Physical Cosmologies: The Shining

Mstmrnd's Kevin McLeod emerges from the sea of critical thinking and pop culture to say:
 Files Pdvd 039Jacklooksincam "In my research for a game, i began writing a guide to The Shining, which i discovered is a part of a glyphic continuum.

It's something Kubrick no doubt was aware he was building. Kubrick was essentially transforming English into meso-american visual cognition, but in a process that leaps over thousands of years of schism. I have now roughly the length of a book but i placed a beginning on our log.
"Physical Cosmologies: The Shining"


  1. Must be a neat page to read.. it’s a shame they put the dark grey text on a black background.

    I got better things to do than squinting at text, trying to decipher dude’s high brow prose.

  2. I have absolutely no idea what the author means. I dare not click on the link, for fear my meso-American glyphically-continuous cognitive schism will start Shining.

    Or something.


  3. He lost me in the second sentence, “The written probe here is evidence of a . .” How about ‘this essay will. . .’ ?.

  4. (Tip: To read low-contrast text like this, Ctrl-A.)

    It’s pretty much your typical college-level English paper with all the references to Milton’s Paradise Lost replaced by references to Kubrick’s The Shining.

  5. I like how he uses phrases like “meso-american visual cognition”, but won’t capitalize his “I’s”. That just reeks of “I’m a pretentious pseudo-intellectual.”

    That being said, I did try to read the essay… I had to high-light the text to prevent my eyes from crossing from reading the low-contrast.

  6. I tried reading this. I really did. Either it’s completely nonsensical, or I am just entirely ignorant to this type of analysis. Seems so overly wordy and purposely obfuscatory.

  7. I think this essay has a lot of merit. It currently reads like hastily-jotted notes trying to keep pace with an excited brain, so it could use some editing (like the addition of articles, preposition phrases, conjunctions!). That might make it more palatable to a larger crowd. But it’s a really great addition to the canon of Kubrick film review which is always enjoy reading. Kubrick really was a genius and often operated way beyond most people’s ability to absorb his vision, even while thoroughly entertaining/scaring the effing crap out of us.

    Mstrmd essay jumps off nicely from this review, The Family of Man by Bill Blakemore:

    And for the mother of all mind-changers, read this reconsideration of Eyes Wide Shut:

    It’s dense but worthwhile because Kubrick gave us so much to work with!! I promise.

  8. PS — there is a lot of heavy stuff in the first few paragraphs, but if you skip ahead to the 9th paragraph and start there, it’s REALLY interesting! Talks about visual symmetry, the significance of outfits and color symbolism. Remember that Kubrick was an *intensely* controlling director and nothing in his shots are an accident.

    The paragraph starts “The Shining is a film meant to be watched both forwards and backwards…”

  9. This here ape failed to evolve beyond his liminal trappings, and is therefore unable to see relevance and awareness.
    So I suppose I may count myself among the ranks of the vast majority of viewers for whom the greatest tools and tests of the Shining remain hidden.

  10. much more intelligible is the great book ‘kubrick: inside a film artist’s maze’ by thomas allen nelson. a must read for all kubrick fans.

  11. I have an advanced degree in a field that includes / combines Critical Theory, philosophy, and the analysis of visual culture.

    This however makes no sense.

    Is he saying that Kubrick is transforming “English” into something like Maya or Aztec Codices in “The Shining”? Is he doing that phonetically? Oh no, wait — he is transforming English into a pre-modern “visual cognition”. Now how you transform a communicative European language into a Mesoamerican [sic above] mental process (Note, he’s not talking about “Mentalités” here) especially into a mental process which is by definition private and for which the context is removed from one’s own worldview by a “schism” of both culture and 1000s of years)? It is all very mysterious to me.

    I truly doubt that Kubrick knew that he was building part of a glyphic continuum. He probably would have said something, since he could, and did, speak about his work.

  12. Just screened the film a week ago with a 20-something friend who had never seen it. I had a bunch of insight to offer, but nothing on this level. I want to read the entire analysis now.

    I always wonder though, with this level of analysis, how much is contrived/coerced by the viewer and how much was intended by the filmmaker.

    Stanley was a God, but I wonder if even *he* had that much detail/significance/symbolism thought out when bottles of Joy/Ivory were placed above the kitchen sink.

  13. Maybe that’s why Jack Nicholson looks so confused in that photo. He can’t understand the meso-american visual language being spoken by the director. ;)

  14. Either it’s 601n93d, or there’s bad Web weather where I’m at. Too bad. I like a puzzle.
    Oh, and if a page is hard to read, you can always copy and paste to your text / word processor of choice.

