DEATH BY HANGING CONTRA THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS BY WAY OF RANCIÈRE

In this essay I examine the status of political representation in Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (La bataille d’Alger, 1966, ITA) and Nagisa Oshima’s Death by Hanging (Koshikei, 1968, JAP) through the political theories of Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Rancière. Death by Hanging, I argue, is a direct response to the aestheticizing of politics in The Battle of Algiers, a film that Oshima provocatively called a “trashy” melodrama. The two films present radically different ways of approaching political subjectivity and alterity, thus both works take “fight or flight” as a central theme. Within the films, terms such as “criminal,” “terrorist,” “Korean,” “Algerian,” “citizen,” and “nation” are uttered, performed, and explored to uncover the ways each word produces conflicting meanings and effects dependent upon the spaces in which protagonists appear. Ultimately my analysis finds that Habermas’s approach to politics falls short of its lofty ideals. Habermas’s political theory does not aid the protagonist of Algiers in his fight against colonialism. Rather, by placing Algiers against Oshima’s absurdist film, and finding the latter’s parallels in Rancière’s theory, I uncover new ways to cinematically represent individuals who have no formal role to play in state politics.

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