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The Trace of Absence: An Examination of The Discourse that Replaces the Black Dahlia

By: Mercia Rozario

The Black Dahlia murder case was one of the most infamous homicides in American history. However, it is memorable not only for the violent nature of the crime but also for the intrigues, theories and speculations it is enveloped in. Following the murder in 1947, it has been connected with several other serial killing and homicidal incidents related to female victims-an examination of this entire network brings to mind the idea of the Derridean "trace" as the haunting of an absence: the trace of absence left behind by the murders is something that seems to threaten the presence of social stability and identity. The severed and mutilated bodies of female victims in these infamous and notable murder cases function as a metaphor for this trace.

Following her murder, Elizabeth Short’s (the Black Dahlia) absence, i.e. not only the absence of her living body but also the absence of her voice and her life-story, was filled in by media speculations and fictional representations. This paper will attempt to examine these representations in the light of Guy Dubord’s theory of the "spectacle" with a Derridean pun on the words "spectre" and "spectacle". The speculations relating to the Black Dahlia have been reproduced over the years in the form of spectacles for mass consumption—in the end we find that, as Baudrillard mentions in Simulacra and Simulation, we are dealing with a vast structure of simulation where at the center the truth is absent. This vast "simulacra" of speculation is a reflection of the mental constructs of the agents reproducing these speculations. Hence, this paper shall also try to examine the gender, political, economic and sociological structure of America during the time period of the Black Dahlia murder.


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