The Paradox of a Gesture, Enlarged by the Distension of Time: Merleau-Ponty and Lacan on a Slow-Motion Picture of Henri Matisse Painting
Keywords:phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, Matisse, Campaux,
In his lecture series The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), Lacan refers to a “delightful example” that Merleau-Ponty gives in his Book Signes (1960). Lacan describes it as a “strange slow-motion film in which one sees Matisse painting.” This is a scene from the documentary entitled A Great French Painter, Henri Matisse, by director François Campaux, a 16mm black and white film shot in 1946. Merleau-Ponty points, as Lacan puts it, to “the paradox of that gesture which, enlarged by the distension of time, enables us to imagine the most perfect deliberation on each of these strokes.” In fact, Merleau-Ponty underscores that this is an illusion, due only to the technique of the slow motion picture. In this paper I will present the different ways in which Lacan and Merleau-Ponty refer to the slow motion picture of Matisse painting. I will do so in order to consider, comparatively, the ways in which Merleau-Ponty and Lacan define the gesture in reference to film technologies and to the process of subjectification. Both of them refer to the gesture in order to find a new balance in the relationship between subject, rationality and media technology. And it is exactly at this site where the question of an ethics of gesture appears.
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