|Author:||Hsuan L. Hsu|
|Title:||Post-Nationalism and the Adulteration of Vision in The English Patient|
|Publication info:||Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
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Post-Nationalism and the Adulteration of Vision in The English Patient
Hsuan L. Hsu
vol. 2, no. 2, Fall 1999
Post-Nationalism and the Adulteration of Vision in The English Patient
Recent film criticism, strongly influenced by the work of Lacan and Althusser, has elaborated theories of the cinematic signifier and apparatus which leave little room for a guiltless form of spectatorial pleasure. Christian Metz, for example, links film spectatorship to the psychoanalytic notions of fetishism and disavowal, which constitute it as a form of voyeurism; Laura Mulvey, who also argues that cinematic spectatorship is fundamentally voyeuristic, calls for the "destruction of pleasure as a radical weapon."  Jean-Louis Baudry suggests that ideological manipulations are inherent in the cinematographic apparatus itself: it feeds empty simulacra to immobilized and speechless spectators, just as the apparatus composed of fire and silhouettes in Plato's allegorical cave supplies illusory images that distract the prisoners from their desire for Truth. In this essay, I attempt to move beyond such confining models of spectatorship by showing them to be inadequate to a close analysis of a particular "mainstream" film—Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (1996).  Minghella's film is simultaneously pleasurable and politically productive: indeed it embodies a radical politics of pleasure, an adulteration of vision that undermines nationalist ideology by creating an international, or post-national audience tied together by suppressed flows of "adulterous" desire.
I. Foundational Frictions
In her study of Latin American national romances, Doris Sommer draws a suggestive connection between marital and national desire. While moving their readers to desire the union of a central pair of lovers, national romances simultaneously produced in them a yearning for the sort of nation in which such a union could be realized:
Sommer implies that, in the case of these "foundational fictions," the ideological strategy of blurring the distinction between erotic and political desires was a means justified by their end: the creation of communities of readers, and hence the establishment post-colonial nations, in Latin America.
The English Patient, however, takes place in Europe during the Second World War, when nations themselves have become the source of enormous social abuses: its plot hinges on the political interferences that nationalism throws in the way of the illicit lovers, Count Laszlo de Almásy and Katharine Clifton. When Almásy walks from the Cave of Swimmers to El Taj to fetch help for the injured Katharine, British soldiers detain him as a German spy, and Katharine dies alone. Afterwards, as he is flying her body back to civilization, German machine gunners shoot down his British plane. The lovers, it seems, could only have been united on the "earth without maps" that Katharine imagines in her dying moments. In the Latin American colonies described by Sommer, marriage provided a means of bourgeois consolidation that "filled the 'relative vacuum of social structures' to construct a social organization preliminary to public institutions including the state itself"; it also channeled eroticism into reproductive relationships which would populate newly consolidated nations (Sommer, 19). The English Patient, however, derives its libidinal force from adultery rather than marriage. If marriage represented alliances between cultures, classes, and races in national romances, Minghella's post-national romance employs extra-marital bonds as metaphors for inter-national alliances. Geoffrey Clifton's statement that he and Katharine "were practically brother and sister before we were man and wife" implicitly links intra-national marriage to incest, an introverted form of society that precludes external ties. Almásy, Katharine, Hana, and Kip embody and enact residual desires unassimilated by the national romance, desires that escape the boundaries imposed by incest, marriage, and the "family romance."
The English Patient dramatizes the way in which foundational fictions, while producing national desire by means of libidinal and geographical mapping, simultaneously give rise to various marginalizations and exclusions, or foundational "frictions." Marriage, with its insistence on productive and sanctioned eroticism, suppresses adultery, along with homosexuality and other unmapped forms of sexual satisfaction. In addition to frustrated adulterous and homosexual relationships, The English Patient also includes several instances of non-genital eroticism, such as a close-up of the Patient's mouth receiving a plum from Hana and the surrogate "love scene" in which Kip swings Hana, suspended in a harness, around the upper walls of a church. The film's governing metaphor for all these unsanctioned pleasures is adultery, perhaps the most common—and often the least apparently justifiable—form of extra-marital love. Whereas marriage is public and official, adultery is by definition private and illicit, a violation not just of societal laws, but of vows voluntarily undertaken. Moreover, adultery, unlike marriage, is ideally unproductive: this contrast is evoked when, after Katharine swoons at the Christmas party in order to be alone with Almásy, a solicitous English woman responds by assuming that she must be pregnant. Nevertheless, The English Patient appropriates adultery as a productive figure for freedom from marital and national constraints, from the imperative to produce children and wealth for the sake of an arbitrarily imagined national community. Adultery—whose etymological derivation from ad-alter connotes a tendency "towards an Other"—comes to embody an ethical principle to resist the restrictive boundaries of marriages and the nations they help to build.
