Saturday, 10 March 2012

Freudian theorys in Feminist Film Theory

The Oedipal complex is a term used by Sigmund Freud in his theory of psychosexual stages of development to describe a boy's unconcious feelings of desire for his mother and jealously and anger towards his father. Essentially, a boy feels like he is in competition with his father for possession of his mother. He views his father as a rival for her attentions and affections. The Oedipal complex is used in Feminist Film Theory to "prove" how women are seen as objects/possession in film to be either desired or as the "bad guy". However there is no way to prove that boys/men unconciously feel these things towards their parents and veiw their mothers as a possession so this theory is unscientific.

"The unconscious mechanism that I will focus on here is that of fetishism.
Here, briefly, is Freud's explanation of this mechanism. The fetish-object
(which is to say, the particular object that procures sexual gratification for
the fetishist: e.g., shoes, undergarments, fur coats, etc.) is revered as if it
were a penis--and not just any penis, but specifically the one belonging to
the fetishist's mother! This of course sounds ridiculous and not a little
disgusting. Freud clearly has some serious explaining to do. He explains himself
thus: when a young boy (for Freud, all fetishists are male) first sees a
woman--usually his mother--in the nude, he mistakenly conceives that she has
been castrated. This troubles him not only because he shudders to think or her
pain and humiliation, but because it suggests to him that he too is vulnerable
to castration. So to help himself deal with his fear of castration, he will find
a way to blank out the image of his mother's apparently mutilated genitals. He
will fixate on the last object that he saw the split-second before his eyes
encountered that terrifying lack of a penis. If the occasion of this traumatic
sighting was a scene of undressing, then he might fixate on his mother's
undergarments. If he were gazing upwards from the floor to his mother's naked
body, he might fixate on her feet or shoes (if she is wearing them). If he only
gradually sees her lack of a penis after first seeing her ample pubic hair, then
he might fixate on the pubic hair, or by visual association, on a piece of fur
clothing that resembles pubic hair (e.g., a fur coat or hat).
Later on, after the young fetishist matures and comes to understand that
there are two sexes, he will repress both his fear of castration and his
feelings of relief brought on by his mental substitution of an object to fill in
for the missing maternal penis. These repressed feelings will be shunted into
his unconscious, where he will still harbor them, even though he is not
consciously aware of any of this. Thus, on one (conscious) level, the fetishist
has come to understand that there are two sexes and that women do not have
penises because they belong to the opposite sex. But on another (unconscious)
level, the fetishist will still fear his mother's--and potentially his
own--castration, and he will continue to crave the release from fear that the
fetish object seems to grant. Consciously, the fetishist knows all about the
nature of normal sexuality, but he nevertheless craves his fetish-object instead
of, or in addition to, a sexual partner. He himself does not know why he craves
this object. The explanation can only be found, so Freud explains, by
psychoanalyzing the fetishist's unconscious.
This theory of fetishism, as Freud stated it, is a bit much to swallow--even
for many strict Freudians. It seems to be too hung up on penises and literal
castration, too localized below the belt, that is. Recent psychoanalytic theory
has offered another, more general articulation of Freud's insight. Instead of a
child feeling terrified by his mother's apparently literal castration, it is
possible that when the child sees her nakedness he feels terror at the
realization that there are two sexes. This realization suggests that biology and
society have separated him from his mother by putting her into a different
category. Henceforth he will be "cut off" from her--in a purely metaphorical
sense, castrated. Thus, this theory goes, the young fetishist seizes upon the
fetish-object, in the manner Freud described, in an effort to disavow sexual
difference. Later he will consciouslycome to accept sexual difference, but
unconsciously he will still harbor the fantasy of there being only a single sex
to which he, his mother, and all the women who can potentially replace her
belong." -

"Fine and good, you say, but what exactly is psychoanalytic film theory? It is an approach that focuses on unmasking the ways in which the phenomenon of cinema in general, and the elements of specific films in particular, are both shaped by the unconscious. Whose unconscious? This is where things get a little tricky. The unconscious studied by psychoanalytic film theory has been attributed to four different agencies: the filmmaker, the characters of a film, the film's
audience, and the discourse of a given film.

  1. . The Filmmaker's Unconscious. In its earliest stages, psychoanalytic film
    theory compared films to such manifestations of the unconscious as dreams, slips
    of the tongue, and neurotic symptoms. Just as these are considered to be
    manifestations of a patient's unconscious, films were considered to be
    manifestations of a filmmaker's unconscious. This kind of psychoanalytic film
    theory is somewhat out of fashion today.
  2. The Character's Unconscious. Another application of psychoanalysis to cinema studies--one still occasionally seen today--focuses on the characters of
    a given film and analyzes their behavior and dialogue in an attempt to interpret
    traces of their unconscious. This approach, when it first appeared, was
    immediately attacked by skeptical film critics who pointed out that fictional
    characters, insofar as they are not real people, have neither a conscious nor an
    unconscious mind to speak of. However, the psychoanalysis of film characters
    quickly found new credibility with the next stage in the development of
    psychoanalytic film theory--the analysis of the audience's unconscious as it is
    prompted and shaped during a film viewing.
  3. The Audience's Unconscious. The audience-focused approach will often focus
    on the way in which the behavior and dialogue of certain characters can be
    interpreted as manifestations of our unconscious, insofar as we come to
    identify ourselves with them when we visit the cinema. Thus, as we sit quietly
    in the dark and forge our psychic bonds with this or that character, we
    unconsciously project our own fantasies, phobias, and fixations onto these
    shimmering alter-egos. Whenever they inevitably say or do something that even
    tangentially touches upon one of these fantasies, phobias, or fixations, we
    derive unconscious satisfaction or dissatisfaction accordingly.
    4. The Unconscious of Cinematic Discourse. Finally, the most recent version
    of psychoanalytic film theory more or less abandons the character-centered
    approach altogether, focusing instead on how the form of films replicates or
    mimics the formal model of the conscious/unconscious mind posited by
    psychoanalysis. Thus, for example, the psychoanalytic film theorist might focus
    on the way in which the formal procedure of editing will sometimes function
    similarly to the mechanism of repression by cutting out a crucial, emotionally
    charged moment which, though unseen, will continue to resonate throughout the
    film (as in the markedly absent moment of actual cannibalism in Mankiewicz's
    Suddenly Last Summer). Here the unconscious that is unveiled belongs
    neither to the filmmaker, nor to a character, nor to an audience of viewers, but
    rather to the film's own discourse. The unconscious is thus conceived as an
    organization of hints and traces of meaning residing within the audio-visual
    language of the cinema. (Of course this unconscious can always become
    appropriated by the film-viewer--apropos the third form of psychoanalytic film
    theory--to the extent that he or she internalizes this language during the
    film-viewing situation).

So psychoanalytic film theory unmasks the psychic mechanisms functioning in
the unconscious of: filmmakers, characters, viewing audiences, and specific
instances of cinematic discourse." -

No comments:

Post a Comment