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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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40 Identification versus Identity and the Susceptibility of Schizophreniform Conduct


No one would claim that much cinema going causes schizophrenia or schizoid dispositions. Mental disturbances do not come about because of decisions to do or not to do this or that; rather, they are caused by experiences ranging from the mere unpleasant to the truly traumatizing; in other words, you neither choose to be sane nor to be mentally ill (not that such attributions are justly frowned upon). And assumptions about “normal” comportment have come under criticism exactly because of their regulative pretensions. Moreover, the very notion of a stable and unmistakable identity appears to be somewhat discredited. Could the reticence to consider identities as a solid reference points be traced to the realization that they are much more fragile than assumed for a long time? Thought to be a rather reliable expression of personality, they in fact exhibit contiguity of several components not necessarily logically coupled. Colloquially it is often attempted to express this circumstance by resorting to expressions such as showing different faces or simply by stating that the person in question is in a distinctive mood.

We have already established that identification is quite an ambiguous term. To identify somebody or something as this or that, or to identify with somebody, real or fictional. To be able to do the former, it is necessary to ascertain her or his identity (recall the bizarre French usage of pièce d’identité for identification card), the latter has not least to be seen in a context...

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