: The Threshold of the Visible World (): Kaja Silverman: Books. The Threshold of the Visible World advances a revolutionary new political aesthetic–Kaja Silverman explores the possibilities for looking beyond the restrictive. Kaja Silverman. Routledge: London and New York, March ISBN 0 (Hbk) 0 (Pbk). The Threshold of the Visible World by Kaja.
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Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. New York and London: One might suppose that Kaja Silverman’s latest highly theoretical venture into the psychoanalytics of film shares with bell hooks’s resolutely plain-talking and methodologically eclectic book yhreshold film commentaries at most a thematic concern with the cultural work of the visual image.
The threshold of the visible world – Kaja Silverman – Google Books
Since the early s, Silverman’s im- pressive body of work has traced the unconscious of the cinemat- ic text and in so doing sought to refine and elucidate the value of psychoanalysis as a reading protocol. Ultimately, her investment lies in revising but also in re-authorizing the foundationalist pro- ject of classic psychoanalysis, whch proposes to discover to ex- cavate and isolate the psychic imperatives and processes from which human reality most fundamentally ensues.
By contrast, hooks’s prolific and influential writing over the past two decades has aimed explicitly and unapologetically to raise public con- sciousness of popular culture’s ideologcal hail by any and every means possible. Her investment lies in radically historicist ap- proaches to the human from the perspective of hstorically dehu- manized subjects and in the creation of critical countertexts to the narrative sanctions of the dominant culture. kajja
Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies, share space on Routledge’s copious list of recent cultural studieslfilm publications, there is, then, little reason to anticipate.
However disparate the rhetoric of fhe recent books, both Silverman and hooks name as their motivating critical impulse a certain dissatisfaction with de- constructive approaches to gender and race that envision no sus- tainable alternatives to the henceforth deconstructed status quo. Consequently, both writers issue a call for the creation of alterna- tive images that would disrupt established modes of spectator- ship. And, threshokd, for hooks and Silverman alike, the creation of such images depends on the preservation and cultivation of an aesthetic avant-garde.
In Reel to Real, the appeal is explicit; the “avant-garde” or “experimental” film constitutes “a necessary ma- trix of critical possibility,” hooks contends p.
Silverman, in contrast, studiously avoids such language, but her endorsement of a visionary cinema freed from the reproductive imperatives of mainstream mass media displays an equally avant-gardist sensi- bility, notwithstanding her elision of the term. The Threshold of the Visible World, in asserting our “need for more texts of the sort fea- tured in tl-us book” p.
Threshpld call to revitalize a cinematic avant-garde implies at least two thgs: Interestingly yhe, even as both books stress thw necessity for more experimental work on the subjects of gen- der, race, siverman, and class, neither author seems, really, at a loss for alternative texts and avant-garde artists to address.
This is so because the concept of alternative cultural production no longer signifies anythg but a relative degree of autonomy from the pre- rogatives of corporate capital-if, indeed, it ever did signify more. Leaving aside the sometimes extravagant claims for zines, web- sites, and do-it-yourself-production as the new terrain of counter- cultural possibility, it seems clear that there is hardly any such tl-ung as an authentically avant-garde cinema-if by avant-garde we mean produced under conditions which would free the silvermman from implication in the reproduction of existing social relations.
This is obviously not to suggest that cinema is inherently inca- pable of performing counterhegemonic cultural work. Rather, my point is that such oppositional visual culture, where it occurs, does not ensue from any supposed relation of exteriority to the circuits of capitalist production, distribution, and consumption.
The “independent,” “experimental,” or art house film exists today because new, more flexible modes of accumulation have rendered niche marketing viable-so that it remains possible to produce and distribute a specialized visual product to a sharply delimited con- sumer public.
Indeed, even as she calls for the cultivation of an avant-garde, hooks herself is all too aware that “independent” production comes with no guarantees. But if “independent” production offers only a more or less illusory autonomy, what are the condi- tions of possibility for “experimental” art?
What do we mean when we say “outside the mainstream”? Both hooks and Silverman advocate the creation of viskble, better visual images-and for both critics ths iconoclastic alterity is asso- ciated with an experimental avant-garde’s ruptural relation yhe the mainstream.
