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“No Reason to Be Seen:” Cinema, Exploitation, and the Political

Sullivan, Gordon (2018) “No Reason to Be Seen:” Cinema, Exploitation, and the Political. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation argues that we can best understand exploitation films as a mode of political cinema. Following the work of Peter Brooks on melodrama, the exploitation film is a mode concerned with spectacular violence and its relationship to the political, as defined by French philosopher Jacques Rancière. For Rancière, the political is an “intervention into the visible and sayable,” where members of a community who are otherwise uncounted come to be seen as part of the community through a “redistribution of the sensible.” This aesthetic rupture allows the demands of the formerly-invisible to be seen and considered. We can see this operation at work in the exploitation film, and by investigating a series of exploitation auteurs, we can augment our understanding of what Rancière means by the political.

Chapter 1 treats the films of Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of Troma Studios. The chapter offers a fuller account of Rancière’s conception of the political alongside a reading of the apparently-incoherent politics of Kaufman’s films. Chapter 2 offers a necessary supplement to an account of Rancière’s conception of the political by thinking through the ways that community works in the films of Lars Von Trier. Chapter 3 turns from the constitution of community to the moment of rupture that creates a space for dissensus. This notion of rupture helps us to understand the cinema of David Cronenberg, whose films are overtly and consistently concerned with rupture. Chapter 4 takes a slightly broader view, thinking through Quentin Tarantino’s recent historical films with the aid of Rancière’s conception of the political. Rather than understanding Tarantino’s engagement with politics as resting on his invocation of historical tragedy, this chapter begins with a reading of The Hateful Eight’s “Lincoln letter” to argue that the fundamental gesture of the political is one of affirmation. The conclusion offers a brief glimpse at the ways in which temporality, cinema, and the political are intertwined.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sullivan, Gordongms57@pitt.edugms57
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLowenstein,
Committee MemberLandy,
Committee MemberWaldron,
Committee MemberMorgan,
Date: 31 January 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 October 2017
Approval Date: 31 January 2018
Submission Date: 20 November 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 184
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: cinema, exploitation, political, political philosophy, Jacques Rancière
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2018 18:56
Last Modified: 31 Jan 2018 18:56

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