Rob Hether
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Condemned to oblivion
Concentrationary cinema and oneiric representation in Claire Denis’ High Life
in Dreams and atrocity
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In this essay, Claire Denis’ science-fiction film High Life (2018) is studied through the lens of Max Silverman’s notion of concentrationary cinema as well as through the aesthetics of the science-fiction sublime. Questions of representation, or rather, the way that science fiction confronts the problem of representing that which is unrepresentable – from the myriad human atrocities of the modern era to the contemporary anxiety of impending (potential) human annihilation – are explored alongside those issues confronted by attempts to use Holocaust representation as a method of critique. Extrapolating from the precariousness and pessimism of the tumultuous present, High Life explores and ultimately rejects the possibility, save annihilation, of any kind of redemption in humanity’s future, suggestive of Silverman’s thoughts on destruction as a desirable release from prolonged torture. To watch this film is to immerse oneself in a portrayal of the not-so-distant future that is as nightmarish as it is serene. Employing techniques in a dreamlike narrative structure characteristic of Silverman’s concentrationary cinema – including radical montage, disorienting flashbacks and temporal discontinuity – Denis draws on the impossible limitlessness of space juxtaposed with the terror of confinement to craft an oneiric aesthetic meditation on the sublime that is also a nightmarish visceral study of the violence and trauma characteristic of the post-industrial human experience. High Life is an allegorisation of the collective traumas of modernity, if not of the Nazi concentration camp more specifically, which becomes a defining symbol for representations of the traumas of the modern world – traumas that may otherwise remain unrepresentable.

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Dreams and atrocity

The oneiric in representations of trauma


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