Project-Buffy the Freudian.

……in your blog

Joss Whedon quite consciously incorporates both Freudian and Lacanian ideas into his scripts for the long-running TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the final episode of season 4 there are a number of dream sequences, each of which can be seen as, in part, exemplifying one or more of the ideas of Freud or Lacan. Watch it and note as many ideological references as you can find. Make notes as to how they manifest themselves

  • It’s a film night: films include Capricorn One , and Apocalypse now!
  • Each character now has a dream…………

Freud believed that dreams were associated with the unconscious-as well as slips, jokes, neurotic behaviours (Pooke and Newall, 2008: 117)


Willow’s dream

  • Tara is talking to Willow initially.

The 2 girls are not dissimilar looking. Perhaps this is Willow’s perfect ‘other’ as  described in Lacan’s mirror stage. Tara may be the perfect ideal for Willow  who at this stage is beginning to suffer  ‘social’ anxieties characteristic of the Symbolic order (Silverman, 1999: 344)

  • Miss Kitty the kitten is not ‘all grown yet’ and they ‘have n’t found her name yet… ‘

This could be a reference to the development of the (human) psyche- our name is a signifier for who we are, and Lacan suggests that one acquires language only when one enters the symbolic stage. Language separates people from both their drives and the world around them, because the language signifier has no ‘physical’ substance  (Silverman, 1999)

  • The kitten chases the ball of wool

Silverman (1999:349) discusses the interpretation of a child throwing away a ball, in the context of the difference between Freud and Lacan. Freud takes the incident as representing the loss of the boy’s mother, whilst Lacan sees the ball as an objet a petit autre -an object which is part of itself, lost,  and then returned to itself.   Of course Lacan and Freud dealt mainly with humans not kittens.

  • Willow doesn’t want to leave the safe part of the dream…..She does leave and we have more threatening music…………….
  • Next we have several references to Anxiety through the school play. Willow….. ‘Gonna be late’ (breaks human/society rules), has a rubbish part (low personal status), thought it was drama class not a production (unprepared). Also everyone who knows her is watching in the audience (peer pressure), they are all angry (a basic negative emotion and thus within the id) and the teacher says the show has ‘to be perfect’   (either a reference to the Lacanian mirror phase, or a to the different world of the ego/superego (or Lacanian symbolic) where we face the reality of our world through various symbols/significations, one of which is often punctuality.

  • The play is Death of a Salesman

Freud posits 2 major instincts in life; the death instinct (a drive to fight against threats), and a love instinct (a drive to reproduce) (Pooke and Newall,2008:120).

  • The cowboy says to the milk maid ‘can I hold those milk pales for you’ to which the audience sniggers.

This is a typical joke, with a hidden message. The audience realises that behind the language is a reference to the cowboy gaining sexual pleasure by touching the girls breasts (technically the signifier ‘milk pales’ has shifted from referring to in animate buckets, to referring to living human breasts).

  • The processed cheese slices recur in four dreams

Everyone knows that our dreams tend to involve many different aspects of our thoughts which seem to knit together, sometime incongruously. Perhaps Willow had eaten cheese that day, but the recurrence of the cheese in 4 seperate dreams (and dreamers) suggests deeper significance here. Perhaps cheese might be a fetish of  the director ? A fetish is the replacement of a sexual object by a non-sexual object which fulfils a similar role in satisfying sexual drives.

Xander’s dream

  • Buffy’s mum tries to seduce Xander,

….at one point the boy replies in a Freudian slip (a mistake in language which reveals a subconscious thought). When he replies to a question by ‘I’d like you’ and not ‘I’d like to’  Xander reveals that he subconsciously wants to have sex with Buffy’s attractive mum.

  • Xander in the bathroom, is observed by a group of soldiers and medics…..

his may suggest the shame of nudity, genitals or excretion. We are not born with feelings like this ( despite the Christian theory of original sin, babies don’t feel ashamed when they poop in the nappy). However, as we develop into the symbolic stage, our signification often includes an embarrassment about these subjects…….

Alternatively, Exhibitionism is one of the pathologies described by Freud, and the punishment for exhibitionism is that the observing eyes will bite off part of the body.  Exhibitionism may often lie behind ‘an exaggerated sense of shame’ ( Fenichel, 1999:337).

  • The garden sequence-

Initially this scene is viewed through Xander’s eyes (first person), but we then  then change to second person, where Xander is the object, not the subject. The garden scene is strongly sexually symbolic in Freud’s opinion.

