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Spaces of normality, pictures of monstrosity: Socio-spatial configurations of the abnormal in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man

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David Lynch’s film The Elephant Man (1980), provides a narrative to explore concepts of normality and abnormality, specifically, how each is shaped by and in return shapes social space, scientific discourse, and institutional power. Against the socio-historical background of Victorian London around 1880, the article draws on Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia and Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the narrative chronotope to analyse the cinematic framing and systemic challenge presented by the extraordinary life of ‘abnormal’ titular hero John Merrick. Investigating spaces like the hospital, freak show, and theatre, this article argues that Lynch’s film transcends its historical subject matter by fostering awareness about how we conceive of and are governed by socio-spatial and institutional configurations of (ab)normality.
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Keywords: David Lynch; The Elephant Man; chronotope; heterotopia; normalism; normality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Paderborn

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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  • Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction. The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society.

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