Condensation and Suture

Condensation and Suture

Condensation and Suture in Hiroshima, Mon Amour

A discussion between Eric F Sternberg and Earl Jackson, Jr.
Occasioned by a question after reading Jackson’s „Desire at Cross[cultural] Purposes: Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.&quot

The Question

Subj: ltmo 128
Date: Fri, May 17, 1996 17:28 PST

I was just reading your article, „Desire at Cross(-Cultural)
Purposes,“ and I have a few questions. First, your analysis of the phrase „Mon Amour“ is good, but I thought it was interesting that „amour“ was usually feminine when used in the plural. I found this so interesting because plural articles all (masculine and feminine) have the
same form, for example both „la“ and „le“ become „les.“ So the most
common time for it to be feminine is the one where it is the most
difficult to tell. My second issue was when, on page 152 in Positions
(117 in the reader) you say that the „viewer of the film is the point of
condensation,“ then make the parenthetical comment that this even works
with Freud’s term. What other version(s) of condensation were you using,
and why isn’t it (or why can’t I find it) in the article?

Oh, you
remembered „mon amie“ in the article. Apparently it was just our class
that fucked you up.

-Eric Sternberg*************


Wow Eric- your question is one of the hardest and most stimulating I’ve received in a long time. I hope I do it justice here, but in any event I am really grateful to you for pointing out the role of „condensation“ here and forcing me to articulate it to myself, and hopefully beyond that, beginning here.

I meant several things by condensation here, but most basically and intuitively, the formation of a „subject-position“ as an effect of the signifying ensemble of the film and the
screen-viewer encounter (the latter highly dependent upon the different and differing sociohistorical variables within the discourses that circumscribe any specific screening of the film inflected by the viewer’s individual history, and her or his micro- and macropolitical situations). Here the „condensation“ is the „realization“ of „subject-position“ as „subject“ into which the viewer may either accept or resist to varying degrees. One of the reasons I cite Freud’s „condensation“ as only one of the sense of the term „condensation“ should become clear if you consider the list below. First definitions from the OED of „condensation“ and „condense“ then the Freudian meaning of the term „condensation.“.

From there, I want to discuss Freudian „condensation“ in terms of „dream work,“ and introduce the other major operation Freud designated, „displacement.“ Next, I will recall Jacques Lacan’s identification of condensation and displacement with metaphor and metonymy, respectively. Then I will not Christian Metz’s critical analogies between the film and the dream, cinematic signification and condensation and displacement and metaphor and metonymy. Finally I want to draw out the implications of the (at least) bidirectional multivalence of „condensation“ in my speculations. In other words, I want to elaborate through the consideration of my cinematic model, the principle that „the subject“ is an effect of sigification. And I want to do this from both sides of the spectatorial situation – from the side of the screen as text (and the internal „dream work“ of condensation) and from the side of spectatorial engagement (and the semiosic processes of text-reception and subject-production [identification/interpellation/resistance/suture]).

I. OED Definitions.

Condensation. 1. The action of making or becoming more dense; increase of density; reduction of volume. b. Optics. Concentration of light.2. The conversion of a substance from the state of gas or vapour to the liquid or (rarely), the solid, condition. 3. Condensed condition. 4. dense aggregation. 5. The compression of thought or meaning into a few words.

Condense. 1. To make dense, to increase the density of, to bring the particles of (a substance) into closer aggregation; . .. to thicken, to concentrate. b. Optics. To bring rays of light to a focus or into a smaller space, so that the brightness is increased. to concetnrate. c. to increase the amount or intensity of the charge of electricity. . . . 2. To reduce (a substance) from the form of gas or vapour to the liquid or (rarer) the solid condtion, or from the state of an invisible gas to that of visible vapour or cloud. . To concentrate. to intensify.

II. Condensation – the Freudian Meaning.

Condensation is an operation of the unconscious through which it reintroduces (in disguised form) repressed wishes (and/or memories, etc.) into conscious life. The form that becomes conscious is a singular idea or event or image that „represents several associative chains at whose intersection it is located“ (Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, 82). It is found in all forms of neurotic symptoms (hysteria and obsessions), parapraxes (slips of the tongue, forgetting names or words), and above all dreams. Freud introduced the term and the concept in The Interpretation of Dreams.

