......• Notes on Suture
.........Stephen Heath

[space] nav gif nav
gif nav gif nav gif nav
gif nav
gif nav gif


Jacques-Alain Miller's essay "Suture" introduced the concept of suture within the field of psychoanalysis; the article by Jean-Pierre Oudart, drawing on Miller, reproduced the concept for film theory where it has now achieved a certain currency - in both French and Anglo-American writing. The following notes attempt to provide a context for understanding suture, to indicate something of the terms of its original psychoanalytic elaboration and of its subsequent utilization to specify the functioning of cinematic discourse.


Published in the first issue of Cahiers pour l'analyse in 1966, Miller's article is based on a paper delivered the previous year to Lacan's seminar at the École Normale Supérieure. [1] Its concern is to propose suture as a necessary concept in the development of a "logic of the signifier", a concept that Miller sees as being at every moment present in Lacan's work though never there named as such (a point to be qualified below). The article should thus be read as a contribution to Lacanian theory and is. in fact, a commentary on the account of the causation of the subject offered by Lacan in his seminar in 1964 (to which Miller is making direct reference throughout the final section on. the relation of subject and signifier). generally available today in two versions: the transcript of the seminar itself and of the écrit "Position de 1'inconscient" written up in the same year (SXI, 185-208; E, 829-850). [2] To understand Miller's introduction of suture, therefore, is inevitably to turn back to the psychoanalytic theory of the subject as set out by Lacan.

The impetus of that theory is, of course, the experience of the unconscious. How then does psychoanalysis conceive of the position of the unconscious (to adopt the title of the paper by Lacan just mentioned)? "The unconscious is a concept forged on the trace of what operates to constitute the subject: the unconscious is not a case defining in psychical reality the circle of that which does not possess the attribute (or the virtue) of consciousness' (E. 830). The unconscious is in no way "first", "in the beginning", or whatever; it does not constitute the subject, is not a simple division from consciousness: on the contrary, it is a concept forged on the trace of what operates to constitute the subject. The operation here is that of the order of the symbolic, language as "cause of the subject" (B, 830), and the place of the symbolic, the locus of its operation, is the place of the Other. Hence there are two "domains": the subject and the Other, with the unconscious "between them their active break" (E,839). Rather than a topic (leading so often in Freud to difficulties of fixed spatialisation, of rigid spatial imagery; as, for instance, the visualisation of the unconscious as a dark chamber before the room of the preconscious beyond which lies conscious awareness), description of the psychical apparatus demands, exactly, a logic, a logic of the signifier capable of following out the endless movement of the constitution of the subject, or, as later developed by Lacan, a topology, able to hold to the mobile surface of the subject's articulation.

As active break, the unconscious is finally not so much a position as an edge. the junction of division between subject and Other, a process interminably closing. In this connection, Lacan has a passage which, while pointing explicitly to a topology, nevertheless involves stresses and terms that are important for Miller:

The place in question (the place from which it - ça - speaks) is the entrance to the cave in regard to which Plato, as we know, guides us towards the exit, while one imagines seeing the psychoanalyst enter there. But things are less easy, because it is an entrance at which one only ever arrives at dosing time (so this place will never be much good for tourists) and because the sole way to have it open a little is to call from within. All of which is not insoluble, if the "open sesame" of the unconscious is its having effect of speech, its being structure of language, but demands of the analyst that he or she come back on the mode of its closure. Gaping, flickering, an alternating suction... that is what we have to give account of, which is what we have undertaken by founding it in a topology. The structure of that which doses is inscribed in a geometry wherein space is reduced to a combining: strictly, it is what is called an edge' (E. 838).

The "open, sesame!" of the unconscious is its being structure of language, effect of speech or discourse. From this recognition emerge the two repeated emphases in Lacan's elaboration of the idea of the unconscious as a concept forged on the trace of what operates to constitute the subject: the unconscious is the discourse ot the Other; the unconscious is structured as a language. The Other is the domain of the symbolic as "locus of the signifying cause of the subject" (E, 841), distribution-circulation of signifiers within which the subject is produced - "the locus from which the question of its existence may be posed it" (E. 549). Thus, crucially, the Other in Lacan is the radical thesis with respect to language of the "primacy" and "materiality" of the signifier: "language imposes being" (SXX. 44). [3] Far from the necessity that being be for me to speak of it, I must first of all speak for the problem of being to arise, the problem, for instance, of whether or not anything exists which corresponds to or satisfies what I am saying (hence in Miller the supporting of truth from the relations of subject and signifying chain). I must first of all speak, and first of all be spoken, be bespoken: produced from and for the Other, the order of discourse that I maintain (I as the very index of suture). Outside and given in the symbolic, a kind of turning point, the subject is a category of division, of lack (the lack in being that is the subject's place and experience in language - "the drama of the subject in language is the experience of this manque-à-être" E, 655 - and the structure of its desire, its want - "the desire of man is the desire of the Other" E, 268); between subject and Other, the unconscious is the breaking edge, a constant flickering of the subject, flickering in eclipses (to take up a term from Miller.) The unconscious is nowhere present, is only in the relations of the symbolic and the individual effected as subject in those relations, their structuring of desire - the unconscious exactly as discourse of the Other.

The subject is thus nothing other than that which "slides in a chain of signifiers" (SXX, 48), its cause is the effect of language: "by this effect, it is not cause of itself; carries in it the worm of the cause of its splitting" (E. 835). The unconscious is the fact of the constitution-division of the subject in language; an emphasis which can even lead Lacan to propose replacing the notion of the unconscious with that of the subject in language; "it is a vicious circle to say that we are speaking beings; we are speakings, a word that can be advantageously substituted for the unconscious". [4] Veritable treasure of signifiers. the unconscious is structured as a language: psychoanalysis, the ' talking-cure', developing precisely as an acute attention to the movement of the subject in the signifying chain.

It can be objected here that the idea of psychoanalysis as talking-cure in no way implies a "linguistic version" of the unconscious and that Lacan is far from the substance of Freud's own account in this respect, Freud insisting, for example, that the unconscious knows only "thing-presentations", not "word-presentations", which are the province of the preconscious-conscious. [5] Such an objection, however, is raised from a fixed and secondary conception of language (the conception of linguistics itself). To say that the unconscious is structured as a language is not, for Lacan, to say that it is simply "linguistic": the rhetoric of unconscious operations, the primary processes and their effects of meaning. requires an idea of linguistic activity vastly more complex and extensive than that involved in the language-object-of-study defined by linguistics (where is the linguistics that deals with the question of the construction of the subject?). [6] Radically in excess of the linguistic thinking of its time, Freud's work is nevertheless bound by the terms of that thinking and thus often issues in formulations which repeat a limited objectification of language. Lacan's own emphasis, moreover, is still today given as a displacement of linguistics (not as its assumption): Saussure and Jakobson are used, are important, but shifted critically, recast by the psychoanalytic insertion of that question of the subject. Most recently, indeed, Lacan has employed the term lalangue specifically to indicate shift and recasting, over and against the distinction langue/parole (and its variants) with which linguistics works at the expense of an understanding of the subject in language. Where tongue is a formal system to be described and parole its use by communicating agents, lalangue is a "inconsistent multiplicity", neither system nor use but production, area of the problematic of subject and truth opened by psychoanalysis: "The unconscious is a knowledge, a know-how with lalangue. And what is known- how-to-do with lalangue far exceeds what can be accounted for under the heading of language. Lalangue affects us first by everything it contains as effects that are affects. If we can say that the unconscious is structured as a language, it is in that the effects of lalangue, already there as knowledge, go well beyond everything the being who speaks is capable of stating". (SXX. 127).

