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Unformatted text preview: Theatre Journal 58 (2006) 617631 2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press In the Grip of an Obsession: Delsarte and the Quest for Self-Possession in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Julia A. Walker Almost from the moment of its 1920 release, the German silent-film classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has generated interpretations focused on psychological themes. Given that the films narrative concerns a traveling showman, Dr. Caligari, who commands a hypnotic control over the mind of his protege, Cesare, and given that the story it- self is told from the perspective of Francis, a man whose sanity is questioned by the films frame narrative, this critical concern with psychological themes is no surprise. Nor is it a surprise that the psychological model invoked in these critical treatments is predominantly Freudian. As Catherine Clment observes in her influential 1975 article Charlatans and Hysterics, Dr. Caligari is the demoniac double of Sigmund Freud. 1 Indeed, she suggests, episodes in the films central narrative evoke scenarios recorded in Freuds Studies in Hysteria . 2 Caligari , the film, she argues, shows in the huge and magnified forms of expressionism the phantasmic figures of the era in which psychoanalysis could begin. 3 That the film engages a Freudian model of the self is irrefutable. But Freuds is not the only model of self figured in the film. In this article, I argue that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari represents a conflict between two models of self: a Freudian self that was certainly the focus of much discussion if not also anxiety in the moment the film was made, and an older moral-philosophical model of self that the Freudian model was in the process of displacing. The films horror, I maintain, is focused on that act of displacement, represented as a clandestine act of murder, rape, or kidnapping, set in motion by a criminal mastermind cloaked behind a position of institutional authority. In that the film represents this character as an unchecked figure of absolute authority, Siegfried Kracauer is right to read it as an expression of cultural anxiety (even if he Julia A. Walker is Associate Professor of English and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Expressionism and Modernism on the American Stage: Bodies, Voices, Words (Cambridge, 2005), and is currently at work on a new book project titled Modernity and Performance . 1 Catherine B. Clment, Charlatans and Hysterics, trans. Christiane Reese and Mike Budd in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Texts, Contexts, Histories , ed. Mike Budd (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 192....
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