A Critique of Psychoanalytic Film Analysis: The Case of the Alien Quartet
by Iraj Kir-Koloft
The author can be contacted
c/o Melancholic Troglodytes, Box no. 44, 136-138 Kingsland High Street,
London E8 2NS, United Kingdom (e-mail: email@example.com). Revised on:
7 September 2002
Abstract: Using the Alien Quartet as a case study, the present text has set itself the task of undermining the main tenets of Freudianism as it has latched itself onto the defenseless facade of film theory. My aim is to demonstrate the massive harm wrought upon radical film analysis by the alien 'face-huggers' of the netherworld. To this end I will begin with some general remarks about the rise of science fiction and its functioning as a religious imperative in a 'secular' age. I will then provide a critique of Freudianism from the standpoint of sociohistorical psychology, with an emphasis on the contributions of Vygotsky (1978), Bakhtin/ Voloinov (1987) and Ratner (1994, 2000). In the next section, I will concentrate on the thematics of 'abjection' and 'motherhood' as explicated by psychoanalytic models of analysis in Aliens (USA, James Cameron, 1986). In conclusion, I will argue that too many vital clues are lost in Freudian readings of the Alien Quartet. This Freudian turn, it is argued, is a deliberate form of ideological mystification.
Introduction: Monsters & Messiahs!
Ben-Yehuda (1986:1) notes how modern occultist and science fiction fans are "usually well educated people" [read: petit-bourgeois], living in an environment "which consistently undergoes rather rapid processes of social change [read: capitalist chaos] these changes create numerous fundamental existential problems [read: Marxist alienation], which cannot be easily answered either by traditional religion or by science." (Note 1) Ben-Yehuda goes on to argue that with the 'privatization of belief', sci-fi and the modern occult allow individuals to 'recenter' and 'revitalize' themselves in an attempt to grasp and arrive at the ultimate 'entity'. There is indirect confirmation of this position from Ben Brewster's observation that in fiction whilst the 'suspension of disbelief' may be an important factor, "it is often knowledge and judgment that the spectator is required to suspend" (quoted in S. Neale, 1990:163). Williams (1983: 23) follows the same line of thought when he points out,
"in the Seventies a number of science-fiction films emerged which dealt less with revolution or progress and more with stability and authoritarian answers to a human dilemma The remarkable feature of these movies is their religious overtones". (Note 2)
This religious predilection fits in snugly into the authoritarian psychoanalytic relationship between the analyst and analysand (Ingleby, 1984: 41), as well as psychoanalysis's project of adjusting the individual to the capitalist status quo. Despite the liberal connotations of 'free association', the power relationship remains asymmetrical and certain topics are censored from discussion (Ingleby, 1984: 49).
On similar lines, Brooks (1973: 356) has argued, "the concept of transference turns attention from any examination of what the therapist is doing to encourage certain behavior by the patient." Fundamental questions are ignored:
"Who is the therapist, what interests does he represent what are the patient's interests and problems, who is to define them, what is going on in therapy between the therapist and the patient" (ibid, p 355).
Even if 'transference' gradually tilts the balance of power in favour of the patient, the result demonstrates the subservience of both analyst and patient to a higher authority - the analytic doctrine itself. Freudian film analysts pursue a similar agenda, whereby criticisms of their craft and methodological approach is banished as defence mechanism, or worse, paranoid resistance. As Kovel (1980) has demonstrated, psychoanalysis is part of a set of practices within the 'mental health industry' aimed at maintaining social order. Like religion, psychoanalysis fosters a 'victim-blaming' culture by first infantilizing and then dehumanizing the subject.
By the 80s, the religious motif in sci-fi had become subtler but just as insidious. It is true that in Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979) and its sequel Aliens (dir. James Cameron, 1986), there is no attempt to build bridges with the creature (Greenberg: 1988: 171), although in the latter film Ripley does establish some sort of communication when finding herself in the queen's beehive, she first initiates a truce using 'sign language', then breaks it unilaterally! By the fourth film, Alien Resurrection (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997), behaviourism is used to communicate instructions to the creatures (although the creatures, unlike Pavlov's dogs, refuse to salivate on demand!), and the most 'advanced' [read: human] of the creatures has a cheek-to-cheek mother-son chat with Ripley. However, to interpret the overall lack of communication with the aliens as a sign of irreligiosity is to miss the point. There is little communication with the aliens because they represent not messiahs but what Ruppersburg (1987: 164) calls "negative messiahs", which he defines as "an irresistible force intent not on goodness to the human race but on its destruction" (note 3).
Of course, demons would be less successful if only people did not sin. In the Alien Quartet whenever the Company sins, the innocent have to pay the price. Freudian analysis of the Quartet has obfuscated the relationship between demonology and American politics. As Rogin (1984: 1) explains this connection in American cinema has comprised of three major moments: the first is racial and linked with the genocide of Native Americans at the hands of 'pioneers'; the second moment of demonology is based on class and ethnic conflict and targets working class subversives, alien reds and black militants; and the third moment in American demonology corresponds to the cold war and the perceived 'soviet' threat. Freudian analysis de-historicizes and de-politicizes the symbolic potency of the creatures through the dual process of individualism and biological determinism. I will return to this subject below.
The religious motifs in the Alien films increase incrementally. Some of this is demonstrated in the negative criticisms made of naïve science. Thompson (1998: 34) has argued that: "Alien and its successors are sci-fi films that grow to loath and fear science." Computers refuse to compute. Elevator doors refuse to open. Cloning experiments go disastrously wrong and the threat of biological weapons lurks at the background of the Quartet. In fact, a theme running through the films suggests that technological advancement and 'common sense' are inversely correlated (Thompson: 1998: 68). Whilst these trends are indicative of the religious bent embedded within the Alien Quartet, it must not conceal the symbiotic relationship between science and religion. These two ideologies have largely supported each other in their battle against the proletariat. It is possible to have a radical critique of technology and science without falling into idealistic/mystical traps infesting the Alien Quartet's landscape. The point, therefore, is not to choose or to strike the right balance between them but to simultaneously 'suppress and realize' them (Debord/Knabb).
Other religious motifs are deflected through a more positive and serene prism. In Alien the puritanical bourgeois cleanliness of the mothership is contrasted with the 'working class squalor and sexuality' of the alien ship (Wood, 1976: 200). The crew of Nostromo, in a modern manifestation of the Immaculate Conception, is born out of 'Mother'. In Aliens as Bundtzen (1987: 14) has noted,
"the colonists trapped in Alien Mama's art work also bear disconcerting resemblance to dusty religious icons, the first a dangling cruci-form, another web-hooded and lit like a Madonna - as if we have wandered into a perverse Alien shrine."
By Alien3 (dir. David Fisher, 1992), the entire colony of the damned has been turned into a monastery in search of brotherly redemption. Moreover, just like Dune (dir. David Lynch, 1984), there is a religiously proscribed 'anti-machine taboo', which seems fit punishment for the 'fallen'. The Christian missionary work is completed in Alien Resurrection, when the most 'humane' of the characters, the artificial intelligence unit Call (Winona Ryder), crosses herself before committing the sin of integrating with 'Father', because she is 'programmed to'.
