so affectionately remembers is the place with the nicest landscape so far. Along this road they stop at a petrol station, where we meet a couple who are delighted to see him. They reveal how popular Isak once was. He ponders “Maybe I should have stayed here.” He may have moved on and become a wealthy and respected professor, but it would seem he has sacrificed his family to do so.

Professor Borg is in “good spirits” over lunch. The group eat overlooking the impressive coastline. As Isak opens up so does the landscape. He becomes less bitter and less reserved the further along they get in their journey. Derek Malcolm sums it up in the following way “its characters pass through a natural world that seems at odds with their own impermanence but whose beauty also seems somehow to instruct them” (theguardian.co.uk).

Borg over lunch

The interior of Isak’s mother’s house is similar to his own. She is very blunt and forward in her approach, and we see how alike both of these Borgs are. She talks about their large family, but how none of them come to visit her. She is a ghost of the future, what he will become unless he reforms.

Marianne talks about her problems with Evald: she is pregnant with their child and Evald does not want a child. He tells Marianne he was “an unwanted child in a hellish marriage”, and that he cannot do that to a child. Marianne and Evald’s problems are a direct result of Isak’s own skills as a husband and as a father. Marianne is the ghost of the present, she helps him to save himself.

The rain arrives

Bergman uses pathetic fallacy. The storm that Marianne and Isak predicted has arrived. The rain starts to fall just as Isak starts to have another bad dream. He is sitting in the strawberry patch at the summer house. His childhood Sara tells him he is now an old man who will die soon. She talks about how she will marry his brother, and Isak breaks down, saying how it hurts him. She runs barefoot through the tall grass, collects the baby and goes inside. A sense of impending doom surrounds the house; the sky is dark, the wind howls, the music is eerie and the flocks of birds are gathering. The dream then takes a turn for the worse, when the Professor arrives to get his award, he is told he is incompetent, and that his wife has accused him of being ruthless, callous and selfish. The examiner, Alman, leads him from the intimidating, high-ceilinged classroom out into the woods. They walk through wilting and dead foliage. He is facing how he acted as a husband, and is repenting for it. He is tortured with the image of his wife cheating on him, he stands by the trees watching her in the clearing. That landscape, along with Alman’s presence, also shows us how his marriage had failed.

His final, and ultimately most joyful scene is the final scene where the walks through a blooming meadow, hand in hand with the Sara of his childhood. They walk through the rich forest until they find his parents relaxing by the water. This image is the one which finally brings him to peace with his life.

The lake at the house

Bergman uses the landscapes in Wild Strawberries to reflect upon the inner workings of Isak’s mind. He uses nature to help him come to terms with the poor decisions he has made. As he thinks of happier times, the landscape that surrounds him becomes more vibrant. When he has bad dreams he is depicted in depressing areas such as an examination hall or a deserted street. Professor Borg’s reflective experience has been mimicked in the landscapes of the film.

  • Bergman, Ingmar, dir. Wild Strawberries. AB Svensk Filmindustri, 1957. 
  • Cuccinello, Glen. “‘Bergman and Dreams’ at Harvard.” Journal of the University Film Association 30.4 (1978): 47–48.
  • Flower, Dean. “Ingmar Bergman’s Autobiography in Film.” The Hudson Review 42.2 (1989): 330–336.
  • Malcolm, Derek. “Ingmar Bergman: Wild Strawberries” The Guardian. The Guardian, 10 June 1999.
  • Scott, James F. “The Achievement of Ingmar Bergman.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 24.2 (1965): 263–272.
  • Steene, Birgitta. “Images and Words in Ingmar Bergman’s Films.” Cinema Journal 10.1 (1970): 23–33.

The problem of Free Will – Compatibilism versus Determinism

In this article I will look at whether Compatibilism is a convincing free will theory or is it just a way of holding onto our intuitive feeling of freedom.

Our ordinary sense of having freedom is usually understood as the ability to choose or act as we like, where nothing is forcing or hindering us from doing so.  If we are being tied up, of course we are not free to do as we wish. In the same sense, if somebody is threatening to harm a loved one if unless we do x, y or z then we feel we have no freedom. An example similar to this can be found in chapter two of Kane’s book A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. Even though we want to do the action to save our loved one, our freedom is restricted. While we want to save our loved one from harm, what we really want is to not do the action at the same time as not having a love one hurt. In legal cases, coercion, defined as “the relation of the parties is such that one is under subjection to the other, and is thereby constrained to do what his free will would refuse” can be used to argue that a person is not responsible for their actions, and they should not be punished.

Freedom implies you could have done otherwise. There are two different kinds of freedom; surface freedom and deeper freedom. Surface freedom is the power to make our own choices, whereas deeper freedom is the ability to form our own desires. Our free will is manipulated by many factors including television, peer pressure, and celebrities. Advertising is the most obvious example of this manipulation. To influence our decision-making is the whole point behind advertising. Companies spend vast amounts of money on raising awareness of a particular brand or product. In his article Think Tank: It’s the subconscious that makes ads workLaurence Green says “it is our subconscious response to advertising … that is the primary driver of its effectiveness, and not our conscious consumption.” At the point of conscious consumption, we have already been swayed by the advertising.

Determinism is the idea that every event is necessitated by previous events and conditions together with the laws of nature. It is directly conflicting with the Libertarian view. Because the past happened in one way, then the future will be a certain way. If x, then y. If I was trying to choose between going to see a horror movie or a comedy movie, I would choose a comedy movie and that’s always the way it was going to go. In my past I watched a horror movie and I didn’t enjoy it, I do not deal well with blood and the comedy movie has Will Ferrell in, who I like as an actor. These are events in my past that meant I would always choose the comedy movie. If these events were not in my past, it would not be my past, therefore there is no need to talk about this current situation. Naturally, people will always avoid what they find painful or unpleasant. There was only one path leading to the present, and there is only one path leading on from it.

Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism can coexist. Our future is still determined by the past and the laws of nature. The choices we face now are the cause of the choices we faced in the past. There is one path to the present, which was created by our decisions, and while we do have choices regarding our future, there will only be one outcome.

For compatibilists, freedom is an ability for a person to do what they want and be unrestricted in doing so. The ability to do otherwise means there was a wish to do otherwise, and in that case, the past would have been different. They use a conditional or hypothetical translation of the word ‘can’; “I could have done otherwise” is the same as saying “I would have done otherwise, if I had wanted to.” they seek to replace ‘could’ or ‘can’. However, this only applies to surface freedom, not to deeper freedom. The idea of a deeper freedom is nonsensical to both determinists and compatibilists. They look at the ability to do what we want, and do not question where the wants come from. After all, our desires are what is important. The compatibilists argue that this is one reason why people reject compatiblism; “they have confused ideas about freedom.”

Another reason people may be critical of compatibilism is because they do not fully understand determinism. Compatibilists give us instructions to help us see determinism from the compatibilist point of view (Kane 18-20);

  1. Don’t confuse determinism with constraint, coercion or compulsion
  2. Don’t confuse causation with constraint
  3. Don’t confuse determinism with control by other agents
  4. Don’t confuse determinism with fatalism
  5. Don’t confuse determinism with mechanism


Incompatibilists do not agree with the compatibilists claim “could have done otherwise” because they feel this goes against determinism. If somebody could have done otherwise, then how is the future determined? They say that, for determinism to work, there can be no possibilities regarding the future.

Libertarianism is one form of incompatibilism. It is the view that we do have free will. Our past choices have lead us up to the present, and our decisions now will shape our future. We are responsible for our actions and we have control. We are morally responsible for our actions, and we should be praised or punished accordingly. Believers of libertarianism oppose determinism.

