Institut for Kultur og Læring

Anne Bettina Pedersen

Predefence by Anne Bettina Pedersen

Anne Bettina Pedersen predefences her PhD thesis: We Wet Your Wounds with Kisses and Tears: (Un)Making Sylvia Likens


26.08.2020 kl. 13.00 - 16.00



We Wet Your Wounds with Kisses and Tears: (Un)Making Sylvia Likens



This dissertation examines the prevalence of the trope of the beautiful white dead girl, with a specific focus on U.S. popular culture, and reveals how beauty ideals and notions of femininity grounded in white supremacist heteropatriarchal tenets lead to a privileging of some victims over others. The dissertation builds on earlier studies done on the trope of the beautiful dead girl, such as Elisabeth Bronfen's 1992 study, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic, and uses whiteness as a lens to show how white female victims are often framed as innocent because of their whiteness, which initially marks them as grievable and worthy of attention. The dissertation proposes that real-life murders involving white female victims, who live up to Eurocentric beauty ideals, often become a part of U.S. popular culture through a specific process that involves slut-shaming and victim-blaming. First, detailed accounts appear in news media, and then begins a process that step-by-step adds layers of fictionalization to the story. The story moves through the genre of true crime to works of fiction. Initially, the story sets up the victim as innocent and grievable (here, Judith Butler's concept of grievable versus ungrievable lives comes into play (Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2016)) and then frames the victim as somehow transgressive and therefore to blame for her own demise. Often, the narratives eroticize and aestheticize the victim's dead body, thereby drawing on Edgar Allan Poe's assertion in his 1846 essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," that "the death, then of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world." The dissertation gathers and examines a collection of texts based on or inspired by the 1965 torture and murder of Sylvia Marie Likens in Indianapolis, such as Kate Millett's 1979 feminist study, The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice, and illuminates how these texts are interconnected and how the trope of the beautiful white dead girl may be used to explain why this specific story has received so much attention. Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1985) is utilized to show how writers resurrect/make Sylvia Likens at the beginning of a narrative for the purpose of unmaking her through torture in the narrative. Thus, the act of telling her story may be viewed as an act of violence. Lastly, the dissertation offers an alternative form of storytelling, through the embroidering of a burial shroud for Sylvia Likens – an act grounded in the idea posed by the artist Louise Bourgeois that "The act of sewing is a process of emotional repair." Thus, the dissertation calls for more varied representations of victims as well as stories that favor care and empathy over the exploitation of victims.



  • Stine Adrian, Aalborg University



Registration is necessary and must be done to PhD-program Secretary Jeanette Arboe




Aalborg University, Department of Culture and Learning


Kroghstræde 3, 2.107

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