II. The Cartographic Gaze
Perhaps the film's most extreme form of nationalism is carried out, ironically, by members of the "International" Sand Club, a group of desert explorers with ties to Britain's Royal Geographic Society. Although Almásy considers his exploration to be an apolitical scientific pursuit, the maps he makes of the desert become powerful political weapons when war breaks out in Northern Africa. Throughout the film, cartography is shown to be complicit in nationalism and imperialism, in their violent partitionings and appropriations of land. These geographical partitionings, in turn, inform several metaphorical processes of mapping, including not only the maiming and appropriation of human bodies, but also the "cuts" and framings of the camera itself. Several sequences implicate not only Almásy, but the camera and cinematic audience as well, in the colonial violence carried out by means of the cartographic gaze.
For Almásy, cartography is a scientific—even an aesthetic—profession that has nothing to do with politics. An overvaluation of objectivity induces him to write "such a long [monograph] with so few adjectives" and remark that "A thing is still a thing no matter what [adjective] you place in front of it." When his partner, Madox, tells him the British government has ordered "all international expeditions to be aborted by May 1939," Almásy is both baffled and annoyed: "What do they care about our maps?" Even when Madox explains that "In a war, if you own the desert, you own North Africa," he responds with scornful incredulity, "Own the desert!" Almásy does not associate his profession as an aerial map-maker with imperialism: indeed, he tells Katharine that the thing he hates most is "ownership." Yet his maps become inextricably involved in the battle between Britain and Germany for power over North Africa. Furthermore, a closer look at both the dynamics of the cartographic gaze and his behavior toward Katharine suggests that Almásy's pursuit of geographical knowledge is deeply implicated in the colonial eye's process of cutting up, appropriating, and dominating landscapes.
Aerial cartography involves a distanced, panoramic gaze that levels off the landscape in order to quantify and plot its features. This process of quantifying requires a grid or screen that mediates between the eye and the terrain.  This model—omniscient eye, mediating screen, and object of vision—incorporates the structure of the disembodied, transcendental "gaze" which Jacques Lacan distinguishes from the look.  In The Threshold of the Visible World, Kaja Silverman gives the following account of the first of Lacan's three diagrams representing the field of vision:
The "image" or screen that intervenes between viewer and object is in the position of the cartographic grid, which mediates between the aerial eye and the land being "surveyed." The English Patient, however, dramatizes Lacan's point that the purely objective gaze represents an ultimately untenable position: ocular mastery is always only apparent, and Almásy employs the cartographic grid not so much to claim epistemological authority as to lay claim to landscapes and bodyscapes. The eye may aspire toward the gaze, but its striving for transcendence is always tainted—adulterated—by the fact that the look is "always finite, always embodied, and always within spectacle, although it does not always acknowledge itself as such" (Silverman, Threshold 134).
Despite his professed antipathy toward "ownership" and his pursuit of objectivity, it becomes clear that even Almásy's map-making is tainted by desire. Minghella draws several visual connections between landscape and bodyscape early in the film: the opening credits depict a brush painting shadowy bodies on a flesh-colored parchment, then make a smooth transition into an aerial shot of the desert, which also resembles a body; the first flashback sequence shows Almásy interrogating someone in Arabic about "a mountain the shape of a woman's back." This image recurs later when, staring at Katharine's back, he begins to see her body as an object of possession as well as desire: "I claim this shoulder blade—no, wait—I want—turn over [he indicates the indentation of her throat, which Madox later informs him is called the "supersternal notch"] I want this! This place—I love this place—what's it called? This is mine! I'm going to ask the king permission to call it the Almásy Bosphorous." Later on, at the International Sand Club's farewell dinner, he tells Katharine, "I want to touch you. I want the things which are mine, which belong to me." Almásy's urge to name and possess parts of Katharine's body combines fetishistic and colonial desire, both of which involve violent processes of partitioning. Both at the farewell dinner and at the earlier Christmas party, Almásy watches Katharine through gridded screens—analogues of the map-maker's grid. His room, where the two first make love, has similar windows which cast shadowy grids on their bodies, transforming them into erotic complements to the maps hanging from Almásy's walls. Ironically, these cartographic grids are transferred onto Katharine's body itself when she dies after the cuckholded Geoffrey tries to kill her, Almásy, and himself in a plane crash: she is wearing a grid-patterned dress. Moreover, a subjective shot at the beginning of the movie shows Almásy's view of the world through the grid of a reed mask that the Bedouins who rescue him have placed over his charred and disfigured face. When he is brought to a hospital in Italy, a British officer immediately attempts to determine his nationality: when the officer labels Almásy (who, ironically, has been neither English nor patient) an "English patient," the map-maker ends up being all but mapped to death himself.
