May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
September 14, 2010
In a recent interview about her latest book, Marilynne Robinson began with the following few ideas:
In Absence of Mind, your main argument is that the influential popular scientist-writers of our age (Wilson, Dennett, Dawkins, Pinker, et al.) fail to acknowledge the spiritual impulses, conscience, compassion, and other felt experiences, via the human mind, that show up in all of human history and that set our species apart from others. Why is proper attention to the “felt life” important to you?
Frankly, it seems bizarre to me to dismiss the reality of consciousness, by which I mean inwardness, subjectivity. I am pretty sure it would seem just as bizarre to me if I were an atheist. Anyone who has been moved by a poem or who has passed a sleepless night should be able to offer testimony to the reality of consciousness as experience. “Felt life” is my primary interest and pleasure in life, whether it is my own or that that I see and sense around me, in people, cultures, history, literature. There is nothing remarkable in this. To use a word I avoid, it is simply normal.
I have read that there are those who have no perception of the inwardness of other people. This is an affliction of psychopaths, a strange and pitiable incapacity. My point being that most of us know in the ordinary course of life that others have inwardness, that it is complex and potent, largely unknowable and largely unique, and that the qualities we call “human” are centered in it. This awareness is the basis of the presumption in favor of the dignity and worth of other lives.
A brief response:
First, I think it is safe to say that this concept of “felt life” largely explains why many turn towards cinema on the fringes of American reportage for all the great experiences lurking there every year. Many of the great triumphs of the annual festival circuit are those few Secret of the Grain-like glimpses of other people simply living, talking, relating – but doing so before the lens of a director that is tuned into their “inwardness.”
These experiences are not so electric and conversation-worthy because they are always formally exotic or bound up in complicated glimpses of otherness, but because, as Robinson suggests, they are “simply normal.” I guess there is a sense in which good cinema is simply an extension of how it is we actually encounter life on a daily basis. Cinema is not so much a filter as it is a corollary or midrash.
Which, to continue Robinson’s psychological metaphor, would make average box-office fare “psychopathic” to varying degrees, inasmuch as it replaces any actual perception of inwardness with a seductive series of marketing myths, gendered narrative hooks, and wish fulfillments.