Freudianism: A Film Oriented Exposition
The roots of the idealistic inclinations in psychoanalytic film analysis can be traced to Freud himself, despite the latter's avowed 'materialism' (Freud, 1932). Freud compared his method of treating hysteria through Aristotelian catharsis with the catholic confessional (Voloinov, 1987: 34). Freudianism is guilty of attempting to discover the whole of an artistic creation in the part. The unsubstantiated Kleinian interpretation of the "terrifying but life-sustaining creature in Alien" which is claimed, "represents the bad persecuting breast" is one such brick upon which an entire foundation is built (Gabbard & Gabbard, 1987: 234). When Freudianism does aspire to the 'holistic demiurge', it ends up sanctifying doctrines such as 'energetics' which Freud dubbed "the economic viewpoint" (note 4). The concept of 'energism' is ideologically linked to the notion of 'instincts'. However, as Bonaffe et al (1949) have argued:
"Here, despite certain protests by Freud, we see the kinship of psychoanalysis with modern mystical philosophies-whether they are based in the figure of God, the will to power, the hormé (impulse), or the élan vital" (note 5).
Donzelot (1979) has analogized Freud's "economic viewpoint" in psychology to Keynes's role in economics. Keynes tried to maintain the profit motive of capitalism by regulating its inner mechanisms politically. Similarly, Freud retains the family as "the horizon of all individual paths" whilst enhancing individual autonomy in some ways and impeding them in others. A more recent critic has noted how it is possible to find
"traces of Jewish mystical thought- particularly Kabbalist notions of text and sensuality- in psychoanalytic writing and practice but it is also possible to find Catholic themes emerging, with the trinity of id, ego, and super-ego sometimes cited as on example " (Parker, 1997: 14).
The method of 'skipping' from "one concept to another to arrive at a reading of a text shows some striking similarities with psychoanalytic 'free association'" (ibid, p 66). Furthermore, as Bakan (1958: 62) has made clear, Freud borrowed some of his key ideas from Wilhelm Fliess's Kabbalist influenced belief in, amongst others: the notion of bi-sexuality, the extensive use of numerology, and the doctrine of the predestination of the time of death - the doctrine of 'life portion'.
All this is unwelcome news to film analyst admirers of Freud who in foregrounding the very mechanical (and, therefore, limited) hostility of Freud to religion, which he defined as "universal obsessional neurosis", conveniently ignore that "psychoanalytic ideas are embedded in systems of religious iconography and ethics" (Parker, 1997: 67).
Beginnings of a Counter-offensive
In a seminal article, Buscombe et al. (1992) launch a welcome but limited attack on the use of psychoanalysis in film analysis. They discuss how there is a prevalent belief in the concordance of terms and notions amongst Screen's writers that is never questioned and how the contribution of the likes of Mulvey is a "servant [to] the dominant ideology" (ibid. p 41). Part of these inconsistencies (for instance, the contradictory ways in which concepts like the 'mirror phase' or 'libido' are employed) is put down to the distortion that accompanies the transportation of Freudianism onto any new discipline. However, what Buncombe et al do not consider is the possibility that the lack of debate within the pages of Screen regarding the tenets of psychoanalysis may be due to the latter's identification with 'common sense' (Vico, 1982). For instance, one reason for the general acceptance of the concept of libido is related to Freud's seamless take over of the wage-fund theory of bourgeois economics (Brooks, 1973: 334). A lengthy quote from Lynd (1958: 84) may be pertinent here:
"The basic analogy of Freud's theory of personality is a quantitative analogy of economic distribution in its classical model, the economics is an economy of scarcity Basic to his thinking is a libido-fund theory analogous to the wage-fund theory. There is a limited amount of money, of psychic energy to be distributed; it can be redistributed but it cannot be enhanced or enriched."
Psychoanalysis, which takes great masochistic pleasure in playing the martyr to orthodox psychiatry's sinful slayer, has been infiltrating both the highest institutions of the 'psy-complex' and through cinema, popular consciousness, for decades. So much so that its reductionist, essentialist, individualistic and ahistorical building blocks have become the lingua franca of first horror and now sci-fi, "and thus the privileged critical tool for discussing the genres" (Gabbard & Gabbard, 1987: 226) (note 6).
In its 'heroic' age, psychoanalysis in the USA attracted adherents who were "in rebellion against New England puritanism and moral conformity" (Castel, 1982: 32). Yet, from the outset there were well-demarcated limits to sexual rebellion. As Freudianism degenerated into a shadow of its former self, it began to defend more traditional values, "especially in the versions produced for consumption lower down the market" (Ingleby, 1984: 4). Now all classes were snared within its puritanical clutches. Likewise, some of the most significant voices from within 'feminist' psychoanalysis, such as Laura Mulvey, "connect the cinema with the popular notion of perversion" (Buscombe, op cit., p 43). 'Classic' cinema, the 'passive' audience, the 'unconscious', and even terms like 'men' and 'women' are employed metaphysically, and in the process easily de-historicized. The authoritarian and elitist views of Freudianism on development are enthusiastically taken on board by a class fearful of losing control over 'children', 'barbarous proletarians', and the 'filmic image'. In the Alien Quartet, the 'perversity' of cinema (Mulvey) finds an echo in lurid ideas about reproduction and sexual innuendoes involving Ripley and the aliens (Thomson, 1998: 10).
Freudian film analysts desperately need to bend film images to their will. Fearful of losing their privileged status as our moral guardian they have deliberately suppressed the fact that both the production and (cognitive) reception of films is closer to Vygotsky's model of the 'proximal zone of development' and Bakhtin's dialogic interactions than Freud's stages theory of development. Interpreting Vygotsky correctly, Newman & Holzman (1993) criticize traditional definitions of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) as a learning niche where novices (or children) are guided through a task after which they understand its meaning. Instead, they insist:
"[T]he ZPD is not a place at all; it is an activity, an historical unity, the essential socialness of human beings expressed as revolutionary activity, as Marx put it. In Vygotsky's (1978) words: 'the method is simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and the result of the study'" (ibid. p 79).
What this historical unity entails in the case of film theory is a tool-and-result that simultaneously engages with three inter-related dimensions: intra-personal, inter-personal and extra-personal. Although providing a new framework for film analysis is outside the aims of the present text, I do wish to insist at this junction that the combined works of Vygotsky, Bakhtin/Voloinov and Leontiev provide us with precisely such a framework.
Let us turn our gaze towards some of the most popular Freudian clichés routinely used by film analysts. Kovel (1978: 15) explains how the Oedipus complex is a socio-historically specific concept:
" The classical bourgeois family is patriarchal and it was in such a context that Freud observed the configuration of the Oedipus complex. Yet, at least for the past two centuries, the patriarchal quality of the bourgeois family has been no more than an outer shell steadily hollowed out from within."
Every time a Mulvey, Juliet Mitchell or Kristeva 'carelessly' refer to the Oedipus Complex, they are guilty of confusing spatio-temporally bound description with trans-historical prescription. Not only that, their position implies that there were no problems with the Oedipus Complex in its classical form as posited by Freud. In the process, the myth of the bourgeois family is rendered timeless. The dependency that Aliens forces on Newt, who is performing commendably without the help of Ripley and the marines in warding off the creatures, is the same 'dependency complex' that the therapist (or film critic) imposes on the analysand (viewer/reader). Cultivating aura and ambiguity the therapist (critic) dictates the terms of the monologue to the hapless patient (viewer/reader) and then accuses the patient of being dependent. Newt's unwillingness to talk and other odd behaviour renders her susceptible to the gaze of developmental psychology. She is first vetted by the medics and then socialized developmentally by her surrogate mother.