Whatever theoretical coherence and oppositional tye tential the concept of an avant-garde may once have possessed, its hstorical frame of reference has been eroded by the circum- stances of late-twentieth-century cultural production; as Laura Kipnis sjlverman it, ‘being ahead of one’s time.
The Threshold of the Visible World
Rather, the valuation of the “experimental” and the “transgressive” in The Threshold of the Visible World and Reel to Real proves rich and provocative for what it may reveal about the abiding romanticism of feminism’s collective engagement with the forms of contemporary visual culture. Explicitly developed in Silverman’s text and tne im- plicit in hooks’s is an assumption that the visual image belongs to the specular imagination-that it constitutes a reflection of the viewing subject in and through which she apprehends both the contours of her own social being and of the broader social field in whch her identity is vested.
The visual image thus mediates be- tween the subject and the world or, in Silverman’s terms, eilverman as the “threshold” through which the world passes into the sub- ject and the subject projects herself into the world. As the privi- leged metaphors of visual experimentation in both books-meta- phors such as ‘breaking through and “going elsewherew-remind us, for these writers the transformative potential of the image hingeg on its liminal status as a relay between psycl-uc and social formations.
To change the repertoire of available cultural images, they suggest, is to transform the cisible at the level of the psycl-uc. By remediating the viewer’s relation to the world, in other words, experimental images will engender better subjects, subjects primed to live social relations differently-to build a better world.
Highlighting assumptions which often inform critical prose in more muted, if no less determining ways, The Threshold of the Visi- ble World and Reel to Real also disclose thresho,d limits of tlus specular model, which tends to position the subject and the world as equivalent and reversible poles.
Ths conception of the image as relay implicitly designates the psyche as the mirror of the social; far more problematically, it also reduces the social to a mirror of the psyche. Such a reduction is manifest above all in the way both authors finally attribute the creation of progressive alternatives to the intervention of a visionary subject-to the artist, or filmmaker, who breaches the conventions of the mainstream and teaches us to see differently.
Avant-garde art thus proves wotld be nothng more than the practice of the avant-garde artist. On one level, then, this conception of the image as relay posits an ungrounded subject: Yet at the same time, the functioning of the social apparatus is subordinated to the vision of the canny subjectlartist.
In this way, the conception of the image as relay surreptitiously resuscitates a sovereign subject, one who ex- ists somehow apart from the social and symbolic systems that tureshold gendered her and that remain more fully determining for the lives of silvrman women and men. Thus we find ourselves re- turned, via a circuitous path, to the romantic ideal of expressive art: As a result, feminist intervention in visual culture risks being reduced in hooks’s and Silverman’s books-but surely not in their work alone-to a discussion of particular filmic texts, evalu- ated with respect to the merits or demerits of their maker’s vi- sion and its implications for the radical pedagogy of viewers in matters of gender, race, and sexuality.
This form of intervention brackets any investigation of the broader institutional context in which oppositional cinema be- comes possible. Materially and semantically wed to thf mode of production, visual media are also never completely aligned with the interests that operate them, and it is arguably central to the mission of feminist film studies to theorize both the conditions under which the message departs from the logic of the medium, and the often contradictory effects such departures engender.
Fur- thermore, the assumptions that structure The Threshold of the Visi- ble World and Reel to Real bracket any investigation of the institu- tional contexts of spectatorship. Just as they place the experimental filmmaker outside a productive apparatus, these books tend to abstract the spectator from the local cultures and infrastructures that shape her ways of seeing. The notion of the image as relay encourages analysis of the viewers’ subjection to the identificato- thgeshold possibilities of the image but elides the extent to whch these identificatory possibilities are governed by circumstances extra- neous to the image itself.
Thus, both hooks and Silverman seem to posit a viewer who identifies only in relation to the social cate- gories of gendered, racial, class, or sexual identity set forth by the image.
Yet an image which carries an emancipatory charge for, let us say, a working-class, Black, female spectator in the met- ropolitan United States may decode very differently to her coun- terpart in Sub-Saharan Africa, even though lf are ostensibly tne sponding to the same identificatory hail.
From this perspective, of course, the experimental image can never be simply ruptural-nor, indeed, the mainstream image purely assimilative-because all im- ages would wrld understood as polyvalent in relation to a diversi- fied viewing public. In contrast, the distinction between main- stream and experimental cinema, as it operates in these books, depends not only on the filmmaker’s presumed authority over the image but also on the image’s supposed authority over the spectator.
