Changing the Fantasmatic Scene - Kaja Silverman
critical issue is indeed one of movement, of the dislocation of
the subject from the places which he or she has previously occupied in the
fantasmatic, and consequently within the larger social field. For cinema
this entails both the displacement of the look and the voice from their
habitual loci, and the articulation of positions from which is is possible
to see and to speak differently.
Any film which works in these areas (Riddles of the Sphinx, Amy!, Journeys from Berlin, Empty Suitcases, Thriller, Freud's Dora, News from Home are but a few of the titles that come to mind) will pose numerous problems of reading, since it will situate us in unaccustomed places, and stage for us either an unfamiliar or
a de-familiarized performance. However, it will not be an "illegible" cinema, for instead of obliterating the object it will transform it. Nor will it be a cinema which obliges us to renounce pleasure, since rather than closing down altogether the play of narrative and desire, it will generate new narratives and new desires.
There is perhaps no recent experimental film which shows a firmer grasp of these stakes than Leandro Katz's Splits (1978). Not only does it enact a reversal of the position normally occupied by the female subject within the Oedipal fantasmatic, but it dramatizes her eventual rupture with that fantasmatic. It also throws the female body and voice so thoroughly out of alignment that both escape from the system of surveillance which normally serves to confine them. Finally, Splits exposes the complicity of classic cinema in the construction and maintenance of sexual difference, and awakens in the viewer/listener the desire for something else.
Katz's film takes as its point of departure a short story by Borges, "Emma Zunz", and assumes an intimate knowledge of its Oedipal figurations. Indeed, it might be said that the former somehow contains the latter; not only is the Borges' story cited in the credits of Splits,. but it is brought –as text– into the diegesis. As the camera tilts upward from a sleeping Emma to the darkened window of her room immediately prior to the dream sequence, it tracks across the surface of a copy of Labyrinths, blue like the sky into which we eventually emerge.
However, that containment requires our active assistance: we are called upon to function as readers as well as viewers, to incorporate into our experience of the film our experience of the short story. This open accommodation of a literary text is yet another of the important ways in which Katz's film departs from the aesthetic of specificity, erasing the artificial boundaries constructed by that aesthetic.
Despite the profound inter-connectedness of the two texts, Splits in no way qualifies as an adaptation. The relationship between it and "Emma Zunz" is more of an open dialogue about fathers and daughters. Splits locates itself inside the Oedipal labyrinth traced by "Emma Zunz", and reveals a thorough grasp of its through-roads and dead-ends, but it adds a number of new twists and turns, and the path which it traces is finally its own.
Before discussing Katz's film, a brief summary of the other text would seem in order. In "Emma Zunz" Borges gives a characteristically oblique account of a textile worker who learns through a letter of her father's suicide. She reacts to the news with "blind guilt", and with the thought that "the death of her father was the only thing that had happened in the world, and that it would go on happening endlessly". 12 In a trance-like condition she decides to murder the factory owner who ruined Emmanuel Zunz eight years earlier, and for whom she now works.
Emma uses the traces of coitus on her body as the justification for the murder she subsequently commits, claiming to the police that the factory owner raped her. The pulling of the fatal trigger is in fact motivated less by anger over her father's death than by outrage over the sexual dishonor she believes herself to have suffered. By means of that outrage she "proves" to herself that she has never harbored any forbidden erotic desires, and that she is therefore innocent in the matter of Emmanuel Zunz's suicide. Borges' coyly ironic conclusion points to the facility with which the Oedipal drama subordinates everything to itself – its absorption of all difference:
Finally, there are the fragments of Emma herself, fragments which stubbornly resist cohesion. Perhaps the most striking of the subdivisions to which Katz subjects his heroin occurs at the visual level: During three of the film's major sections the frame is split both horizontally and vertically; not only is the upper half partitioned off from the lower half, but it is itself broken into four optical portions, each one of which contains a piece of a woman's face. Those pieces do not fit together harmoniously; there is in every instance a partial but not complete overlap between them.
The lower half of the frame, which offers a much greater variety than the upper, also frequently contains pieces of Emma's body, although here it is her hands, torso, legs and feet which are more consistently featured. Her head is generally either cropped or shown from an angle or distance which obscures the larger contours of the face. We are never able to secure a "fix" on Emma's "looks" .
The diffIculty of reconstituting Emma –of discovering in the visual field inhabited by her fragments the imaginary unity of an ideal female form– is compounded by Katz's deployment of two different actresses to play the same part. Shots of Kathy Gales fill the upper half of the frame, while the lower half contains shots of Lynn Anander. The effect of this split at the level of the acting is to maintain in the viewing subject a constant sense of unfamiliarity and dislocation, a sense which is nowhere so pronounced as at certain moments in the murder scene when the extreme close-up view of Gales' lips which dominates the upper half of the frame is juxtaposed with an identical view of Anander's lips in the lower half.
