Deconstructing National Identity: Character, Place, and Contemporary American Independent Cinema

Mitchell, Stephen Mark (2014) Deconstructing National Identity: Character, Place, and Contemporary American Independent Cinema. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

This thesis achieves a deconstructive interrogation of American national identity by
analysing its representation in contemporary independent cinema. Drawing upon the poststructuralist
work of Jacques Derrida (and limited applications of his thought to film
scholarship), this project theorises a rigorous (but non-programmatic) model for conducting
deconstructive readings of cinematic texts. Engaging with a corpus of ostensibly
independent films, case-study analyses of American identity narratives are used to theorise
and enact a fruitful process of Derridean cinematic and cultural interpretation. In
undertaking this broad theoretical objective, I intervene within a range of specific filmic and
socio-political debates. Analysing texts drawn from within prevailing independent film
definitions, this project undertakes a deconstructive re-inscription of this prominent
cinematic category. Destabilising its conventional designation as Hollywood’s antonymic
“other,” the ontological solidity of independent film is fatally compromised, opening up its
constituent texts to a greater range of interpretative gestures. Furthermore, in addressing
textual representations of national identity, I elucidate a discursive area largely unexplored
in existing independent film scholarship. Characterising case-study analyses as overtly
deconstructive, this thesis also destabilises structural orthodoxies that orient American
identity discourses around dichotomous concepts of character and place. Thus, studying
representations of prominent cultural narratives (individualism, the nuclear family, the
small-town, and the wilderness), this thesis uncovers and then dismantles their restrictive
metaphysical foundations. Specifically, drawing attention to discursive slippages and
paradoxes that inhabit these forms of cultural narration, textual readings problematize their
self-coherence and ontological closure. Relating these cultural analyses to popular and
academic discourses of national identity, this thesis also expands the reach of Derridean
theory into a range of other disciplines, such as American studies. Ultimately, this thesis’
multifaceted research objectives open up American identity discourses to an unfixed
freeplay of différance, laying the foundations for a liberatory intervention into oppositional
American cultural debates.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Mia Reeves
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2015 11:09
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 00:38
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/53462
DOI:

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