Institutional Repository. From text to practice: rereading Laura Mulvey's. `Visual pleasure and narrative cinema' towards a different history of the feminist avant-garde. This item was submitted to. 28 MULVEY, L. 'Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' inspired by King Vidor's Duel in the. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey, Laura. Preview Buy Chapter $29.95. Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' inspired by King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946). Mulvey, Laura. Preview Buy Chapter $29.95. Notes on Sirk and Melodrama. Mulvey, Laura.
Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' inspired by Duel in the Sun By Laura Mulvey So many times over the years since my article 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,' was published in Screen, I have been asked why I only used the male third person singular to stand in for the spectator. At the time, I was interested in the relationship between the image of woman on the screen and the 'masculinization' of the spectator position, regardless of the actual sex (or possible deviance) of any real live movie-goer. In-built patterns of pleasure and identification impose masculinity as 'point of view,' a point of view which is also manifest in the general use of the masculine third person. However, the persistent question 'what about the women in the audience?' And my own love of Hollywood melodrama (equally shelved as an issue in 'Visual Pleasure') combined to convince me that, however ironically it had been intended originally, the male third person closed off avenues of inquiry that should be followed up. Finally, Duel in the Sun and its heroine's crisis of sexual identity brought both areas together. I still stand by my 'Visual Pleasure' argument, but would now like to pursue the other two lines of thought.
First (the 'women in the audience' issue), whether the female spectator is carried along, as it were by the scruff of the text, or whether her pleasure can be more deep-rooted and complex. Avast Gadget For Windows 7 Download on this page. Second (the 'melodrama' issue), how the text and its attendant identifications are affected by a female character occupying the center of the narrative arena. So far as the first issue is concerned, it is always possible that the female spectator may find herself so out of key with the pleasure on offer, with its 'masculinization,' that the spell of fascination is broken. On the other hand, she may not. She may find herself secretly, unconsciously almost, enjoying the freedom of action and control over the diegetic world that identification with a hero provides.
It is this female spectator that I want to consider here. So far as the second issue is concerned, I want to limit the area under consideration in a similar manner. Rather than discussing melodrama in general, I am concentrating on films in which a woman central protagonist is shown to be unable to achieve a stable sexual identity, torn between the deep blue sea of passive femininity and the devil of regressive masculinity. There is an overlap between the two areas, between the unacknowledged dilemma faced in the auditorium and the dramatic double-bind up there on the screen. Generally it is dangerous to elide these two separate worlds. In this case, the emotions of those women accepting 'masculinization' while watching action movies with a male hero are illuminated by the emotions of a heroine of a melodrama whose resistance to a 'correct' feminine position is the crucial issue at stake. Her oscillation, her inability to achieve stable sexual identity, is echoed by the woman spectator's masculine 'point of view.
* Both create a sense of the difficulty of sexual difference in cinema that is missing in the undifferentiated spectator of 'Visual Pleasure.' The unstable, oscillating difference is thrown' into relief by Freud's theory of femininity. The female spectator's pleasure Freud and femininity For Freud, femininity is complicated by the fact that it emerges out of a crucial period of parallel development between the sexes; a period he sees as masculine, or phallic, for both boys and girls. The terms he uses to conceive of femininity are the same as those he has mapped out for the male, causing certain problems of language and boundaries to expression. These problems reflect, very accurately, the actual position of women in patriarchal society (suppressed, for instance, under the generalized male third person singular). One term gives rise to a second as its complementary opposite, the male to the female, in that order. Some quotations: In females, too, the striving to be masculine is ego — syntonic at a certain period — namely in the phallic phase, before the development of femininity sets in.
But it then succumbs to the momentous process of repression, as so often has been shown, that determines the fortunes of a woman's femininity.1 I will only emphasize here that the development of femininity remains exposed to disturbances by the residual phenomena of the early masculine period. Regressions to the pre-Oedipus phase very frequently occur; in the course of some women's lives there is a repeated alternation between periods in which femininity and masculinity gain the upper hand.2 'Femininity': We have called the motive force of sexual life 'the libido.' Sexual life is dominated by the polarity of masculine-feminine; thus the notion suggests itself of considering the relation of the libido to this antithesis. It would not be surprising if it were to turn out that each sexuality had its own special libido appropriated to it, so that one sort of libido would pursue the aims of a masculine sexual life and another sort those of a feminine one. But nothing of the kind is true. There is only one libido, which serves both the masculine and the feminine functions. To it itself we cannot assign any sex; if, following the conventional equation of activity and masculinity, we are inclined to describe it as masculine, we must not forget that it also covers trends with a passive aim.
Nevertheless, the juxtaposition 'feminine libido' is without any justification. Furthermore, it is our impression that more constraint has been applied to the libido when it is pressed into the service of the feminine function, and that — to speak teleogically — Nature takes less careful account of its [that function's] demands than in the case of masculinity. And the reason for this may lie — thinking once again ideologically — in the fact that the accomplishment of the aim of biology has been entrusted to the aggressiveness of men and has been made to some extent independent of women's consent.'
One particular point of interest in this passage is Freud's shift from the use of active/masculine as metaphor for the function of libido to an invocation of Nature and biology that appears to leave the metaphoric usage behind. There are two problems here: Freud introduces the use of the word masculine as 'conventional,' apparently simply following an established social-linguistic practice (but which, once again, confirms the masculuv 'point of view'); however, secondly, and constituting a greater intellectual stumbling block, the feminine cannot be conceptualized as different, but rather only as opposition (passivity) in an antinomic sense, or as similarity (the phallic phase).
This is not to suggest that a hidden, as yet undiscovered femininity exists (as perhaps implied by Freud's use of the word 'Nature') but that its structural relationship to masculinity under patriarchy cannot be defined or determined within the terms offered. This shifting process, this definition in terms of opposition or similarity, leaves women also shifting between the metaphoric opposition 'active' and 'passive.' The correct load, femininity, leads to increasing repression of 'the active' (the 'phallic phase' in Freud's terms). In this sense Hollywood genre films structured around masculine pleasure, offering an identification with the active point of view, allow a woman spectator to rediscover that lost aspect of her sexual identity, the never fully repressed bed-rock of feminine neurosis. Narrative grammar and trans-sex identification The 'convention' cited by Freud (active/masculine) structures most popular narratives, whether film, folk-tale or myth (as I argued in 'Visual Pleasure'), where his metaphoric usage is acted out literally in the story. Andromeda stays tied to the rock, a victim, in danger, until Perseus slays the monster and saves her.
It is not my aim, here, to debate on the rights and wrongs of this narrative division of labour or to demand positive heroines, but rather to point out that the 'grammar' of the story places the reader, listener or spectator with the hero. The woman spectator in the cinema can make use of an age-old cultural tradition adapting her to this convention, which eases a transition out of her own sex into another. In 'Visual Pleasure' my argument was axed around a desire to identify a pleasure that was specific to cinema, that is the eroticism and cultural conventions surrounding the look. Now, on the contrary, I would rather emphasize the way that popular cinema inherited traditions of story-telling that are common to other forms of folk and mass culture, with attendant fascinations other than those of the look. Freud points out that 'masculinity' is, at one stage, ego-syntonic for a woman.
Leaving aside, for the moment, problems posed by his use of words, his general remarks on stories and day-dreams provide another angle of approach, this time giving a cultural rather than psychoanalytic insight into the dilemma.