by Slavoj Žižek
There are pipes and pipes.
Flaubert’s description of the first encounter of Madame Bovary and her lover 1 condense the entire problematic which, according to Foucault, determines the post-Kantian episteme of the 19th century: the new configuration of the axis power–knowledge caused by the incommensurability between the field of representation and the Thing, as well as the elevation of sexuality to the dignity of the unrepresentable Thing. After the two lovers enter the coach and tell the driver just to circulate around the city, we hear nothing about what goes on behind the coach’s safely closed curtains: with an attention to detail reminiscent of the later nouveau roman, Flaubert limits himself to lengthy descriptions of the city environment through which the coach aimlessly wanders, the stone-paved streets, the church arches, etc. — only in one short sentence does he mention that, for a brief moment, a naked hand pierced through the curtain… this scene is made as if to illustrate Foucault’s thesis, from the first volume of his History of Sexuality, that the very speech whose “official” function is to conceal sexuality actually engenders the appearance of its secret, i.e. that, to make use of the very terms of psychoanalysis against which Foucault’s thesis is aimed, the “repressed” content is an effect of repression: the more the writer’s gaze is restricted to irrelevant and boring architectural details, the more we, the readers, are tormented, greedy to learn what goes on in the space behind the closed curtains of the coach. The public prosecutor walked into this trap in the trial against Madame Bovary when he quoted precisely this passage as one instance of the obscene character of the book: it was easy for Flaubert’s defense lawyer to point out that there is nothing obscene in the neutral descriptions of paved streets and old houses. Any obscenity is entirely constrained to the reader’s (in this case: the prosecutor’s) imagination obsessed by the “real thing” behind the curtain .… It is perhaps no mere accident that today, this procedure of Flaubert strikes us as eminently cinematic: it is as if it plays upon what cinema theory designates as hors-champ, the externality of the field of vision that, in its very absence, organizes the economy of what can be seen: if (as was long ago proven by the classical analyses of Eisenstein) Dickens introduced into the literary discourse the correlatives of what later became the elementary cinematic procedures — the triad of establishing shots, “American” pans and close-ups; the parallel montage, etc. —, Flaubert took a step further towards an externality that eludes the standard exchange of field and counter-field, i.e. an externality that has to remain excluded if the field of what can be represented is to retain its consistency. 2
The crucial point, however, is not to mistake this incommensurability between the field of representation and sexuality for the censorship of the description of sexuality already at work in the preceding epochs. If Madame Bovary were to have been written a century earlier, the details of sexual activity would also have remained unmentioned, for sure, yet what we would have read after the two lover’s entry into the secluded space of the coach would have been a simple short statement like: “Finally alone and hidden behind the curtains of the coach, the lovers yielded to passion.” There, the lengthy descriptions of streets and buildings would have been totally out of place, they would have been perceived as lacking any function, since, in this pre-Kantian universe of representations, no radical tension could arise between the represented content and the traumatic Thing behind the curtain. Against this background, one is tempted to propose one of the possible definitions of “realism:” a naive belief that, behind the curtain of representations, some full, substantial reality actually exists (in the case of Madame Bovary, the reality of sexual superfluity). “Postrealism” begins with a doubt as to the existence of this reality “behind the curtain,” i.e. with the foreboding that the very gesture of concealment creates what it pretends to conceal.
