Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 29, September 2003

 

 

Richard Stamp

 

Our Friend Zizek:

On _The Fright of Real Tears_

 

 

Slavoj Zizek

_The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory_

London: British Film Institute, 2001

ISBN 0851707548 (pbk)

240 pp.

 

In a spirit of provocation that Slavoj Zizek has made very much his own, let me begin with a quotation from a report of his 1998 lectures at the Museum of the Moving Image in London.

 

''For me, life exists only insofar as I can theorize it', he confesses. 'I can be bored to death by a movie, but if you give me a good theory, I will gladly erase the past in an Orwellian fashion and claim that I have always enjoyed it!''. [1]

 

Who would not admit to recognising themselves in this 'Orwellian' confession? It touches upon the pleasure of refashioning one's relation to a thing, rewinding the film and playing it again. Yet it should also provoke unease: what is the relation between the theory and the movie? What conception of exemplarity operates here? More allergic reactions to such a statement can be imagined: for example, it could only confirm the suspicions of 'post-theoretical' film scholars with regard to the universalising tendencies of film theory, or 'Grand Theory' as they call it. 'Aha!' they might cry. 'He admits to it -- he *is* being loose with film. He is a fickle, inconstant, unfaithful lover of film.' [2] In short, Zizek's confession can only be more fuel to the accusation that film theory 'puts the theory before the film'. However, it is also worth pointing out that this suspicion might be undermined by the all-inclusive scope of Zizek's phrase: '*life* exists only insofar as I can theorize it'. As if to say: 'if it's reductive/universalising Theory that you're after . . . !'

 

Those who have even a cursory acquaintance with his writings will attest that Zizek is a skilled and entertaining polemicist. For those who have yet to encounter him, I could do worse than echo Terry Eagleton's oft-cited testimony that Zizek is 'the most formidably brilliant exponent of psychoanalysis, indeed of cultural theory in general, to have emerged from Europe in some decades'. Indeed, Zizek's books have helped to resurrect Lacanian psychoanalytic theory as a tool for understanding debates over ideology and agency in post-Marxism, by mining two rich but underused seams in Lacan's writings: first, their debt to German philosophy, specifically post-Kantian Idealism (Hegel and Schelling); and second, its potential for application to popular culture (cinema in particular). His books juxtapose expositions of Lacanian concepts (which, incidentally, are clearer and more accessible than the originals) with witty, decisive analyses of cinematic examples. It is just this relation between theory and example that troubles me in reading Zizek's _The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory_.

 

Allow me to explain. The editor's guiding notes to writing a review article for _Film-Philosophy_ asks contributors to consider three things: the usefulness of the book; its effects upon the views of the reviewer; and the extent of its use of the specificity of film. Now, leaving aside the first two headings for the moment, I must admit to finding the third much more problematic and therefore interesting -- particularly in reading _The Fright of Real Tears_. In the Introduction, Zizek states that his task is 'not to talk *about* [Kieslowski's] work, but to refer to his work in order to accomplish the *work* of Theory' (9). He gleefully admits that his approach is predicated upon a 'very ruthless 'use' of its artistic pretext', but then immediately claims for it a higher fidelity than that of a 'superficial respect for the work's unfathomable autonomy' (9). So is this book about Kieslowski, or even film in any *specific* way? At first sight, then, it would appear that Zizek himself has no qualms about the specificity of film. But does this equate with 'putting the theory before the film'? This is by no means a straightforward issue.

