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Comparative Literature (2006) - Hitchcock's Cryptonomies




Cohen notes that the black sun (an apt trope also for the black light-giving lens of the camera) makes its first appearance "in the marksmanship scene of the first Man Who Knew Too Much: a clay target, shot at, that appears as a black disk traversing the sky, a simulacrum sun, source of light yet already a mark, whole, or copy" (1.50), and perhaps its last appearance in the famous shot of the dead Marion's opened iris, itself doubled by the shower drain into which her blood has conveniently poured.


HITCHCOCK'S CRYPTONOMIES. By Tom Cohen. Volume 1 : Secret Agents; Volume 2: War Machines. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.1284 p.; 300 p.

It is a curious but little–noted fact of film/literary history that around the same time that Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and others were declaring the "death of the author" the auteur designation was being used, with increasing frequency, to describe the movie director, particularly Hitchcock.1 One might consider such an anomaly understandable insofar as the film director's elevation to the status of auteur is surely figural, and so less a matter of the authority and authorship the aforementioned "death" was meant to decry. Nonetheless, it is one of the more obvious goals of Tom Cohen's massive new study to move Hitchcock even further into the post–modern era than have earlier works by Zizek, Jameson, Deleuze, and others by exploding any atavistic tendency still remaining that would define, in a thematic or univocal way, the meaning of Hitchcock, his signature, or his works.

This is not to say that admiration for Hitchcock's brilliance as a director is not readily apparent in Cohen's exciting new work. It is just that words like "admiration" and "brilliance," words which are mired in the logocentric tendencies of visual reification, occlude rather than illuminate the true greatness that is Hitchcock. In the beginning of section Nine of The Birth of Tragedy (a work Cohen frequently invokes), Nietzsche puts forth a theory of "negative sunspots" that seems to describe Cohen's hermeneutic model for understanding Hitchcock's genius:

After a...

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  1. Roland Barthes' famous essay dates from the same year, 1968, as Andrew Sarris's "Notes on the Auteur Theory." Foucault's essay "What is an Author?" followed a year later. The initial declaration of the "auteur‑theory" by André Bazin in Cahiers du Cinema dates from 1957.