I Fought the Law and the Law Won: Transgression, the Act, and Narratives of Aphanisis in Claude Chabrol’s Story of Women – Christine Evans

Introduction: Not Just About Horses But Also Just About Horses

In François Truffaut’s 1969 neo-noir Mississippi Mermaid, protagonists Louis and Marion attend a screening of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar and proffer the following analysis as they exit the cinema: “It’s not just about horses!” While the standard interpretation of such a comment would emphasize the endlessly subversive possibilities inherent in Ray’s text, we should not neglect or dismiss the ‘other’ truth of the statement apropos of its apparent simplicity: despite any number of narrative or stylistic explanations, Johnny Guitar also happens to be about horses. Indeed, when considering the commonalities of any narrative text, it seems natural or even necessary to disregard superficial appearances and basal spectatorial expectations in favour of evolved and involved readings predicated on complexity. Why should one effectively begin at the beginning if one is already secure in the knowledge that the rudimentary conventions of to any narrative text will engage in increasingly tantalizing interpretive permutations? This position is indicative of the present attitude towards psychoanalytic inquiry; the modern analyst who engages with psychoanalysis for the purposes of textual interpretation is apparently interested in little else besides the “properly unconscious” (Zizek 2000, 6) and aims exclusively to disclose the operations of this mysterious and secretive realm. Yet, as the ‘enlightened’ attitude of psychic excavation demonstrates, to simply demote any inquiry ‘beneath’ the most complex and curative psychoanalytic scenarios as dull and superficial is to fall victim to several glaring theoretical oversights or assumptions: the first such assumption being that psychoanalysis is unconcerned with appearances or ‘the surface’, and the second being that these particular surface qualities are in no way instrumental in sustaining the fundamental appeal of the narrative text in question.

It is therefore in light of such contemporary fallacies concerning the proper aims of psychoanalysis that I propose an essentially regressive approach to our comprehension of certain narrative idiosyncrasies in Claude Chabrol’s 1988 film, Story of Women. Set in World War II-era provincial France, Story of Women concerns the purportedly true exploits of Marie Letour (Isabelle Huppert), a lower middle-class housewife and kitchen table abortionist. Although the film avoids adopting an explicitly political position on Marie’s profession as either altruistic or immoral, director Claude Chabrol peppers the narrative with a variety of ‘women’s stories’ – not only Marie’s (mis)adventures as an abortionist, but also her own domestic life, her relationship with her husband Paul and young son Pierrot, her mounting prosperity and aspirations to become a singer, and her affair with her lover Lucien. Although Marie remains the film’s primary focalizer throughout, the narrative also briefly explores the domestic and sexual lives of Marie’s patients; the spectator learns, often through truncated explanations, of the patients’ varying reasons for requiring abortions, and is likewise privy to the increasingly uneven ethical boundaries between Marie’s success and her tacit complicity with Nazi imposition. Eventually exposed as a criminal, Marie is sent to prison to await trial in Paris, whereupon she is found guilty and hanged for her crimes.

Although the film details a vast number of complex relationships and moral dilemmas, its narrative strategy of ‘telling’ – often disconcertingly without comment – these women’s stories, remains generally resistant to any revolutionary or subversive potentialities that arise. Despite, and perhaps because of, the fact that this narrative flattening (of what could otherwise be considered a melodramatic or deeply stratified subject) does not constitute the text’s ‘hidden secret’, it will be necessary to invoke psychoanalysis to broaden our general understanding of narrative in Story of Women. The compulsion towards psychoanalysis, however, is essentially (albeit unwittingly) rooted in the standard analytical dismissal of ‘boring surfaces’; like the process of textual engagement itself, psychoanalysis provides an adequate means of deconstructing the rudimentary/anticipated surface-operations of narrative ‘conventions’ in Story of Women, as well as their analogical consequences. Slavoj Zizek posits that,

we can locate the need for psychoanalysis at a
very precise point: what we are not aware of is

not some deeply repressed secret content but
the essential character of the appearance
itself. Appearances do matter… (2000, 6).

It is within this framework of commonplace narrative appearance that I wish to invoke the Lacanian concept of aphanisis as a structuring principle.

