Slavoj Žižek and Film Theory

We need the excuse of a fiction to stage what we really are. (Slavoj Zizek, in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema [dir. Sophie Fiennes, 2005])

Would you allow this guy to take your daughter to a movie? Of course not. [Laughs] (Ibid.)


One of the early sequences of Sophie Fiennes’s film The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) opens with Slovenian cultural analyst and philosopher Slavoj Zizek dressed in a yellow shirt, sitting a little uncomfortably at the helm of a motorized dingy, which, he declares, is floating in the middle of Bodega Bay, the location for Alfred Hitchcock‘s film The Birds (1963). The sequence then cuts back and forth between scenes from The Birds and Zizek‘s animated explanations of how the Oedipal tensions between the central character Mitch (Rod Taylor) and his mother underpin an explanation of why the birds inexplicably attack; they are, he suggests, “raw incestuous energy” A little later, with the outboard engine now running, relaxing into his role, Zizek turns to the camera and declares: “You know what I am thinking now? I am thinking like Melanie, I am thinking I want to fuck Mitch” This sequence of Fiennes’s film illustrates the almost perfect conflation of “Zizek the person” with “Zizek the scholar” and now “Zizek the film star” The characteristic frenzy of his tics and spasms, the wild gesticulations of his hands and tugging at his beard, the ever-increasing circles of sweat widening under his arms, his strong Central European accent in English, and above all his outrageous and unselfconscious bad taste in jokes and examples, scatological as well as sexual, all translate directly into print and now on to screen. On screen we have a sense of the unrestrained energy of Zizek‘s published ideas, which rush ahead of themselves and frenetically dissipate into a web of disseminated connections, of what Robert Boynton calls a “trademark synthesis of philosophical verve and rhetorical playfulness” (1998: 42-3). Zizek the film star also plays to the marketing on the back covers of his books – The Elvis of Cultural Theory and “An academic rock star”1 – and to Zizek the global academic, who is feted on the international academic conference circuit, has run for the office of President of Slovenia, written copy for the catalogue of American outfitters Abercrombie and Fitch, collaborated with experimental punk rock band Laibach and has featured in no fewer than five films.

However, among many film theorists Zizek‘s status as film critic (and film star) is that of a clown: the Charlie Chaplin of film theory! This is not only the result of his distinctive personality but also the product of his prolific writing, which employs the thrust of “cut and paste”; articles, essays, chapters, bad jokes and film examples get re-used time and time again, forcing his reader to tease out a philosophical argument from among the asides and at times dubious vignettes.2 Indeed, towards the end of another documentary, Zizek! (dir. Astra Taylor, 2005), in which he also stars, Zizek himself wonders in a psychoanalytic vein whether the attempts to turn him into a figure of fun may represent in fact a deep resistance to taking him seriously.

Most film critics have been scathing of what they see as Zizek‘s utilitarian plundering in a “machinic” fashion of, in the main, Hollywood feature films to advance and illustrate aspects of his Marxist and psychoanalytical theoretical project. His references to film, it is consistently argued, are merely incidental illustrations, which show little concern for or interest in the fundamental basics of film study.3 We might cite the only one of Zizek’s monographs dedicated to an individual film as such, The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime (2000b), on David Lynch‘s Lost Highway (1997), as a case in point since it fails to address significant aspects of the film text in favour of an extended exploration of the Lacanian position on fantasy. About one-third into Lost Highway the protagonist, Fred (Bill Pullman), who has been sentenced to death for the murder of his unfaithful wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), inexplicably transforms into another person, Pete (Balthazar Getty), in his prison cell. It is a transformation from the dull, drab existence of the impotent husband with a mousy non-communicative wife to the exciting and dangerous life of the young virile Pete, who is seduced by the sexually aggressive femme fatale blond reincarnation of Renee named Alice and uncannily played by the same actress. The problem of the film is: how are we to understand this inexplicable (“unreal”) transformation? We can understand it, suggests Zizek, not through any exploration of a formal distinctiveness but by understanding the film as an illustration of the Lacanian notion of “traversing the fantasy”, the re-avowal of subjective responsibility that comes at the end of the psychoanalytic cure. Traversing the fantasy means the recognition that in the long term, Zizek argues, in order to avoid a clash of fantasies we have to acknowledge that fantasy functions merely to screen the abyss or inconsistency in the Other, and we must cease positing that the Other has stolen the “lost” object of our desire. In “traversing” or “going through” the fantasy all we have to do is experience how there is nothing “behind” it, and how fantasy masks precisely this “nothing”. In Lost Highway, Lynch achieves resolution of the contradiction by staging two solutions one after the other on the same level: Renee is destroyed, killed, punished; Alice eludes the control of the male protagonist and disappears triumphantly along the lost highway


