Incarnation, Alienation, and Emancipation

A Sartrean Analysis of Filmic Violence

in Sartre Studies International
Daniel Sullivan Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona, USA

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In Critique of Dialectical Reason Vol. 2, Sartre analyzes a boxing match in light of a typology of violence. He suggests that individual conflicts incarnate broader forces of structural violence. He distinguishes between incidents of incarnating violence in terms of their broader social effects, as either alienated – commoditized or “mystified” and rendered illicit – or emancipatory – embedded in a collectively willed political project. This conceptualization is used to analyze two films, Aronofsky's The Wrestler and McQueen's Hunger. The Wrestler is an excellent meditation on the ways in which the violence of the oppressed is alienated in contemporary U.S. culture, whereas Hunger gestures toward the possibility of emancipatory violence. The article finally considers the act of watching these films as a Sartrean incarnation of violence.

Contributor Notes

Daniel Sullivan is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. He received his PhD in Psychology from the University of Kansas and his BA in German Studies from the University of Arizona. His research concerns the role of cultural factors in psychological responses to threat, including environmental hazards. He has written extensively on existentialism and critical theory. He is the author of Cultural-Existential Psychology (2016; Cambridge University Press), and the co-editor with Jeff Greenberg of Fade to Black: Death in Classic and Contemporary Film (2013; Palgrave Macmillan).

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Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture