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Literature Film Quarterly (2004) - Hanging with Hitchcock




Hanging with Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is widely regarded as a great artist, infinitely more profound than a master of "mere" suspense. In The Hanging Figure: On Suspense and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Morris defines suspense, through interdisciplinary scholarship, not as our anticipation of what will happen next to an admired protagonist. This fails to account for "recidivist suspense" upon subsequent viewings of, say, a Hitchcock film. Rather, Morris suggests that Hitchcock was effectively a deconstructionist, and the suspense resides, as in all art, in undecidability. Thus in Rear Window, suspense is not just about accused murderer Thorwald's invading Jeffries's apartment to do physical harm. When Thorwald asks, "What is it that you want from me?" neither Jeff nor the viewer can answer.

Hitchcock said, "The world is a 'glamorously dangerous charade.'" So also film -- photons on a screen, clignotements, images of actors and objects -- consists of signs without referents in endless, unpredictable relays of meanings. The history of Hitchcock criticism -- whether New Critical, feminist, or New Historicist -- has variously explicated the director's bleak view of the universe, or his gender or Cold War ideology. But with figure and ground, the ground, too, is figural, both inside and outside the text.

Morris shows how interpretation follows the de Manian two-stage act common to all hermeneutics: First we observe a figure, then apply a series of ...

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Randall Spinks, DeVry University