I know, I’ve got the title of critically acclaimed psychoanalytic philospher Slavoj Zizek’s documentary backwards: it’s A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. What astounds me about this documentary, however, is the lack of reflexivity. We might ask: why has Zizek chosen the themes he has? Why these specific movies? Could we not also see the movie as a guide to the pervert who selected the movies?
This is very alarming considering psychoanalysis’ constant look back at the analyst’s own psyche for working out the analysand’s (to borrow from Lacan) problems. So, that’s my mission in this post: to look back not at the film, but at Zizek’s psychic stance throughout the film (I’m sure that he would hate this). I’m specifically going to draw on the object-relations theory, which most interested in the ways people relate to dogs, cats, balls, hats, and people as objects in their psychic stream. I spent a lot of time with Ellen Schattschneider at Brandeis University talking about this very topic (ala Klein, Winnicott, Lacan, Freud, and Kristeva), and think it can shed some light on why Zizek has made the choices he has in this film.
(Ellen has a fantastic book (Immortal Wishes) on the psychic implications of industrialization on ascetic discipline that I encourage people to read)
One of the largest underlying themes of the Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is a constant gynophobia: everything is the vagina’s fault. In a scene standing over flowers, Zizek characterizes a tulip as a dangerous vagina set to destroy the phallic domain, while simultaneously slut-shaming it for letting thousands of insects enter into it and spread its pollen. This is especially ironic given that a few scenes earlier, in an analysis of Hitchcock’s Birds, he glorifies the multiplicity of (implicit/subconscious) sexual relationships between Mitch Brenner (the lead male), Melanie Daniels (the lead female), and Mitch’s mother (for whom the sexual betrayal is manifested materially as the Birds (starring as themselves)). Even more disgusting is his misogynist reclamation of Blue Velvet: Dennis Hopper’s constant psychological rape of Isabella Rossolini (done in the name of Hopper’s character’s mother) is not Hopper’s fault, but his attempt to materialize Rossolini’s fantasies (because, deep down inside, she ‘wants’ it… sounds like a rape excuse to me)- Hopper acts as an agent that collides Rossolini’s symbolic and real, creating a ‘nightmare’ (of enjoyment?). [Garbage]. This gynophobia is not surprising, however, given the numerous intellectual folktales around Zizek’s problem with interacting with women. This, is what I am going to mine in my object-relations analysis of Zizek’s role in this film.
Particularly useful is analyzing Zizek’s role in the film vis-a-vis Thomas Ogden’s theory of projective identification (an expansion and combination of Klein and Winnicott, written about mainly in the late 70’s early 80’s). In this theory, Ogden suggests that the person inhibited by a type of neurosis, broadly defined as a psychological stumbling block historically rooted in something- but this is not important-, will never find their own solution to the neurotic problem. They are thus left, stranded in their own psyche, wondering how a ‘normal’ (that is person not displaying the same neurosis) would handle the situation. In order to figure out what a ‘normal’ would do, they psychologically project onto Mr/Mrs. Normal their own psychic dimension. Put in less abstract terms, they create similar conditions to their own stumbling block for the Normal to work through. They observe the Normal coping with the neurotic condition so that they, the observer, may copy the strategy. This is, of course, the whole process of psychoanalysis by an analyst. All of this is derived from Lacan and Freud’s theory of transference: the analyst always ends up with the analysand’s baggage. It’s not because the analyst embodies it, but that the analysand puts it on her/him. (This is also wrapped in the concept of disavowal- the casting out of a psychic problem- which is opposite of repression).
Back to our movie and Mr. Zizek (although perhaps calling him Mrs. Zizek may materialize his own fantasies of domination- see funny note* below). Zizek theorizes that movies provide us not with a materialization of our fantasies, but tell us what our fantasies are. This is very Freudian of him. But, instead, my objects-relations theory position would suggest that movies are medium through which we project our subconscious desires, such that we can work out how we are to handle them (this is a big theme that runs throughout all of my research, especially that in Gibraltar: soundscapes act as a way for people to work out what it means to be Gibraltarian). It is an interesting realm, given that the movie becomes a fantasy projection of the film maker and the film watcher, creating a nexus of fantasies intermingling with one another. Returning, however, to Zizek, taking this approach makes us ask if Zizek is projecting his own fears onto the films he sees, and thus manipulates us into working out his own fantasies, or just projecting onto us? It is in this way that this film serves as a metapragmatic of Zizek’s theory: we only feel the way we do about these films because Zizek has created an atmosphere in which he can project is psychic struggles onto us through the medium of these other films. He wants to see how we deal with being a chauvinist masochist. Classic projective identification: he has placed us in the realm of his own psychic instability to see how we figure these things out. Problem: he can’t see us figure them out. There is no solution for Zizek; the arrousal comes from his pleasure in us becoming misogynists. This is very reminiscent of the Marquee de Sade and Gene Genet: both disavowal (put into the world) their sexual fantasies, that is projectively identifying, to the point where neither the phantasy nor the solution are important, rather making it other people’s fantasy becomes the phantasy itself, the phantasy par exellence. It’s very narcissistic. Genet, Sade, and Zizek can only get off if their fantasies are those of another person, that is, another person makes them real by fantasizing them.
So, in the film, Zizek is attempting to cope with his own phallocentricism and misogyny, and he does so through manipulating us into understanding his own psychic stumbling block. We become those that Zizek is turning to in order to understand the reason he hates women so much. Zizek uses the film as a way to work out his issues by doubly projecting them onto the film (which instructs him how to cope with his hatred of women, or -more truthfully- where he finds instructions for playing out his hatred of women) and projecting them onto us. In this way, his analysis of film is only true on a meta- level. If film’s purpose is to tell us what we desire, it is only because Zizek has used it as a medium to manipulate us into learning his desire. But the question, with which I’ll conclude this rant, is whether we can watch Blue Velvet (who would ever do this optionally?!?!) or Alien (more likely) without being inhibited by Zizek’s psyche-spectre, without finding in it our own- by way of his- mysogenistic fantasies and gynophobic terror? I hope the answer is yes.
**** So, funny note. If we consider obj-rel theory and proj. ident., we might in turn analyze Zizek’s hatred for women as well. In all truth, he is terrified of women, and his own inability to cope with this terror of what he might call the ‘Oedipal Desire’ has driven him to a domination of women. But, the act of domination, is indeed the key here. This fear leads him to feel as if he is sexually incapable of sizing up to women, as if women hav
e dominated his body with the fear. He thus projects onto women- his fetish object- to see how they react to domination so that he can figure out how to be dominated and still live a productive life. According to this theory, Zizek is probably a closet submissive waiting for a dominatrix. I told you it was funny.