top of page

Between MacGuffin and Transference: The films of Maya Deren byDevdutt Trivedi

is the empty signifier that carries the film forward. The actor embodies the MacGuffin as s/he emphasises the weight and gravity of the empty signifier. Transference, on the other hand, is the psychoanalytical relationship of affection or hatred (counter-transference) between the analyst and analysand. The argument is that the film-maker is the analyst and the counter transference towards the living subject (actor or model) suffers this relationship between the metteur and subject. The film screen itself, is the mediation of MacGuffin and transference in cinema.

With her debut masterwork Meshes of the Afternoon, American film maker Maya Deren nullifies the importance of the metteur by instead simply filming the symbolic interplay of images. The symbols are at the level of the unconscious, and the film is a structuring of the unconscious. Deren refuses to appropriate women as nature to patriarchal culture. Instead she uses the voice of the unconscious as humming to create cinematographic gestures in the form of the pan and wipe. The film is an assemblage dematerialised by the wind which makes the filmic apparatus verge on the sensorial collapse. The face of the masculine subject is mirror to recognise the Self as Other. The MacGuffin itself, the key to unlock the unconscious, is at the level of the unconscious symbolic that binds the real to the imaginary.

Meshes of the Afternoon

The most important element of agency is that mechanism of the utterance, the mouth, which both produces the key which transforms into a knife; thus establishing a relationship between the open (cinema) and the closed (patriarchy). The final images rupture the screen as agency of MacGuffin and transference i.e. the screen and the partial object is the sea. The sea is not symbol of unconscious anima but instead the force of nature that destroys patriarchal culture.

The first thing required for an image is direction. Direction is a priori dissolution of representation. In her next film, At Land, Deren uses the waves as force that separate masculine land from feminine liquification, as emphasised by the direction of the waves. The quality of liquified images is that it has many renters. The anima for Deren is submerged in the force of the sea; with the sky being line of flight. As in the films of Dziga Vertov, Deren confuses the totality of matter (hyle) with the unknown thing-in-itself (noumenon). This confusion of noumenon with hyle allows for a fresh dialogue between positivistic science and the Romanticist unconscious. The utterable comes from the outside whilst the game (chess) is the construction of the mise en scene. The game is itself liquefied so that filming is feminist practice freeing the metteur of “putting into the frame.”

This produces a time-image which is simultaneously actual and virtual. The spindle formation, as accumulation of rope as accumulation of time, is precisely the agglomerating structure of her next work Ritual Transfigured in Time. Movement itself is violent and a feminist discourse on cinema would require a withdrawal of movement so that the any-instant-whatever can be returned to its theatrical privileged pose. In her film Meditation on Violence, Deren meditates on movement to open up the unconscious.

The map making of the unconscious as mandala is what creates a projection of the interior on the night sky in The Very Eye of the Night. Romanticism is portrayed as anti-Newtonian. In other words, it opposes gravity. This opposition to gravity produces the diagrammatic in Deren’s final film The Divine Horseman-The Living Gods of Haiti.

The Divine Horseman-The Living Gods of Haiti

The horse is a symbol of technology dependent on the will of the horse-rider, in the same way as the intentionality of the shot belongs to the film director.The crossroad is an index of spiritual and corporeal which are perpendicular to one another.The animal sacrifices create privileged moments in the everyday to withdraw conscious hood (intentionality ) to the subconscious becoming-animal. The manifest reality is divine as represented through the possession of the worshipper.The sea is no longer symbol or force, but simply spirit. The sacrifice, through becoming-animal returns the consciousness to its own purification; whilst the sacrifice returns the life of the everyday to that of the divine. There is no intentionality, only filming memory, so that the intentionality is instead grace, as in the films of Robert Bresson.

The purpose of the rituals in all her films is an attempt to modify the psychic nature of the subject. The axis is simultaneously physical and metaphysical in order to make the Self permanent. This Self is manifested in the eternal persistence of the erotic over the everyday and ritual.

90 views0 comments


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page