We know how desperate most sci-fi filmmakers are in providing us with a nuclear family, which unites in the process of fighting the abject. In Aliens, Newt's 'primal scream' forces Ripley instinctively onwards to save her. When the 'other' is destroyed, Newt can finally call Ripley, "mother", and the affirmative ending promises a 'surrogate family' in the trinity of Ripley, Newt and Hicks. Kovel goes on to explain, "the early 'oedipal' neurotics Freud studied were by and large people in rebellion against actual fathers who could no longer hold them in check" (ibid, p 16). Likewise, the notion of the reified 'ego' has a correspondence with personal life only since the bourgeois bifurcation of inner and outer life, which catalyzed the emergence of modern 'morality'. It is this profound splitting that requires the development "as a matter of psychological survival, of more or less alienated internal mental agencies" (ibid, p 18) (note 7).
In fact, bourgeois morality taints every facet of Freud's outlook. Millet (1969/1977: 189) pointedly reminds us:
"Monogamous marriage is an institution with which he found much fault, but mainly on the grounds that it hampers masculine freedom. The attribution of moral jealousy and a low moral sense to women inspires Freud to remarks of this kind- 'the fact that a woman must be regarded as having little sense of justice, is no doubt related to the predominance of envy in their mental life.'"
The 'dirtiness' of unsolicited sexual contact between humans and aliens throughout the Quartet is grist to the mill of puritanical Freudian critics. This antagonism between good and evil is embodied in a rather crude Greek form of dualism (spirit is deemed good whilst matter is evil), whereas more sophisticated forms of dualism (e.g. the ancient Iranian religion of Mazdaism) posit a struggle between a spirit of light and a spirit of darkness without denigrating matter.
Envy of a different kind, 'penis envy', is according to Millet a rehearsal of the fable of the Fall, a Fall that is Eve's alone. The 'phallocentric' attitudes of Freud "are reminiscent of the ancient misogynist postulate that females are but incomplete or imperfect males- e.g., deformed humans, the male being accepted as the norm- a view shared by Augustine, Aquinas, etc" (ibid, p 182) (note 8). The above quote could also serve as an accurate description of the (Oscar winning) work of HR Giger, whose fantastic designs of the extra-terrestrial creatures in both Alien and Alien3 are a barely sanitized version of his real views about women.
I am not denying, please note, that Freudianism did not play a significant role for a section of the petit and later grand bourgeoisie at a seminal sociohistorical junction in relation to the twin chariots of sexuality and imagination- because it clearly acted as a catalyst of sorts. However, as Bonaffe et al (1949: 14) make clear we must contextualize its achievements:
"Psychoanalysis was born in Vienna, in a society demonstrating in exemplary fashion the decadence of the bourgeois patriarchal family, in which the 'sexual taboo' went hand in hand with a crisis in sexual morality. Thus from the outset Freud took over and developed the theme of sexual liberation- the demand of an important section of the bourgeoisie of that period." (note 9).
That is precisely why the avowed imaginative impulse that Freudian film analysts hold up as its quintessential attribute was transformed a long time ago from creative to repetitive imagination (Luria, 1976). Moreover, Ratner (2000) is quite right in first emphasizing the social basis of imagination and secondly pointing out that imagination and creativity are not the same things:
"Certainly, not all imagination profoundly understands and advances emotional phenomena or society as a whole. Most imagination works within the system without comprehending or changing it significantly. Thus, imagination and creativity are not necessarily emancipating. They only become so if they are cultivated and utilized to critically examine cultural phenomena." (note 10).
Today psychoanalysis stands accused of retarding imaginative analysis, not boosting it!
The Unconscious Revisited
Even if we put up convincing arguments against major tenets of Freudianism, there is one taboo which film analysts sympathetic to Freud would never consider breaking- the concept of the 'unconscious'. The mis-en-scene in Alien and the 'organic' alien landscape (made partly of real bones by Giger) is, after all, attempting to induce not mere horror but primordial terror by drawing on presumed collective unconscious anxieties. However, as the aliens become increasingly visible throughout the series, the terror of the original Ridley Scott version gives way first to horror in Aliens and Alien3 and finally ends in self-parody in Alien Resurrection. In the latter, although Jean-Pierre Jeunet and its cinematographer Darius Khondji know how to arrange the 'grotesque' with flair, "in the manner of fashion magazines that pose their models in the morgue" (Klawans, 1997), Consequently, the horror seems too comical to induce anything other than momentary disgust. If these four directors of the Quartet were truly drawing on unconscious fears, the effect would remain constant. Even the notion of the unconscious, therefore, where an impartial reader might consider Freudianism immune to attack, is vulnerable to criticism. Ratner (1994) explains how Freud's
"conception of the unconscious rests upon two key assumptions concerning human psychology, biology, and society. One assumption is a romantic view of mankind. This is the idea of a non-social individual who possesses endogenous ideas, feelings, and motives but who cannot express them in an intolerant society."
Correspondingly, Bakhtin (1984)
"points to essentially monological interpretation of language and other symbolic forms in Freud's theory. The battle between consciousness and the unconscious is waged in the individual psyche and reveals itself in the idiosyncratic symbolism of dreams, jokes, and slips of the tongue" (quoted in Kozulin, 1991: 335).
The emphasis on the symptoms of the unconscious, exactly what Freudian film critics pick up on, ignores that speech is a dialogic (interpersonal) form of communication.
In Aliens, Ripley's individualized 'emancipation' is at the expense of a caricaturization of 'grunts' who are shown as emotionally stunted children. The films as a whole reinforce the belief held by many in the US working classes "that anger helps you overcome fear and attain independence" (Ratner, 2000). Ripley (and Vasquez) are the real men in Aliens, leaving the 'grunts' a confused, emotionally retarded, group of victimized hysterics.
However, Ratner continues,
"the person valiantly manages to circumvent this social pressure. The repressed unconscious thoughts remain active and even guide conscious activity A second assumption which bolstered the Freudian unconscious is that psychological processes are basically biological in nature" (Ratner, 1994).
The content of the unconscious are provided by biology in the form of "primordial" id impulses, which are strengthened by the "conservative tendency" of instincts to remain in an original state and to return there if disrupted. These instincts are posited as intransigent to social formation and segregated from consciousness. Moreover, as Ingleby (1984: 54) has pointed out, "in Freud's metapsychology, the relationship between Ego and Id was essentially one of colonization." The Id is the colonized other, the Native American or Algerian freedom fighter pathologized by the US and French bourgeoisie respectively. The violent behaviour of the colonized victim is no more irrational than the 'seething chaos' of the Unconscious is a reflection of man's biological predispositions. More generally, the Freudian Id is the lawless child, the 'disturbed' mental patient and the rebellious working class.
An earlier critic, Keith Brooks (1973: 335) points out how explicitly Freud looked to capitalism to help describe 'mental life.' Here is Freud (1965: 600) discussing the relationship between daytime life and dreams:
"A daytime thought may very well play the part of entrepreneur for a dream; but the entrepreneur who, as people say, has the idea and the initiative to carry it out, can do nothing without capital; he needs a capitalist who can afford the outlay and the capitalist who provides the psychical outlay for the dream is invariably and indisputably, whatever may be the thoughts of the previous day, a wish from the unconscious."
Most Freudians, feeling the need to ground their speculative narratives about the unconscious in some sort of objective analysis, may take refuge in the concept of subliminal perception. "However", as Ratner succinctly explains, "subliminal perception is not analogous to the Freudian unconscious. The stimuli for subliminal perception are degraded in that they are presented for extremely brief time periods or masked by other confounding stimuli." Freud's unconscious, on the contrary, is enduring and persistent (note 11).
Sociohistorical psychology asserts that,
"the cognitive unconscious is not an entirely different system with different origins and dynamics, as Freud postulated. Nor is it repressed and disguised. The cognitive unconscious is subsumed within consciousness although it operates outside explicit awareness."
