On Suture

  • Stephen Heath
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


Use has been made in preceding pages of the idea of a suturing activity involved in the relations a film sustains and is constructed to sustain with its spectator. Suture was initially introduced as a concept within the field of psychoanalysis in an article by Jacques-Alain Miller, the subsequent editor of Lacan’s seminar, and then translated into film theory by the Cahiers du cinéma critic Jean-Pierre Oudart. The currency that has now been achieved for suture as a concept in film theory, in both French and Anglo-American writing, has not gone without ambiguities and misunderstandings. The following notes try to provide a context for understanding suture, to indicate something of the terms of its original psychoanalytic elaboration and of its subsequent utilization to specify the functioning of cinematic discourse. The first section, which deals with the former, is thus a somewhat ‘technical’ exposition of certain aspects of Lacanian theory and difficult in this; those aspects are important, however, for grasping where suture comes from into thinking about cinema and the problems it can raise.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Jacques-Alain Miller, ‘La suture’, Cahiers pour l’analyse no. 1 (1966) pp. 39–51; translation, ‘Suture’, Screen vol. 18 no. 4 (Winter 1977/8) pp. 24–34.Google Scholar
  2. Two discussions of the paper in the same year and context were also published in Cahiers pour l’analyse: S. Leclaire, ‘L’analyste à sa place?’, no. 1 (1966) pp. 50–2 A. Green, ‘L’objet(a) de J. Lacan, sa logique et la théorie freudienne’, no. 3 (1966) pp. 15–37.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. Lacan, ‘Conference aux États-Unis’, Scilicet no. 6–7 (1977) p. 49.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for example, S. Freud, ‘The Unconscious’ (1915), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works vol. XIV (London: Hogarth Press, 1957) p. 201; and discussion below, pp. 203–4.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Demonstrated by Metz in the course of his detailed consideration of the psychoanalytic possibility of the figures metaphor and metonymy; C. Metz, Le Signifiant imaginaire (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1977) pp. 251–340.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    J. Lacan, L’Identification (Paris: 1977; pirate edition of the 1962 seminar) p. 24.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    J.-C. Milner, ‘L’amour de la langue’, Ornicar? no. 6 (1976) p. 43.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Jean-Pierre Oudart, ‘La suture’, Cahiers du cinéma no. 211 (April 1969) pp. 36–9, and no. 212 (May 1969) pp. 50–5; translation, ‘Cinema and Suture’, Screen vol. 18 no. 4 (Winter 1977/8) pp. 35–47.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    See, for example, Pascal Bonitzer, Le Regard et la voix (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1976) pp. 17, 31, 47–8, 105, 130, 140–1.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Daniel Dayan, ‘The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema’, Film Quarterly (Fall 1974) pp. 22–31.Google Scholar
  11. Criticism of Dayan’s article is to be found in William Rothman, ‘Against the System of the Suture’, Film Quarterly (Fall 1975) pp. 45–50. (These two pieces are included in Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976) pp. 438–59; references here will be to these reprintings.)Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    C. Metz, Essais sur la signification au cinéma I (Paris: Klincksieck, 1968) p. 72; translation, Film Language (New York and London: Oxford U.P., 1974) p. 67.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    R. Jakobson, ‘Entretien sur le cinéma’, in Cinéma Théories Lectures (special issue of the Revue d’esthétique) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1973) p. 66.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    Barry Salt, ‘Film Style and Technology in the Forties’, Film Quarterly (Fall 1977) pp. 46–57; quotations pp. 50–2.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    Some of the emphases briefly made in this section are developed further in S. Heath, The Turn of the Subject (London: Macmillan, 1981).Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    P. Raymond, Matérialisme dialectique et logique (Paris: Maspero, 1977) p. 57n.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Louis Althusser, ‘Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’État’, La Pensée (June 1970); reprinted in a collection of Althusser’s essays entitled Positions (Paris: Éditions sociales, 1976) pp. 67–125; translation, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London: New Left Books, 1971) pp. 121–73.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Paul Q. Hirst, ‘Althusser’s Theory of Ideology’, Economy and Society vol. 5 no. 4 (November 1976) pp. 404–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 35.
    Cf. M. Tort, ‘La psychanalyse dans le matérialisme historique’, Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse no. 1 (Spring 1970) p. 154.Google Scholar
  20. 38.
    S. Freud, Studies on Hysteria (1895), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works vol. II (London: Hogarth Press, 1955) pp. 291, 296.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Stephen Heath 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Heath

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations