The real gaze: Film theory after Lacan, Todd McGowan

Introduction: From the Imaginary Look to the Real Gaze

The Emergence of Lacanian Film Theory

  • (the mirror stage) the wholeness of the body is seen in a way that it is not experienced.
  • link the illusory qualities of film to the process through which subjects enter into ideology and become subjected to the constraints of the social order.
  • Louis Althusser, early film theorist, who was a crucial bridge between Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage and the cinematic experience – he emphasized the social dimension of the kind of misrecognitions that followed from that of the mirror stage.
  • Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, Jean-Louis Comolli (french), Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath (journal Screen) – first theorists to bring psychoanalytic concepts to bear on the study of cinema in a systematic form
  • the spectator inhabits the position of the child looking in the mirror -> a sense of mastery based on the position that the spectator occupies relative to the event on the screen
  • Christian Metz (The Imaginary Signifier) – the spectator is absent from the screen as perceived, but  present there as perceiver -> escapes the sense of real absence -> overcomes the sense of lack, endured by only the existence in the world

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[T]he sexual relationship cannot be written (ne peut pas s’écrire). Everything that is written stems from the fact that it will forever be impossible to write, as such, the sexual relationship. It is on that basis that there is a certain eVect of discourse, which is called writing

Lacan, Encore

  • Graham Greene’s late modernist novel The End of the AVair (1951) is a Lacanian text par excellence, a literary avatar of Lacan’s Encore: On Feminine Sexuality/The Limits of Love and Knowledge
  • This “inhuman love” would seem to be what Saint Teresa, as represented by Bernini’s statue in Rome, experiences but does not know
  • Lacan’s reasoning behind his notion of the impossibility of human Love will be laid out: Ž rst, in terms of his three orders of Love and in particular the gap between the love object and the objet a, or cause of desire, that dwells deceptively in the love object; and second, in terms of his idea of sexuation and the gap between the man and /the Woman.
  • Tying the unfeasibility of Love to the collapse of the sexual relation, which by no means detracts from desire, Lacan asserts that “love is impossible and the sexual relationship drops into the abyss of nonsense, which doesn’t in any way diminish the interest we must take in the Other”