in her chapter, “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator,” Mary Ann Doane connects particular aspects of Freud’s theory of masculinity creation in negative relation to femininity with a mode of linguistics centered on the nature of hieroglyphics. Doane predicates much of this connection on the enigmatic nature of hieroglyphics; I believe this to be a fair assumption with the one contention: hieroglyphics were indeed understood by the people who wrote them. Doane writes, “On the one hand, the hieroglyphic is summoned, particularly when it merges with a discourse on women, to connote an indecipherable language, a signifying system which denies its own function by failing to signify anything to the uninitiated, to those who do not hold the key.” I agree wholeheartedly with her that women have functioned as quite the undefinable Other in the patriarchal discourse, but it seems odd to mark indecipherability as chiefly a hieroglyphic attribute. Any language will remain opaque, unless one has a master of its grammar and vocabulary, unless one holds the “key.”
This quibble aside, Doane shows, although hieroglyphics are enigmatic in regards to their complete signification, a certain plasticity of meaning is available immediately by virtue of hieroglyphics being a form of pictorial language. She writes, “Thus, while the hieroglyphic is an indecipherable or at least a enigmatic language, it is also at the same time potentially the most universally understandable, comprehensible, appropriable of signs.” From here, her argumentation begins to move into deeper waters. Doane leans on some structural linguistic theory courtesy of Todorov and Ducrot: a pictorial language would at some point need to generalize. A language, which utilized icons standing in absolute relation to things they represent, would break under its own weight. That is, every thing in the world would need its own pictogram to depict it. Therefore proper nouns, in order to express more general phenomena, need to be made phonetic. In Todorov and Ducrot’s words, “Proper nouns and abstract notions (including inflections) are then the ones will be noted phonetically.”
From this point, Doane rather ingeniously recasts Chodorow’s distinction of femininity being defined by proximity and masculinity defined by abstraction into linguistic terms. That is, if we are to think as women as hieroglyphics, they are enigmatic because they stand in absolute iconic relationship to what they signify, and therefore can not be generalized, i.e., a women’s complete symbolic relation with herself prevents her from entering into the abstracted mode of conventional language. Think Irigaray.
Doane shifts this concept into the form of proximity versus distance. Doane accurately makes the statement that most creative endeavors that are considered high art involve some sort of distance, while those considered low art require a certain amount of proximity. Doane quotes Christian Metz to illustrate this point, “It is no accident that the main socially acceptable arts are based on the senses at a distance, and that those which depend on the senses of contact are regarded as the minor arts.” From this she extracts the need for distance in the act of voyeurism, and that fetish requires this gap between subject and the desired object. This is Pascalian in a sense, it is not the object itself that man desires, it is the pursuit to achieve it.
This paradoxical dichotomy of desire is a main operating structure of the cinema. The subject may possess his object without giving up his cherished distance. Doane writes, “the cinema is characterized by an illusory sensory plenitude..and yet haunted by the absence of those very objects which are there to be seen.” Taking a cue from this suggestion, it seems in our modern era, the internet has replaced the cinema in this regard. It is replete to fill divers desires where the image of the thing can be sought. These online representations will always be haunted by the absence of the real objects used to create them. Thinking of the internet in these terms originally set for the cinema by Doane brings to light the graveness of her remarks. The internet is insidious compared to the cinema, and a study of how we enact this particular mode of fetish online would be an endeavor well worth the effort.