The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
The Oblivious Transfer: Analyzing Blue Velvet

The Oblivious Transfer:
Analyzing Blue Velvet

by Lesley Stern

This paper was presented at the Brisbane Center for Psychoanalytic Studies conference," Psychoanalysis, Perversions, and the Cinema" in September, 1991.
published in Camera Obscura, May 1993, pp 76-91


  1. Me Jane
  2. You Freud?
  3. You Freud, Me Jane?
  4. Cracking Up
  5. Lip, Slip, Slap: The Slippery Slide Of Sadism
  6. Postmodernity and The Oblivious Transfer
  7. Bringing Up Baby
  8. Hearsay
  9. The Sound of My Own Breathing


1. Me Jane

Before 1 begin there is something I want you to remember. Whatever I have to say, today, about Blue Velvet I say in the capacity of a Blue Stocking, or perhaps a Plain Jane.

2. You Freud?

Q: What is it that the patient most desires?
A: The analyst's ear.

3. You Freud, Me Jane?

In the Hitchcock film Marnie the heroine, a compulsive thief, is caught in the act by a man who saves her from the law by marrying her. Then he tries to help her. She turns on him and asks: «You Freud, me Jane?» She recognizes that there is a thin line between the law of the jungle and the law that is instituted in the name-of-the-father. Or between the jungle and psychoanalysis itself. Speaking of perversion, speaking academically that is, as a blue stocking, to a gathering of psychoanalysts, I feel a similar trepidation to what I imagine Jane must have felt entering the jungle. This simile is not entirely fanciful or inappropriate to our context, for Blue Velvet alludes to a jungle scenario. The curious sounds that issue from somewhere "within" the body of the text (the body from which the ear has been severed) suggest the jungle not as a prelapsarian paradise but as a "voicing" of the discontents of civilization. To the jungle, then, I come bearing gifts, or at least to propose an alliance, or to put it more bluntly – an identification. Between Freud and Jane, between Tarzan and the Blue Stocking, between you and me. I ask you to consider an heuristic equivalence between two notions of the term "analysis," that is, between the psychoanalytic sense and the critical sense, I propose to conflate the role of the academic analyse (she who reads and interprets the text, in this case, the film) and the psychoanalyst (she who listens to and enables interpretation of the analysand's discourse). This also assumes an identification between two kinds of text – the patient's discourse and the filmic discourse.

You might consider this to be a somewhat wild approach. And you would be right. As a feral bluestocking faced with a perverse text I claim the right to a form of "wild analysis," what Ferenczi described as a kind of "compulsive analyzing." [1] He explained it in terms of a resistance of the analyst to a particular analysis in which he is involved, inciting him to over interpret or offer ready-made interpretations. To isolate a dream or a dream-fragment from its context, he argued, is merely "seeking to enjoy a gossamer omnipotence." Gossamer omnipotence seems to me quite an appropriate attitude to take to Blue Velvet in which there is no coherent context or whole, in which the text is littered with part-objects and fragments, and self-consciously so. My analytic interpretation will then be based upon free association around the part-elements of the formations of the film text, privileging what seems to me part-object par excellence - the ear. But there is another reason for adopting such an attitude. In the jungle it is in fact Jane who teaches Tarzan to speak, just as, it is sometimes argued, the enigma of femininity enabled Freud to develop the theory of psychoanalysis. However, I want to go further than positing the feminine in an enabling function. Although I have suggested an identity between Jane and Freud, I want now to suggest that there is also an opposition or conflict, and moreover to suggest that this tension is central to both Blue Velvet and psychoanalysis as an institution. It is manifested as a struggle around the sexual identity of the analyst. What I mean by this will become clear later, but for the moment let me just point out that when I refer to the analyst as "she" I do so not simply from a position of biological autism – because I speak as a woman – but in order to indicate a drama central to the transference involved in analyzing Blue Velvet.

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  1. J. Laplanche and J-B Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (London; The Hogarth Press, 1973) 481.

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