Bringing Bodies Back In: For a Phenomenological and Psychoanalytic Film Criticism of Embodied Cultural Identity

Film-Philosophy 15 (1):1-12 (2011)
This article reassesses the concept of identification in line with the increased importance phenomenology has taken on in film-philosophy of the 1990s and 2000s. In the 1970s and 1980s, a Lacanian psychoanalytic interpretation of identification dominated film theory and criticism, and spectatorial engagement with elements of films was understood as what psychoanalysis calls secondary identification – the identification with stable subject-positions (characters) in the film-text. But non-Lacanian psychoanalysis and Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology offer film-philosophy a very different understanding of identification as a non image-based, ‘blind’, bodily affective tie that is established between spectators and what Vivian Sobchack describes as ‘the sense and sensibility of materiality itself’ (Sobchack 2004, 65). By first exploring how this more bodily (for psychoanalysis, primary ) identification is theorized by psychoanalysts (Freud, Paul Schilder, Henri Wallon) and by film theorists (Kaja Silverman), the article proposes that film criticism make greater use of it in order to engage more meaningfully with the visible cultural specificities – size, skin colour, age, sex – of the images of bodies viewed on cinema screens. It is not just ‘the’ body that needs bringing back into thinking about film spectatorship, but culturally differentiated bodies , both on the screen and in the auditorium. A psychoanalytic and phenomenological film criticism of embodied cultural identity, one that attends to the materiality of the film and of the body-images and objects on the screen, may be the most culturally and politically useful successor to ‘screen’ theory of the 1970s and 1980s
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