Date: Wednesday 26 November 2003
Venue: Lecture Hall
Partly in response to Slavoj Zizeks recent critique of his interpretation of Vertigo (see Zizeks lecture Organs Without Bodies 06/11/2003), Mark Cousins presents a lecture on the structure of Hitchcock's film and its relation to the image.
MARK COUSINS: (…) ceaseless kind of semi critique by Slavoj of my interpretation, which I thought, well, if he’s going to do his, I might as well. I haven't brought any clips so I do hope that everyone in the room either knows Vertigo very well or indeed has just seen it. Probably it’s fair to kind of warn people that some of the reading is quite close, so if you don’t know the movie, don’t blame me.
So successfully does the structure of Hitchcock's Vertigo flaunts Hollywood's conventions about narratives and film itself, that this fact frequently scapes comment. The film falls into two distinct parts, and it would be possible to imagine the first part, Combinating the death of Madeleine, and the collapse of Scottie into mute depression, it could be show by itself as a film. Imagine it: we would have a compressed but complete melodrama, it opens with the discovery of Scottie's vertigo and closes with his inability to rescue Madeleine because of that symptom. Her insanity which drives her at the tower of the mission, places her beyond the love of Scottie and the solicitude of her husband. This would be the outline of the narrative of the film, if it ended here, and its narrative would have a consistent point of view. The whole film would be represented from the subjective point of Scottie alone. Now, if this was the case, the interpretation of central issues would be able to be made within a certain predictable consistency. I think it’s worth putting this to the test. In the first part of this lecture, I’m going to restrict myself to the first part of the film as if the second part didn’t exist, and then, in the second part of this lecture, I’ll deal with the second part of the film, and it’s radical reworking of how we understand the first one. This device suggests itself as a way of demonstrating how much work the second half of the film accomplishes against our appropriation of the first half. Now, this is obviously not restricted to the question of what we would call surprises at the narrative level. Of course, it’s only in the second half that we know the so-called truth of the first half, but that does not contradict the thesis that first half of the film can and indeed does, in terms of the spectator’s first experience of it, stand as a complete and independent film. There is no structural need to resolve the film further. By the moment of Scottie’s retreat into worldless melancholia, a certain film is finished. This film, the film that finishes before being opened up again, revolves around a number of manifest issues. There is the question of Scottie’s vertigo, and its relation to both Madeleine and Midge. There is lastly the question of Madeleine’s suffering and its relation to Carlotta Valdes. Lastly, the question of how this two threads draw Scottie and Madeleine together and how they hold him back and push her forward towards the suicide that his symptom cannot allow him to prevent.
In discussing this, I’m going to try respect the condition of bringing nothing from the second half of the film—the film that continues after its end. And indeed, the interpretations are perfectly conventional and even obvious forms of psychoanalytic understanding. The interpretations which are sort of offered could be characterized, like so much film theory, as being kind of oedipal in nature, that is, they’re centred around the types of identifications which are the outcome of what Freud calls the Oedipus complex. I would make them, not because I think they are ultimately right, or indeed wrong, but to show how such a compressed melodrama will actually provoke such interpretations. They not only will have to be revised in the light of the second half, but they’re inherently limited in their approaches upon the material. Indeed, the second half of the film itself suggest reasons why such a psychoanalytic interpretation is limited, both in theoretical terms and perhaps also within empirical practice. The issue for me turns around the interpretation of the image. Simply put: psychoanalysis classes images either as objects of desire or as a field of identification, and that restriction is really the one from which I would like to break from and oppose in the course of this lecture. It restricts by the approach of the image by one that is succeeded by the second half of the film.
Now, the title of the film, Vertigo, is not in itself the term that Scottie first uses to describe his condition to Midge, his old college chum. The doctors have diagnosed acrophobia: the fear of being in an elevated position. This results in the symptom of vertigo, in the fear of heights, and in dizzy spells such as that portrayed in the opening scene. But even that scene, it is left unclear, what exactly made up the vertigo. The situation in which Scottie found himself clinging for life, from a perilously insecure gutter, and unable to grasp the hand of another police officer, hardly itself seems like the expression of a neurotic symptom. What the subjective camera did show, however, in that scene, were two important editions: rather than represent the space beneath him, as a kind of general precipice, the shot suggests that the space below is enclosed. Furthermore, the space is filmed as simultaneously moving away and drawing closer. The crucial shots of the space of his phobia come later, in the interior shots of the tower of the Mission. Here again, when vertigo attacks him, it’s not simply the representation of height that is shown, but of a complete enclosed space represented as from above which nonetheless appears on the screen within a horizontal, rather than a vertical space. The interpretation of the vertigo will have to deal with the fact that the vertigo—these is are sort of definitions of the symptom—is moving in an enclosed space that is both vertical and horizontal in some sense. It must also accommodate the form of Scottie’s dizzy spell, that occurs when he’s trying to show Midge in the kitchen how he intends to cure himself; as he mounts the kitchen’s steps, he catches sight of the street outside and far below the kitchen window, and goes into a state of dizziness. He collapses into the arms of Midge, who catches him in an exaggerated gesture of maternal concern. We may be sure this has happened before. If the whole perception of the acrophobia is treated as a symptom, one might start thinking about it as a compromise, there is an unconscious wish and at the same time its repression through the representation of the punishment that would accompany the fulfillment of the wish.
Within a phobia—this is general psychoanalytic knowledge—relations of desire, repression, and guilt may be variously woven into a symptom. Sometimes the object of a phobia may be closely related to the object of unconscious desire, but accompanied by the feeling of dread and fear. In other phobias, the object of fear does not represent a repressed wish, rather the object of fear is a possible instrument of punishment. And therefore is the threat that causes the wish to be feared. Sometimes, aspects of the desire and the punishment can be joined together, as in the case of Freud’s wolfman. For Scottie, the fear of high places is clearly announcing the punishment, the sexual wish is hidden beneath this, but at the same time something about wish is grafted onto the punishment, the excitation of falling, clearly recoups the sexual excitement that it’s being prevented from any direct expression. The vertigo that appears in the opening shots and paralyzes him in the tower at the moment of Madeleine’s suicide, might conform to the public expectation of what it is to have vertigo. But it does not exist (…); when he visits Midge, she asks him if if he has any more dizzy spells—such dizzy spells represent the conversion of the fear into a physical expression of the fantasy of falling. Even here the vertigo combines the anguished anticipation of fatal falling with the pleasure of being caught, as he is by Midge. The complexity of relations that underlies Vertigo, is exacerbated by the dimension of guilt. Obviously the symptom is made in part of guilt: guilt for the desire, and the fear of punishment. The fact that the police officer dies, redoubles the guilt. Now the guilt may lead not only to Scottie’s punishment, but that punishment may be also visited upon the innocent. The punishment for evading punishment, and for causing the innocent to be punished instead, must be absolute. The conviction of having caused the police officer’s fall, and then of causing Madeleine’s suicide, is given a legal validation of his guilt, delivered in those wonderfully laconic words of the coronel. The initial impulse, the repressed wish wonders through a range of entanglements, through phobia, conversion, unbearable guilt, and finally into withdrawn melancholia. Of course, each of these is in itself only a displacement of the wish. If the phobia still contains iconographic traces of the original wish, these sure rely in the particularity of the space of fear.
