In His Bold Gaze
My Ruin Is Writ Large*
What's wrong with The Wrong Man?
To comply with the dialectical axiom that the only way to reach the underlying law of an universe is through its exception, let's begin with The Wrong Man, a film which clearly sticks out from the totality of Hitchcock's oeuvre.1
On the one hand, The Wrong Man is Hitchcock at its purest. His special attachment to it is attested by the exceptional character of his cameo-appearance in the prologue; Hitchcock addresses the viewers directly, informing them that they will see a tragedy taken from real life. This prologue sounds like an implicit apology: "sorry, but you will not get the usual comic-thriller stuff here, things are for real, I shall throw my cards on the table and deliver my message directly, not wrapped up in the usual comedian's costume..."
On the other hand, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with the film. Consequently, there are two questions to be answered: what message did Hitchcock endeavor to articulate "directly" in The Wrong Man, and why did he fail?
The answer to the first question lies in what is usually referred to as Hitchcock's theological dimension. The story of the musician, Balestrero, whose quiet life is suddenly thrown off balance by an unforeseen accident his false identification as a bank-robber epitomizes the Hitchcockian vision of a cruel, unfathomable and self-willed God who sadistically plays with human destinies. Who is that God who, for no apparent reason, can turn our daily life into a nightmare? In their path-breaking Hitchcock, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol2 sought the key to Hitchcock's universe in his Catholicism; although this approach seems largely discredited today overshadowed as it is by the semiotic and psychoanalytic analyses of the 70s it is still worth returning to, especially when one bears in mind that the Catholic tradition to which Rohmer and Chabrol refer is that of Jansenism. The Jansenist problematic of sin the relation between virtue and grace delineates for the first time the relation of the subject to the Law characterizing Hitchcock's universe.
Gilles Deleuze3 locates the link connecting Hitchcock to traditional English thought through the theory of external relations: empiricism opposes continental tradition. Isn't Hitchcock's universe, where a wholly external and accidental intervention of Fate radically changes a person's symbolic status (the wrong identification of Thornhill as Kaplan in North by Northwest, the wrong identification of Balestrero as the bank-robber in The Wrong Man, the couple in Mr. and Mrs. Smith who suddenly learn that their marriage is void), inscribed into the tradition of English empiricism? In this system an object is embedded in a contingent network, yet lacking the subjective dimension, tension the absurd discord between the subject's self-experience and the external network determining his/her Truth is not a simple empirical composite but a symbolic network of an intersubjective symbolic structure.
This further specification is provided by the Jansenist theology of Port-Royal. The starting point of Jansenism is the abyss separating human "virtue" from divine "grace." By nature, all people are sinful, sin defines their very status. Because salvation cannot be dependent on their virtue, it must come from the outside as divine grace. Thus, grace, radically contingent, bears no relation to the person's character or deeds: in an inscrutable way, God decides in advance who will be saved and who will be damned.4 What in our everyday life we perceive as "natural" is thus inverted; we accomplish virtuous deeds because we are in advance saved. The tragedy of the leading characters in the plays of Jean Racine is that they personify the utmost aggravation of this antagonism between virtue and grace: Arnauld, Racine's contemporary, characterized Phaedra as "one of the just to whom grace was not vouchsafed."
