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Nocturnal Embodiments: Gendering Allegories of the Night

Queens of the Night

In our image repertoire the night conventionally finds two modes of representation - as a nocturnal scene and as an allegorical figure. Both emerge at the end of the 16th century, primarily as exercises in the deployment of light and shadow. Because, as Hegel notes in hisScience of Logic, representation is the result of the tension between illumination and darkness:

But one pictures being to oneself, perhaps in the image of pure light as the clarity of undimmed seeing, and then nothing as pure night - and their distinction is linked with this very familiar sensuous difference. But, as a matter of fact, if this very seeing is more exactly imagined, one can readily perceive that in absolute clearness there is seen just as much, and as little, as in absolute darkness, that the one seeing is as good as the other, that pure seeing is a seeing of nothing. Pure light and pure darkness are two voids which are the same thing. Something can be distinguished only in determinate light or darkness (light is determined by darkness and so is darkened light, and darkness is determined by light, is illuminated darkness), and for this reason that it is only darkened light and illuminated darkness which have written themselves the moment of difference and are, therefore, determinate being [Dasein]. [1]

I quote this passage at length, because it brings into play the notion of difference or contrast as constitutive for any determinate being - for Dasein - to emerge and concomitantly to be perceived visually. Absolute clearness and absolute darkness are not only equated by Hegel (“the same thing”), but also conceived as “two voids”. Inversely that which is not void is necessarily inscribed by an interplay between lightness and darkness, or put another way by a play of difference. Given that I will be speaking about how an abstract term such as the night has come to be embodied in our image repertoire, even as the gendering of this figuration is significant, Hegel's insistence on ‘difference’ as constitutive for any perception and representation of the night is crucial. More than in the case of nocturnal scenes, where the interplay of shadow and light merely inflects the depicted scenario, allegorizations of the night bring difference into play on the level of a gendering of its embodiment. The night is always a feminine body, which - thus the wager subtending my argument, deploys two differential shifts. Night can not be represented in its pure form, as an absolute void, but only as a body image, staged in a scene that is partially lit, where the limited illumination differentiates this body visually from a completely dark canvas. As a human figure night is further differentiated by her difference from masculinity: She is a maternal figure, watching over her two children death and sleep: in the painting by Joachim von Sandrart (1659) the three human shapes connect the light of the moon with the light of a lantern. Death, like absolute darkness, cannot be represented directly, only allegorically, as a candle that has been extinguished.

There is, of course, another figuration that immediately comes to mind when we think about the gendering of nocturnal embodiments of the night, namely Mozart's Queen of the Night, and her representation by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1815). Here a maternal figure, lit from beneath by the light of the moon sickle she is standing on (which in fact serves both as her platform and her mode of transportation). She is no longer huddled in a cave but rather thrones above the clouds, enveloped by a dome of stars. Above all she stands majestically alone. Let me recall for you the seminal moments from the libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder (1791). The Queen of the night gives a portrait of her daughter Pamina to the beautiful youth Tamino, who happens to wander into her magic realm. As she explains in her first aria, “suffering is my destiny, Since my daughter is no longer with me.” She had been forced to witness the abduction of Pamina, too weak to intervene, and now calls upon Tamino to be her savior. Pamina, in turn, is equally mournful, willing to die if unable to be re-united with her mother. But her alleged savior is always already in Sarastro's power, accusing him in their first encounter of villainy, even while asking “Oh endless night, when will you vanish? When will my eyes again see light?” Pamina in turn has also been taken in by his image. Tamino thus functions as the mediator in this battle between darkness and light. While Sarastro is willing to relinquish Pamina and join her to the young man under the aegis of his ideology of rationality, he is not only unwilling to return her to his mother. He also claims that the feminine voice is not one to be heard: “A man must guide your hearts, For without a man every woman will step beyond her bounds”. The nocturnal, the maternal, and the feminine body come to be conflated to name that which must be silenced, jettisoned and indeed excluded from his realm, if his law, whose first rule is to “beware of women's wiles” is to hold.

