A 'Post-Historical' Cinema of Suspense: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Limits of Redemption

  • James Callow

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis theorises an approach to cinematic suspense derived from a set of films that challenge the teleological and redemptive principles of traditional narrative. It is argued that such a challenge is drawn from the need to account for conditions of violence and suffering without recourse to the traditional grounds of redemption. They set out to question the symbols that underpin a faith in its possibilities. Such films counter these grounds with a form of perpetuated suspense that continually withholds resolution, stressing and destabilising both the terms of redemption and the affect of its aesthetic representations. Significantly, this thesis examines films from the years following 1989 that confront this central theme within conditions of historical hiatus and the disintegration of ideological certainties occurring in the wake of European communism. These films, by Kira Muratova, Béla Tarr, Artur Aristakisyan, Alexander Sokurov, Bruno Dumont, Roy Andersson, Ulrich Seidl and Gus Van Sant, present a world in which human beings are always already turned against themselves, placing them in the context of contemporary philosophical aporias that identify the human condition as enigmatic and resisting of itself. They suspend the symbolic structures associated with redemption in order to reconfigure contemporary film as a „realist‟ cinema at the threshold of the interpretative and reconciliatory economies implicit in the soteriological mythology of Western thought. Tracing Paul Ricoeur‟s schematic account of the symbols and myths of a „fallen‟ world, the thesis turns on Jean-Luc Nancy‟s subsequent critique of the insufficiency of myths to properly account for existence. In place of an hermeneutic recovery of the real and its meaning, Nancy‟s „realist‟ philosophy of „sense‟ and its application to the cinema offer an account that speaks less of conflicting narratives of redemption than a radical stripping away of its terms, suggesting that it is redemption from the normative terms of redemption that ultimately constitutes the proper question at the heart of these films.
Date of Award1 Nov 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorD J Clarke (Supervisor) & Wendy Everett (Supervisor)


  • violence
  • cinema
  • suspense
  • realism
  • Jean-Luc Nancy
  • post-history
  • redemption

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