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Bodies Cinematic, Bodies Politic: The "Male" Gaze and the "Female" Gothic in De Palma's Carrie1 Abigail Lynn Coykendall Technology changes things. Not art. Software. Birth control pills. Television. Those are the things that change the world. — Brian De Palma We must insist upon me idea of culture-in-action, of culture growing within us as a new organ. — Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double At first, die unconscious is manifested to us as something mat holds itself in suspense in the area, I would say, of the unborn. That repression should discharge something into this area is not surprising. It is the abortionist's relation to limbo. — Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Perhaps more than any other American director, Brian De Palma provided Hollywood cinema with the increasingly codified structure of the "point of view" shot, a technique that simultaneously evokes, captures, and suspends what generations of feminists have infamously deemed the "male JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 30.3 (Fall 2000): 332-363. Copyright © 2000 by JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory. Bodies Cinematic, Bodies Politic 333 gaze." Yet in his early films, whether Sisters (1973), Blow Out (1981), or, more extensively, Body Double (1984), De Palma systematically doubles and decenters this gaze through an "interior" diegesis—the "film within the film"—that is overtly, but usually problematically, pornographic in content and that antagonistically rivals the meanings unfolding in the larger "primary" film. Like Paul de Man, De Palma gives precedence to "self-conscious" over "spontaneous, non-critical" viewers while nonetheless acknowledging that, however critical, the audience is invariably "bound to forget the mediations separating the text from the particular meaning that now captivates [its] attention" (de Man viii). In fact, more than de Man, De Palma is intent on catching his audience in this very lure. The directors that De Palma has inspired imitate his suspense sequence over and over—a man watching a woman assaulted by another man, the woman's open mouth, the point-of-view shot, the penetration of her body by a large object—but few (perhaps with Quentin Tarantino as the most notable exception) rely so heavily on the inherent deconstruction of the gaze that the embedded diegesis of the interior film inevitably provokes. As a result, critiquing De Palma's phallocentricism is a far more difficult endeavor than it would otherwise seem, for in a number of ways, he has himself already performed his own manipulation of the scopic drive via a distinctly self-referential hermeneutics of desire. Both Sisters and Blow Out open by immediately confronting the viewer with an elaborate, protracted, yet ironic display of the male gaze, the obscenely voyeuristic leer. The initial sequence of Sisters, in which an African-American man (Lisle Wilson) stares at the blind woman, Margot Kidder, undressing, is only belatedly shown to be an episode of a television game show—"Peeping Tom"—that provides the film with its first apparent title. The gameshow contestants, presumably like De Palma's own audience, misread Wilson's look, wrongly assuming that he will maintain his perverse, clandestine watch rather than chivalrously avert his gaze. Thus, from the outset of this film and his overall career, De Palma successfully turns away from the individual psychopafhology of the gaze so predominant in Alfred Hitchcock to beckon instead—and thereby undermine—the larger structural sociopathology that triggers this voyeurism. Indeed, the scopophilia that the opening sequence of Sisters elicits is guided less by desire than by a desire to desire entrenched and invested 334 JNT within the obscene, "pornographic" spectacle of commodity culture as a whole. Like Guy Debord, De Palma exposes how spectacle is not something added to die real world—not a decorative element , so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society's real unreality. In all its specific manifestations— news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment—me spectacle epitomizes the prevailing model of social life. It is the omnipresent celebration of a choice already made in die sphere of production, and the consummate result ofthat choice. In form as in content the spectacle serves as total justification for the conditions and aims of me existing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9248
Print ISSN
1549-0815
Pages
pp. 332-363
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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