If determinism is true, then what happens to moral responsibility, blame, reward and punishment? If our future is determined, then we are not responsible for our actions. The majority of people believe in punishment and reward as a general way of social behaviour. However, these days the legal systems does seem to reflect that our actions may sometimes not be our fault. For example, if a young teenager is introduced to drugs by an older friend, and she becomes an addict and then a criminal, we recognise that it is not entirely her fault. We tend to think the blame should be put on the older friend, or maybe her parents. While we do not deny that any crime is bad, the punishment is normally less severe if we feel there are other parties to blame.

Many people believe that with determinism, it means that we must abandon our aspirations for the future. Honderich says “We have a kind of life-hope which is incompatible with a belief in determinism. An open future, a future we can make for ourselves.” However, I do not agree that we should give up hoping for things, even if we know the future is determined. For example, we can still hope that we do well in a test or that we like our haircut when it is finished. I think that how we view the weather is reflective of how determinists think we should look at the world; most people will hope for a certain state of weather, and may sometimes try to predict it, but people know that what they hope for doesn’t have any actual influence on the outcome of the weather. If what they wish for ends up not happening, they can shrug it off, while still being happy if does align with their desires. A counter-argument to that may be this; people see the weather as being a trivial matter in their day-to-day lives, and they would not view their life hopes in this way. I understand this but I just believe this is how determinists would prefer us to view our inability to govern our future.

Consequence argument

The consequence argument says that if determinism is true, then we have no control over our actions, because we can’t change our past i.e. what happened before we were born, or the laws of nature. If determinism is true, then nobody has any control over what will happen in his or her future. This works against compatibilism because most believe intuitively believe in free will, and our ability to control how our future turns out.

The compatibilists use the hypothetical translation of can to defend claims against compatibilism.  “I would have done otherwise, if I had wanted to do, and I could have wanted otherwise.” But when we take this statement and try to further analyze it, it turns into “I would have done otherwise, if I had wanted to do, and I would have wanted otherwise, if I had wanted to want otherwise … and I could have wanted otherwise”. The argument has the flaw of infinite regress. This leads incompatibilists to say that the version of can that the compatibilists use must be flawed, and that the compatibilist’s entire defence rests on a version of ‘can’ they made up, so it is not a strong argument anyway.

My view

Personally, I believe in determinism. Compatibilism seems to makes perfect sense when you first look at it, but when you look at the opposing arguments you can see the holes within the compatibilist theory. I believe we are subject to conditioning from our schools, friends, parents and other groups, and our actions reflect the way they have taught us. However, they have been taught by their own parents and schools and so on. Our conditioning is a reflection of their conditioning, and this can lead back many generations. Of course we cannot change the laws of nature, so that stands valid for me. We have no choice over the family or social situation we were born into. My wants and desires are formed because of my own social training. Even though I may want to go out with my friends – a desire formed because of my belief that it would be fun and being social is important, along with my past experiences of other good nights – I know that if I do, I will not be able to get up for my important lecture the next morning. I want and desire two different things, and it would seem I have a choice. I have been taught by my parents that education is very important, I know I can see my friends at other times, and that I would rather not fail the year, so I ‘decide’ to go home. I see these as first-order and second-order desires, relating to long and short term hopes. It is our conditioning that governs our actions, and choice is just an illusion, a testing of our conditioning. As for discipline and reward, people have to be reprimanded for doing things that are deemed socially unacceptable. While they may not be ultimately responsible, they have to be made an example of, in order to influence a person who may have previously had criminal tendencies. With reward, it may influence others who see the praise being received into wanting to act more like that person.

While compatibilism may be semi-convincing, it is hard to stand for the position without recognizing its flaws. As philosophers, logical flaws are a major irritation, and cannot be ignored easily.

  • Kane – A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will
  • SEP / Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy is a great place for not only definitions of philosophical terms, but for writers on a topic, arguments for and against, and other related topics. Causal DeterminismCompatibilismIncompatibilism,

Banksy’s Catholic Controversy

A year since Cardinal Sin was first revealed, I revisit the piece along with a few others

Banky is a hugely influential graffiti artist, political activist and film director from Bristol, England who has always leaves a trail of controversy, outrage and ever-growing support wherever he goes. Whether you like or dislike his work, nobody can deny the impact he has had all over the world. He does nothing to hide his dislike of governments and authority figures. In fact, many of his pieces ridicule those who he feels are oppressive powers.

His work is hugely popular with celebrities, who have been known to pay considerable amounts to get their hands on his art. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent over £1million at an auction in 2007. Christina Aguilera paid £25,000 for a copy of his piece Queen Victoria, which shows the famous monarch in a lesbian sex act. Banksy created this piece in response to Queen Victoria’s statement that women were incapable of being gay. The most expensive cope was sold for £277,250 in October 2008 at Sotheby’s in London.

For a list of the most expensive Banksy pieces click here.

Although many have tried, no-one has yet revealed his identity. In this article from July 2008, the Daily Mail revealed it had a picture of the man they believed to be the notorious Banksy. They now think a man called Robin Gunningham is the man behind the spray can. However, nothing has been confirmed and his identity is still a great source of mystery. Much of his street work is actually illegal, so in
revealing himself, he would find himself in a lot of trouble. So you can’t blame him can you? He issued this statement about his identity; “I have no interest in ever coming out. I figure there are enough self-opinionated assholes trying to get their ugly little faces in front of you as it is.”

My favourite piece of graffiti is called Naked Man and shows a suspicious man and a nearly-naked wife. What the suited-man can’t see is the totally naked man with a goatee hanging by one hand from the window ledge. His other hand? He is using it to cover his modesty. This funny mural is found on the wall of a sexual health clinic in Bristol. It’s both ironic and funny at the same time – in true Banksy style. The people of Bristol were able to vote on whether it stayed or went, and a overwhelming 97% of people voted for the piece to stay.

At this time last year, Banky revealed his sculpture Cardinal Sin which is now in its place Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery. It is an ironic piece in reaction to the child abuse scandals at the hands of the Catholic Church. The gallery has placed Cardinal Sin among the gallery’s other religious artwork, obviously a deliberate move by Banksy and the gallery to gain maximum impact. The sculpture is a bust of a cardinal with the front of his face sawn off and replaced by tiles to imitate the pixellated effect that is most commonly used to conceal the identity of criminals on television. What does Banksy have to say about his infamous piece; “The statue? I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity — the lies, the corruption, the abuse.” It has been loaned to the gallery for an indefinite length of time.

Banksy is one of the most legendary artists on the planet. The huge costs people pay for his artwork shos that. His work has spread joy and hope to people in all walks of life. His art makes people think about the way they live their lives and teaches us to question how we are governed. He is the leader of a new generation of artists and has paved the way for so-called ‘unconventional’ art to be made mainstream.

Electronic Scholarly Editions – Kenneth Price

I will be looking at the thoughts and ideas that Price’s article conjured up for me. The article appears as Chapter 24 in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies which can be found here

In his article, Price looks at the transferring of literature away from the print tradition, to the digital medium. One of the main aims of these types of projects is to preserve the texts for future reference. Pages that would be too  delicate for handling can now be viewed, without running the risk of any damage being done to the piece.

Personally, I like to read a physical book when I am reading for pleasure, but I prefer to use digital texts for academic work. I can find certain words within a text to pinpoint what I am looking for. If there are links on a page I can use these to gather more supporting information. A piece of text online is more than just words now; we can have multimedia items, links, electronic indexes, and opinions from other readers.

However, when reading for college work, you must take into consideration the authenticity of the piece. For example, articles found on Wikipedia are usually not deemed suitable for academic reference. Newspapers also have this problem, where some as seen as more ‘low-brow’ while other are seen as more noteworthy and reliable.

