Resisting the Lure of the Fetish

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Yuh-yi Tan

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Department of English, NTNU


Even though abjection has been an unexplored aspect of fetishistic theories, its association with excluded otherness, the logic of disavowal, and the horror of castration not only is basic to fetishism, but also offers an approach to depolarize categories of sexuality and gender. In this essay, a hardly discussed psychological research on the middle pattern between abjection and fetishism is suggested to support a reading of Wong Kar Wai's film In the Mood for Love. Resurrecting fetishism as a new and radical mode of spectatorship, Wong's film evokes a nostalgic mood within the liminal space of his presentation of Hong Kong in the 1960s. His fetishistic impulse resonates in the sequences of slow motion, freeze-frame shots, and role-playing that transcend the temporal constraints of traditional film technique. The director works through the fetishistic processes of affirmation and disavowal through the major female lead Mrs. Chen. Neither can Mrs. Chen simply sustain the status of being a fetish object nor can she accept her own constitution as an abject, as shown in her famous line: "We will never be like them." In this paper, first, I will address the question of whether the issue of abjection can shed light on our understanding of Mrs. Chen's fetishistic desire toward the inanimate objects of chipaos, shoes, and cigarettes, and the reified traits, namely cultural constructs of nostalgia and mimetic performativity of anabject self. I will also explore the issue of whether her disavowal of cruel reality has the potential to destabilize the patriarchal structure of the film. The visual text confirms a back-and-forth route from psyche to body, from erotics to sexuality within a frame of fetishistic scopophilia. However, the object of desire returns repeatedly, not simply to haunt the female subjects, but to take them elsewhere, to the in-betweenness of disavowal and affirmation. Articulating the relation between abjection and fetishism, In the Mood for Love facilitate