JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 299
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he is responsible for his death. For him, the traumatic history symbol-
ized by the ghost tells what it means not to act. His denial of the ghost
within the community of boys speaks of his attempt to elude a
terrifying memory of not being able to ward off (an other's) death, and
The Gothic of Dispossession
By means of Santi, an uncanny, ghostly other carried within the boys'
psyches, The Devil's Backbone reports of a cultural fascination and fear
of subjectivity's alienability. As the film unfolds, interior and exterior
forces fragment various characters' sense of self-possession or self-
identity. Those forces are coupled with affective states of terror and
abjection. By divesting the ego of its secure familial, social, and national
"legacy," that symbolic inheritance that underwrites a coherent, mean-
ingful identity, the film stages acts of subjective dispossession. The
film's title and its connection to dispossession-what the devil's back-
bone refers to and what it has to do with this story-comes to light when
Carlos asks Dr. Casares if he believes in ghosts:
Carlos: Do you believe in ghosts? I think I saw one here.
Dr. Casares: I'm a man of science. But Spain is full of superstition. Come
here. Europe is sick with fear now, and fear sickens the soul. And that, in
turn, makes us see things. (Points to fetuses with spinal deformities
preserved in large medical jars). In town they call this 'the devil's
backbone.' They say a lot of things. That this happens to children who
shouldn't have been born. 'Nobody's children.' But that's a lie. Poverty
and disease. That's all it is. The liquid they're in is called 'limbo water.'
For much of the rural populace around the orphanage, spinal deformities
like "the devil's backbone" mark a child as unloved by God and unfit for
human society, so that even in death the child remains unacknowledged,
denied burial in a sanctified, communal space. They are "nobody's
children"-children without a name, without an origin, without a narra-
tive (Figure 2). Their arrested development and preservation puts them
beyond time and change, outside history, locking them up in a kind of
liquid amber. Dr. Casares claims these explanations stem from benighted,
superstitious fear, and he insists on the narrative of the necessity of
Enlightenment rationalism and social progressivism. The film, however,
encourages skepticism: who can believe Dr. Casares when he makes a
living selling the "limbo water" to the locals, pandering to their beliefs
Here’s what’s next.
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/45/: accessed February 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .