Losing Control: New Hollywood, the Crisis of the Self and the Cultural Logic of Expressivity
Dissertation in Culture
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Lüthe
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Olaf Stieglitz
The dissertation conducts an examination of New Hollywood cinema employing an approach of radical contextuality, embedding the aesthetics and subject matter of New Hollywood films and their production and reception discourses within a cultural history of the postwar formation. The project understands the New Hollywood as an integral part of the white cultural imagination, connecting its emergence to a midcentury discourse of conformity and identity crisis that created increasing anxiety about white middle-class identity. The New Hollywood, it is argued, was an integral part of solving the affective deficit diagnosed by many postwar intellectuals and within psychological and countercultural discourses. Integrating the diagnosis of an affective deficit into the historical context of the New Hollywood further offers an alternative to using affect as an ahistorical theoretical perspective on the films of the New Hollywood, marking the intensification of cinematic affect in the New Hollywood as a historically specific phenomenon rather than merely an aesthetic innovation.
The project employs the notion of countercultural whiteness and the affective logic of expressivity as two concepts that serve both as tentative starting points and results of the dissertation. Countercultural whiteness is a subject position defined by the idea that the singular self is set in opposition to social forces beleaguering it and is or strives to be free from social constraints and cultural influences. The dissertation identifies ‘existential hip’ and ‘radical singularity’ as two configurations of this subject position. The affective logic of expressivity entails the idea that the unmediated expression of an authentic core is something inherently positive and valuable, it is a logic at work within postwar ideals of healthy subjectivity as well as in the aesthetic regime of the New Hollywood.
The dissertation is structured by the discussion of three countercultural fantasies – of untamed motion, of emotional truth and of irrational forces – as assemblages that bind together different elements of countercultural whiteness and expressivity. Analyses of specific New Hollywood films serve to underline this connection as well as their function within crises discourses of the 1970s, the historical vanishing point of the dissertation. In a last part, the dissertation discusses three films from 1976 to argue that the subject position of countercultural whiteness survived the exhaustion of the historical counterculture as such, attaching itself to new forms of identity while simultaneously marking the cultural status quo as permeated by non-white and non-male agencies.