What the Freudian unconscious does, according to Brooks (1973, 344), is to "[obscure] the dialectic between how one sees the meaning of one's behavior and how others see it." Moreover, as recent critics (Parker, 1997) have demonstrated Freud's usage of the unconscious obscures power dynamics at the inter-subjective and extra-subjective level by depoliticizing human relations.
Abject and Maternal Aliens
In this section, I will look in detail at the Freudian interpretations of 'motherhood' (reproduction) and the 'abject' in Aliens.
The attempt to use the Alien films as a feminist emblem, under which the forces of progress can gather and poke fun at patriarchy, is depressing. Greenberg (1988: 156) objects to the 'naïve essentialism' of Alien, which erects gendered 'principles' as eternal verities and deploys the Alien creature "as an over-determined symbol of the Company's Bad Mothering" (ibid, p 170). It is patently clear that the 'Bad Mothering' is a rejected mixture of working class and 'black' mothering. The seeds of popular, essentialist readings of Aliens were sown by Freud himself when he opined: "Anatomy is Destiny, to vary a saying of Napoleon's" (1977: 320). This essentialism is augmented through the systematic conflation of gender and sexuality that runs through psychoanalytic accounts of development (Jackson, 1983: 40).
One can contrast this essentialist reading of the Alien Quartet with the far more sophisticated message of a film like GATTACA (1997), which to my knowledge was not amenable to the same amount of Freudian deliberations. The reason as Kirby (2000) suggests is that GATTACA tries to break out of the genetically deterministic outlook of certain scientific and popular media depictions. It portrays a world of genetic haves and have-nots where the course of class antagonisms is seemingly preordained. However, the complex interaction between genes and environment as well as the unpredictably of the human 'spirit' present, create unexpected twists in an antiseptic world that was falsely believed free of "imperfections and blemishes." GATTACA adds an additional layer of complication to the plot when it enacts Hegel's master-slave paradigm. Vincent, the archetypal pleb with 'gene-deficiency', was made aware of his flaws from birth and, therefore, endeavored to acquire through inner strength what was deemed beyond his capabilities. In contrast, Eugene, the bourgeois favoured with perfect genotype comes to suffer alienation and self-pity because "unlike faith births, the genetically enhanced suffer under a different burden, that of perfection" (Kirby, ibid.).
Perhaps it is true that Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) is only superficially conservative while containing radical elements, as argued by Kendrick (1999: 1). In Aliens as well as The Abyss (1989) and Titanic (1997),
"Cameron is firmly on the side of the working class [while] Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), the capitalist at the heart of Aliens, is the perfect embodiment of the evil capitalist, the one who is the ultimate exploiter of the working class."
Capitalism and its military wing work hand in glove in the Quartet to exploit both human civilians and aliens as exchange value. Ripley famous line in Aliens is testimony to Cameron's critique of out-of control capitalism: "I don't know which species is worse, us or them [the aliens]. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamned percentage." However, these so-called radical critiques of capitalism are subsumed under a barrage of bullets, missiles and acid attacks, making them invisible to all but the most discerning fan. On this point, Suvin (2000) has argued recently:
"It is reasonable to suppose that a major (the major?) impulse toward fantastic fiction is the violence engendered by capitalist violations of personality And it is certain that at least one major source of globalization, consubstantial with global economic nets of exploitation, is the advent of incredibly massive world wars, with all the political and technoscientific revolutions they bring along- faced more directly in SF from Wells on and by evasion in Fantasy. This would provide a handle to the shift of Fantasy's center of gravity from the old imperial countries of England and France to the United States "
In relation to Aliens, Lynda K. Bundtzen (1987: 12) writes: "This relationship between Ripley and Newt has inspired a feminist sentimentality that diverts attention from the film's menacing depiction of female sexuality in the Alien." She also points out how the marines who "feel at home with plastic, metal, and glass" are "utterly bewildered when they arrive at the womb-tomb, organic female interior" of the station, taken over by the Aliens for reproduction purposes. Wood (1976: 218) pours scorn on Alien's desire to be taken seriously as a "progressive" movie:
"What it offers on this level amounts in fact to no more than a 'pop' feminism that reduces the whole involved question of sexual difference and thousands of years of patriarchal oppression to the bright suggestion that a woman can do anything a man can do (almost). This masks (not very effectively) its fundamentally reactionary nature." (note 12).
One should never forget that the part eventually played by Sigourney Weaver in Alien was originally written for a man!
Pop feminists are so engrossed by the image of a flame throwing Ripley that they fail to see the Sigourney Weaver character as an updating of the heroic American mother whose violation by subversives (Indian kidnappers, black rapists, communist infiltrators) demands retributive justice. Freudian critics could also be faulted on this. When it comes to the subject of motherhood the film uses an aggressive, macho Ripley to conceal its dalliance with sexist preconceptions. In fact to place her more accurately, Ripley is still merely a hybrid of the 50s domestic idyllic motherhood and the demonic version of this typology in the shape of 'Momism'. The latter term was coined by a reactionary women's magazine writer, Philip Wylie, back in 1942 and referred to "a self-righteous, hypocritical, sexually repressed, middle-aged woman" (Rogin, 1984: 6). 'Mom' was a medusa figure who 'raped men' and invaded boundaries.
In the American context of displaying women, a parallel can be drawn between the 'liberating' representation of Ripley and the 'Bad Black Woman' genre discussed by Cedric J. Robinson (1998). Robinson argues that "the first Blaxploitation era, 1969-1975, appears precisely at the moment when Hollywood's 'liberal conscience' is at its apogee" (ibid, p 1). These filmmakers,
"deployed images of Black women which adopted the ideological stratagems of the jungle films and the plantation genre Black women were impersonated to display the hidden and perverse nature of Blackness, and the essentially erotic impulses of Black women."
The similarities with Ripley are startling. The phony Foxy Brown amalgamated previous jungle and plantation genre representation of Black women in exactly the same way that Ripley combines and updates images from idyllic 50s motherhood and 'Momism'. Significantly, while "Blaxploitation films instructed their audience that the subtext of the attack on bourgeois society and imperialism was really a disguised racial complaint" (Robinson, 1998: 10), the Alien Quartet defuses its own limited critique of capitalism by championing bourgeois 'feminism'.
Although Ripley survives the alien attack in the film quartet, she does so at the expense of her humanity. In Alien, she learns to kill; in Aliens she has become a fully-fledged assassin going as far as burning the enemy's unborn babies; in Alien3 she is invaded by the creatures; by the fourth installment, Alien Resurrection, she has become a replica. In fact, we can go further. The Ripley character is not merely dehumanized over the course of the series, she is also made into an abstraction for modern androgyne 'feminism'. The physical punishment that Ripley endures (especially in Alien3 when she is almost raped by the colonists and literally invaded by the creature, and Alien Resurrection when she is experimented on) is very reminiscent of the public whipping of Marsha (played by Ginger Rogers) by the Ku Klux Klan in Storm Warning (1951). As Rogin (1984: 25) explains: "That whipping indicts Klan sadism, to be sure. But it also punishes the woman who thought she needed neither a man nor the state."
Freudian analyses of motherhood in Aliens begin from a position of weakness in the sense that orthodox Freudianism suffers from a number of blind spots regarding motherhood, reproduction and the child-adult relationship. Spivak (1988: 80), for instance, has written:
" Freud does not take the womb into account In Freud, the genital stage is preeminently phallic, not clitoral or vaginal Everywhere there is a non-confrontation of the idea of womb as a workshop, except to produce a surrogate penis."
