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“Smart People on ‘Cat People'” Thoughts on the Teresa de Lauretis Lecture –

Now and again, we have the unique opportunity of glimpsing in propria persona an individual who has had a profound formative effect on our thinking. At times this can be a disappointing experience – such shining beacons of knowledge can appear dustily dull up close in the daylight (I’ve been told this is akin to seeing Bob Dylan in concert nowadays). Having attended Teresa de Lauretis’ public lecture last Friday, “Val Lewton’s Cat People: Otherness in the Everyday,” as well as the four-day intensive seminar preceding the lecture, I can confidently say that de Lauretis is everything her vast and influential body of work would suggest she is and more. Here I wish to thank the student and faculty organizers at the Feminist Media Studio who made this experience possible. I finished the week with a head swimming with new questions and ideas (admittedly many more questions than ideas) about theories of spectatorship, positionality, fantasy, intertextuality, feminism, and a whole lot of Freud.

De Lauretis’ 2008 book, Freud’s Drive: Psychoanalysis, Literature and Film, has done much to revive Freud’s contested theory of drives for contemporary scholars. Freud’s Drive is highly relevant to de Lauretis’ current research on figurality and the drive in film and literature and would be an excellent companion to last Friday’s lecture. Specifically, I would encourage those interested in a queer reading of Cat People (I believe this came up on Friday) to consider the chapter on “The Queer Space of the Drive.” It is here that de Lauretis explores the relationship between the drives, texts, and the body with particular emphasis on the contentious question of the location, or rather biologism, of the drive. While de Lauretis’ lecture did not explicitly engage with queer theory, the framework the author lays out in the book is ripe for contribution that I would be eager to read.

As I’m sure many of those in attendance noted, de Lauretis has a remarkable way of providing measured textual analysis as scaffolding to prepare the reader (or listener in this case) for truly radical turns in her argument. We can feel our eyes growing wider and wider at such a manageable, almost rhythmic pace so that when the beat drops, if you’ll forgive the analogy, we’re ready to hear it. On Friday, this turn was towards a psychoanalytic rethinking of spectatorship entrenched in the figurality of language and Freud’s concept of the drive. Unsurprisingly, such a move stimulated a lively Q&A period following de Lauretis’ lecture with a particularly interesting question from our own Dan Leberg about Alice, the other woman in Cat People and how she fits (or doesn’t) into a psychoanalytic reading of the film. This is among the many questions that will likely continue to fuel an internal dialogue for myself as well – that deliciously nagging, ungraspable ‘otherness within us’ that we may recognize as a new idea demanding to be thought out. Once again, this film student has Teresa de Lauretis to thank.

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