Frames of Reference: Peter Greenaway, Derrida, and the Restitution of Film-Making

Thomas Deane Tucker

Enculturation, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1998

About the Author
Table of Contents

Lets say that, to keep to the frame, to the limit, I write here four times around painting.
Jaques Derrida, The Truth in Painting

As we step into the bargain with The Draughtsman's Contract, a film by Peter Greenaway, our aesthetic senses slowly begin to grind down into the question of legacy. The film is a catalog of the differences between drawing and painting within the legacy of art, and how this lineage is appropriated by the medium of filmmaking. The lineages of art in drawing, drawing in art, drawing in film-making, art in film-making, and finally blindness in representation all frame one another throughout the film. Is it possible, even desirable to restitute each to their proper frame of reference? What type of contract is framed between an artist and the work, between the work and proper text to which it is owed, to which it must be restituted? What happens when a filmmaker appropriates another genre of art? To whom is the debt paid?

Starting out from this frame of questioning, my aim here is to look at Greenaway's film through what Derrida calls the "logic of the parergon." Drawing upon both theory and Greenaway's cinematic work, my analysis will attempt to rewrite the frame of parergonality into both.


How many times is a work of art framed? The question of framing is always a question of borders, limitations, margins, and divisibility. But to pose the question is already to impose a frame: a theoretical framework of aesthetics over and around the art object. Aesthetics, because it is always built around questions concerning what is inside a work of art and what lies outside, is always a discourse about the frame. As Derrida writes in _The Truth in Painting_:

In order to think art in general, one thus accredits a series of oppositions.... which precisely structure the traditional interpretation of works of art. One makes of art in general an object in which one claims to distinguish an inner meaning, the invariant, and a multiplicity of external variations through which, as through so many veils, one would try to see and to restore the full, originary meaning: one, naked. [1]
Like all frames, a critical theory of art must be forced upon the work. Trapped in the logocentric project of restituting "original" meaning to the art object, the critical act becomes an act of violence, a frame-up. In predetermining the art object solely as an object of theory, of knowledge, critical discourse becomes snared in its own double bind: it seeks to hegemonically regulate from the outside what can be properly called art, along with its inner meaning, insistent on defining specific borders and limitations through binary oppositions. But it can accomplish this task only by folding itself inside the work, effacing its exteriority, and violating the very limitations it claims to regulate. It is this structure, this frame if you will, that Derrida claims has determined all of the stark value oppositions critical theory has historically imposed upon art. Derrida's project is to rework the framing effects of this structure and displace it under the name of the parergon. [2]

Of course, theory too has its own internal frames: disciplines and specialties, each with their own specific objects of inquiry. Film theory is but one in a series of supplements to the general frame of critical theory. To complicate things even further, it takes as its object a work of art produced by a mechanical apparatus whose process itself is one of framing. [3]

Derrida's work has always been one that questions the limitations of theoretical discourse at the same time that it explodes through the margins of philosophical (theoretical) writing. His work inhabits the space, the fold, between work and theory to undo their binary oppositions, multiply their entanglements, and undermine the borders imposed by traditional philosophy. Playing with the limitations of both literature and philosophy, his writings themselves are an example of parergonality. I would like to briefly discuss his notion of parergonality from an essay entitled "Parergon" in The Truth in Painting. The essay itself is a close reading of Kant's Critique of Judgement from which he imports the notion of the frame as a parergon. It is a difficult concept to summarize, but the short detour will serve us well in the coming analysis.

In his first critique, the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant defines the proper limits of what constitute cognitive judgements within his famous table of categories. Cognitive judgements are purely logical ones. In his third, Critique of Judgement, Kant's concern is to determine the basis of what constitutes aesthetic judgements, or what he calls judgements of taste, and, at the same time, to define the boundaries of an art object. Kant tries to specifically frame what can rightly be called pure aesthetic judgements, and to detach them from their surrounding cognitive judgements rendered in the first Critique. The experience of art, Kant believes, is to be without concepts and free from any affinity with cognitive judgements. But Kant's analysis of aesthetic experience itself must use the conceptual framework of the logical categories from the first Critique. In other words, Kant attempts to form a conceptual, theoretical model of aesthetic judgements that themselves are to remain pure and uncontaminated by outside conceptual mechanisms.