The consequences of this Jansenist split between immanent virtue and transcendent grace or damnation are far-reaching Jansenism fascinated French Communists in their most Stalinist period, since it was easy for them to recognize in the split between virtue and grace the forbearer of what they called "objective responsibility": as an individual, a person can be beyond all praise, honest, virtuous..., yet if untouched by the grace of insight into the historical Truth embodied in the Party, one is "objectively guilty" and as such condemned to damnation. Jansenism thus contains in nuce the logic which in the Stalinist monster-trials, impelled the accused to acknowledge their guilt and to demand the harshest punishment. The fundamental paradox of Racine's Athaliah is that in this drama on the conflict between the partisans of Jehovah the true God and the pagan Baal everybody, including Mattan the high priest of Baal, believes in Jehovah, as with the accused in the Stalinist trials who knew themselves to be the "scum of history" and that Truth is on the side of the Party.5 The attitude of Racine's evil-doers announces the paradox of the Sadeian hero who reverses Pascal's motto, "even if you don't believe, kneel down and pray, act as if you believe, and the belief will come by itself." The Sadeian hero is somebody who, although deep in himself knows that God exists, acts as if God does not exist and breaks all His commandments.6
If this insertion of Hitchcock in the lineage of Jansenism seems far-fetched, recall here the crucial role played by "gaze" in Hitchcock's films as well as in Racine's plays. Phaedra pivots on the misinterpretation of a look: Phaedra, the wife of king Theseus, reveals her love to Hippolytus, the king's son from a previous marriage, and is cruelly rebuffed; as her husband enters, she mistakes Hippolytus' grim expression actually a sign of his distress for an insolent determination to betray her to the king and takes vengeance on him, which leads to her own ruin.7 The verse 910 of Phaedra enunciates this misreading, "In his bold gaze my ruin is writ large."8 It could serve as an appropriate epithet to Hitchcock's universe where the Other's gaze up to the final look of Norman Bates into the camera in Psycho epitomizes a lethal threat. Suspense is never the product of a simple physical confrontation of the subject with the assailant, but always involves the mediation of what the subject "reads into this gaze."9 In other words, Hippolytus' gaze exemplifies perfectly Lacan's thesis that the gaze I encounter "is, not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of the Other."10 It's not the Other's glance as such, but the way it "concerns me (me regarde), the way the subject sees himself affected by it as to his/her desire. Hyppolitus' gaze is not the mere fact of his casting a glance at Phaedra, but the threat Phaedra sees in it from the position of her desire.11
The mysterious link connecting these two features -the pure "machine" (external relations determining the subject's fate) and the pure gaze - in Lacanian terms the signifier's structure, its automaton, and the objet petit a, its contingent left-over, tuché is a key to Racine's and Hitchcock's universe.
A first hint to this link's nature is apparent through a closer analysis of a scene from Phaedra: the crucial feature is the presence of a "third" gaze, that of the king, Theseus. The interplay of gazes between Phaedra and Hippolytus implies a Thirdness, an agent under whose watchful eye this interplay takes place and who, at any price, has to be kept in ignorance as to the true nature of the affair. It is by no accident that this role is attributed to the king who but the king, the ultimate guarantor of the social texture, is more apt to epitomize the blind mechanism of the symbolic order? The configuration is here homologous to that in "The Purloined Letter" where we also witness the duel of two gazes (the queen's and the minister's) against the background of the third (king's) gaze which is necessarily ignorant of the affair. There seems to be a homology in The Thirty-Nine Steps as well as one in Hitchcock's later variations of the same formula (Saboteur, North by Northwest), namely in the scene of the duel between the hero and his adversaries in front of the ignorant crowd (the political rally in the first film, the charity-dance in the second, the auction in the third). In Saboteur, the hero tries to snatch his girlfriend from the hands of the Nazi agents and to escape with her; yet the scene takes place in a great hall, in full view of hundreds of guests, so both sides have to observe the rules of etiquette. The Other (epitomized by the crowd) has to be kept ignorant as to the true stakes.12
To answer the first question: The Wrong Man stages the theological background of Hitchcock's universe; heroes at the mercy of a Dieu obscur, of unpredictable Fate, epitomized by the gigantic stone-statues appearing regularly in his films (the Egyptian Goddess in the British Museum, Blackmail, the Statue of Liberty, Saboteur, the President's heads at Mount Rushmore, North-by-Northwest). These Gods are blind in their blessed ignorance; their mechanism runs irrespective of petty human affairs. Fate intervenes in the guise of a contingent coincidence which radically changes the hero's symbolic status.13 Indeed, only a thin line separates this notion of a Dieu obscur from the Sadeian notion of the "Supreme-Being-of-Evilness."14
As to the second question, the answer is provided by the Sphinx, a statue which does not appear in Hitchcock's films. There is a photo of Hitchcock in front of the Sphinx, both faces in profile, emphasizing their parallelism. Ultimately Hitchcock himself in his relationship to the viewer, assumes the paradoxical role of a benevolent evil God, pulling the strings and playing games with the public. So Hitchcock qua auteur is a kind of diminished, estheticized mirror-image of the unfathomable and self-willed Creator. Thus the trouble with The Wrong Man is that Hitchcock renounced this role of a benevolent evil God and endeavored to transmit the message in a direct, serious way with results in the message itself losing its persuasiveness. In other words, there is no metalanguage: the message the vision of a universe at the mercy of the cruel and unfathomable Dieu obscur can only be rendered in an artistic form which itself mimes its structure.15 The moment Hitchcock succumbed to the temptation of serious psychological realism, even the most tragic moments the film somehow leave us cold, in spite of Hitchcock's efforts to affect us...