For, in one sense, Silverman’s book could hardly insist more on the incommensurability of the subject and her world, advocating, as Silverman does, a cinema that would render unassimilable the images it proffers.
Asserting that “those of us writing deconstructively about gender, race, class, and other forms of ‘difference’ have made a serious strategic mistake” for having “argued against idealization, that psychic ac- tivity at the heart of love,” Silverman here mounts a claim for the contestatory power of idealizations that depart from and under- mine the established luerarchy of social value. By idealizing and identifying with the “culturally disprized,” in other words, we refuse the normative identifications, which society seeks to im- pose, and we restore silerman value those who have been subordinated, debased, and abjected within the existing social order.
Crucially, however, such identifications, if they are to be genuinely contesta- tory in their implications and effects, “must conform to an exter- nalizing rather than an internalizing logic”; we must “identify ex- corporatively rather than incorporatively and thereby respect the otherness of the newly illuminated bodies” p.
Starting from the premise that cinema’s “identificatory ‘lure’. Although identity is forged by collapsing the distance between the subject and the image the subject incorporates the image, claims it as her ownidentity-at-a-distance involves elevating to the status of “ceremo- nial image” those at whose expense one’s identity has previously been constituted. Rather, “identity-at-a-distance” points to an “ethical” or “produc- tive” form of looking, in which one affirms the “otherness of the desired self” and thereby, ultimately, the “familiarity of the de- spised other” p.
Hence, our need for “texual assistance,” for images that “confer. By enabling us to see differently, Silverman contends, the ex- perimental image reeducates the look, which “[allone can make a difference within the ethcal domain of intersubjective relations”. And yet, as we move from the culture of images to the “domain of intersubjective relations,” isn’t it precisely the assur- ance of the other’s “familiarity” that we lose and the prerogative of knowing her desires and her sufferings that we od The myriad figures of gendered, sexual, racial, and class “otherness” are no doubt familiar-for these are tjreshold own fantasmatic creations, the devalued pieces of ourselves, the cultural detritus whch we project on to specific classes of excluded disenfranchised, dehu- manized subjects.
As Silverman succintly puts it, these figures represent “the otherness of the desired self. I would argue that the other as subject is unknown to us-precisely to the extent that the dominant culture has muted her, stripped her of the authority to sigrufy the mean- ing and the value of her own existence.
An ethical relation to the other as subject means above all sliverman the prerogative to offer or thteshold withhold recognition. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has argued, the postcolonial intellectual learns that her privilege is her loss.
In the place of an identificatory look that asserts the privilege of relation indeed of intimate relation to the other, Spi- vak enjoins the “systematic unlearning” of our privilege, which begins with avowing its historical consequences, rather than en- deavoring, once again, to find passage to the other’s world. For Silverman, to advocate an anti-identificatory cinema repre- sents a naive attempt to bypass the operations of the unconscious and so to engage in a discredited project of ideological demystifi- cation p.
But to affirm that there is no such thing tge a posi- tion beyond ideology that all of us maintain an imagined relation to our lived conditions of existence, in Althusser’s famous formu- lation is one hg and to reduce social relations to the register of the imaginary is another. Readers of colonial histo- ry, like viewers of Star Trek, may remember that the project of breaking new ground, whether its assumes the form of militarist aggression or cultural tourism, serves to edify the traveler-the col- onizer discovers hs humanity among the savages, just as the En- terprise crew discover theirs among the aliens.
Those whose worlds they enter, survey, enjoy, conscript, possess, exhaust, and transform remain ancillary to the plot. Rather than conjure new, more vibrant destinations for the jaded traveler, a political cinema might venture instead to promote accountability to other subjects, to show how borders matter, for better and for worse, rather than set us, once again, on the path of a redemptive crossing.
Vidible HOME If there is a keynote which sounds throughout the rich and varied corpus of bell hooks’s writing, it is, perhaps, that kxja possibility of going elsewhere-of crossing over-is never equally available to those on different sides of the border and that it always has a price, for those with the social and cultural license to cross, as well as for those without.
