I wrote one of the chapter (‘Cinematic Empathies. Spectator involvement in the film experience’) of the book Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, edited by Dee Reynolds (The University of Manchester) and Matthew Reason (The University of York). The aim of my chapter is to bring to light the central role of empathy in spectators’ involvement in narrative fiction film. I recall some of the main contributions of film theorists of the 1920s and 1930s (Freeburg, Epstein, Balázs, Arnheim, Eisenstein), with the aim of demonstrating that empathy is inherent in the nature of narrative cinema itself and is pivotal to describing the variety and complexity of film spectatorship as an intensified experience involving the film’s body and the spectator’s body.
Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices
edited by Dee Reynolds and Matthew Reason
Paperback 224 pages
Click here to order the book.
A key interdisciplinary concept in our understanding of social interaction across creative and cultural practices, kinesthetic empathy describes the ability to experience empathy merely by observing the movements of another human being. Encouraging readers to sidestep the methodological and disciplinary boundaries associated with the arts and sciences, Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices offers innovative and critical perspectives on topics ranging from art to sport, film to physical therapy.
My essay Adamant Bodies. The Avatar-Body and the Problem of Autoempathy has ispired one of the themes of Chistophe Bruchansky and Mathias Jansson online exibition The Semiotics of Video Games, realized starting from some suggestions of E|C, No. 5, “Computer Games between Text and Practice” (edited in 2009 by Dario Compagno and Patrick J. Coppock). The Semiotics of Video Games is a miscellany that investigates the production of meaning in videogames and “wants to uncover the ambiguous interdependence that exist between our everyday cultural reality and the rhetoric manifesting itself in video games”. In Theme 1: Avatars and Empathy in video games, Kei Houraku’s Gomba’s lifetime (2007) and Brody Condon’s KarmaPhysics < Elvis (2004) videos are cited as examples in order to discuss the role of empathy in video gaming practice.
My paper on Edith Stein’s theory on empathy and its pertinence in both film theory and film experience has been published in the montage AV issue on “Erfahrung”.
Adriano D’Aloia beschäftigt sich in seinem Artikel «Edith Stein geht ins Kino. Empathie als Filmtheorie» mit der Frage, wie Andersheit im besonderen Fall der filmischen Erfahrung funktioniert. Als Grundlage seiner Überlegungen nimmt er Edith Steins Theorie der Einfühlung aus dem Jahre 1917 und zeigt die Relevanz dieser phänomenologischen Gedanken für die Erklärung von Empathie auf. So erklärt, besitze das Kino die Fähigkeit, den Zuschauer Teil einer «lebendigen/ körperlichen Beziehung» werden zu lassen, die ihn auf ein Terrain der intersubjektiven Vermittlung führt. (Vinzenz Hediger)
In the last weeks I am working on an essay on Cinematic Empathies, in which I try to trace the theoretical roots of kinaesthetic empathy in the film experience (reading Freeburg, Epstein, Balázs, Arnheim, Eisenstein, and Michotte). This essays will be published as a chapter of refereed book Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, edited by Matthew Reason and Dee Reynolds. The book is related to the Kinesthetic Empathy: Concepts and Contexts, organized by The Watching Dance Project team and held at University of Manchester on 22-23 April 2010. The conference aimed to “bring together researchers and practitioners in fields including neuroscience, dance, film, music, and contemporary embodied practices, to explore the nature and role of kinesthetic empathy. The conference provided a focus for “the growing body of research and the increasing number of scholars and practitioners who are engaging with kinesthesia, empathy and kinesthetic empathy as pivotal concepts across different disciplines and media. This impetus is connected with current concern with ‘affect’ as an object of enquiry, interrogation of notions of presence, embodiment and the senses, re-examination of phenomenology, and widespread interest in neuroscientific investigation (notably in the ‘mirror neuron’ system).” Videos of keynote speeches and delegate contributions can be watched at this web page.
I have defended my dissertation on “Empathy in the Film Experience” and completed my Ph.D. in Culture della Comunicazione at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan on May 3rd 2010. Thanks to everyone who supported me through these three intense years!
With my wife Francesca
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. May 3rd, 2010
Working hard on a paper on the querelle between Theodor Lipps and Edith Stein on the relationship between the acrobat and the spectator…
Trapeze (Carol Reed, 1956)
Suddenly, in the core of Edith Stein’s Zum Problem der Einfühlung (1917), the figures of both the acrobat and the spectator crop out. The young phenomenologist is discussing Theodor Lipps’s notion of Einfühlung and “internal imitation” [Nachahmungtheorie] in her doctoral dissertation: Einfühlung is a kind of act in which one “gets” the Other’s Erlebniss on the basis of psycho-physical and spiritual analogy. In his Grundlegung der Aesthetik, Lipps states that when the spectator is watching an acrobat walking on a suspended wire, he or she feels him/herself so inside the acrobat [ich fühle mich so in ihm] (1903), that his/her conscious self has sunk itself completely into that of the acrobat. On the contrary, Stein argues that Einfühlung is far from being a mere projective (an absorption or a sinking) act in which the observer transfers his own subjectivity into that of the observed object/subject. The spectator subjectivity is not “one with” the acrobat subjectivity – it is only “with”: «Ich bin nicht eins mit dem Akrobaten, sondern nu „bei“ ihm, ich führe seine Bewegung nicht wirklich aus, sondern nur – quasi –». Such an “empathic spectatorship” is a “going through” of the acrobat motion internally. Just as the two bodies remain separated, so the two subjectivities involved do not or fuse with each other, they do not merge into a single entity and the relationship does not tend towards pure identification, assimilation, or even mutual annihilation. In the relationship between the acrobat and the spectator – in that quasi – lies the core of Edith Stein’s theory of Einfühlung and its relevance for film theory.
As a case in point, in the prologue of Trapeze (Carol Reed, USA 1956) the spectator follows the trapeze artist Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) performing a triple somersault. My ideas is that a three-step strategy (establishing, emotion-focusing, accomplishment) is used for the spectator sensorial and emotional involvement. A similar “classic” strategy is use also in the opening sequence of Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1958):
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
The analysis of the two cases will be published on the oncoming issue of the German journal montage a-v.
I am presentig my reasearch on the relevance of Edith Stein’s theory on empathy for film theory at the Second Annual Conference on Film and Philolosphy on the 18th of July at the University of Dundee. Here is the conference program >. The keynote speakers will be Alain Badiou (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris), Edward Branigan (University of California, Santa Barbara), Caroline Bainbridge (Roehampton University), and Martin McQuillan (University of Leeds).
I am presentig a paper on the relevance of aesthetic and phenomenological empathies for film theory in the session on Neuroaesthetic at the Codisco 2009 conference on the 9th of June in Noto (Sicily). Here is the conference program.
Il Dipartimento di scienze sociali, cognitive e quantitative dell’Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia ospita una giornata di studi sul tema Danza, neuroscienze, transmedialità, lunedì 25 maggio 2009 (a Reggio Emilia presso l’Ex Caserma Zucchi, viale Allegri 9 – Aula 5b, primo piano). L’ospite principale è Sarah Rubidge (docente di “Choreography and New Media” alla University of Chichester, UK) e interverrà sul tema Practicing Arts using Understanding through the body a partire dalle ore 10.15. Discuterà l’intervento la professoressa Anna Borghi (Università di Bologna e Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione, CNR, Roma). Il sito web Sense of digital raccoglie i lavori e le riflessioni di Sarah Rubidge. Nel pomeriggio (ore 14.30-16.30) si svolgerà un workshop moderato da Nicola Dusi (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia) con i seguenti interventi previsti:
Anna Borghi (Università di Bologna): Perspectives on embodied and grounded cognition, Cristina Righi (Università di Bologna): Choreographic Sense and Transmedia Practice, Claudia Gianelli (Università di Bologna): Neurotic semisciences? How to keep semiotics and neurosciences together without going schizoid, Adriano D’Aloia (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano): Screen neurons. Cinema, corporeality, empathy.
Discussants: Sarah Rubidge (University of Chichester), Federico Montanari (Università di Bologna), Alessandro Sarti (Università di Bologna)
— Professor Flostre is the greatest living philosopher, and father of empathicalism.
— Oh? What’s empathicalism?
— The most sensible approach to true understanding and peace of mind.
— Sounds great, but what is it?
— It’s based on empathy. Do you know what the word “empathy” means?
— No, I’ll have to have the beginner’s course on that one. Empathy. Is it something like sympathy?
— Oh, it goes beyond sympathy. Sympathy is to understand what someone feels. Empathy is to project your imagination so that you actually feel what the other person is feeling. You put yourself in the other person’s place. Do I make myself clear?
— Why did you do that?
— Empathy. I put myself in your place and I felt that you wanted to be kissed.
— You put yourself in the wrong place. I have no desire to be kissed by you, or anyone else.
— Don’t be silly. Everybody wants to be kissed, even philosophers.
Funny Face, 1957