Coming Attractions

Transformersfrom David Gibson, The Moving Image 6.1 (2006) 128-131:

In a world where the line between promotional discourse and narrative form is increasingly blurred, movie trailers stand out as one of the purest distillations of both. Trailers exploit cinematic techniques to create a mini-narrative, which entertains the audience while promoting a film. Perhaps because of their entertainment value, movie trailers manage to skirt the criticism reserved for more blatant forms of advertising. In fact, the popularity of trailers has, in some ways, eclipsed that of the films they are paired with… It is common knowledge of cinema and cultural studies that trailers are designed to speak directly to audience desire, although the true identity of this “audience,” or the film studios’ perception of the “audience-as-consumer,” has remained somewhat enigmatic throughout cinema’s history. Lisa Kernan’s book, Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers, sets out to unmask both the audience itself and the studios’ methods for enticing them to return to the theaters again and again.

In Kernan’s view, trailers are not merely advertisements for the films they promote but a cinematic genre in and of itself, with its own set of features and conventions. Though the author acknowledges trailers’ similarity to other forms of advertising, she points out that the main purpose of a movie trailer is to sell the desire for a unique cinematic experience rather than a specific physical object. Continue reading…

Living Display

gisele1rex0205_468×611.jpgfrom Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick, Counterposes, 2002:

Tableaux vivants, or “living pictures,” are perhaps the most recognizable form of living display. They became immensely popular in North America during the nineteenth century as a domestic pastime, a means for moral instruction and event, at times, a form of erotic entertainment. Other, less-benign forms of human exhibition — carnival sideshows, punishment spectacles, and colonial showcases — reduced handicapped, disposed or merely foreign individuals to “curiosities,” exotica or a vehicle for profit. In the twentieth century, performance artists have deliberately sought to confront such practices and transform cultural attitudes by working through the body.

In current media culture, living displays are so pervasive that they are for the most part taken for granted. Besides the work of performing artists, human beings are exhibited in the activities of supermodels, bodybuilders, living museums, and public relations events. The theme of living display, in addition, is inherent to the notion of the “photo opportunity,” where persons are staged for the benefit of journalists and the media. Such events have been organized by all manners of individuals, from governments to thrill seekers to political activists. Living displays are also a regular feature of nightclubs (go-go dancers in cages), department stores (living mannequins) and street culture.

Emma Bovary’s Cab

from Avital Ronell, Crack Wars, 1992, pp. 97:

Perhaps you were there on that hot summer day when the lovers were locked into the closure of absolute embrace, a cab that was impermeable to narration. Suddenly the window opened like a gaping mouth, ejecting a shredded text. The wind started scattering the remains of the a letter of rupture that Emma had written to Léon. We felt we could tell what was happening, sitting at the square with our panachés. The thing kept coming around, as our companion observed, “a carriage with drawn blinds which kept appearing and reappearing, closed as tightly as a tomb and rocking like a ship.” He later confided that the coach staged a paradigm of interlocking private and public textual maneuvering. The most private of acts was to be performed in a public space from which it nevertheless concealed itself, evoking something as openly private, the open space of a sealed casket.

Ass and Face

bathroom-mirror_jpg.jpgfrom Catherine Millet, The Sexual Life of Catherine M., trans. Adriana Hunter (2002) p. 177:

To show my ass and see my face. There are few pleasures equal to this double polarity. The layout of the bathroom is perfect: while the basin offers a perfect gripping point to brace the shocks to my rear end, I intermittently catch sight of my harshly lit face in the mirror above it, a face that — quite unlike my lower half, which is totally mobilized — is almost lifeless. The cheeks are hollow and the mouth half open like a windup doll whose mechanism has worn down. It could be the face of a dead woman except for the eyes, which are intolerably listless. I try both to avoid them by lowering my eyelids and to seek out their gaze. That gaze is the anchoring point; it is by seeing its reflection that I establish this certainty: there I am, that is me coming. It is the siphon through which all of me is evacuated: I cannot recognize myself in such a state of release; with a feeling of shame, I reject it. That is how pleasure stays on a knife edge: just as the multiplication of two negative numbers gives a positive number, this pleasure is the product not, as is sometimes said, of an absence from oneself but of the bringing together of this perceived absence and the feeling of horror that it provokes in a flash of conscience. Sometimes I bring myself to this peak of pleasure all by myself, as an interval in my bathroom routine. With one hand on the edge of the basin and the other one masturbating, I watch myself in the mirror out of the corner of my eye.

The Gaze in Fassbinder

ali_fear.jpgfrom Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992), pp. 126-128:

Identity, as psychoanalysis has taught us, necessitates the internalization of a series of things which are in the first instance external. Freud insists upon this principle with respect both to the ego and the super-ego, defining the former as the psychic mapping of what is initially a body-image, and the latter as the introjection of parental authority, in the guise, for instance, of the father’s voice. Lacan’s account of the mirror stage further elaborates this notion of an exteriority which is taken within the subject, first in the guise of its mirror image, subsequently in the form of parental imagoes, and later yet in the shape of a whole range of cultural representations, the moi becoming over time more and more explicitly dependent upon that which might be said to be “alien” or “other.” What Lacan designates the “gaze” also manifests itself initially within a space external to the subject, first through the mother’s look as it facilitates the “join” of infant and mirror image, and later through all of the many other actual looks with which it is confused. It is only at a second remove that the subject might be said to assume responsibility for “operating” the gaze by “seeing” itself being seen even when no pair of eyes are trained upon it — by taking not so much the gaze as its effects within the self. However, consciousness as it is redefined by Lacan hinges not only upon the internalization but upon the elision of the gaze; this “seeing” of oneself being seen is experienced by the subject-of-consciousness — by the subject, that is, who arrogates to itself a certain self-presence or substantiality — as a seeing of itself seeing itself.

What happens within Fassbinder’s cinema is that both the gaze and the images which promote identity remain irreducibly exterior, stubbornly removed from the subject who depends upon them for its experience of “self.” [Thomas] Elsaesser has touched upon the first of these exteriorizations in “Primary Identification and the Historical Subject: Fassbinder and Germany,” although his emphasis falls more fully upon the exhibitionism of Fassbinder’s characters than upon the gaze on which they depend:

Their endless waiting wants to attract someone to play the spectator, who would confirm them as subjects, by displaying the sort of behavior that would conform to the reactions they expect to elicit. The audience is inscribed as voyeurs, but only because the characters are so manifestly exhibitionist. Substantiality is denied to both characters and audience, they derealize each other, as all relations polarize themselves in terms of seeing and being seen… to be, in Fassbinder, is to be perceived, esse est percipi.

The film through which Elsaesser pursues his thesis… is Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973), but there are many other texts in that filmmaker’s oeuvre where characters display themselves in this way to whomever will look, and in which subjectivity is consequently shown to depend upon a visual agency which remains insistently outside. “We are watched on all sides,” the singer, Tripelli (Barbara Valentin) warns in Effi Briest (1974), a curse which turns into a lost source of sustenance when the socius finally looks away from Effi. Continue reading…


narcissus.jpgFrom Jean Baudrillard, Seduction (1990), p. 68:

All reflection theory is impoverished, particularly the idea that seduction is rooted in the attraction of like to like, in a mimetic exaltation of one’s own image, or an ideal mirage of resemblance. Thus Vincent Descombes, in L’Inconscient malgré lui, writes:

What seduces is not some feminine wile, but the fact that it is directed at you. It is seductive to be seduced, and consequently, it is being seduced that is seductive. In other words, the being seduced finds himself in the person seducing. What the person seduced sees in the one who seduces him, the unique object of his fascination, is his own seductive, charming self, his lovable self-image…

It is always a matter of self-seduction and its psychological vicissitudes. In the narcissistic myth, however, the mirror does not exist so that Narcissus can find within himself some living ideal. It is a matter of the mirror as an absence of depth, as a superficial abyss, which others find seductive and vertiginous only because they are each the first to be swallowed up in it.

All seduction is in this sense narcissistic, and its secret lies within this mortal absorption.

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  *  schedule subject to change


  • Susanna Paasonen
    on sexuality, pornography, and affect
  • Theresa Senft
    on webcamming, micro-celebrity, and performance in everyday life
  • Scott Bukatman
    on attraction, spectacle, and the cult of the amateur
  • Julie Albright
    on self-transformation, makeover, and the management of attraction
  • John Paul Ricco
    on narcissism and the space of exposure
  • Gary Dauphin
    on the "pose" as a marker of identity and social standing
  • Mimi Nguyen
    the circuits between star and fan
  • Glenn Phillips and Catherine Taft
    "Watch Me Get Watched"
  • Dylan Wilcox
    "Public Showing"