In recent years, especially, hooks has en- gaged in the sustained and compelling critique of a corporate multiculturalism, which sells the consumer public on the fantasy of free passage. Several essays in Reel to Real pursue ths critique with hooks’s usual, unerring eye for the banality of the self-consciously hp.
Her reviews of Pulp Fiction, Kids, and Hoop Dreams, for exam- ple, suggest how the foregrounding of marginalized subjects within the filmic narrative offers no assurance that these subjects’ own narratives are foregrounded.
What prevails in Pulp Fiction and Kids, hooks contends, is a “cool cynicism” that reflects the interests and sensibilities of a cultural elite, whle Hoop Dreams’ os- tensibly gritty look at the exploitation of African American ath- letes surreptitiously reinscribes a tired bourgeois ethos of success- through-individual-eff ort.
At the same time, however, in reviews of films such as Leaving Las Vegas and Exotica, hooks moves into the more celebratory as- sessment of transgressive desire and imaginary crossings.
Where Silverman is interested in the ways that an image provokes the spectator to certain kinds of identificatory movement, hooks tends to stress the protagonists’ psychic trajectories, as represent- ed within the filmic narrative, or-in a series of interviews with in- dependent filmmakers that comprise most of the book’s second half-the artist’s trajectories as reflected in those of her protago- nists.
Yet the assumption remains that the protagonist models va- rious forms of psychic passage for the spectator, who is especially induced to follow when the impetus toward transformation, the sense of loss or lack whch sets the protagonist in motion, answers to something within the spectator’s own affective experience.
Hence, we find the suggestion in Reel to Real, as in The Threshold of the Visible World, that the alternative film, departing as it does from Hollywood formula and cinematic convention, alters the terms of spectatorship.
But for hooks, it is precisely by presenting an word image, by rendering the identification closer, that al- ternative film transforms the nature of cinema’s hail. Whde Silver- man posits a spectator all worle accustomed-all too passively re- sponsive-to the normalizing forms of cinematic address, hooks’s spectator belongs to those groups normally excluded from Holly- wood’s representational systems or relegated to devalued posi- tions wih them.
Whereas Silverman recommends travel to those historically ac- counted subjects, in other words, hooks supports films which val- idate the transgressive desires and imaginative breakthroughs of the historically “othered”: Eschewing, moreover, the discourse of psychoanalytic theory in which Silverman proves centrally invested, hooks opts instead for the discourse of popular psychology, which posits as the goal of ther- apy the very tlung that psychoanalytic theory, particularly in its Lacanian inflection, most fervently rejects: Hooks’s choice of a psychologizing rhetoric makes visible the degree to whch the stakes in travel and transgression, in crossing over and losing oneself on the danger- ous ground of an other, are precisely territorial: Surprisingly, however, hooks’s habit- ually critical perspective on the recuperative logic of transgres- sion here gives way to an affirmative tone.
Writing, for example, on the prostitute Sera in Leaving Las Vegas, hooks seems to em- brace what she reads as the terms of a reconstituted feminine identity. That has to be the next stage of feminism. I can’t believe that feminism just breaks off at the point where we get to join the Marines. Her overactive sexuality serves to mask her desire to be loved. It is in the act of loving that Sera risks vulnera- blity, not in being sexual with men.
In sex she can be indifferent-in control. To love she must let go. It is this letting go that makes it possible for her to be re- deemed. Leaving aside the more obvious objections to this reading of the film-given Sera’s subsequent rape, it seems odd to viisible that women’s sexual self-determination has been secured “in modem societyn-I would stress what hooks’s paradigm makes so lumi- nously, if uncritically, clear: The investment in imaginative “letting go” leads us precisely to the most familiar, the most disciplinary of patriarchal topoi: It is tempting to say that Marxist-oriented film studies are concerned primarily with the kajaa of the cinematic ap- paratus and psychoanalytic film studies with its textual effects, al- though it should be clear that the distinction is only relative; at their best, both approaches attend to the interrelation of the filmic text and the apparatus which supports it.
For a variety of histori- cal reasons which it is beyond the scope of this essay to consider, feminist film theory remains centrally identified with the psycho- analytic emphasis in film studies. The Threshold of the Visible World and Reel to Real suggest an impulse to retrenchment at work with- in feminist film studies as some of its tbreshold important practitioners come to focus all too narrowly on the imaginary configurations internal to specific visual texts.