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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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14 Why “Desire”?

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The term desire (or désir in French) makes most people think of sexual appetite, nothing bad in itself. It is not, however, the primary meaning I have in mind here although it does play a role, too. It is the calamity of translations which all too often set us on tracks not altogether wrong but however slightly awry. When Freud speaks of Wunsch, it refers to something decidedly more neutral and general than desire; still, wish is a little too, well, wishy-washy to render Wunsch appropriately: think of Wunschtraum, wish dream, and you can begin to appreciate what is at stake.

Deriving pleasure or satisfaction from attaining something: that’s what the unerring OED gives for desire, a longing, something longed for (I am abbreviating). That indeed comes very close to what I have in mind. That is not to say that I reject the psychoanalytical accent on the sexual aspect; rather I insist on its particular character–it often is a co-constitutive factor but seldom the primary one. But we also have to keep in mind that psychoanalysis has, so to speak, been forced to emigrate to the Anglo-Saxon world, to France and a number of other countries: and as it changed the linguistic realm, some meanings have been ineradicably altered. The French (particularly Lacan) have, by way of frequently purely semantic means, “intromitted” a number of concepts that surely can stand alone but sometimes have little to do with original Freudian ideas. And it...

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