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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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52 Einfühlung and Nachvollzug


Does “empathy” really render the Germanophone Einfühlung well? Acquiring insight into or understanding of something; getting into the spirit of something; sympathetic understanding and intuition; projecting oneself into someone else’s mind; the capacity for getting into the spirit of things–there are lots of circumlocutions and periphrases neither of which is really apt and pertinent. It’s even worse with Nachvollzug which seems an ordinary enough word. True, as a noun it is not frequently used, but even the verb nachvollziehen is at best deficiently rendered by “to reconstruct.”

It is nobody’s idea of developing an argument by first choosing the language in which it will be expressed. That’s what translations are for; but profound knowledge of several languages would be preferable. In any event, there remain untranslatables. Although it may be possible to find approximations, precise equivalents often are inaccurate, elusive or outright delusive. An insurmountable complication? To an extent, yes. Because no long-winded explanation comes close to the perceived precision of immediate understanding. (The only consolation is that such understanding, reputedly faultless, frequently is just an illusion. To paraphrase an Eastwood one-liner: I don’t understand shit.) Still, it stands to reason that expressing mental processes of extraordinary complexity, intimacy, intricacy by protracted and loquacious disserting is less than satisfactory.

Why is that? Immediate, direct perception does seem to mobilize the emotional strata of our mental construct more than verbal expressions. In the latter case the powers of reasoning kick in whereas in...

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