  15. In such an economy, can you really afford so many fifty-dollar words?

    /my comment is plagiarized from a random person on livejournal

  16. Yes, I could copy the text to an editor. And I could hilite all the text, but if the author isn’t proud enough of his work to make it legible in its intended presentation, surely the information he’s trying to convey isn’t much better.

  17. This sort of thing is fun when the director has clearly laid out so many visual puzzles. You could write an essay just on the use of red, white & blue (and the overt and indirect American flag deployment) in The Shining…and then there’s that nauseating glare throughout.

  18. My instant uncontrollable reaction after reading the headline paragraph was to check the compter date, just in case it was April 1st.
    I bailed out of an MA a few years back because I kept arguing with the tutors about this kind of meaningless gobbledegook.

  19. On a more lowbrow level, I have to say one of the scariest scenes in the film was ruined for me by poor casting.

    When Jack Torrance is kissing Dead Bathtub lady, and notices the slight algae problem on her back, there’s no way that would be enough to scare him and make him leave. I mean, he’s already banging Shelly Duvall. Ew.

  20. Does no one read Leonard Shlain? “The Alphabet vs. the Goddess”? Where symbolic abstract thinking (God/male) killed off concrete and visual thinking (goddess), he offers that with television, the internet, movies, we may once again embrace a more concrete and visual way of thinking and transmitting culture. Total der here, we have been moving that way for a century – visual memes saturate our collective experience in our television, our clothes (think BoingBoing and shirts), our media.

    We will have a depth of understanding that neither concrete nor abstract thinking could bring us with our present day means of transmitting knowledge, get with the program.

    – Ethel

  21. Fun as these kinds of very detailed speculations are, the facts about the creation of a feature film are often rather more mundane. In Michel Ciment’s interview with SK about The Shining it’s revealed that all the helicopter footage of Colorado was shot by a second unit while Kubrick (who famously hated flying anywhere) remained in England. They sent him the footage and he chose the best shots.

    The reason the opening shot is so striking relates to Kubrick’s desire (which he mentions to Ciment) to open each of his films with a very arresting image. While it’s entirely possible that he personally researched the history of the entire area, then remotely directed a helicopter crew to fly to that particular lake and take what he somehow knew would be a great shot (also remembering to fly to the right at the island in order to telegraph a hidden meaning)…..Occam’s Razor would imply it’s more likely to be coincidence, don’t you think? They flew over a lake; it looked great; first shot in the film. That helicopter unit shot a huge amount of footage as Ridley Scott testifies when he requested some of it for the re-cut ending of Blade Runner and SK sent him all the out-takes.

    Accident plays a greater part in Kubrick’s films than people think on account of his otherwise controlling nature. Until he heard The Blue Danube Waltz playing by chance in the background while editing the docking sequence in 2001 there was no intention of using that piece in the film. The same with Singing in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange which began as a piece of on-set improv by Malcolm McDowell. A good artist in any medium knows how to integrate chance so that nothing about the final work seems accidental.

  22. I’m sorry, but this isn’t even coherent–to the point where I almost suspect this is a Sokal-esque joke being perpetrated on the Internet at large. As is so often the case in “critical theory,” the author is using big words, ambiguity, and confusing language to make it seem as if he’s saying something profound when in fact he’s saying almost nothing of real substance. It would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that so many people find drivel like this “brilliant.”

  23. I read stuff like this all the time for grad classes and other various university directed endeavors, and I have the same complaint about this one as I do all the rest; it’s overreaching.

    Implied in this lengthy big of intellectual masturbation is that Kubrick intended all the things the author describes, like “transforming English into meso-american visual cognition.” He says as much, “Kubrick no doubt was aware he was building.” I doubt it very much. I doubt everything that is applied to artists that the artist him/herself didn’t admit to. Until Kubrick says, “I was trying to transform English into meso-american visual cognition” it’s all speculation. And there’s a reason speculation isn’t allowed in a court of law.

    It’s the easiest thing out there to apply your own meaning to art, that’s kind of the point of it. Just make sure you call it your own and don’t overreach your conclusions by applying them to the artist.

  24. When does NewSpeak kick in?
    Then ‘man’s laughter’ doesn’t look like ‘manslaughter’.
    They’ll be ‘man’s lafter’ and manslotter’.
    And maybe France will implode.
    Have a glass of bordo, Frenchie.

