A Lover's Discourse: Fragments (Barthes) and My Life Without Steve (Dir. Gillian Leahy, 1986) share a common project. Both are predicated on the isolation of the lover: 'the lover's discourse is today of an extreme solitude' (Barthes Discourse 1); 'And there was nowhere else to live, except alone...' (Leahy Script Shot 3). Barthes' lover elaborates on this solitude:
The lover's solitude is not a solitude of person..., it is a solitude of system: I am alone in making a system out of it (perhaps because I am ceaselessly flung back on the solipsism of my discourse). A difficult paradox: I can be understood by everyone (love comes from books, its dialect is a common one), but I can be heard (received "prophetically") only by subjects who have exactly and right now the same language I have. (Barthes Discourse 212)
My Life Without Steve's Liz experiences it:
Barbara is pretending not to be home. I can see that her lights are on. And her car is there. I knocked twice. I don't really blame her. But I wish she was there. (Leahy Script Shot 41) 1
Barthes' lover argues that lovers are isolated because there is no language or system for them:
...the several systems [of love] which surround the contemporary lover offer him no room (except for an extremely devaluated place): turn as he will toward one or another of the received languages, none answers him, except in order to turn him away from what he loves. Christian discourse, if it still exists, exhorts him to repress and to sublimate. Psychoanalytic discourse (which, at least, describes his state) commits him to give up his Image-repertoire as lost. As for Marxist discourse, it has nothing to say. If it should occur to me to knock at these doors in order to gain recognition somewhere (wherever it might be) for my "madness" (my "truth"), these doors close one after the other; and when they are all shut, there rises around me a wall of language which oppresses and repulses me - unless I repent and agree to "get rid of X". (Barthes Discourse 211)
The question arises: why is there no system? Why has the lover been forsaken? To quote Barthes:
...general opinion ... disparages any excessive force and wants the subject himself to reduce the great imaginary current, the orderless, endless stream which is passing through him... (Discourse 7)
In other words, the lover is a threat to society; out of control and therefore potentially disruptive. In an interview Barthes is challenged on this point: if "love" is so asocial and dangerous, why does mass culture expend so much time promoting it?
...What are really being staged in these cases are narratives of episodes, not the sentiment of love itself...This means that if you put the lover in a "love story," you thereby reconcile him with society. Why? Because telling stories is one of the activities coded by society, one of the great social constraints. Society tames the lover through the love story. (Barthes Grain 302)
This story is a deception, 'a deception in amorous time':
I believe (along with everyone else) that the amorous phenomenon is an "episode" endowed with a beginning (love at first sight) and an end (suicide, abandonment, disaffection, withdrawal, monastery, travel, etc.). Yet the initial scene during which I was ravished is merely reconstituted: it is after the fact. I reconstruct a traumatic image which I experience in the present but which I conjugate (which I speak) in the past...(Barthes Discourse 193)
In order to avoid the containment of his lover within the "love story", Barthes selects two arbitrary factors to order his "figures", 2 fearing that even pure chance may encourage the emergence of a philosophy. The factors, nomination and the alphabet, supply the reason for one thing following another, without the reader having to turn to ideas of causality and development to "explain" the relationship between figures (Barthes Discourse 6-8). 3
The most prevalent form of the "love story" is the narrative of the cure which demands that the lover reduce his experience to:
a painful, morbid crises of which he must be cured, which he must "get over" ("It develops, grows, causes suffering, and passes away" in the fashion of some Hippocratic disease): the love story (the "episode," the "adventure") is the tribute the lover must pay to the world in order to be reconciled with it. (Barthes Discourse 7)
At least one critic has interpreted My Life Without Steve as conforming to the narrative of the cure:
This tragically ecstatic journey into the dazzling dark night of the romantic soul does not so much indulge an ego as it cleansingly analyses and resiliently, triumphantly, resurrects the rediscovering self. Thus the "we" of the audience is irresistibly drawn into, and accessibly intertwines with, the all embracing "me" of the narrating space. (Kemp 11)
Such a reading is doubtless possible. It would focus on selecting those indicators of a progression from sickness (being in love and its attendant depression) to health (no longer desiring the other). It would highlight Liz's frequently expressed desire to get over him, and her attempts to do so. Liz consults therapists; she reads books to enhance understanding of her plight and therefore gain control over it; she tries to do all the right things - going out, jogging, getting work. While each stride forward, may be accompanied a small slide back, this can easily be contained within the rhetoric of the cure so long as some progress is, eventually, in evidence. The evidence could be found in the mise en scene. The flat gets progressively untidier as the depths of Liz's depression are plumbed - long pans across rows of disheveled shelves, the kitchen gradually overtaken by food scraps and unwashed crockery. But once the nadir is reached things pick up. There is a brand new kettle whistling away cheerfully, a white lace table-cloth, and the shelves are displayed in all their ordered glory doubtless the perfect metaphor for the new state of Liz's mind. Most telling of all, the photo of Steve is gone from the wall. She is now ready to go out into the world again, which is, of course, exactly what we do - the reverse motion of the opening pan that brought us Liz's story in the first place.
