Colloquium | Alexander Dunst

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 12:00pm

Alexander Dunst

The Affective Economy of Debt: Nicolas Winding Refn's Neoliberal Noir

Set in Los Angeles and Bangkok, Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013) trace the affective economy of the debt crisis in the guise of noir thriller. Refn's characters are no longer driven by their supposedly private desires but by the logic of social obligation in its numerical abstraction as credit and debt, and the surplus jouissance of sexuality and violence on which capital and cinema feed. Played by Ryan Gosling, the protagonists of both films aim to repay a debt that always returns to them with interest. In the process, they are reduced to aggression that likewise increases as it circulates. My talk brings together Lacan’s notion of affective economies with theories of debt—from the early Marx to Nietzsche and Franco Berardi—to understand noir as a narrative escalation of negative affect. Refn's meditation on the role of structural violence in the global economy also ponders the possibility of forgiveness within a system determined to uphold the financial measurement of social interaction.

Alexander Dunst completed a PhD in Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham (UK) and is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Paderborn in Germany. He is the author of Madness in Cold War America (Routledge, 2016) and currently directs the early-career research group “Hybrid Narrativity: Digital and Cognitive Approaches to Graphic Narrative”. His research focuses on twentieth-century cultural history and contemporary US literature, film and media.

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