Abject Images: Kristeva, Art, and the Third Cinema

By Chanter, Tina | Philosophy Today, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Abject Images: Kristeva, Art, and the Third Cinema


Chanter, Tina, Philosophy Today


If it is true that all fantasies are structured analogously and return to unconscious fantasy, then you understand that the whole life of the subject appears to be modeled on the "fantasmatic." (RI, 124)

Without the horror of the feminine the power of horror would be nothing. (VC, 127)

With cinema, the semiotic efficacy of monotheism, attains its peak: nothing better than film to accomplish the Augustinain insight: "Even though man be disquieted in vain, surely he walketh in the image." For in the filmic fascination, the spectator "heapeth up riches" more than is possible anywhere else, multiple signs (disgorgers of anguish), and `he knoweth not who shall gather them' (believes himself sheltered from the power that projects those identificatory supports for him). (E, 242)

I don't like photographs.... In our image-filled world, we believe only in what we see. There, I remain a foreigner. If my body and mind still hold interest, I believe you will find them not in what appears to the eyes, but in an invisible intensity of which I seek the meaning, and not the mere appearance.

Kristeva, Julia Kristeva Interviews, ed. Ross Mitchell Guberman

In 21st century Afghanistan there are no cinemas, either. Previously there were 14 cinemas, and film studios produced imitations of Indian movies. In the world of cinema that produces 2,000 to 3,000 films a year, nothing is forthcoming from Afghanistan... Afghanistan is a country without an image.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Memoir, excerpted in Guardian Weekly

(August 30-September 5, 200 1): 18.

"At the intersection between the vision of a real object and hallucination, the cinematographic object brings into the identifiable (and surely nothing is more identifiable than the visible/seeable) that which remains beyond identification: the drive unsymbolized, unfixed in the object-the sign-language, or, in more brutal terms, it brings in aggressivity" (E, 238). Kristeva writes this in an essay first published in 1975.1 More recently, in lectures she delivered at the University of Paris in 1996, published under the heading La revolte intime,2 she revisits the relation between fantasy and cinema, incorporating much of the essay from which I have just quoted, "Ellipsis on Dread and the Specular Seduction," and reworking it. "If it is true that all fantasies are structured analogously and return to unconscious fantasy," then we can see that the life of the subject as a whole appears to be modeled on the "fantasmatic" (RI, 124). She goes on to say that the privileged place, "not for the realization, but for the formulation of fantasies, is literature and art" (ibid.). She adds that "art and literature are allies of psychoanalysis; they open the way verbally to the construction of fantasies and prepare the terrain for psychoanalytic interpretation" (127). Because our drives and "originary fantasies" cannot "find psychical representation, they search for ... somatization" (ibid.). When our representations fail to connect up with the drives and pulsions that both underlie and give rise to them, when the symbolic becomes completely abstracted from the semiotic, crises ensue. Cinema fascinates, according to Kristeva, because it "bears the trace, in the visible, of ... aggressivity, this unsymbolized drive: unverbalized and hence unrepresented" (E, 237).

"We are in the society of the image" (RI, 118) Kristeva declares, taking up the work of the influential neo-Marxist critic, Guy Debord, on the "society of the spectacle." For Debord, "the real consumer becomes the consumer of an illusion."3 The society of the spectacle is one in which "all community and critical awareness have ceased to be" (SS, 21). Debord calls the spectacle "a permanent opium war waged to make it impossible to distinguish goods from commodities" (30). Alienation sets in for the spectator: "the more he contemplates, the less he lives" (23). "The spectacle is heir to all the weakness of the project of Western philosophy, which was an attempt to understand activity by means of the categories of vision.

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