This particular space is created by shooting the interior of the Mission tower, or rather a model of the tower, so that the space seems to be both lengthening and getting closer. The effect is achieved—and I think this is one of the great effects of the cinema—by having the camera tracking back, but zooming forwards. Hitchcock himself said: “the viewpoint must be fixed, you see, while the perspective is changed, as it stretches lengthwise. I thought about this problem for fifteen years, by the time we got to Vertigo, we solved it by using the dolly and the zoom simultaneously.” It’s a quotation given in his discussion with François Truffaut. Nothing else of the repressed wish would found here, to find it, we have to look into an element that is insistent, repetitious, and above all, without meaning. To reach this, we have to go via Madeleine and her suffering. She—I was about to say: apparently, but no—suffers from reminiscences; her husband Gavin Elster explains to Scottie, whom he asks to watch over her, that she enters through states in which she becomes, as it were, Carlotta Valdes, her great grandmother. It is a historical fact, records Pop Leibel, the man in the bookstore, that Carlotta Valdes was thrown over by her powerful lover who also took away their child. Distraught with grief, Carlotta gradually descended into madness. Now, Madeleine, whose family has concealed the story of Carlotta from her, seems mysteriously to be taken on, for increasing periods, the identity and by implication, the destiny of the unhappy, the mad Carlotta. Scottie, having agreed to follow her, tracks her pilgrimage the following day from the flowershop (…), to the Mission Dolores, to the grave of Carlotta Valdes, and finally to the palace of the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln park. Scottie, and I think this scene is absolutely crucial, enters the gallery at whose far end sits Madeleine, absorbed by a painting. He moves closer, affecting to look at two paintings on the opposite wall. As he stands behind her, his attention is drawn to the small bouquet of flowers on the bench. the flowers she had bought earlier. In an uncharacteristic, at least for Hitchcock and almost pedagogic series of shots, the camera moves forward from those flowers to establish a relation, a homology with an identical bunch in the portrait. This pair of images of the bouquet is now matches with another pair, which establishes the identity of the coil of hair of Madeleine and that of the portrait. Of course, as the gallery attendant answers Scottie, the subject is Carlotta Valdes. Both the bouquet and the coil of hair are a reference to the presumed increasing identification of Madeleine with Carlotta. But the bouquet and the coil do not play the same role; the bouquet is now a mystery solved, as the coil of hair is a mystery posed. Even if the coil links Madeleine and Carlotta, why is it this link, which comes to represent the link between them? At this point, the signifier has no meaning, though it has significance. It will require some element external to Madeleine to become intelligible. It ought to be possible at this stage to form some elementary interpretations. The melodrama has involved at least two lines of significance, which must be drawn into a single thread. The first line of that is Scottie’s apparent symptom, vertigo, it might be thought of phobia, namely that condition in which the phobic object has something of the repressed object of desire about it. In the case of Scottie, the object of fear is not heights in general, but a certain space, whose representation is given horizontally as much as vertically. It is, in its most realized form, the tower of the Mission church, an enclosed space, a whole that moves in a distinct way. One is drawn into it as it moves away. In addition to the fear and paralysis it induces in Scottie, it also seems to produce a collapse. This aspect of his vertigo is caught in the scene with Midge: when struck with vertigo, he collapses into her, in the pose of a Pietà. We can suggest that fear and repression of the object of his desire return as vertigo. The identity of that objects is hinted out in his relation to Midge. Despite the intimacy of Scottie and Midge, Midge is characterized by her independence: she has no role in his internal drama, she might have been waiting for him, but he isn’t going to catch up. He is fixed upon a prior object whose direct substitutes are sexualized; Midge is not such a substitute, or could only be if the relation to the prior object had been resolved. She might, in a way, be the girl next door, but next door is too far for Scottie. Since Midge cannot be a substitute to that prior object, paradoxically, she can represent the object’s name since with her there is no need of repression. When she arrives to visit Scottie in the hospital, she can say: “Don’t worry, mother is here;” because she is not, and could not be. The unresolved Oedipus complex places an absolute barrier between them. Paradoxically, this is the reason why she adopts the role, as much through her irony as through his need, of mother, sister, or chum. To turn this the other way round, the non relation to Midge precisely indicates the continuing, repressed, and incestuous relation to his mother. That’s the interpretation and it’s pretty obvious. It’s captured at the very moment we might consider as the end of the first film: she explains to the doctor, that the object of his love is dead and that he is still in love with her. She walks out of the hospital and out of the film, interestingly, she walks down a corridor that mirrors the very space of Scottie’s vertigo, although presented firmly on the horizontal. There is with her, neither movement, nor panic, and space remains what it is.