One of the most sustained criticisms of Zizek‘s (lack of) film criticism has come from veteran cognitivist and post-theorist David Bordwell (2005), who attacks Zizek with the charge of fundamentally lacking responsibility to scholarly process and serious engagement with the nuts and bolts of film studies. This attack is prompted in no small part by Zizek‘s scathing, and far wittier, dismantling of post-theory in the opening pages of his only complete “film book”, The Fright of Real Tears (2001), before he offers, through analysis of the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski, the alternative of a later Lacanian reading of the film text’s organization of enjoyment. Of course, such oppositions, deconstructionists versus cognitivists or Lacanians versus post-theorists, are dialectical, and Zizek‘s understanding and exploitation of dialectics underpins his entire project. However, Zizek rereads the traditional dialectical process of Hegel in a more radical fashion. In Zizek s version, the dialectic does not produce a resolution or a synthesized viewpoint; rather, it points out that contradiction is an internal condition of every identity. An idea about something is always disrupted by a discrepancy, but that discrepancy is necessary for the idea to exist in the first place. For Zizek, the truth is always found not in the compromise or middle way but in the contradiction rather than the smoothing out of differences.

The importance of the revised dialectic is paralleled by the Zizekian notion of “the parallax view”, which he defines as follows:

The standard definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply “subjective”, due to the fact that the same object which exists “out there” is seen from two different stances, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently “mediated”, so that an “epistemological” shift in the subjects point of view always reflects an “ontological” shift in the object itself. Or – to put it in Lacanese – the subjects gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its “blind spot”, that which is “in the object more than the object itself”, the point from which the object returns the gaze. (2006a: 17)

Zizek is interested in the “parallax gap” separating two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible, a gap linked by an “impossible short circuit” of levels that can never meet. At the root of this category is the gap or split (beance) within human subjectivity identified by Jacques Lacan, where the split or barred subject (symbolized by the matheme $) denotes the impossibility of a fully present selfconsciousness. How can one read a book like The Parallax View (2006a) except with a parallax view – by reading, that is, what seems to be there but is never there? The early responses to Zizek’s book, and several bloggers’ websites, have lamented the fact there is not one mention of Alan J. Pakula‘s film The Parallax View (1974), which is obviously the source of Zizek’s title. How might we explain the perversity of Zizek naming a monumental book that he describes as his “magnum opus” after a film and then not discussing it? And there is also the odd fact that, given that it is an optical phenomenon under discussion, the film references in The Parallax View are minimal. But it would seem that the parallax in Zizek’s sense is present in the film, and the book, in the gap between explanations that account for the immediacy of an event and explanations that account for the totality offerees behind them; or, perhaps, better, in the way that investigating a crime or matter shifts imperceptibly into becoming part of the very crime or matter. Warren Beatty s character in Pakulas film moves from being a reporter to being part of the situation, to being involved, hence suggesting the presence of the observer within the frame. Similarly, for Zizek the shift is from cognitive responses to the moving image (what the screen places in our heads) to an interest in cinema as the screen onto which we project our desires.