Cartographic violence is even more intense in the case of David Caravaggio, a Canadian agent working with Geoffrey in Tobruk. After Rommel's troops have taken the city with the help of maps acquired from Almásy, a German interrogator has Caravaggio's thumbs amputated in the film's most gruesome scene, ostensibly in order to punish him for committing adultery. Since the sequence begins with an overhead shot of the interrogation scene mediated by a gridded screen, the metaphorical violence of both the cartographic gaze, with its aerial partitioning of space, and the cinematic gaze, organized as it is by framings and "cuts," is literalized in the cutting off of Caravaggio's thumbs. Cartographic boundaries and cinematic frames alike regularly cut bodies into pieces precisely by seeing them through a mediating screen or grid. The technology of film is also implicated in the photographs which enable the Germans to identify him: Caravaggio tells Almásy later that, before tracking down the man responsible for giving the maps to the Germans, he found and killed both the interrogator and "the man who took my photograph." Yet the amputation scene, with its excessive violence, its close-up on Caravaggio's fingers, and a scream that continues beyond the visual cut away from the hand, also incites viewers to identify with the subject of torture, and thereby bypass the cartographic grid. Caravaggio's pain, coupled perhaps with the spectators' guilt at their own specular complicity in it, makes possible an identification which traverses the mediating screen: after seeing the razor sink into his thumb, one checks to make sure one's own thumbs are still there.
While the cartographic gaze is an instance of the human eye attempting to attain the position of the transcendental gaze, The English Patient constantly recalls vision to the body by means of eroticism and pain. If cartography, by drawing the boundaries of nations, also inscribes marriage as a set of boundaries for desire, adultery represents one way of escaping, or reconfigurating, the organizational grid. But for the most part, the film depicts only failed attempts and unfulfilled desires to transgress social and national boundaries: only the "frame story"—which consists of the nurse Hana's relationships to the dying Almásy on the one hand, and the Sikh explosives expert Kip on the other—results in an escape from the national and marital grids.
III. Adulterations of the Map
Colonialism's cartographic gaze involves a dialectical deployment of the activity of transgressive, international map-makers. On the one hand, their work is prerequisite to the production of maps; on the other hand, those very maps depict nomadic travellers as subversive to their totalizing project. Michel de Certeau writes that
The English Patient dramatizes this process by which the itineraries which cross and connect different geographical places are systematically effaced. The map forms "states" of erotic as well as geographic knowledge, and renders ground-level desires illegitimate, if not illegible. "Beneath the discourses that ideologize the city, the ruses and combinations of powers that have no readable identity proliferate; without points where one can take hold of them, without rational transparency, they are impossible to administer" (de Certeau 95). Adulterous, homosexual, and other ungraspable desires proliferate in both the flashback and the frame narratives, until most of them are frustrated or incorporated by the cartographic gaze.
Although both he and Geoffrey Clifton are geographers, Almásy insists that aerial maps are too far removed from their objects: "You can't explore from the air," he tells his friend Madox. "If you could explore from the air, life would be very simple." The next thing he says, while priming the propeller of his plane, is "Contact." Madox, turning the engine on, responds, "Contact." As in the torture scene, where Caravaggio's pain evokes a bodily identification across the cinematic screen, this scene implicitly prefers intimate "contact" to the aerial map-maker's distanced gaze. Ironically, however, Almásy advocates ground-level exploration only in order to produce more accurate maps. This replicates the contradiction in his love life: his adulterous affair with Katharine undermines the boundaries drawn by marriage, but only so that he can reinscribe a fetishistic and quasi-imperialistic claim to the "place" at the base of her throat. Lying in Almásy's bed, Katharine also reinscribes the very discursive terms she is trying to escape, musing that "here I am a different wife."
In addition to the literally adulterous affair between Almásy and Katharine, The English Patient includes several other instances of adulteration more loosely conceived. "To adulterate" is to move toward the other, to "corrupt, debase, or make impure by the addition of a foreign or inferior substance" (Webster's 30; emphasis added). When Almásy pastes notes, and journal entries, and Katharine's paintings into his volume of Herodotus, and when, dying alone in the Cave of Swimmers, Katharine writes in the same book about the dissolution of boundaries between bodies and countries alike—they are literally adulterating the Histories.  Similarly, international romances—whether between Katharine (British) and Almásy (Hungarian), Hana (Canadian) and Kip (Sikh), Gioia (Italian) and Caravaggio (Canadian), or Bermann (German) and Kamal (Egyptian)—are relationships of mutual adulteration. Bermann, describing his homosexual relationship with Kamal, wonders, "How do you explain, to someone who's never been here, feelings which seem quite normal?" The deictic, "here," likens his emotional state to a geographical locale, a place that's indescribable because it falls outside of conventional boundaries. When a drunken and frustrated Almásy toasts the International Sand Club as "Misfits, buggers, fascists and fools," he suggests that homosexuals, presumably because their relations are either "unnatural" or "unproductive"—comprise one of the stereotypes against which British nationalism defines itself. Continuing his toast—"His Majesty! Der Führer! Il Duce!," Almásy blurs the boundary that justifies the war in the first place, intimating that the British are no less fascists than the fascists they are fighting. Finally, he observes that "The Egyptians are desperate to get rid of the Colonials": the insertion of "buggers" into a political polemic links the demarcation of sexual boundaries with the "fascist" project of colonialism.