"Everything arises from the structure of the signifier" (SXl. 188). Given the preceding remarks, let us now come to the actual terms of Lacan's account of the causation of the subject in two funda- mental operations which stand in a circular though not reciprocal relation (to quote Miller quoting Lacan: cf 5X7.188 and E, 840). The first of these operations is referred to by Lacan as alienation: the originating division of the subject with itself by virtue of its appearance in the play of signifiers:

The signifier occurring in the place of the Other not yet grasped has the subject emerge there from the being as yet without speech. but at the price of fixing it. What there was there ready to speak - in the two senses the French imperfect gives to il y avait: putting it in the moment before (it was there and is there no longer) but also in the moment after (a little more and it was there from having been able to be there) - what there was there disappears from being now only a signifier. (E. 840-1)

This alienation is not the fact of the Other (there is no notion of "enmity", "inauthenticity", or whatever) but the fact of the subject. As effect and not source, the subject is subject by division. division in the symbolic, is cut out by the signifier, represented and excluded, becoming some one by its constitution as less-than-one - "the subject is first constituted as minus one". [7] Since the system of signifiers is by definition complete, the subject can only be entered there as this structure of lack-in-being: "a trait which is traced from its circle without being able to be counted there; symbolizable by the inherency of a (-1) in the set of signifiers" (E. 819). What makes the symbolic force of castration is then, as it were, its revelation of lack, its summary metaphor of the division of the subject: "the phallus functions as signifier of the lack in being that its relation to the signifier determines in the subject" (E. 710); "the phallus ... is the signifier of the very loss that the subject suffers from the fragmentation of the signifier". (E, 715).

Lacan provides this definition of the alienation of the subject with little illustrations-cum-demonstrations. Consider, for instance, the conjunction or. It is possible to distinguish an exhaustive or ("I'll go to Glasgow or Edinburgh": the choice is absolute, to go to the one is to not go to the other), an equivalent or ("I'll do it one way or another": which way is unimportant, all ways are as equal in the interests of doing it "somehow") and. less commonly perceived, an or which Lacan likens to the Latin vel: "Your money or your life!" - choose money and you lose life and money: choose life and you lose the money, your life is reduced thereby, and anyway death will still be your lot. Lacan characterizes this as the "alienating vel" and moves it across into his account of the operation of the subject in language: "the vel which condemns the subject to appear only in this division - if on one side the subject appears as sense, produced by the signifier, on the other it appears as aphanisis (SXI. 191; aphanisis is a word borrowed from Ernest Jones to refer to the constant eclipsing, the fading of the subject). At which point set theory is called upon to add clarification. Lacan giving a Venn diagram for the union and intersection of classes.

Lee us illustrate the vel by what concerns us: the being of the subject, the subject which is there under sense. If we choose the being, the subject disappears, escapes us, falls into non-sense: if we choose the sense, then sense is only left curtailed of the part of non-sense which is, strictly speaking, what constitutes, in the realization of the subject, the unconscious. In other words, it is in the nature of this sense such as it emerges in the field of the Other to be in a large part of its field eclipsed by the disappearance of being induced by the very function of the signifier. (SX1.192).

In other words again, forged on the trace of what operates to constitute the subject, the unconscious between subject and Other is the action, of division:

So if I talk of the unconscious as of that which opens and closes, this is because its essence is to mark that time by which, born with the signifier, the subject is born divided; the subject is that occurrence which just before, as subject, was nothing, but which, scarcely has it appeared, sets as signifier (SXI, 181).

The second fundamental operation in the causation of the subject is described as that of separation, a term stretched on the racks of equivocation and etymology to mean not simply "separation" but also "to put on", "to parry", and "to engender" - how does the subject procure itself in the signifier? Separation is the moment of the shift in what Miller will call "the time of the engendering".

Effect of the signifier under which it slides, the subject comes back on - "attacks" - the intervals of the signifying chain, takes up the desire of the Other: what does it want in what it says?

It is in the interval between the signifiers of its alienating articulation that lies the desire offered for the subject to grasp in the experience of the discourse of the Other, of the first Other with which it has to deal, let us say, for illustration, here the mother. It is insofar as its desire goes beyond or stays this side of what she says, what she intimates, what she brings out as meaning, insofar as her desire is unknown, in this lack or want, that is constituted the subject's desire. The subject - by a process not without its trickery, not without presenting that basic torsion thanks to which what the subject finds is not what inspired its movement of finding - thus returns to the starting point, which is that of its lack as such, the lack of its aphanisis. (SXI, 199).

The separation of the subject is thus its passage in this metonymy of desire, its self-procuration from and for the Other in a kind of interminable rerun of the signifiers in which it is originally divided and to which it is thereby subordinated for a second time: the subject now taking place in relation to the Other, to what it finds wanting in the discourse of the Other, separating, responding, parrying, putting on images, caught in a specific problematic of representation - a signifier represents a subject for another signifier" (E, 840) and fantasy (the postponement of the truth of division, of aphanisis): "this second subordination does not simply loop round to complete the effect of the first by projecting the topology of the subject in the instant of fantasy; it seals it, refusing to the subject of desire that it know itself effect of speech, what it is to be nothing other than the desire of the Other" (E. 835-6). In the separation of the subject, its passage, is given the encroachment of the unconscious, the permanent action of the edge: one lack covers another (the originating division of the subject in the signifier run over by the divisions - the gaps. the desire - to which the subject replies in the signifier), which indeed is the whole expense of the subject, thenceforth held in the ceaselessly displacing join of symbolic and imaginary, the very drama: "The drama of the subject in language is the experience of its lack-in-being... It is because it parries this moment of lack that an image comes to the position of bearing all the cost of desire: projection, function of the imaginary. As against which, there is an index at the core of being, designating its breach: introjection, relation to the symbolic". (E. 655)

It is to this account of the causation of the subject that Miller's introduction of the concept of suture is proposed as a contribution. Via the reference to Frege and number theory (indications tot which reference are to be found in Lacan; see, for example, SXI, 205), to the double movement of the zero lack and the zero number, Miller's purpose is precisely to describe the relation of subject and signifier, the metaphor/metonymy of the subject in the signifying chain:

If the series of numbers, metonymy of the zero, begins with its metaphor, if the o member of the series as number is only the standing-in-place suturing the absence (of the absolute zero) which is carried on under the chain according to the alternating movement of a representation and an exclusion, then what is there to stop us from seeing in the restored relation of the zero to the succession of numbers the most elementary articulation of the subject's relation to the signifying chain?'

The specific concern of the article is thus the symbolic and its operation: hence, indicatively, the recourse to mathematical logic and the insistence on the general extension of the suturing function: "Suture names the relation of the subject to the chain of its discourse: we shall see that it figures there as the clement which is lacking, in the form of a stand-in. For, while there lacking, it is not purely and simply absent. Suture, by extension - the general relation of lack to the structure of which it is an element, inasmuch as it implies position of a taking-the-place-of." The logic of the signifier within which suture is to exist as a concept is a "general logic", the formal disposition of all fields of knowledge. To instance suture, Miller points at once, as though to its immediate index, to the "I" of an utterance; the utterance states a place of the subject at the same moment that it splits from that place by the very fact of the place of the utterance itself, the place from which the statement is made; the subject of the enounced and the subject of the enunciation never fully come together, are always in the distances of the symbolic, the subject not one in its representation in language. In the light of which instance, however, it can be seen that the appeal to logic, to the idea of a logic, is simultaneously the emergence of a question that disrupts any notion of a dosed formal system (so that extension and generality are themselves the terms of the insertion of that question into all fields); much in the way Lacan himself, in a rarely mentioned essay on "Le temps logique" (E 197-213), opens up in logic the time of the enunciation, inserts a reflection on the "I". The dimension of truth to which Miller adapts the concept of suture is the dimension not of logic in its classic accounts but, exactly, of the logic of the signifier, that is, of psychoanalysis. When Lacan talks of "the division of the subject between truth and knowledge" (E 864). the truth is that of psychoanalysis as attention to the drama of the subject, is that of the knowledge made possible by such an attention, radically other to the knowledge of the subject's self-possession as "I" ("we cannot ask it of the subject as I", E 819). Thus it is not surprising that, in reaction to Miller's paper, Serge Leclaire should be found eager to insist that the analyst be recognized as, by definition, the person who "does not suture". [8]

