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TitleThe Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Theories of Representation and Difference)
PublisherIndiana University Press
ISBN 139780253204745
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size2.3 MB
Total Pages272
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Page iii

The Acoustic Mirror

The Female Voice in
Psychoanalysis and Cinema

Theories of Representation and Difference

KAJA SILVERMAN

General Editor: Teresa de Lauretis

INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS
Bloomington and Indianapolis

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maternal facet" makes it, too, finally unassimilable to the Hollywood system, which is
centered on the father, the phallus, the law, and the male version of the sonorous envelope
fantasy. Not surprisingly, both films also deviate from that system's formal paradigm,
although once again that deviation is much more marked in the case of Riddles.

Three Women reads almost like a dramatization of "Place Names" and "Motherhood
According to Giovanni Bellini." It shows the female subject to have a tenuous hold upon
identity and social exchange so much so that she easily slips outside the symbolic
altogether. It defines that subject primarily through the three women of the title Milly
(Shelly Duvall), Willy (Janice Rule), and Pinky (Sissy Spacek), each of whom has a
troubled relationship to language, and highly permeable subjective boundaries.

Milly talks incessantly, in an unconscious parody of dominant discourse; her speech
consists almost entirely of citations from advertising and popular women's magazines. No
one but Pinky ever pays the slightest attention to what she says, which increasingly over the
course of the film assumes the status of cultural "noise" or babble. Although Milly's verbal
patter seems ineffective as an agency of communication, it is shown to serve an important
phatic function in the sanitarium where she works. As she slowly moves the elderly patients
through the warm water of the therapeutic pools, she wraps them in the sonorous blanket of
her voice; indeed, the film establishes a metaphoric connection between Milly's voice and
the curative waters. There is also a strongly implied metaphoric connection between the
elderly patients and small children. The former, like the latter, are helpless to perform even
the most rudimentary actions by themselves, and must be led by the hand when they walk.
Speech flows past them, leaving only a ripple of comprehension in its wake. Milly closely
approximates Kristeva's "mother-as-speaking-subject"; she is inside language, but only
marginally so, and her discursive standing is radically jeopardized by every tug on the
umbilical cord.

Willy more closely resembles Kristeva's genetrix. Not only is she hugely pregnant, but she
is completely absorbed in her pregnancy; she is the very prototype of the mother enclosed in
the enceinte, the mother who is simultaneously container and contained. Willy also remains
wordless for most of the film. She breaks her silence only on three occasions once to
scream for help when she finds Pinky floating face downward in the swimming pool, once
to fashion the obligatory cries of childbirth, and once (at the very end of the film) to remark:
"I just had a lovely dream. I wish I could remember it." All three sets of sounds attest to her
inability to manipulate language.

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Willy performs another important role one which Kristeva associates with the mother, but
which she nevertheless reserves for the male subject. She functions, that is, as an artist,
obsessively drawing primitive figures on the floors of swimming pools. These submerged,
underwater figures form a kind of genotext to the film's phenotext; half-human, half-animal,
frozen in postures of sexual aggression and submission, they pose an archaic and
antiperspectival challenge both to "realist" representation and to the civilizing sublimations
of the symbolic. They also foreground Willy's privileged relation to the drives.

If Willy and Milly embody aspects of the prototypical mother, Pinky represents the
prototypical daughter. She has the clothing, the gestures, and the undefined features of a
child. She burps noisily and with enthusiasm after gulping down a glass of beer, blows
bubbles through the straw in her milk, and spills shrimp cocktail down the front of her pink
smocked dress. Like a very young girl, she derives her only sense of identity from Milly,
appropriating her robe, her bed, her name, and her social security number. Pinky also
attempts to burrow deep inside Milly's voice; like the geriatric patients, she "bathes" in that
voice at the beginning of the film, and is before long echoing its aphorisms and turns of
phrase, making it the acoustic mirror in which she hears herself. She spends her evenings
furtively delving into Milly's diary, which she ultimately claims as her own. These
appropriations and penetrations all attest to a powerful desire to fuse with the mother the
desire which, as I have indicated, is also the motive force behind Kristeva's choric fantasy.

When Pinky's dyadic union with Milly is shattered by the entry of Edgar, Willy's
philandering husband, her desire finds an even more extreme expression. She dives from a
second-story balcony into the apartment swimming pool, aiming both her gaze and her body
at the pregnant belly of one of Willy's underwater figures. In so doing, she substitutes the
wordless enclosure of Willy's womb for the unwelcoming receptacle of Milly's voice.
Significantly, it is Willy who rescues Pinky from the pool, and who in so doing gives life to
her once again.

Ultimately, Altman's three women are united in the act of childbirth. When Willy goes into
labor, Milly assists, and Pinky watches, transfixed by the spectacle of motherhood. This
scene is immediately preceded by the dream in which Pinky's image merges with those of
Willy and Milly, a dream which prompts her to seek actual refuge in Milly's bed. It is
followed by the concluding scene of the film, which shows Milly, Willy, and Pinky acting
out the respective roles of mother, grandmother, and daughter. Childbirth is thus
emphatically associated with precisely that three-generational relay described by Kristeva,
whereby "the mother of a daughter replays in reverse the encounter

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Splits, 218

Staiger, Janet, ix

Stanton, Domna C., 245n2

Sunset Boulevard, 52

Suter, Jacqueline, 206-209, 244n45, 251n58, n60, n61

Suture, 10-13, 30

Synchronization, 47, 49, 50, 57, 61, 141, 142, 165, 166-68, 171, 173, 183

T

Talking cure, the, 59-61, 64, 66, 83, 99

Theorem, 218

Third term, 104, 135-36

Thompson, Kristin, ix

Three Women, 126-29, 130, 140

Touch of Evil, 55-56, 61

Truffaut, Francois, 211, 251n47

U

Uncanny, the viii, 17, 18, 38

V

Vasse, Denis, 44, 86, 238n10, 241n25

Verneinung, 110

Vertigo, 218

Voice-off, 48, 86, 130-33, 136-40, 165

Voice-over, 48-49, 51-54, 62, 76-77, 86, 130-33, 136-40, 163, 165, 168-74

Page 272

Voyeurism, 26, 27, 37

Vraisemblable, 42, 44, 45, 71

W

Welles, Orson, 51, 215

West, Mae, 61

Williams, Alan, 42-43, 237, n4, n5

Williams, Linda, 237n51, 237n57

Wollen, Peter, 73, 101, 153, 195-98, 202, 235n12, 250n30-n35

A Woman's Face, viii

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