Philosophical Problems of Cognitive Film Theory
Ludvig Hertzberg email@example.com Dept of Cinema Studies The University of Stockholm, Sweden
Outline of current research project - rough draft
There is a widespread confusion over the matter of how to accurately characterize the film viewing experience. Are we duped or not? Or how are we to describe our involvement with films, fictional as well as non-fictional? Which theory lends itself most effectively to such an investigation? And so on. Lately, a branch inspired by the (in some corners) fashionable ‘cognitive science’ has emerged to challenge what could very crudely be called subjectivist approaches, which for a long time have been predominant (in Europe at least). In my thesis, I would like to focus on this cognitive strand and suggest a distinction between a materialist approach on the one hand, and a dualist one on the other, in order to clarify essential differences as well as similarities. Essentially, I will try to argue that both positions offer a necessarily reductive understanding of what characterizes the film viewing experience. I'll also discuss the respective, individual philosophical relevance of various writers in the field, such as Carroll, Currie and Smith, regardless of their 'perspectives', to refute a frequently occuring 'intentional fallacy' (prejudice) in regard to this strand of film theory. (That is, I'd like to argue both for and against their projects.) Anyway, under scrutiny, many (if not most) of the widely asked questions show themselves to be nonsense, i.e. only possible to answer if one such theoretical outlook is chosen. This confusion, involving issues of perception, absorbtion, ideology etc, seems to me to stem from an ill-advised conception of the language used in expressing our experiences. The tendency to theorize, and to look to the natural sciences for models of explanation, should in my opinion be abandoned - or at least kept in check - in favour of a descriptive method of investigation, brought about by questioning and offering reminders.
One way to approach the whole deal would be to attend to particulars, such as e.g. the experience of re-viewing movies. Often enough, we will return to movies we have already seen (‘déja-vù’, as it happens), sometimes having forgotten their plots etc, and sometimes when we still can remember them well. By discussing such experiences, I hope to be able to question the value of various prevalent ‘a priori’ theories, materialist, dualist (such as cognitivism) and idealists (with notions of a suspension of disbelief, in some form or other), since they cannot give satisfactory accounts of why our ‘recidivist’ experience differs in important repects from the ‘original’ one, and, in effect, why it is similar in others. More importantly, though, I think a study of re-viweing will able me to raise some central questions and reminders concerning our relation to movies, which might pass by unnoticed in more orthodox ‘research’ (i.e. theory building), e.g. the importance of considering the actual, individual, *social* viewer as opposed to some mechanistically conceived construct. These issues, however, will be worked into, and foregrounded by the overall critique of the reductive, Cartesian *a priori* nature of the cognitive approach to film studies.
To drop a few names, I am inspired by the language philosophy of the later Wittgenstein, ('including' Malcolm, Beardsmore, Tilghman, Hanfling) and to a lesser extent by philosophers like Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Bourdieu and Bakhtin. As for people writing on film and fiction who are of prime interest - against whom I also have notable reservations, Noël Carroll, Murray Smith, Stanley Cavell, Peter Lamarque and Berys Gaut are especially noteworthy, though I’m also curious as to what many in the Continental tradition, like Deleuze and Metz have to offer.