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Cinema Journal (1991) - The Mise-en-Abîme in Hitchcock's "Vertigo"




Notes & References

  1. In Josua V. Harari, ed., Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), 160. This is a revised version, translated by Harari, of the earlier one that appears in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, trans. and ed. Donald F Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 113-38.
  2. In a telephone conversation, 28 June 1982.
  3. Karen Hollinger in "'The Look,' Narrativity and the Female Spectator in Vertigo," Journal of Film and Video 39 (Fall 1987): 18-27, disputing the notion that it is "the place of the look that defines cinema," points to the way in which Oedipality is narrativized in Vertigo. Her point of departure is Teresa de Lauretis's essay "Desire in Narrative" in Alice Doesn't (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 103-57. Hollinger concludes that "In the course of the narrative... the concept of feminity in patriarchal society is shown to be a male fantasy construct, an impossible goal, a falsity, a denial of the irrevocable mother/daughter bond, and a suppression of female being." Marian Keane finds "inadequate Mulvey's concept of the camera, its powers, and the nature of its gaze. A corollary or consequence of this inadequacy is my dissatisfaction with her understanding of the nature of (human) photogenesis.... It [photogenesis] asserts that Vertigo is a study of the significances of its leading figure's identities, that who Hitchcock and the camera reveal them to be and what they individually project on film lie at the heart of Vertigo's meaning.... Chief among the features of Stewart's photogenesis is his capacity for suffering." The reader is referred to this article for more on the notion of photogenesis. See Keane, "A Closer Look at Scopophilia: Mulvey, Hitchcock and Vertigo," in Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, eds., A Hitchcock Reader (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1986), 231-48.
  4. Virginia Wright Wexman argues that the limitations of psychoanalysis in textual approaches is that it inevitably focuses on "gender difference, regression, and the organization of filmic space through the agency of the gaze"; these concerns block knowledge of a film's ideologies, in the case of Vertigo of important class, ethnic, and racial differences that symptomatize an American cold-war demonology. This demonology is displaced onto the image of woman as other: "In Vertigo, Hitchcock has masked the ideological workings of racism and xenophobia beneath a discourse of sexuality that is itself idealized as romantic love." See Wexman, "The Critic as Consumer: Film Study in the University, Vertigo, and the Film Canon," Film Quarterly 39 (Spring 1986): 32-41.
  5. These readings are primarily psychological readings of characters, and they gather up other sequences to augment the development of a psychology, toward the end of a salutation to Stanley Cavell. See William Rothman, "Vertigo: The Unknown Woman in Hitchcock," in Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis and Cinema, eds. Joseph M. Smith and William Kerrigan, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 64-81.
  6. Robin Wood, "Male Desire, Male Anxiety: The Essential Hitchcock," in Deutelbaum and Poague, eds., A Hitchcock Reader.
  7. Ibid., 221.
  8. Ibid., 228.
  9. Tania Modleski, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory (New York: Routledge, 1988), 3.
  10. Ibid., 92.
  11. "I tried to get that into Rebecca but they couldn't do it. The viewpoint must be fixed, you see, while the perspective is changed as it stretches lengthwise. I thought about the problem for fifteen years. By the time we got to Vertigo, we solved it by using the dolly and zoom simultaneously ... we [made] a miniature of the stairway and lay it on its side, then [took] our shot by pulling away from it ..." François Truffaut, Hitchcock (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), 187.
  12. In the source novel D'entre les morts by Boileau and Narcejac, the Vertigo antecedes the beginning, and the detective already knows he has it. See Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Films (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1976), 299.
  13. See the entry on "Deferred Action" in J. Laplanche and J. B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: W. W Norton and Co., 1973), 111-14.
  14. When Madeleine again vanishes from Scottie's flat after the suicide effort, a shot of her getting into her car on the street below tends to undermine the supernatural, at least for the spectator. This is also the one point in the film where Midge and Madeleine cross paths, Midge having driven by to see Scottie. Her comment to herself at the sight of Madeleine, "Was it a ghost, Johnny-O, was it fun?" identifies the whole hoaky scheme of things, but since there are no other such clues, it stands simply as a jealous remark.
  15. Truffaut, Hitchcock, 185.
  16. Destroyed letter, purloined letter, insistence of the letter, the letter as cutting edge -- it must obviously be quoted: "Dearest Scottie: and so you found me. This is the moment that I dreaded and hoped for, wondering what I would say and do if I ever saw you again. I wanted so to see you again, just once. Now I'll go and you can finish up your search. I want you to have peace of mind. You've nothing to blame yourself for. You were the victim. I was the tool and you were the victim of Gavin Elster's plan to murder his wife. He chose me to play the part because I looked like her, dressed and walked like her. He was quite safe because she lived in the country and rarely came to town. He chose you to be the witness to a suicide. The Carlotta story was part real, part invented, to make you testify that Madeleine had wanted to kill herself. He knew of your illness, he knew you'd never get up the stairs at the tower. He planned it so well, he made no mistakes. I made the mistake; I fell in love. But that wasn't part of the plan. I'm still in love with you and I want you so to love me. If I had the nerve, I'd stay and lie, hoping I could make you love me again, as I am, for myself, and so forget the other, forget the past. But I don't know whether I have the nerve to try."
  17. See Neil Hertz, "Freud and the Sandman," in Josua V. Harari, ed., Textual Strategies, 311.
  18. Jeffrey Mehlman contends that in "The Uncanny," Freud unwittingly came back to his discovery of the unconscious itself, i.e., he rediscovered the an-archical nature of its processes of repetition in/as difference: "Therein would lie the remarkable 'nodality' of 'The Uncanny,' its status as a microcosm of Freud's thought." See Mehlman "Poe Pourri: Lacan's Purloined Letter," Semiotext(e) 1 (1973): 51-68.
