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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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29 Identity with Oneself?


Ever since Freud–or, for that matter, Frege–one of the most debated fields somewhere between psychology and anthropology, ontology and phenomenology has been the conundrum of self-identity and group identities. Decades ago I wrote a book one chapter of which was entitled “Sinn und Bedeutung”–a clear reference to Frege. It was a rather clumsy attempt to differentiate between mind and consciousness on the one hand and meaning and signification on the other, but it soon became clear to me that there was no meaningful, true, linguistic correspondence between the connotations of the German terms and those in other languages. Needless to say, that’s not due to a particular quality of German; it results from virtual non-translatability between all languages (supposedly equivalent terms nearly never are coextensive). Neither is it simply caused by different philosophical traditions: it is rather a matter of how the instruments of social understanding are charged with comprehensibility, and that is to a large extent dependent on socio-cultural idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, it is actually determined by the degree to which the accent is placed on individuals rather than on a whole society or vice versa. Individualism and volonté générale, for example, are quite incompatible.

Some years later, when I resolutely turned to Freud & Co as well as to semiology, I had to realize that one is not only confronted with permanent constructions of meaning but also with an extremely shaky relation between what is usually referred to as identity...

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