Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 28, September 2003

 

 

Briana Berg

 

Film Theory, Psychoanalysis, and Figuration:

On _Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories_

 

 

_Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories_

Edited by Janet Bergstrom

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999

ISBN 0-520-20747-5 (hbk); 0-520-20748-3 (pbk)

307 pp.

 

_Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories_ is a compilation of essays by film theorists and psychoanalysts edited by Janet Bergstrom. Contributors include Stephen Heath, Mary Ann Doane, Marc Vernet, Slavoj Zizek, David James Fisher, Peter Wollen, Janet Walker, Alain de Mijolla, Ayako Saito, Joan Copjec, and Janet Bergstrom. Film theory and psychoanalysis, Bergstrom writes, share an 'endless night' [1] understood as a 'modality of timeless dark wandering', since 'both are drawn to the darkness in their quest for logics of meaning' (1). The subtitle _Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories_ originates from an identically named 1993 conference celebrating both fields' centenary anniversaries. As the title itself suggests, cinema and psychoanalysis have close historical paths, but the fact that these are parallel also underlines the difficulty they may have to meet. Indeed, the aim of the book is to stimulate the communication between scholars in the field of cinema and those in psychoanalysis, and, more specifically, to attract psychoanalysts into the debate on psychoanalytically informed film theory. Bergstrom writes in her Introduction that this collection of essays also seeks to testify to the evolution of psychoanalytic film theory over the past 30 years, a topic that is explored at length by Stephen Heath in the first essay. Moreover, she indicates that _Endless Night_ serves as an update on what film scholars are currently studying in this field. As such, the book is clearly intended for an audience well versed in the questions of 'cinema and psychoanalysis'; yet as it doesn't include the basic information on the evolution of psychoanalytic film theory, so it may be necessary for newcomers and psychoanalysts who are not familiar with the field to read up on this topic. This could make Bergstrom's purpose to involve psychoanalysts into the debate on psychoanalytic film theory more difficult.

 

Up to now the interest in the parallel histories of cinema and psychoanalysis has mainly been one-sided, from cinema towards psychoanalysis, as Stephen Heath points out in his essay, 'Cinema and Psychoanalysis: Parallel Histories'. _Endless Night_ highlights this asymmetry of interests, with only two out of the 11 essays written by psychoanalysts, namely those by David James Fisher and Alain de Mijolla, MD. The skepticism from the psychoanalytic side stems from deep-seated difficulties; as Glen O. Gabbard and Krin Gabbard point out,

 

'Clinical psychoanalysis is anchored in the here-and-now phenomena of transference and resistance and to the associations of a patient who attempts to put aside his or her psychological censor and say whatever comes to mind. Applied psychoanalysis runs the risk of losing its way once the consulting room has been left behind.' [2]

 

For Bergstrom, the difficulty arises from the fact that: 'The reasons psychoanalysts reflect on the cinema are not the same as those that motivate film theorists to draw on psychoanalysis.' (1) For her 1990 anthology, _Psychoanalysis and Cinema_, [3] E. Ann Kaplan compiled essays on film that drew on psychoanalysis, and later edited special issues on psychoanalytic film theory in a psychoanalytic journal, in order to bring together the writings of film theorists and psychoanalysts. Bergstrom points out that her endeavor, and similar attempts, have 'not yet generated what we might call a joint project or shared points of reference' (5). In this sense, the 'endless night' also refers to the lack of communication that has existed between these two fields up until now.

 

Like other books displaying the wide-ranging title of 'cinema and psychoanalysis', the problem encountered by _Endless Night_ is the following: in a field of such breadth, what questions are being analyzed, and from what point of view or school of thought? Such a book could expound on feminist interpretations, spectatorship issues, Lacanian theory, or on any given psychoanalytic concept such as the unconscious, for example. The subtitle _Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories_ implies that this book explores a compound of history, cinema, psychoanalysis, and psychoanalytically informed film theory -- or *cinema and psychoanalysis* as Heath calls this particular conjunction of disciplines. Still, the field's scope remains dauntingly vast and the perspectives multifold: the histories of cinema and psychoanalysis can be looked at as separate fields or together, from the standpoint of historical evolution, of theoretical development, of conceptual use, etc. Each article in the book looks at one or the other aspect of these varied topics, turning _Endless Night_ into an eclectic collection of essays. Part of the problem stems from the fact that psychoanalysis is split up into a variety of different schools across the US and Europe. The same is true for psychoanalytic film theory, which has integrated such approaches as Italian semiotics, de Saussure's linguistics, Levi-Strauss's structural anthropology, Althusserian political ideology, and Lacanian post-Freudian psychoanalysis. Bergstrom acknowledges the eclecticism of _Endless Night_, pointing out in her Introduction that the histories of cinema, psychoanalysis, and film theory should act here as a backdrop to the texts; she even grants that the theory discussed in these essays need not be restricted to cinema, that it can stretch over to other fields, as we will see is the case in Slavoj Zizek's essay.

