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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DEN BERG, Cllliers. Slavoj Žižek and film (theory)? Part 1: An overview. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.1, pp.187-204. ISSN 2224-7912.

Both by virtue of his regular use of illustrative examples from films in his philosophical work and his theoretical analysis ofmovies from a Lacanian perspective, Slavoj Zizek has made an important contribution to film theory. This article proposes to give a simplified overview of the main tenets and motifs that could be considered representative of a Zizekian theory of film. Because Zizek presents himself self-consciously as a Lacanian thinker, it is important to contextualise his work on film within this conceptual tradition. Traditional Lacanian film theory focused on Lacan's early work on the Imaginary (mirror stage) and via Althusser proposed film as indicative of subject-positioning in ideological contexts. After criticism levelled by the Post-Theorists (Bordwell, Carroll, etc.), Lacanian film theory had to reinvent itself. This happened through a reconceptualisation of a number of Lacanian theoretical motifs, as well as a change offocus from Lacan's earlier to his later work. Although Zizek is but one amongst a number of theorists that can be mentioned in this regard, his popularity and the fact that his work encompasses all of these rejuvenated theoretical motifs, result in the claim that neo-Lacanian film theory can also be described as being Zizekian. The main motif that represents the break between traditional and neo-Lacanian (or Zizekian) film theory, is the reconceptualisation of the filmic gaze. Whereas previously it was considered to represent the perspective of the camera and give the viewer the illusion of control, Zizekian theory identifies the gaze as the objectivation of the objet petit a i.e. the indication that the viewer is implied in the thing he or she sees. This meant that the gaze had nothing to do with control but rather with its opposite: an indication that the viewer cannot see everything, is implicated in the structure of what is seen and that the symbolic signification of thefilm harbours inherent antagonisms. The first exponent to present this interpretation was Joan Copjec, but Zizek followed suit to relate the gaze as objet petit a to a number of Lacanian concepts. These include a new focus on the dynamics of objet petit a (the object-cause of desire), the role that the Lacanian Real plays in contradistinction to the Symbolic and the Imaginary, the implications ofjouissance, the meaning of drive and desire and the all-important role of fantasy. The gaze, the objet petit a and the Real should be considered as a triad of motifs that partly overlap, partly modulate and partly shed light on one another. The common effect of all three would be the way in which these undercut the illusionary coherence presented by the Symbolic. The latter can be described as the filmic fantasy seen by the viewer and can be identified as representing the attempts to negate or hide the inconsistencies of the Symbolic as these are represented by the gaze. Žižek is very quick to indicate the similarities between the dynamics of fantasy in film and the dynamics of ideology in reality. If one could understand the tension between the objet petit a (gaze) and fantasy in film as the foundational element of ideology in reality, film analysis takes on a heuristic role beyond the ivory tower ofmere theory. It then becomes an entry point to think about the individual as ideological subject. This is where Žižek finds a moral obligation in the way he practices theory: theory should not be seen as a way to achieve objective truth, but rather as a historically situated attempt to make a difference in reality. Seen in this way, his appeal for theory in general andfilm theory specifically, is to employ its analytical apparatus to think about and even effect changes in our socio-political domain. His film theory therefore evolves into a thinking withfilm rather than a thinking aboutfilm: film remains crucial to gain insight into the fantastical coordinates of everyday life.

Keywords : Žižek; Lacan; neo-Lacanian; film; film theory; gaze"; objet petit a; subject positioning; jouissance; ideology.

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