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Michael Haneke’s film The White Ribbon (2009) narrates violent attacks that disrupt the cyclical life of a German village in 1913–14. The narrator frames the violence as a study of the origins of fascism: the alleged perpetrators are children, who rebel against the disciplinary powers of patriarchal authority. Coming to maturity during World War I, they will have become the generation of Nazism’s followers. In contrast to psycho-historical readings of The White Ribbon as a cinematic exploration of the causal relationship between the authoritarian formation of the juvenile subject and her susceptibility to fascism’s redemptive illusions, I propose an anti-psychological interpretation of the film. This reading seeks to understand The White Ribbon in terms of Haneke’s aesthetic and formal choices, which underpin his notion of “ethical spectatorship.” I argue that the film offers a dual metaphorical construction of the nexus between memory and the cinematic image, and of the mnemonic and affective aspects of the history of violence. Haneke forges a link between the European attitude to its history of fascism and its ongoing politics of exclusion, arising from its covert fascist desire for the unified self. The significance of The White Ribbon in the ongoing debate on history/memory thus lies in its critique of Europe’s current self-understanding as having outgrown its violent past.

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