His inability to theoretically set the specific limits of the art object, however, necessitates that he import from his first Critique the conceptual categorical framework that he had earlier claimed does not belong to aesthetic judgement. Since Kant had insisted on the absolute distinction between cognitive judgements and aesthetic judgements, this frame of reference from the first Critique begins to look blurry, like a total frame-up. A logical framework, one that concerns the object solely as an object of knowledge, has been forced upon a non-logical structure that is committed to the object itself. He has imposed an analytic of concepts on a process that supposedly lacks concepts.

Why does Kant take refuge in such a contradiction? He resorts to this theoretical frame-up precisely because of the internal lack of concepts within aesthetic judgements that are necessary for his theoretical, conceptual description of these judgements. The categorical framework is added as an outside supplement to this lack. But, as Derrida points out, the lesson of supplementarity teaches that this internal lack is both the product and the producer of Kant's recourse to the categorical frame. Producer, because without the categorical frame, there would be no definite internal structure, no intrinsic content to aesthetic judgements: there would be no way to separate aesthetic judgements from those lying outside them. The categorical frame creates the lack because it is what determines, from the "outside," what can be inside the aesthetic: the outside frame determines the inside and its meaning.

However, since what are lacking within the aesthetic are concepts, the categorical framework itself, then the frame is produced by this privation. What the categorical frame comes to frame is its own lack. In this sense, the categorical frame is internal ("an "internal" determination") to what it comes to frame: it is the inside which has determined the outside frame. Thus, we finally come to the paradoxical logic of the frame as the parergon:

. . . neither work (ergon) nor outside the work [hors d'oeurve], neither inside nor outside the work, neither above nor below, it disconcerts any opposition but does not remain indeterminate and it gives rise to the work. [4]
It is precisely this economy of the parergon, the chiasmic figure of the fold, that works through any deconstructive reading of a work of art. The deconstructive critical act is neither framed by art nor by theory, yet paradoxically remains within the borders of each: "Deconstruction must neither reframe nor dream of the pure absence of the frame." [5] What is at stake is the mobilization of the borders between theory and art, a task Derrida thinks of as "working the frame." To work the frame, as David Carrol remarks in Paraesthetics, is
to make work for theory and art, to attempt to force openings in each and to transform each and the relations each has with the other--without, however, determining either by the other. [6]
As always, for Derrida, this strategy reveals "a certain repeated dislocation" that ultimately "makes the frame crack . . . turns its internal limit into an external one." [7] Disseminating its effects across theory and art, parergonality always detaches in order to mend. [8] This strategy "borrows" its effects from the cinematic model of splicing/montage. The act of splicing is the severing of individual shots-signifiers from their "real" context and displacing them into another; montage is the reassemblage of these borrowed signifiers along with "the "dissemination" of these borrowings through the new setting" so that they become signifiers "remotivated within the system of a new frame". [9]

Working the frame of aesthetics means to detach art from theory and to reinscribe their difference within the incision; not in order to repolarize their space, but to displace their relationship in a new critical representation that remotivates each fragment through a series of "grafts." Mounted in this new critical frame, art and theory are reproduced by reassembly, grafted one to another in and on a textual field where their separation amounts to nothing, one that treats the idea of separation as something other than opposition. This is a field in which the concepts of inside and outside take on new meanings that escape totalization. Historically, the drive towards totalization--that is, the totalization of truth, the synthesis of knowledge of which Kant dreamed--is rendered as critique, the very process of criticism. In this sense, the object of any deconstructive project must be criticism itself. This critical stance is, for Derrida, a matter of writing on the border of the frame (both writing and written on the frame/of the frame).