The Hitchcockian Allegory
Today the problematic of Hitchcock's original experience, the traumatic kernel around which his films turn, may seem outdated, yet there is another approach to it. Let's take three disparate works: Jim Ballard's Empire of the Sun, John le Carré's A Perfect Spy, Ridley Scott's Black Rain what do they have in common? In all three, the author (after a series of works which established a certain thematic and stylistic continuity delineating the contours of a specific artistic universe) finally tackles the empirical fragment of reality which served as its experiential support. Following a series of science-fiction novels obsessed by the motif of wandering around in an abandoned, decaying world, full of the debris of a defunct civilization, Empire of the Sun gives a fictionalized account of Ballard's childhood; the Japanese occupation of Shanghai tore him from his parents, so that he found himself alone in the rich foreigner's quarter of the town, free to wander around among the abandoned villas with dried, cracked pools. Le Carré''s Smiley's Circus is the ultimate depiction of the spy-universe of betrayal, manipulation and double deception; in A Perfect Spy, le Carré revealed the source of his obsession with betrayal: his ambiguous relationship to his father, a corrupted impostor. Ridley Scott's films display a vision of a corrupted and decaying megalopolis (Scott is unable to shoot a street without atmospheric litter and sordid mist); in Black Rain, he finally stumbled upon an object whose reality itself gives body to this vision: today's Tokyo no need to take refuge with dystopian visions of Los Angeles in 2080, as in Bladerunner. Why this is not "psychological reductionism": the unearthed fragment of experience (childhood in occupied Shanghai; obscene paternal figure; today's Japanese megalopolis) is not the actual point of reference enabling the reduction of fantasy to reality, but the point at which reality itself touches fantasy or infringes upon it. The fantasy-trauma invades reality; in this unique moment of encounter, reality appears "more dreamlike than dreams themselves." Against this background, the reasons for the failure of The Wrong Man become somewhat clearer. The film renders the experiential foundation of Hitchcock's universe, yet this foundation lacks the fantasy-dimension: the miraculous encounter does not take place, reality remains mere reality, fantasy does not resound in it.
What The Wrong Man lacks is the "allegorical" dimension its diegetic, enunciated content does not index its process of enunciation (the relationship of Hitchcock to the public). This modernist notion of allegory opposes the traditional one. In the traditional narrative space, the diegetic content functions as the allegory of some transcendent entity: flesh-and-blood individuals personify transcendent principles (Love, Temptation, Betrayal), procure external clothing for suprasensible Ideas. By contrast, in the modern space, the diegetic content is the allegory of its own process of enunciation. In Murderous Gaze16 William Rothman deciphers Hitchcock's entire opus as such an allegorical staging of the benevolent-sadist relationship of Hitchcock towards his public; one is tempted to say that Hitchcock's films ultimately contain only two subjective positions, that of the director and that of the viewer all diegetic persons assume by turns one of these two positions. The clearest case of such a self-reflective structure is in Psycho: far more convincing than the traditional allegorical reading (the interpretation of the policeman who stops Marion just before she reaches the Bates' motel as the Angel sent by Providence to stop her on her way to perdition) is the interpretation of the diegetic content as standing in for the viewer (his voyeurism) or the director (his punishing the viewer's voyeurism).17 To avoid the enumeration of well-known examples which attest to Hitchcock's playing with the ambiguous and split nature of the viewer's desire (the suspended sinking of Marion's car in Psycho; numerous allusions to the viewer's voyeurism from Rear Window to Psycho), let's limit discussion to the second scene from Psycho: Marion (Janet Leigh) enters her office, followed by her boss and the oil-millionaire who displays in a boastful-obscene way $40,000. The key to this scene is Hitchcock's cameo appearance at its very beginning18 for a brief moment, one sees him through the windowpane standing on the pavement; seconds later, the millionaire enters the office from the very place occupied by Hitchcock, wearing the same Stetson hat he is thus a kind of stand-in for Hitchcock, sent by him into the movie to lead Marion into temptation, to propel the story in the desired direction... Although The Wrong Man and Psycho are alike in many features (the black-and-white bleakness of the everyday life they depict; the rupture in their narrative line), their difference is insurmountable.
The classical Marxist reproach to this would be that the ultimate function of such an allegorical procedure, through which the product reflects its own formal process, is to render invisible its social mediation and thereby neutralize its socio-critical potential as if, in order to fill out the void of social content, the work turns to its own form. Indeed, is this reproach not confirmed per negationem by The Wrong Man which, because of its suspension of the allegory, among all Hitchcock's films comes closest to social criticism, dreary everyday life caught in the irrational wheels of judicial bureaucracy? Yet one is tempted to defend the opposite argument:19 the strongest ideological-critical potential of Hitchcock's films is contained precisely in their allegorical nature. In order for this potential of Hitchcock's benevolent sadistic playing with the viewer to become manifest, one has to take into account the strict concept of "sadism" as elaborated by Lacan. In "Kant avec Sade," Lacan proposed two schemes which render the matrix of the two stages of the Sadean fantasy:20
This is the "actual" site of the subject who dreams the sadistic fantasy: an object-victim, at the mercy of the "sadistic" Will of the Other which, as Lacan puts it, here "passes over into moral constraint." Lacan's example is Sade himself, whose constraint took the form of the pressure exerted on him by his environment his mother-in-law who again and again arranged his imprisonment, Napoleon who committed him to an asylum. Sade the subject who produced in frantic rhythm "sadistic" scenarios was thus "actually" the victim of endless harassment, an object upon which state agencies lived out their moralistic sadism: the real Will-to-Enjoy is already at work in the state bureaucratic apparatus which handles the subject. The result of it is $, the barred subject, the literal erasure of the person from the texture of symbolic tradition: Sade's expulsion from "official" (literary) history, so that there are almost no traces of him. S, the pathological-suffering subject, appears here as the community of those who, during Sade's lifetime, stood by him in spite of all hardship (his wife, sister-in-law, servant), and above all as the community of those who, after his death, never ceased to be fascinated by his work (writers, philosophers, literary critics...). At this very point, the reasons for reading the scheme of the Sadeian fantasy retroactively, from the matrix of the four discourses, become clear: the scheme gains consistency if one reads its fourth term S as S2, (University) knowledge endeavoring to penetrate the mystery of Sade's work. In this sense, a in the second scheme may stand for what remained of Sade after his death, for the object-product by which Sade provoked the moralistic-sadistic reaction of the Master: a is ultimately his written work.
The quarter-turn in the scheme places the sadist in the position of a victim: the transgression which at first appeared to subvert the Law, turns out to pertain to the Law the Law itself is the ultimate perversion. (This shift designates the moment when the Stalinist, turned into his own victim, is forced to sacrifice himself to the higher interests of the Party, to confess his guilt in a political trial $ stands here for his erasure from the annals of history, for his transformation into a "non-person".)22 This quarter-turn translates also the logic of Hitchcock's sadistic playing with the viewer. First, he sets a trap of sadistic identification for the viewer by way of arousing the "sadistic" desire to see the hero crush the bad guy, this suffering "fullness of being"... Once the viewer is filled out with the Will-to-Enjoy, Hitchcock closes the trap by realizing the viewer's desire: in having his desire fulfilled, the viewer obtains more than was asked for (the act of murder in all its nauseous "presence" the exemplary case is here the murder of Gromek in Torn Curtain). At the very moment when he was possessed by the Will to see the bad guy annihilated, he was effectively manipulated by the only true sadist, Hitchcock himself. This acquiescence confronts the viewer with the contradictory, divided nature of desire (wanting the bad guy to be crushed without mercy, yet at the same time being unprepared to pay the full price for it: as soon as the desire is fulfilled, one draws back in shame), and the result, the product, is S2, knowledge the endless flow of books and articles on Hitchcock.
From I to a
The shift the rotation at work could also be defined as the passage from I to a: from gaze qua point of symbolic identification to gaze qua object. That is, prior to his identifying with the persons from diegetic reality, the viewer identifies with himself as pure gaze, with the abstract point which gazes upon the screen.23 This ideal point provides a pure form of ideology insofar as it feigns to float freely in an empty space, not charged by any desire as if the viewer were reduced to a kind of absolutely invisible substanceless witness of events which take place by themselves, irrespective of the presence of his gaze. By means of the shift from I to a, however, the viewer is forced to face the desire at work in his seemingly "neutral" gaze. We may recall the well-known scene from Psycho where Norman Bates nervously observes the car with Marion's body submerging in the swamp behind the mother's house: when the car stops sinking for a moment, the anxiety that automatically arises in the viewer a token of his solidarity with Norman suddenly reminds him that his desire is identical to Norman's, that his impartiality was always false. His gaze is de-idealized, its purity blemished by a pathological stain, and what comes forth is the desire that maintains it: the viewer is compelled to assume that the scene he witnesses is staged for his eyes, that his gaze was from the very beginning included within it.
