When I was a born-feminist bookworm of 16, I was delighted by the Marquise de Merteuil. I knew she was evil, and all, but she was the only literary heroine I'd ever encountered who was also intelligent, complex, and strong-willed. She also scared me a bit. I didn't exactly identify with her, yet she seemed as close to me as any heroine had ever gotten. When later on the same year I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time I realized that Elizabeth Bennet was the real heroine I'd been searching for. Unfortunately the Elizabeth Bennets of literature are much rarer than the Marquise de Merteuils, so I could not abandon the latter as figures of identification.
Where on earth am I going with this? I feel about the hot new scholarly phenomenon that is Slavoj Zizek, the editor of this volume, much the way I did about the Marquise de Merteuil. It's nice to see someone out there championing such academic fashion sins as Christian ethics (in The Fragile Absolute), the Cartesian subject (in The Ticklish Subject), and erudition, and make them trendy by doing it within a Lacanian framework. But unless you really needed to be liberated from the poststructuralist program you probably never lost entire faith in any of these things and concluded all by yourself the same things Zizek seem to have: that the version of Western metaphysics savaged by poststructuralism was a straw man anyway, whereas a more truthful version would acknowledge the fragility or ticklishness of these ideals and intuitions.
If you do not need Zizek to liberate you then there is not much to recommend in this book of Lacanian Hitchcock criticism. Zizek is mostly incomprehensible; unlike the equally erudite Camille Paglia, he doesn't possess the writerly virtue of being able to explain other people's big ideas. He just namechecks and hurries on. His odd prose style contains something compelling about it, but also something unsettling. His attention-grabbing imperatives like "Enjoy your symptom!" (from the title of another of his books) or (from his contribution to this book) "Eat your being-there!" are an odd mixture of much good and bad in contemporary culture: they have the sensationalism of Paglia's scholarship-as-sound-bites ("If women ran the world we would all still be living in grass huts," or however it goes), the shiny emptiness and absurdity of bad Japanese translations on imported gift products (my favourites to date are "Hearts live in the coming day" and "Let us make the most and best of each day's and noble enjoyment" (sic)), a faint ring of sing-song Communist or flaky self-help mantras in a Bizarro universe, and a fainter ring of Nietzsche's piquant, pissy, repellent maxims. Not that what I've read of Zizek reminds me much of Nietzsche. His personality reminds me more of someone like Alfred Jarry or Marcel Duchamp, a mixture of intellectualism and mischief. And that, along with his gimmick uh, I mean project of reforming the house of Lacan from within, is surely what accounts for Zizek's sudden trendiness. Yet to me this seems like a disguised continuation of the deep problems of academe rather than a compromise solution to them: Zizek is the very essence of of-the-momentness.
The book gets three stars from me not for its contents but for its usefulness (maybe) in making certain choices available to students without the cost of sacrificing their cool radicalism. Was it Nietzsche, or Stanley Cavell, or someone else who predicted that morality would only be revived if someone made it cool again? Well, the time has come, and in that Zizek has gone beyond Paglia, who was fighting Judeo-Christianity as much as she was fighting the trendy pack of poststructuralist ideas. The essays in this book not written by Zizek will, I presume, appeal to Lacanians and particularly to Lacanian Hichcockians (I know a couple); they will not appeal to non-Lacanians, Hitchcockian or not. As for Zizek's introduction and essay, what I understood of them I sometimes agreed with, sometimes not. He has good observations to make about the gaze in Hitchcock (if Lacanian theory is ever going to apply to any filmmaker, it's Hitchcock), even if he sometimes comes by them in a tortuously roundabout fashion, but it is certainly not worth it for a non-Lacanian Hitchcock fan to buy the book. Take it out of the library, like I did. But only if you're bored and have nothing else to do but check out the latest trends. Better yet, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I'm still waiting for criticism of Hitchcock that will be worthy of him. In the meantime Zizek's scattered, mercurial insights will have to do as a poor approximation, just like the Marquise de Merteuil had to do until I discovered Elizabeth Bennet.