Undeclared desires, unacknowledged wishes, urges forbidden by consciousness often find indirect expression through illness, errors, dreams, and obsessions. The psychoanalytic concept of compulsive repetition, which is related to the death drive,1 involves the impulse to return again and again to a distressing situation or trauma that occurred during childhood. Although we may not remember the origins of our compulsions, we are invariably drawn towards things that we fear. Feelings of anxiety, repulsion, fear, and uncanniness have a dominant presence in Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter’s newest film, Ten Weyngaert (2007). In this examination of powerlessness, abuse, and victimization we are confronted by scenes of ritualistic violence and aberrant behavior, which are disquieting in their familiarity. What unfolds is not only unsettling in its strangeness, but also compelling.
Ten Weyngaert (In the vineyard) takes its name and location from a Brussels Community Centre, “which was built as a utopian space but is now notoriously frequented by troubled people.”2 In an ironic reflection that magnifies lived reality to horrific proportions, the film portrays the institution as a sterile, dehumanizing environment where people are mechanical slaves and machines are the masters. The film’s topography is divided into three stage-like settings: The institution, with its brightly lit, claustrophobic interior; an exterior world, dark and fog-shrouded, inhabited by silent watchers; and a black, featureless space, which contains some of the same furniture and occupants as the institution’s main room. Although we never witness the characters enter or leave any of these settings, they often appear in one space only to reappear as subtly altered duplicates in a different location. In yet another rendition of “the double,”3 these characters appear to exist simultaneously in different realms.
In psychoanalytic theory, the “double” was originally viewed as an insurance against the destruction of the ego and a denial of the power of death. “The immortal soul” was probably the first “double” of the body.4 The theme of the double is integral to Freud’s concept of the uncanny: “that form of terror that leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar” but that has become alienated through the process of repression. “An uncanny experience occurs either when infantile complexes, which have been repressed, are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed.”5 Citing Samuel Weber, Susan Bernstein notes that the uncanny has a peculiar discursive structure, which is “intimately bound up with subjective feelings—above all anxiety.”6 The discourse of the uncanny destroys the illusion of a stable subject position, of a final meaning, of a sense separable from language and the body. It points to the finitude and temporality of thinking, as Weber makes clear in “Uncanny Thinking,” and “marks the spot where what is (there) and what is not, presence and absence, coming and going, can no longer be clearly distinguished.”7
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About the Author
Teresa Steel is a Vancouver-based visual artist. She works in a variety of media, including photography, video installation, and Flash animation.