  25. Deeply resembles the kind of analysis written about Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. Which has become the,colonialist, feminist,structuralist,post -(fillinblankist) whipping post of choice.

    This analysis is far more concerned with expressing the authors own new age meta-narrative than with revealing anything new regarding the movie itself. He’s hijacked the movie to shoe-horn in his own preconceptions.

  26. Perhaps the readers of this essay need a good talking to, if you don’t mind my saying so. Perhaps a bit more.

    My girls, sir, they didn’t care for transforming English into meso-american visual cognition at first. One of them actually stole a pack of matches, and tried to burn the essay down. But I “corrected” them sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I “corrected” her.

  27. After suffering through about half of this essay, I was so happy to flip back to these comments and see that pretty much everyone realized that it’s a crock.

    Here’s my proof: half of the author’s cites can be found in Stephen King’s original book. That means that Stephen King must be a genius, too.

    I’m a big fan of Stanley Kubrick. His films deserve real analysis, not pseudo-intellectual B.S.

  28. I have no idea what any of this means, but it sure sounds smart.

    It’s intended to sound smart, but in doing so actually sounds pretty dumb.

  29. Why so much hate for things you don’t understand? Do they scare you? “More POMO fantasizing”, “a Sokal-esque joke”. I can almost smell your fear. Thus sayeth the pretentious pseudo-intellectuals many of whom have not even bothered to read it. Your knee-jerk reactionary response is just hilarious. It tells me nothing about the article and everything about how shallow and superficial the respondents are.

    I don’t know, I guess I just get really tired of this geeky asshole “knowitall” attitude. Pisses me off.

  30. #39, how is your comment any less of a knee-jerk response? If you genuinely take an issue with something someone has said previously, maybe post an actual opinion beyond “it’s funny that you have opinions.” I’m just saying: that isn’t exactly contributing to the dialogue. If anything it’s more arrogant to assume that everyone you’re talking to is an idiot.

    I’d just like to say that I don’t like it when people draw all their opinions on critical theory from this kind of thing. There is, obviously, a lot of legitimate criticism to be made of film, and often it can be a bit dense or make use of jargon (which is fine, as long as it is jargon with a purpose). But I get the feeling that when people see things like this, they tend to come to the conclusion that all academic writing is just pointless wankery, which I think is unfair. I’d just like readers to take into consideration that dense and difficult does not necessarily imply loopy (although the converse is often true, as nothing hides gibberish like density).

  31. @#39 –

    It’s not so much a lack of understanding as a lack of substantive content in the original article. I’m certainly not struck with fear as my primary emotion in reading this (other than fear for the future of academia)–more like a mixture of puzzlement and amusement. You’re absolutely right that I don’t understand what the devil the author’s talking about here, but I’m reasonably certain that that’s because there are very few legitimate points being made and a lot of intellectual masturbation being done. Let’s take a few passages at random:

    “Kubrick immediately hints at a geologic/natural source for native cosmological shape-forms and their colors that appear throughout (these colors and forms duplicate in the Lobby’s floor then the Colorado Lounge walls). He is suggesting if a religion/myth/spirituality engages forms from the land then it may be suffused with powers beyond our view (does this form-transform have an endpoint?).”

    and then

    “With The Shining, Kubrick closes the 70’s with a vicious assessment of the occident’s presence on the North American continent (death by axe). The film asserts a bold awareness of the American experience with a nightmare built from the collapse of a family unit of three driven apart by inferiority and emasculation in the face of reliquary power as mundane white magic: The Hotel.”

    Just what the heck is being asserted here? The language sounds fancy, and the sentence structure is certainly complex, but where’s the content? What does it mean for a “family unit of three [to be] driven apart by inferiority and emasculation in the face of the reliquary power as mundane white magic: The Hotel?”

    The problem I’m seeing here (and that I think others are seeing also) isn’t just limited to this piece, but rather seems to pervade a lot of what passes for “philosophy” or “critical theory” these days: there are a whole lot of words being thrown around, but not a tremendous amount of consequence being said. The prose here is deliberately obscurantist, and the author seems to be taking pains to make his point seem as complicated as he possibly can. If you’ve got something real and profound to say, that’s not the best way to go about it.

  32. I just get really tired of this geeky asshole “knowitall” attitude.

    Pretty ironic, given the paragraph that appears directly above that line.

