In recent times, the correlation between affect and the cinematic image has been discussed intensely in film theory. Questions and hypotheses range from models of aesthetics of effect to neuropsychological research and theoretical approaches to genre. Our second annual research focus will concentrate on said nexus of genre and affect, taking affect theory as a starting point to systematically rethink the concept of genre itself.
With regard to our work on the poiesis of film viewing, phenomenological concepts will be of primary concern, as they allow for a description of cognitive processes of meaning making as embodied forms of experience. Here the affective relations between audiovisual images and human bodies become central in their function as somatic resonance chamber for cinematic thinking. According to our central hypothesis, cinematic images generate forms of thinking that are realized through the conjunction of affective dynamics and cognitive operations, the bodies of spectators being the medium for this conjunction. But what perspective on film genres can emerge from this approach?
The affective dimension of audiovisual images concerns a) the concretely situated process of affective viewer engagement, b) the aesthetic strategies informing this process, and c) the way these strategies refer to a collective, shared world—a relation that has to be constantly re-established. That is, said affective dimension implies a transition within the cinematic image: from individual corporeality to cultural fantasy. Forms of affect, in this sense, represent generic modes of a specific feeling that is communally communicable and becomes manifest in various expressive qualities.
From this perspective of continuous re-working and re-vising, genre cinema can indeed be conceived of as a ritualistic practice that aims at realizing figurations and patterns of collective experience within the biographical rhythms of individual spectators, and vice versa.
Based on this hypothesis, the different modes of experience, affective modalities, and rhetorical perspectives of modern genre poetics can be related to the affective foundation of political communities. At the same time, they can be classified into different modes of pleasure (in the sense of Aristotle). The modes of genre cinema, then, would represent such forms of aesthetic pleasure. On this level, genre cinema could be understood as a system of different expressive modalities addressing the emotions of individual spectators in order to situate them within a world of collectively shared feelings. The modulations of these addresses make graspable that individual sensitivity is always already interwoven with a collective world of feeling.
Within the context of our second research focus we want to inquire the relationship of such theoretical assumptions to the historically oriented analysis of cinematic images as generic forms of practices of imagination that are grounded in bodily experience. In order to do so, we want to examine the affective scripts structuring filmic modes of staging without defining them as mere reproductions of pre-existing affective, perceptive, and cognitive schemata of everyday experience. Rather, the interaction of audiovisual images and tactics of media consumption shall itself be addressed as a genuine mode of thinking in cinematic images—a mode for which the dynamics of affective viewer engagement are constitutive. Based on these dynamics, the generic dimension of filmic images has to be investigated as a constant reconfiguration of historical spaces of experience through the conjunction, reevaluation and reinterpretation of various audiovisual discourses and the respective logic of their poetics of affect.
Our goal is to develop a conception of genre poetics that is significantly informed by affect theory—instead of conceiving of genres as mere taxonomies of kinds of texts and deducing them from historical descriptions. This also means that what we understand as affective viewer engagement does not primarily concern the mental states of individuals but rather addresses a dimension of collectivity. From this point of view genre films make us experience the diverse ways we are affectively connected with the world, and with those we share it with. Examples for such affective relations to the world include sentimental pleasure, horror and thrill that each develop a different relational figuration of “I”, “we,” and “others.” In this regard, cinematic images are to be understood as interventions in the dynamics of affective entanglements between and within socially, historically, and culturally situated communities.
Over the course of this year’s research program, we will discuss these questions and theses with a group of international film scholars. For this purpose, we will organize reading groups, colloquia and lecture series to examine and evaluate theoretical approaches to audiovisual affect and film genre. We will also consider methodological questions, i.e. analytical approaches to the historical investigation of these topoi on the basis of a filmic discourse in audiovisual images. Accordingly, our work will be about putting established genre theories in relation to our approach, and about determining the ways in which existing approaches and concepts yet to develop can specify one another.