Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Cutting In

I loved In the Cut as much as kdotdammit did. Before heading to bed, she was reading the New York Times Magazine feature on its lead actor, Mark Rufalo.

"It says here that 'in the cut' is slang for 'intercourse.'"

Makes sense. I still recall the arguments that Tim's then-girlfriend Mary had with Mark over his use of the term "gash" in referring to women. It was fraternity slang, but too visceral to write off as merely contextual.

The great thing about the Cockney-style slang phrase "in the cut" -- assuming that Kim and I are understanding the article right, that is -- is that it sounds like someone speaking the word "intercourse" with a mouth full of something, be it bit, gag, or cock.

One thing the film does, more directly than any of those better-sex manuals ever could, is drive home the point that "intercourse" falls short of describing the activities that comprise good sex.

There is a surprisingly drawn out masturbation scene in which we see Meg Ryan's character fantasizing about a man she's seen, dimly, getting a blow job.

It's the emphasis on orality, though, that dominates the film. The ineradicable image of that man, a woman kneeling in front of him, is the subject of both her fantasies and fears.

And the big sex scene between her character and Rufalo's homicide detective begins with her falling face down onto the bed, then writhing as he gives her "oral pleasure" from behind.

Significantly, there's an interlude after that scene in which she asks him who taught him how to do "that." The "that" isn't specified, allowing for speculations the film can't confirm.

Only after this conversation do they return to the bed and have conventional intercourse.

So their mouths get used in multiple ways before their genitals come in contact with each other.

I'm too tired to marshal my thoughts more fully right now, but I'd like to look at the "Lesbian Phallus" chapter from Judith Butler's Bodies That Matter with its discussion of Freud's "On Narcissism." Her discussion of pain and the wounded mouth seems really suited to getting at In The Cut's treatment of orifices.

Incidentally, because Ryan's character teaches what appears to be a college English class -- the students seem too unruly, disinterested to be real. . . wait, I was thinking of Berkeley -- we get to see a blackboard with "To the Lighthouse" written on one side and a bunch of notes on the other, largely impossible to read clearly, but with "Foucault" in the bottom left corner.

The reference seemed a little gratuitous, dorky even. But I'm starting to see how it might not be as off-target as I initially thought. I can't help but think of Foucault in relation to Butler's teaching of Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality. And his Archaeology of Knowledge -- my least favorite of his books -- and The Order of Things both deal with classificatory schemes that divide and recombine.

Since we're dealing with women who have been cut to pieces, in typical movie serial-killer fashion, that sort of conceptual violence does resonate powerfully.

My favorite moment in the film comes in the first scene between Rufalo and Ryan. He's in her apartment, inquiring whether she might know anything about a murder victim. She is distracted, wants him to leave. But she finally asks how the woman was murdered.

"Disarticulated," he replies.

Later, I could swear that we see her writing, not "disarticulated," but "disarticulation" in her journal. The move from a past participle with a specific referent -- the dead woman -- to an abstract noun without one -- assuming that I saw this right -- would represent her attempt to regain the upper hand in a linguistic sense. It's usually she who is collecting words, whether the African-American slang she culls from a student or the poetry she copies down from public service placards on the subway. This time, though, he has given her a word and she has to remake it after her own fashion.

I can't help but think of Walter Benjamin's contrast in the Passagenwerk -- Arcades Project auf Englisch -- between the "collector" and the "allegorist." Superficially opposites, they share the operation of selection, prying things free of their context and resignifying them.

Since In the Cut does something analogous from a formal standpoint, decontextualizing the details from the tried-and-true NYC detective formula and applying them to new ends, it's not much of a stretch to read Ryan's character as a stand-in for director Jane Campion, as she surely must be for author Susanna Moore, who wrote the book.

The theoretical point seems to be that we -- especially, but not exclusively women, that "we" -- need disarticulation in order to free ourselves from the prison of stereotypes, but must remember that there's always the danger of the metaphor becoming literal.

Coming back to the title and the idea that it's slang for "intercourse," it's interesting that there is a shift of emphasis from the "real" term's reference to connecting, bridging -- a "running between" -- to the gap, rift, and yes, gash in which that running occurs.

Flows always seek out the bottom.

Going through one of my old journals, this one from the spring of 1991, I found this long-forgotten entry:
O I am tired of the canyon between us, the bare trickle that streams through parched sandstone. . .

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