The Ambivalent Objects in Jan Svankmajer’s Lesson Faust
Abstract: Jan Svankmajer’s cinematic animation of puppets and use of life-sized puppets renders a situation where animated objects have a dominant function that is separate from their pragmatic function. This plurality of function constitutes dynamic characteristics for the object whereby the object has an ambivalent status at the semiotic level – the object can also be a subject. Cinematic animation and cinema specific properties and techniques such as editing, framing or superimposition foreground this plurality of an object’s function by altering its spatiotemporal context and allowing it to be liberated from its recognition as a prop of the mise-en-scene. The Faust tradition foregrounds the plurality of function for the object most near and dear to us – our bodies – when Faust challenges the supernatural world into manipulating the body’s natural relationship with the course of time. Svankmajer’s Lesson Faust (1994) adeptly negotiates the complexities of a discourse on the dramatic and semiological process of objects becoming subjects (and vice-versa) while foregrounding the ambivalence surrounding such ‘transformations’. Cinematic animation (technological), puppets (material) and the Faust tradition (narrative) can each be demonstrated as modes of presentation which actively endow objects with dominant functions separate from their pragmatic function thus creating ambivalence for the object at the semiotic level.