Drive-In Part II: Blind Spot

“Every game has its rules!”

  • Character Humbert arguing that his new wife, Charlotte, has made too many decisions for the two of them in Lolita
  • I’m continuing my discussion about desire and the gaze with another Kubrick film – especially fitting since it is in the title of an article [1] on the subject in the International Journal of Zizek Studies. The article discusses how these concepts relate to the sexualization of young girls in mainstream media. Although it doesn’t discuss the 1962 film, the relation is clear.

    In the film, middle-aged Humbert becomes obsessed with the underage daughter of a landlady of a room he had been looking at. After seeing Lolita, Humbert agrees to rent it. Humorous, if creepy, scenes show Humbert’s rejection of the landlady, Charlotte’s, advances while indulging in fantasies about her daughter. The scenes can help us remember that, according to the Zizek Studies article, “desire fills no possibility but seeks after an impossibility; this makes desire always, constitutionally, contentless.”

    In one scene, Humbert sits between mother and child during a drive-in showing of The Mummy. They each grab one of his hands for reassurance. He keeps one hand in Lolita’s and scratches his nose with the other. In a later one, he escapes Charlotte briefly to watch Lolita through some flowers during a summer dance.

    The objet a, as both the object and the cause of desire, simultaneously represents “the pure lack, the void around which desire turns and which, as such, causes the desire, and the imaginary element which conceals this void, renders it visible by filling it out” (Žižek 2005: 178). It is a lost object that never existed prior to being lost; it thereby drives Lacan’s concept of desire as impossible to satisfy. [2]

    Charlotte briefly dances with a TV writer she had once had a sexual relationship with, and then finds Humbert. When her friends, parents of another girl, offer to let Lolita sleep over their house afterwards, he tries to dissuade Charlotte from allowing it, suggesting she’s being “too liberal” with her daughter. When Lolita unexpectedly returns during her mother’s attempt to seduce Humbert, Charlotte arranges to send her daughter to a summer camp. The day of Lolita’s departure, Charlotte has a letter given to Humbert confessing her love for him.

    The scene quoted at the top of this entry takes place after Humbert and Charlotte’s honeymoon, and begins an argument that results in Charlotte’s finding out Humbert’s reason for marrying her. She runs to a small shrine to her first-husband, Harold (whose photograph looks like an older version of the TV writer, Clare Quilty.) Embracing his urn, she promises him that next time she’ll find someone worthy of him. The screen goes black.

    As a primal fantasy, the Oedipal fantasy shapes the relation between the subject and the incest taboo, a relation that configures desire while also introducing symbolic Law. Žižek, quoting Lacan’s Seminar VII, recalls how “an object becomes an object of desire only in so far as it is prohibited”, adding as a most pertinent example that “there is no incestuous desire prior to the prohibition of incest”, and specifying that “desire itself needs Law, its prohibition, as the obstacle to be transgressed” (Žižek 2005: 174). In its portrayal of the impossible object-cause of desire, fantasy necessarily posits an object that transgresses social or cultural norms, thus concealing the traumatic encounter that the actual object would bring upon the subject. However, Žižek also adds that “the relationship between fantasy and the horror of the Real it conceals is much more ambiguous than it may seem: fantasy conceals this horror, yet at the same time it creates what it purports to conceal, its ‘repressed’ point of reference” (Žižek 1997: 6). [3]

    In the next scene we and Humbert find that she has run into the street and has been killed by an oncoming car.

    Picking up his stepdaughter at camp, Humbert tells her that her mother is in a hospital in the country. He takes her to a hotel. Clare Quilty sees the two together, gazing at them from over his newspaper. The next morning, Lolita suggests that Humbert and she play “a game” she had learned from a boy who worked at camp. The screen goes dark. Soon after, Humbert is forced to tell her that her mother is dead. Later, while comforting the crying girl, he says that they can move to a town where he had been offered a lectureship. When Lolita protests, he buys her off with, among other things, new records “to take the place of the old ones.” At their new home, we see how constrained her social life is when Humbert forbids her to take part in a school play, even though she had been offered the lead. He also tells her to spend less time with Michelle, her only friend, after having seen the two together in a restaurant with the captain and co-captain of the football team. To Lolita’s complaints he replies, “Whenever you want something I buy it for you.”

    Afterward Quilty, disguised as school psychologist, Dr. Zemf, tricks him into easing up on his restrictions – and to letting her take the lead role, a fairy queen, in the play, The Hunted Enchanters.

    As Cowie notes, the word fantasy is derived from the Greek term “phantasia”, which literally means to “make visible”. As such, fantasy “has come to mean the making visible, the making present, of what isn’t there, of what can never directly be seen” (Cowie 1997: 128). In other words, fantasy attempts to stage the objet a in an imaginary scenario. [4]

    But Humbert soon discovers that Lolita has, without telling him, stopped taking piano lessons and has been using that time for “extra rehearsals” at her school. Humbert takes her away, traveling around the country.

    “[F]antasy is an imaginary scenario that fills in the gaps within ideology. In other words, it serves as a way for the individual subject to imagine a path out of the dissatisfaction produced by the demands of social existence” (McGowan 2007: 23). [5]

    Soon, Lolita falls ill, and Humbert has to bring her to a hospital. Before he can take her out, Quilty gets her discharged, posing as her uncle. Years later, Lolita tells Humbert about how Quilty had freed and then abandoned her for not taking part in his “art film.” This discovery leads Humbert to murder Quilty; the last scene shows a portrait of a young woman – a portrait with bullet holes through which Humbert had shot his ex-rival.

    [T]he gaze is not the vehicle through which the subject masters the object but a point in the Other that resists the mastery of vision. It is a blank spot in the subject’s look, a blank spot that threatens the subject’s sense of mastery in looking because the subject cannot see it directly or successfully integrate it into the rest of the visual field. […] Even when the subject sees a complete image, something remains obscure: the subject cannot see how its own desire distorts what it sees (McGowan 2007: 11). [6]

    Could this distortion be a factor in some “journalists'” attempts to trivialize and divert from crimes against young girls? As Dr. Zemf would say, could they be “suffering from acute repression of ze libido”? Perhaps this calls for “some new era of adjustment.”
    .

    1-6. Louis-Paul Willis. “From Jocasta to Lolita: The Oedipal Fantasy Inverted.” in: International Journal of Zizek Studies, Volume Six, Number Two (2012).

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    4 thoughts on “Drive-In Part II: Blind Spot

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