Laura Mulvey
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Born 1941

Oxford, England

Relevant Work "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biography Edit

  • Laura Mulvey was born in Oxford, England on August 15, 1941.
  • A writer, British film theorist, independent filmmaker and contemporary feminist cultural theorist, Mulvey has taught classes at Bulmershe College, the London Institute, University of East Anglia, Cornell University, University of California, and the British Film Institute.
  • She has co-directed, with her husband, several avant-garde films all of which attempt to undermine conventional cinematic methods of filming women (Queen of the Amazons, Riddles of the Sphinx, Amy!, Crystal Gazing, and The Bad Sister).

On "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

Key Words and Terms Edit

Diegesis: the ongoing story or narrative.

Scopophilia: pleasure in looking.

Fetishistic Scopophilia: elevates the physical beauty of the object thus transforming it into something satisfiyng in itself. Voyeurism: the practice of experiencing sexual satisfaction from watching others

Key Quotations Edit

"Women then stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning," (2084-85). "...psychoanalytic theory as it now stands can at least advance our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught," (2085).

"Hence the look, pleasurable in form, can be threatening in content, and it is woman as representation/image that crystallizes this paradox," (2088). "In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female," (2088).

"The character in the story can make things happen and control events better than the subject/spectator, just as the image in the mirror was more in control of motor co-ordination," (2089).

Discussion Edit

Psychoanalysis Edit

The text outlines the way in which traditional visual apparatus of mainstream Hollywood narrative film looks at women as passive objected subjected to the male gaze. Utilizing a psychoanalysis framework, Mulvey examines how the male unconscious shapes the erotic pleasure involved in looking. She argues that psychoanalysis provides a useful political tool for illustrating the mechanism of pleasure on which the cinematic objectification of women depends.

Mulvey claims that the visual techniques of cinema supply viewers with two contradictory pleasures. The first is through the process of what Freud termed scopophilia (pleasure in looking), in which we enjoy making others the object of a controlling gaze. The second pleasure is through a process of identification that parallels Lacan's famous mirror stage in which we derive pleasure from identifying with an ideal image on the screen. Both pleasures find their origins in infantile processes by which we learn to separate ourselves from others (2082).

Major Criticisms and Reception Edit

The male gaze as a space limits the way vision can be understood. Because of the binary created by the male gaze (master and subject), "little room is left within mainstream narrative cinema for resistances...nor does avant-garde cinema...offer much evidence of being any more responsive" (2083).

Related Works Edit

  • Jacques Lacan's "The Mirror Stage as Formative"
  • Sigmund Freud's Three Essays on Sexuality
  • E. Ann Kaplan's Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera, Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television. Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture
  • Mary Ann Doane (editor), Re-vison, Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940's
  • E. Deidre Pribram (editor), Female Spectators: Looking at Film and Television

References Edit

Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.