Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

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Le Samouraï
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#1 Post by Le Samouraï » Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:46 am

domino harvey wrote:I know not everyone loves him but if Criterion does release some late period Lynch, I hope they do commission something by Zizek-- his section on Lynch in the Pervert's Guide to Cinema was quite an effective defense for several films I'd otherwise disregarded
Hopefully not. Zizek is not much more than a simple hack. Psychoanalytic approaches are SO last millennium.

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Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#2 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:22 am

While I won't say anything bad about a fellow philosopher (at least until I'm tenured), I'll second Le Samouraï's assessment. Karl Popper may have been wrong about almost everything, but his critique of psychoanalysis is spot on--its a protoscience at best. The only positive contribution that it made to the world was setting us on the course to the far more rigorous and scientific cognitive psychology. I honestly cannot think of why knowing what we do today anyone would think that psychoanalysis is a legitimate method of examining any field.

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#3 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:00 am

In grad school I had to work his way through some of the most incoherent critical psychoanalytical writings ever written and I still think you're both nuts. It was and remains one of the most important tools for serious film criticism, no matter how oblique those works can get

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#4 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:12 am

Psychoanalysis is not a science at all, that's certain. What Freud created was actually a secular mythology, where various cognitive processes are given narrative explanations. Like all narativisations of particular phenomena, the general explanation comes to seem prior to the thing it was actually derived from and you end up with a myth. Its mythological function is the reason it was so appealing to intellectuals in the increasingly secular and unstable early twentieth century.

For that reason, psychoanalysis is useless as a framework of actual psychology, but excellent as a framework of tropes. So, like any other essentially imaginative framework, it is enormously applicable to interpreting the arts, especially considering how ingrained in our consciousness those tropes have become.

I sympathize with Nabokov, tho', when he says: "I think [Freud]'s crude, I think he's medieval, and I don't want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me."

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#5 Post by movielocke » Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:14 am

I remember thinking in film school it was absurd that we were using Freudian (and other psychoanalytic) methods of analyzing the films when those methods had been thoroughly discredited for decades.

The advantage of course is that psychoanalysis privileges the analyst and minimizes the subject (the text), so it's a crucial tool in allowing the analyst to 'outsmart/dominate' the subject/author, by 'finding' (aka adding) evidence of whatever the investigation is after. Confirmation and selection bias methods leads to an infinite number of thesis, none of which can be refuted.

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#6 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:19 am

Admitting that what you say can be true, it still has to be asked: do you not think that using a Freudian methodology also allows you to tell when other artists are working through Freudian tropes and figure out how those symbols inform the thing's meaning? I mean this of artists both consciously and unconsciously doing so.

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#7 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:00 am

Domino, first, I agree that there are truly incomprehensible pieces of work out there written under the banner of psychoanalysis. I've tried making my way through the writings of Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray and am convinced that neither of them are saying anything at all--they're just incomprehensible word salads that are trying to sound profound without making any sense whatsoever. That being said, I'm assuming that your support doesn't come from it's benefit as a psychological tool. I'm no psychologist, but I'm under the impression that virtually all contemporary psychologists (at least in the English speaking world) reject it (while holding on to only the most tangential aspects of Freudian and neo-Freudian thought (e.g. the id, ego, and superego division). Correct, yes? So what use do you find for it? Is it useful as a way of interpreting films and/or literature? Although I certainly don't have your background in film studies (sadly, I only took an introductory course as a freshman, though I wish I had taken more) I fail to see the utility here either. It's not just because I've been exposed to some truly atrocious psychoanalytic film interpretations (e.g. Marian Keene commentaries), but I don't understand why its desirable or even rational to interpret all media under the lens of a particular ideology whether it's psychoanalytic, Marxist, modernist, postmodernist, feminist, etc. If anything, I would say that this approach hinders film studies rather than helps it progress.

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#8 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:07 am

If you'd like a good example of the utility of psychoanalysis in criticism (tho' it'll have to be a literature one since I can't think up a film one off-hand), check out William Empson's genius essay Alice in Wonderland: the Child as Swain in his book Some Versions of Pastoral. I wouldn't be without it.

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#9 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:18 am

Mr Sausage wrote:If you'd like a good example of the utility of psychoanalysis in criticism (tho' it'll have to be a literature one since I can't think up a film one off-hand), check out William Empson's genius essay Alice in Wonderland: the Child as Swain in his book Some Versions of Pastoral. I wouldn't be without it.
Thanks Sausage. I've never heard of it, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for it. But this seems like an interesting case to me. We actually know what Lewis Carroll intended in his Alice books--they were a critique of non-Euclidean geometry. Do we really need a Freudian analysis to understand that? Hardly. If anything I suspect that it would cloud the debate and result in some very silly claims (like the infamous psychoanalytic claim that the Protestant Reformation occurred because Martin Luther wet his bed as a child). I've actually read a good book that touches on this subject recently. I'd recommend Michael D. Gordin's The Pseudoscience Wars for a good introduction to how psychoanalysis perverts history. In this particular case both Freud and his follower Immanuel Velikovsky offer bizarre and inaccurate reinterpretations of history in order to make history fit within their theory. That is 180 degrees of how scholarship should be done. Let the facts speak for themselves and then build a theory from them.

P.S. I've also been partial to Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice.

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#10 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:28 am

bamwc2 wrote:We actually know what Lewis Carroll intended in his Alice books--they were a critique of non-Euclidean geometry. Do we really need a Freudian analysis to understand that? Hardly. If anything I suspect that it would cloud the debate and result in some very silly claims
Nice to know you're going to read the essay with an open mind.

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#11 Post by jwd5275 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:42 am

bamwc2 wrote: In this particular case both Freud and his follower Immanuel Velikovsky offer bizarre and inaccurate reinterpretations of history in order to make history fit within their theory. That is 180 degrees of how scholarship should be done.
And how is this any different from what Nietzsche does with history...? Or have you ever tried fact checking Hegel's Philosophies of History?

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#12 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:04 pm

bamwc2 wrote:Domino, first, I agree that there are truly incomprehensible pieces of work out there written under the banner of psychoanalysis. I've tried making my way through the writings of Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray and am convinced that neither of them are saying anything at all--they're just incomprehensible word salads that are trying to sound profound without making any sense whatsoever. That being said, I'm assuming that your support doesn't come from it's benefit as a psychological tool. I'm no psychologist, but I'm under the impression that virtually all contemporary psychologists (at least in the English speaking world) reject it (while holding on to only the most tangential aspects of Freudian and neo-Freudian thought (e.g. the id, ego, and superego division). Correct, yes? So what use do you find for it? Is it useful as a way of interpreting films and/or literature? Although I certainly don't have your background in film studies (sadly, I only took an introductory course as a freshman, though I wish I had taken more) I fail to see the utility here either. It's not just because I've been exposed to some truly atrocious psychoanalytic film interpretations (e.g. Marian Keene commentaries), but I don't understand why its desirable or even rational to interpret all media under the lens of a particular ideology whether it's psychoanalytic, Marxist, modernist, postmodernist, feminist, etc. If anything, I would say that this approach hinders film studies rather than helps it progress.
It's essential because that's how you get noticed, published, and/or invited to present at conferences, and therefore further your career, learning, and ability to pursue those interests which excite you and others. Everyone has specialties and Psychoanalysis is one of the most widely accepted and desired critical approaches to film. It isn't mine (I'm a Derrida-ian if I'm anything) but since one of my specialties in college was Film Semiotics, I needed to be familiar with Christian Metz's renowned work in the field, not just for my own benefit but to be able to field questions after seminars from parties who know him mainly from the Imaginary Signifier! Whether psychoanalysis is acceptable practice in practical psychology is beside the point: it is in film studies, the end.

I know you're an educator yourself, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt as to your last point, but on my end that sounds an awful lot like anti-intellectualism. Of course I don't watch every film through a strict ideological or critical lens-- I doubt anyone does, even the experts in their field-- but I can access that toolbox any time I want, and that's the point. If it has no function, than none of academia has any function.

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#13 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:23 pm

jwd5275 wrote:
bamwc2 wrote: In this particular case both Freud and his follower Immanuel Velikovsky offer bizarre and inaccurate reinterpretations of history in order to make history fit within their theory. That is 180 degrees of how scholarship should be done.
And how is this any different from what Nietzsche does with history...? Or have you ever tried fact checking Hegel's Philosophies of History?
It's not any different. I find both Nietzsche and Hegel's (and by extension Marx's) view of history to be utter baloney. It's basically the same reason why I'm highly skeptical of Jared Diamond's attempts to turn history into a testable science. I'm no philosopher of history (such people exist, but are few and far between in academia), but I can say that the idea that history follow scientific laws (which is basically the thesis of all of these listed authors) is demonstrably false. Although I haven't written them yet, next month I'll be tackling a pair of chapters on the uses and abuses of history for my book, including Holocaust denial, hagiography (Che and Reagan), David Barton's revisionism, and Fomenkoism. Perhaps I'll drop one of these last three topics in favor of the "scientific" view of history. I'd also be happy to share any of the material once its written.

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#14 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:27 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
bamwc2 wrote:We actually know what Lewis Carroll intended in his Alice books--they were a critique of non-Euclidean geometry. Do we really need a Freudian analysis to understand that? Hardly. If anything I suspect that it would cloud the debate and result in some very silly claims
Nice to know you're going to read the essay with an open mind.
Mr. Sausage, I was merely trying to say that I find it an odd approach given that we actually have Carroll's own explanation of what everything means in it. You're right though that I should reserve my judgments until I read it. My apologies.

