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  • Dispositive,1 Intermediality and Society: Tales of the Bed in Contemporary Spain
  • Monique Martinez Thomas (bio)

The concepts “dispositive” and “intermediality” emerged at the same time and are becoming increasingly prominent. In this article, I propose to consider what intermediality brings to the dispositive, based on a case study of the diptych El Otro Lado de la Cama and Los Dos Lados de la Cama, two mainstream films from contemporary Spain in the early twenty-first century.

Dispositive theory has been developed in France by academics working in the fields of modern literature and theater at the University of Toulouse, notably Marie-Thérèse Mathet, Stéphane Lojkine, Philippe Ortel and Arnaud Rykner. In the late 1990s, this group adapted Foucault’s concept of the dispositive 2 to the fields of literature and art in general.3 In 2007, a group of Hispanists in Toulouse, including Monique Martinez, Emmanuelle Garnier and Euriell Gobbé Mévellec began applying dispositive “theory” to the Spanish language corpus. Writing in the journal Critique, Bernard Vouilloux named this group the “Toulouse School”.4 According to its founders, the concept of the dispositive can be used to renew approaches to artistic and literary works, since it combines and cross-fertilizes written and image-based arts, communication and sociology. It draws on what are often separate disciplines, and the legitimacy of its analysis is grounded in a shared space of “indiscipline,” in which several objects of study canbe analyzed simultaneously. The dispositive is a network of disparate means brought together at a particular moment in order to produce effects of meaning in the receiver. It comprises three superimposed and connected levels: the geometrical or technical level (the arrangement of elements in space by fiction), the pragmatic or scopic level (the interaction of several actants in front of the viewer) and the symbolic level (semantic and axiological values associated with spatial organization). In Ortel’s words, “Representation uses technical, visual and poetic means to portray a reality (I), which it then transmits to an audience (II) placed in a position to learn or judge (III)” (Ortel, “Vers” 46).

When these three levels are combined in a smooth fiction intended to construct a meaning that keeps the receiver in suspense in relation to the end, the representation is based on mimesis, involving separation from the outside world. In the theater, this is manifested by the opaque fourth wall, which separates the fictional world from that of the theater, the audience and reality. When the three levels are made visible, because they [End Page 98] are on display, in tension or even clashing, the potential for immersion in the fiction is greatly increased, precisely because the value system (III) is destabilized by exchange (II) and by the space and time (I) in which the representation claims its place. The concept also stamps art with an intrinsic variability, since the meaning of the work of art is rooted in the intersection between the organization of signs and their perception. As noted by Ortel, who defines this grey area as one of the key parameters in the functioning of these representations, “a dispositive is a matrix of potential interactions or, more simply still, an interactional matrix” (Discours 6). So the dispositive replaces the logic of “structure” and its positivist legacy with a set of shifting concepts that guide analysis precisely to reduce its capacity to predetermine its meaning.

As irrefutable proof of this evolution, the omnipresence of the word “dispositive” in the field of the visual arts, replacing the term “installation,” highlights the fundamental difference between the two. The dynamic “dispositive” is better suited to the spirit of our times than “installation,” which suggests something fixed and static. The Toulouse School has developed key concepts5 for the analysis of works of art, notably in relation to theater.6 The stage introduces the notion of the triangular dispositive, since it is defined as an “interaction between at least two actants watched by a third” (Lojkine). In this dispositive, the work of art unfolds in three dimensions, always with the receiver as eyewitness, calling on receivers to watch, and taking them out of the purely textual framework. So it generates a twofold...


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