As many critics have noted, there is a radical discrepancy between the first and the second act of this opera, for the Queen of the Night initially seems fully justified in her anger at Sarastro, given that he is forcefully pitting his paternal/ enlightened interpretation of the world (architecturally embodied in his temple of wisdom) against her maternal/ archaic one, with the daughter the bond determining whose interpretation will triumph. Indeed, the libretto hardly explains why Tamino's alliance shifts so seamlessly from the Queen of the Night to her opponent, trusting completely in Sarastro's alleged sagacity. Nor can we fully condemn the Queen's aria of revenge, calling upon her daughter to secure the death of the man who has severed their bond and usurped her power, or else be disowned and abandoned. Not to follow her mother's command, which is the law of the night, means within her ideology forever destroying “all the ties of nature”. As we know, Pamina will opt for the ‘duty of love’, for the heterosexual bond. She does so because only this obedience will allow her to remain in Sarastro's realm. All those who insist on preserving nocturnal affects such as revenge do not, in his ideology atleast, “deserve to be human.”

Apodictically put, in Mozart/Schickandeder's Magic Flute, the antagonism between the project of an enlightened humanism and that of an affective bond defined by laws of the natural family is negotiated over bodies deemed transgressive, because belonging to the realm of the night. The daughter, haunted by her mother's curse will try to follow the law of the night one last time, attempting to use the blade with which she could not destroy Sarastro to bring about her own death. But the sight of Tamino (and significantly not his voice) turn into the ocular proof of his love. Pamina moves from mourning her mother into the dawn of the morning of her marriage to Tamino, while the power of the Queen of the Night is broken and she, along with the dark-skinned Monostatos (who has become her ally), are “plunged into everlasting night”. Sarastro's last words proclaim: “The rays of the sun banish the night. And destroy the ignoble power of the deceivers”. In a psychoanalytic sense negotiated is a feminine oedipal trajectory, what Julia Kristeva has called the culturally necessary jettisoning of the maternl body. Yet important for the narrative about feminine embodiments of the night I want to present today is that this re-birth, configured as a move from night into day, should not only insist on a clear opposition between the two, but also on a total erasure of the former. Let us not forget, the Queen of the Night is the original owner of the Disc of the Sun, so that triumphing over this embodiment of darkness is tantamount to a sublation of one's origins, but also a sublation of the ‘other knowledge’ subtending and indeed mothering the laws of rational logic and diurnal codes of duty, obligation and love. Embodying this ‘other knowledge’, which differs with and defers (to recall Derrida's Denkfigur) the paternal project of rationality, fits the classic scape-goat scenario. Along with the body of the Queen of the Night, all the values and attitudes that don't seamlessly fit into an enlightened humanism can be vilified and repressed, by virtue of being cast into the realm of eternal darkness. But as we know from psychoanalysis, what is repressed ultimately returns in some form or another, and as cultural semiotics has taught us, any cultural periphery subtends and thus inflects the center. So that when looking at texts that engage the battle between darkness and light, nocturnal and diurnal domains of knowledge and power one must ask, what knowledge is gained on other scene we align with the night? How much of this knowledge is subversive, how much is transferable into the diurnal everyday? How effectively can it be repressed? How does it return to haunt us and hunt us down? Indeed my own interest in tracing 19th century allegorical figurations of the night to their postmodern cinematic refigurations is to present a narrative that sustains the antagonism between the search for ‘light’ proposed by the project of enlightenment, a project to which Freud was himself after all deeply indebted and the fascination for the domain of darkness, towards which much operatic, literary and cinematic representations veers. We have to come out of the night, as we have to relinquish the maternal body, and yet we can never fully come out of the night because the imaginative bonds to this body can never fully be severed. This conundrum is rendered visible by virtue of the feminine embodiment of the night.

Before turning to some examples of these let me briefly recall for you the iconographic origin of these images. In his Theogony Hesiod writes, “Chaos was first of all, but next appeared/ Broad-bosomed Earth… From Chaos came black Night and Erebos/ and Night in turn gave birth to Day and Space…and Earth bore starry Heaven.” Nyx, as this figure of night came to be called, is thus the direct descendant of chaos and the counter force to Earth, for as Hesiod continues, she “bore frightful Doom and the black Ker, and Death, and Sleep, and the whole tribe of Dreams. Again, although she slept with none of the gods, Dark Night gave birth to Blame and sad Distress…she bore the Destinies and ruthless Fates…gave birth to Nemesis…she bore Deceit and Love, sad Age, and strong-willed Strife.” Self-generated, the list continues to include work, forgetfulness, famine, pains, battles, murders, killings, quarrels, lies, stories, disputes, lawlessness, ruin, oath: which is to say pretty much everything we would put into the paradigm of affects, drives, fantasy work but also symbolic codes and constraint. The story of Nyx thus brings into play a cosmogony in which the maternal embodiment of the night is positioned along the lines of what Althusser terms an absent cause; the original force which - because it can not be conceived but only posited as a term - is recalled belatedly, by virtue of its traces, which is to say the effects it has produced, its children. Conceptualizing the night in terms of a feminine body, clad in a dark cloak, holding her progeny as though a memento mori to us all, allows us to give substance to something completely intangible even while utterly pervasive. Or put another way, the embodiment overcomes an impasse in representation. As the cosmogonies of antiquity create a human representation - Nyx - for the abstract notion of source, another crucial element comes into play. In contrast to Schickaneder's libretto, this ‘nocturnal mother’ is not expelled. She is not only sustained within the narrative of her progeny - the world of causes and effects - that emanates from her. She also takes on the function of an oracle. One returns to her for advice when diurnal laws no longer suffice.

If we look at some of the visual allegorizations of the night that re-emerged in the 19th century along with Mozart's Queen of the Night, Novalis' odes to a clearly maternally encoded night, as well as Hegel's Denkfigur ‘night of the self’ aligning the birth of subjectivity (from radical negativity) to that of the world (from the pure darkness of chaos), one might ask: What is being negotiated in these representation? Philipp Otto Runge's engraving (1807) is probably one of the most lyrical, positioning the night above her sleeping children, framed above and beneath by angelic creatures, and surrounded by child-embodiments of stars. Death and all pejorative expressions of dreams are visually absent from this image (except for the owl), while the maternal figure guards what is depicted as a peaceful sleep of the earthly creatures lying beneath her feet. In a similarly solacing manner, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1815) depicts the night, carrying her children sleep and death, and as in Runge's engraving the owl functions as a harbinger of death, indicating that because any allegory of the night embodies the passing of time, she inevitably functions as a signifier for human mortality. A second painting by Schinkel, “Night, enveloped by a wide cloth, floating above the gulf of Naples” (1834) re-introduces the uncanny bodies invoked by the myth, as well as sexualizing this allegorical figure. Her upper body is unclad, so that the blue cloak she is holding in her hands has a dual function; it covers her lower body and it uncovers what emerges from her as a concept of the period of sleep, but, owing to the mise-en-scène of her body, what emerges concretely from her sex. Framed by the blue cloak we find grotesque as well as fascinating figures, the gods, humans, animals, mythic creatures and demons that in Hesiod's narrative emerge from her. At the far left we see both a pair of lovers, as well as Nyx, holding Hymnos and Thanatos, right above her buttocks we see St. George fighting the dragon of darkness. The night thus appears twice in the image: as a figure in a narrative and as the force containing all narratives, including her own. Arnold Böcklin picks up on the notion of the night, floating above a nocturnal city-scape in his allegorical depiction (1895), only now the notion of the night as source and container of all dreams and narratives is de-figured. From her horn of plenty she lets fall capsules which will induce sleep and produce dreams in those they alight upon, but she is no longer a bearer of nightmares. Instead clearly foregrounded is an anti-mimetic gesture. She is wrapped in a dark red cloak, even while explicitly covering the source of light behind her with her body. The impression this leaves is that this light itself carries her or holds her in place, yet - if we contrast this to the moon sickle functioning as the boat for the Queen of the Night in Schenkel's illustration - this light source is clearly unreal. Abstraction is also at stake in this image in so far as it is clearly the idea of a feminine body, floating in space, and less values connected with human mortality, which interested Böcklin. In dramatic contrast one might set Gaetone Previati's “The day awakens the night,” (1905) with its symbolist emphasis on the feminine sexuality of the night. Here she arises like a sphinx, half woman and half winged-creature, fascinating in a foreboding manner, the cloak covering her sex is studded with stars. Again we no longer find the figures she contains explicitly drawn but only indicated. Yet what makes this painting unusual is that it returns thematically to the notion of difference. Day gives birth to night; the light source that renders her visually distinct, by distinguishing her from absolute darkness is not the moon, but the sun. Two further paintings offer other variations on this uncanny enmeshment. Gérôme's “Night” (1850-55) has two additional attributes. Set against a lit-up sky this feminine figure, clad in her dark cloak, is stewing rose petals (not poppy seeds or capsules) with her left hand onto the world beneath her, recalling an engraving by Runge entitled “Dawn” as well as Thorvaldsen's “Day with the genius of light” (1815) - and I will be returning to a feminine figure of the night and flower petals in the last part of my paper. At the same time Gérôme's Night holds a down-ward facing torch in her right hand, indicating that she is her own source of light, or one might also say that only by virtue of the inclusion of this light source can her figure come to be perceived. Again I am interested in the visual contrast between her veiled sex and its phallic counter-point the light torch, turning the notion of the difference between light and dark into a difference of gender as well. Finally we have in Ernst Friedrich von Liphart's “Night” (1884) a reversal of Previati, with the barely clad woman holding the torch high above her head, as though she were about to transform into Aurora. Indeed the voyeuristic sexualization at work in this image is such that if in Gérôme's painting the source of light is analogous to the male member, in Liphart's the promise that this feminine figure will ultimately cast off (or lose) her dark cloak, i.e. her nocturnal attribute is tantamount to the revelation of her nakedness. To cast off the night, to move into the morning, is implicitly equated with casting off the demons and fantasies one contains, yet we see this only as a promise, as an anticipation as exposed femininity. At the same time the torch Liphart's night holds is also suggestive because it invokes a different set of images, namely illustrations from the 19th century pertaining to the electrification of the night. Uncanniness, of course remains, precisely because all these allegorizations hover between light and shadow, even as they hover between a feminine and a masculine encoding. They are positioned against a realm unequivocally encoded as that of clarity, but also that of the paternal law, even as they introduce what is in excess of this - scenes of fantasy.

