Trans/actions: Art, Film and Death by Bruce Alistair Barber
Abstract: This dissertation employs the "four times around" deconstructive process articulated by Jacques Derrida in The Truth in Painting (1987) to trace the conflation of art and crime in cinema. The films discussed in the dissertation represent the otherness (alterity) of the artist, thus assisting in the reproduction of several long-standing stereotypes of artists as dangerous individuals whose neurotic, psycho-pathological, sexually avaricious and criminal behaviors threaten the social order. On a psychoanalytic level the dissertation explores contemporary phantasmatic reversals of the Greek myth of Pygmalion in which the artist takes a live subject, kills it and thereby turns it into a fetish object worthy of disinterested aesthetic contemplation. The Pygmalion effect is discussed in terms of disavowal (verleugnung) in the sense outlined by Agamben (1974, 1993) in which the melancholic fetishist simultaneously affirms and denies his object of desire. The philosophical coordinates attending/extending this research encompass the discursive territories linking fetishism, creativity and death, as well as ethics and aesthetics in the writings of: Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Derrida, Nancy, Agamben, Badiou, Schirmacher among others. The thesis also negotiates various debates about culture, class, ideology, identity and power, with special attention accorded the political and psychical economies of alterity as these have been theorised and critiqued in the work of Foucault, Bhabha, Laclau, Mouffe, Levinas, Agamben and Badiou et al.
Art and death themes are explored in films by: Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman Michael Powell, Martin Scorsese, Peter Greenaway, Andrew Davis and Graeme Campbell The final chapter of the dissertation discusses the killing of cinema itself through a reading of the International Situationist's critique of the 'society of the spectacle' and the Situationist films of Guy Debord. This chapter argues that the verso of the art crime conflation is naturally the crime of art itself, an obsession of the necrophiliacal avant-gardes of the modern and postmodern era, that have engaged in usurping the authority of previous vanguards absorbed into the cultural dominant; a ritualistic (Oedipal) killing of the father in order to secure the omnipotence of the son. The conclusion reinforces the need to recognize the art/crime, art/death conflation as phantasms of Thanatos — the Freudian death drive — that sustain the Wildean proposition that "there is no essential incongruity between crime and culture