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#15 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:33 pm

Domino, my apologies if I come off sounding like I mean something that I don't. I think that film studies is a valuable enterprise that absolutely belongs in the universities. That being said, I am an outsider looking in. Like you, my specialty is philosophy of language (and what was Derrida if he wasn't a philosopher of language), but I think that my approach is radically different from yours. I realize that I shouldn't make sweeping generalizations about subjects that I haven't studied in depth, but what little I do know about it makes me want to pursue a more analytic (no, not psychoanalytic) approach to understanding films. I know that such approaches have been tried in the past, but have never caught on.

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#16 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:47 pm

Domino harvey wrote:(I'm a Derrida-ian if I'm anything)
Really. I never would've guessed from reading your posts on here. Not that that guarantees anything, but I don't think I've ever seen you interpret a movie using deconstruction on here.
bamwc2 wrote:Mr. Sausage, I was merely trying to say that I find it an odd approach given that we actually have Carroll's own explanation of what everything means in it. You're right though that I should reserve my judgments until I read it. My apologies.
It's not hard to see that the stories contain more than just a mathematical critique, tho'. Besides, Carrol's own statements just lead you into the intentional fallacy, and one should be open to the idea that the stories contain riches even he wasn't aware of (or didn't want to be aware of). Empson is one of the most acute and ingenious critics; if nothing more, he will make you look at the books in a novel way.

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#17 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:52 pm

Please pardon my ignorance, but what is the intentional fallacy?

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#18 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:00 pm


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#19 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:05 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:Intentional Fallacy.
Oh there are so many semantic puzzles that I could bring up here re: speaker meaning vs. hearer meaning.

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#20 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:27 pm

I'm sometimes ambivalent to the idea myself, but the best statement I've ever heard of it comes from Northrop Frye:
Northrop Frye wrote:...it is a blunder to limit the meaning of art to what the artist may be presumed to have intended. The artist's "intentions" are often on levels of consciousness quite unknown to himself. Some of these levels are subconscious and some superconscious: the latter may need the passing of centuries to clarify. The poet's "Spectre" may be dull, wrong-headed or erratic: the plain meaning of his imagination the poet may perfectly well repudiate as a "man." He is often a bad critic of his own work and is capable of saying inadequate and misleading things about it [...]
The poet's meaning, then, is often quite different from what he may think he thought he meant, and in any case it is cumulative. Few great poets would be able to understand the reason for their fame in the following century. The inference is that all genuine poetry is something quite separate from the person who wrote it. A poem is like a child, an independently living being not fully born until the navel-string has been cut.

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#21 Post by jwd5275 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:37 pm

bamwc2 wrote:I don't understand why its desirable or even rational to interpret all media under the lens of a particular ideology whether it's psychoanalytic, Marxist, modernist, postmodernist, feminist, etc. If anything, I would say that this approach hinders film studies rather than helps it progress.
I would argue that logical positivism, analytic philosophy, cognative science are as much of ideologies as the ones you list here. There is no pure interpretation. Every individual interpretation is filtered through the particular hermenuetic situtation of the interpreter.

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#22 Post by bamwc2 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:50 pm

jwd5275 wrote:
bamwc2 wrote:I don't understand why its desirable or even rational to interpret all media under the lens of a particular ideology whether it's psychoanalytic, Marxist, modernist, postmodernist, feminist, etc. If anything, I would say that this approach hinders film studies rather than helps it progress.
I would argue that logical positivism, analytic philosophy, cognative science are as much of ideologies as the ones you list here. There is no pure interpretation. Every individual interpretation is filtered through the particular hermenuetic situtation of the interpreter.

First, how on Earth on those three grouped together? One is an approach to philosophy, another a specific and discredited philosophical thesis, and the third is an interdisciplinary subject.

Second, what is your argument for this point? I'd love to hear it.

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#23 Post by jwd5275 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 3:09 pm

No less related than the list you gave above.... only coming from the 'anglo-american' strand of thought which, from my experience, claim to come from a more 'scientific' or 'logical' approach that you seem to advocate. My point is not to dismiss these approaches, but to point out that none of these get actually get past the problem of the interpreting subject using a scientific and logical method any more than say Zizek's approach...

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#24 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:00 pm

I'm very much with jwd on this, the presumption that one can watch a movie without an analytical lens of any kind is borderline Objectivist, or at least modernist in a fairly dull way. Inevitably, one brings baggage to one's reading of anything, andusing a formal school of thought as a guideline merely means consciously organizing one's reading into a recognized pattern, not arbitrarily restricting an otherwise somehow pure and unaffected reaction.

(Though admittedly I'm pretty unlikely ever to agree with anyone who dismisses the Marxist reading of history as 'utter baloney' even on underlying principles)

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#25 Post by knives » Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:40 pm

jwd5275 wrote:
bamwc2 wrote: In this particular case both Freud and his follower Immanuel Velikovsky offer bizarre and inaccurate reinterpretations of history in order to make history fit within their theory. That is 180 degrees of how scholarship should be done.
And how is this any different from what Nietzsche does with history...? Or have you ever tried fact checking Hegel's Philosophies of History?
It helps that Hegel was mostly incomplete in his musings. Vive Bergson et Benjamin (if we are going about outing our methods).

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