Cinema and wild meaning: phenomenology, classical Indian theories and embodiment in cinema

Mullik, Gopalan (2015) Cinema and wild meaning: phenomenology, classical Indian theories and embodiment in cinema. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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The aim of this project has been to explore the possibility of applying Phenomenology and Classical Indian Theories to cinema with the hope that their systematic application would generate new insights in a deeper understanding of cinema. This need has been felt in the context of the existing film discourse having reached a stage of stagnation, even a “crisis”, in recent times. The reason for this moribund state of contemporary film discourse has been analyzed in my thesis as due to the failure of the existing film theories to incorporate film audiences‟ ordinary experiences of cinema, viz. the romance, the thrills, and the emotions which motivate them to come to the cinema halls all over the world. The film theories have failed to acknowledge the importance of this phenomenon which is built on the audiences‟ embodied experiences of the world and their socio-cultural practices that have grown on top of them which together form, at the very basic level, what constitutes the audiences‟ ordinary response to cinema. It has been argued in this thesis that, while this very basic response of the audiences to cinema has been entirely by-passed by the existing film theories, they have concentrated instead on how the audiences should ideally respond to cinema. As a result, the film theories present a sanitized version of the audience experiences that entirely miss the „gut-feelings‟ that cinema generates among them.
It is unfortunate that film theorization has progressively moved away from this experience. Thus, while the schools of realism and montage, which together constitute the two contrary branches of classical film theory, deal with the nature of reality underlying the surface reality of cinema, contemporary film theory, based on the notion of disembodied vision, render the audiences into passive viewers manipulated by a subversive ideology operated by a schemeing bourgeoisie and cognitive film theory considers the audiences to be transparently intelligent entities, who, like an ideal buyer, infer the film narrative by optimally using the clues provided by the film and respond appropriately. It has been argued in this work that none of these theories acknowledge the film audiences‟ normal response to cinema, thereby missing the very starting point from where theorizations should have started in the first place. When phenomenology and classical Indian theories are applied to cinema, they do not assign extraordinary powers
of perception to the audiences who, by dint of it, should tear asunder the „fake‟ reality presented on screen; rather, they help to understand how normal processes of perception operate producing identifications and their corresponding affective states among the audiences that keep them glued to cinema all over the world.
Merleau-Ponty‟s phenomenology and Nyāya theory are similar in revealing how the audiences‟ perception generates meanings and emotions on the basis of their embodied experiences of the world and the socio-cultural practices built up around them. In this connection, both Nyāya and Merleau-Ponty‟s notion of synaesthetic experiences make the audio-visual images to be so much richer than has been acknowledged so far. Further, Nyāya, by positing that the perception of things is a product of their mode of appearance and mode of presentation, offers a rare insight into how the perceptual process works under normal circumstances. Nyāya offers a further insight into the perceptual process by holding that, at the most basic level, the perceiver constructs an integrated whole of the elements occurring within view in order to ensure that the organism offers an unique response to whatever is confronting it essential for the survival of the organism. Since this integration occurs in terms of the organism‟s embodied and socio-cultural practices of life, it represents a process of narrative integration of a scene which remains in-built in the human psyche. This aspect assumes crucial importance in case of cinema.
Bharata‟s theory of aesthetic pleasure or rasa delineates how various levels of identification develop between an artwork and its audiences which, in turn, evoke their corresponding affective states among them that enable them to relive a scene portrayed in the work. A question which had defied a satisfactory solution for a long time, why do the audiences enjoy tragedies, Abhinavagupta offers the solution that this happens because the audiences identify with the fictional mode of the artwork even before they have set their foot in the auditorium. By removing the audiences from their practical life, it has the effect of generalizing the audiences‟ future experiences in relation to the artwork. In this state, aesthetic experiences produce what has been called “ownerless” emotions among the audiences which are “tasted” from outside rather than personally “suffered” by them. Bharata‟s theory also anticipates Merleau-Ponty‟s notion of the chiasm involving
subjective-objective alterations between subjects and objects in an artwork generating a much more enriching experience among the audiences.
Ānadavardhana‟s theory of dhvani or suggestion conveys to the audiences the sense of a scene to the audiences that inheres beyond the meaning that occurs on the surface. Thus, the expression “The village is on the river Ganges” not only conveys a sense of „coolness‟ and „serenity‟ associated with a river, but also connotes „piety‟ and „holiness‟ to a section of people for whom Ganges happens to be a holy river. In a larger sense, this process, dhvani theory gives voice to certain experiences by human beings which they cannot express normally due to reaons such as social repression, existential crisis, or erasure of memory all of which keep influencing their actions on the surface. By helping human beings to confront what remains supressed within them, dhvani seeks to restore full subjectivity to human beings. In this sense, dhvani becomes one of the most potent instruments of understanding the deeper relevance that cinema has for the audiences.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Film,Television and Media
Depositing User: Users 9280 not found.
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2017 10:17
Last Modified: 30 Mar 2017 11:40

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