An exemplary case of such “postrealist” playfulness, of course, are the paintings of Rene Magritte. Today, when one says “Magritte,” the first association, of course, is the notorious drawing of a pipe with an inscription below it: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (“This is not a pipe”). Taking as a starting point the paradoxes implied by this painting, Michel Foucault wrote a perspicacious little book of the same title. 3 Yet, perhaps, another of Magritte’s paintings can serve even more appropriately to establish the elementary matrix that generates the uncanny effects pertaining to his work: La lunette d’approche from 1963, the painting of a half-open window where, through the windowpane, we see the external reality (blue sky with some dispersed white clouds), yet what we see in the narrow opening which gives direct access to the reality beyond the pane is nothing, just a nondescript black mass.… In Lacanese, the painting would translate thus: The frame of the windowpane is the fantasy-frame that constitutes reality, whereas through the crack we get an insight into the “impossible” Real, the Thing-in-itself. 4
This painting renders the elementary matrix of the Magrittean paradoxes by way of staging the “Kantian” split between (symbolized, categorized, transcendentally constituted) reality and the void of the Thing-in-itself, of the Real, which gapes open in the midst of reality and confers upon it a fantasmatic character. The first variation that can be generated from this matrix is the presence of some strange, inconsistent element which is “extraneous” to the depicted reality, i.e., that, uncannily, has its place in it, although it does not “fit” in it: the gigantic rock that floats in the air close to a cloud has its heavy counterpart, its double, in La Bataille de l’Argonne (1959); the unnaturally large bloom which fills out the entire room in Tombeau des lutteurs (1960). This strange element “out of joint” is precisely the fantasy-object filling-out the blackness of the real that we perceived in the crack of the half-open window in La lunette d’approche. The effect of uncanniness is even stronger when the “same” object is redoubled, as in Les deux mystères, a later variation (from 1966) on the famous Ceci n’est pas une pipe: the pipe and the inscription underneath it “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” are both depicted as drawings on a blackboard; yet on the left of the blackboard, the apparition of another gigantic and massive pipe floats freely in a nonspecified space. The title of this painting could also have been “A pipe is a pipe,” for what is it if not a perfect illustration of the Hegelian thesis on tautology as the ultimate contradiction: the coincidence between the pipe located in a clearly defined symbolic reality, and its phantomatic, uncanny double, strangely afloat nearby. The inscription under the pipe on the blackboard bears witness to the split between the two pipes: the pipe which forms part of reality and the pipe as real, i.e. as a fantasy–apparition, are distinguished by the intervention of the symbolic order: it is the emergence of the symbolic order which splits reality into itself and the enigmatic surplus of the real, each one “derealizing” its counterpart.
The Lacanian point to be made here, of course, is that such a split can occur only in an economy of desire: it designates the gap between the inaccessible object-cause of desire, the “metonymy of nothingness” — the pipe floating freely in the air — and the “enmpirical” pipe which, although we can smoke it, is never “that”… (The Marx brothers’version of this painting would be something like “This looks like a pipe and works like a pipe, but this should not deceive you — this is a pipe!” 5) The massive presence of the free-floating pipe, of course, turns the depicted pipe into a “mere painting,” yet, simultaneously, the free-floating pipe is opposed to the “domesticated” symbolic reality of the pipe on the blackboard and as such acquires a phantom-like, “surreal” presence … like the emergence of the “real” Laura in Otto Preminger’s Laura. The police-detective (Dana Andrews) falls asleep staring at the portrait of the allegedly dead Laura; upon awakening, he finds at the side of the portrait the “real” Laura, alive and well. This presence of the “real” Laura accentuates the fact that the portrait is a mere “imitation;” on the other hand, the very “real” Laura emerges as a nonsymbolized fantasmatic surplus, a ghost-like apparition — beneath the portrait, one can easily imagine the inscription “This is not Laura.” A somewhat homologous effect of the real occurs at the beginning of Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America: a phone goes on ringing endlessly; when, finally, a hand picks up the receiver, the phone continues to ring — the first sound belongs to “reality,” whereas the ringing that goes on even after the receiver is picked up comes out of the nonspecified void of the real. 6
The non-intersubjective other
The impenetrable blackness that can be glimpsed through the crack of the half-opened window thus opens up the space for the uncanny apparitions of an Other who precedes the Other of “normal” intersubjectivity. Let us recall here a detail from Hitchcock’s Frenzy which bears witness to his genius: in a scene that leads to the second murder, Babs, the soon-to-be victim, a young girl who works in a Covent Garden pub, after a quarrel with the owner leaves her working place and steps out onto the busy market street; the street noise that for a brief moment hits us is quickly suspended (in a totally “nonrealistic” way) when the camera approaches Babs for a close-up, and the mysterious silence is then broken by an uncanny voice coming from an indefinite point of absolute proximity, as if from behind her and at the same time from within her, a man’s voice softly saying “Need a place to stay?”; Babs moves off and looks back — standing behind her is an old acquaintance who, unbeknownst to her, is the “necktie-murderer;” after a couple of seconds, the magic evaporates and we hear again the sound tapestry of “reality,” of the market street bustling with life.