History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

By Susan E. Linville | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
“FORGOT THE ALAMO”
Lone Star, Limbo, and the Limits of the Nation

“Our history [as a theme park] is our future here,
not our past.”

tourism developer in Limbo

As Julia Kristeva avows, any encounter with the uncanny—that stranger within and without who challenges the borders of identity—provokes a choice: “To worry or to smile, such is the choice when we are assailed by the strange; our decision depends on how familiar we are with our own ghosts.”1 For Homi Bhabha, the location of that conundrum, both spatially and temporally, is on the border, in the interstices, and the sort of art that expresses the groundwork of choosing necessarily revivifies the past. That is, this kind of art “does not merely recall the past as social cause or aesthetic precedent; it renews the past, refiguring it as a contingent ‘in-between’ space, that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present. The ‘past-present’ becomes part of the necessity, not the nostalgia, of living.”2 The process, in short, is quite distinct from one of evoking an idealized past to assimilate a problematic present, or of constructing a whitewashed present as an antidote to an intractable past. What is at stake is the deconstruction of the boundaries of the historical “in between.”

In recent films by independent filmmaker John Sayles, the defining elements in his depictions of contemporary America have been precisely such encounters with the kind of “past-present” that Bhabha theorizes and precisely such moments of choosing as Kristeva invokes. With that in mind, this chapter explores the following questions: In Sayles’s Lone Star (1996) and Limbo (1999), what is the nature of his films’ familiarity with the historical specters that people their particular locales, the southern- and northernmost geographic borders of the continental United States? What

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