“There Is No Subject Without, Somewhere, Aphanisis Of The Subject”[1] : Psychic Suicides And Redemptive Regenerations

The term aphanisis has an extensive and somewhat controversial history in the psychoanalytic canon. Introduced by Ernest Jones in 1928 as a revision of Freud’s concept of primary anxiety, the term in the 1950’s developed a clinical association with schizophrenia, and was refined by Jacques Lacan in his seminars (1956-57 and 1964) to designate a psychic aporia which forces the subject to assume an absent position or undergo erasure while simultaneously and vitally ‘subjectifying’ him and shaping his relationship to desire. Also defined by Lacan as the necessary “fading” of the subject, his “manifest[ation] of himself in this movement of disappearance” (1981, 208), one can certainly trace self-erasure’s relatedness to the Act, but the aphoristic potential of this ‘definition’ (and here it should be noted that Lacan often provides several – sometimes opposing – definitions of his psychoanalytic terminology) has resulted in the critical appropriation of aphanisis as a ‘condition’ – or, more specifically, an event or happening – which is synonymous with amnesia, mass annihilation (genocide, massacres), suicide, and rebirth. As such, the moment of aphanisis in contemporary literature and film analysis can equally designate a conditional absence or vanishing, a specifically textual pleasurable apprehension (where withheld narrative information grants unexpected agency to the reader himself), or the “self-erasure of the subject when she approaches her fantasy too closely (Zizek 1997, 175) – as well as a myriad of other symptoms and effects which concurrently signify disappearance and subjectivization. Suffice it to say that the inconsistencies in definition surrounding aphanisis have yielded its dissemination across a range of scholarly fields, from clinical psychoanalysis and psychotherapy to narrative studies. Simultaneously existing as symptom, outcome, and structuring semblance, a psychic event and a narrative conceit, aphanisis belies and indeed often vitiates the delimited specificity of its definition as a symbolizing process through which the subject’s desire must pass in order to be sustained or solidified in the signifier. Indeed, the subject’s only ‘hope’ of “[setting himself] up as a subject, as something other than the product, the effect, of the signifying division” (Harari 2004, 247) is to essentially fade in the overwhelming presence of demand and in the face of the object (Lacan 1981, 221). Ironically, then, what truly ‘counts’ in this process is the subject’s approach to, approximation of, or even his dangerous self-awareness of, his own fading.

The invocation of aphanisis as the “apocalypse of subjectivity” (Paul 1989, 18) has become fairly commonplace in contemporary Lacanian approaches to ‘tragic’ texts; as such, the abstraction of self-erasure now represents a traumatic but ultimately reasonable termination of self-conception. When conceived as the “self-erasure of the subject when she approaches her fantasy too closely” (Zizek 1997, 175), aphanisis appears as a deceptively causal or reactionary outcome of the individual subject’s phantasmatic exposure; concurrently, the apparently finite properties of aphanisis have yielded its transformation from a psychic phenomenon to a narrational conceit. Although Lacan himself identifies aphanisis as a necessary component in establishing (rather than abolishing) “the dialectic of the subject” (Lacan 1981, 221), most textual applications of self-erasure associate aphanisis with the exhausted subject, such that aphanisis becomes synonymous with psychic suicide.[2] When, for example, a protagonist does not bodily die but rather withdraws from his structuring semblance, it seems narratively appropriate to grant him full agency in his decision to ‘commit self-erasure.’ While asserting aphanisis as a logical and tragic narrative outcome is certainly an appropriate conception of narrative structure qua subject, it nonetheless grants the subject a surplus of ontological consistency in its emphasis on the self-deception of personal narratives. We may see how this particular narrative variant of aphanisis operates in a film such as Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001), wherein the violent collapse of Erika Kohut’s complex masochistic fantasy corresponds not only with her physical suicide, but with the conclusion of the film. Exemplary of this tripartite collapse (fantasy, body, diegesis) is Richard Rorty’s infinitely quotable abbreviation of aphanisis: “The story I have been telling myself about myself… no longer makes sense. I no longer have a self to make sense of” (1989, 179). Certainly the statement is accurate, but its analytical appropriation as the exhausted subject’s final annihilative gesture effectively obscures or altogether vitiates the supremacy of the public-symbolic Law and the omnipotence of the Other in the process of aphanisis. When interpreted as an autonomous and conclusive intimation, Rorty’s failed ‘story’ negates its relationship to Otherness, which is precisely why aphanisis is often construed as a suicidal gesture; in effectively omitting the crucial intervention of the Law, the suicidal reading of aphanisis reduces it to a simple and solipsistic dialectic – ‘my’ story becomes nonsensical, and my only recourse is self-destruction.

