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CFP Film-Philosophy - EMOTION
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Fata Morgana - Quadrimestrale di CInema e Visioni
Please find attached the introduction for the 12h issue of "Fata Morgana" which is dedicated to Emotion. The deadline for the submission of essays is April 15 2010. Please send your proposal, supplemented by a short abstract of 4 or 5 lines, by February 7 2010.
If there is an artistic expression, which has much more than all the others, based its persuasive force on the ability to emotionally engage its audience, it is cinema. This ability is the foundation of all the mechanisms of empathy that cinema, especially in its most classical and narrative form, can activate and under which it has been considered an instrument capable of manipulating consciences. On the other hand ever since Aristotle, we have known that a plausible story of the actions of great men, even if untrue, is the only thing capable of provoking the emotional response called catharsis in the spectator viewing the tragedy.
What happens when we look at an image? What happens exactly when this image is an artistic one? The question concerning the emotional grip, which a work of art has on its viewer, has been the focus of an intense debate since at least the nineteenth century, with reference to the classical theories of empathy of Vischer, Lipps, Worringer and Wölfflin. Film theory has since inherited and reworked these reflections in its own original way.
In this perspective, the famous pages that Eisenstein devoted to the ecstatic capacity that distinguishes every organic work of art, and where film is foremost, are very important. Ecstasy is to be understood as the ability that drives the work of art to come out of itself, resulting in the constant creation of a new composition. At the same time it forces the viewer to abandon the static position in which he is located, in order to emotionally adhere to the ideological content that the work of art expresses.
The ability to represent movement for the very first time, and to maintain its relationship with reality, are characteristics which have made film an emotional machine; it makes people laugh, cry and physically respond to its demands, long before it makes them reflect and think critically. Thanks to the relevance of these characteristics, we are able to differentiate cinema from all the other forms of art which have preceded it. By doing so it is possible to explain the enormous amount of theoretical contributions, which have aimed at defining the experience felt by film spectators, as totally unique and recognizable. Film studies has thoroughly examined this issue ever since the first reflections of the French scholars: Souriau, Michotte and Wallon. Film studies continued on this path with the more modern considerations about the empathic, emotional and affective implications, which characterize the perceptions of a film, and that Morin talks about in his The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man. In the more recent past the film theorist Metz, in On the Impression of Reality in the Cinema, deals with the relationship that exists between the impression of reality and the participation of the viewer in the film. The most contemporary of the theoretical contributions on emotion in cinema are Casetti’s theories presented in his Inside the Gaze. The Fiction Film and Its Spectator and in Eye of the Century. Film, Experience, Modernity.
Why then, return to reflect on this much debated and controversial topic today? Because of science, namely the discovery of mirror neurons by a group of researchers, including Vittorio Gallese and Giacomo Rizzolatti. This discovery allows us, for the first time ever, to provide a neurological and physiological explanation to all the motor and emotional responses that characterize the viewing of an image, artistic or not, by a spectator. If we can be emotionally moved and we can react at a physical level to a visual impulse it is because, according to this research, we can empathize with what we are seeing. We react emotionally and physically to a gesture even when it is only represented in an image because, through the activation of our mirror neurons, we respond at neuronal levels exactly as we would respond if we ourselves were making that gesture. Such a discovery has quickly shown important implications in the way that history and theory of the arts, as well as aesthetics, has traditionally spoken about emotion as a major component in the enjoyment of the arts.
In volume number 12 of “Fata Morgana” we will be able to discuss these issues with David Freedberg. An art historian, he believes that such scientific discoveries are tangible opportunities for all of the human sciences to expand their borders, and ultimately find a final and comprehensive explanation to issues that have long been quickly dismissed or even ignored. Certainly among them is the role emotions play on an artistic image, which stands out only thanks to its exemplary capacity to affect its audience emotionally. According to Freedberg, behind the serious assumption of these ideas hides the possibility of definitively overcoming the rift, which has so far been more or less invincible at least since Descartes, that modern thought has created in regards to the relationship between thought and emotion; culture and nature.
This conviction must not open the door to a sort of scientific reductionism but to new discussions. Like the reevaluation of the Darwinian notions about the nature of man and that of his emotions in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. From its origins cinema has taken charge of this task. Béla Balázs deals with these issues in Visible Man which shows how cinema can lead to the complete exteriorization of the emotional nature of man. A nature which finds expression in the physiognomic features of a face and in a spontaneous or reproduced gesture. The ability of film to represent the most secret and intimate side of a face, using close-ups, ends up taking a major role in attempting to understand how it is possible to express human emotions.
It is worth returning to ponder on this as science has given us new tools, which should not be taken at face value, to assess an issue as old as the one concerning the artistic expression of emotions.