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The Myth of the Perfect Woman: Cinema as Machine Célibataire Inez Hedges I N A COMPELLING OVERVIEW of French philosophy of the last 50 years or so, Vincent Descombes suggests, after Michel Serres, that the dominant nineteenth-century cognitive frame was that of the steam engine; according to this view, the Freudian primary process, and the Marxian theory of the accumulation of capital, are seen to be “ trans­ lations” of one and the same informing mental set, which also gives rise to the appropriate artistic expression in fiction, philosophy, and paint­ ing: Zola, Bergson, and Turner.1He might well have included cinema, as a desiring machine that produces social effects, and which was also called into being by the nineteenth century. Cinema is of particular relevance here as a “ translation” of what Michel Foucault would call the episteme of the period, since, as André Bazin has pointed out, the scientific condi­ tions for the creation of cinema and photography existed long before anyone actually bothered (or needed) to invent them.2 The steam engine metaphor is a metaphor of thermodynamics, and the inclusion of Freud and Marx is explained by the fact that both posit the buildup of pressure (either the repressed unconscious or the sup­ pressed proletariat) which then sets certain compensatory events in motion. This machine metaphor in turn can be used to explain the economy of desire expressed by the virtual outpouring of “ machines célibataires” in the art and fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth cen­ turies, among which, as I will show, cinema holds an important place. Any machine must, of course, have moving parts, force and counter­ force. In addition, a machine is self-contained, even though it may act on the environment. The “ machine célibataire,” as its name suggests, is sexualized. Typically, it is composed of “ male” and “ female” parts, whose interaction constitutes its force. Its status as “ bachelor machine” is 1. Vincent Descombes, Le Même et ¡’autre (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1979), pp. 109-10. Descombes quotes from both La Traduction (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1974) and La Distribution (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1977) by Michel Serres. 2. André Bazin, “ Le Mythe du cinéma total,” in Q u’est-ce que te cinéma? (Paris: Edi­ tions du Cerf, 1958), pp. 21-26. 26 W in t e r 1986 H ed g es linked to a metaphor of reproduction, since the activity of the machine is without use, producing no practical effect (offspring) as might be the case in a “ marriage” of the parts. Though the formulation of the term comes from Duchamp’s notes on his famous work “ La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même” of 1915-23, Michel Carrouges has extended the term to an entire set of artistic and literary practices beginning with the end of the nineteenth century (the period more or less contem­ poraneous with the birth of cinema) and extending through dada, sur­ realism, and the work of Raymond Roussel.3 There are many reasons for arguing that the “ machine célibataire” functions with the force of an epistemic paradigm for an entire system of intersubjective relations that stretch from post-romantic ideology into our present cybernetic age (and perhaps even beyond it). I think that a strong case can be made for the idea that the structure of desire embodied and encouraged by film spectatorship is one that is furthered by a system of values discernible elsewhere in some literary works, in Freudian and Lacanian psychology, and in the current inquiry into Artificial Intelli­ gence which, so far at least, has tended to reinforce existing cognitive typologies rather than exploring the problem of originality (and hence the possibility for change). What I hope to unravel are the assumptions that underlie the construction of “ Woman” in a specific aspect of cinematic discourse, and to show that this construction was inevitable, given the available models in literature and psychoanalysis. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari point out in L ’Anti-Œdipe, “ les machines désirantes ne sont pas dans notre tête, dans notre imagination, elles sont dans les machines sociales et techniques elles-mêmes.”4...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 26-37
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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