 

Categorizing the essays into larger thematic topics, as E. Ann Kaplan does in _Psychoanalysis and Cinema_, might help the reader get their bearings. The pieces edited in _Endless Night_ roughly fit into three main categories: those with a historical viewpoint; studies on how Freud is (re)presented in films and scripts; and psychoanalytic concepts applied to film (be it one film, a series of films, or an author's entire oeuvre). Bergstrom initiates the program in parallel histories in her Introduction by summarizing an early psychoanalytic movie, _Le Mystere des Roches de Kador_ (1912), by Leonce Perret. This motion picture is one of the first to thread together the brand new sciences of cinema and psychoanalysis, simultaneously using them to further the plot and to explain how film works. The essays by Stephen Heath: 'Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories', Mary Ann Doane: 'Temporality, Storage, Legibility: Freud, Marey, and the Cinema', and Marc Vernet: 'The Fetish in the Theory and History of Cinema', can all be grouped into the first category, which emphasizes the historical side of cinema's and psychoanalysis's parallel histories.

 

Stephen Heath's fundamental essay, which shares its identity with the volume's subtitle, explores how the concepts of psychoanalytically informed film theory, especially those inspired from Lacan, have evolved since this field of study emerged in the 1970s -- a history in which Heath played an important part. The concepts of suture and fetishism, Heath states, have taken a back seat to those of real and symptom, whereas the notion of fantasy is still being studied. Looking back at film theory's evolution over the last two decades, he contends that the theories expounded upon in the era of the journal _Screen_, to which he contributed, narrow the spectator-film relation down to the effects of representation on the subject, 'effectively suturing cinema into an ideology of the subject that takes little account of the latter's constitution' (33). Heath maintains that '*cinema and psychoanalysis* involves the specificity of psychoanalysis in a way that equally reconceives it, and the same holds in reverse for the cinema, reconceived by the psychoanalytic theory and concepts with which it is newly posed' (34). In this, Heath holds true to his earlier approach on the analysis of film, which Nicolas Tredell defines in this manner:

 

'In a sense, one of the results of Heath's approach is to free a specific film text from being merely the exemplification of a set of codes and to allow it to be addressed in its particularity -- not a particularity that is wholly free of pre-existing codes, but not one that is wholly determined by them.' [4]

 

Heath believes the risk, in *cinema and psychoanalysis*, to be that 'psychoanalysis *fits* a cinema culturally permeated by psychoanalytic awareness developed in societies in which psychoanalysis itself developed (the parallel histories precisely)' (36). Psychoanalysis should remain a tool used to expand cinematic representation, not to demonstrate psychoanalytic concepts. Heath sees the work of Slavoj Zizek as creating such new perspectives in the field of *cinema and psychoanalysis*: 'Cinema translates psychoanalysis but also confronts it: film with Zizek -- or rather *Zizek-film*, the particular new conjunction he makes out of cinema and psychoanalysis --realizes the unrepresentable, pushes on screen what is more than in representation, *gets it*.' (36-37)

 

These comments show how the questions central to Heath's text, 'what should film analysis do and what does psychoanalysis have to do with it?' (34), lead back to the roots of Freud's reticence on this topic: the issue of figuration. Freud refused to lend his name to _Secrets of a Soul_, [5] the first movie about psychoanalysis on which his followers, Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs, were collaborating. He rejected the idea that the psychoanalytic process could ever be represented without simplifying the psychoanalytic endeavor: 'the unconscious does not present itself to be seen; the image does not receive the unconscious'. [6] The question of the figuration of psychoanalysis as a science or a therapeutic practice is still at the basis of psychoanalysts' distrust of cinema. For Heath, figuration is fundamental to any theorization of *cinema and psychoanalysis*. The risk of simplification runs on both sides: for Heath psychoanalytic film theory has also created, in turn,

 

'its own likenesses of cinema as essence (the imaginary signifier, the apparatus theory); as play of signifiers (available for 'filmanalytic' interpretation); as reflection (mode of translation, theoretical display) . . . the more psychoanalysis satisfies its conditions of psychoanalytic representability, the further it gets from cinema's questions of psychoanalysis' (49).

 

Whereas Heath's essay looks back at the past, Slavoj Zizek's 'Cyberspace, or the Unbearable Closure of Being' starts in the present and delves into the future. Zizek draws mainly on Lacanian and philosophical theory to explore the relationship between the fantasmatic real and reality through virtual reality (VR), questioning how cyberspace will affect our lives and more specifically our self. VR's frame is the interface of the computer: 'The key to the status of VR is provided by the difference between imitation and simulation: VR doesn't *imitate* reality, it *simulates* it by way of generating its semblance.' (100) Whereas imitation is based on reality, simulation creates something that does not exist, thus questioning the validity of reality. Zizek contends that VR affects our experience of reality in three different ways: within reality, we must differentiate what is natural from what is artificial; then we must distinguish what is real from that which is virtual; and finally, we must keep a grip on self-identity, threatened by Multiple User Domains, which enable the existence of multiple screen identities. All this constitutes a threat to the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the body, of the environment, and ultimately, of the self.

 

Zizek defines the screen-personae of the Multiple Domain User (MUD) as 'the figurations of my ideal ego' (111). MUD presents a splitting of the self, a *decenterment* of the subject that can be understood as the swinging back and forth between imaginary and symbolic identity, that is between repressed traits of the self and false traits which are 'a mask more real and binding than the true face beneath it' (109). Zizek makes a very interesting case here for a therapeutic use of VR, although he does not address the question of the psychoanalyst's function: repressed psychical material can be externalized in order for us to work through it. Heath's words about *Zizek-film* come to mind here, as this exemplifies how Zizek turns the use of psychoanalytic film theory around, using cinema (or rather, in this case, VR) to address psychoanalytic issues or concepts.

 

Zizek foresees two responses to VR and the computerization of our modern world: more *virtualization* or a return to Nature. He calls these 'opposed strategies for the disavowal of *splitting* between what we call *reality* and the void of the Real filled by a fantasmatic content' (115). But the imagination is stunted by VR, which fills every gap, a frustration that reveals man's need for a Master, one 'whose main role is to *state the obvious*' (117). Because virtuality allows everything, there is a need for such a *leader* to show us what we desire. Cyberspace entails an end of limits, the possibility of all choices. As such, it is its opposite, 'an unheard-of imposition of radical closure' (120).

 

How does such an essay, compelling as it may be, further the theoretical questions of *cinema and psychoanalysis*? How can one concretely transpose Zizek's questioning to film? The issue of the virtual arises in film with CGI (Computer Generated Images), which leads back to the distinction between imitation and simulation. But beyond that distinction, the issue really boils down to the fact that film, even when it features CGI-created environments and virtual characters, does not possess the interactive characteristics of VR, which in turn leads us back to film-spectator relation theories. A future, more interactive development in the nature of film brings us back to Zizek: we do not like *interactive* narrative, Zizek contends, because of the excessive freedom it entails, which leaves us frustrated. Virtuality's excess of liberty thus leads back to the *unbearable closure of being*. It would have been of particular interest had Zizek tackled this question within the field of cinema. As it is, his text, although very thought provoking, seems to be somewhat out of place in this collection of essays, ill fitted to the categories delineated above.

 

Four essays, each one considering Freud's image, be it in script or on film, make up a second category: David James Fisher's 'Sartre's Freud: Dimensions of Intersubjectivity in _The Freud Scenario_'; 'Freud as Adventurer' by Peter Wollen; Janet Walker's 'Textual Trauma in _Kings Row_ and _Freud_'; and 'Freud and the Psychoanalytic Situation on the Screen' by Alain de Mijolla. It is interesting to note that the two essays written by psychoanalysts (Fisher and de Mijolla) deal with the question of how Freud is represented, be it in Sartre's scripted vision, Huston's 1962 movie _Freud_, or other fictional and non-fictional films. Whereas Freud was concerned with the impossibility to represent the method he created, his followers dwell on the modalities of Freud's representation. Yet these concerns intersect at one point in Alain de Mijolla's essay, in a fascinating development in the issue of figuration. De Mijolla himself acknowledges that: 'Nothing, in fact, is less cinematic [than the psychoanalytic situation], because nothing is less visual or less apt to provide the material for a dramatic scene, except in rare moments.' (196-197) Yet he describes _1919_, a somewhat obscure 1985 British film by Hugh Brody, as being the 'only film, to my knowledge, that can give analysts the feeling of an authentic perception of what happens during the course of psychoanalytic therapy' (196). This is perhaps made possible because of the fact that the psychoanalytic situation is not represented frontally in Brody's picture, but indirectly, through the fictive reunion of two of Freud's former patients who reminisce about their treatment and about the father of psychoanalysis through flashbacks and old newsreels. The situation itself replicates the therapeutic one, as 'both the patient and the analyst pursue, in parallel, the evocation of someone who is missing and around whom their conscious discourse is organized as well as their silences and their unconscious fantasies' (198). This is a clever way to represent, without actually representing it, the 'absent third party' (198) that is a *fantasmatic organizer*, something Freud had thought was impossible. Once again, this shows, as Stephen Heath emphasized in his essay, how the issue of figuration appears to be the cornerstone of the parallel histories of cinema and psychoanalysis, a thread leading through the eclecticism of the essays collected in _Endless Night_.