We have already spoken of natural scenery as a representation of the female genitals. Mountains and cliffs are symbols of the male organ; the garden a frequent symbol of the female genitals. Fruit does not stand for the child, but for the breasts. Wild animals signify sensually aroused persons, or further, base impulses, passions. Blossoms and flowers represent the female genitals, or more particularly, virginity. Do not forget that the blossoms are really the genitals of the plants.

(Bartleby, Date?)

  • Xander serves ice creams from the ice cream van

This is a strong symbol of childhood

  • Willow and Tara are kissing and acting sexually in a lesbian way in the back of the van

This highlights Xander’s sexual impulse/force. More specifically Xander stares at this scene for a long time (several seconds). This stare may be described as the scoptophilic look, and is the primordial forerunner of the actual sexual act. This is a powerful form of looking, not just observing, but more along the lines of sharing the action ‘… by means of empathy in its experience’ (Fenichel , 1997:330). In other words he strongly desires sex with one or other (or both ) of the girls.

  • Xander follows them as if to want sex- but they disappear!!

This often happens in dreams! It’s a frustration of the sexual urge. Wanting to have sex with the girls is a natural dream/fantasy, but it sex also fulfils the Lacanian imperative. This states that the original loss which we experience when we are born (that of being both sexes simultaneously) can only be overcome through sex and procreation (Silverman, 1999: 342).

  • Giles starts speaking in French to Xander

Xander cannot understand the babble. This is a nice illustration of a Lacanian principle, that when humans develop language, during the symbolic stage, they are separated from the world around them as language signifiers have no ‘physical’ substance (Silverman, 1999). This point is also conveyed through Xander’s inability to understand a different language to his own- showing that language signifiers are inherently arbitrarily related to the real world.

  • We have several filmic methods to show dreams/conscious/subconscious

These include distortions of the image involving waviness, rotation, and fade/strikethrough.

  • A re-enactment of the famous scene from Apocalypse Now follows.

Xander is playing the hero soldier who has been charged with destroying the rogue ‘Colonel Kurtz’.  Xander identifies with the hero. The dream sequence suggests that he would like to be more like the film’s hero, these thoughts being subconscious, but appearing  to his ‘preconscious’ via the dream.

It is interesting that the film is notoriously symbolic for Disaster redeemed by success, another desirable symbolic phenomenon. During filming it experience problems with escalatingly ruinous finances, an  overpaid-difficult star (Marlon Brando), a depressed director. Additionally the critics thought it would be a flop,  the star suffered health problems on set, and the weather and politics during filming were difficult (The Guardian, 2015). However, finally the film got made, and was a massive Hollywood success- a massive redemption story.

  • Xander’s dad appears and says ‘are you ashamed of us  ?’

This scene is perhaps the most suggestive of the classical Freudian Oedipus complex in which the male child recognises his genitals are like his father’s, and attempts to usurp the father for his mother’s attention. Throughout this drama the threat of castration by the father is imminent (represented by the mother’s lack of a phallus) (Pooke and Newall,2008:118). The nearest the scene comes is that Xander has obviously upset his dad, who rips his heart out (Xander’s)  saying ‘The line ends here with us……..’  . This being the case, Xander cannot reproduce and is essentially rendered castrated by his dad.

Giles’s dream

  • Giles is hypnotising Buffy-

Hypnosis is one of several ways into the subconscious mind, and true  hypnotists render unconscious with their eyes, a potentially sadistic practise (Fenichel , 1999: 328). Looking can also equate to eating (subconsciously), and the eye also equates to both the penis and vagina! (Fenichel, 1999:334). So hypnosis can be said to include all the usual Freudian elements.

  • Buffy is the child of Giles, and they are at a fair/circus

Buffy has many ICONIC child-like characteristics here, dungarees, pig tails, she repeats ‘I want to I want to…..’ jumping up and down. Perhaps this nuclear family is a representation of the battlefield of ‘Family’ which lies between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis- The Lacanian family structure is more complex than Freud’s (Silverman, 1999:352)

  • Spike seems to be an attraction at a circus-

Interestingly the picture moves between colour and Black and white, with Spikes performance seen in Black and white only.  This monochrome could symbolise a more ‘archaic’ and ‘libidinal’ look (Fenichel, 1999:   ) than the more sophisticated colour scenes.…).

  • A joke is told on stage beginning ‘ a man walks into a bar……….’

This is an iconic joke beginning, and jokes are another way that Freud postulated we can become aware of our subconscious thoughts.

Buffy’s dream

  • Buffy talks to a similar looking girl (Tara)

Could this reference Lacan’s mirror stage of development?