Or we can reach the issue of the mother from a second direction, that of the coil hair. It’s already been noted, that Hitchcock makes a laborious point by linking the portrait of Carlotta Valdes and Madeleine in the gallery; the sign of the bucket is already exhausted, the homologous nature of the coil of hair certainly links the two but plays no role in suggesting what it refers to. The coil of hair remains a mystery, but now a solution can be put forward. The space of Scottie’s phobia is the space which could embody a young child’s incestuous wish. If that space could refer both to the internal space of the coil and the space of the phobia, then it would be a space in which incestuous phobia finds a definite topography. At the same time, it would have been connected by the paternal interdiction of the mother into a space of fear. It would follow from this that his captivation by Madeleine, and more specifically, by her coil of hair, is an acting out of his incestuous desire for his mother. Just as his inability to move in the Mission tower, he’s still the consequence of his guilt, or expectation of punishment, to the wish. Still unable to climb, because of the non resolution of the Oedipus complex, he has been able to fall for her while not been able to save her from falling. In a sense, I offer that interpretation, not because I think it’s right, or indeed wrong, what I’m saying is: it’s the kind of interpretation which is provoked, specially by a melodrama. In a sense, the rest of the lecture will be to try to introduce an argument, as to why it’s radically insufficient, both in terms of analyzing the film, and also in terms of psychoanalytic theory.
Central to the issue so far has been that of identification. The problem is that identification falls into one category two quite distinct issues: on the one hand, the term identification refers to the order of narrative, and it’s used in part to describe how characters do and do not relate to each other in the film, and it’s also used to show how the spectator is caught up in the narrative, and distributed across it; how the spectator identifies. At the same time, it also refers to a more visual order, in which the film narrative is coded, as images. The term identification, unfortunately runs both this registers together, but vertigo hangs above all, on the dissociation of identifications, and images. So much that it casts a shadow over the very assumption that the usual coincidence. This dissociation works at the level of names as well as images. To say that Scottie identifies with Madeleine, or the image of Madeleine, it’s not to refer to a character, but to raise the mystery of the image. The name Madeleine, takes on a life of its own, as the image. To say she is from the second point of the film, really Judy, is not to explain relations, but rather to enter into them. It is not a question of mistaken identities, but rather, the mistake of identities. The conflation of two different registers, of the narrative and the character on the one hand, and the image on the other, has the overall effect of repressing the economy of the image, since the image is reduced to being the sign of something else: an image of somebody or something. Of course, psychoanalytically, the notion of a sign, if by sign we mean “the representation of”; a “sign of”; falls invariably into the idea of a substitute. An image then of somebody before, and somebody elsewhere. The use of this identification has the effect of hunting out the original, for whom the substitute stands in. All the interpretative emphasis in analysis is put upon the original, which is thought of as the real object of unconscious fantasy. Even if the chain that links substitute to original has intermediaries, analysis moves mechanically to the original who has always been waiting off camera to be named by this repetitive algorithm. This is how we may claim to uncover a chain that links Carlotta Valdes to Scottie’s mother. In a sense, my argument is precisely against this. I don’t say it’s an error: it’s an abusive interpretation, it’s a restriction of interpretation that is the effect of a mechanical model of substitute and original. On this model, each substitute bears a singular relation to the original, but it’s not permitted to be the only relation between the substitutes. the subject over time, make a number of such identifications, but there is no series as such. To indicate a substitution, is somehow already to say mother, or indeed any other familiar term.
