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Themesicon: navigation pathArt and Cinematographyicon: navigation pathMulvey/Wollen
«Riddles of the Sphinx».
The Work of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: Between Counter-Strategy and Deconstruction
Winfried Pauleit


The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions (already undertaken by radical filmmakers) is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics, passionate detachment. (Laura Mulvey) [1]

But cinema, because it is a multiple system, could develop and elaborate the semiotic shifts that marked the origins of the avant-garde in a uniquely complex way, a dialectical montage within and between a complex of codes. At least, writing now as a filmmaker, that is the fantasy that I like to entertain. (Peter Wollen2) [2]

1. A Rereading of Freud

The film’s title, «Riddles of the Sphinx», already signals that Laura Mulvey’s and Peter Wollen’s concept is based on counter-strategy. Here, Oedipus is not the hero; instead, the sphinx, whose story is further examined in the course of the film, is the central


figure. Furthermore, the theme of the film is a complex analysis of patriarchal society, dealing both with the Greek myths and the everyday life of the 1970s. Mulvey refers in this film to the writings of Freud, in particular his interpretation of the Oedipal myth in light of the development of the child in the family triangle. In contrast, the film «Riddles of the Spinx»concerns itself with motherhood, that is, it is interested in the cultural nexus of a pre-oedipal or dyadic relationship between mother and child. This critical take on Freud basically follows the thinking of theorists like Luce Irigarary, who not only take issue with the weight Freud gives to the Oedipal triangle, but also question his idealization of the mother–son relationship. [3] But while Irigaray disposes of the Oedipal myth entirely, arguing that it only offers the mother/son relationship between Iocaste and Oedipus, [4] Mulvey and Wollen reveal the figure of the sphinx as «the forgotten [female] figure in an otherwise well-known myth» (Mulvey/Wollen 1977). Thus, Mulvey and Wollen develop the theme of their film on the one hand from a rereading of the myth. Against the patriarchal filiation formulated in Freud’s Oedipal complex, they use the

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