August 11, 2008

Lacan, Lacan, Lacan

Filed under: CMM4106 Psycho & Cinema,ECU MInT — steve @ 5:07 pm

There are better ways to spend your Sunday, seriously…

A reading of chapters 6, 7, 8 & 9 from Jacques Lacan’s “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis” (1977).

Really, so many words, so little content – Lacan appears to dribble on aimlessly to get a very simple concept across. In this reading, concerning chapters 6 & 7, what Lacan has to say about the “gaze” could well have been covered in a single page, however what we, the reader, are presented with is 21 pages of this “poet’s” pontifications that are not only vague but extremely dull.

Sarup summed it up well when he wrote, concerning Lacan: “Lacan’s style is difficult. It has been called incomprehensible, esoteric, and obscure” (1992, p.13). So, does the following quote from Sarup, describing Lacan’s early works, apply equally to Lacan as well as the woman he was said to be observing?

It is said that the prophet stands on the edge of intelligibility, at the place where his or her linguistic innovations can still be understood by the group. The mad person, in contrast, is too far out, isolated and out of reach. What the mad person writes is often superb but it makes no sense; its meaning cannot be communicated. (p. 60)

If one thought that Freud rambled on and on in his description of the Oedipus Complex and object-attachments, should one have read Freud after reading Lacan then one would surely be forgiven for thinking of Freud’s writing as being extremely lucid and straight to the point. Perhaps Lacan, is his work through re-interpreting Freud, felt that what was good for the teacher was also good for the student? Who really knows – or even cares.

So, what of the “gaze”? Scattered throughout Lacan’s verbal assault we might find rare glimpses of what he is trying to tell us about the “gaze”: “The eye and the gaze – this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field”  (1977, p.73). “In other words, must we not distinguish between the function of the eye and that of the gaze?” (p.74).

The split between gaze and vision will enable us, you will see, to add the scopic drive to the list of the drives. If we know how to read it, we shall see that Freud already places this drive to the fore in Triebe and Triebschicksale (‘Instincts and their Vicissitudes’), and shows that it is not homologous with the others. Indeed, it is this drive that most completely eludes the term castration. (Lacan, 1977, p. 78)

Right, now we see what Lacan is perhaps getting to – it is all about sex. The gaze is about sex and, as men only think with their penis, the gaze can be used by men to look at a woman without the fear that he will be castrated (just like the penis-less woman was castrated as punishment for some unknown crime or through some unknown illness). That’s correct, everything is about the penis and sex – at least according to Freud, Sarup (as we will discover later) and, of course, Lacan:

How can we not see here, immanent in the geometral dimension – a partial dimension in the field of the gaze, a dimension that has nothing to do with vision as such – something symbolic of the function of the lack, of the appearance of the phallic ghost? (1977, p. 88)

Madan Sarup, fortunately, does a much better job of describing Lacan’s concepts than Lacan does himself. In his book on Lacan, Sarup states:

Having given an account of the principle ideas of Freud, I now want to signal some of the ways Lacan has developed the Freudian heritage. Lacan’s work is a strikingly original attempt to ‘rewrite’ Freudianism in ways relevant to all those concerned with the question of the human subject, its place in society, and above all its relationship to language. One of the things Lacan has done is to reinterpret Freud in the light of structuralist and post-structuralist theories of discourse. (1992, p. 10)

However, one perhaps might question the point of rewriting Freud if “For Lacan, psychoanalysis is not a system of cure, it is not a method of explaining or guaranteeing knowledge, but it is a series of techniques for listening to and questioning desire” (Sarup, 1992, p. 11). What is the point then? Why, so that Lacan can be applied to the study of film of course – which, not surprisingly, is all about the penis and sex too.

In the opening paragraph of Chapter Nine: Lacan and film, Sarup argues that “A child looking at the mirror is compared with the spectator looking at the screen” (1992, p. 146). The mirror analogy refers to Lacan’s mirror phase theory that a child, upon seeing its own reflection in a mirror for the first time, becomes aware of its own, separate, identity (Sarup, 1992, p. 64). When we, as a spectator at a movie, watch the screen we are supposed to identify with the camera which Christian Metz, as quoted by Sarup, describes as an “all-seeing and invisible subject” (Sarup, p. 147).

Film is related to a dream (Sarup, 1992, p. 149), and the act of watching a movie at the cinema is described as a regressive desire to return to the womb (Sarup, pp. 151-152). We are described the purpose of suture and the use of “the shot/reverse shot” format (Sarup, pp. 154-156) to enable the spectator to identify with the film other than through the camera itself. All very interesting up to this point until we learn that “There is a close link between castration, the fear it inspires and fetishism” (Sarup, p.157) and “Voyeurism and fetishism … are mechanisms Hollywood uses to construct the spectator” (Sarup, p. 159).

So now, just when you thought you were watching a movie for a bit of escapism or just some time out, it turns out that, if you are male at least, you are actually watching the movie out of some sick, perverted desire to fulfil a voyeuristic fetish that equates into the thrill that you might get your penis castrated. What a thrill! One shall never innocently watch a movie again – as long as one remembers that watching a movie is to imagine possessing a detachable penis.


Reference list

Lacan, J. (1977). The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis. London: The Hogath Press and The Institute of Psycho-analysis.

Sarup, M. (1992). Jacques Lacan. New York London Toronto Sydney Tokyo Singapore: Harvester Wheatsheaf Modern Cultural Theorists.

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