Sunday, July 2, 2017

External Authority Begins Where Internal Enjoyment Ends...

After the secret agent Louis Bernard is shot, in the 1934 version of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, his English acquaintance Bob Lawrence hastens to pass Bernard’s message containing vital political intelligence to the British consul in St Moritz. (In the 1956 remake James Stewart will take over this role as Dr McKenna.) He accosts the gendarme in the local police station asking him in English if the British consul is ‘here’. The Italian-speaking gendarme however keeps translating this here as the German Herr, losing Lawrence precious time – precisely the time that it takes the international terrorists to kidnap the Lawrences’ child and thus secure the parents’ silence. This triggers off all that subsequently emerges as the story of the film. The episode captures succinctly an important aspect of Hitchcock’s cinema: if the here of his films indeed never fails to invoke law, norm and authority (Herrschaft?), this happens only at the expense of the norm not coinciding withwhat the film organises as its here. Therein lies also Hitchcock’s appeal to readings in the vein of Lacanian psychoanalysis, notably to Slavoj Zizek. In Zizek, Hitchcock’s cinema is a privileged point of access not merely to Lacan’s take onFreud and the project of psychoanalysis, but to the overall engagement of Lacanian psychoanalysis with philosophy. Incidentally, it is in the chapter in which he focuses on the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much that Zizek touches on this positionality. He comments that the Cartesian God (the Cartesian Herrschaft) is ‘the correlate of the cogito’, which in turn is ‘none other than Lacan’s “big Other”, the place of the supposed symbolic knowledge’, also the place of law. And then continues: ‘Cogito ergo sum is thus to be translated as: I think where enjoyment was evacuated’ (1992a: 127). Of course: if I think where enjoyment is evacuated, and the ego with its here is by definition contaminated with enjoyment, then the ego cannot but invoke the law, but always at the expense of the law not coinciding with what the ego organises as its here.

If the above scene from The Man Who Knew Too Much demonstrates the logic of Hitchcock’s appeal to Lacanian readings, it captures as aptly the figure Zizek cuts for critical theory. Zizek is not merely renowned internationally for his work on the junctures of philosophy and psychoanalysis, cast against political theory; he has also come to constitute what defines critical theory today. He therefore participates in what critical theory organises as authority, to the extent that critics are now referring to the ‘Zizekification’ of Lacan (see Zizek et al., 2010: 418). It is for this reason that Zizek organises a point of access to what constitutes the logic of the international today and to how the international is constructed for and in recent critical writing. In order to provide such access however he needs to remain exempt from any particular here, even though it is only from a here that this Herrschaft can be summoned. Further, his massive work has by now registered shifts of accent and perspective. Consequently, one cannot approach it synoptically, in a single take. This is true of most herrschaftlich figures in critical theory; Zizek points out that Lacan too registers similar shifts and departures (Zizek et al., 2010: 419). One therefore cannot engage with the Lacanian – or the Zizekian – view of fatherhood, symptom or the symbolic unless one relinquishes synoptic ambitions and an aspiration to panopticise the knowledge of psychoanalysis, which in turn displaces authority from man onto knowledge stripped of the vestiges of the auctorial. Once again the herrschaft-lich (the authoritative) emerges as that which is not here or else as that which cannot be figured (out) as here.

This of course reflects the propositions of the quoted Hitchcock scene, but in yet another way. As Zizek underlines, The Man Who Knew Too Much is, alongside Saboteur and North-by-Northwest, a remake. He argues though that there is no proper way to remake a Hitchcock film, because the narratives may be similar, but ‘the underlying libidinal economy is wholly different in each of the subsequent remakes, as if the sameness serves the purpose of marking the Difference’ (2004a:268).

