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  • Toward a Phenomenology of Emotion in Film:Michael Brynntrup and The Face of Gay Shame
  • Randall Halle (bio)

On a neuro-physiological level, the study of emotion has been relatively excluded from studies of cognition in part simply because the emotional and sensory centers in the brain are distinct, but increasingly cognitive science has recognized that these centers are linked, sharing and passing on information and creating responses in as yet not comprehended ways. For the most part though in the 1990s cognitive theory sought to contend with emotions in what we could describe as a neo-Kantian approach, ascribing them to the realm of judgment. Appraisal theory describes emotions as arising in a complex condition of evaluation or appraisal; we experience love because we appraise that we are being treated well.1 However, such a rational judgment model, subsuming emotions into a computational approach, cannot take into account dispositions or temperament that have nothing to do with rational judgments or choices. Suspicions, fears, phobias, anxieties, angst, shame and other negative states can arise contrary to interests or cognitive processes of appraisal, indicating at least some [End Page 683] other component to emotions, i.e. a more primary even drive-based form of affect.2

Thus a turn came in cognitive science with the investigation of affective elements and memory. It might seem like a simple matter of common sense, but the premise that strong emotional-affective experiences can color memories, for instance simply make them more vivid, offered a breakthrough in the consideration of how cognitive representations work. Michael Martinez described the state of research developing out of this insight: "representations are often portrayed as valueless, cool records of information and experience. This portrayal is misleading because represented knowledge very often does have emotional and motivational value; representations are words, images, goals, and plans charged with meaning, valence, emotion, and energy."3

That this "affective turn" began in cognitive science roughly a decade ago and is only now gaining momentum might, from outside the discipline, seem a bit contrary to expectations but we might want to recall that, as psychologist Eleanor Rosch noted, "since the Greeks, Western psychology has treated affect and cognition as separate faculties, states, or processes, and through history cognition has been valued more positively than affect. Emotion tends to be seen as irrational and reason as affectless."4 As the Martinez quote indicates, seeing and perceiving, as fundamentals of cognition, were primarily approached from the camera obscura perspective, as if the image was written innocently on the grey matter of the brain. That perhaps experiences of affect, emotions, or desire could prove more primary, or if they have a fundamental evaluative function, or how they might color cognition with a particular valence is an open field of exploration.5 Inquiry in [End Page 684] this area marks the beginning of the affective turn. It has led to an expansion of new research and new models of perception, emotion, and affect, and it will be of central consideration in this essay.6

There is a second turn of central interest to this essay and that is the turn to cognitive film studies. While cognitive scientists have carefully constructed experiments with visual materials to trace out how perception functions, they have not extensively considered different modes of viewing, different media of seeing.7 Cognitive film studies holds the potential to offer to cognitive scientists a wealth of information and an elaborated language developed over years to describe various aspects of image and viewing, frame and positionality, the embodiment of viewing as it interacts with the constructed viewing space and directed viewing material. Cognitive film studies is a new development, having emerged in the span of the last decade.8 While posing new productive questions, the attempt to develop an interdisciplinary relationship between cognitive science and film studies up until now has resulted mainly in a rather one-sided direction of application.9 Cognitive film studies have primarily sought to adopt [End Page 685] the insights of cognitive science, applying studies developed in very different contexts to the moving image and cinematic space.10 This approach does open up new understanding but it moves in a singular direction...


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