… This voice that emerges in the suspension of reality is none other than the objet petit a, and the figure which appears behind Babs is experienced by the spectator as supplementary with regard to this voice: it gives body to it, and, simultaneously, it is strangely intertwined with Babs’ body, as her body’s shadowy protuberance (not unlike the strange double body of Leonardo’s Madonna, analyzed by Freud; or, in Total Recall, the body of the leader of the underground resistance movement on Mars, a kind of parasitic protuberance on another person’s belly…). It is easy to offer a long list of similar effects; thus, in one of the key scenes of Silence of the Lambs, Clarice and Lecter occupy the same positions when engaged in a conversation in Lecter’s prison: in the foreground, the close-up of Clarice staring into the camera, and on the glass partition-wall behind her, the reflection of Lecter’s head germinating behind — out of her — as her shadowy double, simultaneously less and more real than her. The supreme case of this effect, however, is found in one of the most mysterious shots of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, when Scottie peers at Madeleine through the crack in the half-opened back-door of the florist’s shop. For a brief moment, Madeleine watches herself in a mirror close to this door, so that the screen is vertically split: the left half is occupied by the mirror where we see Madeleine’s reflection, while the right half is sliced by a series of vertical lines (the doors); in the vertical dark band (the crack of the half-opened door), we see a fragment of Scottie, his gaze transfixed on the “original” whose mirror-reflection we see in the left half. A truly “Magrittean” quality clings to this unique shot: although, as to the disposition of the diegetic space, Scottie is here “in reality,” whereas what we see of Madeleine is only her mirror-image, the effect of the shot is exactly the reverse: Madeleine is perceived as part of reality and Scottie as a phantomlike protuberance who (like the legendary dwarf in Grimm’s Snow White) lurks behind the mirror. This shot is Magrittean in a very precise sense: the dwarf-like mirage of Scottie peeps out of the very impenetrable darkness which gapes in the crack of the half-open window in La lunette d’approche (the mirror in Vertigo, of course, corresponds to the windowpane in Magritte’s painting) — in both cases, the framed space of the mirrored reality is traversed by a vertical black rift. As Kant puts it, there is no positive knowledge of the Thing-in-itself, one can only designate its place, “make room” for it. This is what Magritte accomplishes on a quite literal level: the crack of the half-open door, its impenetrable blackness, makes room for the Thing. And by locating in this crack a gaze, Hitchcock supplements Magritte in a Hegelian–Lacanian way: “If beyond appearance there is no Thing-in-itself, there is the gaze.” 7
In his Bayreuth production of Tristan und Isolde, Jean-Pierre Ponelle changed Wagner’s original plot, interpreting all that follows Tristan’s death — the arrival of Isolde and King Marke, Isolde’s death — as Tristan’s mortal delirium: the final appearance of Isolde is staged so that the dazzlingly illuminated Isolde grows luxuriantly behind him, while Tristan stares at us, the spectators, who are able to perceive his sublime double, the protuberance of his lethal enjoyment. This is also how Bergman, in his version of The Magic Flute, often shot Pamina and Monostatos: a close-up of Pamina who stares intensely into the camera, with Monostatos appearing behind her as her shadowy double, as if belonging to a different level of reality (illuminated with pointedly “unnatural” dark-violet colors), with his gaze also directed into the camera. This disposition, in which the subject and his or her shadowy, ex-timate double stare into a common third point (materialized in us, the spectators), epitomizes the relationship of the subject to an Otherness which is prior to intersubjectivity. The field of intersubjectivity where subjects, within their shared reality, “look into each other’s eyes,” is sustained by the paternal metaphor, whereas the reference to the absent third point which attracts the two gazes changes the status of one of the two partners — the one in the background — into the sublime embodiment of the real of enjoyment.
What all these scenes have in common on the level of purely cinematic procedure is a kind of formal correlative of the reversal of face-to-face intersubjectivity into the relationship of the subject to his shadowy double which emerges behind him or her as a kind of sublime protuberance: the condensation of the field and counterfield within the same shot. What we have here is a paradoxical kind of communication: not a “direct” communication of the subject with his fellow-creature in front of him, but a communication with the excrescence behind him, mediated by a third gaze, as if the counterfield were to be mirrored back into the field itself. It is this third gaze which confers upon the scene its hypnotic dimension: the subject is enthralled by the gaze which sees “What is in himself more than himself”.… And the analytical situation itself — the relationship between analyst and analysant — does it not ultimately also designate a kind of return to this pre-intersubjective relationship of the subject(–analysand) to his shadowy other, to the externalized object in himself? Is not this the whole point of the spatial disposition of analysis: after the so-called preliminary interviews, the analysis proper begins when the analyst and the analysand no longer confront each other face to face, but the analyst sits behind the analysand who, stretched on the divan, stares into the void in front of him? Does not this very disposition locate the analyst as the analysant’s object small a, not his dialogical partner, not another subject? 8
The object of the indefinite judgment
At this point, we should go back to Immanuel Kant: in his philosophy, this crack, this space where such monstrous apparitions can emerge, is opened up by the distinction between negative and indefinite judgement. The very example used by Kant to illustrate this distinction is tell-tale: the positive judgment by means of which a predicate is ascribed to the (logical) subject — “The soul is mortal;” the negative judgement by means of which a predicate is denied to the subject — “The soul is not mortal;” the indefinite judgement by means of which, instead of negating a predicate (i.e. the copula which ascribes it to the subject), we affirm a certain nonpredicate — “The soul is not-mortal.” (In German also, the difference is solely a matter of punctuation: Die Seele ist nicht sterbliche — Die Seele ist nichtsterbliche; Kant enigmatically does not use the standard unsterbliche. See CPR, A 72–73.)