Still, one could argue that, by remaking The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock assembles around these two films the position which effectively precludes that the knowledge of film be derived from any cinematic here, any one version, even though it is only from a here that knowledge and authority can be summoned. On the one hand, this means that Hitchcock’s cinema itself reflects the narrative predicament of Bob Lawrence, even that the story of The Man Who Knew Too Much is the specimen story of the Hitchcock cinema, the way the story of Oedipus, as Felman puts it, is the specimen story of psychoanalysis (Felman, 1983). On the other, insofar as Hitchcock’s cinema betrays the same Oedipal value for Zizek, The Man Who Knew Too Much emerges as the privileged point of access for analysing Zizek. After all, when calling for the detection of Lacanian sinthoms in Hitchcock – of formulae which fix ‘a certain core of enjoyment, like mannerisms in painting’ – Zizek claims that ‘[t]he first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) is perhaps the film which most directly calls for such a reading’ (1992b: 126, 127).
- Tatjana Jukic, " The Man WHo Knew Too Much: Zizek and the Balkans"

4 comments:

FreeThinke said...

Oh dear! I reponded to this a day or two ago in the thread just below. Sorry! My rotting eyes are forever playing dirty tricks on me.

But do you REALLY think that HITCHCOCK could possibly have had Laconian or Zizekian concepts in mind when he created his marvelously engrossing films?

While I do believe that creative geniuses such as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms may not have grasped the full significance or all the possible ramifications of the works they produced [This is especially true of important music which is subject to a fairly broad range of interpretation] the great works were rarely-if-ever composed with any sort of DIDACTIC ot POLITICALLY MOTIVATED intent in mind.

Hitchcock was a great, totally unabashed COMMERCIAL success. I'm reasonably sure his primary motivation always was to discover greater and greater ways to get and hold the attention of the widest possible audience.

I see nothing wrong with that.

Trying to psychoanalyze Hitchcock's possible motives for doing what he did might be of interest to a very small number, but I see no more significance in it than dwelling on what Bach, Beethoven and Brahms ate for breakfast or rooting around in the dustbins and back alleyways of history to try to get evidence that So-and-So was compulsively unfaithful to his poor longsuffering wife, or that Hoop Dee Doop died of syphilis, or George Washington was a closet homosexual who had a torrid affair with Lafayette.

I don't care in the LEAST who "really" wrote Shakespeare! I only care that his work exists. Only the plays and the sonnets, themselves, are of any real interest. The rest amounts to little more than backstairs gossip in my never humble estimation.

Tyrng to find "rational explanations" for the inexplicable seems tantamount to explaining why a joke is supposed to make you laugh. The explanation almost invariably KILLS the joke,

Joe Conservative said...

No, I believe Hitchcock discovered his own vision, and it took a Zizek applying Lacanian concepts to "explain" this "formula". Like Aeschylus, the original great tragedian, Hitch worked "intuitively". It took a Sophocles and Euripides to turn those "intuitions" into reproducible/ explainable "concepts". Freud was the original, Lacan the 2nd, and Zizek the 3rd generation. It's all "downhill" with Cinema (New Comedy) from here. ;)

FreeThinke said...


All right, but that reminds me that we derived the "rules" of 16th-century counterpoint from close stufy and analysis of the worjs of Palestrina and others, and of harmonic root progression, and part writing and fugal procedure in tonal music from studying and analysing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Then, we learned about the construction of Sonata and Rondo form from vlosely examining the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Tye great composers di NOT write by followung RULES. The rules were DISCOVERED after becoming intimately acquainted with these works of incomparable genius.

Just as IMGAINATION is more important than KNOWLEDGE true CREATIVITY is far more important than mere intellectual ANALYSIS which merely EXPLOITS genius to further the ends of intellectuals a-bit-too-eager to make a "name" for themselves –– or so it seems to me.

Joe Conservative said...

It's like a recipe, IMO. One cook adds a little beef, another some grilled onions, and a third puts it into corn shell with some grated cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Poof, the "taco".

Yeah, it doesn't take a genius to write down the recipe. But dammit, to a poor slob like me, the "written down version" is "invaluable".