Film Noir as the Sovereign-Image of Empire: Cynicism, White Male Biopolitics, and the Neoliberal Cinematic Apparatus
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This dissertation develops a theory of film noir as sovereign-image, a meta-generic and meta-cinematic discourse that confronts the viewer with the biopolitical ambivalence of the cinematic apparatus but enjoins her to nonetheless affirm its normative use. I argue that classical American noir deploys a proto-neoliberal ideology to turn the indeterminacy at its core into a spectacle of victimized white men, offering emphatically gendered and racialized images of a pathological entrepreneur of the self who is not ashamed to exhibit his wounded private life as the source of his singular market value. I claim, however, that even in his fully developed contemporary form in which his classical predecessors trauma induced shamelessness turns into a cynically calculated affective display, noirs neoliberal hero is not the self-made man he appears to be but remains delegated by a homosocial group to be the sovereign arbiter of their lifes value for them, instead of them. As an individual whonot unlike the film vieweris temporarily isolated from his peers he is in the exceptional position to freely decide what kind of life to consider productive for the process of capital accumulation, turning his body into the arbitrary link between what Agamben calls bare life and a qualified form of lifea link I call the sovereign-image. I track the evolution of film noirs sovereign function alongside the expansion and transformation of the United States from a territorialized nation state to a deterritorialized global financial network (what Hardt and Negri call Empire) to shed light on how Hollywoods anomalous noir crisis, its war trauma induced state of exception, became the expression of the governing paradigm of unbridled global biocapitalism in the age of North Atlantic unilateralism. In contemporary neo-noirs like The Usual Suspects (1995), Trainspotting (1996), Inception (2010), Fight Club (1999), or Drive (2011) becoming a self-made neoliberal subject coincides with gaining membership in a hybrid and flexible white male bios, the old-new flesh of Empire now cynically framed as the condition of possibility for autonomous selfhood as such. In critiquing neo-noirs cynical paradigm I demonstrate that its reactionary force can be mobilized only if the films first construct a biopolitical zone of indistinction where the inevitability of the western capitalo-patriarchal status quo is questioned and the equality of all forms of life is posited.