The question is: could one give an account that didn’t do this, that didn’t keep reducing the substitute to the original, and which allowed a relation between the substitutes to be seen as significant. Such an account would start from a consideration of the very structure of Vertigo now as a whole. One could see this film, as precisely inviting the reductive interpretation. But the second film gradually begins to dispense this. If the first half, as it were, provokes the interpretation that I’ve made, now let’s move to the whole film to see how that rejects that interpretation. The interpretation of the first film up to now, has been that where Scottie’s vertigo is ultimately located as an unresolved Oedipal conflict, in which the symptom is a displaced repression of his desire for his mother. A sign of the mother is represented by a coil of hair on Madeleine, and on Carlotta Valdes. The coil is ultimately the very space in which desire and fear mix and to heights that never quite lose their connection to the coil. This interpretation follows a purely conventional path. The question of the fear is a simple relation to the original, the question of the image is reduced to be the sign of another object. What the second film accomplishes and permits us to grasp, is that the series cannot be thought of this way and neither can the question of the image. This is postposed at the level of the narrative and the spectator’s relation to it. The meeting with Judy, outside the hotel and then up to her room after the first part of the film, is the last moment when Scottie and the spectator have the same relation to the knowledge of the plot. The spectator now immediately separates from him and becomes privileged to what you might call the real story. Only Scottie now remains as a survivor of ignorance. Until finally even he detects the story behind the narrative at the second half of the film. If we accept that the second part of the film is both an analysis and a repetition of this film, then his pursuit of Judy becomes a repetition of the pursuit of Madeleine. But he is not repeating an action, what it is repeated is the series, which is now Madeleine-Judy. Moreover, in recognizing the series, the issue of the image becomes foregrounded. It is precisely Judy’s paradoxical failure to precisely fit into the image, that lends the image an insistent but independent role in this. It follows that the difference between the first film by itself and the spectator’s reaction to the first film as the second unfolds, should entail a revision, that is reflected in the interpretation. This could be thought of by posing the question of the object of Scottie’s desire. If read by itself, the first film gives us an answer: the object of his desire is Madeleine, though this is qualified by his vertigo that acts as an obstacle to her. But if you think in terms of the second part of the film, the answer becomes more complex: Judy is not the object of his desire, but rather a potential, but by no means adequate of the image of Madeleine. When dining with Judy at Ernie’s, Scottie is distracted by a figure who at some distance seems to offer a close resemblance to Madeleine than that given by Judy. As she comes nearer, the resemblance dissolves, leaving only the similarity of the grey suit. Judy and we have to endure the knowledge of the real situation, but it also revises the reading of the first film and its relation to Madeleine. The vision of our understanding of Scottie’s desire recognizes that what Scottie pursues is not an object at all, but an image. This formula could still, all too easily, be taken to mean that in terms of the narrative of the first half, he needs to mould or select those aspects of Madeleine that most resemble the image of his lost maternal object. But this is just the reductionist kind of interpretation I’m opposing. Even if the coil of hair is underlined both by Scottie and the camera, as what links Madeleine back to his mother, there is no reason to make the coil an active cause. We shouldn’t think that there is in some sense an originary maternal coil directing the son in quest of a substitute. Rather, we should imagine that in his initial fixation on someone he retrospectively projects it back upon his maternal imago as an image, that is to say, as if it were an object, not that it is an origin, a retrospective projection. Indeed, the scene in the art gallery seems to suggest this: the question of the coil comes ups between an image of Carlotta and the sedentary Madeleine. This issue of ‘between’ is central. Scottie’s relation to the image has an invariably interstitial quality. This is one reason for the importance of mirrors in the film. They double and redouble the relations he has between women. Between the image of Carlotta Valdes and Madeleine, between Madeleine and Judy, and between Judy and anyone who might be mistaken from a distance for Madeleine. His subjectivity appears as a movement in respect to one of a pair. We might validate this by contrasting the series with the figure of Midge. Midge is too robustly herself. She is too resolved a character to offer Scottie anything but herself. Their affectionate relationship, remains inevitably brotherly on his side, a fact and a warning that until his oedipal symptoms are dissolved, he cannot be with any woman who does not relate to his own unfinished business. Midge can’t use neither her sexuality, nor her intelligence to make him anything other than an absent mindedly fraternal. She’s finally provoked to satirize his fantasies, and literally to paint herself into the picture. She produces an image, a portrait, that is an image of Carlotta Valdes’ portrait, with the difference that it has Midge’s own head. The portrait is indeed an impossible object and has about it the status of a hybrid being perhaps inevitably a sphynx. This eruption, from which Scottie withdraws only seems to underlie his prevailing condition of being captivated by an image which is the result of being confronted by two images and having to chose between them. The difference between what Scottie does and the usual account of identification must now be cleared. Normally, an identification occurs with an object of which the subject already possesses an imago, so dissolves the relationship between interiority and exteriority. Between intimacy and what I’ve called extimacy. Identification seems to be both a projection and an interjection. This is also why the question of the image seems so vague in the question of identification. What Scottie does is to pursue an object with the driven appetite that it’s led to characterize it as typical of a whole structure of the male pursuit of women, most obviously in the early writings of Laura Mulvey. But his pursuit of the woman must include an account of the aim of the drive in which the assumption of sexual conquest or possession must be dropped. For he pursues the object with the aim of finding an image. It is the mark of an apparition, as he approaches her, he must divide her into what is essential to her being as an image. Either he is dividing an object into its image and its remainder, or more typically, he finds himself between two images, one of which he choses on the grants that it is the image of the other image. Now, this enables us to drive even the first film away from the oedipal interpretation, in which Madeleine first appears as the lost maternal object. The coil should not be taken of the sign of that object, it does not need to be founded historically on the mother, for its structural foundation occurs in the very identification with images that finds its application not among sons, but among those who identify with images. It’s not that he identifies with Madeleine because she has the same coil of hair as his mother, it’s rather because of her apparent identification with the image of Carlotta Valdes through the double series of bouquet and coil. Scottie may believe that this relation has its origin in Carlotta, just as we might continue to entertain the psychoanalytic fantasy that it’s origin points to the mother, both (…) the real order of causality. The mechanism lies in Scottie’s identification with Madeleine’s apparent act of identification with Carlotta.
