Embodied Spectatorship: Phenomenological Turn in Contemporary Film Theory
University of Kansas
Film & Media Studies
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Since the early 1990s, film theorists have been particularly interested in the studies of film experience and relations between viewers and films. In contrast to the classical and post-1960s film studies of spectatorship, recent film theory has made a substantial contribution to the development of phenomenological perspectives on the film viewing, engaging concepts, and methods rooted in the philosophies of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The phenomenological endeavor has served as an alternative epistemological paradigm competing with established theoretical approaches to questions about how to study the film experience and what constitutes the nature of film spectatorship. This paradigm marks a shift from thinking of the viewer as an ideal, abstract subject to thinking of him/her as an embodied, material agent whose existence represents the integral whole with the film and the world as such. While acknowledging the diversity and hybridity of film phenomenology, this thesis focuses on the sociocultural, heuristic and philosophical foundations underlying the entire phenomenological project in contemporary film studies. It examines film phenomenology not as a complete “Grand” theory of film experience but as a specific methodology and model of philosophizing, which challenge ocularcentrism, rationalism, the body-mind and the subject-object dichotomies of the previous film theories and Western epistemologies in general. By investigating the intellectual heritage of philosophical phenomenology and such basic phenomenological notions as experience, intentionality, reduction, and description, this study aims to delineate and clarify the fundamental strategies employed by film phenomenology in the exploration of cinematic experience. The emphasis on these strategies and central assumptions of film phenomenology is motivated by the desire to uncover the cultural and research potential of the phenomenological project which often seems to be obscure and ambiguous, and for this reason irrelevant.
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