Along this line of thought, Kant introduces in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason the distinction between positive and negative meanings of “noumenon:” in the positive meaning of the term, noumenon is “an object of a nonsensible intuition,” whereas in the negative meaning, it is “a thing insofar as it is not an object of our sensible intuition” (CPR, B 307). The grammatical form should not mislead us here: the positive meaning is expressed by the negative judgment and the negative meaning by the indefinite judgment. In other words, when one determines the Thing as “an object of a nonsensible intuition,” one immediately negates the positive judgement which determines the Thing as “an object of a sensible intuition”: one accepts intuition as the unquestioned base or genus; against this background, one opposes its two species, sensible and nonsensible intuition. Negative judgement is thus not only limiting, it also delineates a domain beyond phenomena where it locates the Thing — the domain of the nonsensible intuition — whereas in the case of the negative determination, the Thing is excluded from the domain of our sensible intuition, without being posited in an implicit way as the object of a nonsensible intuition; by leaving in suspense the positive status of the Thing, negative determination saps the very genus common to affirmation and negation of the predicate.
Herein lies also the difference between “is not mortal” and “is not-mortal”: what we have in the first case is a simple negation, whereas in the second case, a nonpredicate is affirmed. The only “legitimate” definition of the noumenon is that it is “not an object of our sensible intuition,” i.e. a wholly negative definition which excludes it from the phenomenal domain; this judgment is “infinite” since it does not imply any conclusions as to where, in the infinite space of what remains outside the phenomenal domain, the noumenon is located. What Kant calls “transcendental illusion” ultimately consists in the very (mis)reading of infinite judgment as negative judgment: when we conceive the noumenon as an “object of a nonsensible intuition,” the subject of the judgment remains the same (the “object of an intuition”), what changes is only the character (nonsensible instead of sensible) of this intuition, so that a minimal “commensurability” between the subject and the predicate (i.e., in this case, between the noumenon and its phenomenal determinations) is still maintained.
This subtle difference between negative and indefinite judgment figures in a certain type of witticism where the second part does not immediately invert the first part by negating its predicate but repeats it with the negation displaced onto the subject. Let us recall Marx’s ironic critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy: “Instead of the ordinary individual with his ordinary manner of speaking and thinking, we have nothing but this ordinary manner purely and simply — without the individual.” 9 This is what the chimera of “nonsensible intuition” is about: instead of ordinary objects of sensible intuition, we get the same ordinary objects of intuition, without their sensible character. Or, to take another example: the judgment “He is an individual full of idiotic features” can be negated in a standard mirror way, i.e. replaced by its contrary “He is an individual with no idiotic features”; yet its negation can also be given the form of “He is full of idiotic features without being an individual.” This displacement of the negation from the predicate onto the subject provides the logical matrix of what is often the unforeseen result of our educational efforts to liberate the pupil from the constraint of prejudices and cliches: the result is not a person capable of expressing himself or herself in a relaxed, unconstrained way, but an automatized bundle of (new) cliches behind which we no longer sense the presence of a “real person.” Let us just recall the usual outcome of psychological training intended to deliver the individual from the constraints of his or her everyday frame of mind and to set free his or her “true self,” with all its authentic creative potentials (transcendental meditation, etc.): once the individual gets rid of the old cliches that were still able to sustain the dialectical tension between themselves and the “personality” behind them, what take their place are new cliches which abrogate the very “depth” of personality behind them… in short, the individual becomes a true monster, a kind of “living dead.” Samuel Goldwyn, the old Hollywood mogul, was right: “What we need are indeed some new, original cliches.…”
Invoking the “living dead” is no accident here: in our ordinary language, we resort to indefinite judgments precisely when we endeavor to comprehend those borderline phenomena that undermine established differences, such as those between living and being dead: in the texts of popular culture, the uncanny creatures which are neither alive nor dead, the “living dead” (vampires, etc.), are referred to as “the undead” — although they are not dead, they are clearly not alive like us, ordinary mortals. The judgment “he is undead” is therefore an indefinite-limiting judgment in the precise sense of a purely negative gesture of excluding vampires from the domain of the dead, without for that reason locating them in the domain of the living (as in the case of the simple negation “he is not dead”). The fact that vampires and other “living dead” are usually referred to as “things” has to be rendered with its full Kantian meaning: a vampire is a Thing which looks and acts like us, yet it is not one of us.… In short, the difference between the vampire and the living person is the difference between indefinite and negative judgment: a dead person loses the predicates of a living being, yet he or she remains the same person; an undead, on the contrary, retains all the predicates of a living being without being one — as in the above-quoted Marxian joke, what we get with the vampire is “the ordinary manner of speaking and thinking purely and simply — without the individual.”