Although the reading of aphanisis as both an autonomously executed and narratively conclusive gesture is by no means the only approach to subject self-erasure, it is essential to mention that most narrative accounts of aphanisis are structured around a singular, central absence. In his analysis of Preston Sturges’ film The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), Slavoj Zizek posits that the “eclipse” experienced by the prurient (and appropriately-named) protagonist Trudy Kockenlocker organizes the film’s story “around a hole, a central absence (what happened during the night when Betty Hutton [Trudy] went to the farewell party for the soldiers?)” (1997, 174); consequently, the unique structuring potential of aphanisis coincides directly with the obfuscation/eclipse of the sexual act, and Trudy’s self-erasure becomes synonymous with the film’s narrative mystery. Yet such absence need not remain confined to an isolated and unseen event which, like Trudy’s exploits, transubstantiates across the discourse and informs spectatorial engagement – for while psychoanalysis prefigures the definition of cinema itself upon a central absence (i.e., the problematic realization that cinema is “an art form of empty presence” and that the depicted film is simultaneously ‘there’ and ‘not there’) (Charney 2001, 51), absence is only the beginning. The absence of cinema is not constitutive of absolute nihilism; rather, it functions to provide a complex series of compensatory strategies which attempt (often unsuccessfully) to validate presence. When the spectator encounters a ‘doubled’ absence, exemplified in this case by an ‘eclipse’ of vital narrative information via self-erasure, the need to (re)present physically-performed counterpart gestures becomes increasingly palpable.[3] Indeed, if a text’s most effective discursive engagement with absence occurs through its enforcement of aphanisis, is it possible to interpret a cyclical series of self-erasures as paradoxically regenerative and constructive?

Fundamentally, a recurrent aphanisis – while still dependent upon an overwhelming absence and the dissolution of fantasy – differs from its conclusive counterpart by permitting a series of “endless reduplications of the self” (Bronfen 1992, 444) which foreground such ‘pure absence’ in a succession of narrative moments. It is within this framework of a doubled structure of aphanisis that I have elected to read Chabrol’s Story of Women, positing that the collapse of fantasy represents less the logical endpoint of the subject’s self-conception than a series of narrative initiations detailing the subject’s relationship to the public-symbolic Law. Simply stated, this reading takes as its focus the various terminations of multiple fantasies and their role in constructing an ultimately (and ironically) lawful subject.

With, Against, And Enjoying The Law

In one sequence from Story of Women, protagonist Marie Latour’s husband Paul returns from work to find Marie seated in the kitchen, taking coffee with a prostitute. When Paul scolds Marie for her brazen associations, Marie exasperatedly replies, “It’s your fault if you saw her.” Is this attitude of displaced recrimination not purely indicative of the opposition between the Big Other and the subject, or between the “symbolic Law (Ego-Ideal) and obscene superego” (Zizek 2000 5)? In the standard psychoanalytic scenario, the subject endeavors to ‘protect’ the socially responsible Big Other from the indecent truth of his independently salacious imagination; the aim, however, is not to engage with sanctioned imperatives (i.e., to effectively become lawful), but rather to subversively procure the Law’s endorsement of indecency. In ensuring that the fragmented version of the truth presented to the Big Other is ‘textually clean’, the subject is free to “indulge in [transgression] because [he] is absolved from guilt by the fact that, for the Big Other, [he is] definitely NOT doing it…” (6). Consequently, when the illusion of textual purity disintegrates and the subject is confronted with his deception, he can do little else but adopt Marie’s attitude of exposing the Law’s implicit involvement in transgression, essentially stating, ‘I did my best to protect you, so your seeing the truth makes you an accessory…’

