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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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31 Precision and Persuasion


It is possible to see life as a never-ending series of building defenses and constructing edifices of self-empowerment. This last term can be understood as having both a political implication and a psychological meaning. Mastering one’s existence by devising stratagems which protect what is basically always an unenviable position, improve the faculties already there, enable the ego to expand must, according to this conception, be seen as a sane attempt to improve things. “Fantasizing” about something better that goes beyond the narrow confines of what must seem like an undistinguished, predestined course therefore must neither be underestimated nor be considered as some kind of near-abnormality. This reading of things rejects two generally accepted interpretations. Activating the fantasy faculties’ potential cannot be regarded as something close to “childish” (as though throwing off one’s capabilities of imagination were prerequisite to become adult) nor as an unsound withdrawal from reality (an alarming sign of the onset of some mental disturbance).

There is a more convincing alternative reading. Some sort (possibly a definable type) of fantasy life should not only be considered as a contribution to a healthy development of human capacities (among them the talent for happiness) but also as a major factor in regard to creating better prospects in general, in particular in terms of achieving improved socio-political structures. Two caveats are necessary. It cannot be maintained that inclinations to develop strong approximations to fantasy, phantasm, phantasmagoria are warning signs of mental problems. (Some psychoanalytical and psychiatric schools...

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