A similar “parallax view” marks Zizek‘s ambivalent relationship to cultural studies. It might seem that Zizek’s interest in mass-cultural objects such as Titanic (dir. James Cameron, 1997), or the novels of Stephen King, are merely part of a recent “turn” to the study of popular culture. By locating his theorizing within popular culture Zizek would seem to share this approach and the assertion that, in Raymond Williams‘s (1958) words, culture is “ordinary”. Indeed, the charge of Bordwell and others is that with Zizek we have an emphasis of context above text, and that the film text for Zizek is significant not for its own sake, its aesthetic greatness, but for what it might reveal to us about the cultural context from whence it came. However, cultural studies is the object of some of Zizeks most scathing criticism. Zizek approaches the popular from the opposite (parallax) angle: rather than treating high works of art as if they were popular, Zizek treats the popular work of art as if it were “high”; the popular texts in some way transcend their context and testify to some truth that the context obscures. Take his response to the liberal claim that the film Fight Club (dir. David Fincher, 1999) is pro-violence and proto-fascist. Zizek counters that the message of the film is not about “liberating violence” and that it is the reality of the appearance that “violence 311 LAURENCE SIMMONS hurts” that is its true message after all. The fights are “part of a potentially redemptive disciplinary drive … an indication that fighting brings the participants close to the excess-of-life over and above the simple run of life” (2004: 174).


For Lacan there are two steps in the psychoanalytic process: interpreting symptoms and traversing fantasy. When we are confronted with the patient s symptoms, we must first interpret them, and penetrate through them to the fundamental fantasy, as the kernel of enjoyment, which is blocking the further movement of interpretation. Then we must accomplish the crucial step of going through the fantasy, of obtaining distance from it, of experiencing how the fantasy-formation is just masking, filling out a certain void, lack, an empty place in the Other. But even so there were patients who had traversed the fantasy and obtained distance from the fantasy-framework of their reality but whose key symptom still persisted. Lacan tried to answer this challenge with the concept of the sinthome. The word sinthome in French is a fifteenth- and sixteenthcentury way of writing the modern word symptome (symptom). By suggesting a word that is derived from an archaic form of writing Lacan also shifts the inflection of the term to the letter rather than the signifier (as message to be deciphered). The letter as the site where meaning becomes undone is, for Lacan, a primary inscription of subjectivity. The pronunciation sinthome in French also produces the associations of saint homme (holy man) and synth-homme (synthetic [artificial] man). When it occurs, a symptom causes discomfort and displeasure; nevertheless, we embrace its interpretation with pleasure. But why, in spite of its interpretation, does the symptom not dissolve itself? Why does it persist? The answer, of course, is enjoyment. The symptom is not only a ciphered message; it is a way for the subject to organize his or her enjoyment. Treatment is not strictly speaking directed towards the symptom. The symptom is what the subject must cling to since it is what uniquely characterizes him or her. Zizek‘s film example is from Ridley Scott‘s Alien (1979): the figure of the alien, while it is external to the crew on board the spaceship, is also what, by virtue of its threat to them, confers unity on the spaceship crew. Indeed, the ambiguous relationship we have to our sinthomes – one in which we enjoy our suffering and suffer our enjoyments – is like the relationship of the character Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to the alien, which she fears but progressively identifies with (we need only think of the famous scene at the end of the film where she “undresses” for the alien).