However, the subject’s relationship to the Law is convoluted in its very dependence upon this exposure. To merely position the subject against the Law incorrectly grants the subject excessive autonomy while relegating the Law’s supremacy to an arbitrary and causal intervention, asserting that the Law “is interested only in keeping up appearances” (Zizek 2000, 6). Yet we know that the Law can only define itself through its antithesis (i.e., through an empirically-generated catalogue of its specific prohibitions), and therefore “cannot specify its object without self-contradiction… nor can it define itself with reference to a content without removing the repression on which it rests” (Deleuze 1991, 85). In this sense, the Law is not only dependent upon its obscene supplement, its transgression, but is “sustained by it, so it generates it” (Zizek 2000, 6). This integral interdependency between subject and Law is precisely why we must not neglect Marie’s declaration of Paul’s guilt as symptomatic of her behaviour throughout the film. Both during this specific sequence and throughout the entirety of the text, Marie’s attempts to ‘dupe’ the Big Other into believing that “nothing is happening” (5) are negligent at best. When Paul stalks out of the kitchen, visibly displeased by the prostitute Lulu’s presence in his house, Marie begs Lulu to stay while ensuring that Paul hears her say, “Who cares about him?” Similarly, her projected codification of the abortions she performs on her kitchen table is one of casual homosocial bonding, comparable to the other social and domestic activities which transpire on and around the table; whether they are explicitly aware of her business practices or not, the men in Marie’s life (Paul, her son Pierrot, and her lover Lucien) encounter abortion as ‘women’s business’ – or, as little more than the feminine variant on the exclusive ‘boys club’.

We have, at this point, approached the necessary transformation of the ideal, transgressive fantasy into its obverse. Indeed, it is impossible to ignore Marie’s apparent enjoyment of her transgressions, from the abortions which fund her increasing affluence, to the renewed and juvenile sexual exuberance of infidelity, to the more dubious ‘transgression’ of withholding lawfully-sanctioned and expected sexual relations from her husband. Yet if the Law is responsible in generating such transgression as a self-sustaining strategy, where can we locate Marie’s enjoyment, and the enjoyment of all transgressive fantasies? If the fantasy truly “changes into its opposite… when we approach it too closely” (Zizek 1996, 211), it therefore follows that any attempt to transgress the Law is always-already undermined from within as enjoyment of the Law itself. Suffice it to recall Marie’s first attempt at abortion, which appears as an altruistic gesture; Ginette from across the hall has been abandoned by her war-bound boyfriend and cannot raise a child in his absence, so Marie performs this first abortion as an apparently unencumbered act of friendship. In her analysis of this sequence, Leslie Paul affords Ginette’s abortion a privileged and transgressive place in the narrative, identifying it as Marie’s “only real revolutionary act… since it is charitable” (1989, 17). However, while Ginette’s abortion is certainly presented as experimental and clumsy (the kitchen table is too small and Ginette must lie on the floor, uncomfortable silences and questions of Marie’s inexperience ensue while the women wait for the boiled water to cool), Marie’s reward for success (the record player) becomes the film’s narratively-efficient means of literalizing motivation. “Look!” Marie tells her young daughter, displaying the new record player, “Music!” Consequently, the ‘revolutionary’ potential of this first abortion is undermined by its explicit connection to Marie’s musical aspirations; the performance of Ginette’s abortion functions not as an openly charitable, transgressive, or ‘revolutionary’ gesture, but rather as the narrative “guarantee of meaning,” the superego provision of enjoyment “which serves as the unacknowledged support of meaning” (Zizek 1994, 56). Indeed, its emphasis on music coincides directly with the apex of Marie’s monetary accomplishments (her single session with a singing instructor), effectively ‘bracketing’ the intermediate abortions as metonyms for motivation and enjoyment.

