Spectral cinema: anamorphosis and the haunted landscapes of Aftermath and The devil’s backbone

Mroz, Matilda (2016) Spectral cinema: anamorphosis and the haunted landscapes of Aftermath and The devil’s backbone. In: Heholt, Ruth and Downing, Niamh (eds.) Haunted landscapes: super-nature and the environment. Place, Memory, Affect . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, London, pp. 41-58. ISBN 9781783488810

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This chapter traces the networks of haunting and spectrality in the cinematic spaces of two films, Polish director Władysław Pasikowski’s Aftermath (2012), and the Spanish-Mexican production The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001). Both films envision the re-emergence of a repressed past as a spectral return, and can be seen in the context of the ‘memory boom’ or ‘memory events’ that have preoccupied these (and other) countries in recent decades (Labanyi 2007, 95; Etkind et. al 2012, 10). In the Spanish context, The Devil’s Backbone, as McDonald and Clark (2014, 136) write, demonstrates ‘the persistence of ghostly hauntological traces within the national psyche’ concerning the legacy of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. In Poland, Aftermath is one of a series of works of visual culture that has responded to the growing need to address the country’s Jewish past in ways that differ from the official narratives established under Communism (see also Lehrer and Waligórska 2013). In bringing The Devil’s Backbone into dialogue with Aftermath my aim is to sift through some of the aesthetic and conceptual configurations of spectrality in cinema. The cinematic invocation of the figure of the ghost is, I argue, only one of a series of images that form a network of spectral looking. This network extends between images that are not themselves necessarily ‘ghostly’, but which nevertheless haunt. In order to clarify the troubling nature of such haunting images, the chapter suggests that spectral looking can productively be read in conjunction with the concept of anamorphosis, and particularly its theorisation for cinema by Slavoj Žižek and Vivian Sobchack. Despite their cultural and generic differences, the films under discussion productively crystallise the experience of being haunted as one fundamentally concerned with seeing, not-yet seeing, and being seen by, something paradoxically material and immaterial, obtuse and significant.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Polish cinema, psychoanalysis, trauma, history, memory, Holocaust, Spanish Civil War, Spanish/Mexican cinema
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Media and Film
Depositing User: Matilda Mroz
Date Deposited: 08 May 2017 14:01
Last Modified: 30 Oct 2020 13:16
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/61715
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