Configuring the Other: The Detective and the Real in Satyajit Ray's Chiriakhana

Document Type

Contribution to Books

Publication Date



Introduction: "I am within the work of the unconscious."1

In Satyajit Ray's 1967 film Chiriakhana (The Zoo), crime is solved through the detective's diagnostic apprehension of a linguistic quirk—a slip of tongue. Byomkesh Bakshi (Uttam Kumar) apprehends the criminals on basis of a single word—basha (house)—that sticks out as an outlier in an otherwise innocuous interrogation statement given by one of the many suspects in the case. The slippage establishes the difference between appearance and truth—between the enunciating subject and the subject of enunciation—as truth in form of a word tumbles out in spite of the subject's conscious efforts to hide it. In Lacan, this intrusion is termed the (hole in the) real. It emerges as a gap in the chain of signification—the symbolic order—unraveling the insistence of the unconscious and evoking anxieties over the instability of meaning, identity, and the demise of the big Other.2 By zeroing in on the slip of tongue and by deducting how divergent signifiers (basha/bari/ghaar) connect to the signified (i.e., the suspect/crime/the being of the suspect),3 Byomkesh reinscribes meaning back into a symbolic order riven by confusion over the absence of a big Other. And in the course of "bring[ing] about an effect of pacification, order, and consistency" (Žižek, 2001, p. 171), he is reified as the guarantor of meaning—he occupies the empty locus of the big Other as that "radically foreign" agent of the law who alone can provide symbolic support to meaning, signification, and identity (Fink, 1997; p. 32; Žižek, 2006, p.10).

This document is currently not available here.