Not surprising because the concept of suture, specifying the relation of the subject to the chain of its discourse, cannot be a concept merely for the symbolic (is not a concept of logic). Suture names net just a structure of lack but also an availability of the subject, a certain closure, much as the turn of the second fundamental operation in Lacan procures the subject: the "I" indicates lack and availability well enough. It is not surprising again, therefore, that Lacan's own use of the term "suture" (prior to Miller's paper and in the course of a discussion in which Miller participates) gives it ihe sense of a "pseudo-identification", defines it as "junction of the imaginary and the symbolic" (SXI, 107), nor that subsequent examples of its use by Lacanian theorists should be with this same stress. Jean-Claude Milner, for example, writing of the objectification of language by linguistics. the limit of its knowledge of language as that of the "speaking subject", comments: "the speaking subject, point without dimension, desire or unconscious, is strictly tailored to the measure of the subject of the enunciation and is made to mask it, or more exactly to suture it". [9] The stake is clear: the "I" is a division but joins all the same. the stand-in is the lack in the structure but nevertheless, simultaneously, the possibility of a coherence, of the filing in. At the end of the suturing function is the ego, the "me": "it's me!", the little linguistic scenario of the ego - that I am the only one who can say. can say insofar as I am one. The ego is not to be confused with the subject: it is the fixed point of imaginary projection and identification, where the subject as such is always on the side of the symbolic, the latter the order of its very constitution: but then, precisely, there is no ego without a subject, terrain of its necessity and its hold: function of the symbolic, suture is towards the imaginary, the moment of junction - standing in, a taking place, a something, a some one there.


It is from this psychoanalytic context that Oudart lifts the concept of suture into the field of film theory in the 1969 Cahiers du Cinéma article. As a result of that article (and of a number of subsequent pieces by Oudart developing his initial formulations), [10] the concept has attained the currency referred to at the beginning of these notes; currency in France, particularly. of course, amongst writers involved with or close to Cahiers du Cinéma [11] and, following an influential exposition in English of Oudart's work by Daniel Dayan in 1974, in theoretical writing in Britain and North America; [12] hence the decision to make available the original texts in this present issue of Screen. The notes that follow in no way attempt to repeat Oudart again or to set out all the detail of the various positions (Dayan's exposition. Rothman's arguments against Oudart and Dayan. and so on): simply, they try to demonstrate something of what is at stake in the concept of suture in relation to film, hoping to add clarifications here and there, raising one or two questions, perhaps advancing a little. [13]

In his article. Oudart offers a description of the movement of the constitution of the cinematic and its subject in the process of reading a film. Suture now specifies the logic of the signifier in cinema ("the logic of the cinematic"): "suture represents the closure of the cinematic enounced in conformity with the relationship sustained with it by its subject (the filmic subject or rather the cinematic subject), recognized and set in its place, the spectator".

As described by Oudart, the process of reading a film goes in stages, the first of which is a moment of sheer jubilation in the image (the spectator "fluid, elastic, expanding" - see the account of the experience of the shoe from The General): a moment, as it were, untroubled by screen and frame, prior to the articulation of cinema. Awareness of the frame then breaks this initial relation, the image now seen in its limits; the space which, just before, was the pure extent of the spectator's pleasure becomes a problem of representation, of being-there-for - there for an absent field, outside of the image ("the fourth wall"), for the phantom character that the spectator's imagination poses in response to the problem: "the absent one". Crucially, what this realization of absence from the image at once achieves is the definition of the image as discontinuous, its production as signifier: the move from cinema to cinematic, cinema as discourse: "The revelation of this absence is the key-moment in the fate of the image, since it introduces the image into the order of the signifier and cinema into the order of discourse." What then operates, classically, is the effacement (or filling in) of the absence, the suturing of the discourse - its movement as in a continuity of articulation - by the reappropriation of the absence within the film. a character in the film coming to take the place of the absent one posed by the spectator; suture as "the abolition of the absent one and its resurrection in some one": "the pure field of absence becomes the imaginary field of the film, and the field of its imaginary".

The major emphasis in all this is that the articulation of the signifying chain of images, of the chain of images as signifying works not from image to image but from image to image through the absence that the subject constitutes. Cinema as discourse is the production of a subject and the subject is the point of that production. constantly missing in and moving along the flow of images, the very assurance of the flow with suture, as it were, the culmination of that assurance: "The Trial o/ Joan of Arc reveals by and for whom the operation of suture works: the filmic subject, the spectator, and from a place which, although remaining empty when he goes to vanish into the filmic field, must nevertheless be reserved for him throughout the film if he is not to refrain from fulfilling his role of imaginary subject of the cinematic discourse". The awareness of absence breaks the immediate delight in the image: that absence is posed by the spectator as an absence of the absent field of an absent one; that absent field is reappropriated into the film. the place of the absent one is filled by a character in the film; thus the pure field of absence becomes the imaginary field of the film given as absent from the film, and the field of its imaginary, given in terms of the film's fiction; thus the break in the initial relation with the image is sutured, sutured across the spectator constituted as cinematic or filmic subject, [14] essential to the realization of image as signifier and to the articulation of shots together. Which is Oudart's reference to Miller: the subject is a moving function of the signifying chain (where a signifier represents a subject for another signifier), its structure a "flickering in eclipses" (an expression cited and used by Oudart); here, the subject is ceaselessly in and out of the film, the ceaseless position of exchange: "that exchange of which Bresson talks, thanks to which the signified truly appears", The subject makes the meanings the film makes for it, is the turn of the film as discourse: "the key to the process of any cinematic reading is provided by the subject, itself not knowing, while carrying it out, that it is its function which is operating and which is there represented". This position of exchange, this turn, moreover, is the determination of the obliquity stressed by Oudart: the spectator is neither character not absent one: "the spectator does not identity with the character located in the invisible field of the film, occupies a position out of place with it, staggered from that of the absent one who is only imaginarily there when the character is not there and whose place this latter takes". The imaginary of the spectator and the imaginary of the film move apart together: the spectator poses the absent one for the movement of the fiction of the film which filling in its place - the suture as character for absent one, from the imaginary field of the film to the field of its imaginary - frees the spectator's imaginary once again for the renewal of the movement.

In Miller the concept of suture is not evaluative but descriptive, introduced to specify the logic of the signifier, the relation of the subject in the signifying chain; in Oudart, tracing the logic of the cinematic, it becomes at once involved with "the tragic and vacillating nature of the image", with "the specifically tragic nature of cinematic language". Cinema as discourse, that is, is seen as implicated in loss, the loss of the totality of the image, the loss of the extreme pleasure of absorption in the image as the spectator is set as the subject of the film: "the cinema is characterized by an antinomy of reading and pleasure". If this is the case, however, it is then necessary to develop an effective theory of the different instances of pleasure in the cinema, to offer an adequate account, for example, of the field of the imaginary of a film. Despite scattered indications and a final note pointing to something of the problem. Oudart does not do this, a failure which is symptomatic of a certain slide in the terms of the article. Thus, when Oudart describes the spectator's initial possession of the image (the spectator totally possessed by the image), the terms he uses are those of the child's experience in the mirror-phase: dual - dyadic - relation, jubilation, totality, a kind of extensiveness of pleasure, imaginary. At the same time, indicatively, the moment of possession in these terms is qualified as "purely mythical"; "indicatively", because the symbolic cannot be made to follow the imaginary in cinema in this way: cinema is not the mirror-phase, which any spectator-subject of a film has already accomplished (as against the little infant who can come to the film but not come as its spectator), being always already in reading. In this sense, the moment of the image Oudart stresses is not "before" but "after" the symbolic, is much more the dispersion of the subject-ego than the anticipation of its mastery (look again at the passage devoted to The General). Or rather, since the point is not to shift to a simply contrary position, what is in question is a complex and multiple play of symbolic and imaginary, the production of the spectator as subject in the film in that play: it is not the spectator's imaginary, as Oudart at tunes appears to stare, which sutures the discourse: rather, the suturing function includes the spectator as part of an imaginary production.

