Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nancy Steffen-Fluhr vs. Roland Barthes

Women and The Inner game of Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the body Snatcher” troubled me on several levels. At the most profound, however, it seemed to be a reductive attempt at analysis of the motivations of a screenwriter, rather than an argument about a text.

While there is some interesting parsing of the text in the context of a gendered interpretation of the film, much of the argument is framed around the authors of the film and the book from which it was adapted. For example: “Against these rosy new-dawn colors, the black misogyny of Siegel's ending emerges all the more clearly. In Mainwaring's screenplay, Becky becomes, not a savior, but a Judas who betrays her lord with a kiss. ‘I never really knew what fear was until I kissed Becky.’ And yet, although Becky gets the blame, it is Miles's fearful faithlessness which sets up her fall,” (148) writes Steffen-Fluhr. She only makes her argument in terms of an imagined agenda on Mainwaring’s part, and in doing so I believe she misses many of the nuances available to a reading of the work.

In The Death of The Author, Roland Barthes states “To assign an Author to a text is to impose a brake on it, to furnish it with a final signified, to close writing,” and I believe that is what Steffen-Fluhr is doing in this essay. For example, she simply dismisses any in depth analysis of Jack as a character, discriminating against him because he is fictional: “(After all, Jack is a fictional construct, not a person, and therefore not subject to psychoanalysis.) He is the vehicle through which Siegel and his script-writer, the late Daniel Mainwaring, first begin to assert their resolute rejection of womanish passivity.” (144) In doing so, Steffen Fluhr does impose a brake on her argument, closing off entire avenues of analysis simply because of a prejudice towards the “non-personhood” of an imagined character.

The fallacy of attempting to “discover” the author’s intentions rather than simply look at a text is made all the more stark by the fact that Body Snatchers is a film, moreover, it is a film adapted from a book. An adaptation has several authors, making an author-based interpretation of the work not simply an analysis of the author’s “intentions,” but also of his interpretation of his reading of the original work, and of the intentions of the original work’s author as well. The reductive vision of an author’s master plan becomes muddled in adaptation. Then, apply this fact to a film, which, by virtue of the intensely collaborative process of filmmaking, could be said to have dozens of authors. Steffen-Fluhr searches for Mainwaring’s agenda, but what about the cinematographer, the director, the actors, the editor or any number of other agent’s agendas? A film adaptation of a book seems not only to be ripe ground for the death of the author, but a pit into which the author disappears entirely.

In his rejection of the author as a source of meaning, Barthes provides the reader as an alternative: “A text consists of multiple writings, proceeding from several cultures and entering into dialogue, into parody, into contestation; but there is a site where this multiplicity is collected, and this site is not the author, as has hitherto been claimed, but the reader.” Steffen-Fluhr even introduces the text in a manner that agrees with Barthes: with the reaction of a group of young students to the work, and how this reaction informed her own reading. However, her oversight is to consider this reaction only as an indicator of an intention of the author that she overlooked, rather than the source of the work’s meaning. Maybe if she looked again to her students’ own reactions to the work as an argument in and of themselves, rather than simply a framing narrative for her argument proper, she could take the brakes off of her essay.


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