chapter
Signifying
Pages 3

These essays are not an easy read: they traverse three huge disciplines and span over a decade of theoretical developments. The pioneering work produced for Screen in the early 1970s is represented by MacCabe’s two best-known essays: ‘Realism and the cinema: notes on some Brechtian theses’ and ‘Theory and film: principles of realism and pleasure’. Together they draw on Brecht and the semiology of Christian Metz, as well as the French theorists Barthes, Lacan and Althusser. MacCabe uses these theories to identify subjectivity as an effect of signifying practice, and Lacan, in particular, to define the way in which film addresses and constructs a spectator-subject. MacCabe’s later work-‘On discourse’, ‘Language, linguistics and the study of literature’ and ‘Realism: Balzac and Barthes’—moves into what is probably the unfamiliar area, at least for the literary theorist, cf linguistics. Through close attention to the complexities of linguistic debate, past and present, MacCabe evaluates work by Mill, Frege and Saussure in the light of Barthes’s theory of signification and, later, Pêcheux’s analysis of subject identification and disidentification in discourse. His project is, perhaps, over-ambitious for a readership unlikely to be fully conversant with film, linguistics and literature.