The films of Kenneth Anger and the sixties politics of consciousness

Hughes, M. 2011. The films of Kenneth Anger and the sixties politics of consciousness. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design

TitleThe films of Kenneth Anger and the sixties politics of consciousness
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsHughes, M.

This thesis is an enquiry into avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s stated impetus for aesthetic practice, in that his approach is characterised by a desire to elicit a

‘transformative’ response from the spectator: “I chose cinema as the mode of personal expression for its

potential and capacity for disruption: it is the surest means to incite change.” This central animating principle of Anger’s practice has been fundamentally neglected

in what little critical writing that already exists on his work.

Whilst this intent is framed within an esoteric religious

paradigm – the occult – my contention is that it must also be understood as part of a much wider socio-­historical political process.

I argue that as a personal friend of many within the Beat and psychedelic movements, Anger’s practice should be understood as part of the US countercultural drive to ‘revolutionise consciousness’.

This aspiration was prompted by the widespread belief within the Sixties US counterculture that ‘normality’ was a state of implicit alienation, and that the undermining of standardised forms of subjectivity was necessary in order that a more authentic mode of existence be found; either as a prerequisite for wider structural change, or, as in the romantic psychedelic movement in which Anger was associated, as a qualifier for change in itself.

This particular ‘politics of consciousness’ of the Sixties as propagated by a spiritually inflected, romantic anarchist strain in post-­war US society was based upon the utopian belief that the transformation of individual consciousness was a method of facilitating widespread revolution. I see this aspiration as a utopian expression of the refrain ‘the personal is political’ that came to popular fruition in the Sixties, in which the consideration of one’s own life was a political concern in itself. In this politics of consciousness, the Sixties countercultural paradigm saw the idealised forms of subjectivity produced by post-war US capitalism as serial, standardised, and crucially, ‘inauthentic’; as something to be overcome, with aesthetic production playing a fundamental role in this process.

I argue that Anger’s Sixties work must be read in much wider relation to the socio-­political discourses of its time than has been previously afforded in what little critical writing on Anger’s work that exists to date.

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