The Continuing Problem of the Universal to Questions of Justice: A Feminist Reading of Lars von Trier’s Dogville

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Liverpool Law Review, 2017, 38 (1), pp. 33 - 46
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© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. What are the terms of evaluation that seem relevant in deciding whether a film is feminist or anti-feminist? Which critical practices should be engaged in such an evaluation? In recent and contemporary critical feminist practices, feminist arguments are no longer based on a stable subject category of “woman” and there is no longer any particular methodology upon which feminist theorists rely. The category of “woman” has been revealed to be not an ahistorical, stable category but an effect of material and representational practices. Further, feminist methodologies have been concerned to contextualize the framing of the questions they ask, as well as their place in the methodologies they employ. In addition to the refusal of an essentialized female subject, feminists have called into question the idea that it is possible to produce a “feminist method” based on the standpoint of a female subjectivity, even where this subjectivity is admitted as a construct, arguing that this extrapolation to the general from a particular point of view produces political, and frequently racist, effects. In this essay, I consider Lars von Trier’s controversial film Dogville (2003) as a case study to explore the relation of practices of representation to questions of feminist justice. I argue that the film does a lot of good critical work in showing the ways in which certain practices of representation can be mobilized to produce a collectivity (or “sovereignty”) that is seen to emanate from “the people” and to thereby instantiate authority, while simultaneously disguising the material and political effects of its subjugation of “others.” However, in doing this work the film produces its own problematic construction of universality and particularity. Further, the film instrumentalises representations of sexual violence and subjection in order to prove its point, and as productive as these tactics are to illuminating questions of social justice, I argue that this representational practice produces effects that need to be read as anti-feminist.
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