  • Buffy’s Boyfriend has returned from college and says he’s been made the surgeon general, and  world domination is following….
  • The demons are then said to have escaped………and she looks for her weapons- but they are n’t there- only a sort of face-mask mud in her bag- which she puts on.
  • The landscape shifts to a desert…..
  • The girl arrives again – ‘I am destruction’
  • The cheese again
  • She fights the native …. They fall down a slope………..she wakens-monster hybrid.

This is referred to as ‘the primal slayer could be the child witnessing the ‘primal scene’ (there parents having sex). This may be causing some psychological pathology here, reflected in its presence in the dream.

Or the primal slayer may be the Lacanian ‘loss’ which defines all our lives ( Silverman, 1999: 342)

  • After this terror Buffy makes a joke about the natives hair, and about social/sexual norms………

Terror followed by comedy is a very common theme in artistic endeavours, and life in general. It may provide a release of tension.


Bartelby (2015) Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).  A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis.  1920. Part Two: The Dream. X. Symbolism in the Dream. [online] at [accessed 19 Oct 2017].

Fenichel O. (1999) ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’. in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 327-339

Pooke, G and Newall, D (2008) Art History. Abingdon.  Routledge.

Silverman , K (1999). ‘The subject’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p. 340-355

The Guardian (2015) My favourite Cannes winner: Apocalypse now. [online] at [accessed 19 Oct 2017].




Project -Women artists- In your BLOG…..


One of the most interesting of the young artists coming out of British colleges in the 1980s/90s was Sarah Lucas. Her work is often self-portraiture and she works in most mediums. In general her work is a critique of life as a woman in the modern world.

Select and annotate at least four works by contemporary women artists, including Sarah Lucas.

How do these works relate to some of the theories and ‘isms’ that you’ve explored so far?

  1. Untitled (2014)- Inge Jacobsen.




2. A Girl Walks home Alone At Night (2015)- Ana Lily Amirpour.



3. Single room furnished ( 2000). Cecily Brown.


4. Two fried eggs and a kebab (   ). Sarah Lucas.

  • CS15_0015_Lucas_OH_GCRThroughout art history ‘Western art replicates the unequal relationships already embedded in society’ (Tate, 1989). This artwork parodies how women are perceived as mere objects (usually naked) in historical art- The parts of the women’s body which are especially desirable to men have been transformed into inanimate objects emphasising their ‘consumer goods’ characteristic in male eyes.


  • This may be also considered ‘Abject art’ , a term which includes reference to bodily functions and ‘aspects of the body, that are deemed impure or inappropriate for public display…’ (ref). The breasts and vagina here remind us more of lactation and menstrual blood flow- functions which may be far less appealing to men than their sexual alternatives. In this context it is a strongly aggressive feminist statement.


  • Lucas often uses food to represent sexual body parts (ie. Signifier/signified). This is a feminist technique to highlight how women are degraded by (usually male) connotations between body parts and food ( eg. Chopped liver, Butcher’s window, bearded clam, ………all terms for the vagina).


  • Perhaps this piece presents a Lacanian image screen or ‘stain’ (Haveland, 2009: 93)- here contributing to  how men’s view of women as people is somehow separated by their strongly conditioned tendency to objectify and sexualise them (both socially and biologically enforced).


  • The simplification of the woman’s body reminds us of the representation of women on the film screen, often seen as single bodily areas,  more iconic, and breaking up narrative (Mulvey, 1999: 384).


  • Alternatively this stark portrayal of the female genitals may make male viewer’s worried due to Freud’s ‘castration anxiety’ (Mulvey, 1999: 385)


  • Finally, the representation of the women’s genitals by food may reference the idea that the pleasureable (scoptophilic) gaze is often likened to the eye as either a penis, or a devouring mouth (Fenichel, 1999) , hence the concentration on female genitals, and their transformation into food items respectively.



Benjamin, W.(1999) ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 72-78

Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing Middlesex, England. Penguin Books

Fenichel, O. (1999) ‘The scoptophilic instinct and identification’  in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 381-38

Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understanding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts.

Mulvey, L. (1999) ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   p. 381-389

Textileartist (2014) inge-jacobsen-hijacking-image [online] at [accessed 21/9/2017]

TheGuardian  (2015) The skateboarding Iranian vampire diaries [online] at [accessed 21/9/2017]

TheGuardian (2005) I like cheap and nasty [online] at   [accessed 21/9/2017]

Tate (no date) Feminist Art [online] at [accessed 21/9/2017]

Tate (no date)   Abject art   [online] at [accessed 21/9/2017]

Waldemar (2006) shes-laying-it-on-thick [online] at [accessed 21/9/2017]


Two fried eggs and a kebab, [mixed media] [online] at


Fig. 1


Fig. 2

.Fig 3



Assignment 4- Formative feedback.


