NZASR Conference 2018, NZASR Conference 2015

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Atheist Aesthetics and Affect: Religion and Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy
Christopher Humphrey Hartney

Last modified: 2015-09-21


There is no doubt that Lars von Trier is a highly problematic artist, yet the three films of his Depression Trilogy are remarkable examples of deeply affective and effective film-making in our time. Antichrist (2009), and Melancholia (2011), if not exactly Nymphomaniac (2013) are in their own ways visually spellbinding. In this paper I explore their religious dimensions not in any traditional sense, but seek in their form and their stories the development of a particular early 21st Century style that I call a “new atheist aesthetic.” This is an aesthetic where the transcendent remains a central concern, and yet ultimately, and paradoxically never seeks to leave the physical reality about us. To most clearly expose and discuss this new “sacred-looking” aesthetic I view trilogy through a series of paradigms which shall include (a) extreme personal journeys, which leads to (b) considerations of the genre of the katabastic and the heroic and how this then develops (c) aspects of the personally transformative. These aspects will be discussed in relation to Goffman’s presentation of self, Tillich’s concepts of “ultimate concern,” Latour’s reflections of the constitutional structures of modernity, and finally Sloterdijk’s recent postulations on spheres of influence and smaller constitutional units.


Lars von Trier, Atheist Aesthetics, Film, Atheism, New Atheism