There is a well known true story about an anthropological expedition trying to contact a wild tribe in the New Zealand jungle who allegedly danced a terrible war dance in grotesque masks; when they reached this tribe, they begged them to dance it for them, and the dance did in fact match the description. So the explorers obtained the desired material about the strange terrible customs of the aborigines. However, shortly after, it was shown that this wild dance did not exist at all: the aborigines had only tried to meet the wishes of the explorers; in their discussions with them they had discovered what they wanted and had reproduced it for them... One sees what Lacan means when he says that the subject's desire is the desire of the other: the explorers received back from the aborigines their own desire. The perverse strangeness which seems to them uncannily terrible, was staged for their benefit. The same paradox is nicely satirized in Top Secret, a comedy about Western tourists in (the former) GDR: at the border railway station they see a terrible fight through the window, brutal police, dogs, beaten children; however, after the custom inspection, they all get up and brush the dust from themselves in short, the whole display of communist brutality was laid on for Western eyes.
This is the inverse-symmetrical counterpoint to the illusion defining the ideological interpellation, the illusion of the Other always looking at us, addressing us. When we recognize ourselves as interpolated, as addressees of an ideological call, we misrecognize the radical contingency of finding ourselves at the place of interpellation. We fail to notice how our spontaneous perception that the Other, God, Nation, etc., has chosen us as its addressee results from the retroactive inversion of contingency into necessity: we do not recognize ourselves in the ideological call because we were chosen. On the contrary, we perceive ourselves as chosen, as addressees of a call, because we recognized ourselves in it the contingent act of recognition engenders retroactively its own necessity (the same illusion as that of the reader of a horoscope taking contingent coincidences of obscure predictions with his actual life as proof that the horoscope is talking about him). The illusion involved in our identification with a pure gaze is far more cunning: while we perceive ourselves as external bystanders stealing a furtive glance into some majestic Mystery indifferent to us, we are blinded to the fact that the entire spectacle of Mystery is staged with an eye to our gaze, to attract and fascinate our gaze. The Other deceives us insofar as it induces us to believe that we were not chosen; the true addressee himself mistakes his position for that of an accidental bystander.24
Hitchcock's elementary strategy consists of this: through a reflexive inclusion of his own gaze the viewer becomes aware of how this gaze is always partial, ideological, stigmatized by a pathological desire. Hitchcock's strategy is far more subversive than it may appear that is, what, exactly is the status of the viewer's desire realized in the above mentioned example of Gromek's murder in Torn Curtain? The crucial fact is that this desire is experienced as a transgression of what is socially permitted, as the desire for a moment when one is so to speak allowed to break the Law in the name of the Law itself what we find here is perversion as a socially constructive attitude: one can indulge in illicit drives, torture and kill for the protection of law and order. This perversion relies on the split of the field of Law into Law as "Ego-Ideal." The symbolic order that regulates social life and maintains social peace, and its obscene, super egotistical reverse.
As shown by numerous analyses from Bakhtin onwards, periodic transgressions are inherent to the social order and function as a condition of the latter's stability. The mistake of Bakhtin, or rather of some of his followers, was to present an idealized image of these transgressions, to pass in silence over lynching parties as the crucial form of "the carnevalesque suspension of social hierarchy." The deepest identification which holds together a community is not so much identification with the Law that regulates its normal everyday circuit, but rather identification with the specific form of transgression of the Laws of its suspension (in psychoanalytic terms, with the specific form of enjoyment. Let us recall small-town white communities in the American South of the 20s, where the reign of the official, public Law is accompanied by its shadowy double, the nightly terror of Ku Klux Klan, the lynchings of powerless blacks. A white man is easily forgiven at least minor infringements of the Law, especially when they can be justified by a "code of honor." The community still recognizes him as "one of us" (legendary cases of solidarity with the transgressor abound in Southern white communities); yet he will be effectively excommunicated, perceived not "as one of us," the moment he disowns the specific form of transgression that pertains to this community the moment he refuses to partake in the ritual lynchings of the Ku-Klux-Klan, or even reports them to the Law, which of course does not want to hear about them since they exemplify its own hidden reverse.
The Nazi community relied on the same solidarity-in-guilt adduced by the participation in a common transgression. It ostracized those who were not ready to assume the dark reverse of the idyllic Volksgemeinschaft, the night pogroms, the beatings of political opponents all that "everybody knew, yet did not want to speak about aloud." The identification which is extraneated, whose functioning is suspended, as a result of Hitchcock's allegorical playing with the viewer, is this very identification with transgression. When Hitchcock appears at his most conformist, praising the rule of Law, the ideological-critical mole has already done its work, the fundamental identification with the transgressive mode of enjoyment which holds together a community. The stuff from which the ideological dream is effectively made is contaminated past cure...
* This article, originally published in lacanian ink 6 (out of print), is reproduced in its entirety.
1. Further proof of Hitchcock's personal commitment: he renounced his director's fee for The Wrong Man.
2. Cf. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films, New York: Frederick Ungar 1979.
3. "Hitchcock produces a cinema of relation, just as English philosophy produced a philosophy of relation." (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1. The Movement-Image, London: The Athlone Press 1986)
4. In Jansenist theology God never openly produces miracles: grace appears as a miracle only to believers, while others perceive it as a coincidence. This circle points towards the transferential nature of Grace.
5. A Greimasian semiotic square to account for the disposition of the main characters in Racine's Athaliah:
The opposition is between the virtuous queen Athaliah, not vouchsafed by grace, and the high priest Jehoiada, who is touched by grace, yet clearly not virtuous, prone to furious outbursts of revenge. The place of Mattan is also clear: an embodiment of Evil, but difficulties arise as to its counterpoint, the ideal synthesis of grace and virtue. Neither Jehoiada's wife Jehoshabeth nor Joash, the pretender to the throne of Judah is really suitable: the feminine virtues of Jehoshabeth make her unfit for the role of God's instrument, while Joash's very perfection makes him monstrous, an ideological automaton susceptible to treason. Later, he will betray Jehovah, as it is revealed in Jehoiada's nightmarish vision. The inherent limitation of the ideological space mapped by the semiotic square of virtue and grace is indicated by the impossibility of filling out the upper place: grace can find an outlet only in the guise of non-virtue.
6. The Humean philosophical deism produces a third version of this split. A deist is in earnest about the radical alterity of God, about the inappropriateness of our human, finite notion to measure Him: every human worship of God actually entails His abasement consequently, the only attitude worthy of God's dignity is "I know that God exists, yet for that very reason I do not venerate Him, but simply follow the elementary ethical rules accessible to everybody, believer or non-believer." By adding a fourth, atheist version, "I know that God does not exist, yet for that very reason I feel obliged
to follow the elementary ethical rules accessible to everybody, believer or non-believer...", one may again obtain a Greimasian semiotic square where the four positions can be arranged into two contradictory and two contrary couples.
7. The same as "Appointment in Samarra," where the servant misinterprets Death's surprised look as a mortal threat; cf. Chapter II of Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso Books 1989.
8. "Ah! je vois Hippolyte; / Dans ses yeux insolents je vois ma perte écrite." (Jean Racine, Phaedra, 909-910)
9. Perhaps the supreme example of it, the intricate exchange of gazes between Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains during the reception-scene from Notorious.
10. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1977, p. 84.
11. The Death's-head Moth offers what is perhaps the supreme case of this reflexivity of gaze at work in mimicry. That is, the usual notion of mimicry involves a simple deceitful appearance which lures the eye into taking the animal for what it is not (a locust looks like a splinter); yet in the case of the Death's head Moth the animal mimics the gaze itself by presenting itself to our eye as something that returns the gaze. Lacan often evokes the classical tale of the contest between the two Greek painters, Zeuxis and Parrhasios: victory goes to Parrhasios who paints on the wall a veil, so that Zeuxis turns to him and says: "Well, and now show us what you have painted behind it." The deception of Death's-head Moth is the same: the producing of the illusion that returns the gaze itself. And is not the lure of the "rear window" in Hitchcock's film of the same name ultimately identical to it? The black window on the opposite side of the courtyard arouses James Stewart's curiosity precisely insofar as he perceives it as a kind of veil that he wants to pull off in order to see what lies hidden behind; this trap works only insofar as he imagines in it the presence of the Other's gaze, since, as Lacan puts it, the Thing-initself beyond appearance is none other than the gaze.