My obvious point is that at stake in these allegorizations is the gesture of embodiment, which allows for a negotiation of that which lies outside the realm of representation, that which quite literally has no body, no shape, no form but only force: the night as primordial chaos, as Hegel's radical negativity or Freud's repressed unconscious; which is to say that radical alterity we must posit as a source and as an exclusion, in order to establish categories of meaning that work by virtue of being other to that - if we recall Hegel's formulation - which isn't differentiated. At the same time it is a feminine body suspended between revelation and disclosure, the veil promising what it also forbids, namely a direct view of the feminine sex. This sex - as counterpoint to the masculine phallus - functions analogously to the night as absent cause in the sense that it can not be seen, hidden as it is inside the feminine body. Talking in relation to bodies one might say, we can't see the feminine, we can only deduce it as not masculine. Indeed the notion of woman as castrated is so virulent and resilient precisely because the void thus negotiated by virtue of embodying it as a naked feminine body can not be obliterated. Whatever member one might ascribe to the feminine body (say the clitoris) to cover over/undo the notion of her void is tantamount to ascribing a piece of phallicity to her. To make the feminine in its absolute alterity to the masculine visible is as impossible as it is to render visible the night in her total darkness.

I am thus tempted to read these representations as pleonasms - the feminine as void and the night as void mirroring each other, fascinating precisely because they promise what they will never fulfill, complete revelation. I am equally tempted to read this figuration in conjunction with Kristeva's notion of the semiotiké - suggesting that the nocturnal space (with space the first category Nyx gives birth too) is to be thought of as a non-hierarchical domain of affects, pulsations, fantasy formations, positioned both before as well as after the symbolic, in the sense that like the characters of classic mythology, who visit the cave of Nyx so as to get prophecies and advice, those discontent with the diurnal world - the neurotics, dreamers and artists - track articulations that come from the semiotic domain. This nocturnal realm - the other scene of the unconscious, of dreams, of aesthetic representation - is, as I have hoped to show, the precondition of symbolic, as well as the moment where interpellation fails; where the antagonism between desire and law resurfaces. It is connected to premonitions of death, to our desire for that which must be refused or curtailed in the everyday, so that it can be celebrated during nocturnal enactments. Queens of the night thus resiliently reappear in the course of the 19th century from the eternal darkness they were banned to by Schickanender's libretto in the guise of singers, actresses, prostitutes, vampires, as well as Freud's hysterics.

