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Jack Shadoian

Theorizing Filmic Space:
Alain de St.Tropez-Douche's
SUBJECT IN/TO/OF/ THE DARK

At last (1997), film theory on film itself, film theory via film, a celluloid ecriture breakthrough from the critic (who may more aptly be called a "theoretical artist") Alain de St. Tropez-Douche. I am speaking (have already spoke) of course/on course of his new film Subject To/Of/In/ the Dark currently intriguing spectators at the Theoretical Convention Center's Auditorium B (just off the Derrida Lounge). This is the boldest open statement of film-as-theory, of the screen as an invitationally (and thereby consciously) theorizable surface and of the camera as an unconsciously theorizing mechanism (however subject to ideologically imposed volitions) yet articulated, one given additional weight by Foucault's impassioned voice-over. Douche's working title was, for many years, "The Fissures Sutured," refined later to "Suturing the Fissures," an acknowledgement (endorsement?) of the critical writer as surgeon/scientist/healer conducting essential operations, hence the brutal elimination of all antiquarian twitches from methodology and syntax and semantic cores, and the often brutal metaphors implied by controversial subject matter.

Subject Of/In/To/ the Dark, while unquestionably at an intellectual cutting edge, employs a literal cutting edge. It contains 62 murders, including decapitations, castrations, clitorectomies, numerous tortures by incision, etc., preceded by a Sadian catalogue of sexual debaucheries and so-called "aberrations" (here Foucault appears briefly as a performer in a bizarre S/M home movie to illustrate, philosophically, certain axioms of social hypocrisy). But that is both besides and to the point, for Douche locates (feigns?) a diction that interrogates the epistemological foundations of representation. We can ignore this only at our peril for, as cinematic practitioners and propagandists as disparate as the Nazis and Eisenstein clearly saw, "film is dangerous."

The fissures sutured. Therein lies the cruxologist's troubled sleep and furrowed brow: the vectoring of the compulsive-historical and the habitualism of spectator economics. This perversion (as it must be) is inquired, inquired though as an enigma (within the formal/sensual blockages of the "subject"), not as a perversion. The resonance, we might say, is hiding--not outside the text, as some have noted, but within, something the surfaces gloss to pay homage to the nostalgie du text at the heart of cinema's historical circumstance--and ready to take flight in multiple contradictory trajectories.

This radical disharmony of intertextual signals (the close-up of the cigar, the condom machine, the vomit in the cracked bidet) prevents any knee-jerk, figure/ground displacement by the trained observer. He must become perceptually de-trained. The murders are perpetrated upon the form, which at first winces, then yields--the frame gestures, as it were, through the "noise" of the content. Douche poses the idea of incorruptibility--he can do no more. It is up to us to take up his challenge.

The film begins, and, at once, by "beginning," decontextualizes, so "beginning" elides artifice with the reality of offering itself to us through a series of acceptable institutionalized agreements. So it "begins" doubly as drama and consciousness of drama. It seems to seize the matter conceptually: I begin. And questions: what is a beginning? What does it mean to begin? The close-up. A cigar. A close-up. This repetition robs narrativity of its privilege--and ignites us towards observation, not temporal empathy. The phallophobic insertion of the cigar (it is not clear what kind, the band is obscured) "arrests" action, is, spatially and texturally, still-life. It overstates, through coloring and design, towards the fecal, which will slowly come to resonate as a thematics of filmic production and imagination.

The point is that everything begins here: the characters, stripped of complexity to question complexity; design (the ovals--insignias of totalitarian politics, the shape of deformity, paradigm unhappiness); objects (the humidor in which Alana hides her shit and, later, stores the genitals); the "class"-designated colors (red, white, brown--blood, semen, excrement); decor (the background painting of The Riviera, incongruously lovely, but incongruous above all), and all placed where we can see it, placed for us, as opposed to where it might normally be--thus countering the "reality" of any image it is in.

Could it be otherwise? Professor Bartz misconstrues (perhaps) the passage as an icon-fetish (not in the classic sense) of submission--I/you annihilation. Universal lactation complexes, and the like. Situationally, though, considering the traditions of minimalist repositioning, we may discover inter-axiomatic and potentially osmidrotic (to the unconverted) references (intentionally non-occluding) that interrogate the audience's coprophilic repressions. "That's why" is the turn in the materialist referent that dislodges the subject-construction of implicitly non-aggressive symbol formations of "what's why" in ever-weakening, de-tumescing enunciations of "me, could/would" voyeur itineraries. Diachronicity, then. Or aborted temps-morts.

And that is, John Sherfledge's recent essay of rebuttal notwithstanding (his mistakes are marvellously instructive), an "if" inhabiting the imaginary, a region of (fluctuating, subject-constituting) "work" for the subject, "there" and non-fantasizing. The mistake is to judge this a recuperation of the "signalizing" text. Rather, it is a "re"-moval of dominance, a codification, by "example," of how an altercation of surfaces is precisely generative of reconstructed subtexts, and a never-again mystification of narrativised "truth," non-competitive, non- reifying deconstruction concretized in "language"-meshing ego-crytallizations. The problematics of cinematic "I" and "I-who-create-this"--"you"--and signified "I-am-here" for the purpose of denying "I'm-not-you" is clarified as "extra-discursive." Closure of this kind assumes a non-inherency. Utterance can proceed on the basis of non-hierarchical potential, potential Douche seeks and respects. The term itself makes liquid the "recovery" of the intelligible and, in the process, essentializes the redundancies of discourse. Thanks to Douche, the future--what Martha Baker at Yale called a "hermeneutics of syntagmatic stultifiers," is now.


Jack Shadoian teaches Film and English at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst. He is a frequent contributor to poetry mags (5 A.M., LUCID STONE, NEW YORK QUARTERLY, FISHDRUM, among the latest) and has a recent chapbook, BALCONY VISIONS, out from Alpha Beat Press. His film criticism includes DREAMS AND DEAD ENDS (a study of the crime film, M.I.T. Press), and "The Art of Mitchell Leisen" (Film Comment, Sept./Oct. 1998).

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