The real relation is that the past is not a kind of causal kind of arena, here, the past is a field of effects whose origin is fully in the present. The usual causal relation of past and present is here reversed: it is nearly an extreme case of that event known as meeting somebody, in which a mutual identification proposes itself to consciousness as an event that must overflow the present considered as an available contingency and seek its bearings in the fantasy that somehow the meeting had always already been prepared by the past. It is as if in some way it is a second meeting, as if the space of meeting registers an echo from elsewhere, long ago. And of course, the identification occurs in an art gallery.
This brings us closer to the question of image in Vertigo: it is an element that exceeds and returns to undo the usual ideas of identification. We can specify this by contrasting a traditional view of representation, that insists that an image reminds us of whoever’s absence. The likeness brings him or her to mind if not to body, if not to presence. This distinction in which the presence and absence of the object exhausts all possibilities is not the distinction we make. We are concerned with a more savage and less availing account which has the image as a reminder in the absence of the object. What it’s crucial to the definition of Scottie’s image, is the role that it’s played by loss, rather than absence, in relation to the loss. This loss, I would argue, is not about a lost image, whatever that might be—indeed I have no idea of what a lost image might be—but if we start with Scottie’s typical act of dividing an image from an object, or an image from an image of an image of an image, and so on, we can see that he works within the field of images that had been cut out of objects. Whatever lies on the side of objects is drained away. That is what it means to suffer and indeed to love images. Scottie’s object is an image, and I call such an image an image of loss. Such an image already contains the loss within itself, though it is not at all an image of someone who’s been lost. In Scottie’s case is the continuous loss of the object, which is both the consequence of is commemorated with his possession of the object as image. Every loss occurs as an object, but the nature of possession there is according to the aim of the drive. The relation of possessing an image takes the form of being possessed. The subject must keep the image alive, even if the object dies. As Scottie remains after fishing Madeleine out of the bay, “I’m responsible for you now, you know, the Chinese have a saying that once you’ve saved someone’s life, you are responsible of it forever.” She replies: “and you’ll go on saving me, again and again?” This account is of an image, whose constitution bisects the question of loss. At a formal level, we might connect this with the outline of an image, even to a point where the outline is all, as in the case of a silhouette. The reader of a silhouetter figure is unable to decide whether the figure is all there or is cut out. The accentuation of the outline produces a figure that exists in a different register from the ground. So Scottie’s own collapse might call up the category of mourning, in Freud’s sense, but it has its difference. What exactly is it, that causes his retreat into melancholia? Not the loss of her as an object, because she’s never been an object of his, has never been the aim of his desire; what he has lost is not her, but everything. More precisely, he has lost that image which had lent him a method of discarding objects. He’s lost the image to which he had always related with the passion of grief. He had always tried to save, we might say conserve, that image through its identification, in which the work of keeping the image alive gave him a sense of animation. Scottie’s position is something like this: already in a sense dead to objects, his life depends on keeping alive an image and saving it from the death it has long been enjoying. In a the second film, he is compelled to resurrect this image, by mortifying an object in a mad labour that seems frequently impossible, even though the audience know that Madeleine and Judy share one and the same body, that of Kim Novak. The desperate fashioning of Madeleine out of Judy, acts itself out at the level of the object as a tragedy for her: she is erased, Judy, in the name of reproducing Madeleine. She is trapped in a story that can be neither undone, nor abandoned. The relation of the loss of the image and the image of loss, is perhaps dramatized by the dead body. Blanchot maintains that one property of the cadavre is that it is its own image. The dead body has this peculiar characteristic, he says: “it no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow of a presence behind the living form which now far from separating itself from this form, transforms strictly into shadow.” Certainly, the cadavre has this relation to the image, but it continues to be linked to a subject, at least through the relation of the name. But in Vertigo, even this relation is out of control, and places the question of the name of Madeleine: if we say that Madeleine is really Judy, we have to say