From hysteric mourning to the dawn of morning

In the time that remains, I want to present two cases of neurosis that perform such a return to emotional values and images inscribed by a proximity to the night: hysteria and paranoid mourning. To do so I need to back track one more time to figurations of the night that emerge at the beginning of the 19th century, in this case, however, not on the opera stage but on the pages of romantic psychology. In a study entitled Nachtseite der Naturwissenschaft (“Nocturnal side of natural science”), G.H Schubert discovers the unconscious as a specifically nocturnal psychic state. Investigating phenomena we would now call parapsychological, such as autosuggestion, telepathy, second sight, he was one of the first to insist on a division between diurnal and nocturnal states of consciousness, the latter experienced most poignantly during sleep, in dream or trance states and during hypnosis. To do so he invokes the dual light, by which nature reveals itself; conceiving of rational thinking as transported by the sun of nature, while the nocturnal side of nature is illuminated by what he calls “another light” (“von anderem Licht”). The latter - as he claims - can be thought of as a light residing at the very core nature. He compares it to phosphorous light, which finds its kin in “psychic aspects of the human subject that live more in semi-darkened feelings rather than in clear, calm recognition, even while its shimmer preserves something conflicting, discordant and uncertain.” Schubert adds “like the prophecies made by the oracle, that also fully belong to this other domaine.” [2] The unconscious thus emerges within romantic psychology as yet another child of Nyx, and indeed Freud will write a cosmogony of his own when in his Interpretation of Dreams when he not only seeks to describe the journey the human psyche undertakes at night, but himself undertakes a journey into darkness - into the hidden, obscured layers of the psychic apparatus - so as eventually to return to the light of clarity qua rational explanation of symptoms, traumas and affects. The topological model he will come up with is poignantly indebted to both Hesiod and Schubert, with the ur-repressed emerging in a position comparable to Nyx - the absent cause that inflects all subsequent fantasy work without any direct access to it available. In one's dream-scape and the ‘other light’ this opens up, one discovers traces that allow us to decipher belatedly, and in condensed and displaced manner, an oracular message about the origin and vicissitudes of our desires.

Conceiving of psychoanalysis as a ‘science of the nocturnal domaine of the psyche’ is particularly fruitful if we recall that Freud not only discovered his own version of the unconscious by listening to hysteric patients, but that the very first case history in The Studies on Hysteriahe co-authored with Josef Breuer, explicitly deals with a woman whose hysteric body language is explicitly influenced by nocturnal experiences, even while the notion of a vision impaired by darkened light proves to be one of the core symptoms. Anna O's hysteric body is in fact a nocturnal body. Initially described as “markedly intelligent,” with “great poetic and imaginative gifts” as well as a “sharp and critical common sense,” and thus “completely unsuggestible,” Breuer moves on to describe her symptoms: a systematic day-dreaming she called her ‘private theater’ as well as a severe disturbance of vision, paralysis, nervous cough and somnambulism: all pointing to a flooding of her diurnal consciousness by its nocturnal side. Significantly theses symptoms arose while she was in a liminal position between day and night, namely while nursing her dying father, until her illness became so severe that she herself required a nurse. Her hysteric inversion of the scene of watching by her father's bedside, anxiously listening till morning, included resting during the afternoon, falling into a sleep-like state in the evening and then awakening in an euphoric condition - and again one might speak of a nocturnalization of her everyday. For as Freud notes “at moments when her mind was quite clear she would complain of the profound darkness in her head, of not being able to think, of becoming blind and deaf, of having two selves, a real one and an evil one” (24). Although it is tempting to cross-map these ‘two states’ onto classic vampire texts, given that Anna O. always wakes an hour after sunset to complain about things tormenting her, or - after being hypnotized by Breuer, and talking away her tormentors - waking up “clear in mind” to “work, write or draw far into the night quite rationally” (27) I will forgo doing so out of time reasons and simply move to the alleged ‘ur-scene’ of her nocturnal hysteria: “While watching over her father one night she fell into a waking dream, saw a black snake coming towards the sick man, tried to keep the snake off, but found she was paralyzed, because her right hand had gone to sleep. When she looked at it the fingers turned into little snakes with death's heads. In her terror she tried to pray but found language failed her, until the whistle of the train that was bringing the doctor whom she was expecting broke the spell.”(39). If we recall Hesiod's description of the night and her children we find once more dreams and death intimately connected over the body of the hysteric - the nocturnal hallucination turning Anna O.'s body into a death-bringer, her impaired vision illuminated in Schubert's sense by an alleged other vision - one highlighting not her intellectual am emotional fortitude but her own fallibility in the face of the death of her father; which is to say one temporarily putting into question his diurnal, symbolic law. Significant in the Breuer's presentation of his case history is of course also the factor of repetition. As you remember, at this early stage both he and Freud - influenced perhaps by the logic of Greek tragedy - believed in the cathartic effect of re-enactment. To counter Anna O.'s private theater (her flooding of the day by the night) he asked her “one day” to re-arrange the room “so as to resemble her father's sickroom” and thus, under his analytic eye to reproduce “the terrifying hallucinations” so that by virtue of this repetition he could destroy them at the root. I am less interested in whether we should contest his claim that as a result of this re-enactment she came to enjoy complete health. Rather I want to foreground the way the body language of this hysteric performs the ‘other’, the nocturnal side of the psyche so as to relate to us another version of a daughter grappling with the law of the father; one where the daughter needs to return into the realm of the night so as to give voice to her discontent about the position she finds herself in. Afterall, one of the points Breuer highlights is that “her monotonous family life and the absence of adequate intellectual occupation left her with an unemployed surplus of mental liveliness and energy,” ultimately leading to her habit of day-dreaming. The death of the father was definitely not the ur-scene of her nocturnal hysteria.

