Medium 9780253020871

Speaking Pictures: Neuropsychoanalysis and Authorship in Film and Literature

Views: 655
Ratings: (0)

Alistair Fox presents a theory of literary and cinematic representation through the lens of neurological and cognitive science in order to understand the origins of storytelling and our desire for fictional worlds. Fox contends that fiction is deeply shaped by emotions and the human capacity for metaphorical thought. Literary and moving images bridge emotional response with the cognitive side of the brain. In a radical move to link the neurosciences with psychoanalysis, Fox foregrounds the interpretive experience as a way to reach personal emotional equilibrium by working through autobiographical issues within a fictive form.

List price: $31.99

Your Price: $25.59

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

12 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

1. Changing Configurations in Theories of Fictive Representation

ePub

Charting a course through the waters of theoretical speculation on the nature and function of fictive representation from earliest times to the present requires one to tack and turn to avoid shifting sandbanks. The reason for this tortuous path is that, while almost everything that has been said about fiction has been around for some time, the ways in which different schools of thought inflect these insights vary greatly, depending on whatever intellectual and ideological currents are flowing most powerfully when a particular theory is formulated. In this chapter, I provide an overview of the evolving ways in which fictive representation has been conceived in theory throughout history.

Writing about 335 BC, Aristotle claimed that “poetry” (from Greek poiesis, or “making”–that is, a work of fictive invention) derives from mimēsis–an instinct toward representation that is “innate in human beings from childhood,” through which we learn and in which we gain pleasure.1 With respect to tragedy, which was the specific genre he was discussing, Aristotle believed that the function of the representation was to effect “through pity and fear the catharsis of such emotions.”2 Earlier, Simonides of Ceos (556–468 BC), according to Plutarch in his essay “De gloria Atheniensium” (c. AD 100), had made the claim that “painting [is] inarticulate poetry and poetry articulate painting.”3

 

2. Why Does Fictive Representation Exist?

ePub

The universal need for human beings to represent their world and explore the meaning of their experience by creating imaginative (or “imaged”) stories is attested by history and confirmed in our times by the mass consumption of fiction in cinematic, televisual, and printed forms. In short, fictive representation is intrinsic to the way the human brain has evolved in response to the need to ensure biological survival. As discussed in the previous chapter, theorists since classical times have speculated on the formal and thematic attributes of fictive representation and on the effect it has on the reader/spectator. Understandably, however–because of a lack of scientific knowledge of the brain–there has yet to be a fully satisfying theoretical account of why fiction exists or how it comes into being, given that until recently we have not had sufficient knowledge of what takes place biologically to motivate and shape the creative process. As Eric Kandel puts it, “For biologists, the study of creativity ranks with the study of consciousness as being on the edge of the unknown.”1

 

3. The Wellsprings of Fictive Creativity

ePub

Fictive representation, while necessary as a means of facilitating communication between the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain, does not emerge out of nowhere; it is prompted by motivations that arise out of the brain’s emotional systems, and is designed either to express or induce emotion(s), or both. The rich history of humans creating stories shows that the affects involved can be combined in a variety of ways that are as infinite as the subtle differences between every human being and between every human experience. Within this variety and complexity, however, a certain number of predominant motivations can be discerned, which eventuate in a range of fiction categories that we have come to identify as “genres,” distinguished by the nature and manner of their preoccupations. Before the role of genres can be fully apprehended, however, their relationship to the basic affects needs to be established.

At the heart of all impulses to create fiction is the SEEKING system that prompts humans, like all other mammals, “to search for, find, and acquire all of the resources that are needed for survival.” This is an instinctual-emotional impulse, according to Panksepp, that is involved in the appetitive phases of all of the other emotional systems.1 When the SEEKING system aligns itself with other affects that connote perturbing emotions in the individual, such as GRIEF/PANIC (associated with separation distress), the fiction it prompts tends to be deeply personal, as are almost all auteur films as well as a great preponderance of literary fictions. When SEEKING aligns itself with CARE and adopts a social focus, a different kind of fictive work is produced, one that primarily harnesses the moving power of affect for the sake of addressing issues that have consequences for the well-being of a collectivity. One can see this kind of concern in social problem novels such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855), which describes the “misery and hateful passions caused by the love of pursuing wealth as well as the egoism, thoughtlessness and insensitivity of manufacturers.” It is also seen in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery novel. Many fiction films similarly focus on social issues, such as Days of Glory (Rachid Bouchareb, 2006), dealing with the experience of soldiers from the Maghreb who fought for France in World War II, only to find themselves the victims of discrimination in France, and Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011), which addresses the phenomenon of sexual addiction, currently widespread, and the misery it can cause.

