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Feeling Absence: Horror in Cinema from Post War to Post-Wall

  • Wynter, Kevin Anthony
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2014
eScholarship - University of California
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Since the early 1990s the twin leitmotifs of the European art house, and French cinema in particular, have been images of intense graphic violence and explicit sexuality. Scholars and critics generally refer to this phenomenon as a tendency toward "New Extremism" in cinema. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that the violence and sexuality in these films is neither "new" nor "extreme," but extends and expands upon the themes and elements of the modern American horror film. Historical context is largely missing from existing scholarship on these films and their representations of violence, and this project addresses this gap by drawing the violence characterizing post-Wall European art cinema and the violence of the modern American horror film into taut relation. The definitions of horror have been confused with definitions of related negative affects and emotions, particularly terror. Making a distinction between horror and terror best illustrates these differences by aligning the formal devices and narrative strategies of the American horror film with terror, and representations of violence in post-Wall European art cinema with horror. The point of this distinction is that horror in the popular imagination does not align with the concept and feeling of horror proper as it has been written about and understood in continental philosophy and critical theory (where horror is a foundational concept). I show how terror is an external phenomenon bound up with space, spectacle, and the proximity of a threat, while on the other hand, horror is an internal, metaphysical phenomenon linked to time, absence, and memory. Arguing for these distinctions between horror and terror in cinema also has significant ramifications for the history of the horror genre and how it has been received as both a critical object and as a popular text, for not only are we compelled to reevaluate what we mean when we say we are watching horror, but the feelings these works inspire in audiences and the critical frameworks that are relied upon to conceptualize such feelings must also be reconsidered. In this dissertation, I argue that continental philosophy informs a new approach to the violence in post-Wall European art cinema and our general understanding of horror while further clarifying on what grounds horror and terror are separable in cinema.

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