Le corbusier

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new formations NUMBER 9 WINTER 1989

Slavoj Zizek


The English reception of Jacques Lacan, predominantly at least, has still not integrated all the consequences of the break marked by the seminar on Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-60), a break which radically shifted the accent of his teaching: from thedialectics of desire to the inertia of enjoyment (jouissance), from the symptom as coded message to the sinthome as letter permeated with enjoyment, from the 'unconscious structured like a language' to the Thing in its heart, the irreducible kernel of jouissance that resists all symbolization.1 The aim of the present article is to exemplify some of the key motifs of this last stage of Lacaniantheory via a reading of certain narratives borrowed from popular cinema and literature. What is proposed here is not some kind of 'applied psychoanalysis', a psychoanalytic reading of the products of culture, but on the contrary the articulation of some of the fundamental concepts of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory (gaze and voice as objects; the frontier separating reality from the Real; the role ofthe 'answer of the Real' in the production of the meaning-effect; rendu and sinthome) by the use of examples taken from popular culture, and first from the cinema. Why cinema? The use of the Lacanian theoretical apparatus in film theory is well known, and has been especially influential in Britain, from the suture theories of Screen in the 1970s to the feminist explorations indebted especially tothe concepts of fantasy and identification. The Lacan who served as a point of reference for these theories, however, was the Lacan before the break; and it is only in French film theory over the last decade that a shift has occurred which corresponds (and has perhaps been directly indebted) to the late turn in Lacanian teaching; a turn that could be summarized concisely by the formula: 'from thesignifier to the object'. If the 1970s were dominated by the semiotic approach best rendered by the title of Christian Metz's The Imaginary Signifier (an approach whose aim was to dispel the imaginary fascination, to break through it to the hidden symbolic structure regulating its functioning), in the last decade we can observe a shift of accent to the paradoxical status of those remnants andleftovers of the Real that elude the structuring of the signifier: gaze and voice. The renewal of film theory over the last decade is thus centred around gaze and voice as cinematic objects: the status of the first has been elaborated by Pascal Bonitzer,2 of the second by Michel Chion. 3 It is of course no accident that Lacan defined the object of psychoanalysis, the celebrated objet petit a,precisely as gaze and voice. 7


The first association that comes to mind in connection with 'gaze' and 'voice', for the reader well versed in 'deconstructivist' texts, is that they are the main target of the Derridean enterprise of deconstruction; for what is the gaze if not theoria grasping the 'thing itself in the presence of its form and the form of its presence, andwhat is the voice if not the medium of pure 'auto-affection' embodying the presence-to-itself of the speaking subject? The aim of deconstruction is precisely to demonstrate how the gaze is always already determined by the 'infrastructural' network which delimits what can be seen from the unseen, and which thus necessarily eludes capture by the gaze; and how, similarly, the self-presence of thevoice is always-already split/deferred by the trace of writing. Yet there is a radical incommensurability between Lacan and poststructuralist deconstruction; for, in Lacan, the function of gaze and voice is almost exactly the reverse. First of all, they are not on the side of the subject but on the side of the object. The gaze marks the point in the object (the picture) from which the viewing...