Let us take Hitchcock‘s The Lady Vanishes (1938), and Zizeks influential interpretations of Hitchcock s films in general, as further illustrations of this ambiguity. The existence of an old lady is understood, or made to pass, as a hallucination of the central character Iris. The old woman, Miss Froy (May Whitty), is a mother-figure to – but also a counterpart/mirror of – the young woman, Iris (Margaret Lockwood), who is the “ideal woman”, the ideal partner in the sexual relation. Iris is returning to London to be married to a boring father figure whom she does not love. His name, Lord Charles Fotheringale, tells us everything. Iris in fact is the woman who, according to Lacanian theory, does not exist. The attraction of the theme is that through the disappearance of her double (mOther), Miss Froy, she is “made to exist”. Zizek suggests that the woman who disappears is always “the woman with whom the sexual relationship would be possible, the elusive shadow of a Woman who would not just be another woman” (1991: 92). At the end Iris falls for Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), who throughout the film has played the role of naughty child (without a father). Hitchcock’s films are full of “the woman who knows too much” (intellectually superior but sexually unattractive, bespectacled but able see into what remains hidden from others: Ingrid Bergman as Alicia in Spellbound [1945]; Ruth Roman as Anne in Strangers on a Train [1951]; Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge in Vertigo [1958]). How can we interpret this motif? These figures are not symbols but, on the other hand, they are not insignificant details of individual films; they persist across a number of Hitchcock films. Zizek‘s answer is that they are sinthornes. They designate the limit of interpretation, they resist interpretation; they fix or tie together a certain core of enjoyment.


Zizek pursues the difference between the early structuralist Lacan of the 1950s and the late Lacan of the fundamental recalcitrance of the Real of the 1960s on. The Lacanian concept of the Real – the most under-represented component of the triad of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary4 – provides another way to approach that which cannot be spoken (drawn into the Symbolic), because it eludes the ability of the ontological subject to signify it. The Real is the hidden/traumatic underside of our existence or sense of reality, whose disturbing effects are felt in strange and unexpected places. For Zizek, material contained within the pre-ontological, like abject material, can and does emerge into the ontological sphere and once there, however troubling or traumatic, it is made meaning of. Zizek s examples are the Mother Superior who emerges at the close of Vertigo’, who “functions as a kind of negative deus ex rnachina, a sudden intrusion in no way properly grounded in the narrative logic, the prevents the happy ending” (2002: 208); and the swamp that Norman (Anthony Perkins) sinks Marions (Janet Leigh) car into in Psycho “is another in the series of entrance points to the preontological netherworld” (ibid). Nevertheless, despite its irruption into the film text, the Real resists every attempt to render it meaningful and those elements that inhabit it continually elude signification. As such, it is a version of the mythic creature called by Lacan the lamella. On the one hand, the lamella is a thin plate-like strata, like those of a shell or the layers found in geological formations; on the other, it can refer to flat amoeba-like organisms that reproduce asexually Zizek notes, “As Lacan puts it, the lamella does not exist, it insists: it is unreal, an entity of pure semblance, a multiplicity of appearances that seem to enfold a central void – its status is purely phantasmatic” (2006b: 62). In its materializations the lamella marks an Otherness beyond intersubjectivity. Lacan‘s description, Zizek declares, reminds us of the creatures in horror movies: vampires, zombies, the undead, the monsters of science fiction. Indeed, it is the alien from Scott’s film that may conjure up the lamella in its purest form. Uncannily, Lacan writes in Seminar 11, a decade before the film appeared, “But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep” (Lacan 1979:197); “it is as if Lacan somehow saw the film before it was even made” suggests Zizek (2006b: 63). We think immediately of the scene in the womb-like cave of the unknown planet when the alien leaps from its throbbing egg-like globe and sticks to Executive Officer Kane’s (John Hurt) face. This amoeba-like flattened creature that envelops the face stands for irrepressible life beyond all the finite forms that are merely its representatives. In later scenes of the film the alien is able to assume a multitude of different shapes; it is immortal and indestructible. The Real of the lamella is an entity of pure surface without density, an infinitely plastic object that can change its form. It is indivisible, indestructible and immortal, like the living dead, which, after every attempt at annihilation, simply reconstitute themselves and continue on.

