Intensities of feeling: Cloverfield, the uncanny, and the always near collapse of the city

Pile, Steve (2011). Intensities of feeling: Cloverfield, the uncanny, and the always near collapse of the city. In: Bridge, Gary and Watson, Sophie eds. The New Blackwell Companion to the City. Blackwell Companions to Geography. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 288–303.



Cloverfield, the movie, was premiered on January 16 2008 and went on general release the day after. It was not the biggest or best movie of 2008, though it is to date the largest grossing January release ever – taking about $40 million in the first weekend alone, eventually taking $170 million (easily recouping the $30 million spent on it). My interest in this movie is its undisguised re-presentation of some of the key visual and experiential tropes of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 9, 2001. The puzzle for me lies in two directions: first, why “repeat” 9/11, if only in fantasy; and, second, how is it that the trauma of 9/11 can be so accurately re-presented? One way I seek to think this through is by using Freud’s notion of the uncanny. The uncanny is a likely candidate for understanding the horror both of a monster flick such as Cloverfield, and also of many of the stories that were told about the attack on the World Trade Center. The problem is that uncanniness does not quite cover Cloverfield, nor indeed 9/11 after 9/11. So, I turn to Freud’s notion of the “compulsion to repeat,” to see if this has some purchase on the re-presentation of a trauma – as in Cloverfield’s case – in only a slightly modified form. The product of this investigation is to help us rethink the relationship between cities and affect, and how we view cities as sites where there are “intensities of feeling” (see Massey et al., 1999).

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