The third in a series of Romanticism Research Forums is taking place on Tuesday 8th June 2010 and features a lecture by Professor Kelly Hurley (University of Colorado at Boulder).
The 2007 film The Mist offers up two versions of the spectacle of the human subject in extremis. In the first, human bodies are destroyed by a variety of otherworldly monsters: ripped apart, burrowed through, burst open, sucked dry, injected with venom so that they blacken and swell. In the second, the protagonist screams in anguish after shooting his fellow survivors, including his young son, to save them from the prospect of such a terrible death, then falls to his knees in a paroxysm of despair and screams harder when he realizes that rescue was imminent and he killed his son needlessly. By juxtaposing these two scenarios – of a human subject taken to pieces and dying in screeching agony, and of a human subject convulsed with unbearable grief – The Mist solicits affective intensity in two registers, and invites the spectator to partake of the uneasy pleasure characteristically offered by Gothic Horror in the one case, and melodrama in the other. Moreover, it suggests that the two types of affective intensity are somehow transferable, perhaps interchangeable – at least at the level of phantasy.
In this paper, I will be concerned with the figure of the ‘subject-in-anguish’ in both modes, the horrific and the melodramatic, and with the elusive but intimate relationship between the spectator and this figure. I am particularly interested in reading this relationship through trauma theory. Trauma theory describes experience that so violates subjective boundaries, so unsettles psychic coherence, that the traumatized subject cannot be free of it, returning compulsively to the unbearable experience again and again but unable to grasp it, to move beyond it. To the extent that popular cinema represents the spectator’s own traumatic experiences at several removes, we may consider popular cinema spectatorship as a form of ‘traumatophilia’ for a spectator posited as already traumatized to some degree, at some level, and held in thrall by a trauma he or she will never master.
Kelly Hurley teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is the author of ‘Science and the Gothic’, in The Edinburgh Companion to the Victorian Gothic (Edinburgh University Press, 2011) and ‘The Victorian Mummy-Fetish: H. Rider Haggard, Frank Aubrey, and the White Mummy’, in Victorian Freaks: The Social Context of Freakery in Britain (Ohio State University Press, 2008). She is currently writing a monograph on identity-formation in SF and horror cinema.
The forum is taking place in room M44 at Edge Hill University’s Ormskirk Campus from 5pm-7pm – all welcome. For further information please contact Professor Michael Bradshaw on 01695 650942 or email Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.