- Books the Cinema, or the Imaginary Man
The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man, by Edgar Morin, emeritus director of research at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique and president of the Association pour la Pensée Complexe, has long been regarded as one of the hidden treasures of cinema and film theory. The long overdue English translation (with a revised preface by the author from the 1978 edition) of Le Cinema ou l'Homme Imaginaire, originally published in 1956, deserves celebration.
Morin was a member of the French Resistance when he was young, and his subsequent understanding of communism was formed by his wartime experiences. Since the 1950s he has dedicated his work to reconnecting and reforming fields of knowledge between the "humanities" and "sciences," and his oeuvre includes works on the scientific method, philosophical anthropology, social theory, popular culture and contemporary life in its complexity. In 1956, with The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man, Morin introduced a more complex approach to an understanding of the cinema and its audiences than has been dealt with before or since, which makes this work, among others, so contemporary and relevant. Drawing on the work of a variety of thinkers from various fields such as sociology, philosophy and psychology, Morin reintroduces the imaginary as a fundamental human condition, exemplified in the process of cinema perception.
He departs from an understanding of cinema as the product of a dialectic where the objective truth of the image and the subjective participation of the spectator confront and join each other. As we know, film as object, even in its projection in an empty theater, is nothing more than a meaningless orchestration of shadow and light. Only through the mediation of the mind does film become what we understand it to be in an interpretative, narratological, cultural, aesthetic sense. Following this, Morin sees the function of art as to enrich the affective power of the image, which inherits magical qualities through the potential presence of the double. He speaks of the nascent quality of magic in an intermediate zone, commonly known as sentiment, soul or heart. The transfer of psychological states of mind onto an image reveals affective qualities of that image, and if these affections become alienated and projected into objects (as in the doubles on the screen), then magic is no longer external belief but interiorized feeling. The magic in cinema is transformed into an affective-rational syncretism in aesthetics and serves as an analogy for Morin to what he calls the "archaic" worldview. In this way Morin lays open processes of the mind, even calling cinema a "mind-machine," where projection and identification produce our "affective participation" in and with the world.
For Morin, the aesthetic is not an original human given, but "the evolutionary product of the decline of magic and religion" (p. 211); in this sense the cinema is a historical mirror and, at the same time, a vanguard of mechanization. Cinema, the "personality factory" (p. 213), has externalized the psychic processes of the mind. Cinematographic (affective) "participation equally constructs magic and reason, that finally, magic, sentiment, and reason can be syncretically associated with one another" (pp. 181-182). For Morin, not only reason but also magic and sentiment are means of knowing, sometimes contradicting the realms of reason, but always their necessary double. Cinema offers the ideal exemplification of this and constitutes a privileged medium of an incorporation of these processes, where the objective reality of the photographic image, saturated with its charm or magic power (photogenie), and the subjective interpretative processes of projection and identification converge. The presence of optic illusions of reality in film "reveals to us the reality of the need that cannot be realized" (p. 208). In this sense, the imaginary always precedes technology and any form of invention in their "oneiric fulfillment of our needs" (p. 210).
According to Morin, the genesis of the art of film cannot be explained apart from looking at the complex processes and fierce competition of...