Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hedgehogs and Foxes

I hesitated, but what the heck... let's embark on a theme that is almost universally found in movies... not only American movies, but worldwide in international films, and that is love and sex. However, I am not so sure how daring I can be to approach the many movies that are very very saucy... the likes of Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct or even In the Realm of the Senses... That is to be decided as we go along in this blog. To begin, let's talk about... the Hedgehogs and the Foxes.

In way of background, I think I should mention in passing that it helps to have some background of Darwin's work and if you are philosophical in nature, you'll feel right at home here. You may also want to look up a subject named "The Botany of Desire." Yes, all the aforementioned have something to do with love and sex... and orgasm.

In movies, I'd say Woody Allen is the best director who can approach sex and love (and also death) with panache and at the same time, he educates the mass with deep philosophical thinking that easily get lost for the casual movie watchers. Take his Husbands and Wives (1992,) a famous scene from which much have been talked about and analyzed in depth by many scholars at many famous learning institutions. The real subject under consideration was anorgasmia. You know that in medical parlance, many nouns that terminate with the suffix "mia" are bad for you: anemia, leukemia, arrhythmia... The prefix "a" says that something is missing. So "anorgasmia" must be bad for you because that says you cannot experience orgasm. That's a major theme in this Allen's movie. Why don't you watch this clip first.. then we'll talk when you return...
Well, what did you get from the clip? Let's make sure you got it by dotting the i's and crossing the t's: The movie revolves around two married couples: Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis;) and Judy (Mia Farrow... did you notice that? Mia is a bad omen as a name, medically speaking as explained above) and Gabe (Woody Allen.) Sally and Jack separated and took on new lovers, Jack with Sam (Lysette Anthony) and Sally with Michael (Liam Neeson.) The scene is when Michael was finally able to convince Sally and take her to bed. This is when you realize that she is anorgasmia, from a session with her psychiatrist, when she confesses her continued frigidity while with her husband Jack. What you hear in the clip is her infamous "hedgehogs and foxes" analysis. She was asked: "Why were you able to have an orgasm with Michael and not with your husband?...What makes it so difficult for you?" Her answer was:

"I didn't. I was trying very hard to go with it. I was tense. I came close... (She lied, she was nowhere close!) My mind just gets racing with thoughts. You'd laugh if I told you. I get so mentally hyperactive....I thought that I liked what Michael was doing to me, and it felt different from Jack. More gentle and more exciting. And I thought how different Michael was from Jack. How much deeper his vision of life was. And I thought Michael was a hedgehog and Jack was a fox. And then I thought Judy was a fox, and Gabe was a hedgehog. And I thought about all the people I knew, and which were hedgehogs, and which were foxes. Al Simon, a friend, was a hedgehog, and his wife Jenny was a hedgehog. And Cindy Salkind was a fox. And Lou Patrino was a hedgehog..."

It is the writing for scenes like this that this movie was called a "philosophical film." The "Hedgehog and the Fox" is a famous and popular essay by the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin. The title is a reference to a fragment attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Berlin expands upon the original idea and divides writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea: Plato, Lucretius, Dante, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, and Proust; and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea: Herodotus, Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce, Anderson. Tolstoy, was considered different. He had multiple talents like a fox, but was a giant thinker that qualifies him as a hedgehog.

With that as a background... Many a discussions I found about this scene immediately delved deeply into the philosophy of thinkers originated by Berlin, and none really tried to interpret what Sally was really saying. I bet you a cookie that Woody Allen was trying to say something about how hedgehog and fox relate to orgasm, which is a big thing! Only hedgehog can achieve it, because foxes only circle the wagon and generally miss the mark. What do you think?

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