“I am going to talk to you about the lamella…”
What one should do here, in the space of a more detailed theoretical elaboration, is to approach in a new way the Lacan–Heidegger relationship. In the 1950s, Lacan endeavored to read the “death-drive” against the background of Heidegger’s “being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode)”, conceiving of death as the inherent and ultimate limit of symbolization, which accounts for its irreducible temporal character. With Lacan’s shift towards the Real from the ‘60s onwards, it is the indestructible life sprouting in the domain of the “undead” that emerges as the ultimate object of horror. Lacan delineates its contours towards the end of Chapter XV of his Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis where he proposes his own myth, constructed upon the model of Aristophanes’ fable from Plato’s Symposium, the myth of l’hommelette (little female-man—omelette 10):
“Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the fetus emerges on its way to becoming a newborn are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella.
The lamella is something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something … that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal — because it survives any division, any scissiparous intervention. And it can run around.
Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep.…
I can’t see how we would not join battle with a being capable of these properties. But it would not be a very convenient battle. This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ … is the libido.
It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, or irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life. It is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents. The objets a are merely its representatives, its figures. The breast — as equivocal, as an element characteristic of the mammiferous organization, the placenta for example — certainly represents that part of himself that the individual loses at birth, and which may serve to symbolize the most profound lost object.” 11
What we have here is an Otherness prior to intersubjectivity: the subject’s “impossible” relationship to this amoebalike creature 12 is what Lacan is ultimately aiming at by way of his formula $ <> a. The best way to clarify this point is perhaps to allow ourselves the string of popular-culture associations that Lacan’s description must evoke. Is not the alien from Ridley Scott’s film of the same title “lamella” in its purest? Are not all the key elements of Lacan’s myth contained in the first truly horrifying scene of the film when, in the womblike cave of the unknown planet, the “alien” leaps from the egg-like globe when its lid splits off and sticks to John Hurt’s face? This amoebalike, flattened creature, which envelops the subject’s face, stands for the irrepressible life beyond all the finite forms that are merely its representatives, its figures (later in the film, the “alien” is able to assume a multitude of different shapes), immortal and indestructible (it suffices to recall the unpleasant thrill of the moment when a scientist cuts with a scalpel into a leg of the creature which envelops Hurt’s face: the liquid that drips from it falls onto the metal floor and corrodes it immediately, nothing can resist it). 13
The second association which brings us back to Wagner is a detail from Syberberg’s film-version of Parsifal: Syberberg depicts Fisher King Amfortas’ wound as externalized, carried by the servants on a pillow in front of him, in the form of a vaginalike partial object out of which blood drips in a continuous flow (as, vulgari eloquentia, a vagina in an unending period…). This palpitating opening — an organ that is at the same time the entire organism (let us just recall a homologous motif in a series of science-fiction stories, like the gigantic eye living a life of its own) — this opening epitomizes life in its indestructibility: Amfortas’ pain consists in the very fact that he is unable to die, that he is condemned to an eternal life of suffering; when, at the end, Parsifal heals his wound with “the spear that smote it,” Amfortas is finally able to rest and die.… This wound of Amfortas, which persists outside himself as an undead thing, is the “object of psychoanalysis.” 14
See Alain Abelhauser’s analysis “D’un manque a saisir” in Razpol 3, Ljubljana 1987.