The very first act of The Draughtsman's Contract, the act of titling, engages the parergon. What does it mean to title something like a film? Where is the proper place of the title? Is it inside or outside a film? Keep in mind that the cinema depends on a market, an exchange economy, determined by a contractual arrangement with an audience. In this logic of distribution, a particular film's title, along with its value, may be said to lie outside the territory of the film to which it is attached. Announcing the contract, the title anticipates the film, precedes it, and ushers us into the bargain through its enticing presence. Commenting on this intervention of the title, David Wills and Peter Brunnette note in Screen/Play that

It exists independently, beyond the film's frame, and is similar in this regard to certain film clips, previews and so on, which themselves are never part of the film "proper," nor ever the property of the film. . . . The title will be cited in newspapers, magazines, film histories, and analysis like this one. [10]
The written title comes to us first from outside the film frame, a graphic supplement that escapes the film frame to organize its own meaning-effects beyond the image, effects outside the control of the film. It is, from the beginning, no longer claimed as the sole "property" of the film to which it is attached, and begins to take on a "proper" name of its own as it is grafted onto the other social texts mentioned above. However (and we accept this as part of the bargain), the title itself becomes reframed as it is put into "play" with these other texts; it properly functions or functions properly as a "common" name within these texts.

Yet we as an audience, without any apparent dilemma, know the appropriate place of the title: its right where we expect it, inside the film, at the beginning, somewhere along with the credits. Graphically written across the pictorial image, it takes its place as part of the picture. Furthermore, its function is to set the limits, to enunciate and exercise control from inside the film over what we the audience expect to see. Thus, the act of titling, both inside and outside the film-frame but "properly" located in the space of neither, exemplifies the strange logic of parergonality. [11]

In the case of The Draughtsman's Contract, the title announces the parergon itself. A contract is a frame, a set of limitations, boundaries to which at least two parties are bound. In this narrative, the contract is between the artist, his art, and the frame of reference that surrounds his perspective on the world. Drawn up in the idyllic setting of an English estate in the year 1694, the contract calls for a draughtsman named Mr. Neville to produce a series of twelve drawings of an estate for Mrs. Herbert, the lady of the manor. The occasion for the contract is that the drawings are to be a gift to Mrs. Talman's husband, who is away on business.

Without contrivance for our discourse on the frame, the contract happens to consist of four square demands by Mrs. Herbert: Neville is to produce twelve drawings of the estate, has only twelve days to complete them, must start immediately, and is to discuss the terms with no one else. Calling these demands "exorbitant" (is the frame always an excess?), Neville redraws them around the conditions that he choose the sites of the drawings, and that Mrs. Herbert give him the "use of her body for his pleasure." She agrees and the contract is drawn, signed, and witnessed.

Taking out his optical grid upon arrival, Neville peers through his viewfinder to scope out the twelve vistas for the drawings. Designing a curriculum, he orders that the sites be kept free from intrusion during the specific hours of each day that he has set aside for each drawing. We soon come to realize that he demands total control over the scenes and stages of the drawings. Two demands for purity of presence seem to be made at once: that nothing escape the frame of reference he imposes upon the scenes, and that nothing from outside that frame contaminates it.

Punctiliously bound to a monocular perspective, his vision of the landscape always framed through the viewfinder of his optical grid, he remains blind to everything outside of it. But the limits of his vision are soon penetrated as unexpected objects--a shirt, a pair of boots and a ladder--make their way into his frame from the outside. Claiming "I try very hard never to distort nor to dissemble," Neville must indignantly include these unwanted objects in his drawings. Everything must be restituted to its proper frame and rendered in full without remainder.

Greenaway, who did the drawings himself, allows Neville to become the film's director and cinematographer. Grafting the draughtsman's frame onto the film frame, Greenaway forces the viewer to constantly compare the drawings of the landscapes to the photographic representation of these same landscapes, making it impossible to tell which serves as a copy for the other. We too, along with Neville, begin to wonder about the "phantom" objects that pop up in the drawings but seem to have no place in the film. At one point, a character named Sarah asks Neville if he will ever find the corpse that inhabits the clothes and the drawings. "Four garments and a ladder do not lead to a corpse," Neville responds. The items are attributed to the phantasmal Mr. Herbert, who is physically absent from the estate, the drawings, and, except for the opening scenes, from the film. There are only the ghostly traces of his presence within the dialogue and the deserted, uninhabited items scattered about in the drawings. Neville, whose frame of reference limits his perception of things and events which surround him, remains ignorant as to the meaning of the connection between the objects. The plot is then reframed around the mystery of the phantasmal Mr. Herbert's whereabouts. When his murdered body turns up in the moat, the unclaimed objects in his drawings point to Neville (has he been "framed" by the frame?) and everyone demands restitution.

