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  • Contemporary Cinema Research Institute
no.1_01_Cinema of ‘Bad Subjects’: The Limits of the Kafkaesque Subject in Ōshima Nagisa’s Death by Hanging (1968)
  • Writer : Admin
  • Date : 2018-10-17 15:16
Cinema of ‘Bad Subjects’:
The Limits of the Kafkaesque Subject
in Ōshima Nagisa’s Death by Hanging (1968)

Max Ward

Department of History, Middlebury College
maxw@middlebury.edu

Abstract
This essay analyzes Ōshima Nagisa’s 1968 film Death by Hanging by reading it with
Franz Kafka’s 1925 novel The Trial, approaching both works as positing distinct
theories of state power and ideological subjection. Many critics have noted the
“Kafkaesque” quality of Death by Hanging: e.g., that the film centers upon an
indicted protagonist who is subjected to the legal machinations of the state in a series
of absurd and theatrical situations, leading to his eventual execution. Beyond these
formal similarities, I foreground the two works’ shared concern with the operations of
the modern state, putting them in conversation with critical theorists including
Althusser, Butler and Žižek. In doing so, I argue that Death by Hanging reveals the
limits of what Žižek theorized as the “Kafkaesque subject,” opening into questions
about political possibility and gesturing towards what Althusser called “bad subjects.”

Keywords
Ideology, subjectivity, state power, Ōshima Nagisa, Franz Kafka, Louis Althusser,
Slavoj Žižek, Judith Butler