This reading is only possible if one is prepared to gloss over all the contraindications. Even during the course of the final pan out Liz is still fantasizing Steve's return:
I see you, coming back to me. You are crying with emotion. You apologise for all the pain you put me through. You were wrong. You say I am the only one you ever loved. You beg me to take you back. (Leahy Script Shot 206)
Moreover, every bit as telling as the fact Steve's photograph has been taken down from the wall, is the gap that exists where it used to be. As the film makes abundantly clear, an absence is every bit as compelling as a presence, if not more so. And then there is that telling opening comment, the voice from the future, still uncertain as to whether or not the view had indeed pulled her out of her misery.
Another strategy which society employs to contain the lover is the narrative of the autobiography. Within this framework the lover can be reduced to an individual aberration, tolerated precisely because of this, and justified on the grounds of authenticity. In view of this, it is not surprising that both Barthes and Leahy are repeatedly asked about the autobiographical nature of their respective texts. 4 However, the efficacy of this strategy must be called into question. In the first place the "innocence" of autobiography is hard to sustain these days. After all the genre has been widely accused of ideological complicity with bourgeois individualism (Marcus 77). 5 In addition, autobiography is doubly damned by recent assaults on the notion of author as 'origin and sovereign of meaning' (Williamson 30). 6
For writing about ourselves we risk cowardice and mendacity; and more, we risk changing ourselves by that writing into whatever an autobiographer pretends to be. (Hassan 147)
Barthes, in his autobiography, is less harsh:
the more "sincere" I am, the more interpretable I am, under the eye of other examples than those of the old authors, who believed they were required to submit themselves to but one law: authenticity. (Barthes Barthes 120)
In any case both Barthes and Leahy refuse such a containment of their texts under the label "autobiography", and they both do so by challenging the individuality of the experience of the lover. 7 Barthes, moreover, questions the underlying presumptions about self upon which questions of autobiography are based:
To then say "It's I!" would be to postulate a unity of self that I do not recognise in myself. (Barthes Grain 304) 8
Elsewhere, Barthes explains why he, nevertheless, uses the first person throughout A Lover's Discourse:
The result is thus the discourse of a subject who says I, who is thus individualized on the level of the utterance, but the discourse is nevertheless a composed, feigned, or, if you prefer, a "pieced together" discourse (the result of montage). ... You see, the one who says "I" in the book is the I of writing. (Barthes Grain 285)
In keeping with this, Barthes describes the project he undertakes in A Lover's Discourse as follows:
What is proposed, then, is a portrait - but not a psychological portrait; instead, a structural one which offers the reader a discursive site: the site of someone speaking within himself, amorously, confronting the other (the loved object), who does not speak. (Barthes Discourse 3)
Barthes' lover as discursive site precludes any one individual exclusively embodying this position - though the discourse '...is spoken, perhaps, by thousands of subjects (who knows?)...' (Barthes Discourse 3). Can the character of Liz also operate as a discursive site?
