Hitchcock's Cryptonymies (2005) by Tom Cohen
Volume 1 - "Secret Agents"
Volume 2 - "War Machines"
Tom Cohen’s radical exploration of Hitchcock’s cinema departs from conventional approaches — psychoanalytic, feminist, political — to emphasize the dense web of signatures and markings inscribed on and around his films. Aligning Hitchcock’s agenda with the philosophical and aesthetic writings of Nietzsche, Derrida, and Benjamin, Cohen's project dramatically recasts the history and meaning of cinema itself.
This first volume of Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies provides a singularly close reading of films such as The Lady Vanishes, Spellbound, and North by Northwest, exposing the often imperceptible visual and aural puns, graphic elements, and cryptograms that traverse his entire body of work. Within Hitchcock’s cinema, Cohen argues, these "secret agents" have more than just decorative or symbolic significance; they also reflect, critique, and disrupt traditional cinematic practice, undermining ways of seeing inherited from the Enlightenment and prefiguring postmodern culture.
From the recurrence of the eye motif and the frequency of names beginning with "Mar" to the role of memory and the director’s trademark cameos, Cohen offers an unprecedented guide to the entirety of Hitchcock’s labyrinthine signature system. At the same time, he liberates Hitchcock’s works from film history (modernist, auteurist), revealing them as unsettled events in the archaeology of contemporary global image culture.
This second volume of Hitchcock’s Cryptonomies presents the director’s works as a radical collage of images and absences, letters and numbers, citations and sounds that together mark Hitchcock as a knowing figure who was entirely aware of his—and cinema’s—place at the dawn of a global media culture, as well as of the cinema’s revolutionary impact on perception and memory. Cohen’s provocative interrogation culminates in an innovative close analysis of To Catch a Thief, a work disregarded by the critical establishment as being merely light entertainment.
Disguised as thrillers, Hitchcock’s films are as subversive as the spies around which their plots often revolve. Cohen sees them as "war machines"—hiding in plain sight at the center of the film canon—designed as much to erode traditional models of home, family, and state as to sabotage increasingly obsolete ways of seeing and knowing.
Tom Cohen is professor of American literary, critical, and cinematic studies at the University at Albany. He is the author of Anti-Mimesis: From Plato to Hitchcock and Ideology and Inscription: "Cultural Studies" after Benjamin, and coeditor of Material Events (Minnesota, 2000).