This article reviews significant developments in affective neuroscience suggesting a refinement of the contemporary theoretical discourse on cinematic empathy. Accumulating evidence in the field points to a philogeneticontogenetic-neural boundary separating empathic processes driven by either cognitive or somato-visceral representations of others. Additional evidence suggests that these processes are linked with parasympathetically driven mitigation and proactive sympathetic arousal. It presents empirical findings from a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) film viewing study, which are in line with this theoretical distinction. The findings are discussed in a proposed cinematographic framework of a general dichotomy between eso (inward-directed) and para (side by side with)—dramatic cinematic factors impinging on visceral representations of real-time occurrences or cognitive representations of another's mind, respectively. It demonstrates the significance of this dichotomy in elucidating the unsettling emotional experience elicited by Michael Haneke's Amour.
Gal Raz and Talma Hendler
This article seeks to prompt a reevaluation of the efficacy of mainstream fiction films to convey liberalism's political and ethical values. First, it challenges still-influential Marxist claims about counter-cinema and distanciation, then it deplores the influence of contemporary irony and postmodernism. The article proceeds to enumerate the characteristics of “a cinema of engagement”; for example, moving us to empathy—even empathetic anger—rather than distancing us or making us feel superiority; manifesting a level gaze; analyzing structures of power; basing scripts on real events; employing both the realist and melodramatic modes; and inspiring viewers to work against social injustice. It invokes the theories of liberal philosophers, literary scholars, cognitive scientists, and psychologists, and draws supporting evidence from a close reading of The Insider (1999).
Workers, Colonial Subjects, and the Affective Politics of French Romantic Socialism
Naomi J. Andrews
During the 1830s and 1840s, romantic socialists in France wrote about three subjugated groups in the French empire: metropolitan workers, slaves in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean colonies, and Algerian civilians. Although these three groups ostensibly shared similar conditions of deprivation and violent treatment at the hands of the French state, socialists depicted them in importantly different terms, with the effect of humanizing workers and slaves, while dehumanizing the Algerians suffering French conquest and colonization. This article explores these presentations and examines the way they worked together to champion the socialist priority, the emergent working classes of the July Monarchy, and to indirectly endorse the settler colonial project in Algeria.
I will argue that the ambition to provide a naturalized aesthetics of film in Murray Smith’s Film, Art, and the Third Culture is not fully matched by the actual explanatory work done. This is because it converges too much on the emotional engagement with character at the expense of other features of film. I will make three related points to back up my claim. I will argue (1) that Smith does not adequately capture in what ways the phenomenon of seeing-in, introduced early in the book, could explain our complex engagement with moving images; (2) that because of this oversight he also misconstrues the role of the mirror neuron system in our engagement with filmic scenes; and (3) that an account of embodied seeing-in could be a remedy for the above. In order to demonstrate the latter point, I will show how such an account could contribute to the analysis of a central sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) that Smith also discusses.
Many disciplines in the social sciences and humanities can offer profound insights into what it means to be human. History, however, encompasses the totality of human experience: economics, politics, philosophy, art, ethics, sociology, science - all of it becomes part of history eventually. Therefore, the opportunities for incorporating service-learning (carefully integrating community service with academic inquiry and reflecting on insights derived from such integration) into history courses abound. Many historians have taken advantage of this opportunity. Few historians have undertaken a scholarly investigation of the learning taking place in their service-learning courses, however. Indeed, despite the fact that the reflective process so central to service-learning lends itself remarkably well to the scholarship of teaching and learning (it generates very rich data on both the affective and content-based learning students are experiencing), there has been little published SoTL research from any discipline about service-learning. Drawing on qualitative evidence from an honours course comprised of 16 students at a private liberal arts college in the northeastern United States, I argue that not only does service-learning in history lead to more active citizenship, but that it also leads to deeper appreciation of an historical perspective as a key ingredient for being an engaged citizen.
There is no question that violent entertainments shape popular attitudes toward violence. But do they really make the culture as a whole more violent? Can they work to make it less violent? This article considers shortcomings of conventional scholarly approaches to these questions. It outlines an alternative “ecological“ approach and tests it by examining two movies that treat violence in strikingly different fashions: The Dark Knight (2008) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It tests empirically whether and how Saving Private Ryan actually changes college students' attitudes toward violence, and summarizes the best current psychological models of the causal connection between violent thoughts and violent behavior. The article concludes that while violent movies do indeed prompt violent ideas and impulses, these are not necessarily antisocial and can, in fact, be prosocial. The critical factor is not what they show or how they show it; it is how they are used.
Empathy and Projection in the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool
Silke Arnold-de Simine
The moving image has become ubiquitous in museums that deal with traumatic, violent, and difficult histories and could be described as "memorial museums." This article investigates exhibition practices in the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, in which large-scale video installations provide evocative recreations of traumatic experiences that are designed to unsettle and disturb visitors, providing them with a visceral and vicarious experience that calls for witnessing and "empathic unsettlement." It also queries the assumption that the capacity for empathy forms the basis for responsible moral agency, and whether museums aiming to encourage social responsibility should rely on such technologies.
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
Murray Smith’s plea for a “cooperative naturalism” that adopts a “triangulational” approach to issues in film studies is both timely and well-defended. I raise three concerns, however: one is external, relating to this strategy’s limitations, and two are internal, relating to Smith’s application of the strategy. While triangulation seems appropriate when we ask about the nature of film experience, other philosophical questions about film have an ineliminable normative dimension that triangulation cannot address. Empirically informed philosophical reflection upon the arts must be “moderately pessimistic” in recognizing this fact. The internal concerns relate to Smith’s claims about the value and neurological basis of cinematic empathy. First, while empathy plays a central role in film experience, I argue that its neurological underpinnings fail to support the epistemic value he ascribes to it. Second, I question Smith’s reliance, in triangulating, upon the work of the Parma school on “mirror neurons.”
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.