These comparisons become more difficult as Greenaway begins to shoot the landscape through the optical grid and the drawings strictly through the bare camera lens. Like the phantom objects they contain, the drawings become totally detached from the space and history of drawing as filmmaking appropriates them. And everyone demands restitution. The question is where? To what artistic frame do the drawings belong, if not to the film? What sort of restitution is possible when the draughtsman becomes the director? Or is it the other way around? We must not forget that the "real" draughtsman in the film, this draughtsman as director, is a fictional character named Neville. Everything turns around this parergon. Should we say then that he draws (drafts) the entire film?

The answer, I think, can be yes, if we follow Derrida in rewriting on the frame that defines drawing. For Derrida, the whole question of art as reproduction must be hollowed out from the ductile concept of the outline as it functions in the art of engraving:

The outline which lends itself to the print or engraving, the line which is imitated, belongs to all art, to the arts of space as much as to the arts of duration, of music no less than to painting. [12]
Derrida is calling attention here to the parergonal logic of the outline, whose essential operation is drawing, in relation to art in general when it is aligned, traditionally, with the concept of mimesis. Lets follow this logic for a moment and then back to the film.

Art as mimesis is based on imitation. Now, mimetic art constructs very strict boundaries between what is being represented or copied--what it uses as its model--and the representer, art. So, all models must lie outside the general frame of mimetic art. Drawing is a technique of imitation, inside art we will say, that conforms to this procedure of copying a model outside of itself, outside of art. Yet, drawing, as an act of imitation, and this is Derrida's claim, serves as the privileged model par excellence of imitation for mimetic art in general: "art being born of imitation, only belongs to the work proper as far as it can be retained in the engraving, in the reproductive impression of its outline." [13] This would seem to mean that the presumed origin of art, of imitation, is to be found outside itself (as all origins supposedly are) in the possibility of drawing (as the outline) as a primary model of imitation from which all other mimetic techniques are derived.

It soon becomes obvious from this model of art that all which goes by the name of drawing--the outline, engraving, and also framing, along with their effects--paradoxically lies inside and outside of the space of art. This paradigm of drawing models for us the framing effects of the parergon of drawing appearing as "the element of formal difference which permits the contents (colored or sonorous) to appear". [14]

This sharpens the focus now on questions that concern the place of the original within the domain of art. Art, as we said, is born of imitation and reproduction. The "origin" of imitation and reproduction is within the space of drawing. Art must breathe from this space of originary reproduction; but the space it consumes--drawing as a technique of imitation, that is, what it copies--is already a reproduction. Drawing, the model for art, is already art. Art copies itself, copies a copy, and leaves no space for the original. Or rather, motivated by the rhythms of its parergonal structure, art displaces the original into a space within itself where it no longer resonates, as it does in mimesis, as the privileged term in an oppositional hierarchy against the so called copy.

This parergonal crossing of the "outline" with art also means that art is never closed off, never completely framed. In the outline, "color has not been named" [15], meaning that the project of art can never be fully reined in, nor filled in or contained, not even by itself. The work that we call art must be outlined as a continuous work in progress.

Throughout the film, Greenaway constantly poses for us the dangers surrounding the artist as he tries to totalize his project, when he struggles to completely fill in his frame of reference and attempts to seal it off to contain reference. The last turn of events in the film reveals the consequences of these dangers. Neville originally chose thirteen sites for his drawings, and, since the contract only calls for twelve, had to choose which one to reject. The one he rejected happened to be the site where Mr. Herbert's body was found, and he feels he must go back to draw it in order to complete his aesthetic venture. Mrs. Herbert makes a "contract" with the estate manager to trade the drawings, which he calls "mere representations" of the landscape for the copy of the original contract documenting her "infidelities" with Neville so that she can frame Neville for her husband's murder. The pretense for the transfer is that the drawings are to be sold and the money used to build a monument to Mr. Herbert which would be "part of the landscape" at the site of the thirteenth drawing. It is at this site that Neville is framed for Mr. Herbert's death, blinded and finally murdered himself. The borders of this scene are marked by a ghost, a monument, blindness, and death--all traces of an absent presence which testify to the annulment of the possibility of their full restitution. But more importantly, it hinges on the point at which Neville is in the greatest danger and must risk himself the most in his attempt at closure. In his spurious drive towards totalization, Neville must paradoxically step beyond the original contractual frame, outside and in excess of the twelve drawings; it is precisely within this "beyond" of the thirteenth drawing, in the act of a final rendering, where Neville is at the most risk and pays the ultimate price.

