evolving ecological media culture(s)

EMI Week 2


Continuing with notes for Chapter 2, beginning at p. 49…

1) Chapter 2 (from p. 49 on):

(a) “Peirce’s Categories and the Film Experience”

The first three paragraphs here summarize what’s been said so far and then discuss cinema as a form of “moving imagery” that presents “the experience of experiencing.” What does this mean? What does it mean to say that cinema is both perceptual and hermeneutic? (Note that the word hermeneutics comes from the name of Hermes, ancient Greek god of transitions and boundaries, who was the intermediary between gods and mortals, emissary and deliverer of messages from the gods. His messages were not self-evident, but required effort to interpret. Hermeneutics is the art and study of interpretation.)

The remainder of the section presents and applies C. S. Peirce’s (pronounced as in the word “purse”) definition of a sign, the three kinds of signs (icon, index, and symbol), and Peirce’s three phenomenological categories (firstness, secondness, thirdness). (“Phenomenology” means the study of phenomena, appearances, or things that we find in our experience.) All of these were discussed in Monday’s lecture; see the presentation — added in “Course Materials” — if you need to refresh your memory about any of those. These are all important in our study of cinema.

The other references — e.g., to Sean Cubitt and Gilles Deleuze (starting at the bottom of p. 53 and continuing to the end of the section) — are not as important for us, except insofar as they help elucidate the three categories.

(b) “Spectacle, narrativity, signness”

This section starts with some historical background about the study of film. What’s most important here is that film history begins with a focus on the spectacle of cinema, but that gets overtaken by an interest in narrative (stories!). Having a framework that gives each of them their due — along with the third element, meaning and interpretation — allows us to get a better overall understanding of film.

The rest of the section discusses this triad in detail. It’s the third of the “three triads” and is important to the rest of the book and course.

A summary:

Triad 1 = The film world (geomorphism, biomorphism, anthropomorphism)
Triad 2 = The film experience (spectacle, narrativity, semiosis/exoreferentiality) (note: “exo” refers to “outside,” so this term means “references to things outside the film”)
Triad 3 = The film–world relation (material ecologies, mental/perceptual ecologies, social ecologies)

The final paragraph in this section discusses the neuropsychology of perception. These details aren’t crucial for us; they are there for your interest.

(c) “Scenes, moments, and cinematic impact”

Much of the book — and much of our discussion of films — will often focus on “high-impact” moments, scenes, and episodes of films. This section states why these are important.

The second paragraph again goes into neuropsychology (for your interest only).

The last three paragraphs in this section (and the chapter) summarize things and discuss the upshot: “that films can expand viewers’ perceptions of ecological ontology.” The remainder of the book will focus on how they do that.

This notion of “ecological ontology” is a key concept, but is not easy to define. It is related to “process-relational ontology,” but not identical. Here’s a quick definition of the differences. (Recall that “ontology” refers to the nature and structure of things and the universe.)

An ecological ontology is an understanding of the world and of things as ecologically interrelated: the world is relational, dynamic, systemic, and interrelated in complex ways. Expanding viewers’ perceptions of ecological ontology means expanding their capacity to perceive and understand the ecological relationships between things.

Process-relational ontology is a kind of ecological ontology. It posits that things in their essential nature are relational events and processes. Relational events are what’s ultimately most real. (In other words, it’s not just that things are related; relations are the real things, and the objects they relate together are secondary — they appear to be separate, distinct objects, but they are not.)

2) Exercise

Having finished reading the chapter, please do the following exercise:

1. Re-read page 47 and the top of p. 48 (the paragraphs beginning Before connecting this ontology…” and ending with “…alter our perception of the extra-cinematic world.”).
2. Then try to come up with your own example of a “moment of experience.” Use something that just happened to you. See if you can divide it up into the three terms: the first (a general quality), the second (the reaction to it), and the third (the meaning that comes from it).
3. Try that with another phenomenon (or moment of experience).
4. Write these down so that we can discuss them in class.

3) Other reading/viewing

a. Read the section entitled “Hot Living,” from A World Without Us by Alan Weisman. This can be found starting about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way down the page on this web page.

b. Watch the following clip from the Slavoj Žižek documentary “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema”:

Žižek (the ž’s are pronounced like the “ge” in “mirage”, so it sounds like “Zhee-zhek”) is a famous philosopher and cultural theorist whose psychoanalytical approach to cinema will be discussed later in our textbook. He has visited UVM a few times and may come later this school year. His East European accent takes a little getting used to, but this clip includes subtitles. Note that the term “id” is a reference to the Freudian psychoanalytical notion of that part of the psyche that is not our own concept of our selves (“Ego”) nor the internalized voice of parents and other caregivers and authorities (“Super-Ego”), but which is the “thing” (the literal translation of “Id” from Latin) that harbors mysterious impulses that are difficult to control.



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