Formative feedback

Student name Philip Hepworth Student number 508858
Course/Unit Understanding Visual Culture Assignment number 4


Overall Comments

As I have annotated you work as part of the tutor reports you will need to send the annotated versions as well as the tutor reports with your work for assessment.  Ideally these should be in the form of pdf files due to the software used for assessments at OCA


Assessment potential

 (after Assignments 2 and 4)


I understand your aim is to go for the Creative Arts* Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, and providing you commit yourself to the course, I suggest that you are likely to be successful in the assessment.


Feedback on assignment  

My notes made on your assignment are to make the basis of our discussion along with the following:

  • I think you have made a pretty good attempt at this assignment.
  • You have written it clearly and in appropriate language.
  • There is a logic to the essay
  • Good use of both reference to the item under discussion and your chosen theories
  • You raise a number of questions in the mind of the reader that are beyond the scope of the essay but invite further investigation


Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical review/essay

I think this is coming together well, the posts are filling out and it si not difficult to find what is needed.

Suggested reading/viewing

This is a revised site for the Buffy primer: file:///D:/My%20Documents/Peter/Open%20College/Visual%20Studies/Primer_for_Buffy,_Restless.html

Some people have found Beaudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (ISBN 0-919952-23-X) useful for the coming assignment and you might find some ideas in Ian McEwan’s Saturday (ISBN 978-1400076192), it’s a good book anyway!

Pointers for the next assignment

 The final assignment is about reality or at least the ways in which contemporary visual culture mixes the real with the virtual (even the word has changed its meaning), uses the term ‘reality’ (particularly in television) to mean anything but and the ways the society needs mass media confirmation before believing something actually happened, not to mention the question of whether some things that are so confirmed did in fact happen. Baudrillard is the main theoretical source, both his Simulacra and Simulation and The Gulf War Did Not Take Place can help. But there is much in Ian MacEwan’s Saturday of interest and you have already looked briefly at Bladerunner and The Matrix in your blog. For this assignment you might like to think about ‘reality’ TV, or computer games and/or discuss the manipulation if images in factual reportage etc.

  • You might want to take this opportunity to go beyond the scope of the module, beyond postmodernism and think about Hal Foster’s ideas about the Return of the Real (ISBN0-262-56107-7) or Terry Eagleton’s After Theory (ISBN978-0-14-101507-1) but that is no more than a suggestion and not really asked for in the brief



Tutor name Peter Haveland
Date 10/09/2017
Next assignment due N/A


Project-Being and Semblance

What is a picture? by Jacques Lacan

  • this is typically difficult (and not very precise or logical) of the writing of Lacan
  • he seems to want to analyse the relationship between an image, the representation, the gaze, and the viewer…..
  • Lacan’s diagram suggests that we , The Subject view’s an image which is one part (one vertical that transects the pyramidal diagram representing our vision) of visual field our
  • and reciprocally, the subject is viewed by a reciprocal visual field which represents the gaze
  • This seems to reverse my previous understanding-that the subject gazed at the object. Here the subject becomes itself an image (a picture), when viewed by the gaze , which emanates from where?

(pg 1)

  • So ‘I’ the viewer am visualised or photo-graphed, by the gaze.
  • The representation is both the image signifier and the signified (ie. The saussurian sign)
  • Lacan seems to say that it’s not the partition between the image and that which it represents, but the viewer’s image and the picture of the viewer that he‘s concerned with here.

I’m not sure I see the point of defining the viewer via a gaze of someone who may not exist (ie. the gaze is defined by the viewer’s vision, not another viewer).

  • He now seems to introduce a living observer who holds the gaze-which is ok, and makes the idea viable I think, and say’s that the viewer is defined by the other person (and by extension not through his own vision).
  • This sort of relationship is seen in either reproduction, or death struggle (in fact any meeting of the two which involves one being viewed by the other),
  • the gaze also splits the subject (that which is gazed at) Into two through 1.that which is seen ( ie. the signifier- the surface), and 2. that which it is (the whole person)., and this is important in reproduction- (although as a contrary position we are told that beauty is not skin deep, nor to judge a book by its cover ! )
  •  This outer visible self (the image of another) seems very important to Lacan in human interaction -such as sex

p. 2

  • But, Unlike other animals, ‘Man knows how to play with the mask as that beyond which there is the gaze’. Does this confusing language mean that man can change the ‘outer image’ presented to the other (eg make up, new clothes etc…..) , or that he can change the ‘surface picture’ by presenting his true internal character to the other- via getting to know one another ………



Google Books  (no date) What is a picture? by Jacques Lacan [document] [online] at


The OCA handbook-

  • The image screen seems not to be a visual image screen, but it is ‘like the kind of screen that cuts us off from something, like the screen around a hospital bed’. (Haveland, 2009: 93)

I did not get this idea from Lacan’s text p.93

  • ‘Lacan has called this screen the stain, or the spot, like the blind spot at the centre of our eye. But in this case the blind spot is a result of our cultural conditioning  in which we are taught how to see, what to select and how to achieve a selective blindness.’ (OCA, 2009: 93),

Again this makes real sense, and fits with eg.. a ‘sexist gaze, or a colonialist gaze’- but  surely this is how the subject sees (which is not the gaze!)  not is seen (ie the gaze)??? but I can’t see this argument anywhere in the text or diagram !

  • Lacan is ‘suggesting that the gaze is not what we do to an object but the means by which the object impinges on our consciousness, an act of the object not ourselves’ Haveland, P. (2009) Visual Studies 1 Understannding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts: 93).

Again this seem very rational and an excellent idea……..and I can see that here the gaze is how the object see’s us.


Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understanding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts.



The subject–  by Kaja Silverman

  • Lacan has influenced semiotic and psychoanalytic theory by
  • Extending Freud’s theories, returned to Freud’s earlier theories on psychoanalysis (towards the unconscious) rather than later ones (towards the ego), and has linked Freud with Saussure and Levi strauss showing how psychoanalysis can link with semiotics.
  • Lacan’s writing is notoriously difficult, and it (and he himself) have many inconsistencies                                                                                                            (Silverman, 1993:340)
  • This text links Lacan’s  work with broader psychoanalysis and semiotics…..
  • Lacan’s stages of development of the subject consist Birth, territorialisation, mirror stage, acquisition of language and Oedipus stage. All involves some loss.

(Silverman, 1993:341)

  • The first loss happens at birth and is the loss of the mother- by which the subject can never be both male and female. He makes up for this by seeking to develop his (or her) own sexuality to the full, and seeking sexual union with the opposite sex.
  • The second loss comes through a territorialisation of the body. It is initially felt as one with the mother and her love and her body/milk….

(Silverman, 1993:342)

  • But then pleasure starts to differentiate within , through outlets like the mouth, anus, and sex organs (‘erotogenic zones are inscribed and libido is canalized’ ( ref)
  • This differentiation organises bodily powers into drives which will be reinforced culturally later on (by the culture of sexual difference)
  • The child tries to introject structures into itself (through the areas of eroticisation ) as if to replace that which was separated from itself by development or bodily organisation….. mother’s breast, the mother, the opposite sex organ etc…..etcthese are called the objets petit autre and this happens through the imaginary stage
  • Imaginary describes the ‘subject’s experience which is dominated by identification and duality’

(Silverman, 1993:343)

  • The imaginary precedes the symbolic stage, but they do happen simultaneously for a time, and is exemplified by the mirror stage.
  • Between 6 and 18 months the child sees in the mirror himself as an ‘other’ and as an ideal image
  • This recognition is also a ‘misrecognition’, and also a crisis ( the child cannot assimilate the image to itself……nor other structures of ‘loss’ like the breast, genitals etc… the child has ambivalent feelings towards the image.
  • The imaginary order is characterised by this ambivalence in feelings towards these objects
  • Because of the importance of vision in the mirror stage it’s been used to analyse film images wrt the subjects identification with these lost phenomena…..

(Silverman, 1993:344)

  • the mirror stage has similarity to the oedipal phase in that in both the individual feels ambivalence to a ‘ideal representation’ (father figure in case of male Oedipal phase).
  • The mirror stage is imaginary and the oedipal is symbolic, but in reality even the mirror stage has some cultural elements……. Eg…an ‘ideal’ image must h reside in a culture of values, and even then we may have cultural influences such as ‘boys’ clothes v ‘girls clothes’ etc….
  • The resolution of the ambivalence of the imaginary order can only come within the symbolic order.
  • Lacan, like Saussure allows for relational meaning only within a closed system, but says this can only be a closed system of signifiers
  • ‘meaning emerges as a result of the play of differences within a closed system’ (Silverman, 1993: 345)


  • Lacan ‘insists’ on the ‘linguistic status of the signifier’, but sometimes allows a more loose concept, with a combination of signifier and signified within the signifier….. that the ‘concept ‘insists’ within the form or ‘letter’’ (Silverman, 1993:346)
  • What Lacan seems to require from this definition of a mixed signifier, is that the signifier is completely separated from the real object, but may have some concepts carried within it…….
  • For Lacan, Many other things can assume signification other than language (rituals, diets, neuroses….)… fact the symbolic world gives man meaning … and ‘symbols….envelop the life of man in a network so total………..’ (Lacan quoted in Silverman, 1993: 346)…..

