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The Uncanny Afterlife of Dolls: Reconfiguring Personhood through Object Vivification in Gothic Film

Author:

Joana Rita Ramalho

University College London, GB
About Joana Rita
Senior Teaching Fellow
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Abstract

This article proposes an investigation of the ways in which the figure of the non person in/animate body operates in Gothic cinema. It will focus on human-like objects, specifically dolls, in order to investigate the key narrative and aesthetic discourses they facilitate regarding hollowness and life. These entities establish a frightening dynamic between stasis and real or imagined (yet always unwanted) movement. In the process, they become haunting symbols of liminality that articulate particular ideas about identity and personhood, while also stressing the permeable boundaries between self and other. Gothic things undermine the normal subject-object relation and thus continually destabilize the demarcations between life and death or sanity and insanity. In so doing, they furthermore expose an irrational attitude towards existence and consciousness. Using an object-oriented approach that draws on Elaine Freedgood’s and Bill Brown’s thing theory, I explore the disruptive tendencies that in/animate agents foster in such films as Maria Lease’s Dolly Dearest (1991), Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), and Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). I will focus on these case studies to examine the manner in which Gothic dolls activate uncanniness to represent subjectivity in crisis. In analyzing the figure of the doll to investigate the uneasy relationship between human beings and human-like things, this paper contributes to the growing interest surrounding the role of objects in Gothic cinema.

How to Cite: Ramalho, J.R., 2020. The Uncanny Afterlife of Dolls: Reconfiguring Personhood through Object Vivification in Gothic Film. Studies in Gothic Fiction, 6(2), pp.27–38. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18573/sgf.33
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Published on 16 Jun 2020.
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