The Grotesque Reproduction of Labour Power
Bakhtin's theory of the grotesque suggests, "the grotesque life of the body is not a pure negativity but a warning about any system of thought that renders the body either abstract or easily perfectable" (Hitchcock, 1998: 85). However, the depiction of the 'grotesque' in the Quartet is pure negativity precisely because the genetic determinism at the heart of the film portrays the body as both abstract and "easily perfectable." Even the monastery set up by the convicts in Alien3 does not alter their genetic predispositions to crime. They are as Clemens (Charles Dance) insists "double Y chromeys" and "scum".
In Aliens, women's reproductive power is "displaced in the Alien Mama and therefore represented as completely out of bounds, beyond civilization's controlling institutions" (Bundtzen, 1987: 16). In fact, what in Alien is an attempt to "appropriate the procreative function of the mother, to represent a man giving birth, to deny the mother as signifier of sexual difference" (Creed, 1986: 63), has in Aliens become a discourse between two different conceptions of motherhood (natural motherhood, as represented by the Alien queen versus cultural motherhood, as depicted by Ripley).
Elsewhere, Creed (1987) has linked sci-fi horror film's interest in the maternal body to the emerging reproductive technology. Lyotard also draws attention to this when he speaks of the fact that,
"the mother's body, the infant's first home, is under threat; given the possibility of birth taking place in an artificial womb, we may well in our lifetimes witness the 'disappearance of the first dwelling'" (note 13).
The anxiety created in sci-fi over reproduction is part of a stratagem designed to make women uneasy about their own bodies and ability to procreate. The unknown and terrifying parts of the Alien films, everything not brightly lit by the torch of Truth, Meaning and Man, come to represent 'feminized space' (Kristeva). Once sufficient anxiety has been whipped up we will then, it is hoped, be ready to accept biotechnology as a solution to our shortcomings. This is directly related to the perceived threat of the dissolution of the male body into the feminized and maternal (note 14). The dissolution of male body as paranoid anxiety reaches new heights with Alien where "all father figures are destroyed or, in the case of the robot Ash, working in tandem with the evil maternal computer" (Gabbard & Gabbard, 1987: 236).
It is noteworthy that even in death there is sexism embedded in the Alien Quartet (note 15). Just like Blade Runner,
"it appears that when an attack is made upon men, the scenes are characterized by a tendency to heighten the action and pace of the sequence with fast editing and short takes. There appears to be a conscious attempt to heighten and extend the scenes in which women are attacked and threatened " (ibid).
This is true of even those scenes where the heroine cannot die. In a sense, Ripley's 'immortality' is a perfect filmic vehicle for extending her torment.
The 'oral rape' scene (when Ash tries to kill Ripley) and the 'panty scene' (when Ripley gets into her space-suite, very, very slowly) in Alien, the med-lab scene in Aliens (when Ripley and Newt are attacked by face-huggers), the 'licking scene' in Alien3 (when an alien gets close enough to Ripley to smell the chest-buster inside her), and the 'cloning scene' in Alien Resurrection, are testimony to the directors' conscious use of misogynist film techniques.
Needless to say, to have a concept that designates the 'Other' is useful, but what concerns me here is, if the 'abject' is the most suitable candidate for such a signification.
Kristeva (1982) calls the 'abject' that which does not "respect borders, positions, rules" or alternatively "the place where meaning collapses." It seems to me that the 'abject' is intrinsically linked to at least two other concepts, the 'pleasure' one gains in watching horror movies once fear has been mastered, and the notion of 'love'. For as Höpfl (1999: 134) has argued:
"[Kristeva's] radical contribution to practice is based on the role of love in the psychoanalytic context. The cure for the patient can only be found in transference and that means love. This is her ethical position; her herethics."(note 16).
Again, I feel obliged to deploy the congenial Ratner as a countertendency to Psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo. As Ratner makes plain: "Love takes on quite different qualities according to cultural conceptions of person, privacy, public life, religion, and sensual pleasure" (note 17). Kristeva's inability to posit 'love' historically is the flip side of her reification of the abject. But why complicate matters when the sages of psychoanalysis have already provided us with ready-made categories of analysis, I hear you ask? Well, for one thing, Timpanaro is inaccurate when he accuses Freudianism of 'over-interpretation'. The truth is Freudianism, just like any good bourgeois ideology, both 'over' and 'under' interprets life. It creates artificial linkage where there is none (e.g. the relationships within the Oedipal matrix or the over-emphasis on childhood traumas) and conversely hides real associations between elements of an organic whole (e.g. the association between love and socio-economic conditions).
Regarding the pleasure derived from mastering the 'abject', Pinedo (1996: 20) explains how the 'post-modern' horror creates a
"bounded experience of fear", and at the same time "it exposes the terror implicit in everyday life having successfully undergone the ordeal, we experience a sense of relief and mastery, proportionate to the intensity of the situation."
The psychological pleasure is then doubly augmented by a related phenomenon- that of experiencing the loss of popular control over politico-economic institutions of capital as desirable. In Aliens, we are encouraged to feel triumphant over the Company even as another company is organizing our viewing pleasure. This is a pleasure that according to Horkheimer and Adorno "promotes the resignation which it ought to help forget . a pleasure that identifies oneself with the power which is belaboring one." Lest we forget the real hero of sci-fi movies is always change, technical change (Ben-Yehuda, ibid, p 13).
It is obvious that as one goes through the Alien saga, the 'terror' of Alien, gives way first to the 'horror' of Aliens and Alien3 and finally to the comic self-parody of Alien Resurrection (note 18). The cinematic devices employed to create a sense of foreboding and anxiety in the audience parallels this degeneration from terror to horror. In Alien, Scott
"has frequently made the actors' dialogue incoherent the sound of the film is also confusing we hear heartbeats and breathing throughout the film we never see the expected established shots, and consequently we never even have an idea of what objects could do the concealing" (Gabbard & Gabbard: 1987: 232).
I am not suggesting that Kristeva's 'semi-historification' of the abject is completely useless (after all, "she deals with abjection as a rite of defilement in paganism a taboo in Judaism and an interiorisation in Christianity"). However, by anchoring this historification in the de-historicized universalism of Lacan's symbolic order, she inadvertently negates her previous good work. In addition, by concentrating exclusively on the mother as the figure of the abject she fails to understand how the abject perpetuates itself through migrating from one capitalist institution/subjectivity to another, all the time generalizing, augmenting itself, and reestablishing the rituals needed to keep it 'organically vital'. Moreover, Kristeva's central thesis regarding how with the demise of religion, the purification of the abject is now carried out by artistic catharsis trough a 'descent into the symbolic order' is flawed on at least four grounds.
First, sadly it is now clear to most observers that religion has not diminished in either the West or the East. In fact, it could be argued that organized religiosity in the East and non-organized religiosity in the West are stronger today than in previous centuries precisely because they have been internalized (note 19). This return to religious impulses is manifested in the 'primitive' means of destruction of the abject deployed in these films. It reassures us that no matter how advanced the monsters become they can be stopped if we revert to a primordial status. In Alien, the W/W II flame-thrower is the weapon of choice. In Aliens, Vietnam weapons make a re-appearance in a big way. In Alien3, the inmates are reduced to playing cat and mouse with the aliens in order to lure them into a smelting mill. In Alien Resurrection, the most advanced alien is 'sucked out' into space.
Second, the emphasis on 'descent into the symbolic order' de-politicizes the strategic importance of horror and sci-fi movies for the bourgeoisie. As Larson (1997: 60) argues, the political question posed by Alien, Blade Runner, Robocop and the House Committee on Un-American Activities is basically the same: "whether we can purge the evil within in time to avoid the wrath of the evil without." Anyhow, the idea that the abject is repressed by the bourgeoisie because the poor dears cannot deal with it (Robin Wood's argument) underestimates the bourgeoisie's very conscious attempts at suppressing the class enemy. Kristeva would be on safer grounds if she were to argue that the 'post-modern' crisis of subjective unity is exacerbated by the appearance of the abject in sci-fi/horror, especially in societies which "value boundaries over continuity and separateness over sameness" (Creed, 1986: 65).
Third, Kristeva's notion of the abject is too black and white. She ignores that the 'liminal', the 'uncanny' and the shape-shifter, precisely because of their ability to pass off as the pure, can be even more terrifying to a population driven from one moral crisis to another. One of the reasons Freudians prefer the first three installments of the saga to Alien Resurrection is due to the latter's complication of the abject by introducing various gradations.
Finally, as Creed (1986: 45) has observed Kristeva's theory "moves uneasily between explanation of, and justification for, the formation of human societies based on the subordination of women."
Drawing comparisons between the Alien Quartet and Bram Stoker's Dracula may overcome the 'abject's' one-sidedness. Judith Halberstam (1993) text is very helpful here. She explains how
"the monster figure [in Dracula] is based on the traditional 19th century anti-semitic stereotype. Narration, which is central to the novel, is controlled by middle-class English men who define the Other in a manner which makes middle-class British values the norm."
In fact, to be more accurate, just like the creatures in the Alien series, "the Gothic novel and Gothic monsters in particular produce monstrosity as never unitary, but always as an aggregate of race, class, and gender" (Ibid.). Both Dracula and the alien creatures economically condense Foucault's figures of "the hysterical woman, the masturbating child, the Malthusian couple, and the perverse adult" into "one noticeable feminized, wildly fertile, and seductively perverse body."
Monstrosity is represented as a mixture of "bad blood, unstable gender identity, sexual and economic parasitism, and degeneracy" (ibid, Halberstam, 1993). Vampires feed off the healthy and wealthy classes and weaken the genetic/biological stock through their bad blood. The creatures' acid blood eats through the toughest metal and their wandering lifestyle shows an uncanny absence of allegiance to the concept of a fatherland and, therefore, the sci-fi text would argue a distinct lack of social morality. This, after all, is one of the characteristics Freud attributes to the 'uncanny'- its rootlessness. The mother's genitalia which is a primary 'uncanny' place is also a place of lack. According to Freud's dogmatic assertion, the fear associated with uncanniness arises from the 'return of the repressed paternal threat of castration'. Attempts to add structuralist order to this rather glib biologism are doomed and unconvincing (see Bresnick, 1996).
In summary, we may posit following Moretti (1983) that if Mary Shelly's Frankenstein monster represents uncontrolled plebian impulses (living labour) and Bram Stoker's Dracula stands for parasitical and degenerate forms of capitalism (dead labour), then 'our' alien creatures are an overdetermined embodiment of both. The ending of Dracula has a remarkably post-modern pessimistic undertone, for although the vampire is staked, his blood continues in the body of the boy who is born. Quincey Harker is "as much the son of Dracula as he is of the 'little band of men' after whom he is named" (ibid.).
Likewise, the final installment of the Quartet, Alien Resurrection sees the irreversible mixing of Ripley and the creature's DNA- the 'mother of all clonings'! The first seven 'unsuccessful' clones are as disturbing as the eighth one is desirable. Like seven-of-nine in Star Trek Voyager we have been seduced by a mixture of human flesh and alien organs that makes the acidic Ripley 'unique'. If capitalism has its way, the next generation of proletarians will all be 'unique' or at least labour under the illusion that their human 'inadequacies' have been improved by cybernetic and genetic 'enhancements'. Ultimately, all terms employed to depict the border-creatures that disturb the 'unsullied' norms of bourgeois society, terms such as abject, uncanny, subaltern and liminal fall short on two grounds. First they are dehistoricized or in the case of Kristeva's abject only semi-historicized. Second, they portray the subject as individualized, self-contained and at times voiceless. The power of the alien creatures, however, resides in their ability to see the utilitarian good and collectively overcome enemies, hence if we are to examine them as the 'other', we must extend the term to the 'socio-historical other'.
Freudian film analysts claim their doctrine is materialist and anti-religious. I have tried to show the general idealistic and the specific religious threads running through Freudianism (Voloinov, 1987).
Freudian film analysts claim their doctrine is a complicated attempt to understand the psyche. I have tried to show that Freudianism is a de-historicized ideology which both 'over' and 'under' interprets the relationship between the subjective and the objective (Timpanaro, 1976). Moreover, the turn to psychoanalysis by dejected Stalinist (and Trotskyite) film analysts is not progressive, as the choice between Freudian liberalism, Pavlovian Stalinism and for that matter Jungian Fascism, is a false one.
In many ways, "the Freudian subjectless determinism and vulgar Marxism" are similar because they "lead toward a view of people in their weakness and impotence, rather than in their anger and strength" (Keith Brooks, 1973: 323). A few pages further on he comments:
"The only subject to be found in Freudian psychology is the Freudian psychologist. Even the conflicts that are depicted intrapsychically are ultimately reducible to conflicting quantities of excitation" (ibid, p 334).
With its predilections for dualisms of all sorts, as for instance between mind and body, internal and external or individual and society, Freudianism reintroduces the Kantian flaw at the heart of bourgeois epistemology. For Freud both the 'outside world' and the 'inner sanctum' of the unconscious are essentially unknowable.
Freudian film analysts claim their doctrine is a marginal and persecuted one. I have tried to show that far from being marginal, Freudianism is now so entrenched in the mainstream of culture that it has become reactionary 'common sense' (Vico, 1982).
Freudian film analysts claim their doctrine is imaginative. I have tried to show that Freudianism, which might have been imaginative for a small section of the petit-bourgeoisie at a specific historical junction, is today the death of creative imagination (Luria, 1976).
Freudian film analysts claim their doctrine, which emphasizes content, can be combined with structuralism in order to deal with form and with Marxism in order to engage with socio-economic issues. I have tried to show that Freudianism's perennial over-emphasis on content at the expense of artistic form is an inherent weakness that cannot be overcome by utilizing reactionary epistemologies such as structuralism or post-structuralism.
Vygotsky showed how in psychoanalysis, form is relegated
"to the role of a 'bait' or vorlust that attracts a reader who is then relieved of his or her tension by the therapeutic effect of the content of an art work rather than its form [Freudians] claim that art is essentially a transformation of our unconscious [processes] into social forms, i.e., forms of conduct that have social form and meaning. What psychoanalysts refused to do is to describe and explain the social-psychological meaning of these forms" (quoted in Kozulin, 1991: 343).
Furthermore, the attempt to synthesis Marxism and psychoanalysis (a la Reich, Fromm, Kovel), which was seen by some as addressing this problem, is a non-starter as the superficial similarities between the two ignores that 'materialism', 'dialectics', 'individual', 'development', and 'depth-analysis' are employed by these two theories in fundamentally antagonistic ways (Bonaffe, 1949). Freudianism is a bourgeois attempt to delete class and the social out of analysis and no amount of wishful thinking is going to hide that. It remains, despite its pretensions, an ideology of 'appearances'.