that they are both Kim Novak, and who is she, really? The narrative goes away of the membrane that separates it from the film’s production. The name, like the image, escapes the narrative’s capacity to control it. We’ve already argued against reducing an image to an original, no longer should an origin be located in the maternal body, the terms origin and substitute should be replaced by the idea of the series, which in this case is the image of Carlotta Valdes, Madeleine, and Judy, once the coil of hair is in place. But it also has to include the image of Kim Novak, whose image includes all the others. What is true of these images is true of these names, Kim Novak not only plays Madeleine, as does Judy, but becomes part of the issue of reference that the film uncovers in the second part. The film is both a second narrative, and as it were, an analysis of the whole film. The question now is not who does the name Madeleine refer to, but rather how the film has altered, one might say, the concept of reference. This idea of the image of loss might be easier to grasp if one thinks about it in respect to time. It takes its bearings from a di-temporal space. If the image is not seen as a representation of a person, or indeed the sign of another person, and indicates a series, that we could say that the image is an emblem or a device. On one side, it has a heraldic dimension announcing the coming of whoever or whatever the device stands for, the image is in the name of, as such it belongs to a futurity. On the other side it functions as a memorial of what alone remains in the name of. About to appear, already departed, exhaust the possibilities of time. The image bears upon the future and the past and nothing else. Above all, there is no present, just the split. This is the condition of the image as the image of loss and it gives rise to its characteristic effect, that intermingling or longing and melancholy: the object of longing no longer arrives, anymore than the object of melancholy really dies. The image is no longer the representation of an object, the affect belongs to the order of the series. The second form is not merely a continuation of the narrative of the first film, it is a working and transformation of that. The issue of the serial image is brought forward and incarnated in the figure of Judy. She bears the paradox: being more herself only when she fails as an image of herself, and succeeding as an image of herself only when she is not herself. This has a fatal consequence: she becomes the completed image for Scottie only after one last and final struggle, defeated by the grey suit, the black shoes, the blonde hair, she returns where Scottie is waiting impatiently in the corridor, sees her at a distance, and sees her initially as perhaps perfected. She begins to walk with that distinctive deliberation each step falling exactly in front of the last, lending her slow, heavy sway; at the same time she is bathed in green electric light. But all of this is premature, she is not finished, and Scottie implores her to add the coil of hair, the means of completing Madeleine, just as Judy had used the coil of hair in the gallery and in Scottie’s flat after jumping into the bay to establish that essential trait of Madeleine. But the coil is not the only object to return, following the same logic in which Judy is negated as Madeleine Judy now puts on the jewels, that were supposed to belong to Madeleine. From the point of view of Judy, there is no real difference between the coil of hair and the jewels. Having assented to the suit, the shoes, the hair colour, the coil of hair; having had to return to her portrayal of Madeleine, she might as well complete the picture and wear Madeleine’s jewels, those supposedly inherited from Carlotta Valdes. But from the point of view of Scottie, there is every difference between the coil of hair and the jewels: the coil of hair designates the series of the image of loss, the jewels, however, belong to Madeleine quoi object, rather than Madeleine quoi image. They cannot belong to Judy quoi object, as she becomes Madeleine quoi image. There is as it were an asymmetry between the attributes of objects and the attributes of images: Scottie is reminded of this by remembering the portrait of Carlotta Valdes. Paradoxically, at this moment, the nature of a portrait and the nature of an image are in complete variance with each other. Because the portrait refers to an object: it’s a “portrait of”, an image refers to another image. In completing the portrait she has destroyed the image. In the gap between portrait an image, Scottie is able for the first time to think and to detect. Wearing the jewels she is no longer what she should be, she is now a portrait of Madeleine rather than an image of Madeleine. In getting what he thought he wanted, and more, he must for the first time pose the question of how he got it. The answer must teach him how his desire has been exploited to mask an entirely different story, that of the criminal plans of Gavin Elster; she now is a perfect image, but she is the image of the wrong object. There might be several ways of thinking about this, the completion of the portrait as the destruction of this image.