In this respect, then. the reference continually made to Bresson's work becomes somewhat problematic. Bresson is presented as the discoverer of suture, the cineaste who realizes the existence and operation of the cinematic subject, the passage across the spectator (hence the displacement of simple notions of "subjective" cinema ). The Trial of Joan of Arc is important as "the first film to submit its syntax to the cinema's necessary representation of the subject's relation to its discourse". Leaving aside the usual doubts as to the idea of "the first film", it could be accepted with Oudart that Bresson's film does provide an effectively visible demonstration of the process of the articulation of cinema as discourse and its suture. What is less easy is to understand why, in contrast, Au hasard, Balthazar should be criticized as a film which, "purely linear", but also "a decomposition of syntagms", does not suture, does not fill in its absences, "a representation which cannot be resolved because suture is impossible, because the imaginary field is always that of an absence"; "the camera movements in Balthazar are precisely, by the absence they create at every moment and which is only filled in in rare scenes recalling The Trial of Joan of Arc (the meeting between Gérard and Marie), what prevent the spectator's imaginary from working and1 suturing the discourse". The problem is the evaluation, with behind that the status accorded suture in the description given. The Trial of Joan of Arc is praised because, within the system of the suture. it assumes the specifically tragic nature of cinematic language; Au hasard, Balthazar is condemned because it does not because it fails fully to realize the properties of that language, "its discourse endlessly signifies itself, dead letter, and its syntax emerges at every instant as the only signified of the film". The system of the suture seems in this context to be something of an essence of cinema, its veritable "passion" (note here the manner in which the presence or absence of a feature like depth of field can provide an immediate criterion for judgement: the use of images without depth in modern cinema hides the fundamental movement of cinema: Balthazar is characterized by an irritating abandon of all depth of field; and so on). Part of the praise for The Trial of Joan of Arc, however, is insofar as it demonstrates the system, exposes it, laying out the process of reading a film and thereby offering a certain experience of the symbolic: "Far removed from the complacencies of a cinema such as that of Flaherty, who claimed to recreate the very event of communication, Bresson allows himself only to show us its signs; but he does so within a cinematic field which, because it makes no attempt to give the illusion of its immediacy, restores to it a symbolic dimension revealed in the actual process of its reading". The wavering mesh of formulations seems finally to depend on a kind of estimation of a potentiality of cinema, almost a poetics of film (not without echoes of the "poetic function" perspective of Noel Burch's contemporary Praxis du cinéma): [15] "Now that all its properties are recognized, we look to that speech to recreate not an object but a site, a cinematic field which will no longer be the privileged means of realising a fiction but that for cinema's speech to unfold itself according to its properties, since it is through space that the cinema is born into the order of discourse, from the place whose absence it evokes that it is designated as speech and that its imaginary is deployed."

Elsewhere. Oudart is perfectly clear that the system of the suture is a particular cinematic writing (even if that writing be largely dominant) and it is this emphasis that is developed by Dayan in his indicatively entitled piece "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema". The references to tragedy and Bresson are dropped, the term ideology taken up: the system of the suture is grasped as the ideological operation of the process of cinematic discourse; the operation, in fact, of a constant unity of the subject, a certain bind of coherence that Oudart describes as "theological" (hence, probably, the capital letters accorded to "absence" and "the absent one" in the original article):

An essentially theological cinema, intended for a profoundly religious spectator, in the Lacanian sense of someone who leaves to the Other (God. the Artist, the Absent One) the burden of the cause, demanding of that Other the guarantee of a meaning supposed not to be produced by any scriptural work, supposed to proceed directly from a vision, from a look which gives meaning to things. A theological cinema again in that its writing comes down to proving the visible by the invisible and vice versa: cinema of revelation, incarnation and grace. Writing which has had as its function to transform a fantasy into fiction and a fiction into vision, the Absent One into some one, the spectator into a double of himself and the doubling of the filmed object... [16]

The question as to the status of suture must be considered further in this context. Characterized as "the tutor-code of classical cinema", the system of suture is defined as a historical articulation of cinema as discourse, as a writing in the sense in which Barthes uses the term in; [17] one can thus talk of "the cinema of suture" and stress, for example, shot/reverse-shot as its exemplary figure. Dayan, however, hesitates: on the one hand, there are other cinematic systems besides that of the suture; [18] on the other, the system of the suture is to classical cinema as verbal language is to literature. [19] The latter notion is important in its confusion. Verbal language is the matter of expression of literature, its ground and horizon, the system or code of any discursive realization (literature being a whole set of discursive realizations). While the problem of the relations of linguistic system and social-ideological formation is a difficult and fully contemporary one, the terms of that problem are not such as simply to equate language and ideology. If the system of the suture is a particular ideological system (a "writing"), it cannot be compared with verbal language. That Dayan does so compare it is symptomatic of the muddled status of the concept: in Miller and some Oudart, suture is descriptive of the production of the very possibility of signification; in some Oudart and most Dayan, suture is an ideological operation, which the "privileged example" [20] of shot/reverse-shot demonstrates and resumes (so much so that Rothman is able to take "system of the suture" as synonymous with "point-of-view cutting"). [21]

What is at stake here, the real problem, is exactly the understanding of cinema as discourse, of enunciation and subject of enunciation in cinema. In an early essay, Metz insisted on a correspondence between the filmic image and the sentence in natural language: the image is always actualized: "A close-up of a revolver does not mean 'revolver' (a purely virtual lexical unit) but at the very least, and without speaking of the connotations, it signifies 'Here is a revolver!'". [22] Both Dayan and Rothman are in agreement that this must be regarded as mistaken: the single shot is grammatically incomplete: it is the sequence of shots which is a "statement" (Dayan) or a "sentence" (Rothman). [23] The terminology is confused and confusing: a sentence is a methodological abstraction of linguistics; outside of that abstraction, there is no sentence which is not an utterance, the term of an act of enunciation. What Metz points to is the fact of a shot as utterance, its being-there-for, its address; every image is the force of an event, not some simple presence of a word. That force, however, comes with a certain "innocence" (the ideological potential of the photographic and filmic image), the marks of enunciation are relatively unspecified in the image (there are no equivalents, for instance, to the pronouns in language); we know how to contradict a linguistic utterance, we are much less sure with a single image (hence the common tendency to see the image as corresponding to a word, hence notions of cinema as "a system of signs where the object is the sign of the object itself"), [24] are confronted with its apparent completeness as image (hence the problem for a Godard of "sounds which are already right on images which are still false": the image will always be false inasmuch as it brings with it an effacement of the act of its proposition; truth is to be grasped not simply in the enounced but equally in the enunciation, in the distances, gaps. contradictions of the two). Which completeness, coming back round once more to the image as utterance, is, precisely, only apparent: the image is never complete in itself (if it were, there would be no place for a viewer, hence, finally, no place for any image) and its limit is its address (the limit where it enters the chain, completes with the subject it thus entertains). To understand cinema as discourse, the general aim of the Oudart article, is to understand the relation of that address in the movement of the image, in the movement of and between shots.

The realization of cinema as discourse is the production at every moment through the film of a subject address, the specification of the play of incompleteness-completion. What suture can serve to name is this specification, variously articulated but always a function of representation (the play for a subject, its taking place). The difficulty in the Oudart lies in the collapse of the process of specification into the single figure of the absent one, a figure to which Miller's account of suture as necessary concept for a logic of the signifier makes no appeal, referring solely to the Other as site of the distribution-circulation of signifiers. Oudart, beginning effectively from the demonstration of a particular film (The Trial of Joan of Arc) and the perspective offered by that demonstration on the historical development of cinema as discourse, describes a specific regime of the junction of symbolic and imaginary, a specific return on the subject (heavily dependent on the exploitation of point-of-view cutting), and in so doing, given the terms of this - dominant - specification, asserts the absent one (or the Absent One) for the Other, the latter then disappearing from the argument. The system Oudart considers is one in which difference is taken up within a structure of absence and the making up of absence in the interests of guaranteeing the constancy - the consistency (the definition of the imaginary is that it consists, that it hangs together) - of the returned subject; the absent one is an element in that structure of guarantee, covers the symbolic: the spectator is to be implicated, as subject of the film, and by the investing of the very movement which is cinema's supplement to the photograph, the motion of the picture, the succession of shots, in a narrative action and as the true vision of that action, the dual representation - of and to the subject - to which Oudart's description responds with its stress on inclusion and obliquity.