One can imagine how the cinematic version of this scene would be able to rely on the contrapuntal use of sound: the camera would show the coach running along the empty streets, the fronts of old palaces and churches, whereas the soundtrack would be allowed to retain the absolute proximity to the Thing and to render the real of what goes on in the coach: the gasping and moaning that attests to the intensity of the sexual encounter…
See Michel Foucault, This is not a pipe, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 1982.
One encounters the same paradox in Robert Heinlein’s science-fiction novel The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag: when a window is opened, the reality previously seen through it dissolves and all we see is a dense, nontransparent slime of the Real. For a more detailed Lacanian reading of this novel, see Chapter 1 of Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 1991.
In Marx Brothers’ films, we encounter three variations on this paradox of identity, i.e. of the uncanny relationship between existence and property:
•Groucho Marx, upon being introduced to a stranger: “Say, you remind me of Emmanuel Ravelli.” — “But I am Emmanuel Ravelli.”— “Then, no wonder you look like him!”
•Groucho, defending a client before the court: “This man looks like an idiot and acts like an idiot, yet all this should not deceive you — he is an idiot!”
•Groucho, courting a lady: “Everything on you reminds me of you, your nose, your eyes, your lips, your hands — everything except you!”
What lies at the heart of these paradoxes, of course, is the thesis, defended already by Russian formalists (Jakobson, for example), according to which every predicate has the status of a metaphor: describing a thing by means of a predicate ultimately equals saying what that thing resembles to.
What we have in this scene, of course, is a kind of reflective redoubling of the external stimulus (sound, organic need, etc.) that triggers the activity of dreaming: one invents a dream integrating this element in order to prolong the sleep, yet the content encountered in the dream is so traumatic that, finally, one escapes into reality and awakens.… The ringing of the phone while we are asleep is such a stimulus par excellence; its duration even after the source in reality ceased to emit it exemplifies what Lacan calls the insistence of the real.
Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton l977, p. 103.
This phantomlike double, our shadow and yet “more real than ourselves,” is also rendered by the famous verses from Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner which Mary Shelley used to characterize Dr. Frankenstein’s relationship to his terrifying creature: “Like one, that on a lonesome road / Doth walk in fear and dread, / And having once turned round walks on, / And turns no more his head; / Because he knows, a frightful fiend / Doth close behind him tread.”
Karl Marx, “The Poverty of Philosophy,” in Karl Marx / Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, New York: International Publishers 1976, p. 163.
Lacan, of course, alludes here to the proverbial “You cannot make an hommelette without breaking the egg.”
Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton 1979, p. 197–198.
Here, apropos of lamella, one should avoid the trap of identifying it precipitously with the maternal body. As Freud himself pointed out in one of his letters, the model of the double (and of lamella) is not mother but rather placenta — that part of the child’s body that, at the moment of birth, is lost by the newborn as well as by the mother.
It is precisely this physical, tangible impact of “lamella” which gets lost in the sequel Aliens, which is why this sequel is infinitely inferior to the original Alien. — Alien3 is far more interesting because of two key features: first, the doubling of the “alien”-motif (Ripley, herself an alien in the male penal colony, carries within her the “alien”); secondly, the suicidal gesture which concludes the film (upon learning that she already is pregnant with the “alien” which, sooner or later, is bound to jump out of her chest the way it did in the first Alien out of John Hurt, Ripley throws herself into the hot melted iron — the only way to destroy what is “in herself more than herself,” the a, the surplus-object in herself…).
The more general interest of Syberberg’s Parsifal lies in the specific mode of subverting ideology which might be called interpellation without identification (the same paradox is also at work in Franz Kafka’s novels; see Chapter V of Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso 1990): the subject finds itself interpellated without knowing what s/he is interpellated into, without any point of identification, of self-recognition, being offered. And it is precisely this “empty” interpellation, this nonspecific notion that we are addressed, summoned, lacking any clear indication of what the Other actually wants from us, that gives rise to an intense culpability. The “Che vuoi?” emanating from the Other thus remains unfulfilled. Or, to put it a different way, Syberberg’s Parsifal overwhelms us with a baroque profusion of symbols in which we, the spectators, look in vain for a consistent message; this overabundance paradoxically hinders the effect of meaning and brings about what Lacan baptized jouis-sense, enjoy-meant, enjoyment-in-meaning.