Are we justified from the above reading in linking Derrida's paradigm to the art of filmmaking? As an "art of duration," filmmaking threads its way through this labyrinth of "mimetology" as the movement from cinematography to the cinemagraphic. In this sense, we can say that the filmmaker is always a draughtsman.

But this turn to the graphic unhinges a whole new set of parergonal questions. Does it now become a question of finding the "original" series of the series of reproductions mobilized in the film? Did the film frames provide the models for the series of drawings? The other way around? Or is it a strange economy of both?

But we cannot be blind to the limitations of such a reading. Such blindness dissimulates the fact that Greenaway, now the director as draughtsman, is also only a ghost. He disappears, along with his frame of reference, behind a camera, a mechanism that with the same gesture conceals what it appropriates. [16] The director as draughstman inverts the frame; he allows us access to the scene--that is, the scene of the drawings and the scene of film-making sharing the same objects and having the same object--only by leveling the steps of tradition that drawing has built for itself. His purpose, lying flatly outside the outline, is to preserve the "younger," living art of film-making from the decay of the old, rotting corpse buried inside the monumental ruins of the aesthetic of drawing and painting.

Greenaway's camera never gets closer than does Neville to the "real" objects of the drawings. Instead, when the drawings are filmed, the trajectory of the lens, in a gesture of dismemberment, closely frames each individual object only as they are only represented in the drawings. Or, the entire scope of the drawings will fill the film frame, but only while they remain incomplete works in progress. In this way, he safeguards the objects by shielding them in a cinematic representation that pushes against the outline, allowing us access to the objects as they are thrice detached from "reality": first by the camera, then by the drawings, then again by the camera.

This gesture highlights the difficulties of managing the pictorial composition of painting and drawing within the film frame; and how much of their discourse can remain outside of filmmaking. It also underscores the vast difference in the techniques used by each to mobilize the viewer's gaze, and the problems the filmmaker draws to himself when he appropriates them from painting and drawing. This is a problem of blindness and visibility.

As an immobile image, the drawing mobilizes the gaze of the viewer through its sheer totality in the space of visibility. The film, on the other hand, is overflowing in the excess of mobility. Its images move, mobilizing the gaze not through the whole of the image, but through a montage of fragments sheered off from the totality of vision. Thus, the film apparatus lacks the means by which one takes in the immobile pictorial composition of a drawing within a single glance. Now, obviously, a director can shoot a painting in full shot and show all of its contours, but the point goes beyond that. The cinemagraphic apparatus is inherently fragmentary.

I emphasize the word "apparatus" rather than simply "camera" because it implies the totality of the mechanisms, not just the camera, within the cinema. These include lenses, photochemical processing, projectors, splicers, digital coding, and, among others, lighting. It would also include all its factors as a commodity; capital, advertisements, trailers, audience surveys, etc. These are various fragments from which the cinema articulates itself. The point is that the entire apparatus of the cinema works against a single, unified frame that would restitute the immobile unity of a drawing or painting, even when a filmmaker genuinely attempts to remain faithful to the pictorial composition of a work placed before their lens.

Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier, in her essay titled "The Dissimulation of Painting," describes these attempts as the trajectory