As a cinematic character, Liz is something of an anomaly. We are far more familiar with her as a disembodied voice, than as the "flesh and blood" of most screen subjects. We do occasionally glimpse a body that we can attribute this voice to; never a whole body, however, except frozen in photographs, and never a moving face, except reflected in a window or a mirror, and even here we never see the face speaking. 9 One effect of such a strategy is to challenge the cinematic barrier Bruss detects between the person seeing and the person being seen (Bruss 307). This could open up the possibility of less mediated audience identification than is the case when a camera films the subject of the story. 10 At very least, the strategy disrupts the corporeal boundaries that usually enclose, and contain, the cinematic character. Also the nature of the narrative has some interesting ramifications on the constitution of this subject. The voice which carries the narration sometimes quotes, sometimes sings, sometimes recalls, sometimes analyses and sometimes describes. Liz is constituted by, while also constituting, the discourses that surround her, and this she shares with Barthes' lover.
Creed suggests that '...the film could be read as as an exploration of the modern mind as the repository of cliche' (Creed 356). If we allow that cliche reflects the culture which produces it, then the modern mind is at once more than simply a repository, for it is a contributor too, but by the same token it can not act completely outside of culturally prescribed boundaries. Both texts acknowledge this. They seek to explore the ways culture enables certain discourses but has difficulty coping with others, while endeavouring to carve out a new discursive site.
This new discursive site, in the first instance, is the result of appropriating fragments from other discourses. As the promotional blurb for My Life Without Steve goes:
Ranging from the popular to the more erudite, snatches of songs, quotes and diary jottings are all stitched together with stories from Liz's past and descriptions in minutiae of her current existence. The B-side of love is richly played out through the words of interpreters ranging from Split Enz, Laurie Anderson and Bob Dylan, to Freud, Marge Piercy, Collette and Roland Barthes. (McMurchy & Stott 82)
For Barthes' part, Goethe, Plato, Freud, Gide, Zen, German lieder, mystics, Tristan, Nietzsche, and conversations with friends are all plundered for what they can contribute to capturing the lover, not in repose, but caught in action (Barthes Discourse 4). The trick in this game of appropriation is to find a figure - and the figure 'is established if at least someone can say: "That's so true! I recognise that scene of language."' (Barthes Discourse 4).
Another important component of this new discursive site is an investigation of the narrative of the cure. My Life Without Steve revolves around the recitative of the mythology of the cure. The talking cure, the reading cure, the working cure, even time itself are tested but do not respond with the closure the narrative promises.
When does it come this miraculous morning. When I no longer want you to hear me. When you're like anyone else. When I don't care anymore. A mourning that doesn't work. A morning that never comes. (Leahy Script Shot 19) 11
Liz's recidivism does Barthes' lover proud. Both recognise themselves in Freud's description of the actions of the spurned lover: 'This rebellion is sometimes so intense that the subject may reach the point of rejecting reality and clinging to the lost object by means of a hallucinatory psychosis of desire' (Barthes Discourse 109 & Leahy Script 3). 12 Nor does the cure offered by feminist discourse 13 seem to hold out much satisfaction: 'Knowing the women are depressed because they are oppressed doesn't seem to be helping me much at the moment. In fact it almost feeds the wounds' (Leahy Script Shot 113).
Certain key features frequently employed in love stories, and particularly narratives of the cure are adopted by the lover, but reworked.
I feel the unhappy lover is not even able to benefit from this reconciliation, and that he is not, paradoxically, within a love story; he's in something which closely resembles madness, because it's not for nothing that we say someone is madly in love, and the story is simply impossible from the lover's point of view. (Barthes Grain 286)
In My Life Without Steve Liz chooses an instructive analogy:
I imagine you as the man in "Gaslight". He is trying to drive her mad. She loves him and takes a long time to realise that he is bad. She thinks she is mad. That it is because she is mad, that he doesn't love her. (Barthes Grain 7-8)
Madness as foisted on the unsuspecting victim. Also illuminating is the story of the woman who was jilted at the altar, and who kept the house for thirty years just as it was on her wedding day. The woman was mad, a curiosity, yet Liz identified with her. Liz cites the statistics that more women go mad than men: 'The women go to therapists and the men move on to the next relationship. Who is really more mad? What is my madness for this time?'. Clearly for Liz as for Barthes' lover, madness is not a clinical fact, but a signal that the snug cloak of society just does not always fit, and will frequently respond to a bad fit by turning itself into a strait-jacket.