Two female voices –those of Sheila McLaughlin and Lynn Anander– alternate, compete with and spill over each other throughout most of the frame, and only once with those in the lower half. That solitary synchronization, which also includes a rare full-face close-up of Anander, occurs late in the film, after the murder. It involves the word "justice", a word which can only be read ironically since it belongs to the law-and-order world of the preconscious, and is totally alien to the fantasmatic register where Emma resides. Thus instead of functioning to authenticate and secure each other, as they do in classical cinema, the sound and image are here mutually dis-qualifying; their "marriage" only emphasizes the unreliability of each.
The doubling of Emma's voice and its liberation from her body induce in the listening subject an analogous reaction to that induced in the viewing subject by the various splits at the level of the image. It is as difficult to know where to position the ear as it is to know where the situate the eye. We are made acutely aware of the duality of our own perceptual relation to the filmic text, and of the fact that we both hear and look from a given point.
Heath observes that "work on the sound of a film has become so fundamental a problem and concern of avant-garde practice" because to "disturb the achieved relations of sound and image in the apparatus is to disturb the performance, to break the whole coherence of vision". 13 In so doing he suggests that the Oedipal fantasmatic which class cinema constantly restages with such infinite inventiveness requires the synchronization of sound and image. He also indicates that the latter enjoys primacy over the former within the synchronic relationship. These two very important points require a further clarification.
Within dominant film the sound track is organized around the voice, and the voice around the body. As Mary Ann Doane points out, "Consideration of sound in the cinema (in its most historically and institutionally privileged form – that of dialogue or the use of the voice) engenders a network of metaphors whose nodal point appear to be the body." 14 Essentially what is meant by the role of synchronization is that the voice will conform to and naturalize the body – make it immediately readable while at the same time erasing all traces of its production. Synchronization thus gives to the body a transparency denied it by silent cinema ("the sound cinema is the development of a powerful standard of the body and of the voice as hold of the body in image, the voice literally ordered and delimited as speech for an intelligibility of the body ... fixed in the order of the narrative and its meanings, its unities and resolutions. In the silent cinema the body is always pulling toward an emphasis, an exaggeration, a burlesque in the sound cinema the body is smoothed out, given over to the expression of a homogeneous thinking subject"). 15 Even the slightest loss of synchronicity can disrupt the performance, since it delays and thus denaturalizes the body's meaning. It also drives a wedge between the body and the voice, projecting a divided subject.
The negative definition of the female body within the existing symbolic order – its definition as an "absence", a "not-phallus" – makes it a potential threat to that order: the threat, that is, of a difference which will return not as a complement, as the missing half of the Platonic or Lacanian myth, but as heterogeneity, contradiction. 19 Hence the constant need in dominant cinema to realign the female body with the male gaze, to maker certain that the structuring absence is in fact present. Hence also the need for the female body to be linked with a consistently recognizable voice. That voice serves a vital function – it guarantees that woman really is there, in frame, that she speaks man's language, and that her inside matches her outside.
Splits not only fractures the image, dispenses with synchronization and doubles the female voice; it constantly shifts the relationship between subject and object. Sometimes the voices identify with Emma, referring to her with the first-person pronoun, and sometimes they seem to regard her from an external vantage, referring to her with the third person feminine pronoun. The temporal relations of the voices to the events they narrate also undergo a constant fluctuation between past and present. The interaction between the two voices is equally unpredictable; sometimes they seem in accord, echoing and repeating each other, and sometimes they drown each other out, each absorbed in a different thought. Periodic white titles over black in the upper half of the frame generate yet another discourse, terse, epigrammatic, hermetic.
The film's two female bodies and voices loosely correspond to two different names, both of which derive from the letter "m" (with a pun, one suspects, on Dial M for Murder - there are numerous references to a telephone call): Emma and Muriel. There is no possibility, however, of systematically matching up the two actresses with the two voices and names. These semic components remain fragments dispersed over a wide visual and acoustic field, speaking at the level of the enunciation to the divided subjectivity of the protagonist.
Splits consists of five main sections, each organised around a trope from "Emma Zunz": the letter, the dream, the preparation, the murder and the escape. Some are sharply differentiated (the dream, the escape) through certain formal markings, while others flow into each other. However, they definitely add up to a narrative – not in the usual sense of that word, but in the sense described by de Lauretis: they move the female subject first from the position of the beaten child to that occupied by the beating father, and then beyond the Oedipal fantasmatic altogether.
1. The Letter. Splits opens with a series of pans across the Manhattan skyline, and with the following prologue – a prologue which contains in an abbreviated form all of the central signifiers of the film:
|A line of trees ... fog ... the time when history liquidates the masters ... a ship ... a row of windows ... a bubbling substance ... the picture of Saturn ... a figurehead ... a figurehead... a letter from far away.|