The discursive significance of violence : an analysis of four popular twentieth century films
This thesis examines the discursive significance of violence in twentieth century popular culture. It explains the desire and demand for representations of violence by analyzing their dual role as a force of subjectivation and subjugation. I argue that modern subjectivity is historically constituted and delimited by violence but that recognition of this is prevented by an overly instrumental understanding of its role. The reduction of violence to simple blunt force figures prominently within cultural and social theory, leaving the armature of cultural analysis ill equipped to explain the demand for violent representation. By providing a genealogy of the political violence once expressed in examples of public torture and execution but transmuted into the more minute expressions integrated within discursive regimes, this thesis argues that State violence produces a Janus-faced consciousness; a subject split between its performance of political Sovereignty and its political subjugation. The thesis progresses through historical-textual analysis of four phenomenally popular films that were, or continue to be, noted for their excess of violence [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919); The Sheik (1922), Once Upon a Time in The Kest (1969); and Deliverance (1972)]. While a subject divided by violence explains the dynamic of attraction and repulsion characteristic to violent narratives, these films also comment directly on the relationship between violence and subjectivity. Each film, in its own way-, is concerned with subjectivity understood as a force of violence as well as an object of violence. Their continuing significance suggests a more general practice of the cultural exploration of violence; a desire to understand and know its elusive terms. These narratives, and so popular representations of violence in general, can be understood to provide a focus for audiences to imagine (however momentarily and however questionably) a shared sense of subjectivity and cultural bearings.