Another motif, closely allied with madness is obsession. Barthes' borrows a term from Ignatius of Loyola to elucidate the condition:
The Loquela...designates the flux of language through which the subject tirelessly rehashes the effects of a wound or the consequences of an action: an emphatic form of the lover's discourse. (Barthes Discourse 160)
More so even than A Lover's Discourse, My Life Without Steve evokes obsession. 'Over and over the loss repeats' (Leahy Script Shot 12) 14 says Liz, as she relentlessly reflects on her love and loss, on her desire not to repeat history, tinged with the belief that '...it isn't that simple. I couldn't prevent it' (Leahy Script Shot 206). 15 The whole film is obsessive in tone, as Liz Sisyphus-like makes a small breakthrough, only to be plunged yet again into the depths of despair: the "cure" striven for, but never attained. The very containment of the film within the one small flat with its window lends itself to the loquela. Fragments within the film, too, speak the loquela: the footsteps of the guy upstairs pacing, the incessant dripping of the kitchen tap, the recurring shots of the kitchen sometimes ordered often not, the pans across the shelves, and the photographs, the ubiquitous photographs - 'Little memories...like nuclear waste' (Leahy Script Shot 60) 16 - and, like nuclear waste, they just don't go away. Nor do Liz's wounds. (Leahy Script Shots 47, 48, 76, 83, 108, 177, and 206). Allied to both madness and the loquela, is suicide within a lover's discourse. '[H]ow many times will not one and the same lover commit suicide?' (Barthes Discourse 212). Liz notches up a few efforts in this department. 17
If the lover stands outside existing systems, by definition the lover occupies a position of excess in relation to those systems. But as it is impossible to speak from a position outside culture, 18 also by definition, excess cannot be described. Nevertheless, the obvious gaps that exist in, and between the systems, have led some to attempt to theorise this area. Barthes coins the label 'third meaning', or 'obtuse meaning', to describe an element of communication which is outside culture, knowledge and information (Barthes "Third Meaning" 52-68). It does not represent anything and so disturbs meta-language. Ironically, though, while Barthes notes a parallel between this and the filmic, which also cannot be described, he argues that this filmic can only be found in the film still (Barthes "Third Meaning" 65). Kristin Thompson picks up on the idea of the third term, broadens it out to be potentially applicable to all film, and calls it excess (54-63). 19 Employing a formalist analysis, Thompson is able to say that excess is what is left over after the elements which contribute to plot, story and style have been accounted for. She cautions, however, that excess is hard to talk about as '...viewers are determined to find a necessary function for any element the critic singles out' (Thompson 57). Barthes, in his study of photography, uses the concept of punctum to account for what cannot be adequately explained or analysed in certain photographs. What separates Barthes' punctum from either his earlier Third Term, or Thompson's excess is that the punctum '...is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there' (Barthes Camera 55). Thus Barthes introduces the importance of the spectator to the equation. What these accounts have in common is the attempt to identify, if not explain, where meaning and representation break down, where the systems are disrupted. 20
Heeding the warnings of Thompson I will not purport to point to where excess can be found in either work for everyone. Rather, I will follow the Barthes of Camera Lucida , and suggest areas where I detect excess. Barthes' lover speaks of it directly:
To write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive (by the limitless expansion of the ego, by emotive submersion) and impoverished (by the codes on which love diminishes and levels it). (Barthes Discourse 99)
In A Lover's Discourse I discover excess in the action of the fragments cumulatively. Instead of the individual sections building meaning, they seem to disperse it. The discourse as a whole is too much and too little. The "punctum" of recognition in a given argument is never dissipated as it may be in a linear work by it being contextualised and explained. Susan Sontag writes that '...it is the nature of aphoristic thinking to be always in a state of concluding' (Sontag 429), but in A Lover's Discourse, at least, the aphorisms seem to be more in a state of commencing. 21 The possibilities thus opened up are too many to be comprehended (excessive).