This section on symbols which entwine us in a matrix from cradle to grave, sounds very much like Althusser’s ideology  which seems to do the same.

  • Language is the most important Signification system, and all others can occur only with the help of language( to define them?), and when the acquisition of language has occurred in the subject.

(Silverman, 1993:346)

  • Lacan distinguishes in language a signifier that is never converted back into the ‘real’ (like for example indexical and iconic symbols are). These are conventional symbols.

So acquisition of language is a massive part of the construction of a reality which is not really real……?

  • In the symbolic order, and when language has been learnt, this language completely separates both the subject from it s own ‘being’ and the subject from the phenomena around it from reality.
  • The linguistic structure cannot now satisfy the body’s needs-it severs them, but it nevertheless ‘determines its entire cultural existence’ . (causing anxiety?)
  • Lacan believes that this linguistic ‘coercion’ is not just in preconscious thought (as Freud believes), but also in unconscious (subconscious) thought (as Freud does not believe)
  • Lacan’s unconscious is a signifying network, and is split off from the conscious and the drives,

(Silverman, 1993:347)

  • unlike Freud’s which is synonymous with the id -containing the drives. Lacan’s signifying network is more like Freud’s unconscious in ‘the interpretation of dreams’


eg collections of relationships between signifiers and signifieds????

  •  The entrance into the symbolic order and the unconscious is made through a signifying event made of a unary and a binary signifier
  • A story by \freud is told, of a boy who only ever throws away his toys -to bring them back… never playing in a traditional way. For Freud this represents a reduction of the anxiety of his mum’s absences, but for Lacan it is a presentation of his numerous personal separations through development….

(Silverman, 1993:348)

  • Lacan believes the toys are objets petit a

(Silverman, 1993:349)

  • The tale of the little boy , his toys and the words ‘fort’ and ‘da’ (gone and here), show the Lacanian dominance of language over the drives, and is a signifying event which brings about the subconscious.
  • Within the tale the boy enters subconscious, inaugurates ‘meaning’ and the loss of the real, and enters the symbolic stage- he also inaugurates desire- which is connected to the separation and lack which the subject feels…..


(eg.s ? there are many examples) that separation that comes from acquisition of language (two pronged) , separation of the objets petit a, ………..

  • These desires are first found in the mirror stage (imaginary and symbolic orders coexist for a time ), and then are directed towards the ideal parents relationship….
  • This Oedipus complex continues to be a form of anxiety, and the subject ‘discovers itself to be castrated’ (Silverman, 1993:350)
  • We now have the desires of the subject defined by the symbolic, and the family/parents is central to the symbolism.

(Silverman, 1993:350)

  • the symbolic order connects to the idea of cultural control, which Levi Strauss likened/defined via the regulatory role of the ‘incest taboo’ on the (unregulated ) desire to copulate (with anyone!).
  • This taboo sets up the structure of society wrt to sexual relationships, which are the central currency .
  • This structure of kinship and marriage determines all other rules in society Strauss says….inc. attitudes, power distributions, and ‘legal and economic status’(Silverman, 1993:351)
  • Strauss believes language, like the cultural structure, allows everyone to ‘inhabit the same psychic territory, and regiments the exchanges which take place between them’. (Silverman, 1993:351), but language is more powerful and stable in this respect.

Is there a subtle link here between language in society and the idea of computer software as ideology (ref) ? One can only carry out actions on a computer that are programmed within it, and one behaves in society mainly (maybe not exclusively) in accordance to ways we can describe with language……..This is language as ideology… also relates to the idea of  is our world defined by words or are words defined by our world ???…ie…. how much (what proportion) of meaning is language!!

  • Lacan considers that the Oedipus stage and language are virtually synonymous, because one only knows how to act within the structure of society (and the incest taboo ) via being relative to terms like father and mother……

(Silverman, 1993:351)

  • The family is a ‘set of symbolic relations’, and mother/father are more cultural than biological…..
  • The Lacanian discourse of the family is discussed
  • Lacan considers the sex differences very differently from Freud. Freud’s penis, is replaced by Lacan’s phallus, which is essentially everything that is opposed to ‘Lacan’s Lack’ (ie. Whatever the being is separated from in life….)  ie. It is a signifier

(Silverman, 1993:352)

  • The phallus though is also a signifier of the privileges which male subjects receive and to which females are denied in patriarchal society.
  • The penis representing the actual father can never live up to the phallus which is the ‘signifier’- of the symbolic father’- which is not only coding patriarchal contents, but also cultural systems that relate to it…. Law, education, technological, medical etc…… (all of which are patriarchal to an extent).
  • This is a very complicated text, and the author mentions the ‘formulation’ of Lacan has problems, including the problem that female subjectivity can be misunderstood, or understood in different ways by readers/listeners………

(Silverman, 1993:353)

  • although Lacan’s phallus is not the penis, in some ways his ideas suggest that it is….. ‘the phallus somehow mirrors or represents the penis’ (Silverman, 1993:354)
  • the final pages seem to be a summary of the complex argument, and I will return to them shortly….to hopefully clarify the ideas in the text….

(Silverman, 1993:354-5)


Silverman , K (1999). ‘The subject’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p. 340-355


In your BLOG………………………………………

…in your blog
• Look up Schrödinger’s cat. Make a brief summary of the theory.

• In Blade Runner there are a number of instances of reference to Lacan’s version of the gaze. Think of the blimp with its lights and sayings about the off-world colonies. Think of the Japanese woman on the billboard. They remind us that we are always being seen and the structure of seeing. Other figures fit into this category: the owl, the eye at the opening of the film, perhaps even Tyrell’s glasses. Find six other examples of this in film, TV or other imagery and annotate and make notes on your chosen examples and explain how they fit in with Lacan’s ideas.









Notes on ‘White’ by Richard Dyer


  • Can whiteness be a category -like eg. Blackness in film?
  • Most ‘minority’ analysis – on women, black, gay etc…. concentrates on how these groups are portrayed and represented, as part of the analysis of the way they are subordinated
  • But concentrating on these groups, without showing ‘the norm’ alongside them reinforces their ‘oddity/ differentness’.
  • Concentrating on the ‘norm’ eg the dominant category can also work to redress the balance – this has mainly been done with an analysis of the construction of ‘masculinity’


  • the author states that it is ok for a writer on the ‘dominant’ to be part of the dominant group ( eg. White and male). He should not go overboard on self criticism, but must acknowledge it may have an effect on his writing.
  • White v black is not just about ethnicity, and we have many everyday examples where the norm is white cf black.
  • White is light v black is dark- safe v dangerous
  • White is good and black is evil- the bible. Even these which may seem obvious are constructed….. it’s certainly possible to think of light/white as dangerous and black/dark as safe ………examples…
  • Black is often thought as a colour and white as a background or nothingness (white paper, white light) . Scientifically white is all colours and black is the absence of colour.
  • This resembles the idea that the ‘norm’ is white= everything, and black is somehow different.
  • Even in calls to the ‘nation’ (which seem inclusive of many groups), does it really include Black -in the case of Britain- or is white an underlying additional assumption of the norm here??, like we assume whiteness in addition to the norms of class, gender, heterosexuality……


  • Because it’s often assumed in the background whiteness is often hidden as a category in itself ( except in extreme case such as racism…)
  • It also makes it hard to analyse…. Unlike black. So we have the eg. Brief encounter which becomes about middle class- not White, but we have The colour purple which is about Black, before poor…….
  • The film ‘Being white’ shows vox pops of white people who ,in practice, are unable to define themselves as white, but always as subcategories of white- eg. Jewish….
  • Dyer suggests several areas that might be useful in analysing this difficult characteristic of ‘white’- eg. Portrayals of white in racist extremism, or in non-white film. Or if exchange white characters with black ones in iconic white films…..- what does it say about whiteness? (the commutivity test)


  • All these methods need to contrast white with non-white (and this is not the case with the analogous analysis of say portrayal of blacks, or American Indians).
  • Three cinematic films are mentioned where whiteness is analysed through the presence of non-white others, Simba, Jezabel , and Night of the Living Dead. The three cover a wide range of cinema characteristics (budget, style, subject etc…)
  • Definition coterminous=covering the same area.
  • Dyer looks at what is similar about the portrayal of whiteness in all 3 (diverse) films, but admits that due to whiteness’s resistance to being categorised there is an inevitable massive variation in whiteness in films.
  • Nevertheless, ‘all 3 films share a perspective that associates whiteness with order, rationality, rigidity….’ (ref) and a sense (in very different ways) that whiteness is being contested.
  •                                                                                                                                                   p.461
  • all 3 make reference to potential loss of dominant state of the whites-Simba- the uprising of the Mau-Mau against British occupation, Jezebel-the abolition of slavery in the USA, and ‘Night’ (implicitly) the various power struggles of the black people in 1960’s USA.