Freudian film analysts claim their doctrine is eminently useful to the cause of Feminism. I have tried to show that built on unsound assumptions about the unconscious and containing as it does essentialist and reductionist attributes in abundance, it does not offer us a useful vantage point for critiquing sexuality or patriarchy (Jackson, 1983) (note 20). As Ingleby (1984: 53) has correctly remarked:
"Freud did not see political ideals, such as equality between the sexes, solidarity among mankind, or miniscule amounts. This is because, on his view of human nature, alienation in all of its forms is inescapable. American psychiatry thus did not suppress the 'radical vision' of psychoanalysis, as Jacoby or Althusser would have us believe: there was no such vision to suppress."
As Brooks (1973: 325) has succinctly stated: "[The] problem is not that people are sick (irrational) and society is not, nor that both are, nor that capitalism 'causes' mental illness, but the entire concept of oppression as an illness fundamentally obscures an understanding of the impossible lives people are forced into in this society."
These general criticisms of Freudian analysis should be sufficient to cause all, other than the most diehard fan, a moment of pause. However, the overwhelming majority of Freudian analyses of Aliens I have read, also lack the most basic tools for engaging with a number of vital issues raised by the Quartet. For instance, as already mentioned psychoanalysis accounts concentrate on content at the expense of form. The nature of time for example is rarely discussed. Aliens has something
"of the character of the 'adventure time' that Bakhtin finds in the early Greek romances of Heliodorus, Achilles, Tatius and Chariton. In 'adventure time' neither historical nor psychological elements contribute to the textual sense of time the nature of time in such texts is controlled by chance, what Bakhtin calls a veritable downpour of 'suddenlys' and 'at just that moments'" (Flanagan, 1998).
Ironically, the over-emphasis on content does not guarantee Psychoanalysis filtering all the significant issues. Class, for example, is one 'issue' that is constantly ignored (note 21). As Castel (1982: 261) has pointed out: "Psychoanalysis was the main instrument for the reduction of social issues in general to questions of psychology."
During the cold war Hollywood filmmakers combined horror flicks with anti 'communist' propaganda. For example, Gordon Douglas made I Was a Communist in 1951 followed three years later by Them! All the anxiety provoking themes in movies such as Them!, The Thing and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, such as promiscuous, undifferentiated, vegetable reproduction threatening family bonds (Rogin, 1984: 27) make a return in the Alien Quartet. Single queens fertilizing enough face-huggers to destroy all humanity, violent aliens who make slave laborers out of captured colonists using their bodies as vassals, "egg chambers" that are destroyed by the army using flame-throwers (e.g. Jet Pilot), bad mothers who breed "in storm drains instead of the home" (Rogin, 1984: 28), and creatures that lack individuality.
All this demands eternal vigilance against the 'enemy', especially as the kind of invasion is so pernicious as to be undetectable even by the victims themselves (e.g. John Hurt in Alien). In 50s sci-fi the aliens usually gave themselves away through lack of emotion or idiosyncratic behaviour. For instance, people implanted by electronic control devices in Invaders from Mars alienate their families by pretending still to be themselves (Rogin, 1984: 31). Ripley, on the other hand, has to use sophisticated technology to confirm the existence of an unhatched seed inside herself in Alien3.
We can never expect a Freudian analysis to notice that the synchronized weapon drills of the 'grunts' is a Taylorist work-routine, whose backwardness is about to be tragically exposed by the more flexible aliens; or that Ripley's robotization at the end of the film is a capitalist desiring of an increase in the 'organic composition of capital'; or that the septic Puritanism of Nostromo and 'hyper-sleep' are stratagems in the process of creating the perfect space worker of the future, "a highly ascetic type, pure in body and soul, perfect in his performance, fetishistic in his mental modes aware of the 'dangers' of sexual liaisons under the supercharges conditions of deep space" (Caffentiz & Federici); or that two of the crew, Vasquez and Bishop (the two 'ethnic minorities') (note 22), have to constantly prove themselves to the USA military, the way all ethnicities ritualistically have to in the USA (witness the sacrifices of the immigrant community in Deer Hunter).
Interestingly on the one issue where one would expect Freudianism to be of some use, the mother-child relationship between Ripley and Newt, the inability to contextualize concepts historically has detrimental effects. Psychoanalysis refuses to analyze itself. Otherwise, it would know that 'childhood' and 'motherhood' are not fixed universal entities. A conception of childhood as a distinct life-stage with its own perceived preoccupations and tasks, and "recognition in particular of the importance of affection and space of thought and imagination as preconditions of this development", did not emerge until the notion of 'companionate marriage' among the urban bourgeoisie of the 18th century took firm roots (Rustin & Rustin, 1984: 211). This sentimentalized construction serves the current and future needs of the labour market, "as well as offering a space of nostalgic longing for a return to Edenic innocence outside sociality" (Brown quoted in Gordo-Lopez & Parker, 1999: 172).
Furthermore, in Aliens, childhood memory loss is put down to various forms of repression of traumatic events. The simple explanation that Newt (and children in general) have difficulty retaining their memories because they do not possess the linguistic ability to articulate their experiences, is one theory never taken seriously by psychoanalysis. Aliens is the perfect metaphor for an age where the adult-child relationship is going through yet another periodic crisis, and where 'children' are denied 'childhood' and 'adults' are infantilized whilst being denied the 'irresponsibility' of childhood. Reich, Fromm and Marcuse once argued that a society, which runs on fairy tales, deliberately prevents its members from growing up. It is time to recognize the whole psychoanalytic doctrine as meta fairy tale infantilizing the proletariat in the hope of preserving the status quo. This state of affairs is increasingly unacceptable in daily life as it is in film theory.
Only a few of the building blocks for a new approach to film analysis have been put forward in the present text. Further pieces can be observed here and there in the Bakhtinian approach to dialogic communication and the carnivalesque in the works of Stam (1989), Kozulin's (1990) updating of Vygotsky's critique of art, Newman's 'post-modern' plays (1992) based on Vygotsky and Durmaz's (1999) application of activity theory to Wall Street (dir. Oliver Stone, 1987). Although none of these authors has engaged with all three dimensions of analysis posited above, namely, the intra-, inter- and extra-personal facets of film theory, each has made a considerable contribution which, in time, will furnish a superior mode of comprehending film, cinema and the capitalist society that produces visual commodities. Once this is achieved, Freudian film analysts will occupy an honoured place right next to dinosaurs in museums dedicated to preserving the era of pre-history.
A number of people have commented on earlier drafts of this text with varying degrees of enthusiasm. In particular, I would like to thank Ian Parker (closet Freudian) for his acerbic criticisms and Ian Green (ultra-Freudian) for his downright hostile onslaught.
1. This needs to be qualified. In certain parts of the world, the proletariat is developing a liking for sci-fi, which may have subversive elements. For instance, in Iran illegal videotapes of sci-fi and horror flicks are extremely popular. This may be due to the sensory deprivation that monologic cultures such as Islam subject their followers to. I am open to the suggestion that under some circumstances sci-fi and horror movies could be instrumental in enhancing proletarian desires and imagination.
2. He then goes on to convincingly compare Close Encounters of the Third Kind (USA, Spielberg, 1977) with The Ten Commandments, the former representing "an infiltration of religious codes into a popular cinematic genre to the point of saturation." For instance, the alien mothership at the end of the film "resembles the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night which accompanied the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt", the astronauts receive a religious service before embarking on their journey and the musical communication established with the aliens is a clear New Testament reversal of the Tower of Babel motif in Genesis 11, "when God created language barriers which guaranteed there would never again be a united race to challenge divine supremacy" (ibid. p 27).
