Noël Carroll: Mystifying Movies

Noël Carroll is a philosopher of film and art best known for The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (1990). He is editor, with David Bordwell, of Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (1996) and author of Theorizing The Moving Image (1996) and Interpreting The Moving Image (1998).

This essay primarily concerns his Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory (1988), a devastating critique of psychoanalytical film theory.

Within the Althusserian-Lacanian paradigm, the individual is said to be invested with the belief that she is autonomous, but this is a false belief in the service of ideology. But why does the contemporary theorist deny autonomy to the individual? Earlier we read Silverman offering as a reason that the subject’s discourse is constrained by the rules of language; it can only speak by means of a pre-existing linguistic system. However, the assumption, in this argument, of what freedom would have to be, were there such a thing, is too extravagant. For this argument appears to presuppose that no speaking subject is free unless it creates the language it speaks. But this is absurd. If I have a hammer and I can use it to build a house, or a hobby horse, or simply use it to pound the ground, then it seems to me that I am free in what I hammer. And if I hammered someone who annoyed me—while certifiably sane—I would be responsible for my act since it was free. But Silverman’s argument, by logical analogy, whould have it that I am not free because I did not invent hammers. This idea of freedom, however, is unacceptably exorbitant, and any argument that uses it as a standard of what freedom is is unsound. As Silverman’s argument exemplifies, there is a presumption amoung Althusserian-Lacanians that if human actions have certain structural conditions, they constrain human action in a way inimitable to autonomy. Languages have both syntactical rules and semantical rules. But it is strange to think of these as constraints that preclude autonomy. For these very features of language are what enable the speaker to speak—to, for example, denounce capitalism. If the language lacked these structural conditions, nothing could be said, which would in fact be a real blow to the possibility of human autonomy.

– Noël Carroll (1988, p.78-79)

  • Bordwell, David & Noël Carroll (1996) Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies
  • Carroll, Noël (1988) Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory
  • Carroll, Noël (1990) The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart
  • Carroll, Noël (1996) Theorizing The Moving Image
  • Carroll, Noël (1998) Interpreting The Moving Image

  1. urayjan says:

    what is the email of noel carroll?

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