The translation of the latent to the manifest content in dreams is a necessity brought about because the latent content of dreams is a forbidden (and repressed) wish. At the time of Interpretation of Dreams, Freud divided the psychical mechanism into the Unconscious, Preconscious, and consciousness. The preconsious is the storehouse of all memories that are accessible to voluntary recall; the unconscious is formed of taboo wishes that underwent repression. During sleep, the censor in the preconscious is operative but relaxed, thus allowing more of the unconscious wishes to emerge than during waking hours. Even then, however, the only way the wish can be expressed within a dream is if it can be designed sufficiently to elude the censor. Freud divided the dream into the „dream-thoughts“ or „latent content“ and the „manifest content.“ The „dream-thoughts“ or „latent content“ is the actual meanings/thoughts of the dream, and the manifest content is the totality of how the dream looked and was experienced by the dreamer. The former is transformed into the latter through the „dream work,“ which comprehends several operations of distortion, the two major ones being condensation and displacement. (ibid. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams SE V: 377-378). In condensation, several ideas and images are combined into one, and the repressed idea is hidden within this (the new idea/image is superimposed over the represssed one). In displacement, the intense investment of libidinal energy in the unacceptable idea/object is transferred to an object that might be associated with the forbidden one, but is not itself taboo. (Freud, Interpretation of Dreams SE V: 379; 375).

III. Lacanian Interpretation.

Jacques Lacan is widely known for introducing linguistics and semiotics into Freudian psychoanalytic. theory. One of his grounding moves in this regard, is his analogy between condensation and displacement to „metaphor“ and „metonymy,“ respectively. In „The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, he introduces this analogy within a discussion of the sign, composed of two irreconcilable elements – the signifier and the signified. He insists that the signifier does not merely point to or „mean“ the „signified“ (as an extra-linguistic referent, for example), but rather that the signifier determines or pervades the signified („Agency“ 147-150).. Metaphor and metonymy are two categories of rhetorical figures whereby he demonstrates the priority of the signifier over the signified. For Lacan, a „metaphor“ is basically the replacement of one image (one signifier) with another 1(„Agency“ 157) while metonymy is a „part taken for the whole“ such as „30 sails“ used to signify „30 ships.“ (ibid. 156).2 In this discussion, Lacan equates metaphor and metonymy with „condensation“ and „displacement,“ respectively {„Agency“ 156-57; 160-161.]

IV. Implications for Film Theory

The first extended consideration of Lacan’s theory in film studies is Christian Metz’s work collected in *The Imaginary Signifier.* See especially pp. 101-108; 129-137; 235-244.

V. Returning to my use of „condensation.“

Let me first repeat the sentence from my essay that prompted your question:

The viewer of the film is the point of condensation (even in sense of Freudian dream work) of the divergent elements of the opening scene: the actress’s apparent declaration of perceptual and epistemological mastery; the erotic arabesques of the couple making love; and the deadpan horrors of the newsreel. [Jackson, „Desire“ 152].

(A) By „condensation“ I mean (i) the condensation that occurs within the signifying processes of the film, roughly analogous to the condensation prominent in dream-work; (ii) the formation of a subject-position as an aggregate of the signifying effects of the film and the sociosymbolic and historical contexts of the viewer.

(B) The ambivalence of the relations of the meanings of this term, and the dynamics of two processes (their provisional coalescences and their discoherencies) I find I can account for to some extent through a multiaspectual reconsderation of „suture“ in its psychoanalytic meanings and its meanings in Althusserian social theory and in Lacanian film theory.

[1] Lacan gives a fuller but much more problematizing exposition in the seminar on the psychoses (Seminar III: 214-230.)

[2] Lacan mentions his debt to Roman Jakobson, who defined metaphor as a relation of similarity and metonymy as a relation of contiguity (and located the former at the axis of selection [the paradigmatic] the latter at the axis of arrangement [the syntagmatic]. Roman Jakobson. „Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances.“ In Jakobson and Morris Halle. Fundamentals of Language The Hague: Mouton. 1956.

Reading: Earl Jackson, Jr. „Desire at Cross[cultural] Purposes: Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Circuits of Desire. Special Issue of Positions. Ed. Yukiko Hanawa. Positions. 2.1 (Spring 1994): 133-174.

Go to Suture.