English 166

Special Topics: Hitchcock's Skin (or, A Theory of the Thriller)

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2007 Miller, D.A.
Miller, D.A.
MW 12:30-2, plus film screenings Tuesdays 6-9 P.M 300 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Rothman, W.: The Murderous Gaze; Truffaut, F.: Hitchcock


"She really got under your skin, didn?t she???said to the protagonist of North by Northwest

The corpus: This course is divided in its attention between an auteur and a genre. In one sense, the division is a superficial one, since there is hardly any element of the ?thriller? that has not been developed?and developed profoundly?in Hitchcock?s oeuvre. Accordingly, it will furnish us our main example. In another sense, however, this oeuvre is a legacy that, as such, belongs to the history of the thriller. Two living Europrean artists, Claude Chabrol and Michael Haneke, inherit the Hitchcockian legacy in particularly significant ways, and will play a key part in our understanding of the form. Less centrally, we will also look at American films by De Palma, Minghella, and Polanski.

The thesis: Central to the thriller is the ?event? of psychic transference. Something passes under the skin of the protagonist. ?Skin? is taken in a psychanalytic sense, as boundary, container, and foundation of the sense of self.

What is transferred under it can be almost anything: an idea, an object, a word. The transference does not occur ?on purpose?; on the contrary, it is an accident, the result of chance or coincidence; but once that accident has occurred, it instantaneously becomes a fate, terrifying sign of a world in which ?there are no accidents? (The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956). That fate drives both the protagonist and his story forward to?but to what end? To expel the transference? To project it onto another? To embrace it madly? In varying degrees of modification, the protagonist?s experience is continuous with the spectator?s own, and takes the transference event into another dimension. "

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