In Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, there is a before and an after. Before the Enlightenment, the world was superstitious, cruel, and violent; after the Enlightenment, the world was rational and more peaceful. Pinker thus reduces violence to a fairly simplistic concept: all violence can be equated with irrationality, unreason, and ignorance. History is never as straightforward as Pinker would have his readers believe, and violence is a much more complex notion that is often driven not by superstition or unreason, but perfectly “rational” motives. This article argues that there is little causal connection between Enlightenment values and the decline in violence and that changes came about as a result of a complex series of reasons, some of them less than edifying. It raises the interesting question of whether ideas drive history, or whether they are simply the “ideological” bedrock on which change is grounded.
Pinker’s (Mis)Representation of the Enlightenment and Violence
Eisenstein’s Attractions, Mirror Neurons, and Contemporary Action Cinema
This article investigates the concept of cinematic attractions through an analysis of current research on mirror neurons. It suggests that when developing his conception of attractions, Sergei Eisenstein isolated the effect of visceral spectatorship, which today’s science associates with mirror neurons. The involuntary nature of some of Eisenstein’s attractions helps to dissociate them from Tom Gunning’s later conception of the cinema of attractions. Whereas Gunning’s attractions targeted viewers’ conscious engagement, Eisenstein’s attractions tapped into preconscious and automatic responses. Moreover, while Gunning contrasted the cinema of attractions with the cinema of narrative integration, Eisenstein’s attractions were compatible with narrative. Eisenstein’s attractions were a closer precursor to the contemporary impact aesthetic than Gunning’s cinema of spectacle and display, and the concept of attractions, returned to its original sense and paired with the literature on mirroring, may better explain the functions and effects of contemporary action cinema.
Psalms 113–118, known collectively as ‘Hallel’, are recited by Jews on New Moons and festivals and are thought to have formed part of Temple practice. I outline the historical development of this unit from two psalms to its full complement of six. Although its rabbinic title suggests that it expresses praise, other more complex associations of the word are explored in the context of reviewing the underlining ‘narrative’ traced by the texts. This spans episodes from patriarchal times to exile, ending with the eventual messianic advent. I propose here that the practice of occasionally abbreviating two of the psalms reflects sympathy for the Egyptian foe, based on rabbinic views concerning the sanctity of human life.
This article shows in what ways Matthew Ratcliffe’s phenomenological theory of existential feelings is relevant to film and media studies. Existential feelings are “feelings in the body, which are experienced as one‘s relationship with the world as a whole.” They are related to other concepts in film theory; however, their relation to films has never been systematically examined. The article discusses how audiovisual media are able to represent, express, and evoke existential feelings, and even work as “qualia machines” in making viewers partially share feelings of characters. Focusing on the paradigmatic case of depression and on exemplary films like Dominik Graf’s Deine besten Jahre, the article identifies different aesthetic strategies to express existential feelings. Building on that, the article argues that the power of films to evoke related feelings in the viewers is a crucial factor in spreading ideas about how others feel and conveying collective structures of feeling.
In this article, I reply to the eleven commentaries on Film, Art, and the Third Culture gathered here, organizing my responses thematically and seeking to find points of similarity and difference among the commentators as well as with my own perspective. I address arguments on embodied simulation; the analogy between films and dreams; aesthetic experience and the “expansion” of ordinary experience; the relationships between culture and cognition and between fiction and emotion; theories of the extended mind and of niche construction; the place of neuroscience in aesthetics; and the relationship between naturalism and normativity. I conclude with some reflections on naturalistic methodology.
How Empathy, the Human Rights Topos and Ideological Attitudes Interact with Aesthetic Perceptions
Gerald A. P.-Fromm and Bariaa Mourad
This article analyses attitudes of the art public related to subjects of the 2011 art exhibition 'Beirut', shown at the Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna. Some Lebanese artworks, especially those of the (pre-)war generation, were oriented towards utopias of their time and socio-political criticism, and still today revolve around the topoi of human rights. Socio-cultural milieux and institutions seem habited by adherents with congruent values. Art, science and education are thus particularly disputed fields since their common creative quests produce knowledge and, depending on the theme, ideology. We contextualise these topics and highlight a few empirically corroborated explanatory models developed by anthropology in order to elucidate the complex interplay between the individual and society. We appeal to those in academia, education and critical art to play a role in the debate on essential humanistic and ethical principles.
Evolving Soviet Atheist Critiques of Religion and Why They Matter for Anthropology
This article offers a critique of the common notion in contemporary anthropology that a positive attitude toward the people under study is a necessary precondition for a sophisticated understanding of their social world. The empirical sociology of religion that evolved during the last decades of the Soviet Union's existence started from the premise that religion was a harmful phenomenon slated for disappearance. Nonetheless, atheist sociologists produced increasingly complex accounts of religious life in modern socialist societies. Their ideological framework simultaneously constrained Soviet scholars and forced them to pay closer attention to religious phenomena that contradicted political expectations. Drawing on this extreme example of militant atheist scholarship, I argue that studying 'repugnant cultural others' always requires some form of affective motivation. Antagonism can be as powerful, and as problematic, a motivating force as empathetic suspension of judgment.
Political realism remains a powerful theoretical framework for thinking about international relations, including the war on terrorism. For Morgenthau and other realists, foreign policy is a matter of national interest defined in terms of power. Some writers view this tenet as weakening, if not severing, realism's link with morality. I take up the contrary view that morality is embedded in realist thought, as well as the possibility of realism being thinly and thickly moralised depending on the moral psychology of the agents. I argue that a prima facie case can be made within a thinly moralised realism for a relatively weak ally like Bosnia to enter the war on terrorism. An inflationary model of morality, however, explains how the moral horror of genocide in an ally's past may lead to a thickened moralised realism such that allied policy-makers question their country's entry into the war.
Klaus Oschema, Mette Thunø, Evan Kuehn and Blake Ewing
Overcoming the Trauma of Modernity? K. Patrick Fazioli, The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination (New York: Berghahn Books, 2017), ix + 195 pp. KLAUS OSCHEMA
Transformations in Time and Space: Diaspora Stéphane Dufoix, The Dispersion: A History of the Word Diaspora (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 589 pp. METTE THUNØ
Closing the Empathy Deficit in Philosophy and History Derek Matravers, Empathy (Malden, MA: Polity, 2017), 166 pp. EVAN KUEHN
Links and Limits between Political Theory and Conceptual History Iain Hampsher-Monk, Concepts and Reason in Political Theory (Colchester, UK: ECPR Press, 2015), 254 pp. BLAKE EWING
Ethical Experience, Trauma, and History
Many contemporary applications of theories of affect to cinematic ethical experience focus on its consequences for empathy and moral allegiance. Such approaches have made advances in bridging phenomenological and cognitivist approaches to film-philosophy, but miss the importance of complex affects that problematize empathy and moral judgment. For example, the rendering of trauma in Aimless Bullet (Hyun-mok Yu, 1961) involves aesthetic shifts that reframe its depiction of postwar experience and build a complex emotional picture of sociopolitical conditions that affect individual and community life. In this article, I argue that to understand the ethical significance of complex cinematic emotion we can develop an account of how affective-aesthetic affordances establish distributed spaces for dynamic affective engagement. To do this, I draw upon theories of scaffolded mind, classical Indian rasa aesthetics, and phenomenological aesthetics. This hybrid account will allow us to articulate the ways that film can help us comprehend the ethical significance of complex affective situations.