Moral Spectatorship

Technologies of Voice and Affect in Postwar Representations of the Child

Moral Spectatorship

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: March 2008

Author: Lisa Cartwright

Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Media Studies > Film, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Why were theories of affect, intersubjectivity, and object relations bypassed in favor of a Lacanian linguistically oriented psychoanalysis in feminist film theory in the 1980s and 1990s? In Moral Spectatorship, Lisa Cartwright rethinks the politics of spectatorship in film studies. Returning to impasses reached in late-twentieth-century psychoanalytic film theory, she focuses attention on theories of affect and object relations seldom addressed during that period. Cartwright offers a new theory of spectatorship and the human subject that takes into account intersubjective and affective relationships and technologies facilitating human agency. Seeking to expand concepts of representation beyond the visual, she develops her theory through interpretations of two contexts in which adult caregivers help bring children to voice. She considers several social-problem melodramas about deaf and nonverbal girls and young women, including Johnny Belinda, The Miracle Worker, and Children of a Lesser God. Cartwright also analyzes the controversies surrounding facilitated communication, a technological practice in which caregivers help children with communication disorders achieve “voice” through writing facilitated by computers. This practice has inspired contempt among professionals and lay people who charge that the facilitator can manipulate the child’s speech.

For more than two decades, film theory has been dominated by a model of identification tacitly based on the idea of feeling what the other feels or of imagining oneself to be the other. Building on the theories of affect and identification developed by André Green, Melanie Klein, Donald W. Winnicott, and Silvan Tomkins, Cartwright develops a model of spectatorship that takes into account and provides a way of critically analyzing the dynamics of a different kind of identification, one that is empathetic and highly intersubjective.


“[S]ophisticated and well written, drawing upon such diverse theoretical resources. . . .” — Lisa Schmidt, Velvet Light Trap

“Books critiquing other writers’ and theorists’ critiques of each other can be useful to the researcher, in the same way that annotated biographies can be useful. They provide a wide variety of sources on particular themes that can followed through to the primary sources, often yielding rich pickings on the way. In Moral Spectatorship, Lisa Cartwright launches herself from the first pages into just such a critique, examining psycho-analytic and film theories in relation to each other, demonstrating the breadth of her reading and the depth of her exclusive appreciation of how each interact.” — Flloyd Kennedy, M/C Reviews

“In the first of three chapters, the author underscores context. She devotes the remaining chapters to film analysis, presenting (among other films) The Miracle Worker and Johnny Belinda. The book’s primary audience will be scholars of film, disability, and women’s studies; it will be of tangential use to those interested in children’s culture and literature. Recommended.” — D. J. Brothers, Choice

“Lisa Cartwright’s Moral Spectatorship is an important book for those of us working with feminist and/or psychoanalytic film theories, disability studies and cultural studies more broadly. Cartwright’s skilful understanding of the field/s and their historical formation enables her to critically analyse the way our research paradigms become available and dominant. Questioning how we legitimate ourselves at the cost of leaving others behind is a necessary and timely venture, particularly in these conservative and neo-liberal times. Cartwright’s groundbreaking book reminds us of the radical ethical nature of the way we come to understand our selves, and, necessarily, urgently, each other.” — Kristina Marie Gottschall, Continuum

“Lisa Cartwright’s project is ambitious in scope and wide-ranging in topic. . . . Cartwright’s work is characterized by a striking ability to range through many discourses and texts, while eschewing the sweeping statement. . . . This is the work of a mature mind that is interested in many things and capable of making many connections. Hence, the project is a rich one. . . .” — Elizabeth Walden, Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Moral Spectatorship is an important and brave book that dares to consider the formation of subjectivity and intersubjectivity in cinema (and life) through concepts such as feeling, affect, dependency, and care. Drawing upon psychoanalytic theory (not Lacan’s), Lisa Cartwright writes with both passion and skepticism about—and around—a selection of films that foreground the radically ethical nature of human communication, reminding us that film studies can change not only the way we see films but also the way we view our lives.” — Vivian Sobchack, author of Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture

“Uncovering alternative traditions in the psychoanalytic study of affect and object relations, while pairing them with deep explorations of American and continental moral philosophy, Lisa Cartwright proposes a series of arguments that will radically remap our understanding of spectatorship and identification. Moral Spectatorship is a path-breaking book and perhaps the first entirely new approach to subject, empathy, and affect in visual cultural studies to have appeared in the new millennium.” — D. N. Rodowick, Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lisa Cartwright is Professor of Communication and Science Studies and a faculty member in Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture, a coauthor of Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, and a coeditor of The Visible Woman: Imaging Technologies, Gender and Science.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Spectatorship, Affect, and Representation 1

1. Moral Spectatorship: Rethinking Identification in Film Theory 11

2. The (Deaf) Woman's Film and the Quiet Revolution in Film Sound: On Projection, Incorporation, and Voice 51

3. "A Child Is Being Beaten": Disorders of Authorship, Agency, and Affect in Facilitated Communication 157

Conclusion: On Empathy and Moral Spectatorship 229

Notes 241

References 255

Index 281
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4194-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4177-2
Publicity material