In our upcoming reading, we will be discussing issues of perversion, or what Poe called the “Imp of the Perverse,” a kind of desire to pursue feelings that may not be healthy for us and others, but that cause us a kind of pleasure. There are numerous examples of perverse behaviour in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, not only related to Young Charlie and her Uncle Charlie (her father and his friend’s comically unhealthy obsession with crime and murder, for example). In perversion, there is a seemingly paradoxical pleasure in wanting to harm or annihilate oneself—to disobey the rules and cross or break down the boundaries that protect us in body and mind as a distinct and healthy “self.” In perversion is a sort of dance, then, between pleasure and pain, fixity of self and vanishing of self into chaos. In our art (especially our popular art), this drive often manifests as a sort of quest narrative. A hero’s goal in a quest narrative, for example, is for individuation, or a “coming into” a sense of self that could be seen to mirror the maturation process. This journey towards selfhood is often marked by exterior threats, where knowledge of the world comes through violence (think the “Little Red Riding Hood” folktale). Once these goals are met, through the objects assigned as end points, the hero(es) can return as having come into a full sense of selfhood, and having reestablished order in the world, albeit a much darker world than they knew before. In Gothic works, this journey often takes characters into spaces and brings them into contact with people that threaten to challenge their integrity, intellect, bodies, identities. In SHADOW OF A DOUBT, this “hero’s quest” may look something more like the classical bildungsroman, or “coming of age” narrative, where young Charlie tests herself against the world and characters around her. In Uncle Charlie, she finds a dark doppelganger, a doubled version of herself to contend with. But there are other such conflicts she encounters, as well, that test Charlie’s own tendencies towards the perverse. Respond in any way you wish to this post regarding how SHADOW OF A DOUBT narrates, visualizes or thematizes this sort of perverse drive, this dance of pleasure and pain. Your response need not focus on Charlie or Uncle Charlie, but could focus on how perversity appears in other characters.
Your post should be a response to this one, and should not be more than 200 words. This post is optional.
This week's Shadow of a Doubt forum is optional, but you will be expected to have responses to the following questions for an academic skills assignment in class. Consider responding to one of the following questions in the forum to help prepare. As you brainstorm your answers, consider using formal qualities of the film (performance style, dialogue, mise-en-scence, objects, locations) to include as part of your evidence. Please feel free to push your analyses as far as you can take them. Good luck!
1) From its inception, psychoanalysis has been interested in the dynamics of infantile sexuality within the nuclear family. Arguably, Shadow of a Doubt is a film about a "perverse" sexuality at the heart of the "average" American family. Analyze the role of sexuality, identification, and family complexes in the film. How is (sublimated) sexuality staged in the Shadow of a Doubt? How does it manifest itself between characters including: Uncle Charlie, Young Charlie, Emma (mother), Jack (father), Herb (father's "friend"), and Joseph (FBI agent). What role might the "weak" father play in shaping alternative circuits of desire in the film? You may consider Oedipal dynamics, castration anxiety, and contests over "being and having the phallus" in your response.
2) Psychoanalysis has long been interested in the concept of the "double." The double is the "other" that seems to be an uncanny reflection of my self; the one who reveals facets of my character that are typically repressed. Doubles may be attractive for the hidden possibilities they reveal, but also profoundly destabilizing of my "imagined" sense of self. In Shadow of a Doubt, how do pairs of characters, but also physical locations, and even conceptions of the "law" reveal repressed and potentially disturbing elements? How might the double reveal an "other side" to characters, relationships, and even the symbolic order itself (in this film, normative America)? How might doubling provide glimpses into the order of the real?
3) Lacan believed that subjects, in response to their own inevitable sense of lack, sustain themselves with fantasies about the unlimited enjoyment of the other. I may be lacking, we say to ourselves, but somewhere out there "fullness" is possible. These fantasies of the other's enjoyment can take on both "positive" and "negative" connotations (from loving idealization to raging paranoia). How do the characters in Shadow of a Doubt, including young Charlie, uncle Charlie, Emma, Jack, and Herb, imagine the enjoyment of the other? What do their fantasies reveal about their subjectivity? How do they change (or not change) over time?
Looking forward to hearing your answers!
Please respond in the Comments section. To see this section, just click the red "comments" line). To create a new response, use the "Leave a Reply" box.