It therefore seems that Chabrol’s ‘lesson’, apropos of transgression and enjoyment, is one of “joyful immersion” (Zizek 2000, 8), wherein the truly repressed aspect is not the traditionally and morally questionable transgression (abortion, infidelity, Nazi complicity), but rather its moral confrontation. Although one of Marie’s patients dies (the married Jasmine, overburdened with offspring), Marie’s defense is certainly plausible: Jasmine’s previous attempts at home abortion, which included “umbrellas, curtain rods, parsley”, and the consumption of various poisons, were certainly not conducive to health. More persuasive, however, is Chabrol’s convoluted presentation of Jasmine. Although she is the only (depicted) patient who aborts a socially sanctioned pregnancy (her husband has fathered the child), she is likewise afforded an extended confessional sequence where she admits to her exhaustion, her resentment of her many children, and her happier memories of youth.

Photographed almost entirely in a tightly-framed, intrusive close-up, the sequence inverts standard conceptions of transgression and culpability: unlike the long line of apathetic or exasperated women whose abbreviated narratives are voiced before being abruptly eliminated (“This is the third time a Bismarck has knocked me up!” one woman complains. “This kid is going straight down the toilet!”), Jasmine’s extensive confession constitutes an isolated and ultimately accusatory moral imposition. Simply stated, her free decision to confess substantiates an exigent and discursively imposed guilt, regardless of the fact that such guilt is unwarranted and merely “reverberat[es] as an empty tautological Prohibition: don’t…” (Zizek 2003, 104). The fact that Jasmine ‘deserves to die’ has less to do with her prophetic self-loathing (i.e., she shouldn’t survive the abortion because she is morally repulsed by her decision) than with a purely textual imposition of guilt: the uniquely extended screen-time afforded to Jasmine’s remorse codes her as guilty simply by virtue of its difference from the other women’s ‘stories.’ What occurs here is not necessarily a change in kind dependent on Jasmine’s decision to abort her child, but merely a change in degree, or a modification in the unpredictable symbolic texture associated with the decision. Ultimately, “what was a moment ago permitted by the rules becomes an abhorrent vice, although the act in its immediate, physical reality remains the same” (Zizek 1991, 75). As such, her death becomes a narrative inevitability, in the sense that it represents little more than the fulfillment of her confession.

Une Affaire De (Vraies) Femmes?

In Story of Women, the representation of moral deflation as the unacknowledged support of enjoyment appears as a rallying effect between the excessive emphasis on transgression and its conscious filmic omission. If the film’s attitude towards lawful suspension stresses the impossibility of subversive transgression in favour of its enjoyment as a commonplace, banal matter of routine (which occurs at the kitchen table for profit), then Chabrol’s refusal to explicitly depict these so-called transgressive acts is significant. Indeed, it seems that Marie’s problematic declaration to Paul (“If you saw, it’s your own fault”) is equally applicable to the spectator, although the ramifications here are exponentially convoluted since the statement transforms from an accusation to a predetermination; apropos of Chabrol’s representational obfuscation of transgressive acts, we may interpret the film’s address to the spectator as follows: unless you saw it, it never happened. However, if the explicitly enacted moment of transgression is withheld from the spectator, how are we able to identify these acts with a specific form of lawful enjoyment? It is my contention that this particular impasse marks the entry of aphanisis as a structuring system – not as a ‘solution’ to any isolated deadlock (i.e., transgression as routine, moral inconsistency, ironic enjoyment of the Law, or the ‘unrepresentability’ of the act), but rather as a symptom of their conflation/collision. Simply stated, aphanisis as a narrative strategy of erasure and recapitulation intervenes precisely in the space between enjoyment and act, or – in other words – between the excess of narrative information and the complete absence of its visual authentication.

It is necessary at this point to address the psychoanalytic specificity and gravity of the act as a performed and deliberate gesture. In his definition of “the true woman” (une vraie femme), Jacques-Alain Miller identifies the woman’s act of 

taking from man, her partner, of obliterating,
destroying even, that which is ‘in him more
than himself’, that which ‘means everything to him’
and to which he holds more than to his own life,

the precious agalma around which his life turns (Zizek 2000, 8)

