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American ObscurantismHistory and the Visual in U.S. Literature and Film$
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Peter Lurie

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199797318

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199797318.001.0001

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Fargo’s Whitened Spaces

Fargo’s Whitened Spaces

History, Race, and the Postmodern Sublime

(p.89) 3 Fargo’s Whitened Spaces
American Obscurantism

Peter Lurie

Oxford University Press

This chapter reads the Coens’ film Fargo as a typical Gothic narrative, replete with paternal sin, uncanny doubles, and a dark historical past that returns to trouble a violent present. It traces the Gothic’s history in the United States and notes its uniquely American features in describing Fargo’s affinity with writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville, in the latter case by way of the film’s concern with whiteness—both the visual field of the film’s mise-en-scéne and the ethnic whiteness (or historical whitening) of the American interior. It shows a particularly cinematic version of the Gothic due to Fargo’s use of an offscreen, “unlawful” space associated with the film’s criminal element. It posits a postmodern sublime in the film’s tonal and visual ironies and, by way of postmodern theory, in a stubbornly immanent sublimity through affinities between the snowbound scene and the screen’s planar surface.

Keywords:   Gothicism, whiteness, the sublime, postmodernism, Native Americans, the screen/frame, snow, violence, Moby-Dick, François Lyotard

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