Megan Brown Wichelns February 13, 2011

A Response to Laura Mulvey sVisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema Laura Mulvey s piece entitled Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema inspects-- through both a psychoanalytic and a paradoxically feministic view-- the formulaic social, thematic, and subconscious elements of film that contribute to an audience s unyielding interest in such forms of entertainment by addressing the role of gender in its effects on the psyche as it manipulates the attentions and emotions of cinema patrons. In this inspection, a brief synapsis of the piece will be provided, followed by a critique of Mulvey s assertions as interpreted by the author of this paper. Mulvey s piece begins by explaining the impending content of her piece and the reasons that she chose the often patriarchal school of psychoanalysis as a means to make her point. This introduction is perhaps the most difficult part of the paper to understand, as Mulvey delves directly into some of the major points of her piece, including a great deal of Freudian and cinematographic language as well as some seemingly discordant ideas about the role of female characters in film. The article continues with a brief history of cinema, asserting particular interest in the distinction between mainstream and alternative film in their ideological origins. This is the point at which Mulvey introduces the primary topic of her essay stating: This article will discuss the interweaving of that erotic pleasure in film, its meaning and, in particular, the central place of the image of woman. It is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article (440). The essay continues by describing the Freudian concept of scopophilia (love of looking), illustrating its posited origins in the realm of psychoanalysis and coming to a conclusion that scopophilia as it relates to film equates to voyeurism. Her argument for this is that a film audience appropraites a sense of control over the characters (particularly females) while simultaneously being alienated from the fantasy world portrayed that they inhabit. According to Mulvey, this mirrors the forces that create

real-life voyeurs, those people we refer to as peeping toms. The author then moves on to a second psychoanalytic concept known as the mirror phase and describes the concept of self-recognition and the error that occurs when self-recognition takes place, that is to say, the error in which the human person who looks in the mirrorrecognizes the image reflected back at him as a perfect version of himself. Ultimately, this concept functions as an allegory to Mulveys point about film; our identification with the individual characters on screen, glamorous as they are, creates what she terms a complex process of likeness and difference (441). Laura Mulvey plays with these concepts of voyeurism and identification, relating them immediately to the women in films who, as characters, perpetuate these processes by combining in their audiences a fear of castration (due to the female lack of penis), and asimultaneous, inexorable and obsessive objectification of them. The structure of this piece is appreciable in that Mulvey persistently and thoroughly sets up each point that she intends to make, doing so early and often, and by beginning each new point with a review of that which she has already postulated. This maintains the reader s engagement in and understanding of the information Mulvey is attempting to communicate about her point, serving to make the material relevant to readers other than those who study film with great vigor. Structure aside, the error in this essay lies in the overly liberal use of psychoanalytic theory, as a great deal of Mulvey s positions end up sounding downright silly. For example, the idea that women somehow convey to men (or presumably other women?) some message about the impending doom of having one s genitals removed is completely preposterous, mystifying, and presupposed. Granted, these silly,preposterous, mystifying, presupposed ideas largely originated from the psyche of Freud, a theorist who received an excessive amount of praise and distinction for work that was (and still is) poorly supported by science, and who was a misogynist to boot. This culminates to the second point: how can Mulvey expect serious reception for this piece when she is using outdated, chauvinistic psychological

theory to support a feministic view? Though she makes several attempts to explain away this usage of conflicting viewpoints, the argument does not resonate. Freud, a theorist at best and a crackpot at worst, did not purport theories that benefitted women, but quite to the contrary. It was ultimately Freud s very limited understanding of female sexuality that lead to the ideology (even amongst welleducated women) that clitoral stimulation should be regarded as off-limits to adult women and that those who did use such stimulation as a means to achieve sexual satisfaction should be considered frigid. The lengthy point being made here is that the ideas of Freud are so inconsiderate of the complexities of female sexuality that they have no place within feminist argument, particularly in an age when empirical evidence is at the forefront of importance in psychological study, of which, psychoanalytic theory has none.

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