On Kaja Silverman’s Notion of "Suture" in Film Theory

Silverman writes, of suture, that the construction of the cinematic film as a physical object creates a kind of anxiety for the viewer. Because the image is bound on all sides by the periphery of the camera, the viewer’s point of view is limited, reduced, fixed. And because the images are “stitched together” on the film stock into a series of images, a form of “suturing” is at play in constructing the narrative.

Suture brings sequence together.

But suture is more than just the way images are connected: it is the space between images that signifies too. Think, for example, of two scenes in a film that occur in different settings with different characters. The moment between them is blank, no connective tissue, no identifying markers.

The audience is thrust out of the narrative for a second, must contend with the questions of “Where am I?” “Who am I? What is going on?” Until the narrative provides its markers to give the audience a clue about where they have landed in the narrative.

If you’ve seen 21 Grams, a film edited completely out of sequence so that the narrative is thematic rather than situational, you understand the anxiety of suture.

The space between images is as significant as the images themselves because it spurs a response in the viewer. We don’t experience “constant suturing” when the film is projected because the images flash by faster than the human eye can perceive them. But narrative sutures are obvious and jarring almost always.

In writing poetic sequences, it’s important to consider the ways in which your audience, too, will experience suture. Good audiences/readers will invariably “fill in” those blank gaps between poems or sections to help them identify “what is happening when.” For poetry, titles take on much of the narrative suturing responsibility for the reader—guideposts along the way—but they aren’t always necessary. In a book like Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, suture is significant and overwhelming as she darts from topic to topic, but the theme of the book and its jump-cut narratives remain in tact. This is because the reader trusts her as a storyteller and commentator. The suturing is built into the book—the jumps are meaningful and understandable.

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