 

If by specificity we mean that which is particular to the matter in hand (in this case, film), then Zizek's 'ruthless 'use'' of the cinematic text needs to be understood in the context of his comments on the dialectical relation of particularity and universality. Crucially for Zizek, the universal must be understood as (Hegelian) 'concrete universality': 'the fundamental lesson of dialectics is that universality as such emerges, is articulated 'for itself', only within a set of particular conditions' (8). In short, this means that the terms in which the 'specificity' of film is to be thought cannot be assumed to be self-evident, obvious, or universal. But it also means, however, that there is no way of 'being specific' that is not also always already on the way to 'becoming universal'. Hence, the task of analysis, he argues, is not to reduce the universal to such particularity as its fundamental truth, but rather to show how the universal nevertheless *becomes* universal, in contingency. For example: we may know something of the biographical facts 'behind' a director's work -- Kieslowski and Poland in the 1970s/80s, in this instance -- but that doesn't help to tell us why his films nevertheless appeal to an audience who don't have any such knowledge. Thus, to look for the universal in the particular would seem to be the job of film theory as such -- but what *kind* of theory can best analyse this necessary contingency of the universal?

 

 

1. Zizek between Theory and Post-Theory

 

This brings us to the matter of the books subtitle: _Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory_. (The title will be considered later.) Here, Kieslowski's work is to be suspended in-between the antinomy of Theory and Post-Theory, whose critique constitutes the real task of this book. Zizek's '*work* of Theory' is a reinterpretation of the possible applications of Lacanian psychoanalysis to cinema. By setting himself against what he sees as partial, or reductive, readings of Lacan in 1970s and 80s film theory -- he means _Screen_ theory, in particular -- he is able to exploit a weakness of Post-Theoretical film scholarship. According to David Bordwell and Noel Carroll's own introduction to _Post-Theory_ (1996), the *one thing* that defines and unites these varied 'low-level' empirical theories is their common *refusal* of 'Grand Theory': the psychoanalytic film theory whose 'ethereal speculations' have been presented hitherto as the 'indispensable frame of reference for understanding all filmic phenomena'. [3] 'Theory' in its 'Grand' form is nothing more than a straw man. But where Post-Theory seeks to exorcise the spectre dominating academia, Zizek instead looks for the return of the repressed, asking: what if the 'Lacanian' or 'psychoanalytic theory' that Post-Theorists have claimed is so dominant in film studies, was never really *properly* 'Lacanian' in the first place? What if Lacanians were precisely what had been 'missing' in film theory? [4]

 

Take the notion of 'the Gaze', for example. Post-Theorists condemn it as a 'mythical entity', as a spurious transcendental summoned by film theory without any corresponding empirical evidence in the real experiences of real spectators (34). At one level, this is a fair criticism, in so far as psychoanalytical film theory has always presumed to know how audiences watch films: as spectators, we may look at a film in any number of different ways, so why should the (capitalised) 'Gaze' become the privileged case of cinematic perception? (The tension here, once again, lies between the particular and the universal, the example and the theory.) Zizek affirms that 'the Gaze' is indeed 'missing', but he does so in order to draw attention to the conceptual presuppositions of the Post-Theoretical position: the idea that empirical cognitivist research into (real) audiences and their responses to (specific) films presumes a 'commonsense notion of the spectator', one that is fixed within the apparent transparency of the subject-object relation (34). [5] The Lacanian 'Gaze', as Zizek accounts for it, turns out not to be an attribute, or activity, of a subject. Instead, it is 'on the side of the object', in the sense that it marks 'the point from which the viewed object itself 'returns the Gaze' and regards us, the spectators' (34). The way that Zizek describes it, linking it to a fault in the operation of suture, 'the Gaze' is *the* cinematic expression of the uncanny (Freud's 'Unheimlich'): the object or thing to which the spectator's view becomes attached strictly speaking cannot provide us with a 'point of view'; it is 'the spectre of a free-floating Gaze' (33), inverting the poles of subject and object.