 

Fisher's essay focuses on Sartre between 1958 and 1960, when Sartre was writing the script for Huston's film _Freud_, also known as _The Freud Scenario_. This time marked a crucial change in the writer's lifelong relation with psychoanalysis. In the two years he worked on the Freud scenario, Sartre seemed to recognize psychoanalytic notions (such as the Unconscious) that he rejected before and after this unique time. Sartre's violent subsequent refutation of psychoanalysis and of the Freud scenario can account for the fact that this particular text by Sartre is seldom studied. Fisher discusses Sartre's rare ability to understand backgrounds other than his own, and underlines three fundamental aspects in Freud's life that the French writer emphasized in the script: the turn-of-the-century anti-Semitism; Freud's intersubjective method; and the father-son relationship. Fisher ties in Freud's intersubjective developing of the psychoanalytic cure with Sartre's writing of the scenario: 'In composing a fictional biography of Freud, I believe that Sartre was pursuing his own self-analysis and writing part of his own autobiography.' (129) Yet Fisher never considers that perhaps Sartre is working through his own father-son relationship, in the same way Sartre shows Freud doing so in the Freud scenario; many elements, such as Sartre's ambivalence towards the father of psychoanalysis, his shift from refuting to almost embracing psychoanalytic concepts, only to reject psychoanalysis totally thereafter, and his uncanny ability to understand Freud and his background, all point toward this possibility.

 

Janet Walker makes a profoundly interesting analysis of the parallel between the excision of incest from filmic material and its excision from psychoanalytic theory, which leads to the emergence of textual scars in film. In John Huston's _Freud_, as in Freud's etiology of hysteria, references to the reality of childhood seduction are eliminated, although there are many cases in *real life* in which incest is in fact committed, as statistics show. Textual scarring, writes Walker, serves as 'a strategy to give covert expression to a deeply troubling subject'. (172) The repressed topic resurfaces in the intertext, the material surrounding the filmic text: the various scripts for Huston's film _Freud_ show how the idea of an actual incest was slowly removed from the text, and was finally not to appear at all in the movie. This repression from textual consciousness leads to dissociation, or *textual trauma*: Walker shows how in another film, Sam Wood's _Kings Row_, incest is simultaneously denied yet still emerges sporadically. Walker offers a real psychoanalytic understanding of the texts' substance, a superb example of psychoanalysis as a tool to push the cinematic envelope. As such, her essay reaches over into the third group of essays.

 

The third section delineated in _Endless Night_ centers on psychoanalytic concepts applied to film and includes the following pieces: Ayako Saito's 'Hitchcock's Trilogy: A Logic of Mise en Scene'; 'More! From Melodrama to Magnitude' by Joan Copjec; and 'Chantal Akerman: Splitting' by Janet Bergstrom. From the viewpoint of one who studies the *aesthetics* of cinema, this last section stands out as the most inspiring of the three categories delineated above. Copjec's essay offers an in-depth analysis of the hysterical fantasy in _Stella Dallas_ through free-indirect speech; Bergstrom's study of Chantal Akerman's mother-daughter relationship from the standpoint of Andre Green's essay on 'The Dead Mother' provides an understanding of this filmmaker's oeuvre and of her approach to film; Ayako Saito's 'Hitchcock's Trilogy: A Logic of Mise en Scene' explores the concept of affect in the cinematic text; this concept has not been studied much in psychoanalytically informed film theory until now, mainly, Saito contends, because of the emphasis put by the Lacanian model on language and the gaze, and its dismissal of affect as being too empirical. Saito defines affect as 'any kind of feeling or emotion *attached to ideas*' (202) and related to the drives; affects are present not only in the narrative, but also in its visual style and its overall mood. Using the writings of French psychoanalyst Andre Green, she analyzes the trilogy, _Vertigo_, _North by Northwest_, and _Psycho_, as a textual whole on the basis of three thoroughly researched psychopathological structures with specific symptoms, defense mechanisms, and configurations of affect: melancholia, mania, and paranoia/schizophrenia. Looking for the text's affective logic, Saito found a clinical and filmic continuity in the progression from one state to the next, not only between the films but within them as well:

 

'The apparently different styles of the trilogy are inter- and intra-textually connected, once we understand them in the light of an underlying affective logic, namely the incorporation of a loss which the subject is unable to recognize because it was buried before being registered and thus its wound was unable to heal.' (235)

 

In each film, the mother stands out as the unattainable object: the mad mother Madeleine (Carlotta) in _Vertigo_; the phallic mother, Mrs Thornhill, in _North by Northwest_; and the dead mother, Mrs Bates, in _Psycho_: 'The secret fiction which runs through the trilogy is a fiction of madness, haunted by the mad/bad/dead mother, which transposes affect into rhythms, signs, and forms, and from which different cinematic styles are generated.' (235) Saito's approach opens new paths for psychoanalytic film theory, not only because it takes into account the oft-ignored question of affect, but also because that very concept spans different aspects of cinematic figuration: from the overall textual mood and on-screen representation, to the use of camera techniques, character portrayal, and dialogue.

 

Looking at _Endless Night_ from the standpoint of its audience, one can say that this book is clearly a collection of high caliber essays intended for scholars with a good knowledge of cinema and psychoanalysis. Most essays are written by academics who have been studying the question of psychoanalytic film theory since its inception in the 1970s and contributing to its development. _Endless Night_ doesn't provide the contents of past theorizing, which are simply compared to what is being debated today. This entails that newcomers to the field of *cinema and psychoanalysis* (including psychoanalysts not familiar with these concepts) have to read up on the basics of psychoanalytic film theory in another anthology. Bergstrom does, however, supply a succinct bibliography to that effect. The same stands true for readers with no psychoanalytic knowledge in the field of Lacanian theory. This being said, most of the essays, especially those studying Freud's image on film and those applying psychoanalytic concepts to the understanding of cinematic texts, are readily understandable to readers with psychoanalytic knowledge, given that they look into some concepts within film theory. To those interested in the more concrete aspects of *cinema and psychoanalysis*, the essays dealing with psychoanalytic notions applied to film, categorized in this review into the last section, demonstrate new ways to work with *cinema and psychoanalysis* and clearly stand out as the most inspiring part of _Endless Night_. In my opinion, given the scope of the field, it would have been easier for the reader to focus on their main points of interest, browse through the book, or apprehend it in its entirety, if the essays had been split up into different sections. Without such a structure, it is harder to draw ideas from _Endless Night_, which makes a fascinating collection of essays appear somewhat disparate at first reading.

 

In my view, too many goals are being pursued in this book, which can also account for the book's eclecticism. Besides its main goal to appeal to psychoanalysts, _Endless Night_ aims to provide scholars with an update on the state of psychoanalytic film theory and on 'the current form of [scholars'] engagement with *psychoanalysis and cinema*' (2). This second objective does not facilitate the first task of drawing psychoanalysts into the debate, if they cannot fully understand the concepts being discussed without some prior research. Bergstrom puts yet another purpose forward, writing that _Endless Night_ 'emphasizes the history of psychoanalytic film theory' (4). She draws attention to the fact that the evolution of psychoanalytically informed film theory highlights a shift toward historical analysis, largely due to new technology in film preservation and access to information; this tendency has already been noted by Glen O. Gabbard and Krin Gabbard, who write that 'debates over the application of psychoanalysis to film study during the early 1990s took place at the same time that a number of scholars moved away from film theory and toward more historical and/or text-oriented work'. [7] _Endless Night_ succeeds, as Bergstrom points out, in demonstrating 'not only that *history* and *theory* have a strong bearing on each other, but that film theory must be written with a strong sense of historical consciousness' (4).

 

Geneva, Switzerland

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. The term 'endless night' is taken from a line in Jim Jarmusch's _Dead Man_ (1995).

 

2. Glen O. Gabbard and Krin Gabbard, _Psychiatry and the Cinema_, second ed. (Washington, DC.: American Psychiatric Press, 1999), p. 202.

 

3. E. Ann Kaplan, ed., _Psychoanalysis and Cinema_ (New York: Routledge, 1990).

 

4. Nicolas Tredell, ed., _Cinemas of the Mind. A Critical History of Film Theory_ (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2002), p. 152.

 

5. _Geheimnisse einer Seele_, G.W. Pabst, 1926.

 

6. Sigmund Freud, quoted by J-B. Pontalis, 'Preface', in Jean-Paul Sartre, _Le Scenario Freud_ (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), p. 21.

 

7. Gabbard and Gabbard, _Psychiatry and the Cinema_, p. 198.

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003

 

 

Briana Berg, 'Film Theory, Psychoanalysis, and Figuration: On _Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 28, September 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n28berg>.

 

 

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