With regard to science fiction film, Zizek talks about the Lacanian notion of the Thing (das Ding), used by Freud to designate the ultimate object of our desires in its unbearable intensity, a mechanism that directly materializes the impenetrability of our unacknowledged fantasies. In the film Solaris (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972), for example, it relates to “the deadlocks of sexual relationship” (Zizek 1999: 222). A space agency psychologist is sent to an abandoned spaceship above a newly discovered planet. Solaris is a planet with a fluid surface that imitates recognizable forms. Scientists in the film hypothesize that Solaris is a gigantic brain that somehow reads our minds. Soon after his arrival Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), the psychologist, finds his dead wife at his side in bed. In fact his wife had committed suicide years ago on Earth after Kelvin deserted her. The dead wife pops up everywhere, sticks around and finally Kevin grasps that she is a materialization of his own innermost traumatic fantasies. He discovers that she does not have human chemical composition. The dead wife, because she has no material identity of her own, thus acquires the status of the Real. However, the wife then becomes aware of the tragedy of her status, that she only exists in the Other s dream and has no innermost substance, and her only option is to commit suicide a second time by swallowing a chemical that will prevent her recomposition. The planet Solaris here, Zizek argues, is the Lacanian Thing (das Ding), a sort of obscene jelly, the traumatic Real where Symbolic distance collapses: “it provides – or rather imposes on us – the answer before we even raise the question, directly materialising our innermost fantasies which support our desire” (1999: 223).


Zizek can be credited with a revival of interest in specifically Lacanian psychoanalytical film criticism, but, as we have seen, his approach also represents a decisive shift from Laura Mulvey’s analysis of the gaze of mastery (1975) and Jean-Pierre Oudart‘s notion of suture and cinematic identification (1977-8), to focus on questions of fantasy and spectator enjoyment. Thus concepts of the gaze and identification in Zizek‘s film commentary are linked to issues of desire and the fantasmatic support of reality as a defence against the Real.5 A case in point is Zizek s repeated analysis of the sexual assault scene from Lynch‘s Wild at Heart (1990).6 In this scene Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) invades the motel room of Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) and after repeated verbal and physical harassment coerces her into saying to him, “Fuck me!” As soon as the exhausted Dern utters the barely audible words that would signal her consent to the sexual act, Dafoe withdraws, puts on a pleasant face and politely retorts: “No thanks, I don t have time today, I’ve got to go; but on another occasion I would do it gladly.” Our uneasiness with this scene, suggests Zizek, lies in the fact that Dafoe’s “unexpected rejection is his ultimate triumph and, in a way, humiliates her more than direct rape” but also that “just prior to her ‘Fuck me!’, the camera focuses on [Derris] right hand, which she slowly spreads out – the sign of her acquiescence, the proof that he has stirred her fantasy” (2006a: 69).

A keystone to Zizek s edifice is the Lacanian notion oi jouissance, which, characteristically, he simply translates as “enjoyment”.7 For Zizek, jouissance is both a feature of individual subjectivity, an explanation of our individual obsessions and investments, and a phenomenon that best describes the political dynamics of collective violence; for example, it is the envy of the jouissance of the Other (as neighbour) that accounts for racism and extreme forms of nationalism. What gets on our nerves about the Other is his or her enjoyment (smelly food, noisy conversation in another language), strange customs (chador) or attitudes to work (he or she is either a workaholic stealing our jobs or a bludger living off our benefits) (see Zizek 1993: 200-205). One of Zizek‘s central concerns is the status of enjoyment within ideological discourse, where, in our so-called permissive society, there is an obscene command to enjoy that marks the return of the Freudian superego. For example, there is a paradox between the greater possibilities of sexual pleasure in more open societies such as ours and the pursuit of such pleasure, which turns into a duty. The superego stands between these two: the command to enjoy and the duty to enjoy. The law is a renunciation of enjoyment that manifests itself by telling you what you cannot do; in contrast the superego orders you to enjoy what you can do – permitted enjoyment becomes an obligation to enjoy. But of course, Zizek notes, when enjoyment becomes compulsory it is no longer enjoyment.