 

This spectral Gaze, like the operation of suture itself, is not an exchange of direct point-of-view shots (which are only very rarely exact), yet unlike suture, which classically 'subjectivises' this exchange into point-of-view shots, the subjective status of the second shot is *impossible*. Suture necessarily fails, not because an 'objective shot' has not been 'subjectivised' (which happens all the time, more frequently than the 'classic' suture shot, in fact [6]), but because here is a point-of-view shot that remains unattached to an identifiable *subject* within the diegetic 'reality' of the film. The example provided -- perhaps not surprisingly for the author/editor of _Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Too Afraid to Ask Hitchcock)_ (1992) -- is from Hitchcock's _The Birds_ (1963). The impossible point of view is evidenced in the famous aerial shot of the burning garage, which is re-signified as the position of the seagulls as they survey the chaos they have caused. Of course, the recourse to Hitchcock will do nothing to assuage Post-Theoretical suspicions that film theory universalises on the basis of the same few films or filmmakers. But Zizek doesn't aim to assuage, only to exacerbate. His analysis of such examples is polemical: it is aimed at the philosophical (cognitivist) underpinnings of Post-Theory, which he argues cannot allow for any gap between the functional relation of mental representation and rational agency (61). Yet such a gap in subjectivity is precisely what allows for precisely those things of most interest in the relation between the subject and cinematic experience -- the mediating role played by perceptual distortion, the virtual, phantasm, or the unconscious. For Zizek, this gap is not 'in' the subject as such, but rather is constitutive of it as subject in the first place. So everything in his argument hinges on the notions of the subject and of its constitutive 'gap' or absence, which is why he returns, again and again, to the concept of suture -- that cornerstone of _Screen_ theory.

 

In reclaiming suture, and with it psychoanalytical film theorizing in general, Zizek's '*work* of Theory' is a redemptive work. If the notion of suture is in need of redeeming, it is because 'the time of suture seems to have irrevocably passed: in the present day cultural studies version of Theory, the term barely occurs' (31). For Zizek, this near absence of the term is to be taken as a sign of film studies' decline. This is very interesting, for it signals the other side of the antinomy in this books subtitle. At first, it seems that Post-Theory is Zizek's target in _The Fright of Real Tears_, but it soon becomes clear that it in fact serves as a stalking horse for this 'present day cultural studies version of Theory', which is also called (variously): 'post-modern/deconstructionist cultural studies' (2); 'standard deconstructionist cinema theory' (7); or '(deconstructionist) Theory' (14). His argument runs as follows: although the notion of 'Grand Theory', conceived by 'Post-theorists' as a totalising 'Theory of Everything', is nothing more than bad parody or a caricature, it is not completely without merit. The Post-Theory parody of Theory at least offers a glimpse of 'a certain deconstructionist 'post-modern' ideology that accompanies Theory proper as its indelible shadow' (5). In other words, it offers us a parody of a parody (of 'Theory proper').

 

Now, no one ever uses the word 'deconstructionist' to be nice. Like cultural studies, it serves as the scapegoat of choice for those who wish bemoan the disintegration (moral or otherwise) of the humanities, of the social sciences, of the university, of the English language and so on. But what exactly is this *standard* 'deconstructionist cinema theory'? Who are its practitioners? And what are its practices, its concepts, its ideologies, or its 'jargon', for that matter? Zizek doesn't say. No names or examples are given, but the intention is clear even if its object is not. He wants to rescue and redeem 'Theory proper' by marking it out from its 'deconstructionist' double, (improper?) 'Theory', and it is far more efficacious to leave this nemesis in the shadows than engage with the arguments/theories of specific texts. As Bordwell and Carroll would no doubt attest, 'ethereal' spectres make for easier targets.

 

To my ears, though, it's the very phrase 'Grand Theory' that is just wrong. Like Zizek's references to 'standard deconstructionist cinema theory', or 'deconstructionist 'post-modern' ideology', its object simply doesn't exist. In fact, the name seems to fly in the face of the distinct *lack* of such a unified and hegemonic 'theory of everything'. There can be no 'unified field theory' -- as the very proliferation of *theories* attests. This messy proliferation of approaches that is so cleverly captured by the label, 'Grand Theory', in fact reveals the opposite: the contingency of *every* discourse and claim to knowledge. The irreducible messiness of theories should draw attention to the importance of the context, situation, and relation of every text, in so far as the meaning-effects of any 'text' can be constituted only through such (competing/conflicting) relations. I fear that this seems to be stating the obvious. But my suspicion here is that the underlying motive for using this homogenising label, 'Grand Theory', is in fact the desire to stem this promiscuous multiplication and hybridisation of theories by saying: 'look at this thing here, *this* is what 'Theory' is. Now, at last, we can put it behind us.'

 

This is Zizek's critical point about Post-Theory, yet it is one he never applies reflectively. Whatever my reservations about the motivations behind his quasi-dialectical triad of 'Theory/Post-Theory/Theory proper', and its not-so concealed attack on deconstruction and cultural studies, his strategy here is still useful in treating this conflict as more than just a difference of theoretical approach. This is because he sees the distinction between the 'cognitivist' approach at the heart of Post-Theory and the 'historicist' perspective of cultural studies/Theory as representative of a broader clash between 'two totally different modalities or, rather, *practices* of knowledge, inclusive of two different institutional apparatuses of knowledge'. [7] Such a conflict is not only evident within the institution as a whole, but also in the fields of film studies and cultural studies as disciplines within such an institution. The stakes of this conflict should not be overlooked (and there is plenty more to be said on this question). For it touches upon the necessary task of subjecting all such discourses, which includes the application of cognitive science and Lacanian psychoanalysis to film, to the kind of symptomological reading that Zizek is surely demanding of 'deconstructive cultural studies'. And yet it is characteristic of Zizek to preclude the consideration that his own position of 'Theory proper' might also find its condition of possibility within such an institutionally and historically situated struggle. Zizek at once diagnoses the historical field of knowledge and disavows his own position within it. Suffice it to say that there is an interesting substitutive chain at work here, whereby the apparent 'thesis' of this book (as signaled by its subtitle) gives way to his '*work* of Theory'. In other words, Zizek reserves for *himself* (as the proper representative of 'Theory proper') the place of the excluded middle 'between Theory and Post-Theory', thereby supplanting the name of 'Krzysztof Kieslowski' from its place in the subtitle.

 

 

2. The fright of (those) real tears

 

But what about Kieslowski (and his films), in a book which states so clearly that it's aim is 'not to talk *about* his work'? The book's title, _The Fright of Real Tears_, is derived from the director's explanation -- in conversation with Danusia Stok -- for his move from documentaries to feature films:

 

'Not everything can be described. That's the documentary's great problem. It catches itself as if in its own trap. The closer it wants to get to somebody, the more that person shuts him or herself off from it . . . I managed to photograph some real tears several times. It's something completely different. But now I've got glycerine. I'm frightened of those real tears. In fact, I don't know whether I've got the right to photograph them. At such times I feel like somebody who's found himself in a realm which [sic] is, in fact, out of bounds. That's the main reason why I escaped from documentary.' [8]

 

Not surprisingly, this passage -- and the central chapter ('Now I've Got Glycerine!') in which it appears -- is pivotal for Zizek's interpretation of Kieslowski (such as it exists) in this book. At its heart lies the apparent paradox that it is Kieslowski's '*fidelity* to the Real' (71, my emphasis) that explains his move from documentary realism to feature filmmaking. So it is worth following the turns of Zizek's argument. Kieslowski's career begins with documentaries, a fact that Zizek links to the specific conditions of socialist Europe, where the gap between official images and the drabness of social reality meant that simply to describe something could be to bring it to life. For Zizek, however, the truth of this situation lies in its inversion: 'at the most radical level, one can render the Real of subjective experience only in the guise of a fiction' (71-2). Why is this?

