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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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45 The “Omnivoyeuristic World”


This well-known Lacanian dictum has to be seen in reference to general behavior at the cinema; its basic correctness is corroborated by an unprejudiced reevaluation of the original notion of voyeur and voyeurism. Nowadays, and this is not just a façon de parler, everybody watches everybody (just as everybody listens in to what anybody has to say). A cardinal aspect is, of course, control and, hence, power. Concentrating on the aspect of the visual, the image, the regard, however, opens up the chance, nay, results in the necessity to rethink the entire framework of what, after all, is hardly more than a pronounced wish to behold. This, concomitantly, also suggests to rethink the referential grid of perversity: primarily a matter of definition and decree, it is highly open to different interpretations, and is surely a historical variable. Neither the wish to regard something–be it sexual acts–nor wanting to remain, oneself, unobserved and uninvolved can a priori be considered in any way “morally” disreputable, nefarious or even incriminating.

I shall now submit what can at this stage be no more than the first steps in the direction of prolegomena to a renewed theory of voyeurism. As so often, the OED provides a perfect starting point. Transferred from the primary application which of course refers to the sexual sphere (observing sexual acts of others), voyeur can also mean “a person who observes a particular situation without participation: a powerless or passive spectator.” This is basically...

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