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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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27 What Could Be, What Could Have Been

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Quite surprisingly, there are only very few movies set in an alternate history framework. Fatherland may come to mind, but significantly it was not a large budget venture. Yet it is easy to argue that, from the point of view of scholarly his- tory, it is a tool that shouldn’t be neglected. Habitually, though, the objection is: what’s the use. Most historians try to steer clear of it although it is revealing that frequently some sentences in most historiographical studies, and manifestly quite non-intentionally, give the game away: one way or another, they contain at least some morsels of “counterfactuality.” As a matter of fact, there can be little doubt that it is useful for historians to take into consideration counterfactuals, if only to better delineate the “correct course” of history. There are phases in history when things are on a razor’s edge: they could have turned either way. 1914/2014 gave us ample opportunity to realize that: it was nei- ther a given that Britain would enter the war, nor that a full-blown war would be kicked off in the first place–just because of an ultimatum that was no doubt lordly but not entirely unjustified. And that’s the point where one gets into the muddy waters of more far-reaching alternatives. Because why is it–or should it have been and still will be for the foreseeable future–that national sovereignty is something so sanctified that it still appears to be blasphemy when it is shyly queried? Let’s not forget...

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