Sunday, 03 February 2008

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Adventures in Verisimilitude; or, Lacanian Variability on Film This Recording's ongoing coverage of HBO's In Treatment (episodes one, two, three and four) convinced me to give the show a spin yesterday. (The world itself had been reeling for hours thanks to a wicked ear infection.) The premise is deceptively dull: Gabriel Byrne is a psychotherapist. We watch his treatment of four patients. On Friday, he sees his therapist and we learn what he thought about them. So we have four days of his patients deceiving themselves and him deceiving us, then one day in which he reveals the nature and depth of his deception while deceiving himself. This constant contraction and expansion of the hermeneutic circle makes for some compelling television, though I wish the patient's problems had been more mundane. We don't need DRAMA! to pull us into these people's lives—our desire to understand these patients is instinctual (not to mention powerfully voyeuristic). But there is one slight problem with the show: Each episode is twenty-eight minutes long and begins shortly before the fifty-minute session begins. The only visible move from the patient's face to the therapist's and vice versa. Yet somehow almost an entire hour passes. Where do those other twenty-three minutes go? With the exception of the third episode, there are no discontinuous cuts: the conversation moves from one topic to the next until the patient asks if his or her time is up. If it is, Byrne's therapist informs them it's fifty-past and the session ends. But it can't be fifty-past—I started the episode not but twenty-eight minutes ago. The disconnect is inexplicably jarring. Physical. All of this must mean something now. Only it doesn't. We're left with the compelling desire to understand what we know and an overweening need to know more. Were the show not produced by the people responsible for Entourage, I'd be tempted to say the show enacts the "punctuated signification" behind Lacan's infamous "sessions of variable length." From "The Function and Field of Speech" (1953): It is, therefore, a beneficent punctuation, one which confers its meaning on the subject's discourse. This is why the adjournment of a session—which according to present-day technique is simply a chronometric break and, as such, a matter of indifference to to the thread of the discourse—plays the part of a metric beat which has the full value of an actual intervention by the analyst for hastening the concluding moments. But did I mention this thing's produced by the people responsible for Entourage? Clever and revealing as that show (occasionally) is, the "deftness" with which In Treatment referenced Roland Barthes compels me to think these temporal shenanigans are the product of generic constraints. Yet the effect remains.

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