Two kinds of problem can thus be distinguished: those concerning the description of the particular discursive specification of cinema; those concerning characterization of a general logic of cinematic discourse. Attention must now be given to one or two points relating to the former, points indeed that also bear on the latter, to which they will eventually lead.

Consider the "privileged example" of shot/reverse-shot to which reference has already been made. For Oudart, that figure stands in some sort as the very fact of the suturing operation he describes, its ideal: "the ideal chain of a sutured discourse, articulated in figures which it is no longer appropriate to call shot/reverse-shot but which mark the need, so that the chain can function, for an articulation of space such that the same portion of space be represented at least twice, in the filmic field and in the imaginary field (with all the variations of angle that the obliqueness with regard to the place of the subject allows)..." It is the obliqueness that renders the term "shot/reverse-shot" inappropriate: leaving aside the scattered examples of the Kriemhild's Revenge variety ("aberrations"), the position of the camera is always more or less differed from that of the character's look, and it is with this difference that the system of suture is described as working; as Dayan puts it: "The absent-one's glance is that of a nobody which becomes (with the reverse shot) the glance of a somebody (a character present on the screen). Being on screen he can no longer compete with the spectator for the screen's possession. The spectator can resume his previous relationship with the film. The reverse shoe has 'sutured' the hole opened in the spectator's imaginary relationship with the filmic field by his perception of the absent-one." [25]

There are two highly critical assessments of this discussion of suture and shot/reverse-shot which need to be considered here, one by Rothman in the article already cited, the other by Barry Salt in a recent paper on "Film Style and Technology in the Forties". [26] Salt has carefully studied the development of "angle-reverse angle cutting" ("taken to include all cuts which change the camera angle from a direction which is within 45 degrees of the eyeline of a person appearing in a shot through a sufficient angle to fall within 45 degrees from the eyeline in the other direction... the general category of 'angle-reverse angle' cuts is also taken to include cuts from a watcher to his point of view. as this seems to be the usual attitude to the definition") and provides percentages of the occurrence of such cuts based on a corpus of some two hundred films from the twenties to the present day, concluding that "the bulk of films continue to have between 30-40% reverse angle cuts, as they have since the nineteen thirties". On the basis of his findings. Salt criticizes Dayan for claiming that the majority of cuts in classical cinema are according to a shot/reverse-shot pattern and then develops that criticism into what he regards as a fundamental objection: "Apart from the face that in the vast majority of films such cuts form a minority, there is no doubt that films without them can work powerfully on the audience: e.g. The Birth of a Nation. And further, if the device is so powerful, why is it not pushed to extremes (say 70%) in all commercial films, rather than just a few?" Correctly, Salt identifies something of the tendency towards the equation of suture and shot/reverse-shot or point-of-view cutting (the Dayan passage in question refers to the latter: "there are also moments when the image does not represent anyone's point of view; but in the classical narrative cinema these are relatively exceptional") [27] and indicates the failings of any simple account of classical cinema deriving from a crude literalization of that equation. In so doing, however, he remains blind to the importance of the notion of suture for understanding operations of cinematic discourse, to the possibility that the shot/reverse-shot pattern might be a fundamental - but not the only - articulation of suture (the statistics then demonstrating this. showing a steady, regular maintenance of the films of classical cinema within its terms: 30-40%); that, consequently, suture is a multiple functioning of the discursive organization of any given classical cinema film.

Rothman is close to Salt at one or two points, or rather he might have added Salt's details into his questions to Dayan. Having noted that the latter equates system of suture and point- of-view cutting, Rothman further narrows the field of debate by considering Dayan to be essentially referring to a very strictly denned point-of-view shot succession (Melanie Daniels in The Birds is shown looking out of the boat to something we cannot see, the next shot shows us the view across Bodega Bay, what she is looking at), apparently excluding, for example, typical shot/reverse-shot dialogue sequences. His major criticism is then that the point-of-view shot is part not of a two-shot but of a three-shot figure, this ' specifically reversing the Oudart/Dayan scenario':

It is not that the viewer discovers the frame of the shot looking out across Bodega Bay, (unaccountably) infers a sovereign "absent-one" and falls prey to a tyrannical system which makes him take Melanie, shown in the reverse shot, to be that absent-one. Rather. following upon the first shot of the sequence with its conventional cue that asserts its frame, the viewer perceives Melanie's absence from the next frame. Perception of this specific absence is a condition of the viewer's reading of it as a shot from her point of view. This reading is confirmed by the third shot of the sequence, with its return to Melanie. [28]

Moreover, extended series of telescoped point-of-view sequences can be constructed, the third shot in one sequence doubling as the initial shot of a second and so on.

The emphases made by Rothman are important but their effect is not to render the concept of suture - of the suturing operation of cinematic discourse - no longer pertinent; rather, they suggest a necessary displacement, the need to move away from the simple notion of the immediate image, the symbolic apprehension, the imaginary resolution, the constant and single figure of the absent one. What is in question in both Dayan and Rothman is the organization and hold of the look and looks in film: the film goes before me, sees me (I am its address), and I can never look from where it sees me except insofar as it takes me up as the term of its shifting relation, as the term of its passage (it moves through me, the turn of its representation) and its point (it moves for me. the fiction of its unity) - a balance in which I am in together the symbolic and the imaginary, production and product. The system of the suture as described by Oudart/Dayan begins to pose the problem of this taking up but does so in a way which issues in a too readily monolithic conception - the absent one. the concentration on shot to reverse-shot point-of-view cutting - that tends to ignore the multiple layerings and times and advances, the suturing function in that multiplicity.

Take Chantal Akerman's News from Home: the city, images of New York, and the novelistic, by letters, a mother in Brussels writing to her far-off daughter, little incidents and appeals (always how much she is missed: ma petite fille, tu nous manques tellement), read, whispered, quoted on the sound-track, over or under the noises of traffic or subway. No character, no fictioning look to be seen; the shots succeed with no other tie than the fact of that succession, until the last shoe from a boat drawing away from New York, the city gradually lost in the image to the expanse of the sea, the film ending as it vanishes on the horizon. Following the Oudart/Dayan scenario, there is then no suture: the look is not appropriated into the imaginary field of the film, the absent one is not resolved: the film has no shot/reverse-shot sequence, no figuration of the images, nothing but their continual replacement. Yet the spectator is included and moved in the film, in a structure and a rhythm of lack and absence (which are not the same thing). What is the direction of these images for this voice and its story, of this voice and its story for these images? The final shot can retrospectively produce the images as those of the daughter but the film remains in its time in the lack of each image, signifier whose representation - "a signifier represents a subject for another signifier" - is broken, unaccomplished: effect of the relation apart of voice and seen (it is to be noted that the descriptions of the system of the suture say nothing of the importance of the ties between image and sound tracks), of the duration of the shoes (the system of the suture in fact depends heavily on a relative constancy and brevity of the passage from shot to shot, on the eviction of any margin of the image in time), of the play within that duration on the flatness or the framing of the division of the image, a process of finding - not starting from, as in the Oudart/Dayan account - a certain multiplicity (the shoe in the subway across to the platform on the far side: people waiting and moving alter perception of space and depth, point to the different frames provided by a series of pillars, with trains coming and going until, finally, a train arrives at the nearest platform and abruptly redefines appreciation of spatial disposition), of the non-emergence of any pattern of a look (other than as missing in the film, stressed by the shot in the subway train when people begin to question the look of the camera and the site of our gaze, implicating us in the failure of a binding fiction that would assume and make a sense of the images given). We are placed in the film but that place is not secured, is shifted, and turns, in the meanings the film makes in that insecurity, in those dislocations, on the construction of a central absence - the absence of the daughter, differently posited on image and sound tracks. From that absence, the film refuses to suture, to convert Other to Absent One (such a conversion near to the position of the mother in her letters), hence to resolve as the sign of something for someone, to fix a unity - "a sign represents something for someone". Or rather, it refinds suture effectively as a term of the logic of the signifier, poses the problem of the relations of the subject in the symbolic and the holding of those relations in the imaginary; in which problem lies the real of the film, that of feminism. and of film. that of image, voice, noise, duration, rhythm, the impossible question of a woman's desire in all that.