 

4. The Materials of Fictive Invention

ePub

In chapters 1 and 2, I establish why fiction enacts more than merely a didactic or entertainment purpose, suggesting that it has a mind-altering function more complex than propositional logic alone can accomplish–that is, without emotional reactions having been processed into thought. I argue that fictive representation, motivated by the SEEKING system, activates areas in the right hemisphere of the brain to enable communication across, and integration between, the two hemispheres, which in turn allows material that would otherwise remain cognitively unrepresented in the unconscious mind to be brought into conscious awareness. This process itself, I suggest, depends on the “moving” power of emotions that arise from the basic affective systems with which evolution has equipped humans, along with all other mammals, as an adaptation designed to increase the chances of survival and enhance well-being.

I also argue that fictive representation accomplishes its tasks through the construction of fantasies that allow unacknowledged or disavowed affect, as well as affect consciously experienced as a result of environmental circumstances, to be processed psychologically. This is a precondition for the regulation of affective experience and hence the management of life itself. Before exploring in more detail how fantasies actually work in literary and cinematic fiction, it is necessary to examine some of the representational devices and strategies they comprise.

 

5. The Informing Role of Fantasy

ePub

As suggested in the previous chapter, the resources of fictive representation that I have identified so far–visualization, symbolization, metaphor, vitality affects, and so on–are normally not used merely as ends in themselves (although they can be, as in haiku poetry) but are harnessed in the service of a “fantasy.” By “fantasy,” I mean the underlying thought, usually unconscious, prompted by the affective impulse that constitutes the motivating force behind the creation of the fiction. In popular usage, a “fantasy” has come to mean any imagined situation that is not real. In psychology, however, the nature of fantasy has been successively elaborated in psychoanalytic theory by figures such as Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, and Jacques Lacan, all of whom, following Freud, saw the primary role of fantasies as that of a defense mechanism. Recent neuro-scientific discoveries, in my view, argue for a broader and more inclusive definition that needs to be established before the full range of functions of fictive representations can be understood–although this is not to deny that earlier psychoanalytic conceptualizations may have been valid with respect to particular works.

 

6. The Shaping of Fictive Scenarios by the Author: Motivations, Strategies, and Outcomes

ePub

The ways in which narratives are shaped has received much attention under the twin influences of structuralism and psychoanalysis. Narratologists have examined the semiotic formalization of actions that constitute a story (the effects of sequence: narrative tension, suspense, curiosity, and surprise), and the devices used to direct the reader/spectator’s attention during the telling (narrative perspective, focalization, voice, rhythm, and frequency) in literary fiction.1 Film theorists have done the same for cinematic representation, identifying the distinguishing features of film narrative (mise-en scène, framing, types and duration of shots, editing, and film sound).2 As well, psychoanalytic critics have examined literary and cinematic narrative through the lens of Freudian psychology, emphasizing the relationship between shaping motivations and temporal dynamics (the play of desire in time),3 or they have applied the theory of the unconscious posited by Jacques Lacan, positing an inferred similarity between the structures of a film and the structure of language.4

 

7. The Exploitation of Generic Templates and Intertexts as Vehicles for Affect Regulation

ePub

So far, the majority of fictions I have examined involve highly original scenarios that draw on the metaphorical and symbolic mechanisms out of which fantasies are constructed. I now turn to several examples of another, very commonly used, distinct shaping strategy: a generic template, often accompanied by a structuring intertext (as seen in Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Melissa Panarello’s novel, discussed in chapter 6), for the representation of an emotional condition or complex psychological experience.

A “genre,” in the sense in which I am using the term, may be defined as a conjunction of “semantic” (thematic) and “syntactic” (structural) elements that are configured into a pattern with a recognizable narrative shape combined with a preestablished set of thematic expectations.1 Genres come into being because of their fitness-to-mean; in other words, they embody shared models of understanding for the interpretation of various aspects of human reality. Their repeated use means that they have been confirmed as useful for the expressive purposes of the author, and as satisfying for the reader/spectator through the feedback loops provided by the reader/spectator’s response. As the Chilean filmmaker and film theorist Raúl Ruiz puts it with reference to cinema, the codes that are embedded in genres presuppose “an international community of connoisseurs and a shared set of rules for the game of social life.”2 The same applies to literature, especially with genres that are found across diverse cultures and have been confirmed through the passage of time.

 

8. Theories of Reception in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

ePub

When one surveys the history of efforts to explain how a fictive work produces an effect in a reader/spectator, several things become apparent. First, the diachronic sequence of theories of reception shows the same pattern or reaction and counter-reaction that one sees in the history of conceptualizations of the nature of fiction itself–in other words, a pendulum swing between antithetical possibilities. Second, the way theorists construe the dynamics and outcomes of reception have depended on their assumptions about three crucial components intrinsically involved in it: the nature of the human self, the way the mind works, and the status of a text with regard to meaning. In this chapter, after tracing the evolution of theories of reception to the present day, I propose that recent findings concerning the neurological functioning of the brain require us to rethink certain tenets that have held sway during the past fifty years: specifically, the view that meaning is wholly a subjective construction by the reader/spectator; the view that the text exists independently of the author, together with the idea that authorial intention is a “fallacy”; the view that the recipient’s perception of meaning is largely, if not exclusively, the outcome of a cognitive act; and a recent assumption that reception involves a form of hypnosis induced by the fictive representation whereby a recipient is manipulated, without independent agency, by the materiality of the specific form of representation. What is needed, I argue, is a more inclusive sense of the multiple emotional, psychological, and material factors involved in reception, without limiting reception to the confines posited by any one of the schools of thought that have tried to explain the phenomenon during the past few decades.

 

9. A Neuropsychoanalytic Theory of Reception

ePub

As suggested in the previous chapter, there is a gaping hole in theories of reception precisely where both the self of the author and the self of the reader/spectator should be, together with an understanding of the kind of agency that is exercised by each in intersubjective transfer. All of the theoretical formulations I have outlined account for partial aspects of the overall phenomenon: the reader/spectator is indeed a crucial determinant of meaning owing to the subjective nature of his or her response, but it is also true that meaning is innately encoded in the formal structures and fictive material already embodied in the work because of the subjective description of objects, and the objective description of subjects, fueled by emotions that are transmitted to the recipient. Similarly, while internal unconscious psychological processes in the receiver do influence his or her response, he or she is also influenced by external contextual factors and the operations of discourse and cultural conditioning. Furthermore, even though few would now maintain that responses to fiction are purely rational and cognitive, it is going too far to claim that they are wholly somatic, involuntary, and embodied, given the capacity of human beings to invoke memories selectively and voluntarily as well as automatically, unconsciously, and involuntarily. It is thus becoming increasingly clear that each of the theories outlined in the previous chapter excessively prioritizes one or more of these dimensions of the phenomenon at the expense of seeing the complexity of the process of reception as a whole.

 

10. Intersubjective Attunement, Filiation, and the Re-creative Process: Jules and Jim–from Henri-Pierre Roché to François Truffaut

ePub

My purpose in this chapter, following the theoretical exposition in chapter 9, is to show how the intersubjective attunement made possible by the combined operation of neurological and psychological processes involved in reception generates a response that is not merely passively receptive, but also actively re-creative. To a large extent, the processes involved are invisible and unconscious, but their presence can be detected through their outward signs: namely, in patterns of unconscious filiation that can be traced from one author to the next and in the evidence of imitation and reconstitution provided by the cinematic adaptation of literary works. Neuroscience has, as yet, been unable to track empirically the neurological ways in which these intersubjective/re-creative processes are effectuated at this stage in scientific research–the human brain is far too complex for that–but enough evidence exists, in forms that are accessible to critical and historical analysis, to enable scholars to make informed surmises.

 

11. The Conversion of Autobiographical Emotion into Symbolic Figuration: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

ePub

In the case of François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, discussed in chapter 10, sufficient biographical information exists to allow one to infer Truffaut’s motivations by comparing his early attachment relationships with those of the author of his source, Henri-Pierre Roché, and then by triangulating both with their respective representations. In many instances, however, an equivalent amount of biographical information does not exist, meaning that one needs to infer the psychological dynamic of a fictive work from intrinsic rather than extrinsic evidence. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate how, even when very little biographical information about an author survives, the process of converting affective impulses into a fictive representation can be deduced by examining the emotions expressed in the work, the situations that give rise to them, and the strategies used to make them perceptible. Through this method, one can identify the symbolic figuration that has occurred during the creation of the work and, on the basis of that, speculate on the author’s purpose for its composition.

 

12. Tracking a Personal Myth through an Oeuvre: The Films of François Ozon

ePub

Just as a neuropsychoanalytic perspective can assist in analyzing the internal workings of an invented fiction, so too can an understanding of the brain’s procedures in the creation of stories, combined with a psychoanalytic understanding of the nature and function of fantasies, sensitize one to the presence of recurring metaphors and symbolic configurations of action across the span of an author’s works. Charles Mauron, in his book Des métaphores obsédantes au mythe personnel: Introduction à la psychocritique (1963), has labeled these recurring motifs a “personal myth,” outlining a “psychocritical” model for identifying its presence in an author’s work. Although Mauron’s theory has been largely overlooked in Anglo-American scholarship–with the notable exception of Linda Hutcheon1–it remains valuable, especially given that Mauron’s notion of how fictions are constituted is consistent with what we now know about the procedures of the human brain.

Mauron’s model depends on a theory of fantasy derived from Freud but modified in light of object-relations theory to account for the complexity and variety of fantasies in fictive representations without becoming reductive. Mauron agrees with Freud that “the earliest fantasies seem to constitute hallucinatory satisfactions of desire,” and that these fantasies construct our future psyche,2 but he also insists that fantasies play a decisive role in inhibiting and controlling impulses, as well as in expressing desires for repair, by facilitating “developmental creation, adaptation, restoration, dynamic representation of internal events, conflicts, and projected solutions.”3 In particular, fantasies are the means by which “the personality is able to achieve a discharge of repressed excitation and to master the experience of it” in response to the legacy of experiences that have left a traumatic imprint.4

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000078981
Isbn
9780253020994
File size
501 KB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata