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Seditious Suspicion: Toward a Hermeneutics of Resistance

Satisfactory Essays
Seditious Suspicion: Toward a Hermeneutics of Resistance

In his book Freud and the Philosophers, the hermeneuticist Paul Ricoeur coined the phrase “the school of suspicion” to describe the method shared by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Their common intention, he claims, was the decision “to look upon the whole of consciousness primarily as ‘false’ consciousness… [taking] up again, each in a different manner, the problem of Cartesian doubt, to carry it to the very heart of the Cartesian stronghold,” (Ricoeur, 33) that is, applying doubt’s caustic and destructive epistemological impulse to the internal world. Their achievement lies in the introduction of a profoundly new process of interpretation. Contrary to “any hermeneutics understood as the recollection of meaning,” (Ricoeur, 35) that is, any idea of interpretation as a ‘proper listening,’ the “masters of suspicion” saw the act of exegesis as one of deciphering, demystification. A message must be more than simply heard; reception is not equivalent to comprehension. Signification, by this logic, is a coded affair, and without the cipher it will be received but not understood. Ricoeur makes a point to draw a sharp line between suspicion and skepticism here; there is no question that symbols have a message to convey. Suspicion is “a tearing off of masks, an interpretation that reduces disguises.” (Ricoeur, 30) Where the skeptic allows the suspicious impulse to run unchecked, suspicion works to “clear the horizon…for a new reign of Truth.” The radical skeptic’s childish destructiveness is untempered by a creative, inventive act: “the invention of an art of interpreting” (Ricoeur, 33).

How, then, could this hermeneutics be applied to film? It seems a strange realm for the school of suspicion to find converts. The ‘suspension of disbelief’ would seem to be wholly at odds with the sharp and merciless blade of doubt. And yet, since The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, certain films, generally from the genre of science-fiction, have been whittling away at our naïve faith in the real and the reality of our neighbors. If these films were to be gathered together as a genre (and a recent spate of such movies indicates that Hollywood has begun to recognize the appeal of such a grouping), we might call it the cinema of suspicion. For the most part these movies, like Seconds or Total Recall, rarely lead us to question the very existence of reality. They almost never advocate quiescence in the face of the deceit of our senses.
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