    I have sufficient awareness of my own limited intelligence to know that a complex idea can sound like gibberish to me the first time I hear it. However, there’s usually a nugget or two in there that lets me know that it’s me, not the author, who’s being clueless, and encourages me to make more of an effort. Then there’s stuff like this essay, in which I can’t even make out the faintest borders of a coherent idea. Sometimes a complex idea masquerades as nonsense. Sometimes it’s just nonsense.

  33. “Well, it just so happens I have Marshall McLuhan right here…”.

    Woody Allen had it right.

  34. My language skills are very messo-road. I used “brevity” where I meant “bravery” in a comment the other day. So I’m out.

  35. All English and no meso-american visual cognition makes Jack a dull boy.
    All English and no meso-american visual cognition makes Jack a dull boy.
    All English and no meso-american visual cognition makes Jack a dull boy.
    All English and no meso-american visual cognition makes Jack a dull boy.

  36. An artist dips his brush in paint and flings it at a canvas, spattering drops. He does so with different colors, then hangs it in a gallery and sits on a bench across from it, listening to art critics explain the deep meaning the artist was trying to convey. He covers his mouth to muffle his laughter.
    The Shining was a masterpiece of suspense.
    Maybe we should let it go at that.

  37. That wasn’t half as pretentious as all the whining in this thread. I don’t think it was even presented as a polished piece of persuasive film criticism. It’s more the fevered scribbling of someone who’s having a damn good (if obsessive) time trying to put all this stuff in his head together, and you can join him on the ride or you can sit it out. All this heckling from the sidelines is just obnoxious.

  38. I think it’s an interesting article. I’d like to read more. My guess is that this person has read too much criticism. It’s so often dense and when you get used to it you stop noticing when you’re speaking in the jargon and it’s making your point less clear. That kind of dense language is supposed to be used in order to get at a very precise point.

    Besides an artist without a critic is just a thing-maker. No shame in that, but the artist has to give the pretense up as well. No more supreme snickering, and no more inflated values either. He’ll need an etsy account.

    I really like the idea of the inverted story though, I never could put my finger on what made me think that was such a damned good film and I think that does get at it. It doesn’t spiral out of control into sheer chaos, and everyone is a victim. I never thought about the repeated theme of doubles.

    Well… anyway… I like to think about these things.

  39. Actually, I just watched The Shining twice and whoever wrote this is onto something much more interesting than expected. He’s clearly right about the English thing, the butler character is a dead giveaway (ha, that’s even funny). Amazing the criticisms above as jokes are proving his point. This article is about the visuals proving everything. And the yellow. I never noticed all those redheads before. The intro is VERY confusing, but it makes sense after two or three reads, and uh, isn’t that what the film is? Very confusing until two or three sees?

  40. @31: Agreed, fine sir! To what is Art subject if not Law?

    If writing such as this were allowed it would lead to degradation of the National Character, no doubt quickly reflected in the moral turpitude of the youth!

    Burn it! Burn the foul swill and cut short the talons of yon blogger, lest he continue his rapine abuse of The Queen’s English and God’s Own Logic.

    And may God have mercy on the author’s soul for challenging the Dogmas that Be.

    Shame! Shame! Shame!

  41. I see what the guy is getting at, and he’s made some very astute (albeit somewhat loose) observations. I totally comprehend this, but I’m going to be a smartass and say that he’s been toking too much while watching Kubrik.

  42. I suspect that this is a case of staring at visual white noise and the brain reaching for meaning….

  43. Toking too much while watching Kubrick is one way to notice things that still hold up when it’s worn off. The fear of the herb is the same as the fear of the subconscious and the blood-soaked earth America is built on. And that is, if I understand McLeod right, what he sees as the central theme of The Shining.
    What else? There’s all sorts of play with symmetries and mirrorings, so the opposite of everything is implied in everything. Even the movie’s time line seems to be somehow back-to-front.
    That said, sheesh! This looks like the most horrid kind of Finnegan’s Wake exegesis. This guy needs to learn to edit his own work or he will end up like Gene Ray.

  44. Film is a visual medium: the critical focus upon “story” has always been a red herring, a distractive technique, an attempt by the literate (that is, letter/text-based) culture, to take the new (that is, post-1895) high (eg socially effective and socially prominent) ground, now created and occupied by film.
    Which is as stated a visual medium.
    It is freer, deeper, and more “unconscious” than read media.
    Any word-based critique (that is , ALL of the critiques) will have difficulty in avoiding prolixity in any attempt to achieve depth in its analysis of film, or of a film.
    This will be more difficult for the reader, than the writer, of such critiques.
    The Internet and concurrency of presentation helps a great deal: an audio commentary, to be played while viewing (and with instructed pauses) the critiqued film, is much better than a magazine/newspaper’s written critique, with only stills for illustration.
    The multi-media internet is a great gift to the film medium: it enables a better level of analysis, of understanding.

  45. Yes agree with canuck. This writing on The Shining is streamed, not linear, even those that claim to comprehend it have not. The dude is saying Kubrick combined our ideas in English, words like The Shining and Interview and MADE them visual through Native American art-forms, read it carefully, the blues of the sky and the titles are different. It’s like joke on US: I just discovered the Navajo had no written language. It was spoken.

  46. Yes, propeller: pace Frank w., this is NOTHING like the exegesis of Finnegan’s Wake, or the Bible: this exegesis is not words about other words – it is qualitatively different.
    These are words about images (the wordless).

  47. But Frank W. does draw attention to the prolixity of (any, IMO) this film critique, viv-a-vis the critiqued film itself: film criticism is of necessity and by nature wordier than the critiqued film itself.

  48. I think it’s good to translate things in and out of their original state because then we see a bit of how the thing works. Taking a visual or temporal experience and translating it into words lets us crack into the hows and whys. Sure if you’re not the curious type, you can just say it was nice and move on.

    Personally though, I do think that criticism end up being foggy some times. Academics are usually talking to specialists who are embedded in the same kinds of dialogue. Some times it’s important, and some times it’s just the parlance.

    At the end of the night a film is still a series of images that create the illusion of time while real time is experienced in the watching. So critique of film is a critique of several things. There’s the story, which is sort of an illusion that hooks together the images and sound in our mind allowing us to experience illusory time within the film. There’s the sound, which is an independent part of that experience. There is usually dialogue, which is a separate text in and of itself that occurs withing the context of the film. Then there is the purely visual aspect. This changes most frequently in a film. The interplay of these elements allow the viewer to experience the space of the film as real space and time. The viewer connects the dialogue to certain parts of the image. Attrubues emotion, experiences the illusion of time. To talk about it you end up splitting up these elements and putting them back together. Consider how many images you’d have to get through if you looked at it frame by frame. If each image were a painting that is exactly how it would be discussed. While all this is happening, real time and space is being experienced by the viewer as well. The film affects the viewer’s perception of this time.

    You end up with a lot of words, but they may grasp at something that makes the reader aware of what is happening when watching a film, especially one that “works” or is considered good.

    So that’s my attempt at explaining why I think it’s worth doing.

  49. Don’t get me wrong: I like these exegeses (plural?), it is just that such are not to all tastes…but then again, nothing interesting is.

  50. Nicely put, blueelm. I’ve always wanted to understand why Kubrick puts such a spell on me, and it’s always beyond my reach since I think in words. Mstrnd’s emphasis on twinning especially as it relates to watching the whole movie backwards illuminates so much (much more than I was able to identify the first 5 times) and really does make the whole thing much more horrible. Life moving with little distinction between backwards/forwards or any sense of control, and with infinite banality, is deeply deeply terrifying.

    Also, I’m still too chickenshit to watch it alone, forget twice in one sitting.

    I’m also very glad to see readers who have something interesting to say instead of just burping out disgust and loathing.

  51. This was an amazing article. Thanks for posting it.

    I don’t know if it was supposed to be a thesis or a blog or what but it was a fascinating perspective on the film and I learned a lot from it. The bits about symmetry, duality, backwards time, and the deliberate choices in casting and set dressing especially.

    It’s a great insight into exactly why it was such an unsettling film, too.

    Was anyone else reminded of House of Leaves?

  52. The article is unreadable. Like the worst French 1970’s pseudo-intellectual tripe. Inventing new jargon and then not bothering to define the terms is not even remotely clever!

  53. Of course it is, just look up the words, or are you assuming you know the definition of glyph? I didn’t. And now I understand what he is saying. All of you lazyheads that grew up being told how to think have another thing coming. Look at all of your anger. There’s no reason in there, or adventurousness. Ha!

  54. “Secret Life of Plants” has an advanced degree!

    “Padster123” wants the terms defined!

    It’s all up for grabs!

    What terms defined by whom!

    My eyes tell me the Shining is crazy separate from my brain!

    My brain also says so!

    mstrmnd also talks about this!

    mstrkrft are insane djs!

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