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus that, "by boxing the life of the child up within the Oedipus complex, by making family relations the universal mediation of childhood, we cannot help but fail to understand the production of the unconscious itself, and the collective mechanisms that have an immediate bearing on the unconscious" (49). In other words, Freud's Oedipal family romance is an "iron collar," a mediating grid which limits and disfigures the very desires it purports to map. They propose two alternatives to this "molar" map of heterosexuality: "We are statistically or molarly heterosexual, but personally homosexual, without knowing it or being fully aware of it, and finally we are transsexual in an elemental, molecular sense" (70). The family romance prescribes heterosexual marriage, instituting a morality of molarity which denigrates adultery, homosexuality, and molecular, transsexual desires as "immoral." Silverman calls this prescription "the ideology of the family," the dominant fiction of sexuality and society that "not only offers the representational system by means of which the subject typically assumes a sexual identity, and takes on the desires commensurate with that identity, but forms the stable core around which a nation's and a period's 'reality' coheres" (Silverman, Subjectivity 41). The English Patient includes several instances of unmappable sexuality: an eroticized opening shot of the smooth, fleshlike desert; a close-up of Almásy's ruined lips receiving a skinned plum from Hana; Hana's affection for the dying Almásy, which Caravaggio calls "love"; and Kip's feelings for his friend Hardy (trying to describe them, he realizes that "I don't even know what I'm talking about"), which Hana calls "love." Madox even seems to love the molecular sand of the desert, scooping a handful into his pocket when he leaves for Britain. But once again, most of these trajectories of desire are either frustrated (Hardy and Almásy die) or complicit in colonialism (Madox appropriating a pocketful of sand, Hana using Almásy to recover from her own emotional "war wounds"; even Bermann's homosexual love for the young Kamal, mentioned earlier, can be interpreted as a metaphor for invasion).
Perhaps the only "lines of flight"  which escape sexual and geographical maps entirely are those followed by the extra-marital lovers, Kip and Hana. Kip, who discharges German mines for the Allies, removes potentially violent traces of imperialism. A mine, after all, is the most intense and paradoxical of proprietary claims: like Almásy, who demands the parts of Katharine that are "mine" after he has lost her, mines keep on asserting that land is "mine" long after those who planted them have left. Practical only in the planter's absence—only for a retreating army—mines (again like Almásy's utterances of the word, "mine") are mechanisms of disavowal which claim ownership of always already lost objects, and, if successful, destroy the very objects that they claim.  By defusing these—more specifically, by "clearing the roads of mines" (emphasis added)—Kip reopens the way for both civilian and libidinal traffic, for desires that do not impose cartographic grids or "the names of powerful men." His undoing of identity is even more evident in the bomb he defuses in one of the film's tensest scenes: he doesn't realize when he reads off the serial number—KKIP2600—that the bomb literally has his name on it. This defusing also represents Kip's swerve away from his namesake, Rudyard Kipling, whose colonial sympathies he incisively criticized earlier in the film. Hana's line of flight out of the scope of the cartographic gaze is even more complex than Kip's, and requires a detour through recent theorizations of the cinematic apparatus.
IV. Plato's Cave of Swimmers
In 1945, André Bazin celebrated the disembodied status of the photographic gaze, drawing attention to the French word for the photographic lens, objectif: "Originality in photography as distinct from originality in painting lies in the essentially objective character of photography. For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man" (13). The camera, that is, effaces the subjectivity of vision, calling for what Christian Metz terms "primary identification"—the spectator's identification with the camera's gaze, "with himself as a pure act of perception" (Metz 49). Films portray a "hermetically sealed world" wherein "the extreme contrast between the darkness in the auditorium (which also isolates the spectators from one another) and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation" (Mulvey 201). Largely organized by the cartographic gaze, The English Patient seems to confirm such models of cinema as an experience structured by an uncrossable boundary separating audience from screen.
Jean-Louis Baudry, in an influential essay entitled "The Apparatus," compares the cinematic apparatus to the allegorical cave described in book VII of Plato's Republic. Plato's prisoners, immobilized both by actual chains and by their internalized need for illusion, passively submit to the spectacle projected before them: "It is true they are chained, but, freed, they would still refuse to leave the place where they are" (Baudry 302). The apparatus—a fire placed behind and above the spectators which projects the silhouettes of sculpted puppets—prevents the captive audience from moving, from even wanting to move:
Katharine's death in The English Patient involves a strikingly similar apparatus: immobilized by her broken ankle and ribs, she watches painted silhouettes of swimmers illuminated by the fire; though "horribly cold," she refuses to move toward the light: "I really ought to drag myself outside, but then there'd be the sun...."; earlier, just after the plane crash has left her badly injured, Katharine begs Almásy, "please don't move me."
While she is dying, Katharine writes in Almásy's "scrapbook" (his volume of Herodotus's Histories) the lyrical passage that provides the film's thematic and melodramatic climax:
The light by which Katharine looks at the paintings is analogous to the light projected on the screen: as it fades—as the film's illusion ends—Katharine experiences the blurring of temporal ("how long is a day in the dark?") as well as geographical boundaries. Completely dependent on light, she dies simultaneously imagining a world without maps and reinscribing "countries" by requesting that her body be "marked." Katharine's death allegorizes the frustration of adulterous desire, the process by which the cartographic gaze has killed her, projecting its grid of molar morals—literalized in the grid pattern on her dress—upon her body.
But Almásy—who generally stands at the other end of the cartographic gaze, looking at Katharine through grids—fares no better. Caught in the networks of voyeurism (watching her without being seen) and "fetishistic scopophilia" (laying claim to her supersternal notch), which Mulvey identifies as the two primary venues of visual pleasure in patriarchal cinema, he also ends up immobilized and afraid of light and movement. When the Bedouins transport his immobile body across the desert, for example, the subjective shots of the sun through his reed mask suggest that his access to the Platonic truth is mediated by the very grid that supposedly confers objectivity. When Hana offers to move Almásy to where he can enjoy the view out the window, he says, "No, not the window: I can't bear the light, anyways." Hana's justification for settling with him in the monastery until he dies in the first place is that he "hates to be moved." (Almásy's emotional stoicism—which leads him, for example, to ask Katharine to forget him when she leaves his bedroom—points to a second, related, sense in which he doesn't want to be "moved.") Instead of sunlight, he prefers to observe his own dreams: "I can already see....I can see all the way to the desert. Before the war. Making maps....I can see my wife in that view." Almásy's dreams faithfully recall his map-making, but distort his adulterous affair so that he believes he was married. In addition to Plato's cave, Baudry also links cinema with dreams as theorized by Freud:
Like Plato's subterranean prisoners, dreamers undergo a regression to a state of immobility, a state in which real perceptions cannot be distinguished from fantasy. Almásy's dreams express his identification with nationalist ideology, his occupancy of a prescribed position: in accordance with his—and nationalism's—wishes, he is both the map-maker he really was and the husband he never became. As Silverman puts it, the cinematic illusion—the "given-to-be-seen"—"depends for its hegemonic effects on the slotting of the eye into a particular spectatorial position—into a metaphoric geometral point. The latter can then best be defined as the position from which we apprehend and affirm those elements of the screen which are synonymous with the dominant fiction" (1996: 179).
In addition to Baudry's models of spectatorial regression, The English Patient also dramatizes Christian Metz's voyeuristic model of cinema. Comparing cinema to the theater, Metz argues that "cinematic voyeurism, unauthorized scopophilia," has a much stronger affinity to the voyeuristic "primal scene," for three reasons:
Completely alone, seeing without being seen, Almásy as both stalker (following Katharine to the Cairo marketplace, secretly watching her at parties and dances) and map-maker indulges in unauthorized scopophilia. Indeed, the film frames adultery itself in voyeuristic terms, since the earliest exchange of looks between Katharine and Almásy occurs when Katharine retells the story of Candaules and Gyges, recorded in Herodotus's Histories:
So far, the story matches every detail of Metz's cinematic scenario: Gyges, hidden from the queen, enjoys an erotic thrill, watching her "naked in full view" of him. The tale also fits Mulvey's description of visual pleasure: the woman is mute, passive, and objectified, while Gyges wields his secret gaze in an act of spectatorial rape. However, the story's conclusion suggests that the "segregation of spaces" stressed by Metz, and the "hermetically sealed world" described by Mulvey, do not adequately describe spectatorship in, and of, The English Patient:
When the spectacle returns the voyeur's gaze, the expected decapitation/castration is not the only option. The alternative is to cross over the "threshold of the visible world,"  engage the spectacle erotically, and produce, in this case, a political transformation leading to an unusually stable twenty-eight year regime. As a politically productive alternative to voyeuristic models of the apparatus, The English Patient offers a cinema of radical movement and heteropathic contact.
V. Cinematic Transport and the Haptic Eye
In Baudry's "Apparatus" essay, dreams are not as hopeless a cinematic model as Plato's cave. Baudry argues that dream-perceptions, and perhaps film as well, may produce not merely second-hand simulacra, but a more-than-real.  The inability to distinguish hallucinations from reality informs "the specific mode in which the dreamer identifies with his dream, a mode which is anterior to the mirror stage, to the formation of the self, and therefore founded on a permeability, a fusion of the interior with the exterior" (311). The English Patient moves towards just such a permeability, a mode of identification either anterior or posterior to the mirror stage, unfastened from the formation of the self. Baudry's notion of passing through the screen offers an alternative to the sedentary spectatorship imposed by Plato's cave, a cinema in which vision does not aspire towards the transcendental gaze, but instead affirms its basis in the body. A haptical cinema —a cinema based on touch—would embody what Rosalind Krauss calls "antivision," an impulse which "forces one to see that it was always on, in, and through the body of the perceiver that the aesthetic paradigm operated; that these operations were merely sublimated by an idealist subterfuge that wants to describe the work of art as a function of the disembodied modalities of sense" (153).
Commenting on the way in which Roland Barthes's look "irradiat[es] otherwise insignificant—or even culturally devalued—details" in Camera Lucida, Silverman describes
Vision, Silverman suggests, can be simultaneously embodied and "wayward": travelling along unpredictable itineraries, the wayward eye transports the body along with it. "The adulteration of vision," then, describes not only the adulteration that happens to vision when more-than-real objects impose themselves upon it, but also the adulteration of the body by heterogeneous memories and experiences that vision precipitates. Silverman goes on to imagine a visual text that "would displace me from my self, as well as from the geometral point. It would do so by enlisting me in an act of 'heteropathic recollection.' It would factor into my mnemic operations not only what resides outside the given-to-be-seen, but what my moi excludes—what must be denied in order for my self to exist as such" (185). Silverman's example of heteropathic recollection—a woman's voice reading from letters sent by the protagonist of Sans Soleil, "speak[ing] his memories" (186)—, anticipates one of The English Patient's many flashback devices: Hana reads texts that Katharine has already read or written into Almásy's book, their voices alternating as the film passes from one diegetic level to another. The entire film can be seen as a process of instilling Almásy's traumatic experiences (which at first even he cannot remember) into Hana's memory—and into the audience's as well, since Hana generally stands in as a sort of Ideal Spectator of the flashback scenes—by means of a heteropathic mode of identification.
In the midst of Metz's psychoanalytically inflected study of The Imaginary Signifier, two passages seem out of place. The first describes a form of identification that is neither primary (identification with the camera's gaze) nor secondary (identification with individual characters):
"My look's caress," a geographically undifferentiated spectatorial presence, describes an alternative to the gaze, which originates from a fixed, transcendental point.  Metz sketches a theory of individual cinematic response, an alternative to his usual implicit model of passive and impersonal cinematic subjection to the governance of primary and secondary identifications. In the second out-of-place passage, Metz crosses the boundary of gender, describing a first-person spectator as a midwife:
What does it mean for a spectator to be "present," simultaneously watching and helping? How does a film, too, become present—more-than-real—to the caressing look of a spectatorial midwife? These two passages, taken together, indicate a potential line of flight leading out of Metz's voyeuristic model of spectatorship.
In one of The English Patient's most memorable sequences, Hana and Kip make love without so much as touching one another. The sequence—in which Hana swings from wall to wall in a church, looking at their frescoes, on a rope counterweighted by Kip—stands in for a love scene, placed as it is between a courtship by candlelight and a naked conversation in bed. Hana's spectatorship provides an optimistic contrast to Katharine's death in Plato's cave: far from immobile, she literally moves from picture to picture; far from passive, she actively contributes to the spectacle, illuminating each image as she approaches it with her flare. Hana is hovering—a hovering midwife—swinging to whichever painting she and Kip prefer, bringing each one to light by her very presence. At the same time, the scene is highly eroticized: she calls out Kip's name as she rises into the air, then thanks him enthusiastically when she alights. This erotic quality, along with her physical travelling, aligns her spectatorial experience with transito, an Italian word (perhaps best translated as "transport") which denotes transitional modalities of emotional, physical, and erotic movement. In contrast to the distancing effect of vertical motion, Mario Perniola writes, Il transito e un movimento orizzontale che va dal presente al presente ["Transito is a horizontal movement which goes from present to present"] (8-9). Applying this concept to film theory, Giuliana Bruno recommends that
Instead of colonialist travelogues, which gaze unseen upon foreign geographies in order to gain knowledge and power over them, a transitorial cinema caresses and illuminates its objects without denying the embodied nature of its own look: it travels through unmapped landscapes and leaves them unmapped. As the film shuttles through time and space, between northern Africa in 1939 and Italy in 1945, its spectators can cross boundaries not only vicariously, but actively, haptically, and erotically, helping to produce the very images they experience on the screen. This erotic, haptical look—a version of Silverman's "productive look" —effectively dissolves the boundaries between self and other: "And so looking has force: it tears, it is sharp, it is an acid. In the end, it corrodes the object and observer until they are lost in the field of vision. I once was solid, and now I am dissolved: that is the voice of seeing" (Elkins 45). After she has wept for Almásy, Hana begins to travel again. Riding out of the monastery in the back of a truck she looks up at the sun screened by trees, and soon there are no more trees: she sees the sun itself, unmediated—she has escaped from Plato's cave. The audience is also displaced; it becomes nomad, like the Bedouins who took pity on and nursed Almásy's abject, disfigured body. Film, says Steven Shaviro,
VI. Hana's Tears
The disfigured Almásy, whose nationality cannot be determined, is absolutely heterogeneous to nationalist maps, an unassimilable residue that, ironically, imperialist aggression produced in the first place. He embodies all that must be denied in order for me to exist as a national subject: upon first seeing his devastated face, my initial impulse was to look away. Nevertheless, Hana comes to identify heteropathically with Almásy, pitying this faceless remainder of a man, touching his horribly burnt flesh, and weeping when he asks to be killed. Since I have been describing a highly subjective model of cinematic response, it seems time to confess that I, too, came to pity the mutilated Patient, caressed his burnt flesh, and wept for him. The English Patient, after all, is a melodrama: in a sense, it succeeds only to the extent that it evokes tears.  Far from being mere outpourings of sentimentalist escapism, however, Hana's tears—and my own—embody a literal adulteration of vision, a blinding of the cartographic gaze by means of affect. A transitorial cinema involves not only movement through geographies, but emotional "movement" as well, a passionate decentering of the ego and the gaze that positions it. "Weeping," Eduardo Cadava observes, "is the dissolution of the self."
Tears simultaneously draw vision back to individual bodies and connect spectators to one another in a ritual of collective mourning. And in the case of The English Patient, it is precisely failed interpersonal connections that are being mourned. Through tears, the film resolves, or dissolves, the problematic posed by its cartographic gaze: my sadness motivates me to transgress boundaries between myself and those others to whom I have denied a look. Tears, by literally blinding me, move me to acknowledge the blindnesses upon which all vision is premised: "The paradigm vision/blindness returns sight to its seat in the affective, erotic ground of the body..." (Krauss 153). Tears of pity materialize an interpersonal, heteropathic bond: another person's suffering touches me. Tears, produced by my body in response to seeing someone else in his or her otherness, caress my eyes.
When, at the end of The English Patient, I see what I've already seen before, the result is not a gratuitous narcissistic externalization of my memories or wishes. The beautiful aerial shot of the desert with Almásy and Katharine, dead, in a plane above—I see the film's earliest images again, but this time through tears. I do not witness them with pleasure from a fixed position in a hermetically sealed apparatus: my eyes address the desert, send my body there emotionally and physically. The film produces, or induces me to produce, a bodily trace: not dry and sterile sand in my ear, but fresh tears in my eyes. When the film ends with a shot aimed directly into the sun, Hana and I may not yet be staring in the sun; the tears may still be coursing. When the closing credits are accompanied by a musical hybrid superimposing Hana's piano theme with Almásy's Hungarian chant, I hear what I have already heard, but differently, the borders between the tunes dissolved: "that is the voice of seeing" (Elkins 45; emphasis added). The boundaries between individual spectators also dissolve: since both predicaments result from the same cartographic gaze, mourning for the deaths of The English Patient's adulterers is simultaneously mourning for the fact that "those attending a cinematic projection do not, as in the theatre, constitute a true 'audience,' a temporary collectivity" (Metz 63). But insofar as this act of mourning is itself collective, it produces a desire for just such an interpersonal and international collectivity—one in which the film's affairs would not have failed. As a post-national romance, The English Patient depicts failed alliances which induce us to imagine—to imagine ourselves—a people not sufficiently delineated by nationalist maps and the marital boundaries they impose.
"What would a politics based on mourning look like?" (Cadava) Or a film grounded in politics? Both would involve tears: the mourning of social and political injustices, on the one hand, and the mourning of the impossible position of the gaze, on the other. Yet precisely on account of these tears, we can never know just what these projects would look like. They will never have unveiled themselves completely: our look's caress carries us too close to see such projects in their entirety. Yet therein lies their potential: sexual, social, and post-national lines of flight lie in the affirmation of a blindness, in the adulteration of vision by contact, the dissolution of the self borne by its look toward the others it observes. "In film, the old structure of aesthetic contemplation collapses. I am solicited and invested by what I see: perception becomes a kind of physical affliction, an intensification and disarticulation of bodily sensation, rather than a process either of naive (ideological and Imaginary) belief or of detached, attentive consideration" (Shaviro 52). Where cinema traverses blindness—where we watch through tears—a new people is produced, a body of nomads travelling through a fluid, indefinite world and, miraculously, feeling no desire whatever to map it.
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1. See Metz, 69-78 and Mulvey, 199-200. In Downcast Eyes, Martin Jay provides a comprehensive account of the "denigration of vision" implicit in the theories put forward by the Cahiers du Cinéma group, to which Metz belonged (435-91).
2. Although the film was "mainstream" enough to win the 1996 Oscar for Best Film, its production did involve an extraordinary number of international contributions: actors from Britain, France, and India; shooting in Italy and Egypt; a producer (Saul Zaentz) of Russian-Polish descent, and a Sri Lankan novelist—Michael Ondaatje—who has lived in Britain and Canada. In an article in The New Statesman, Jonathan Coe suggests that it is precisely its international background that facilitated this ostensibly "British" film's success in America alongside Hollywood films. Because of its focus on the cinematic adulteration of vision, this paper does not consider Minghella's film in relation to Michael Ondaatje's novel. In the only critical study of the film to date, Raymond Younis provides a survey of the differences between the film and the novel on which it is based, arguing that in the former "The troubled cross-cultural relationships evoked so vividly in the book are all but lost, perhaps because these issues would detract from the primacy of the love stories in the film, or perhaps because the traumas of decolonization and uprootedness are so disquieting that they may turn audiences away at the box office" (6). Avoiding any consideration of the specifically cinematic elements of the film, Younis fails to do justice to its own—often non-discursive—treatment of cross-cultural and post-colonial materials. See also the more sophisticated studies of post-colonialism in Ondaatje's novel by Josef Pesch (especially 103-6) and J.U. Jacobs.
3. In "Maps and the Rationalization of Geographic Space," David Woodward argues that, with the application of equipollent grids, "space could be referenced to a geometrical net of lines of longitude and latitude and could thus everywhere be accorded the same importance." Applied to the entire world, this net of lines produced "the idea of a finite world over which systematic dominance was possible, and provided a powerful framework for political expansion and control" (87). Admittedly, cartographers did not literally see landscapes through grids, but rather projected or illustrated landscapes onto pre-existing grids. However the idea of procrustean "fitting" still applies to this process, while the notion of projection onto a mediating screen even more closely approximates the cinematic apparatus.
4. See Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, 81-135. Kaja Silverman, in Male Subjectivity at the Margins (125-56) and Threshold of the Visible World (131-7), fruitfully applies the split between eye and gaze to problems in film theory.
5. The cartographic grid also bears comparison to Alberti's perspectival grid stretched toward a "centric point" and the gridded "veil" that Durer and others used to achieve the effect of foreshortening (Alberti 54-8).
6. Despite (or, perhaps, precisely on account of) Herodotus's orientalist and Helleno-centric descriptions, Almásy subscribes to the popular notion that he was "the father of history." For a brief account of Athenian biases in Herodotus's work—particularly in his account of the Persian War—see the section entitled "What Can We Believe?" in A.R. Burn's introduction to The Histories, 28-36.
7. Cf. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: "In the case of Little Hans, studying the unconscious would be to show how he tries to build a rhizome, with the family house but also with the line of flight of the building, the street, etc.; how these lines are blocked, how the child is made to take root in the family, be photographed under the father, be traced onto the mother's bed...how the only escape route left to the child is a becoming-animal perceived as shameful and guilty...(14)"
8. For considerations of film as a means of male disavowal of lack, see Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and Silverman's "Lost Objects and Mistaken Subjects." In light of The English Patient's conflation of landscape with bodyscape, Kip's removal of mines can be seen as an allegory for the defusing of cinematic disavowal and the fetishism it enacts.
9. The reference is to Lacan (Ecrits 3)—"the mirror-image would seem to be the threshold of the visible world"—and Silverman's Threshold of the Visible World, which I discuss below. Whereas Lacan uses the phrase to suggest that experiencing the mirror stage is prerequisite to entering the scopic regime, I am stressing that the scopic regime is not necessarily limited to that stage: vision can traverse the mirror itself, identifying with the Other not as a molar ideal ego encased in armor but as another vulnerable, fragmentary body. Crossing the threshold of the visible world, then, involves an adulteration of the ego ideal and hence a dissolution of the imaginary self (what Lacan calls the moi).
10. This sense of the more-than-real arises in the film when Almásy, waking from his first dreams of the desert, asks Hana, "Is there sand in my eyes? Are you cleaning sand from my ears?"
11. I borrow the phrase from Antonia Lant's essay, "Haptical Cinema," which discusses depth and spatiality in early cinematic representations of Egypt (incidentally, also the setting of The English Patient's flashback scenes). Voyeuristic theories of film have not sufficiently accounted for Freud's claim, in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, that vision is derived from the sense of touch (22). In The Cinematic Body, Steven Shaviro argues that, Metz and his followers notwithstanding, film is a thoroughly embodied medium; he characterizes the image not as lack, but as "an uncanny, excessive residue of being that subsists when all should be lacking. It is not the index of something that is missing, but the insistence of something that refuses to disappear" (17).
12. Metz's phrase is interestingly echoed in Louis Hobson's review of The English Patient, which praises the way in which Minghella's "cameras caress the landscapes."
13. See Silverman, 1996: 180-5. "The unconscious manifests a striking indifference to the question of what is conventionally assumed to be important or worthless at the level of the cultural screen [i.e., the cartographic grid] in the process of weaving its associative webs. It often transfers psychic value from one term to another on the basis of what would, in waking life, seem a completely inapposite analogy" (180)
14. Cf. María, Jorge Isaac's (non-)national romance, which Sommer characterizes as an "inexplicably sad" anomaly in the corpus of foundational fictions—simultaneously the most popular of all and the only one that sets forth no national or social project at all. In the preface, Efrain tells the fictional editor, "Whatever is missing, you know how to fill it in. You can read until the part my tears have erased." The editor responds, addressing the readers, "Sweet and sad mission! Read on, then, and if you stop reading in order to weep, that will prove I've fulfilled my mission faithfully" (cited in Sommer, 176). Whereas María dreaded miscegenation, and hence failed to offer a productive project outside the terms of nationalism, The English Patient makes tears productive by advancing a heteropathic politics grounded in mourning.