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The Rehearsal for Terror: Form, Trauma, and Modern Horror

Fitzpatrick, Veronica (2018) The Rehearsal for Terror: Form, Trauma, and Modern Horror. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation questions the aesthetic, affective, and ethical dimensions of the relationship between film form and sexual/sexualized violation and trauma, in primarily but not exclusively American feature-length horror films after 1960. I take sexual trauma as the conceptual occasion to initiate an alternative generic genealogy, beginning not with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), but with his psychosexual melodrama Marnie (1964), which hinges on a rape depicted in un-depiction by a wayward camera movement. My subsequent analysis of cinematic horror’s relationship to rape advances two central propositions. First, against the widespread critical and popular reduction of modern horror to increasingly graphic spectacles of harm and female exploitation, I theorize the genre’s formal counter-tendency toward patterns of opacity, representational instability, and visual restraint. My readings contend that sexual verifiability—presiding over what counts as violation and who says so—poses a problem of knowledge, and that the event of rape reproduces this difficulty in any attempt to describe it or to struggle with its depiction. In this context, modern horror’s turn toward “the real” vis-à-vis scientifically explicable monstrous figures and mundane settings expands to acknowledge a sustained threat of rape that is not assuaged but rather intensified by familiar milieux such as home and the family. Second, I show that a monster-based philosophy of horror fails to account for the second voice of much modern genre cinema, in which what appears on the surface to be its monstrous threat is challenged within the texts themselves by an emphasis not on monsters or survivors, but on victims. Through close engagements with key filmic examples, this dissertation ultimately discovers an insightful affinity between horrific dramatizations of sexual violence and the cinematic life of gaslighting: a horror to which all socially vulnerable populations are susceptible. By tracing the ways that targeted violence and gaslighting have formally and affectively shaped modern horror while remaining historically under-accounted for, I treat horror cinema as a privileged site for epistemological trouble: the trouble of collective knowledge, shareable vision, and traumatic experience.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Fitzpatrick, Veronicavaf11@pitt.eduvaf11
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairLandy, Marciamlandy@pitt.edumlandy
Committee CoChairLowenstein, Adamalowen@pitt.edualowen
Committee MemberAnderson, Mark Lynnandersml@pitt.eduandersml
Committee MemberMorgan,
Date: 26 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 2 May 2018
Approval Date: 26 September 2018
Submission Date: 6 August 2018
Access Restriction: 4 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 4 years.
Number of Pages: 177
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: film studies, horror
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2018 22:17
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2022 05:15


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