As Miller aims at a logic of the signifier, so Oudart aims at a logic of the cinematic, of cinema articulated as discourse. Oudart cannot but come after Miller: the spectator of a film is always already in the symbolic, on the stage of the two fundamental operations, in a production of suture: he or she solicits the image as much as it him or her, there is no initial outside of the symbolic at the cinema, in cinema, no immediate coming in the image which is always instituted as such, image for, a film image. News from Home produces a displacement of established junctions of symbolic and imaginary, of the terms of identification - and that is its "immediacy".

What one has are films, discursive organizations, implications of spectating (the last formulation in order to avoid "a spectator" with its idea of a necessary unity, to stress the activity of looking... and hearing). It is possible and crucial to describe the limits, constraints, effects of the machine cinema, pose, for example, its reality as "imaginary signifier", but a logic of the cinematic in the sense of the articulation of cinema as discourse is at once a logic of the cinematographic, the form of a particular mode of the organization of signification, such as the Oudart/Dayan system of the suture. To say that the system of the suture is a particular logic, a writing, is not, however, to say that cinema could be articulated as discourse outside of any suture. Which is to return to the difficulties of the concept and of its translation from Miller to Oudart. At one extreme, suture then becomes a term for any continuity join, for the matches of classical editing; thus Bonitter can write: "The door is a nodal object of classic narrative cinema... what Bazin called 'door-knob cinema'; a usable object in that it allows transition from one shot to another, point of suture of the syntagmatic ceasura..." [29] Less simply, and more generally, it is equated with the system based on shot/reverse-shot patterns of "filling in" across and for the spectator from image to image; hence Oudart's assertion that Au hasard, Balthazar does not suture. What was emphasized above in connection with News from Home, however, was not that the film did not suture but that it did not suture in the way of the system, that it posed differently - indeed posed the problem of - the functioning of suture, the junction of symbolic and imaginary (which is what is in question with the concept of suture). No discourse without suture (as described by Miller, element of a general logic of the signifier) but, equally, no suture which is not from the beginning specifically denned within a particular system which gives it form (the effective lesson of Oudart's description of cinematic as cinematographic): and which is not, moreover. directly political to the extent of its relation of the subject in specific positions of unity and meaning - the very demonstration of News from Home, the recognition of Miller's momentary reference to "a subject, therefore, defined by attributes whose other side is political..."


Whose other side is political..." [30] From that other side, as it were, psychoanalysis has been increasingly called upon as having a specific and necessary contribution to make to a materialist understanding of the operation of the ideological in its relations of subject positions of meaning. Thus, for example, Pierre Raymond in his Matérialisme dialectique et logique: "A number of philosophers insist on the relationship between linguistic systems and the unconscious. This relationship is of particular interest to marxists who see that language and unconscious have in common with ideologies the staging of the subject. Which does not mean that the relationship is easy to establish..." [31] Or again. Michel Pêcheux in Les Vérités de La Palice, a book which attempts to suggest something of the bases for a theory of discourse within an Althusserian perspective: "There is no hiding with stock formulations the heavy absence of a conceptual articulation elaborated between ideology and unconscious. [32]

It is discourse for Pêcheux which makes the heavy absence felt, gives the area where the articulation must be developed. Against an integrally linguistic conception, he wishes to describe discourse with reference to the mechanisms of the setting in position of its subjects, such a description cutting across traditional oppositions of the langue/parole variety for which discourse becomes simply the concrete acts of the use by individuals of an abstract language system (it was seen above how psychoanalysis is involved in a similar displacement). The aim, evidently, is to reappropriate the linguistic into the social without denying its specificity and to pose the question of the ideological to language accordingly, to work through the notion of discursive formation: "We shall call discursive formation that which in a given ideological formation, that is, from a given position in a given conjuncture determined by the state of the class-struggle, determines 'what can and muse be said...' This comes down to saying that words, expressions, propositions, etc receive their meaning from the discursive formation in which they are produced . . . individuals are 'interpellated' as speaking-subjects (as subjects of their discourse) by discursive formations which represent 'in language' corresponding ideological formations." [33] A discursive formation, that is, exists as a component of an ideological formation itself based in particular conditions of production (ideological state apparatuses) and the terms of the discursive formation/ideological formation relation are those of subject and interpellation. Individuals are constituted as subjects through the discursive formation, a process of subjection in which the individual is identified as subject with the discursive formation in a structure of misrecognition (the subject thus presented as the source of the meanings of which it is an effect). Interpellation names the mechanism of this structure of misrecognition, effectively the term of the subject in the discursive and the ideological, the point of their correspondence: "We shall not here solve the problem of the nature of this correspondence. Let us merely say that it cannot be a question either of a pure equivalence (ideology as discourse) or of a simple distribution of functions ("discursive practice"/non-discursive practice). It would be better to talk of an "intrication" of the discursive formations in the ideological formations, an intrication whose principle would reside precisely in "interpellation". [34] What Pêcheux wants is then to give this intrication some descriptive substance by providing a non-subjective theory of the constitution of the subject in its situation of enouncer (how does the subject have the meanings it has and how docs it have those meanings as subject?).

Interpellation, however, taken over from Althusser's essay on "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses", [35] raises serious difficulties that have been demonstrated at length by Paul Hirst and that centre, for present purposes, on the way in which the recognition demanded by the mechanism of interpellation would presuppose the subject the mechanism is said to constitute: "Recognition, the crucial moment of the constitution (activation) of the subject, presupposes a point of cognition prior to the recognition. Something must recognize that which it is to be... The social function of ideology is to constitute concrete individuals (not-yet-subjects) as subjects. The concrete individual is "abstract", it is not yet the subject it will be. It is, however, already a subject in the sense of the subject which supports the process of recognition. Thus something which is not a subject must already have the faculties necessary to support the recognition which will constitute it as a subject. It must have a cognitive capacity as a prior condition of its place in the process of recognition. Hence the necessity of the distinction of the concrete individual and the concrete subject, a distinction in which the faculties of the latter are supposed already in the former (unless of course cognition be considered a 'natural' human faculty)." [36] The criticism is correct insofar as it indicates that interpellation can in no way be the key either to ideology or to subjectivity (the fact of the individual as subject), the two being held as interdependent. One solution then proposed - cursorily taken up by Althusser in the use of the individual/subject distinction and the vague emergence of a reference to Lacan at points in his essay - is to separate out a number of instances in the construction- constitution of a subject, with psychoanalysis the available account of one of these specific areas: (subject-) support, biological individuality of individuals as material base from which they are brought to function in social relations: ideological subject, place in the operation of discursive/ideological formations, constitutive of these, assuring the entry of (subject-) supports into the different social processes; psychoanalytic subject, position in the relations of the signifier, produced in the (subject-) support, effect of its structuration by the signifying chain. [37] Psychoanalysis thus becomes, within historical materialism, the description of the constitution of the individual (subject-) support as a subject for interpellation in discursive formations as ideological subject; which is a role that psychoanalysis can often seem ready to accommodate, posed as the truth of the individual subject; abstract from social process, ideological formation - the political over on the other side.