of a blind and silent lens whose attraction draws the figures out of the painting by effacing the contours of each scene . . . rupturing the unity of the picture plane and offering to the gaze not the unified vanishing point where the sight of the subject is projected, but instead the tear produced in the painting by a machine that doubles the gaze of which it has taken possession. [17]
Exploding the visible, this gesture divides the frame, ruptures the immobile unity of the drawings by effacing their outlines, inner and outer, and disconnects our gaze from the total scene of the drawings. Greenaway's camera must erase the frames of the drawings, along with their entire pictorial aesthetics and history, in order to create its own frame. Thus, "the frames fold . . . spacing appears at the very heart of the image--all such operations that can be imputed to the movie camera become the emblem of the optical apparatus." [18] Greenaway's camera lens violently appropriates the drawings and quickly caves in on them, doubly repeating their dislocation in order to conceal just how much it has stolen and denying us, once again, reference to the "real" scene of the drawings. In this way, the objects become just as foreign in the filming of the drawings to us as they were for Neville viewing them through his optical grid. The real optical grid is the movie camera itself, the invisible machine that pretends to be the machine of the visible but whose mechanized frame produces nothing more than the occultation of its image and the artist standing blindly behind it. Greenaway shows us that the space of visibility is opened up only through a region of blindness, and, by throwing up a screen, makes the viewer share in his (Neville/Greenaway) blindness.

But this is nothing new at all. In fact, this is the creative act par excellence. To cut itself out of the total picture, to frame itself, the creative act has to blind the artist to all that lies outside it. But it does this only by reappropriating the outside and making it and the entire process disappear inside the act itself. The marrow of the creative act is dissimulation, or the ability to "lie." Recall that Neville appropriates the foreign objects into his drawings and Greenaway the drawings and the represented objects into the film, "so as not to distort nor to dissemble." But this statement dissembles the fact that "truth" is relative to the frame of reference which encompasses it; truth is only a function of the frame. The fact that Neville appropriates by confiscating all the unwanted items and Greenaway by throwing some of them away makes no difference; it is one and the same move. All art is an economy of appropriation and expenditure, and all such exchange is a distortion. Art creates its vision only by holding back all that is not art while at the same time ushering it in, erasing borders while fiercely guarding them. It is this blindness, or this blind spot, and not "bare" vision, that is at the heart of visibility and art itself.

We have been walking around the fact that blindness is a frame around vision, which is yet another parergon. As an art object, the film frame must participate in this blindness, this parergon. But writing on the film frame is never easy, because, as I have already claimed, framing in the cinema is the process of parergonality itself. Its frames multiply so many times, they become unmanageable. Even the word "frame" in the cinema strains under an ambivalence that outstretches by far what can be felt under the same word in relation to drawing or painting. When we refer to the film frame, we are usually referring to the individual shots that make up the film; that is, we do not name a film's borders in the sense of a frame around a painting, we name the very essence of its inside. But, in another sense, to name the frame is to name its borders. The inside borders of a film, bordering each individual shot (frame), are other shots, other frames, which also happen to lie inside. Thus, the parergon again: the frame comes to frame itself.

And there is another sense in which the film frame must be situated outside the entire work. As mentioned already, a film, although made up of solitary photographic stills, must mobilize these fragments to present the illusion of movement: that is, to present the work. The individual frame is mobilized precisely at the point of its borders with the other frame only in so far as it erases the borders between them. The meaning effects of the image contained within each shot are guaranteed only through the mobilization of that which borders it--which are other frames--along with the effacement of the entire process of framing from one shot to the next. This means that the borders between each individual shot remain, because they must remain, invisible when viewing a film in order for the work to seen. The frames erase themselves to disappear completely outside (or is it inside?) the film. The individual film frame itself becomes the absolute border of visibility, "the moment of negation or lack of sight that permits vision to take place" [19] hiding itself at the same time that it makes possible for us to see it. We should note here along with Brunnette and Wills the important technical nature of the entire process. The celluloid border of the film frame is created in conjunction with the action of the camera shutter and the projector lamp,

to the extent that it allows for the temporal overlap between the time the image remains in front of the lamp and the time it remains imprinted on the retina . . . paradoxically, there has to be that disjunction between screen time and retinal retention in order for the illusion of movement to be produced, and due to the opening and closing of the shutter, as Bruce Kawin points out, "for about half the time we are watching a movie, the screen is totally dark." [20]
The screen itself becomes another parergon with its own effects to multiply, to many to calculate here. Let me just mention the word hymen. It is another one of Derrida's favorite neologisms about the play of the inside and outside, and, like the parergon, undecidable in meaning. Taken in one of its meanings, it refers to marriage, to the wedding contract. In another, perhaps more "literal," it refers to a membrane that separates two things but collapses into both, or into neither, creating an invisible screen between what can be seen and what remains invisible. "As through so many veils" we heard Derrida say earlier. But I will not push or recycle this metaphor any further, except to say that the cinematic screen can be likened to a membrane with much the same functions as the hymen. [21]


