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Guide Out of Time: Desire in Atemporal Cinema

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The pervert escapes to the protective field of mediated, symbolic reality, because it helps to preserve a perverse pleasure. The symbolic fiction of the big Other may have been replaced by technologically processed fictions CGI, etc. Here, it is also possible to agree with Dean, that within a declining symbolic order, the discourse of the analyst no longer represents a radical-revolutionary emancipatory subject Dean 87 , on the condition that we recognize that this is not a subject of drive in the position of the analyst, but still a subject of desire in the position of the pervert.

For Vighi, cinema—not all cinema, but particular, exemplary cases of cinema—demonstrates the way in which the symbolic itself is structured. Film analysis, according to him, shows how cinema makes sense of itself. Film-sense emerges by negotiating its own symbolic consistency. The latter involves dealing, in one way or another, with the some excess, or excluded surplus.


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Emphasizing the latter, Vighi shows how film analysis teaches us ways of identifying the emergence of the real within the space of the symbolic. By looking at the interaction between the symbolic consistency of the film text and enjoyment, it is possible, Vighi asserts, to locate that which is central to every political discourse: the relation between that which is represented and that which is excluded from representation. Film analysis must allow us to identify, not necessarily political themes, but the logic of sustaining a social-symbolic space, something of which is important for any hegemonic discourse.

Cinema helps us to understand the emergence of social, symbolic reality, and how it is constructed around excessive enjoyment. The latter is tied to the psychoanalytic problem of sexual difference in the sense that attempts at its representation ultimately end up on failure, similar to the representation of class antagonism, and give some indication of the place of the Real.

The universal status of both rests upon the deadlock of the impossibility of their symbolization. There is, in other words, no neutral position from which antagonism may be represented. Every attempt at their representation ends up in failure—the failure to fully, and adequately, represent the antagonism itself. The feminine side, in contrast, affirms the position of the exception by positing an infinite totality, in which not-all elements are submitted to the universal. Femininity returns the excluded to its position in the symbolic, the result of which is the fracturing of the symbolic order itself and the emergence of the Real in the field of the Symbolic.

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Vighi focuses on post-war European cinema because, for him, there is something about the way that these films represent sexual difference that speaks to the way that Lacanian theory conceptualizes the relationship between the Symbolic and the Real. The section on masculinity addresses the problem of courtly love and its relation to sublimation. Libido, according to Freud, is heightened by an obstacle. The key to all three is that they are all elusive figures. Here, Vighi emphasizes a fundamental characteristic of masculine enjoyment: the paradoxical enjoyment of missing the object—which, on the other side of things, satisfies the drive.

Jules et Jim is a film about two friends who share the same woman, and remain friends because of the mediating role of the woman as missing third. It is the fantasy of the affair that allows them to avoid the Real of enjoyment. The affair does not take place, not to preserve the sanctity of the institution of marriage, but because, according to Vighi, the two are afraid of losing the fantasy that binds them. Their love relationship is bound by the very impossibility of the sexual relationship, externalized as a fantasy object.

As Vighi presents them, all of these examples speak to the masculine side of the formulas of sexuation and the masculine desire to keep desiring. Woman disturbs the symbolic order by removing the exception; or, rather, by returning the exception to its place in the Symbolic—an intervention of the Real in the Symbolic.

Vighi highlights the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman as exemplary of the feminine side of the formulas of sexuation. Both filmmakers demonstrate the Lacanian thesis that the closer one gets to the feminine subject the more we lose our perception of symbolic reality. Ultimately, the difference between masculine and feminine enjoyment amounts to the difference between the safety and security of the symbolic order as a protective shield, or the risk of inconsistency.

The latter does not necessarily have to reflect the misconceptions of spectatorship found in screen theory. Media studies shows that claims regarding the demise of symbolic efficiency and the avowed knowledge regarding the non-existence of the big Other are somewhat exaggerated. The big Other of the media may not take the same form as the older symbolic order of modernity.