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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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55 Eros and Thanatos. And the Lives of Others


We have already encountered the problem of a marked divergence of the terms Trieb, instinct and pulsion; in Italian istinto and pulsione can both be used. (Perhaps, in English, dynamic, tendency, current or penchant would be, if not more apt, at least less charged?) Freud himself routinely used, in the guise of circumlocutions, many derivations of Trieb; yet it must be obvious that semantic and etymological expositions can only lead so far. What drives, what urges goad us? Now and then, I am sure, we have to step back a little and try to get our bearings by shedding some of the weight of too much Bildung, knowledge and, yes, seriousness.

In Last Action Hero Schwarzenegger, briefly appearing as Hamlet (as pictured by the adolescent, following some guidance of his teacher but developing his own interpretation), says, “to be or not to be: not to be!”–throwing a bomb, and smoking a cigar. (I’d have added: “you bet.” “Not to be, you bet.”) Funny, yes, but also true. We won’t “be.” One way or another, we’ll die, sooner rather than later. That’s trite crap? Yes, exactly. Not our fault. It can–indeed should–be argued that everything we do, anything, is just a technique to keep the thoughts about death at bay. Perhaps the very term “death instinct” is misleading (without “contextual protection”)? The deception is, I insist, not least caused by the use of “death” instead of “dying.” By “deputizing” actors/actresses with the inevitable fate...

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