UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Masquerades of self-erasure : pornography and corporeal memory in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter Krautheim, Graeme


In this thesis, I am utilizing Liliana Cavani’s controversial 1974 film The Night Porter to acknowledge the significance of pornography in historical representation and memory work as related to the Holocaust. I will discuss the importance of representations rooted in the corporeal and relegated to the obscene and argue that the term pornography is used in academic, political and popular circumstances to attack texts that disrupt or threaten a dominant, pre-existing understanding of the world. Having been largely misunderstood for the last three decades (and criticized by major scholars, including Michel Foucault, Susan Sontag and Primo Levi), Ii Night Porter uses the languages of pornography and masochism to initiate a forceful historical dialogue that calls for a re-evaluation of the criteria used to gage and evaluate the past. The Night Porter argues that culture consoles itself in simplistic, “moral” readings of history. It subsequently attacks the concept of post-Holocaust redemption and issues related to the reassurances of redemptive logic with which culture has long kept itself warm. I propose pornography to be disruptive when placed alongside historical representation because it gestures to historical dialogues that dominant discourses are fearful of having. The film is complicated further by the fact that it was marketed, not as contemplative art cinema, but as kinky pornography by its American distributor. The Night Porter however, comes with even more problematic implications, including a cycle of low-rent sexploitation films that depict sensationalized and inept representations of concentration camps. The most notorious examples are Gestapo’s Last Orgy and SS Experiment Love Camp — ripoffs of The Night Porter that, until recently, have been banned or otherwise unavailable. My discussion of pornography and the obscene is complicated by Nazi sexploitation insofar that they follow the same narrative trajectory as The Night Porter, but carry with them very different ontological implications. I will conclude my thesis with an examination of these films in an effort to acknowledge the pornographic as a cultural necessity with regard to engaging in dialogue with, and reconciling, history.

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