Let me by way of closing present Jane Campion's In the Cut as my last example of a feminine embodiment of the night. While this is a further variation on both nocturnal visions as well as the oedipal trajectory of the daughter, and thus returns us to the beginning of my talk, it also troubles the simple solution of Schickaneder's Magic Flute. Her heroine Frannie - a professor of English at NYU - is also haunted by the dream-image of a father's violence toward a maternal body, though in her case this scene revolves around the dark kernel at the heart of what is a staple romance scenarios work, namely the proposal scene. During the title sequence we see Jennifer Jason Leigh in a garden, drinking coffee from a paper cut, fascinated by flower blossoms gently floating in the mourning breeze, while Meg Ryan has woken up, notices the light pink blossoms floating by window and chooses to press her head back into her pillow. Rather than getting up she prefers her ‘private theater’, images from her favorite day-dream revolving around her father and mother, skating in circles around the ice, until they finally face each other. We don't yet see the father fall on his knee before the mother, as we will in a later repetition of this day dream. Rather Campion's camera focuses on a male hand, wearing a leather glove, making a fist before tracing a figure an the ice; more precisely cutting a semi-circle, which suddenly turns red, as if filled with blood. The dark note inscribed in the notion of a proposal, one might say its violent kernel, is thus visually presented many sequences before the actual proposal scene is shown (or dreamed by Frannie). The daughter is, as we will discover, in a state of mourning the unhappy marriage her parents ultimately had; although we are also lead to believe that she is in general an ironic person, who puts distance between herself and her world. The moment she gets out of her bed on this particular morning, Frannie will find her life transformed into a threatening yet equally seductive nightmare scenario. She will turn her everyday life into the stage of her private theater so as to solve the ciphered message her privileged day-dream so cryptically revolves around.

On the level of the plot her journey into the night begins with her going to a bar with one of her students, and there, in the darkened room in the basement, watching a red-headed woman servicing a man, fully concealed from the light. All she can see is a tattoo on his hand. When a few sequences later Detective Malloy (Mark Rufalo) visits her apartment, because this woman's head has been found in the garden outside her apartment, she discovers he has the same tattoo. This allows her to give a concrete body to the shadowy figure that had aroused a dangerous erotic desire in her, and she begins an affair with him precisely because he embodies a dark enmeshment between the dream of pure sex and potentially fatal violence. As in so many other Campion films, desire is dangerous to her protagonist as well as to those around her, and as Frannie moves deeper and deeper into her paranoid hallucinations, which will engender two more female victims, one of whom is her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), she convinces herself that Malloy is the killer, chains him to her toilet, and in her self-induced anxiety, which is clearly also enjoyable to her, runs straight into the arms of his partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici), the actual killer. Visually Jane Campion enhances her protagonist's journey into the nocturnal side of her psyche not only by having her wear sunglasses to shield her eyes from all daylight, but also by virtue of a technique of shallow focus, which often leaves the periphery of the filmed frame blurred. Because she suspects everyone, especially her own fantasies, everything is either dark or a disturbing chiaroscuro in Frannie's world, boundaries are blurred, and things come into focus only for brief moments; an impairment of vision the camera woman Dion Beebe enhances by virtue of her hand-held camera.

At the height of her hallucination, Frannie thus finds herself that night under Brooklyn Bridge locked into a fatal embrace, in a proposal scene, in which Rodriguez offers her both an engagement ring and the knife with which he will disarticulate her head from her body. Campion clearly presents this as a repetition of her favorite day-dream, with her in the position of her mother. For in the course of the film we had seen Frannie returns repeatedly to images of her parents skating in circles on the ice to articulate that in her fantasy this daughter repeatedly circles around what she perceives to be the primal scene of her desire: the hope and the disillusionment connected with the proposal scene, and thus with romantic love, given that her father had abandoned her mother, proving the bond he had sworn to be void. As the imagined threat her lover Malloy seems to pose comes ever closer, this scene becomes darker and darker until in its final version she sees her father skating over her mother's body, lying prostrate on the ice, cutting her head off. Like Freud in his Interpretation of Dreams Frannie needs to delve deeper and deeper into the darker, hidden layers of the dream until she reaches its navel. In american slang, ‘in the cut’ designates the anatomic cut of the feminine sex, but in Campion's film it also refers to the cut between the sexes - the difference between men and women, irrevocably inscribed in any romance, producing as Freud argues the proximity between violence and eroticism. The bloody trace on the ice which will find narrative closure in a false lover, threatening to slit her throat, initiates a sequence of re-enactment not unsimilar to the one staged by Breuer. Re-embodying the wound her mother experienced at the hand of her father, or atleast coming close, allows her to put an end to her parental haunting.

I choose In the Cut as my final example because it allows me to rethink the resolution of the Magic Flute. In Campion's film we also find performed a necessary jettisoning of the maternal body, but I would want to claim that the affective quality is poignantly different. Frannie's bond to her Queen of the Night is acknowledged precisely in the moment when in the course of re-enacting her favorite fantasy scene - her mother's acceptance of a marriage proposal which had ultimately cut her up emotionally - she is able to traverse this fantasy. In so doing she jettisons not only the haunting image of the wounded maternal body but also finds a viable image for paternal violence. Faced with Rodriguez literally equating a proposal and murder scene, and thus embodying what at the heart of her mourning she was figuratively accusing her father of, Fannie can walk away from the fantasies that have been tormenting her. If we remember the painting by Liphart we might say, she has cast off her dark veil - her nocturnal terrors and fascinations. This resolution is not the radical severing of the maternal domaine of the night we find in the Mozart's project of the enlightenment, even while it recognizes that we can not stay within the ‘other light’ of nocturnal fantasies. Rather with the final sequence of her film, Campion straddles the two. Her heroine has come to recognize that night inevitably turns into day, even while day is never entirely free from the traces of the night. Frannie recognizes that mature subjectivity requires turning a fatal embrace into is choice for survival, transforming, as Freud suggest in the Studies on Hysteria, her psychic “misery into common unhappiness” (305). Or, as Stanley Cavell, reformulating Thoreau puts it, “she moves from mourning to the dawn of mourning.”

Indeed, after Frannie has successfully shot her assailant, she walks through the New York dawn back to her home in the East Village, and illuminated by morning light she arrives in the garden her sister had been walking through at the beginning of the film. In contrast to Paulina she does not tarry there, but walks on - as though in a state of utter concentration - into her apartment, to her lover, lying helpless on the floor. As she lies next to him he places his free arm around her to embrace her and the door falls shut. We are excluded from whatever differences they are about to work out. Yet this final sequence of images allows me to foreground that there are different ways of putting nocturnal mourning behind one. In contrast to the exorcism propagated by The Magic Flute, Jane Campion suggests that waking up and walking into the dawn of morning might just as well mean preserving the dialectic between night/day rather than insisting on a violent repression of the nocturnal side of the psyche. It might well mean focusing on the partial darkness inevitably accompany all hopes and anticipations connected to love, on the partial light illuminating all sense of vulnerability and anxiety. Pure darkness of fatal self-absorption and the pure light of untainted romantic bliss, Campion suggests, are two voids that are the same. Emotional maturity, like Hegel's determinate being, is located instead in the gesture of sustaining their antagonism.


[1] Quoted in Stoichita, p. 8.

[2] Quoted in Leopoldeser, p. 51.

© Elisabeth Bronfen