 

As Kieslowski states in the passage cited above, 'not everything can be described': the documentary filmmaker stumbles upon the obscenity of intruding into the intimacies of others. (Zizek wonders aloud here whether the judge in _Rouge_ is not a rather obvious self-portrait of the director himself.) Hence the need for a fictional supplement, which introduces the undecidability of the mask: are the masks provided by fiction simply a sign of discretion with regard to what should remain concealed or unspoken? Or does the moment of fictional 'play' allow for the repressed and inadmissible to be displayed? In short: does fiction pretend or does it reveal? This is not all that revolutionary of course, especially when Zizek reveals that because everyday social reality is so reliant upon the use of masks, it is possible that fiction can be 'more real than the social reality of playing roles' (75). Whilst this is a rather tired point, it is used to better effect to undercut claims that Kieslowski's 'fictional' films -- particularly _Dekalog_ (1988), _La Double vie de Veronique_ (1991) and the _Trois couleurs_ trilogy (1993-4) -- are the work of a 'spiritual mystic'. Instead, Zizek casts Kieslowski as a *materialist* of the mysterious: the fact that these films express a preoccupation with parallel lives and alternative realities, uncanny contingencies and inexorable-inexplicable chains of events, is not the sign of a strictly apolitical, 'new age' sensibility; instead, such layering of subterranean links and motifs reaches back into Kieslowski's documentary filmmaking. The documentary filmmaker is faced with a mass of accumulated material that is not reducible to a single narrative line, but requires formal patterning in ways that develop a story through repetition and rhythm. (One might illustrate this by pointing to the steady proliferation of red-coloured objects and the ever-more insistent bolero theme in Kieslowski's final film, _Rouge_ (1994), although Zizek does not. I will take this up later.)

 

At the end of this analysis comes Zizek's final inversion, when he considers Kieslowski's retirement from filmmaking: 'was the abandonment of even the fiction movies not caused by an insight into how fictions are in a way even more vulnerable than reality?' (77). For Zizek, this 'retreat' obeys the same 'inexorable inherent logic' as his move from documentary to fiction, a logic that is set in motion by his 'fright of real tears'. How are fictions 'even more vulnerable'? Set against the documentary intrusion into private 'reality', fiction films expose '*dreams themselves*, secret fantasies that form the unavowed kernel of our lives' (77). So once again, Zizek's analysis ends up at this 'kernel' of 'the Real': the 'fictionalised element' (66) of the glycerine tears represents not a retreat from reality, but an encounter with something 'more Real than reality itself'; something to which (documentary) 'realism' is inappropriate. But this is all far too easy. The 'inexorable inherent logic' of the fright of real tears is striking in its similarity (identity, to be more accurate) to every other example of the structurally perverse unavowed or inexpressible 'kernel' of 'the Real' in his work. [9] This replication of a particular theoretical model is compounded when Zizek uses the distinction of real and fictional tears to map out the schema with which he will structure the entire analysis of Kieslowski in the final two sections of the book: in the final chapter (supposedly on the _Trois couleurs_ trilogy), he states explicitly that the move from real to fictional tears maps the trajectory of Kieslowski's work as a whole. He notes that the endings of _Bleu_, _Blanc_ and _Rouge_ all feature a central character crying:

 

'It is thus quite appropriate that Kieslowski's opus, whose beginnings are marked with the fright of *real* tears, ends with the outburst of *fictional* tears. These tears are not the tears of breaking the protective wall and letting oneself go, expressing one's spontaneity of feeling, but theatrical, staged tears, the tears of regained distance, 'canned tears' . . . or, to quote the ancient Roman poet, *lacrimae rerum*, tears shed in public for the big Other, precisely and even when we cared nothing for (or even hated) the deceased whom we are mourning.' (178)

 

This is not simply an empirical observation -- i.e. he used to make documentaries, now he makes feature films -- but is rigged up to a fully ontological argument: what is meaningful in his feature films is precisely this psychical investment in fictionalising. For Zizek, it is this gap between the explicit statement (the tears) and the position of enunciation (happiness) that gets automatically filled in when we do not pay attention to the unspoken, the unseen, the unconscious in film.

 

Given the ontological weight to be carried by this notion of 'real tears', it should be noted that when Zizek cites this passage the word 'those' goes missing. In his rendition, the two key lines from the passage are given as: 'But now I've got glycerine. I'm frightened of real tears.' (72) This elision of a deictic adjective -- '*those* real tears' -- is doubtless accidental, but it is nonetheless revealing. For Zizek, everything comes down to 'the Real' in the final analysis, in so far as it names that fundamental lack/surplus that structures the field of the intelligible and the interpretable: i.e. the impossibility of saying everything, or of accounting completely for reality, that is in fact absolutely necessary to knowing something in the first place. This necessary impossibility is recognizable from deconstructive formulations of the limits of representation and interpretation. In the work of Jacques Derrida, for example, one can identify a series of such quasi-transcendental terms -- such as 'difference', 'trace', 'writing', 'iterability', 'pharmakon', 'teleiopoesis', and so on -- that define (and perform) a similar problematic, but without being reducible to versions of the same 'logic'. With Zizek the situation is different: 'the Real' is what 'really' names this logic of the lack/surplus, irrespective of context or history. There can be only '*the* Real', not 'this' or 'that', so the question of the contingency of '*those* real tears' cannot be addressed. Once again, disavowal accompanies diagnosis

 

To theorise this disavowal more precisely, one might usefully adapt Judith Butler's general observation that Zizek's examples 'serve to illustrate various principles of psychic reality without ever clarifying the relation between the social example and the psychic principle'. [10] For Butler, Zizek's direct theoretical leap from the example to the 'a priori' principle (such as 'the Real') is part of a more general tendency to eschew the messiness of social-political entanglements (such as the *instability* of social norms or the *plurality* of discursive practices and powers). She asks decisively:

 

'On the one hand, we are to accept that 'the Real' means nothing other than the constitutive limit of the subject; yet on the other hand, why is it that any effort to refer to the constitutive limit of the subject in ways that do not use that nomenclature are considered a failure to understand its proper operation? Are we using the categories to understand the phenomena, or marshalling the phenomena to shore up the categories 'in the name of the Father', if you will?' [11]

 

Her point applies to the use of filmic examples because, if these examples function solely as a 'lens' to focus our understanding upon an a priori psychic reality, then the example is only ever in a *formal* relation with the theory it illustrates. It is an abstract, empty, non-specific relation between form (example) and content (theory), akin to that of 'allegory'. [12] So it might be advisable to trace the outline of such allegorization in Zizek's treatment of cinematic examples.

 

The privileged allegory of theory and example in _The Fright of Real Tears_ is, as I have already suggested, one of *redemption*: on the one hand, Zizek is concerned with rescuing Kieslowski from the unfortunate reputation of being an apolitical, 'spiritual' filmmaker; and on the other, with rescuing semiotic film theory from misuse and misrepresentation by *both* Post-Theory and ('deconstructionist') Theory. The work of Kieslowski, as we have already remarked, is the object of the unfaithful fidelity of Zizek's '*work* of Theory' as it works through the antinomy of Theory/Post-Theory. So should we expect anything specific about his films from Zizek?

 

Let us take his comments on the final shots of Kieslowski's final film, _Rouge_, for example. What is perhaps most striking here is that Zizek doesn't pick up on the most important aspects of the final shots in _Rouge_: that the TV image of Valentine is the uncanny double of the poster image; and that the formal neatness of this finale (to the film and thus to the trilogy as a whole) is powerfully undercut by the knowledge that over 1400 people from the ferry have been reported dead. Death haunts the final image(s) of _Red_ at a number of levels that Zizek seems unable to register: when he reads the final 'frozen profile' of Valentine as an inversion of the conventional freeze-frame image of the dead -- where 'Valentine is turned into a spectre *while she is still alive*' (179) -- he precisely ignores the way this image is very carefully slowed to the precise point at which its composition replicates her profile in the poster. Zizek knows this (he had commented on this doubling in an earlier chapter!), but he chooses not to mention it. Why? The function of repetition, which is so central to the trilogy as a whole, but especially to _Rouge_, is almost entirely missing in his account.

