This article offers an analysis of First Reformed, written and directed by Paul Schrader (2017), as the story of a Calvinist pastor in upstate New York who decides to take extreme action in the face of the political, social, and psychic catastrophe wrought by the seeming invincibility of the triple alliance of capital, state, and religion, and the savage destruction of nature. A close reading of the film leads to a reconsideration not only of Heidegger’s notion of the Gestell but also of the work of Walter Benjamin in 1938–1940, which, in light of our present-day political conjuncture, has once again taken on urgent relevance. This is the “messianic” and “theological” Benjamin, as well as the Benjamin who in his thinking about how we understand and record history always remained implicitly faithful to negativity and to the unconscious.
Divine Violence Today: The Question of First Reformed
elizabeth stewart is an associate professor of English at Yeshiva University, the author of Catastrophe and Survival: Walter Benjamin and Psychoanalysis (Continuum, 2010), and translator and editor of Lacan in the German-Speaking World (State University of New York Press, 2004). She is currently working on a book on intergenerational relations from a psychoanalytic and philosophical perspective in German society and culture during the twentieth century, with a focus on the postwar period. She is a contributor to Understanding Lacan, Understanding Modernism, edited by Thomas Waller, which will appear in 2024 (Bloomsbury), and has contributed chapters to several edited volumes.
Elizabeth Stewart; Divine Violence Today: The Question of First Reformed. differences 1 December 2023; 34 (3): 79–105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-10898227
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