The one problem people trying to compile an archive may face is whether they was to collect pieces that work towards a certain goal, of whether they want everything from a certain scholar. For example, if we wanted to make a collection of all of William Shakespeare’s works – with different editions and versions – it would be a very time consuming process, and be very difficult to complete. However, if you aimed to look at his tragedies, or plays within two specific dates, it would be easier to do. This is a question for each person undertaking any digital archiving project.

Price talks about the new and improving technology used when publishing online. He refers to the increasing use of XML (extensible mark up language). The thing that makes XML popular is that it is independent from programs and operating systems. If one operating system was replaced, then things published in entirely that medium become hard to access. This new piece of technology further helps to preserve and store texts that may have otherwise been lost.

There are more and more groups that are trying to produce digital archives. They aim to preserve the pieces, teach others and reach the maximum number of people possible.  While there are many private digital archives,  there is a greater call for open access. Price’s article is a informative one, with many point that keep you thinking.

Tim Etchells: contemporary artist extraordinaire

After stumbling across this artist last year, I looked further into his work and loved what I found. He is a modern artist, and someone who I feel many people, especially of my generation, could enjoy. 

Tim Etchells is an incredible English artist whose art is based around statements and the city. He is a very modern artist and I’m telling you now, look up his work and you will not be disappointed. His website can be found here. Personally I love everything about cities; the constant hustle and bustle, the people, the nightlife, the noise. His work appeals to the ‘work hard play harder’ generation. Etchell’s piece Surrender Control  (2001) is a series of text message giving instructions to the receiver. He is moving away from the more traditional paint and canvas art and creating art that is modern, refreshing and inviting.

His piece called Forever (2010). A neon sign reading “You Will Live Forever” glows in red. One the website there are four different images shown, one where the sign is on a wall, and the other three it is displayed in a shop window. Two of them show people drinking, while another shows what we assume to be a drunk girl with her boyfriend. To me, this piece represents the mentality of younger people, especially after a few drinks. One guy even seems to be confronting the camera, with a beer bottle in his hand. It portrays the feeling of being invincible and the desire to live life on the edge. 

He has one piece called Rules of the Game (1999), which “started as a text work setting out the rules for an imaginary drinking game in which a detailed system of triggers and forfeits ties drinks, undressing and sex acts to live reports of news events on TV”.  For me, this has the same meaning behind it as Forever does. A sense of amorality, fueled by alcohol.

Last year, I saw his work Will Be (2010) in The Glucksman Gallery, which is adjoined to my campus. It was part of the In Other Words exhibition. This neon sign consists of two parts. Both are made up of neon letters, one reads ‘The Future Will Be Confusing’ while the other is made up of the same letters, but displayed all over the place. It’s supposed to be viewed after the first, showing that the future will be puzzling and all over the place.

For me, nothing represent a city and its nightlife like neon lights. His website says this about his repeated use of this medium; “Through simple phrases spelt out in neon, Etchells create miniature narratives, moments of confusion, awkwardness, reflection and intimacy in public and gallery settings. Encountering these signs, in the streets of a city or in the space of a white cube gallery, the viewer becomes implicated in a situation that’s not fully revealed. As often in Etchells’ work in these neons the missing parts of the picture are as important as the elements that are present. Invoking a story, or projecting an idea out-of-context into the situation of the work invites us in, but into what exactly we can’t be sure.”

The above photo is my favourite piece by Etchells: Please Come Back (2008). It is a very personal message, available for anyone to see. I think this shows how our personal thoughts, that should probably only be said face-to-face are now put all over the internet and over the phone. People use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for private messages, that should be kept private. We now somehow see using texts and the internet as an acceptable method of revealing our innermost thoughts, feelings and desires.

Please don’t get the impression that all of Etchell’s pieces are to do with drinking or young people and their misbehaviour  those are just my favourite pieces. While Forever and Rules of the Game are set nearly twenty years apart, he still manages to depict the same young and care free attitude that is so commonly associated with young people.