 

This absence of interpretation of Kieslowski's use of repetition and multiplication is a serious and perplexing miscalculation, to the extent that we might consider the director's own comments on key thematic elements in the film (in the 'masterclass' included on the DVD release of _Rouge_) as a useful supplement to Zizek's (lack of) argument about this film. Introducing the pivotal sequence in the film, which begins when the judge's dog, Rita, escapes from Valentine and runs into a church, Kieslowski points out a specific detail in the shot of Rita running into the church: the camera holds the shot on the front of the church as Valentine runs up *in order that* we might remember having seen the same church, from the same position a few scenes earlier, when Valentine stops to drink from a bottle of water. [13] _Rouge_ is littered with such repetitions: from the numerous red items in the film to specific situations or scenes that are repeated like musical refrains -- the road junction at which Auguste, the young version of Kern the judge, drops his books is where he will later stop to regard the large poster image of Valentine; the broken beer glass in the bowling alley repeats in both the clear plastic coffee cup that Valentine crushes in her hand at her final meeting with Kern, as well as in the broken window behind which we see Kern cry in the closing shots of the film. Like the refrain in musical composition, this device operates as a structural principle in the film:

 

'In _Rouge_, in particular, we wanted the viewer to think backwards, to make associations with things he had already seen without noticing . . . Of course, it's not important, it's just one of many points. But we tried to build up these signs, particularly in _Rouge_, so the viewer would realise that what he sees here, he has already seen, and would register that in some part of his subconscious.' [14]

 

Certainly, the structural device of deja vu is not unique to this director, or to this film, but the frequency and density of these 'signs' in _Rouge_ is remarkable. With so many structuring repetitions to pick up on, Kieslowski's avowed aim is for the viewer to 'understand the principle'. But what is the 'principle' here? That what is important to grasp is the sense in which things work backwards in time: that what one sees 'has already been seen', triggered at a level that cannot be attributed to intention or volition. At what point can we separate 'the unconscious' from what we refer to as 'memory' or 'imagination'? This brings us closer to what is productive in Zizek's argument -- an insistence upon the phantasmal and the unconscious -- than anything he himself has to say.

 

As a book about Kieslowski, therefore, _The Fright of Real Tears_ is woefully wanting in this kind of textual engagement. I cannot see how _Kinoeye_, for instance, could have called it 'probably the most incisive analysis of the director's work to date'. [15] Especially in so far as this would seem to fly in the face of the author's stated intentions to the contrary. Such a judgment is also hard to credit when the final chapter, which ostensibly addresses the _Trois couleurs_ trilogy, only addresses the first instalment (_Bleu_) in any detail. [16] What is said about _Blanc_ and _Rouge_ is little more than an adjunct to this analysis, and although he makes references to _Rouge_ at various points throughout the book, Zizek's comments on _Blanc_ -- 'the most 'political' of the three films' -- consist only of a single half-page paragraph. But then again, this is *not* a book about Kieslowski: its measure of fidelity is defined by a 'very ruthless 'use' of its artistic pretext'. It is just this unfaithful fidelity in Zizek's book(s) that cannot fail to provoke not only those with allergic reactions to (film) theory, but also anyone for whom 'the specificity of film' would seem to be something worth divining (whether that takes place within or without the academy). It is for this reason that Zizek is our friend, at least if we keep in mind Kant's definition of the friend as 'the one who will help us to correct our judgment when it is mistaken'. [17] This was a role played in Kant's own life by J. G. Hamann, whose words we might ventriloquise into Zizek's mouth: 'I'm not one of your listeners. Instead I'm your prosecutor who contradicts you'. [18] Zizek nowadays is often exhorting us to love thy neighbour by acknowledging the propriety of hatred (in so far as my neighbour is always the one whose presence is most unbearable for me -- his prime example of the neighbourly relation is that of Israelis and Palestinians, or Europeans and asylum seekers). We need to learn to listen more attentively, more lovingly to Zizek's prosecutions if we are to counter them all the more thoroughly and decisively.

 

Bath Spa University College, UK

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. Cited in Robert S. Boynton, 'Enjoy Your Zizek!: An Excitable Slovenian Philosopher Examines the Obscene Practices of Everyday Life -- Including His Own' (1998) <http://home.mira.net/~andy/seminars/enjoy.htm>. This series of lectures in the summer of 1998 would appear to have been the occasion that gave rise to _The Fright of Real Tears_ being written -- cf. Colin MacCabe's preface to the book (pp. vii-ix).

 

2. Here I am obviously, and rather shamelessly, putting words in the mouths of scholars such as David Bordwell and Noel Carroll, whose co-edited volume _Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies_ (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996) has provided this label. See Bruce Bennett's incisive review-article on this book, aptly titled 'Misrecognizing Film Studies', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 4 no. 5, February 2000 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol4-2000/n5bennett>. For a contrasting yet equally tendentious response, see Asbjorn Gronstad, 'The Appropriational Fallacy: Grand Theories and the Neglect of Film Form', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 23, August 2002 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol6-2002/n23gronstad>.

 

3. David Bordwell and Noel Carroll, eds, _Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies_ (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), p. xiii.

 

4. The title of this book's Introduction is: 'The Case of the Missing Lacanians'. This point is underlined by an alternate version of the subtitle, which is listed on some websites as _Uses and Misuses of Lacan in Film Theory_ -- see the entry on Blackwell's online bookshop, for example.

 

5. Slavoj Zizek, _Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out_, second edition (London: Routledge, 1992/2001), p. 201.

 

6. As William Rothman pointed out in his response to Daniel Dayan's 'The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema' (1974). See 'Against 'The System of Suture'' (1975), in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds, _Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings_, fifth edition (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 130-6. Zizek references this essay during this part of his argument.

 

7. Slavoj Zizek, _Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions on the (Mis)use of a Notion_ (London: Verso, 2001), pp. 226-7.

 

8. Krzysztof Kieslowski, in Danusia Stok, ed., _Kieslowski on Kieslowski_, (London: Faber, 1993), p. 86.

 

9. I owe this point to Paul Bowman, who provided useful comments on an earlier draft of this review article.

 

10. Judith Butler, 'Competing Universalities', in Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, Slavoj Zizek, _Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left_ (London: Verso, 1999), p. 157.

 

11. Ibid., p. 152. John Mowitt asks similar questions with regard to Zizek's insistence upon the link between trauma and 'the Real' in 'Trauma Envy', _Cultural Critique_, no. 46, Fall 2000, pp. 272-97.

 

12. Butler, 'Competing Universalities', p. 157.

 

13. In fact, Kieslowski says that she had stopped whilst out *jogging*, whereas it is actually suggested in the sequence that Valentine has just left a ballet class. Whether Kieslowski is remembering a previous edit of the sequence is not clear, but it does bring to mind Zizek's point about the material mass of film and the dominant theme of alternate versions of the world in Kieslowski's work.

 

14. Krzysztof Kieslowski, interviewed in 'Krzysztof Kieslowski Masterclass' (1994), _Three Colours: Red_ (Artificial Eye DVD). Geoff Andrew documents further examples in _The 'Three Colours' Trilogy_ (London: BFI Publishing, 1998), esp. pp. 52-72.

 

15. See Alexei Monroe, 'The Fright of Real Theory', _Kinoeye_, vol. 1 no. 4, 15 October 2001 <http://www.kinoeye.org/01/04/monroe04.php>.

 

16. In fact, the analysis of this film is largely constructed around a number of (long) digressions -- on sex, mostly. Moreover, thanks to the miracles of 'cut and paste', this analysis of _Bleu_ appears to more or less repeat the one found in _The Fragile Absolute: or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?_ (London: Verso, 2000).

 

17. Immanuel Kant, _The Metaphysics of Morals_, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 215.

 

18. Hamann to Kant, Dec. 1759. Cited in Diane Morgan, _Kant Trouble: Obscurities of the Enlightened_ (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 215.

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003

 

 

Richard Stamp, 'Our Friend Zizek: On _The Fright of Real Tears_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 29, September 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n29stamp>.

 

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