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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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44 Limits of Identification

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Who can you identify with at all? This seems to be a simple question; it should be posed by everyone; and I think that, more or less consciously, practically everybody poses it at least now and then. At this point I am not talking about wishful identification (with heroic persons for instance) or comparable phenomena which come about automatically without conscious effort on the part of the identifying one. What I have in mind is to take a closer look at the possibilities and impossibilities of developing feelings of empathy: in many ways it is, as I’ll show, a question of comparability and “non-biological consanguinity,” semblance and proximity.

This will lead to a more delicate inquiry than could be suspected at first. It is therefore expedient to clear away some imaginable misinterpretations that could lead to jarring notes later on. There sometimes is the requirement to confront a problem head on which is normally keenly avoided. To what an extent can you really “translate” yourself into a different culture (imagine an atheist vis-à-vis a religious fanatic) or, come to that, even role models which are preprogrammed by social stratification? But let’s think of two quite simple examples: it is said that the very rich experience life in a completely different way from ordinary people (“how’s the weather on your planet?”); and there is that (possibly apocryphal) story of a Westerner who has lived in Japan for many decades and has taken on an absolutely authentic...

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