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Between The Symbolic And The Sublime : Slavoj Žižek In Film Studies ... And Out

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posted on 08.06.2021, 09:46 by Matthew Flisfeder
The following dissertation examines film theory' s contribution to the Marxian theory of ideology. I argue that while early film theorists sought to develop a theory of film, film theory better serves the study and critique of ideology. I claim that the study of film and spectatorship can add to knowledge of ideology and subjectivity. To this end, I examine the relevance of the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, Slavoj Žižek, for contemporary film studies. I locate Žižek's place within film studies through a debate between himself and the prominent American film scholar, David Bordwell. Bordwell is well known for his advocacy of cognitive and middle-level research in film studies, and for his criticism of film theory (or, 'Theory'). He is one of the leaders of a movement in film studies known as post-Theory. I take up the debate between Žižek and Bordwell, and argue that the post-Theory rejection of Theory is an ideological effect of the class struggle. After carving out a place for Žižek in film studies, I examine the relevance of his psychoanalytic interpretations of cinema for a critique of ideology. Žižek is known for using examples from films as tools of exegesis for an interpretation of Lacanian psychoanalysis. However, I argue that while this is true for some of his writing on film, Žižek also practices a psychoanalytic interpretation of cinema that reveals something about the function of ideology. Referring to Žižek, I also argue against early film theorists who thought it possible to interpellate political subjectivities through alternative or avant-garde cinema. In contrast, I argue that the work itself in not powerful enough to interpellate political subjectivity. It is, rather, the interpretation that politicizes the work. I claim that films do not create subject-positions, as early film theorists argued; rather, they reproduce the already existing subject-positions of the spectators by reproducing pleasure or desire. However, without rejecting the efforts of early film theory, I conclude, against Bordwell and other post-Theorists, that Theory is still important in film studies, particularly in the area of political critique, and that Žižek's work is exemplary of the kind of political criticism needed in film studies.





Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University