Like many Modernist works, Vertigo can be seen to double its narrative with another that speculates on the nature of the medium. This commonplace of criticism has to be refined in this case. The speculation does not appear as an eruption, or as a supplement that displaces the narrative as an exclusive focus, it is rather an overlay, which while doing nothing to disturb the narrative into being at another level, it is as if the narration of the film inevitable breads such other level, moving beyond story, while remaining within an expanded field of reference. The story is one of those stories, or rather two of those stories that cannot be told without inciting a series of references outside the narrative. If the question of who is Madeleine, who’s played Madeleine is asked, the answer cannot be Judy. The name of Kim Novak, whoever she might be, inevitably circulates in an economy that exceeds the narrative, but is produced by the narrative. If Gavin Elster is the director of the narrative of the first film, who is the director of the whole film, including Gavin Elster? and what relation does he have to that figure glimpsed very quickly passing by the office of Gavin Elster—that is the moment when you see Hitchcock. And finally, the critic spectator, who perhaps has watched the film more than many times? The film has generated an economy that passes beyond its own narrative in a movement that can be regarded as the reversal of the met(…) This is a very precise mechanism, it does not rely on the premodern indication of allegory, nor does it rest upon an avant garde technique of alienating the viewer from being a spectator. The question of the image of loss drives the whole film away from the question of neurosis to the question of the entanglements with the image. This is certainly a condition with a definite economy. Vertigo undoes itself as it unfolds. This fact leaves open the question of what this process might be. Starting with Scottie, instead of studying neurosis, we have a study of someone who pursues an image as if it were an object and who converts objects into the image. What is this? If for Lacan, sublimation is a process on which the object is raised to the dignity of the thing, what is it to raise the object to the dignity of the image? And what is the economy of this formation? As for the film it repeats itself, but outside this fear of repetition. It opens itself to the mechanism of its own production. Viewed from the side of knowledge, there is no becoming of the closure of the first film. Delire, positively as a drug of that first film, with its capacity to induce amnesia as to its own conditions of engagement, is superseded by an investigation of such a story; Gavin Elster’s criminal genius in finding a recipe that will cook up an alibi in the form of Scottie, and then Scottie’s tyrannical compulsion to resurrect that narrative. But the progressive mastery of the story by the narrative, does nothing to dissolve the image of loss: it will not be interpreted away. Indeed the completion of the transformation of Judy into the image of Madeleine by the crowning addition of the coil of hair, bestows a circumstance of (aura/horror) of such a return. We are, and are not at the beginning again. The figure of Madeleine, Judy, Kim Novak, that image walks into the room onto the screen. The image is uncontaminated by comprehension, surrounded by an aura of green light that draws the figure from any ground, it is a fully realized apparition. The image is neither dead, nor alive, it is fully an image. Beyond the pleasure principle, and short of the death drive; it belongs to another register, it appears and evades. This fatal flickering in a world of projection and introjection finds its sublime technology in the film.
[Pascal Schoening gets up and talks to Mark]
Well Pascal has asked me to say what I must say: you can buy this. There is a book called ‘Art, Sublimation or Symptom’ edited by Parveen Adams, should you want to read it again, or indeed the other essays.
Transcription by María José Orihuela, Architect, MA HCT at the Architectural Association.
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