Since we have been talking about frames, stolen discourse and restitution, I will pay my debt to Greenaway by letting him have the final word. Neville's last drawing, the elusive thirteenth, seems to exemplify his "true" aesthetic strategy. At the site he is sketching stands a statue of a horse and rider, presumably representing Mr. Herbert. Neville is compelled, once again, to erase Mr. Herbert from the scene, depicting a blind, riderless horse abandoned to the landscape. [22] It turns out that Neville, as the character Mrs. Tallman describes him, is the exemplary artist: "I have grown to believe that a really intelligent man makes an indifferent painter, for painting requires a certain blindness--a partial refusal to be aware of all the options." [23]

This refusal is the acceptance of the frame, of an aesthetic lineage that remains forever estranged, and of the impossibility of restitution.


1. Jaques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. by Geoff Bennington and Ian Mcleod (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pg. 22. (back)

2. "Philosophical discourse will always have been against the parergon. But what about this against." Ibid., pg. 54. (back)

3. Heidegger's identification of the essence of technology as a process of enframing, or Gestell, has obvious implications for the mechanical cinematic apparatus. (back)

4. The Truth in Painting, pg. 9. (back)

5. Ibid., pg. 73. (back)

6. David Carroll, Paraesthetics (New York: Metheun, 1987), pg. 134. (back)

7. Ibid., pg. 74. Derrida offers a good example of the mobilization of borders, as well as their multiplication, in this comprehensive description of the frame as parergon. Note particularly how he "frames" it in Gestaltic perceptual terms:

"The parergon stands out both from the ergon (the work) and from the milieu, it stands out first of all like a figure on ground. But it does not stand out in the same way as the work. The latter also stands out against a ground. But parergon frame stands out against two grounds, but with respect to each of those two grounds, it merges into the other. With respect to the work which can serve as a ground for it, it merges into the wall, and then, gradually, into the general text. With respect to the background which the general text is, it merges into the work, which stands out against the general background. There is always a form on a ground, parergon is a form which has as its traditional determination not that it stands out but that it disappears, buries itself, effaces itself, melts away at the moment it deploys its greatest energy. The frame is in no case a background in the way that the milieu or the work can be, but neither is its thickness as margin a figure. Or at least it is a figure which comes away of its own accord." (pg. 61).

Derrida's own writing shows the inescapability of the "importation" of philosophical discourse and its traditions when arguing about the "importance" of their limitations. (back)

8. "As soon as the parergon takes place, it dismantles the most reassuring conceptual oppositions". The Truth in Painting, back of jacket cover. (back)

9. Gregory Ulmer, "The Object of Post-Criticism" in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodernism, ed. by Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), pp. 84-85. (back)

10. Peter Brunette and David Wills, Screen/Play (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). (back)

11. Ibid. (back)

12. Jaques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), pg. 209. (back)

13. Ibid., pg. 208. (back)

14. Ibid., pg. 209. (back)

15. The Truth in Painting, pg.169. (back)

16. Marie-Clare Ropars-Wuilleumier, "The Dissimulation of Painting" in Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture, edited by Peter Brunette and David Wills (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pg. 74. (back)

17. Ibid. (back)

18. Ibid. (back)

19. Screen/Play, pg. 104. (back)

20. Ibid., pg.104. The other reference is to Bruce F. Kawin, How Movies Work (New York: Macmillan, 1987), pg. 48. (back)

21. Screen/Play, pp. 85-86. (back)

22. Mr. Herbert's "real" horse had earlier turned up at the gate in this way, an event in the film that casts suspicion of foul play on Neville. (back)

23. Jaques Derrida, Memories of the Blind, trans. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), translator's introduction, pg. ix. (back)

Works Cited

Brunette, Peter and David Wills. Screen/Play. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Brunette, Peter and David Wills, eds. Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Carroll, David. Paraesthetics. New York: Metheun, 1987.

Derrida, Jaques. The Truth in Painting. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian Mcleod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

- - - . Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

- - - . Memories of the Blind. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Foster, Hal, ed. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Seattle: Bay Press, 1983.

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