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the classic theory of cinema that the camera is an impartial instrument which grasps, or rather is impregnated by, the world in its ‘concrete reality’ is an eminently reactionary one. What the camera in fact registers is the vague, unformulated, untheorized, unthought-out world of the dominant ideology. Cinema is one of the languages through which the world communicates itself to itself. They constitute its ideology for they reproduce the world as it is experienced when filtered through its ideology’. (Conolli and Narboni 1969, 46)

Scientific criticism has an obligation to define its fields and methods. This implies awareness of its own historical and social situation, a rigorous analysis of the proposed field of study, the conditions which make the work necessary and those which make it possible, and the special function it intends to fill. It is essential that we at Cahiers du Cinema should now undertake just such a global analysis of our positions and aims. (Comolli and Narboni 1969, 43)

Robert Lapsley and Micheal Westlake isolate two aspects of Lacanian theory, which were to prove crucial to film studies. The first is Lacan’s reversal of the Cartesian notion of subjectivity. Rather than the subject creating and naming the world, Lacan states that is in fact language itself, which creates the world, ‘the concept…engenders the thing’ (Lacan 1989, 72). This idea has many implications for filmic criticism, as speech can thus be conceived of as already saturated with the predominant ideology, making it difficult or even impossible to utilise speech to criticize ideological norms. In fact, Lacan even goes so far as to say that language can never fully articulate what the subject wishes to say: the unsignifiable order of the real is evidence of this.

The second of Lacan’s theories that proved indispensable for film studies is his re-reading of Ferdinand de Saussure. Lacan reverses Saussure’s formula for the sign, placing language above reality (S/s). He states that, ‘[f]or the human being the word or the concept is nothing other than the word in its materiality. It is the thing itself. It is not just a shadow, a breath, a virtual illusion of the thing, it is the thing itself’ (Lacan 1987, 178, my italics). Language murders the thing and takes its place. In this model of the sign, there is an endless sliding of signifiers over signifieds, which is temporarily halted by the point de caption. The graph of desire (Lacan 1989, 335) articulates succinctly the complexities inherent in signification. The horizontal vector represents the signifying chain, and intersects with the vector ΔS at two points. The first point of intersection denotes the constitution of the signifier from ‘a synchronic and enumerable collection of elements in which each is sustained only by the principle of its opposition to each of the others’ (Lacan 1989, 336). In short, this point represents the signifier, which attains its status through its difference from other terms in the system of language. The second point of intersection denotes the moment of punctuation, in which the signifier at the first point of intersection attains its full meaning retroactively. The two points of intersection are not symmetrical, nor are they intended to be. The first is ‘a locus (a place rather than a space) and the second is ‘a moment (a rhythm rather than a duration) (Lacan 1989, 336). The elementary cell of the graph cited here is simplistic, but serves to illustrate the relationship between subject and meaning. (

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