Yet it is quite the contrary that should be the case. Exactly inasmuch as psychoanalysis is directed against any idea of there being a set of contents of the unconscious, makes of the unconscious a term of subject-division in the signifier, an action in the speaking-being, so it is involved, always and immediately, in the social relations of language as discourse (and not in absolutes, archetypes, essential meanings or whatever). In this respect, Lacan's teaching has a double edge, leads two ways: on the one hand, nothing but discourse, discourse then taken as sole province of "the truth", the analyst (Lacan, lone bearer of a word "without equal") its Master (criticism of certain tendencies in feminist thinking, for example, is constantly produced in terms effectively of the assertion of this position: "women do not know what they are saying, which is all the difference between them and me" SXX. 68); on the other, nothing but discourse, hence no transhistorical finality of truth, hence the possibility of a radical practice and transformation of the whole history of the subject. The same kind of double-edgedness can be traced at many points in psychoanalysis: the analytic situation itself, for instance, which is at once the provision of an operative space for the apprehension of the series of fantasies in which the analysand's history of the subject is held, the resolution of that hold in transference, and the establishment of the position of the analyst's mastery with the rituals of a professional class, a certain balance of power of discourse confirmed and certified by Institute or School (locus of the habitually unanalyzed transference of the analyst); or again. the notion of interminability in analysis, giving both the stress on the production of the subject in language, against any final or original truth, and something of a potential imaginary of analysis, a confirming concept of its maintenance away from the other side, closed to social process and any question of the transformation - "termination" - of the subject in its history there. Psychoanalysis is thus available for the call that is made upon it, but not simply; and the difficulties emerge, continuing to emerge with the separation-of-the-subject-into-instances solution, as those of an articulation, Pêcheux's "articulation elaborated between ideology and unconscious", which is perhaps itself too rigid and fixed a conception for what is at stake.

For Pêcheux, interpellation goes in conjunction with identification, that conjunction, of course, representing part of his appeal to the psychoanalytic: "the interpellation of the individual as subject of its discourse is effected by the identification of the subject with the discursive formation that dominates it". [38] Quoting from Althusser, Pêcheux offers the following summary of his articulation of ideology and unconscious:

The individual is interpellated as (free) subject in order that it freely submit to the commandments of the Subject, in order that it (freely) accept its subjection. If one adds, first, that this subject with a capital S - absolute and universal subject - is precisely what Lacan designates as the Other with a capital O and, second, that, still according to Lacan, "the unconscious is the discourse of the Other", one can see how unconscious repression and ideological subjection, while not the same, are materially linked in what may be called the process of the signifier in interpellation and identification... [39]

In fact, that summary only states the problem (and Pêcheux's own problems: with interpellation, with the material link between repression and subjection), in connection with which it is perhaps worth setting out one or two simple theses to clarify something of the intermesh of terms such as ideology, imaginary. symbolic, unconscious: (1) the ideological is not reducible to the imaginary (which is part of the difficulty of the account of interpellation in the "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" essay, as again in Pêcheux); the ideological always involves a relation of symbolic, and imaginary (the imaginary is a specific fiction of the subject in the symbolic); (2) the symbolic is not reducible to the ideological; there is no ideological operation which does not involve a symbolic construction, a production of the subject in meaning, but the symbolic is always more than the effect of such operations (language is not exhausted by the ideological); (3) the symbolic is never simply not ideological: psychoanalysis, and this is its force, has never encountered some pure symbolic, is always engaged with a specific history of the subject (language is not exhausted by the ideological but is never met other than as discourse, within a discursive formation productive of subject relations in ideology); (4) the unconscious is not reducible to the ideological: it is a division of the subject with the Other, a history of the subject on which the ideological constantly turns but which it in no way resumes. In short, a materialist theory of the constitution-construction of the subject cannot be developed in abstraction from the discursive and the ideological but, equally, cannot be developed as an account of interpellation which effectively takes the subject as given and not in effect of the signifier. The mesh of the various instances, tightening together, is difficult and crucial; suture could well be defined as the term of that crucial difficulty.

In this respect, moreover, it is necessary to remember that the very concept of the subject itself derives from a secondary and linguistic perspective and tends constantly towards the imaginary (as in Althusser who reproduces the subject as a kind of essence of ideology). What "subject" designates is not a unity, not even a unity of division, but a construction and a process, a heterogeneity, an intersection. Lacan's version of the causation of the subject and the very introduction of suture are indicative here: the subject is minus one, the real of castration; plus one, the resolution of that real in the imaginary: a movement in the symbolic - "gaping, flickering, alternating suction". Suture names the relation of the subject in the symbolic which is its join in the chain, its representation from signifier to signifier ("a signifier represents a subject for another signifier") and its identification as one in the fiction of the sign ("a sign represents something for someone"). The division-separation causation of the subject describes this process, the subject always returning in its implication in the desire of the Other - "what does it want?" and "who wants?": questions in which the subject always fails (comes back to the fact of its process, its division) and is always found again (its separation, its procuration from that division), taken up immediately in meanings and their production in discursive formations. A theory of ideology must then begin not from the subject but as an account of suturing effects, the effecting of the join of the subject in structures of meaning; which account would thus involve an attention to the whole history of the subject, the interminable movement of that history, and not its simple equation with ideology.


The realization of cinema as discourse is the production at every moment through the film of a subject-address, the specification of the play of incompleteness-completion. That emphasis, given above, must be maintained, but also extended a little. A film operates with a number of matters of expression, a variety of codes, both cinematic and non-cinematic: meaning is not just constructed "in" the particular film, meanings circulate between social formation, spectator and film: a film is, a series of acts of meaning, the spectator is there in a multiplicity of times. In this connection, one might distinguish in the relation of the spectator as subject in the film preconstruction, construction (or reconstruction) and passage. Preconstruction involves the ready-made positions of meaning that a film may adopt, not merely large categories of definition, political arguments, thematic boundaries, and so on, but equally, for example, the signs and orders of language itself, the existing social conventions of color, the available ideas of film (genre is a major factor of preconstruction). Construction is the totalizing of a more or less coherent subject position in the film as its, end, its direction, the overall fiction of the subject related. Passage is the performance of the film, the movement of the spectator making the film, taken up as subject. The ideological achievement of any film is not merely in one or the other of these instances, it is first and foremost in its hold of the three: the appropriation of preconstruction in reconstruction (the film's construction effectively reconstructs from its different materials) and the process of that appropriation. The term of that hold in the classic fiction feature film is narrativisation, the constant conversion to narrative, catching up the spectator as subject in the image of the narrative and in the film as its narration. The system of the suture described by Oudart/Dayan is one of the modes of this narrativisation (others, also suturing, still need to be examined. notably those working between image and sound tracks).

Very rarely do we say that a film is "contemporary", unless, remaining within the area of preconstruction, by reference to the "urgency" of its theme. It is, however, fairly common for a film to be characterized as "dated", with the reference here being to the signs of the representation recognized as such, to a certain loss in the fine balance of enunciation and enounced which is contained as historical in the crude sense of "their past" versus "our present", the particular film then declared "interesting" and/or "amusing" for the spectator today (this is especially evident with television's presentation-consumption of films). The "non-dated" film is thus close, its discursive ordering pulling the images towards unity for us, its activity of meaning transposed into the coherence of a nearness: we enter the structure of address, join the film: the spectator is recast as the subject of the film's relations of the symbolic and the imaginary together, its suturing. Which, moreover, is very much a question of time: there are multiple rimes between spectator and film (Oudart's accounts of the experience of film images can perhaps best be read in this stress) but the film, classically, is always brought into time with its significant flow, its balance, its narrativisation; producing thereby its essential contemporariness - constantly with you for you, moving you with it in its narrative image.

Lacan talks of the "in some sort driving function of the unconscious: whatever, an instant, appears in its opening is seemingly destined ... to disappear again" (SXl. 44). Behind that formulation lies the idea of the defile of consciousness developed by Freud in the Studies on Hysteria, published in 1895, Freud writes of a kind of narrow passage (Engpass) or narrow cleft (enge Spalte) "in front of the patient's consciousness", an aperture in which memories appear during analytic treatment in a stop-go movement; the problem being the lack of regularity in the movement, the passage continually blocked by this or that memory, like "a picture that refuses to disappear": "There is some justification for speaking of the 'defile' of consciousness... Only a single memory at a time can enter ego-consciousness. A patient who is occupied in working through such a memory sees nothing of what is pushing after it and forgets what has already pushed its way through. If there are difficulties in the way of mastering this single pathogenic memory - as, for instance, if the patient does not relax his resistance against it, if he tries to repress or mutilate it - then the defile is, so to speak, blocked. The work is at a standstill, nothing more can appear, and the single memory which is in process of breaking through remains in front of the patient until he has taken it up into the breadth of his ego. The whole spatially extended mass of psychogenic material is in this way drawn through a narrow cleft and thus arrives in consciousness cut up, as it were, into pieces or strips. It is the psychotherapist's business to put these together once more into the organization which he presumes to have existed." [40] It is as though, at the very moment of its birth. Freud is describing the cinematic apparatus, with the difference that that apparatus is constructed to ensure the constancy of the flow of images, a unity of presentation, a stable memory.

Which last brings us back to narrativisation: the economy of the film's flow in a binding coherence, its remembering, the realization of a single forward time within which multiple times can be given play and held. The system of suture, be it noted, breaks as soon as the time of the shot hesitates beyond the time of its narrative specifications (demonstrated throughout Benoît Jacquot's L'Assassin musicien).

The subject of a film is the play between its multiple elements, including the social formation in which it finds its existence, and the spectator; no film which does not grasp the spectator in terms of that heterogeneity, which does not shift the spectator in ties, joins, relations, movements of the symbolic and the imaginary, with the real a constant and impossible limit (impossible for the film, involving a transformation that would have to include the film). A film may also - will also? - project a subject, some unity of the play produced; most constrainingly, a narrative image. Suture, finally, names the dual process of multiplication and projection, the conjunction of the spectator as subject with the film - which conjunction is always the terrain of any specific ideological operation of a film.

These have been notes on and around suture. As such, they have no particular conclusion other than the acknowledgement of the concepts that now need to be examined in this connection with film: identification, repetition, resistance, the history of the subject.


[1] Two discussions of the paper in the same year and context were also published in Cahiers pour l'analyse 1, Serge Leclaire, "L'analyste à sa place?", January-February 1966, pp 50-52; André Green, "L'objet a de Jacques Lacan, sa logique et la théorie freudienne" 3, May-June 1966, pp 15-37.

[2] SXI, Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire, livre XI: Quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Paris 1973; E, J. Lacan, Écrits, Paris 1966; English translation by Bruce Fink, WW Norton: New York, 2006.

[3] SXX, J. Lacan, Le Séminaire, livre XX: Encore, Paris, 1975.

[4] "Conférences aux Etats-Unis", Scilicet 6-7, 1977 p 49.

[5] See S. Freud, "The unconscious" (1915), S.E. XIV, Hogarth Press: London, p 201.

[6] Demonstrated by Metz in the course of his detailed consideration of the psychoanalytic possibility of the figures metaphor and metonymy; C. Metz, Le Signifiant imaginaire, Paris, 1977, pp 251-340.

[7] J. Lacan, L'Identification, livre IX, unpublished.

[8] S. Leclaire, art cit., p 51.

[9] "L'amour de la langue'", Ornicar 6, p 43.

[10] See especially (all references are to issues of Cahiers du Cinéma), "Bresson et la verité", 216, October 1969, pp 53-56; "Travail, lecture, jouissance" (with Serge Daney), 222, July 1970, pp 39-50; "L'effet de réel", 228, March-April 1971, pp 19-26; "Notes pour une théoric de la representation" (I), 229. May-June 1971, pp 43-45; "Notes..." (II), 230, July 1971, pp 43-45; "Un discours en défaut" (I), 232, October 1971, pp 4-12; "Un discours..." (II), 233, November 1971, pp 23-26.

[11] see Pascal Bonitzer, Le regard et la voix, Paris 1976, pp 17, 31, 47-48, 105, 130, 140-1.

[12] Daniel Dayan, "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema", Film Quarterly, Fall 1974, pp 22-31. Criticism of Dayan's article is to be found in William Rothman, "Against the System of the Suture", Film Quarterly, Fall 1975, pp 45-50. (These two pieces are included in Movies and Methods ed. Bill Nichols, Berkeley/Los Angeles 1976, pp 438-59.) Discussion and extension can be found in: Claire Johnston, "Towards a Feminist Film Practice", Edinburgh '76 Magazine, pp 50-59; Stephen Heath, "On Screen, in Frame: Film and Ideology", Quarterly Review of Film Studies vol 1 n 3, August 1976, pp 251-65; "Narrative Space", Screen 3, Autumn 1976, pp 68-112; "Anata mo", Screen 4, Winter 1976/77, pp 49-66; "Film Performance", Ciné-tracts 2, 1977, pp 7-l7; "The Question Oshima", Wide-Angle l, 1977; Mark Nash, Dreyer, BFI, London 1977.

[13] Much of what will be said in these notes can be read as a supplement to the article on "Narrative Space" cited in the previous footnote, to which the reader is thus generally referred.

[14] Both "cinematic subject" and "filmic subject" occur in Oudart; the later insofar as he is describing the process of reading a film, the former insofar as that description is given in the context of an account of how films work discursively, of cinematic discourse.

[15] Praxis du cinéma, Paris 1969 (transl. as Theory of Film Practice, New York and London 1973).

[16] Oudart, "Travail, lecture, jouissance", op. cit., pp 45-46.

[17] Hence a difficulty in the translation of the Oudart article: the term cinématographique is translated as "cinematic", thus in accordance with its use in Metz and rendering a descriptive generality: equally. however, and more appropriately, it might be given as "cinematographic", the logique du cinématographe being the logic of a writing, the definition of a cinematic discourse, thus in accordance with Bresson, who opposes theatrical cinema with le cinématographe, "writing in sounds and images which forms a visual and auditory text" (see Notes sur le cinématographe, Paris 1975; transl. Notes on Cinematography, New York 1977).

[18] Dayan, "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema", p 450.

[19] Ibid p 439.

[20] Ibid p 451.

[21] Rothman, "Against the System of the Suture", p 454.

[22] C. Metz, Essais sur la signification au cinéma I, Paris 1968, p 72, (Film Language, New York 1974, p 67).

[23] "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema", pp 439, 449, 450; "Against the System of the Suture", p 457.

[24] Roman Jakobson, "Entretien sur le cinéma", in Cinéma: théories, lectures, (special issue of the Revue d'esthétique), Paris 1973, p 66.

[25] "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema", p 449.

[26] Film Quarterly;. Fall 1977, pp 46, 57.

[27] Ibid p 447.

[28] "Against the System of the Suture", p 455

[29] Le regard et la voix, p 105.

[30] This section is taken from part of a paper given in May/June 1977 to a seminar organized by Paul Hirst and Sami Zubaida at Birkbeck College, London. One or two emphases only can be made here, and solely towards further general presentation of the context of the concept of suture.

[31] P. Raymond, Malérialisme dialectique et logique, Paris 1977, p 57n.

[32] M. Pêcheux, Les Vérités de La Palice, Paris 1975, p 136.

[33] Ibid pp 144-5.

[34] Ibid p 145n.

[35] Louis Althusser, "Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d'état", La Pensée, June 1970; translated in Lenin and Philosophy, London 1971.

[36] Paul Hirst, "Althusser's theory of ideology", in Economics and Society 4, November 1976. pp 404-5.

[37] M. Tort, "La psychanalyse dans 1e matérialisme historique", in Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse I, Spring 1970, p 154.

[38] Les Vérités de La Palice, p 148.

[39] Ibid pp 122-3.

[40] S. Freud, S.E. II, London: Hogarth Press, 1966.

This text was published in Screen 18, Winter 1978.


© lacan.com 1997/2006
Copyright Notice. Please respect the fact that this material in LACAN.COM is copyright.
Available only through EBSCO Publishing. Inc.
It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.