as the fundamental radical act of femininity. Yet the ‘radical’ nature of this feminine act is considerably diminished, or at least called into question, when it is never properly (in this case, visually) acknowledged. As previously stated, the act becomes coded as its opposite, as a yielding to Law facilitated by the subject’s self-involved enjoyment of an assumed radical stance. The visual omission of the transgressive act in Story of Women is indeed problematic, but infinitely more problematic is the text’s strategy of exchanging transgression for affluence and erasure. Chabrol not only reduces the mechanics of abortion to a series of partial/incomplete viewing positions (splayed legs, the appearance of the sinister industrial pump), but also temporally/materially demarcates Marie’s successful business through the ever-increasing clutter in her various apartments. By the film’s conclusion, we learn that Marie has performed twenty-three abortions, four of which are elected as narratively representative – the remaining nineteen abortions manifest directly as solipsistic material gain (decorative accouterments, visits to the salon, black-market jam, and singing lessons). Similarly, Marie’s acquisition of the apparently virile Lucien as her lover is remarkably free from the pervasive threat of pregnancy, such that the transgressive threat of infidelity is contained by the absence of onscreen sex. Rather, Marie’s sexuality is reduced to a series of ostentatious symbolic signifiers and vaguely absurd, juvenile euphemisms; after Lucien decapitates a goose at a Nazi raffle, Marie blushingly compliments his “forceful” saber-handling abilities, and the lovers’ first post-coital discussion revolves around decorous epithets for female genitalia. Further romantic dalliances in the film involve clumsy, drunken fumblings and pillow-fights which culminate in Paul’s eventual discovery of the lovers in bed, fully-clothed and asleep.

Essentially, the construction of the film vacillates between an excessive and performative overvaluation of transgressions which never properly ‘occur’ because they remain narratively and stylistically incomplete, suspended from the logical culmination that would define them as proper radical acts. It is in this precise sense that Marie is free to enjoy the Law, since her unabashedly boastful exposure of her transgressions is never visually corroborated. As such, Marie is discursively ‘free’ to continue consorting with her lover and performing abortions, provided that the erasure of one relationship signifies the exposition of a new one, complete with a reduplicated narrative trajectory and a redefined self (Marie is a potato-cooking housewife, a singer, a spoiled interloper, and a melodramatic martyr, but rarely is she any of these various ‘selves’ simultaneously). Consequently, these ‘acts’ exist only as ciphered essential appearances – they must be narratively erased and constantly regenerated, thereby securing their indeterminacy.

The Loss Of The Other

If I have identified Story of Women’s engagement with aphanisis as an incessant reoccurrence facilitated by the intersubjective gap between (narrative, excessive) enjoyment and (representational, incomplete) acts, it therefore follows that the text’s final self-erasure is Marie’s physical destruction. After all, her execution is sanctioned by the State, such that the Law seems to eventually overwhelm her and triumph over her dead body (Zizek 2000, 9). While a bodily and psychic coincidence of self-destruction at the hands of the Law is certainly an appropriate means of approaching aphanisis, it is likewise possible to assert that Marie’s final self-erasure occurs not in death but in prison – and, more significantly, that this final narrative recapitulation of aphanisis results from her loss of the Law rather than from her bombardment by it.

When approached in relation to the act, the film’s prison sequences place a curious emphasis on Marie as mother and as abortionist, whether this emphasis is directly spoken (Marie asks her lawyer to send her children a postcard of the Eiffel Tower, her cellmates accuse her of killing children) or narratively enacted (prior to Marie’s execution, Chabrol cross-cuts from Pierrot methodically hitting his head against a wall to Marie striking her feet against her prison cell). Few sequences within the prison transpire without some mention of displaced justice and abortion or of Marie’s children. What fascinates about this abrupt concentration of characteristics is the reduction of formerly multifarious identities and their subsequent erasure to pure acts with no possibility for transformation – and it is precisely because Marie is reduced to a ‘pure act’ that her relationship with the Big Other disintegrates. Suddenly, Marie is accused of behaving as une vraie femme, of committing a radical and transgressive act which threatened the patriarchal order, but – as was previously mentioned – was persistently suspended by the film’s negation of its representation, interrupted, and narratively regenerated. Effectively ‘caught’ between the film’s diegetic and representational strategies as empirically guilty[4] but structurally innocent, Marie is essentially accused of an incomplete transgression; since the ‘radical’ act of abortion was always discursively subjected to aphanisis, it remained curtailed as an ontologically consistent act. Does this not perfectly exemplify how we can effectively “lose something we never possessed, [since]… what is lost in a loss of what we never possessed is the ‘essential appearance’ which ruled our lives” (Zizek 1992, 41). Once both narrative/representational strategies and Marie herself are contained and isolated, what collapses is not Marie’s autonomous conception as a self, but her self-conception in relation to the Law. In her ‘subjective destitution’ and loss of the codifying, regulating Law, Marie finds herself “not only without the other qua neighbour, but without support in the Other itself – as such [she attains a freedom that] is unbearably suffocating, the very opposite of relief, of ‘liberation’” (59). Ultimately, Marie’s final engagement with aphanisis is compelled by her reduction to a structuring cipher (une vraie femme), and she eventually self-erases not in defiance of the Law or as its sacrifice, but as a direct result of its abandonment.

Works Cited

Bronfen, Elisabeth. 1992. “Lasciatemi Morir: Representations of the Diva’s Swan Song.” Modern Language Quarterly 53 (4): 427-448.

Chabrol, Claude. 1988. Story of Women. MK2 Productions (starring Isbaelle Huppert and Francois Cluzet.

Charney, Leo. 2001. “The Violence of a Perfect Moment.” Violence and American Cinema, ed. J. David Slocum, 47-62. New York: Routledge.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1991. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty. New York: Zone Books.

Harari, Roberto. 2004. Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction. New York: Other Press.

Haneke, Michael. 2001. The Piano Teacher. Le Studio Canal (starring Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel).

Lacan, Jacques. 1981. Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Mallard, James M. 1990. “The Disappearing Subject: A Lacanian Reading of The Catcher in the Rye.” In Critical Essays on Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, ed. Joel Salzburg, 197-214. Boston: C.K. Hall.

————–. 1991. “The Beast in the Jungle.” In Using Lacan, Reading Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Paul, Leslie. 1989. “Women’s Business: Chabrol’s Story of Women.” Film in Review 23 (3): 16-20.

Ray, Nicholas. 1954. Johnny Guitar. Republic Pictures Corporation (starring Sterling Hayden and Joan Crawford).

Rorty, Richard. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sturges, Preston. 1944. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. Paramount Pictures (starring Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton).

Sullivan, M. Nell. 1996. “Persons in Pieces: Race and Aphanisis in Light in August.” Mississippi Quarterly 49 (3): 497-518.

Truffaut, François. 1969. Mississippi Mermaid. United Artists (starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve).

Zizek, Slavoj. 1991. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

————–. 1992. Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out. New York: Routledge.

————–. 1994. The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality. London: Verso.

————–. 1996. “There is No Sexual Relationship.” In Sic 1: Gaze and Voice as Love Objects, ed. Renata Salecl, 208-49. Durham: Duke University Press.

————–. 1997. The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso.

————–. 2000. The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Seattle: The Walter Chapin Centre for the Humanities.

————–. 2003. The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


1. Jacques Lacan. Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1981, 221).

2. See, for example, James M. Mallard (1991) and M. Nell Sullivan’s (1996) analyses of aphanisis in Faulkner, wherein aphanisis heralds the premature self-destruction of the racially-coded subject. Mallard similarly associates aphanisis with suicide fantasies in his essay, “The Disappearing Subject: A Lacanian Reading of The Catcher in the Rye” (1990).

3. Again, we return to the standard narrative ‘solution’ which couples psychic disintegration with bodily self-destruction.

4.   My invocation of the term ‘guilt’ here requires some elucidation. Regardless of the spectator’s personal opinions on abortion or his belief in whether or not Marie’s services were justified, there is no doubt that Marie performed abortions.

Author Biography:

Christine Evans received her Masters degree in film studies from the University of British Columbia and her Bachelors degree in cinema studies from the University of Toronto. She is currently working on her PhD at the University of Kent, Canterbury, where her research focuses on philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s unique contributions to film theory. She has published articles on psychoanalytic structures of belief, the work of Slavoj Zizek, and sadism and serial killing in cinema. Her research interests include psychoanalysis and cinema, cinema violence, and the representation of extreme phenomena.