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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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53 A Matter of Untranslatability

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Just as it is possible, indeed probable, that emotions are not easily transposed from one cultural complex to another, there also is the much more trivial-seeming problem of enabling a movie, shot in a specific language, to be understandable in another one. But somewhat surprisingly the two difficulties are more interlocked than could at first be guessed. It’s even possible to assert that saudade or Wehmut (or Fernweh or some such emotion) appears different only outwardly: in effect it is always a case of melancholy. To an extent, the alleged dissimilarity is reducible to the degree the language in question is Latinized. German is, among the European languages, one of the less Latinized ones although it was not least made that way by a rather insane tendency, in particular around 1900, to Germanize the language as decisively as possible, “purifying” it of foreign elements. That certainly contributed to abstruseness and near-unintelligibility. (Strange that the Germans who plumed themselves on their “special relationship” with Latin and even Greek thought it de- sirable to invent a very large number of words virtually incomprehensible to oth- ers. But there have always been vogues like that, there still are in France. Oh horror of horrors when a word of Anglo-Saxon origins creeps into French. Not to worry, though: it is immediately equipped with a pronunciation not understandable to anyone not French. It is becoming “franglais.” To be sure, the same thing happens with all other languages too: in France any language sounds French.) As...

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