Michiko Oki
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Dreams and thresholds
The violence of doors that never close in Magritte, Kafka and Buñuel
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This chapter discusses the representation of the threshold in René Magritte’s series of door paintings (1933–62), Franz Kafka’s parable ‘Before the Law’ (1905) and Luis Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel (1962). With reference to the Surrealist approach to the dream as a means of subverting ‘normality’, I explore the allegorical engagement of these figures with the notion of the threshold, which signals the violence of normative power in contemporary society. Both Magritte and Kafka’s doors are open, free to pass, yet strangely emanating a sense of inaccessibility, which is more blatantly expressed in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel – a story about people trapped in an unlocked house. I will discuss whether these nightmarish representations of open yet inaccessible doors can be understood as a criticism of the violence of normative power, as articulated in Agamben (1999)’s and Derrida (1992)’s interpretations of Kafka’s ‘Before the Law’. Both Agamben and Derrida argue that the law fundamentally belongs to the literary space of narration, revolving around ambiguous relations between reality and story, anomy and nomos. At the origin of the law, for them, is the fictionality that makes possible the normalisation of life by narrating the universal out of the singular. I demonstrate how the conceptualisation of the threshold by Magritte, Kafka and Buñuel illuminates the literary space of the law/norm that is fictitious yet actual in legitimising reality, challenging the normalised perception of reality through a subversive use of the dream and dreamlike imagery.

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