  19. "The Uncanny" in volume 17 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1958), 225. This edition is hereafter abbreviated as SE.
  20. Ibid., 238.
  21. Mehlman, "Poe Pourri," 56.
  22. The fact is especially emphasized by Thierry Kuntzel, "The Film-Work, 2," Camera Obscura 5 (Spring 1980): 7-25.
  23. Both Foucault, in "What is an Author?" and Jacques Derrida, in "Signature,-Event, Context," Glyph 1 (1977): 172-97, assert that the author's name is not a proper name. It is not "tethered" to a referent, source or context, since it functions in the radical absence of the historical person, as a principle of recognizability that ensures economic circulation.
  24. Acrophobia is defined as "a morbid dread of high places" (my emphasis stresses the implication of a tendency to avoidance of height), and vertigo as "a hallucination of movement, a sensation, as if the external world were revolving around the patient (objective vertigo), or as if he himself were revolving in space (subjective vertigo). The term is sometimes erroneously used as a synonym for dizziness." See Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 5th ed. (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1974). Notably, vertigo is not necessarily linked to falling.
  25. Although there is such a thing as "height vertigo," this variant is not equivalent to the conjunction instituted in this text of the vertigo with the phobia. A phobia is a symptomatic way of sparing anxiety attacks by the externalization of libidinal fears into ritual obsessions. Vertigo results because a psychical process of working over libidinal excitation is deflected and inappropriately somatized. See respectively Freud on agoraphobia in "Anxiety and Instinctual Life," SE XXII, 84-85, and on vertigo in "On the Grounds for Detaching a Particular Syndrome under the Description 'Anxiety Neurosis,'" SE III, 95.
  26. Commonly phantasized, as Freud points out in, among other things, "The Uncanny," 231.
  27. See Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Screen 16 (Autumn 1975): 6-18.
  28. Truffaut, Hitchcock, 188.
  29. Typically in the Hitchcock-text, says Raymond Bellour, "woman, the subject of neurosis, becomes the object of psychosis of which man is the subject. This is a fundamental aspect of the Hitchcockian constant according to which, given a certain order of desire, it is above all women that get killed." Bellour, "Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion," Camera Obscura 3-4 (Summer 1979): 112.
  30. See James S. Grotstein, Splitting and Projective Identification (New York: Jason Aronson, 1981), 133.
  31. See Janet Bergstrom, "Enunciation and Sexual Difference," Camera Obscura 3-4 (Summer 1979): 49 and 57.
  32. A single paragraph, on page 16.
  33. Edward Branigan, "Formal Permutations of the Point-of-View Shot," Screen 16 (Autumn 1974): 60. In an article that proposes that art historical and cinematic moments are commonly informed by phantasy, whether that be private or transindividual, Victor Burgin posits the moment of Madeleine's rescue by Scottie from the Bay as one that is informed by an intertext of "woman/water/flowers" images. See Burgin, "Diderot, Barthes, Vertigo" in Victor Burgin, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan, eds., Formations of Fantasy (New York and London: Metheun and Co. Ltd., 1986), 85-108.
  34. In a single paragraph on Vertigo in "Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion," 113.
  35. An idea richly elaborated, of course, in its vice versa (but it is plainly circular) in the respective work of Baudry, Kuntzel, and Metz, all denominating cinema as primary process: see, for examples, "The Apparatus," Camera Obscura 1 (Fall 1976), 104-25; "The Film-Work, 2"; and The Imaginary Signifier, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982). For another commentary on Scottie's dream as a set of "poorly realized dream images" see Stanley R. Palombo, "Hitchcock's Vertigo: The Dream Function in Film," in Smith and Kerrigan, eds., Images in Our Souls, 53.
  36. See Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), 113-14.
  37. Truffaut, Hitchcock, 185.
  38. Although he first attributes the observation to "neurotic" men, in the modulation of the passage, the qualifier disappears: "It often happens that neurotic men declare that they feel there is something uncanny about the female genital organs. This unheimlich place, however, is the entrance to the former Heim[home] of all human beings... whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, while he is still dreaming; 'this place is familiar to me, I've been here before,' we may interpret the place as being his mother's genitals or her body. In this case too, then, the unheimlich is what was once heimisch, familiar; the prefix 'un' is the token of repression" (245).
  39. Since the hermeneutic disclosure comes "later" in the text, the viewer can make this interpretation only retrospectively or on rereading.
  40. See the entry on "Beauty" in Roland Barthes, S/Z, 33-34.
  41. "The Uncanny," 232, my emphasis.
  42. Helene Cixous, "Fiction and its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud's Das Unheimliche," New Literary History (Spring 1976): 525-48.
  43. Bellour speaks of the "phantasy that indicates, for Hitchcock, the psychotic's access to the real: the murder of a woman (and through her to the too-well-loved mother.. .)." Bellour, "Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion," 114.
  44. Wood, Hitchcock's Films (New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1969): 75.
  45. Foucault, "What is an Author?," 158.
  46. Ibid., 159.
  47. The logic of the mise-en-abime justifies going outside the text and into the Truffaut interview in which, if proof is needed, Hitchcock delivers deadpan testimony to his fetishizing predilections: "Miss Novak arrived on the set with all sorts of preconceived notions that I couldn't possibly go along with. You know, I don't like to argue with a performer on the set; there's no reason to bring the electricians in on our troubles. I went to Kim Novak's dressing room and told her about the dresses and hairdos that I had been planning for several months. I also explained that the story was of less importance to me than the overall visual impact on the screen." Hitchcock, my emphasis, 188.
  48. Ibid.