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Volume 34, Number 2 (2009)

A Desire for the Real: The Power of Film in The Englishman’s Boy

February 23, 2010


Midway through Guy Vanderhaeghe’s novel The Englishman’s Boy, Hollywood studio head Damon Ira Chance speaks about the power of cinema and announces that he intends to harness the new medium to rewrite the story of the Cypress Hills Massacre of 1873 as a mythic history of the American west. Much of The Englishman’s Boy revolves around the question Chance raises about the role media plays in our interpretation of the world, and the novel warns against the propagandistic nature of film. Read through Stanley Cavell’s argument that film can access an aspect of reality unavailable to other media by addressing the deep desire to overcome our subjectivity, the novel suggests that film wields an overwhelming power that is inherently violent because cinema “overcomes” the viewer’s subjectivity by destroying evidence of the artist in filmic representations of the world.