12. Cf. chapter IV of Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 1991.
13. Such externality of the symbolic network that determines the subject's fate with regard to his/her inherent properties is conceivable only against the background of the commodity-universe where the fate of a commodity, its exchange-circuit, is experienced as radically external to its positive, inherent properties, its "use value. Yet the use of such abstract homologies is not to be overestimated ultimately, they function as an excuse for postponing the elaboration of the concrete mechanisms of mediation.
14. This line is crossed, among others, by Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick. Ahab is well aware that Moby Dick this obscene Thing par excellence just a stupid gigantic animal; yet as such, it is a cardboard-mask of the real Evil, God who created a world in which there is nothing but pain for man. Ahab's aim is that, by striking Moby Dick, he should deal a blow to the Creator himself.
15. The Wrong Man thus failed as a "serious" film for precisely the same reason that Mr. and Mrs. Smith failed as a comedy: Hitchcock's mastery of comical details remains unsurpassable as long as they are part of the encompassing thriller-frame, yet as soon as he tackles comedy directly, the magical touch is lost.
16. Cf. William Rothman, The Murderous Gaze, Cambridge (Ma): Harvard University Press 1982.
17. Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho' (New York: Dembner Book 1990) documents how Hitchcock insisted on a series of points which, to a view unaware of the allegorical dimension of his work, cannot but seem an incomprehensible compliance with the worst commercial instincts: he insisted that Sam and Lila are not to develop into full-blood characters, that they are to remain flat tools of our probing into the mystery of Norman's mother; he cut from the final version an overhead shot of the slaughtered Marion lying naked near the running shower, although everybody around him agreed on the immense poetic power of this shot evoking the tragic nonsense of a wasted young girl's life. Within the diegetic narrative content, these elements would undoubtedly add to the film's texture; yet the moment one takes into account the self-reflective allegorical level, it becomes clear why they are superfluous: they would function as a kind of noise disturbing the dialogue between Hitchcock and the viewer. A further reason why the relationship of Sam and Lila must remain "empty" is the antagonism between partnership and love in Hitchcock's films (cf. Introduction to the present book): from the forties onward, partnership more and more precludes love or any other genuine emotional involvement. In other words, far from contributing to the psychological depth of the film, a "full-blooded" relationship between Sam and Lila would effectively flatten its ideologico-critical sting.
18. Cf. Leland Poague, "Links in a Chain: Psycho and Film Classicism," in A Hitchcock Reader, ed. By Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, Ames: Iowa State University Press 1986, p. 340-349.
19. ... to which even Jameson succumbs, at least for a moment cf. Fredric Jameson, "Allegorizing Hitchcock", in Signatures of the Visible, New York: Routledge l99O, p. 127.
20. Cf. Jacques Lacan, "Kant with Sade", in October 51 (Winter 1990), Cambridge: MIT Press.
21. A prefiguration of the discourse of the Master. The Will-to-Enjoy (V) designates the Master (S1), the sadist on the manifest level, while its counterpart (S) is his other, the victim onto whom the sadist transposes the "pain of being"; on the lower level, the terms exchange places a<>$ not $<>a because, as Lacan puts it, the Sadeian perversion reverses the formula of fantasy, i.e. the confrontation of the barred subject with the object-cause of his/her desire.
22. In Seminar VIII Lacan points out this crucial difference between neurosis (hysteria) and perversion as regards their relation to the social order: insofar as hysteria designates resistance to social interpellation, to assuming the allotted social identity, it is by definition subversive, whereas perversion is in it structure inherently "constructive" and can easily be put in the service of the existing social order. Cf. Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre VIII: Le transfert, Paris: Editions du Seuil 1991, p. 43.
23. We refer here to the analyses of Christian Metz from his "The Imaginary Signifier" in Psychoanalysis and Cinema, London: MacMillan 1982 .
24. This brings us back to the Jansenist problematic of predestination. For a further elaboration of the way this illusion works in the ideological process, cf. Chapter 3 of Slavoj Zizek, For They Know Not What They Do, London: Verso Books 1991.