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Weinstein, L. (1998). Looking at Reality: Perversion, Illusion, and the Primal Scene in Peter Greenaway's The Draughtman's Contract. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(2):257-268.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(2):257-268

Looking at Reality: Perversion, Illusion, and the Primal Scene in Peter Greenaway's The Draughtman's Contract

Lissa Weinstein, Ph.D.

References to the primal scene are ubiquitous in the psychoanalytic literature. A recent search cites 31 articles with the term in the title of the article; numerous others refer to this explanatory concept. Yet few are able to evoke the multitudinous reactions, the horror, fascination and confusion that the visual immediacy of the primal scene evokes. As Christian Metz, the psychoanalytic film theoretician has suggested, the cinema is particularly well suited to just such a task. The experience of viewing actions in which the actors are themselves not present (and do not consent to being observed) makes the voyeurism of the film closer to that of the primal scene, as compared to theater. Like the child, whose parents are unaware that he is watching, the film viewer remains anonymous. In addition, the obscurity surrounding the onlooker, the perceived larger size of the characters on the screen, and the aperture of the screen with its inevitable keyhole effect all contribute to the experience. The regressive pull of viewing the primal scene can be defended against by the film viewer in a number of ways. The onlooker can identify with the character of the fiction, with himself in the act of perception (and the concomitant knowledge that they are perceiving something imaginary and thus not subject to the laws of the real), and finally, with the all seeing camera.

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