Self-reflexivity and the construction of subjectivity in contemporary French cinema: Alain Resnais
ABSTRACT This study uses the work of French filmmaker, Alain RESNAIS (1922 - ) to examine the role of self-reflexivity in the construction of subjectivity within contemporary French cinema (from 1958 to the present day).
Close analysis of self-reflexivity in its various forms - mise en abyme, intertextuality, the foregrounding of cinematographic and narrative conventions - reveals the construction of a new form of subjectivity. The self-reflexive gaze, in the films of Resnais as in such other “modernist” French filmmakers as Godard, Duras and Robbe-Grillet, constructs a decentred, fissured subject. This process is particularly evident in Resnais’ subversion of mise en abyme, which, from a reflection in miniature of the work, becomes a refraction, a mise en écart that points toward both the alterity and the absence of origin at the heart of subjectivity.
I propose that self-reflexivity in Resnais participates in a philosophical, deconstructive enterprise which serves to question the metaphysics of presence and explore the limits of representation and subjectivity. His work asks whether the subject is a free, self-constituting self-present agent or whether it is constructed by the Other, and to what extent this subject, whether author, character or spectator, can access or represent truth or reality. From Resnais’ early work on, I argue, reality is shown to be, always, already, the result of a process of mediation by a subject also in process (en procès), both constituted and constituting. Moreover, implicit in this view of subjectivity is an ethical injunction that closely relates to Derrida’s impossible ethics of deconstruction.
Here the thesis aims to demonstrate that the radical questioning of the notion of the subject in Resnais closely parallels, and indeed, even anticipates the redrawing of the limits of subjectivity by contemporary structuralist and post-structuralist thought (late 1950s - early 1970s). For whereas the positivist, humanist subject of theory must die before it can be reborn in another form, in Resnais the process of transformation is immediate: a linguistic and an ethical turn take place in the same moment. The absence of grand narratives does not project the subject into a post-modern void. Thus, I argue that Resnais’ self-reflexive film practice can serve as an innovative and positive model of post-modern subjectivity.