- The Violence of the Frame:Image, Animal, Interval in Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac
All authentic reading is in its own way violent, or it is nothing but the complaisance of a paraphrase.— Pierre Macherey (113)
Imago, n. 1. a. Entomology. The final or adult stage in the development of an insect, during which it is sexually mature. 2. Psychoanalysis. A subjective image of someone (esp. a parent) which a person has subconsciously formed and which continues to influence his or her attitudes and behavior.—Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.
What is a nymph, and how do we recognize her/its appearance in Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac (2013)?1
The film's title—spelled Nymph()maniac—points to a difference without recognition. I am referring to the parenthetical lips that hollow out the film's center. Those lips, when read through a Foucauldian lens of power-knowledge-pleasure, are certainly not the same lips that, in saying yes to sex, believe they are saying no to power. The lips of von Trier's title do not speak the truth of one's sexual identity, much less the protagonist Joe's (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Instead, suspicious of the repressive hypothesis and its attendant sex-positive formulations, the lips of Nymphomaniac are more akin to the lips theorized in Luce Irigaray's essay "When Our Lips Speak Together," which posits a sexual ethics based on difference and self-fracture rather than a unified politics of the One. At the center of my question, then, there is a (w)hole fractured by two parentheticals. And yet the interval that interrupts my question is the same interval that arouses so much speculation about [End Page 131] the future of the image, as theorized by Jacques Rancière, and the image of life at the heart of biopolitics.
Rancière frames the question of the image and its future in terms of the "interstice" and its distribution. Following Gilles Deleuze, Rancière states, "Thenceforward, what creates the link is the absence of the link: the interstice between images commands a re-arrangement from the void and not a sensory-motor arrangement" (Film Fables 108). Rancière continues his post-Deleuzian investigation into "the interstice between images" in The Future of the Image, where he is primarily concerned with the category of the new, that is, with what the image can be after the breakdown of the sensory-motor link between images. Notably, this absence of the link is also what governs the image of life within biopolitics, as "life itself" tends more and more toward molecularization and the recombination of elements (Myers 2015).2 Rancière highlights the connection between "life itself" and the image-link problematic in his essay on Deleuze, in which he calls Deleuze's cinema books works of "natural history." My goal—somewhat at odds with Rancière's—is to embrace Deleuze's notion of the image-link problematic by tracing the propulsive force of nature's queer negativity, the interval or gap between images, in von Trier's cinema. What creates the link in Nymphomaniac is the absence of the link—nature's hollow center.
Among the first to read nature's absent center was Spinoza. According to Warren Montag, Spinoza reads nature in the same way he reads Scripture, by paying painstaking attention to the materiality of the letter, its gaps and contradictions—in a word, its form. Spinoza shows that there is not a coherent, undivided meaning beyond or behind the letter of the text, but a swarming assemblage of material bodies whose swarming encircles a void—text without substance. Montag relates Spinoza's reading practice to a series of natural disasters:
Spinoza's method has been compared to an archaeology but, if anything, it resembles the activity of modern paleontology which in place of the gradual, uniform and continuous evolution imagined by Darwin … has restored to the fossil record its gaps and discontinuities, and in the process demonstrated the existence of a natural history replete with catastrophes and reversals.(11)
This chain of catastrophes tells us how Spinoza's philosophy of reading connects to his metaphysics: nature is not a self-present totality...