  • Dyer says that the sense of otherness in these films is based on ‘existential psychology’- introduced by Sartres where ‘an individual becomes self-aware by perceiving its difference from others’ (sounds a little like Lacan’s mirror phase, but this involves a misapprehension/false perception  about ‘no difference’ with another individual (the mirror image)
  •  This existential pysychology has been discussed by numerous authors , but Dyer concentrates on how it is played out in the films…
  • In each film Whites are dominant but dependent upon Blacks in some way, and they realise this (differently) in all 3 films.
  • This dependency delegitamises the white dominance, and Dyer’s fascination is in
  • how the films struggle to hang onto a justification of white dominance, however difficult it is to do.


  • The film is British, and is a ‘colonial adventure’ story, where the hero achieves ‘personal growth’.


  • Dyer describes the film’s narrative as a discussion of the serious issue of the Mau-Mau uprising, with different symbolic groups or individual people representing different attitudes to the problem
  • Finally, the hero (Alan) is the main symbol- his growth is allowed through engagement with the problem.
  • The film involves a complete binary separation of the black and white cultures -with no in-between or meeting.
  • This separation is achieved through cinema effects (symbols…..)
  • Basically white is rational, safe, organised modernity etc… and blackness is the complete antithesis of this….
  • The meetings of the whites and blacks are contrasted to illustrate how they represent these characteristics.
  • The whites- early evening, light, indoors, ‘high-key lighting’, orderly, speech only,
  • The blacks- the binary opposite, including excited gestures, unintelligible speech, and physical movements such as daubing with blood and entrails….


  • |The idea of ‘boundariness’ is used throughout the film, characteristic of dominant groups in general they have boundaries- eg. Rows, order, uninterrupted speech……but also the setting of boundaries is characteristic of the white/male especially .
  • Dyer says the film is racist ‘in the broadest sense’, but not the narrower one. The film believes that the blacks can evolve and achieve all the progressive characteristics of ‘whiteness’.
  • Several liberal characters believe in the ability of the Mau-mau to do so (including, in the end, the hero Alan), whereas the conservative whites do not.
  • As a reinforcing of this potential, the character of Peter is black and specifically has all the necessary characteristics (Doctor, educated, rational, humane, liberal….) of Whiteness.
  • But- those who believe in the potential evolution are subordinated to others in the film, and in the end liberalism is overcome, Peter dies, and the whites rescue Alan’s farm from the Mau-Mau attack.
  • The film believes in the possible evolutionism of Blacks to whiteness (though it fails in the end), but this Fixity of ideas about how colonised people should act (to be ‘better’ people-more like the colonisers) , or more generally in the how we see the behaviour of any ‘other’ group, is ‘deeply disturbing’ (ref).


  • The opening sequence is discussed- how filmic techniques are used to symbolise the binary opposites of white and black. Eg. The white viewpoint is given by, steady aerial shots (give the best view), modernity of the plane, bringing the hero to Africa. Black characteristics include pain, blood, death, fear, untrustworthy, primitive.
  • Binarism is shown by both the film techniques and through the narrative.
  • Aspects of the hero include- resolving the conflict, his adventure and personal growth,
  • Colonialism as a landscape allows white males values to flourish, it holds, adventure, discovery, needs taming, conquering etc….
  • It also requires ordering, rational control , authority….etc…
  • Through his development of responsibility through the film, he wins the love (and hand) of Mary


  • other films have explored the idea of colonialism eg. Black Narcissus.
  • They often end in acknowledgement of failure
  • The hero Alan also fails throughout the film…….. he fails to keep the farm, to protect Peter, to catch the Mau-mau leader……..
  • The failure shows an anxiety towards the Black threat of the mau-mau.
  • Simba endorse white superiority of values, but shows an anxiety that they will work against the problem (blackness). your blog

Watch the films Simba, Jezebel and Night of the Living Dead or at least Simba.

Find The Battle of Algiers (Italian: La battaglia di Algeri), a 1966 black-and-white film by Gillo Pontecorvo based on events during the 1954-1962 Algerian War against French rule. xxxiii This late neo-realist film is in stark contrast to Simba and the comparison is worth the effort.

• Note how Dyer uses some of the theories alluded to earlier in the course (hegemony and Sartre’s ideas of the self) to analyse the films and construct his argument.

• Over the period of a week, see how racial identity and identities are dealt with in the visual media: film, newspapers, the web, any exhibitions you might visit, advertising images and, particularly, the television. Make notes, illustrated where possible, of your analysis, taking Dyer as your model.





Project-Black. In your BLOG……

Fanon is writing from the point of view of a black colonial, a second-class citizen of his own country (although in French law he was a citizen of France).

  • What are his key points and how do these relate to visual culture?

        Many artists of Afro-Caribbean, African or Asian family origins working in Britain, the country of their birth, make work dealing with their take on, for want of a better term, blackness. Find such a work and make notes and annotations to explain this. Chris Ofili is just one such artist but there are many others.