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The Mind Screen

Identification Desire and Its Cinematic Arena

Georg Schmid

For well over a century cinema has exerted enormous influence, yet many questions regarding its fascination remain unanswered. Films work so well because the viewers tend to unconsciously identify with the actors/actresses. The desire to become another, substituting identity by identification, can be traced to the illusion that the filmic heroes/heroines are immortal – identifying with them raises the possibility of gaining «deathlessness.» Viewers can, without real life risks, experiment with the existential drafts presented; the power of imagination is mobilized. Based on a multidisciplinary approach (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, plus a healthy dose of film history), this book presents prolegomena of a philosophy of cinema.

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3 “I” Is Another

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Although I do not intend to go into Nietzschean reflections, much less into Cartesian or classical theories of moral philosophy, let alone into reasonings about Rimbaud, the puzzle of the individuals’ identity will have to be discussed at quite some length. Indeed it is one of the essential items in the present analy- sis. The Rimbaldian formula is therefore welcome as it poses, be it implicitly, the question whether the individual subject (under reserve of a working defini- tion) does in fact entertain relations with something else, something strange or indefinite, something “outside” of the person in question, an Other, then. Let us, for the moment, suspend schizophrenic possibilities as well as the dop- pelgänger fantasies, let alone the inane prying “who” one might be, where one comes from, where one might be going. Instead, continuing with Groucho’s quest who it is on the other side of the membrane or in the mirror, let’s rather take the cinema serious for once. Which does by no means exclude letting it amuse us. Let’s consider Groucho’s predicament: he is not sure whether, what he observes, is himself (in a mirror) or a show put on especially for him. In a sense, “cinema” or reality. The one translates into the other; just as Groucho sees “himself ” equidistant on that other side of what we’ve termed membrane, in a similar way the spectator outside of the set-up (or the set piece) watches the action from a superordinated perspective. But although the spectators know...

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