Creed says of My Life Without Steve:
In a sense, the film text itself is an "hysterical" text, that is, the film is not only about extreme states of feeling, it is itself in excess. (Creed 354)
To the extent that the figure of the lover is in excess, this is probably true. But within this excessive whole, I detect excess, too, in individual elements. The film's handling of time is one such element. The first words said are:
After you left I moved in here for a year, hoping that the view would pull me out of the misery. Maybe it did. And there was nowhere else to live, except alone and lonely - without you. (Leahy Script Shot 3)
After a brief pause, the voice still speaking in the second person recounts a dream, and from here on there is no tangible evidence to suspect any departure from a linear chronology. This initial gesture to a framing device may suggest the rest of the film is a flashback, but the very continuity of the voice, its mode of address, its theme, upset the usual effect of flashback as a closed off exegesis. Day follows night, and there is even the suggestion of seasonal changes over a year. The narration, however, cuts across these patterns. A pause in the monologue may represent only the second we experience elapsing on the screen, or it may elide days, weeks, or months. There is no telling. 'Each day is a month. Each month is a year. All the cliches are true', (Leahy Script Shot 192) Liz says, but such pat answers do not convey the unsettling effect of this evocation of time. Tenses are blurred. The film is not just an unfolding present, but one that merges with the future of the beginning lines and the past of the memories narrated. Time is disrupted, excess is in evidence.
I perceive excess, too, in the unconventional relationships established between the visuals, the voice over, and the other sounds. On the one hand, there is a temptation to privilege the voice over, because of the expectation that it is bearer of meaning and locus of identity, and therefore presume that the other sounds and the image are controlled by it. To do so would create an unproblematic representation of a unified and mastering subject which runs counter to the whole impetus of the film. The visuals have a life of their own. The virtuoso opening pan which introduces us to the space we are to occupy for the duration of the film, is accompanied by no voice over, and it seems to dictate the sounds. We see the boats, the wharf and the industrial shoreline and hear the focussed and heightened sound of engines and machinery. As the pan moves into the room the industrial noise dies, only to fade up again as camera closes in on a photograph of the scene we have just seen outside. The pan continues: we see an alarm clock and hear the ticking. The image is calling forth the sound.
At other times it is the sound which calls the shots. We are watching two workmen on a wharf, a ship's hooter sounds and the camera pans across to reveal the ship coming through Pyrmont bridge. At other times the reverse applies: we hear water dripping before we cut to the sink. Occasionally the voice summons the image: the voice says that the therapist suggested that she stop wearing the bracelet, and then the cut to the open bracelet on the table. Sometimes the relationship is quite straightforward: we see a tug approaching the wharf at night and the voice describes the moon in the clouds and the tugs sneaking in after fishing on the Q.T.; or when the voice describes features of the paintwork or the ceiling. Sometimes a more complex interaction is set up: we hear footsteps pacing while we see a shot of the ceiling. We cut to a reflection of Liz, and the narration eventually tells us that all that will happen tonight is that the guy upstairs will pace the floor as usual.
Very rarely tricks are played on us, as when we are shown the exterior of a lighted window - shot from the adjoining window. The narration refers to another lit window, that of Barbara, who is pretending not to be home (Leahy Script Shot 41). At another time the kettle is boiling on the stove. We hear a ringing tone (not a telephone ringing). There is a cut to an exercise book on the desk and the camera pans left to the phone but the receiver is down, the pan moves right to a vase of flowers, then closes in on a rose. By now the voice is quoting Barthes, '"I'm going to leave you," the voice on the telephone says with each second' (Leahy Script Shot 24). A cut to the kitchen eliminates the ringing tone but the voice continues: 'I rang up eight people last night. None of them were home' (Leahy Script Shot 25). Another sequence uses the banging of a floating wharf against its mooring to beat out a slightly unsteady rhythm against which Laurie Anderson's "Walking and Falling" is repeated. While we see the water and the wharf, we do not actually see what is banging. The unsteadiness of the banging dictates the stilted rendition of the song. While seldom are realistic conventions actually breached, there is a subtle play at the peripheries.
This play does not establish new conventions, nor even is a single ploy used often enough to attach a particular meaning to it. Rather each sequence enables us to combine the various elements in a variety of ways. The continual shifts in relations disrupt conventional methods of analysis - the systems are not working, excess is close at hand.
Barbara Creed criticises the film for 'the regularity and singularity with which the visual matches the verbal [which] locates the image track as a slave to the sound track denying the possibility of a more flexible relationship' (Creed 356). One must wonder exactly what she has in mind. Any radical disjuncture between the elements could only serve to foreground the disjuncture or turn it into a puzzle to be solved. The subtlety of the interrelationships as they actually are encourages ambiguity without destroying the moods evoked.
Excess I find too in the motif of water. Water has been used as a metaphor for 'woman'. Is its ubiquitous presence in My Life Without Steve not just an extended use of this metaphor? After all, it is assigned prominence at the outset in the traditionally female role of the nurse; the view to pull Liz out of her memory. Yet it is also the impassive reflector of the dazzling colours and patterns of the night lights, impervious to Liz's melancholic outpourings as she is impervious to their beauty.
Scene 7 features a storm, heralded by a kitchen tap dripping obsessively on a solitary plate. The rhythm is set for a monologue, addressed to Liz's mother. 22 The dripping tap gives way to the running stream of the bathroom tap as Liz talks about her threats to slit her wrists, and then a thunderstorm breaks loose and we watch the driving rain on the harbour as Liz explains that Steve just used to ask her how exactly she was planning to kill herself. The thunder rumbles and Liz tells us that she is on tranquillisers again. As described here the water could be interpreted as reflecting the nature and intensity of the emotions Liz experiences, but this would be to deny the elliptical relationship between the tone of the voice over (restrained throughout), the editing (steadily paced), the sound effects (muted, even the thunder is distant), and the content of the voice over (bordering on desperation).
This disjuncture refuses the subsuming of the water (either in the taps, or in the weather) to Liz's emotional state but there is undoubtedly a link. It is the impossibility of defining that link that, for me, suggests an excess. The frequency with which we return to the dripping taps, the steam rising from the kettle, and watery view sets up an expectation that they must mean something, that they must signify. But with every return, there is a different mood. Stubbornly these figures refuse incorporation within existing structures. Often the water is visually an abstraction: light reflected from the sun or the city at night, moving on the ripples of water. Light which cannot be seen unless it is reflected off something, hitting water, which has no form of its own, and given movement by the invisible force of the wind. In two privileged moments we see reflections cast by the water invading the flat. A swirling white vortex shimmers on the wall. Later the reflections catch a recognisable shadow and render its boundaries indistinct, continuously in motion. To try to contain these images by drawing parallels with Liz reconstituting herself, would necessarily be to deny the sublime, their excess.
Barthes' lover's behaviour is described as follows:
...either you have some hope, and then you will act; or else you have none, in which case you will renounce. That is the discourse of the "healthy" subject: either/or. But the amorous subject replies (as Werther does): I am trying to slip between the two members of the alternate: i.e., I have no hope, but all the same... Or else: I stubbornly choose not to choose; I choose drifting: I continue. (Barthes Discourse 62)
This is precisely Liz's actions, the actions of that renegade: the lover, the actions that do not fit comfortably with the love story, the story of the cure. Liz reads:
You obtain power over the nightmare by calling it its real name. What is its name! (Leahy Script Shot 170)
Barthes' lover knows that it does not have a name:
(I have had that nightmare about a loved person who was sick and begged the passers-by for help; but everyone refused him harshly, despite my own hysterical attempts to obtain medicine; the anguish of this loved person then became hysterical, for which I reproached him. I understood a little later that this person was myself - of course; who else is there to dream about?: I was appealing to all the passing languages (systems), rejected by them and pleading with all my might, indecently, for a philosophy which might "understand" me - might "shelter" me.) (Barthes Discourse 211-2)
Both My Life Without Steve and A Lover's Discourse refuse to conform to the condoned version of the love story as cure and containment. Both Liz and the lover, in different ways, attempt to carve out a space, a discourse, for the figure which is not tolerated because it has no name, no language. In traversing this terrain of the unrepresented, both works inevitably encounter the unrepresentable, the excess.
1. Or Shot 25 'I rang up eight people last night. None of them were home.'
2. 'Figures' is the term Barthes uses to describe the fragments of discourse. See 3-6.
3. Elsewhere, Barthes explains 'I was careful to preserve the radical discontinuity of this linguistic torment unfolding in the lover's head...That is why I cut the work up into fragments and put them into alphabetical order.' Interview by Jacques Henric in Art Press, reprinted in Grain (286).
4. See for example the Playboy interview with Barthes, "The Greatest Cryptographer of Contemporary Myths talks about Love", reprinted in Grain (304), where Philippe Roger probes: 'So, then, the lover who speaks is really you, Roland Barthes?'. In the same volume Jacques Henric poses the leading question: 'But still, who does say "I" in these fragments?'. Bob Crimeen's interview with Gillian Leahy revolves entirely around the issue of how autobiographical the film actually is. And during an interview with Leahy - conducted by Peter Kemp and Tina Kaufmann - the question is asked, 'How relevant to our appreciation of the film is the issue of whether the story or situation as such is true or based on fact?'.
5. Marcus is arguing a case that certain recent autobiographical writing is able to combine a critique of the idea that individual stories can be 'simply' evidential or authentic, with a search for an authentic autobiographical identity which exceeds social and cultural determinations. Such a project is fraught with difficulties.
6. See also Barthes "Death of the Author" (142-148); Michel Foucault "What is an Author?" (113-138); and John Caughie Authorship.
7. Barthes replies to one enquiry 'there are elements from my experience, elements from Werther, or books I have read: culture, mysticism, psychoanalysis, Nietzsche...There are also elements from conversations with friends...' Grain (285). In the words of the popular press, 'Leahy reveals [Liz is] actually a composite of a number of people - including herself' (Crimeen).
8. For an interesting, if at times problematic, discussion of related issues see Andrew Preston's, "Self/Criticism" (41-47).
9. This could also be interpreted as upsetting the "presentness" of the narration and the images, however, it could equally be interpreted as an inner voice - we hear what she is thinking as we see her reflection. This latter interpretation is reinforced by the congruence of speech and expression in these sequences.
10. Barbara Creed may be alluding to something along these lines when she says 'My Life Without Steve deliberately eschews all distancing devices, preferring instead to place the viewer into the heart and soul of the female protagonist' (350).
11. Or Shots 47 & 48 (the discussion of wounds not healing).
12. While on the subject of psychoanalysis and its contribution to the narrative of the cure, Julia Kristeva argues a case for aesthetic creation "curing" causes of moral pain, not in the traditional psychoanalytic way of dissolving the symptom by becoming conscious of it, but through catharsis ("Imaginary" 9). Barthes' lover has a response to such claims for art: 'Two powerful myths have persuaded us that love could, should be sublimated in aesthetic creation: the Socratic myth (loving serves to "engender a host of beautiful discourses") and the romantic myth (I shall produce an immortal work by writing my passion).' (Barthes Discourse 97). He goes on to describe how Werther, great artist that he was, could barely sketch Charlotte's silhouette.
13. At least to the extent that its various manifestations do loosely form an orthodoxy.
14. Or later 'The loss of the mother and the loss of the lover repeat - over and over again' (Shots 164-165).
15. This refrain can also be found in Shots 12, 113, 165, 196, 197 and 203-204.
16. Quoted from Pamela Brown (132).
17. See for example, 'Steve will not come tonight and I won't die tonight' (Shot 28), although 'I feel like killing myself tonight' (Shot 42), 'I threaten to slit my wrists' (Shot 148), 'Sometimes I want to kill myself just to stop the anxiety' (Shot 159), 'Maybe I will suffer less fantasies of wrist slitting and overdosing as a result' (Shot 177).
18. Loosely defined here as the aggregation of those systems, or discourses.
19. See also Hanet (18-28) which also uses Barthes' 'Third Term' to speak of excess in films.
20. They also share, as their object of analysis, photographs or films. There are also many accounts of "excess" in literature and other arts. Kristeva's notion of the 'semiotic' erupting in and disrupting the symbolic (see Kristeva Revolution) could be interpreted as one such example. However, in the interests of clarity and simplicity I have elected to use only elements of the Barthes/Thompson theories, which are comparatively straightforward, and in any case Barthes himself talks of excess in language in Discourse (see immediately below).
21. Or 'The fragment, implying as it does economy of immediate gratification, likes only beginnings and endings, not development' (Bensmaia 71).
22. About the parallels between the emotional blackmail Liz's mother uses on Liz, and that which Liz uses on Steve.
Addis, Erika. "In conversation", Interview by Kathy Jones. Filmviews 130 (Summer 1986-87): 17.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida.Trans. Richard Howard. London: Fontana, 1984.
___. "The Death of the Author". Image-Music-Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977: 142-148.
___. "The Grain of the Voice". Image-Music-Text. 179-189.
___. The Grain of the Voice. Interviews 1962-1980. Trans. Linda Coverdale. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985.
___. A Lover's Discourse: Fragments. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang,1985.
___. Roland Barthes. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.
___. "The Third Meaning: Research Notes on some Eisenstein Stills". Image - Music - Text. 52-68.
Bensmaia, Reda. "Roland Barthes: From Fragment to 'Detail'" Trans. William Smock. Enclitic 5.1 (Spring 1981): 66-79.
Brown, Pamela. Selected Poems 1971-1982. Sydney: Redress Press and Wild & Woolley, 1984.
Bruss, Elizabeth W. "Eye for I: Making and Unmaking Autobiography in Film". Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical. Ed. James Olney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980. 296-320.
Caughie, John. "Fiction of the Author/Author of the Fiction. Introduction". Theories of Authorship: A Reader.Ed. John Caughie. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul and BFI, 1981. 199-207.
Cook, Pam. "The Point of Self-Expression in Avant-Garde Film". Theories of Authorship: A Reader.Ed. John Caughie. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul and BFI, 1981. 271-281.
Creed, Barbara. "The Post-modern Blues or My Life Without Steve". Don't Shoot Darling! Women's Independent Filmmaking in Australia. Eds. Annette Blonski, Barbara Creed, Freda Freiberg. Victoria: Greenhouse Publications, 1987. 350-357.
Crimeen, Bob. "Movie faces trials on and off screen". Sun (Vic) March 12 1987. (reprinted in Cinedossier 259, 17 March 1987).
Foucault, Michel. "What is an Author?". Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. D. Bouchard. Trans. D. Bouchard & S. Simon. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977. 113-138.
Hanet, Kari. "The Narrative Text of Shock Corridor". Screen 15.4 (1974/5): 18-28.
Hassan, Ihab. "Parabiography: The Varieties of Critical Experience" The Postmodern Turn: essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1987. 147-166.
Kemp, Peter. "Featuring the Non-Features". Filmnews. 16.3 (June 1986): 11, 18.
Kristeva, Julia. "On the Melancholic Imaginary". New Formations. 3 (Winter 1987): 5-18.
___. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.
Leahy, Gillian. "Lonesome" Interview by Peter Kemp & Tina Kaufman. Filmnews. 16.5 (October 1986): 8, 10.
___. My Life Without Steve. Post Production Script, Sydney, 1986.
McMurchy, Megan and Jennifer Stott, Eds. Signs of Independents. Ten Years of the Creative Development Fund. Sydney: Australian Film Commission, December 1988.
Marcus, Laura. "'Enough About You, Let's Talk About Me' Recent Autobiographical Writing". New Formations. 1 (Spring 1987): 77-94.
Preston, Andrew. "Self/Criticism". Flesh, Intervention. 21/22 (1988): 41-47.
Rainer, Yvonne. "Looking Myself in the Mouth". October. 17 (Summer 1981): 65-76.
___. "More Kicking and Screaming from the Narrative Front/Backwater". Wide Angle. 7.1/2 (1985): 8-12.
Sontag, Susan. "Writing Itself: On Roland Barthes". A Susan Sontag Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982. 425-446.
Thompson, Kristin. "The Concept of Cinematic Excess". Cine-Tracts. 1.2 (1977): 54-63.
Williamson, Dugald. Authorship and Criticism, Critical Categories Series, No. 1. Sydney: Local Consumption Publications, 1989.
New: 22 November, 1995 | Now: 24 March, 2015