3. Alternatively the same primordial menace was described by Giambattista Vico's discussion of Greek ideas of chaos: "They imagined it as Orcus, a misshapen monster which devoured all things the prime matter of natural things which, formless itself, is greedy for forms and devours all forms" (Quoted in Larson, 1997:62). Once chaos has been associated with "the despised mass flowing, slimy, teeming" [read: proletarian disorder], the stability and military order of authoritarian capitalism can be posited as salvation. This attempt to project an ordered cosmology onto the unpredictable terrain of the class struggle has ancient roots, as Norman Cohen makes clear in his monumental, Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come (1993). The Egyptian evil god Apophis, for instance, "was an embodiment of primordial chaos he could only scream. And he operated always in darkness" (ibid, p 21).
4. However, following Voloinov (ibid, p 121) we could ask rhetorically: "What is this "economic viewpoint" in Freud? Simply a groundless transposition to the mind of a principle of 'minimum expenditure of energy' that is as old as the hills."
5. Voloinov concurs with this analogy but being more sensitive to the historical formation of psychoanalysis provides a more rigorous account. Delineating the concept of the unconscious into three periods, Voloinov associates its last manifestation (the one that is most utilized in film analysis) with similar metaphysical ideas propounded about the same time by Schopenhauer, Hartmann and Nietzsche
6. What began as an unorthodox petit-bourgeois doctrine at the margins of epistemology amongst the European intelligentsia has become the commonsense bourgeois grand-narrative of film analysis, and the rest of us are dragged in its wake into the abyss of imbecility.
7. Timpanaro (1976: 205) has an even harsher take on the trinity of id, ego, and super-ego: "Despite Freud's excursions into pre-history and persistent attempts at biological rationale the Id and Ego are two facets of bourgeois man. The Id is his corruption, his egoism, his incapacity for love without hatred. The Ego is the superficial veneer of respectability which conceals his brutality the Super-Ego is the strict ethical ideal of 'duty' "
8. Millet makes another good point: "it is interesting that Freud should imagine the young female's fears center about castration rather than rape- a phenomenon which girls are in fact, and with reason, in dread of, since it happens to them and castration does not. Girls, he informs us, now relinquish some of their anxiety over their castration, but never cease to envy and resent penises and so while 'impotent' they remain in the world a constant hazard to the well-provided male. There are overtones here of a faintly capitalist antagonism between the haves and have-nots" (ibid, p 184).
9. Freud denounced similar moves to contextualize his doctrine as early as 1914: "We have all heard the interesting attempt to explain psychoanalysis as a product of the peculiar character of Vienna as a city Now honestly I am no local patriot; but this theory about psychoanalysis always seems to me quite exceptionally stupid" (Sigmund Freud, "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement", Collected Works (London, 1957). Freud was a cosmopolitan bourgeois who drew ideas from a myriad of cultures and was not intellectually bound by a nineteenth-century Vienna. However, his attempts (and similar gestures by his contemporary supporters) to portray psychoanalysis as too lofty to be stained by the 'muck' of historicity remain unconvincing.
10. Admittedly Freud understood this, even though he forgot his own adage later on and his disciples repressed it further still for fear of exposing their lack of imagination: "We must separate writers who, like the ancient authors of epics and tragedies, take over their material ready-made, from writers who seem to originate their own material" (Freud, 1985: 137). Now, which group would contemporary Freudian film analysts fall into, I wonder?
11. Furthermore, "subliminal perception and the Freudian unconsciousness also differ in their mode of operation. Subliminal perception is a very general recognition of a previously encountered stimulus. The [Freudian] unconsciousness is full knowledge (minus consciousness) which directs complex behavior every time a relevant stimulus is encountered."
12. Related to this 'pop feminism' is the problem of 'individuation'. Gordo-López and Parker (1999: 10) draw out the connections well: "Scientific judgment has historically and contemporaneously attributed knowledge and supernatural 'techniques' to particular individuals - wise women, witches, cyber-feminists - rather than to the community to which they belong and which made it possible for them to interpret and change things."
13. This turn is an attack not only on the mother's body (which has always been a site of resistance) but also on the semi-autonomy enjoyed by proletarians in sexual/procreative matters.
14. A crisis portrayed admirably in Total Recall (USA, 1990, Paul Verhoeven). Here Schwarzenegger indulges in cross-dressing to get through passport control on Mars, but crucially the robotic mask cannot contain his masculinity. Linda Mizejewski (1999: 157) adds: "The visual dynamics also clearly represent the male giving birth to himself through the machine of his own construction - certainly a metonymic reference to Schwarzenegger's real-life bodybuilding."
15. True, none of the Alien films is quite as grotesque as Blade Runner (USA, 1982, Ridley Scott) in spectacularizing the death of women. "Zhora is shown crashing, in slow-motion, through a series of plate glass windows, windows in which female mannequins are on display wearing sexy lingerie In death...Zhora is reduced to a broken doll " (Su-Lin Wee, 1997). Pris (a pleasure model replicant) is shown 'sizzling' about at the point of death, like a witch being burnt at the stake. In both cases, the dead woman's body becomes the focus of the male gaze.
16. This metaphysical 'luvie-duvie' position of Kristeva's is testimony to the fact that her so-called 'Marxist' phase was no more than the superficial dalliance of a petit-bourgeois student with big words.
17. "Historically, at least three kinds of love (between adults) have existed in Western countries: 1) Romantic love among the aristocracy during the middle ages . [This love was a moral act] 2) Love that was felt by many Americans who engaged in limited, local production of commodities between the decline of feudalism and the rise of industrial capitalism This love was primarily a spiritual one and 3) Modern romantic love that emerged put of colonial love in 18th century Europe and 19th century North America and evolved into its current form around 1910 with the solidification of capitalist economy This love is a passionate/visceral, spontaneous, irresistible, disorienting feeling that is quickly aroused by personal attributes and physical appearance of another individual" (Ratner, ibid.).
18. This turn is part of the logical trajectory that horror film has taken, "a gradual, inexorable surrender to the allure of the visible, that this genre's current aesthetic impasse and moribund status is precisely the result of its wholesale capitulation to the representation of horror as that which is corporeal, physical- that is, seen" (Grant in A. Kuhn, 1999: 20).
19. To emphasize this I would remind the reader that modern sci-fi "do for us what the biblical epics did for the fifties and sixties; reactionary and defeatist they present fantasies of the patterns of the past vanquishing the possibilities of the future" (Larson, 1997: 66).
20. "We are trapped in a vicious circle. Why is the phallus the privileged signifier? - Because we live in a patriarchal culture. Why is our culture patriarchal? - Because the phallus is the privileged signifier" (Jackson, 1983).
21. Gabbard & Gabbard (1987: 231) feel obliged to pay lip service to the fact that the crew of Nostromo consists of blue-collar workers "haggling over their shares of the company wages", but this hardly constitutes a class-analysis.
22. Bishop (the 'artificial person' not the organic variety who makes a brief appearance at the end of Alien3) is 'black' as is Data on Star Trek.
Ben-Yehuda, N. (1986) 'The revival of the Occult and of Science Fiction', Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 20, no. 2, Fall 1986, pp 1-16
Bonaffe et al. (1949) 'Psychoanalysis: A Reactionary Ideology', M & M, 2 (9), pp 10-27
Bresnick, A. (1996) 'Prosopoetic compulsion: reading the uncanny in Freud and Hoffman', The Germanic Review, Spring 1996, v71, n2, p114(19)
Bundtzen, L. K. (1987) 'Monstrous Mothers: Medusa. Grendel, and now Alien', Film quarterly, vol. 40, no. 3, spring 87, pp 11-17
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