Psychoanalysis, Cinema, and Symbolism
In the article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey discusses the relationships amongst psychoanalysis (primarily Freudian theory), cinema (as she observed it in the mid 1970s), and the symbolism of the female body. Taking some of her statements and ideas slightly out of their context, it is interesting to compare her thoughts to the continuum of oral-print-image cultures.
A great deal of this interesting comparison is encouraged by the introductory sections of Mulvey’s essay. She writes, “the paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world” (198). If phallocentrism depends on an image, is it inherently part of a modern, image-based culture? Long before Freud and psychoanalysis, phallocentrism certainly existed in oral and written texts (though without this specific term to identify it). Can the “image” that Mulvey refers to include an image described with words, or is she writing exclusively of a visual, dimensional image?
The function of woman in forming the patriarchal unconscious is twofold: she first symbolizes the castration threat by her real absence of a penis and, second, thereby raises her child into the symbolic. Once this has been achieved, her meaning in the process is at an end; it does not last into the world of law and language except as a memory which oscillates between memory of maternal plenitude and memory of lack.” (198-9, my italics)
So, in Mulvey’s “patriarchal unconscious,” which is presumably centered on phallocentrism, the woman’s role is only symbolic, only in images and thoughts and representations. But can’t these representations, these symbols, carry over into language and literature, into stories and fables? It is difficult to understand the divide Mulvey is recognizing between image and non-image existence. Does she mean to exclude literature from the breadth of places where women are objectified, symbolized, or generalized? She explicitly...