Cinesexuality, Patricia MacCormack's ambitious and avowedly experimental work on film spectatorship, explores the "inherent queerness" of spectatorship. Its eight verbally and intellectually baroque chapters regard cinema less as an everyday medium of representation, and more as the space of extraordinary, multi-faceted "encounters of becoming" between spectator and image/sound, in which meanings of gender, sexuality, propriety and subjectivity are problematised.
Evidently, this is work that is deeply indebted to a poststructuralist canon of writers, chief among them Maurice Blanchot, but also including Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Luce Irigaray, Michel Serres and Julia Kristeva. To illustrate Cinesexuality's radical take, like others who have read cinema through Blanchot before her (including Michael Grant and Steven Shaviro), MacCormack mostly mines her personal taste for Italian horror films with "extreme" topics, such as zombies, monsters, witchcraft, masochism and necrophilia.
Cinesexuality is, in part, a reformulation of "cinephilia", the excessive love of or for cinema. MacCormack convincingly speaks of the desire to watch something "filmy". She argues that: "As 'art', perhaps all cinema describes is a certain waiting, an expectancy. This means that it is up to the cinesexual (the spectator) to define 'cinema'. To say, 'I love film' is to say 'I love certain films', 'I wonder if I will love this film?' To say 'cinema is my lover' awaits all cinematic images, not within narratives, but as their own moments, from a single frame to a film marathon, from memory to expectancy."
But cinephilia, here, comes with an ontological twist. She asks: "Is cinesexuality the want for cinema or the want for the opening of new universes the cinesexual finds through cinematic images?"
MacCormack hitches her work thus to Guattari's project of "ecosophy", and other attacks on "recognition" and semantic determinacy as the basis of (cinematic) engagement. "While this book is about spectatorship, its purpose is to describe the event of spectatorship as the very thing which makes thinking and describing 'the' or 'a' spectator impossible."
In The Writing of the Disaster, Blanchot muses that: "Reading is anguish ... because any text, however important, or amusing, or interesting ... is empty - at bottom it doesn't exist; you have to cross an abyss, and if you do not jump, you do not comprehend."
Abysses can be differently "abysmal", though. Whether academic readers will want to attempt the jump when it comes to Cinesexuality will most likely turn on their attitude towards the current range of tribal film "philosophical attitudes" that Cinesexuality surveys in its introduction: "cognitive", "analytic", pro-science; "Continental", "poststructuralist", convinced of the contingency and radical subjective effect of all observation.
This book doesn't just lean towards the latter perspectives; it positively revels in Deleuzo-guattarian, rhizomatic procedures, ones intended to allow for multiple, "non-hierarchical" entry and exit points. So, if, like Film Theory and Philosophy's editors Murray Smith and Richard Allen (who are repeatedly rendered in Cinesexuality as "Murray and Allen", in just one example from a large residue of typographical, grammatical and epistemological "perversities"), you prefer your philosophical arguments to be careful, not strategically obscure, not highly deferential to frequently quoted authority figures and not apt to generalise on the basis of single, putatively exemplary cases, you will probably turn away (or run away screaming) from the edge of Cinesexuality's queer abyss.
If, however, you can go with the flow of an incantatory "logic", an aphoristic attitude and only fleeting reference to a handful of very particular films, you may find, to quote Macbeth's Hecat, that you come to "share the gains" of some of Cinesexuality's film-philosophical insights, despite the certain toil and trouble required to access them.
By Patricia MacCormack
Published 23 July 2008