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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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36 Identity or Identification



It is (obviously?) impossible to say the real person X is identical with the fictional person Y. X is exactly not the same as Y. Identification, nevertheless, insinuates an equation–as in X equals Y–, it drives towards an action: making something equal to something else. There are no provisions for a convincing distinction between real and fictional. At the basis of identification is an assumed equivalence. Such an assumption can be generated in different ways. It can be a hypothesis (a “theory”) having its origins in observation; deductions and inductions contribute their share but it can be argued that there will always be a rest of uncertainty. This is the most salient difference to identity which, at least according to important parts of philosophical teaching, can be determined in a precise and indisputable manner: that which is indistinguishable is identical. Yet as you take psychoanalysis into consideration, even identity tends to become unstable; the ego, though relatively autonomous, is not free of conflictual potential.

More or less recently, a further determining factor has become prominent, and it has quickly gained more importance and influence than most other collective sentiments, with the possible exception of nationalism. I am talking of identity “politics.” (Note my positioning of the inverted commas.) This has become so voguish that it lends itself easily to all kinds of mockery but there can be no doubt about the enormous socio-cultural impact of what in many ways is but an emphasis of truisms...

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