MV5BYTRmZDA1YWMtZDdkMC00MTM0LWI3Y2MtY2EyZTMzNTcyMDkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_QL50_SY1000_CR0,0,913,1000_AL_It is the relational and paradoxical understanding of enjoyment that renders it important for an understanding of film spectatorship. Again, one detects Zizek’s interpretive revision of the stereotypical Hegelian dialectical progression from thesis, through antithesis to synthesis at work here. In Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), Marnie (Tippi Hedren) does not want to be touched and it is this desire to touch the human being who does not want to be touched that paradoxically animates a system of looking. At one point in the film Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) describes an object that seems to be a flower until one reaches out and touches it and perceives that it is in fact a conglomeration of insects. During the first kiss between Mark and Marnie in the midst of a thunderstorm, Hitchcock’s camera comes in to a close two-shot and then a very tight zoom that ends up obliterating all but facial fragments. It is as if the flesh of the characters is made to cover the film frame. Throughout the film there is a need for Hitchcock’s camera to possess Marnie, to offer her up as “something” that can not only be viewed but also physically touched. Mamie’s stealing is a symptom of something she does not know or understand and her jouissance is almost excessive. What is the nature of her enjoyment and why do we retain our sympathy with the character of Mark Rutland when he appears to rape her? His relationship duplicates Mamie’s relationship with her mother (Mark=Marnie, Marnie=Mother). He is not simply her antagonist but a double in terms of the film’s motif of touch and desire. Mark wants to touch Marnie who wants to touch her mother, a prostitute, who makes her living from the touch of men. Zizek explores how the Lacanian concept of jouissance provides for a re-reading of the femme fatale (Marnie) of film noir. In the traditional reading the femme fatale is the embodiment of the fear of emancipated femininity perceived as a threat to male identity. But this, Zizek proposes, misses the point. All the features denounced as the result of male paranoia (woman as inherently evil, as the seductress whose hate and destruction of men express, in a perverted way, her awareness of how her identity depends on the male gaze, and who therefore longs for her own annihilation) account for the figure s charm, as if the theorizing provides an alibi for our enjoyment of the femme fatale. And this in turn, for Zizek, makes sense of Lacan’s pun jouis-sens (enjoy-meant).8


We might question whether what is at stake in Zizekian film criticism is a pervert s guide to cinema or a cinema guide for perverts. There is the fact or possibility of Zizek‘s cinematic perversion, which, as we have seen, is a mainstay of many responses from within film studies to his texts, but what if it were possible for this perversion to be more complex than might initially appear, and, secondly, for it to serve a critical and heretical function? Here Zizek s own thoughts on the relationship between cinema and perversion prove illuminating. Zizeks use of Lacan‘s definition of perversion hinges on the structural aspect of perversion: what is perverse in film viewing is the subjects identification with the gaze of an other, a moment that represents a shift in subjective position within the interplay of gazes articulated by the cinematic text. Utilizing an example from Michael Mann‘s Manhunter (1986), Zizek comments that the moment Will Graham (William Petersen), the FBI profiler, recognizes that the victims’ home movies, which he is watching, are the same films that provided the sadistic killer with vital information, his “obsessive gaze, surveying every detail of the scenery, coincides with the gaze of the murderer” (1991: 108). This identification, Zizek continues, “is extremely unpleasant and obscene … [because] such a coincidence of gazes defines the position of the pervert” (ibid). As Will examines home movies, seeking as a profiler whatever they have in common, his gaze shifts from their content to their status as home movies, thereby coinciding with the gaze of the murderer; in so doing he identifies the form of the movies he is watching and with them. It is their very status as home movies that is the key to unravelling the mystery of Manhunter.

MV5BY2E2ZWE0ZGEtN2JhMi00YzNlLThmN2ItNDliNzgxN2NmNzE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjcwNDczMjY@._V1_QL50_SY1000_CR0,0,1320,1000_AL_But is such perverse spectatorship more than simply a rupture in the old psychoanalytical suture of conventional film narrative? Since the pervert for Lacan and Zizek “does not pursue pleasure for his own pleasure, but for the enjoyment of the Other” {ibid.: 109), the perversely situated spectator is forced suddenly to recognize that the drive to satisfaction, ordinarily rendered possible through the standard conduit of narrative and spectatorship, is actually oriented towards the service and satisfaction of an “Other” that remains forever beyond the ability of the spectator (or the film,  for that matter) to conceptualize and, hence, contain. To conclude we might turn to Zizek’s own commentary on the importance and general objective of his work. In The Fright of Real Tears (2001) he suggests his aim is not so much to argue for the reality of fictions as to “make us experience reality as a fiction”. To adapt another of his book titles, it is because film keeps us “looking awry” on reality, that

if our social reality itself is sustained by a symbolic fiction or fantasy, then the ultimate achievement of film art is not to recreate reality within a narrative fiction, to seduce us into (mis)taking a fiction for reality, but, on the contrary, to make us discern the fictional aspect of reality itself, to experience reality itself as a fiction. (Ibid.: 77)


  1. See, for example, the back cover of his recent Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (London: Profile, 2008).
  2. For example, it is with characteristic perversity that Zizek cites The Fountainhead (dir. King Vidor 1949) as the best American movie of all time.
  3. Stephen Heath expresses concern that Zizek “has, in fact, little to say about ‘institution,’ apparatus,’ and so on, all the concerns of the immediately preceding attempts to think cinema and psychoanalysis” (“Cinema and Psychoanalysis: Parallel Histories”, in Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories, J. Bergstrom [ed.], 25-56 [Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999], 44). Vicky Lebeau argues that “it is the specificity of cinema that seems to go missing in Zizek’s account” (Psychoanalysis and Cinema: The Play of Shadows [London: Wallflower, 2001], 59). These points have been made and summarized by Todd McGowan, “Introduction: Enjoying the Cinema” International Journal of Zizek Studies 1(3) (2007) ijzs/article/view/57/119.
  4. Zizek explains these three levels as follows: This triad can be nicely illustrated by the game of chess. The rules one has to follow in order to play it are its symbolic dimension: from the purely formal symbolic standpoint, “knight” is defined only by the moves this figure can make. This level is clearly different from the imaginary one, namely the way in which different pieces are shaped and characterized by their names (king, queen, knight), and it is easy to envision a game with the same rules, but with a different imaginary, in which this figure would be called “messenger” or “runner” or whatever. Finally, real is the entire complex set of contingent circumstances that affect the course of the game. (How to ReadLacan [London: Granta, 2006], 8-9)
  5. Todd McGowan maintains that Zizek “elaborates an entirely new concept of suture” (“Introduction: Enjoying the Cinema”, 4).
  6. Analysis of this scene occurs in Zizek’s The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997), 186-7, The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway (Seattle, WA: Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, 2000), 11, The Fright of Real Tears: Krzystof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-theory (London: BFI, 2001), 131, and The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 69-70, as well as The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (dir. S. Fiennes, 2006).
  7. Dylan Evans notes: “The French word jouissance means basically enjoyment’, but it has a sexual connotation (i.e. ‘orgasm’) lacking in the English word enjoyment’, and is therefore left untranslated in most English editions of Lacan” (An Introductory Dictionary ofLacanian Psychoanalysis [London & New York: Routledge, 1996], 91).
  8. Jouis-sens relates to the demand of the superego to enjoy, a demand that the subject will never be able to satisfy. According to Lacan, jouis-sens, the jouissance of meaning, is located at the intersection of the Imaginary and the Symbolic.


Source: Colman, F. (2014). Film, theory and philosophy. London: Routledge.

Categories: Philosophy

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