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Film & Media Studies Joni Gutierrez Films Phenomenology

Part V, Phenomenological Analysis of Life-world Series (2017, 118 min): Insatiable Curiosity

Husserl’s phenomenological approach regards the life-world as ‘not something over and against the subject’ (Gander, 2017, p. 116); thus, the ‘clarification of the connection of life can only take place in the form of a self-contemplation or self-enlightenment’ (p. 116). In phenomenology, the intentional consciousness is the focal point of ‘how we experience our selves and how we experience things outside our selves, that is, all that is non-self’ (Wagner, 1983, p. 9). While positivist discourse might find this vantage point of consciousness as problematic – psychology has opted to replace experience with ‘behavior’ because of the latter’s externality and observability (Ihde, 1990, p. 22) – phenomenology does not limit itself to the parameters set by positivism as it opens itself to profundity, which, ‘science wants to transform into a cosmos, into a simple, completely clear, lucid order’ (Husserl, 1965, p. 144).

Note: This is an excerpt from my PhD dissertation, ‘Investigating Kracauerian Cinematic Realism through Film Practice and Criticism: Life-world Series (2017) and Selected Films of Lino Brocka’ (2018), which is available for download from the institutional repository. In 2020, my book chapter — Cinematic Contemplation Online: The Art and Philosophy of Life-world Series (2017) — based on this dissertation was published in: Kung K.WS. (ed.) Reconceptualizing the Digital Humanities in Asia. Digital Culture and Humanities (Challenges and Developments in a Globalized Asia), vol 2: 31-52. Singapore: Springer.

Phenomenology, regarded by Husserl as scientific (Costelloe, 1996, p. 12), is also intended by him ‘to replace the narrow “positivist” or “objectivist” sciences’ (p. 12) that dismiss profundity. In ‘Philosophy as Rigorous Science’, Husserl (1965) avowed that ‘profundity is an affair of rigorous theory’ (p. 144). Drawing on Husserl’s conception of the Lebenswelt in developing his theory of cinematic realism (Casebier, 1970, p. 15) (Aitken, 2001, p. 173), Kracauer included profound notions such as the spiritual life itself KCR trope and film as a ‘gate rather than a dead end or a mere diversion’ (1960, p. 287) towards ‘inner life’ (p. 287). This contemplation of inner life is an invariant feature of human experience that connects every node of intentional consciousness within an intersubjective life-world. Our collective experience of cinema, together with its sonority with our inner lives advance another of the medium’s redeeming potential, that is, to champion the ‘rapprochement between the peoples of the world’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 310) as the project explored in the previous results and discussion section.

Figure 25. Study Four: Resilient Textures (2016)
Study Four: Resilient Textures (2016)

Study Four (Fig. 25), which features textural patterns that are shared by both nature and spiritually-inspired art, provides the basis of the discussion of the transcendent aspect of the KCR trope identified as the spiritual life itself. The cinematic experience of this piece can be described in terms of the ‘intentionality of consciousness conjoined with eidetic intuition’ (Patočka, 1996, p. 93) which ‘leads on beyond the mere givenness of the immanent’ (p. 93). As embodied by the rest of the short films in Life-world Series, the concrete images from immanent experience [see footnote 1] which are carried out by the contemplative realist film cultivates for the spectator a working process of eidetic intuition on one’s place within the larger spheres of the life-world, the modern condition, life, and reality.

Figure 26. Study Six: Return Home (2016)
Study Six: Return Home (2016)

The dream-like Study Six (Fig. 26) – involving physical objects presented in mixtures of black-and-white and colour, still photos and videos – is profound but not out-of-this-world since all its images come from the experience of everyday life; indeed, ‘among all possible realities – dreams, sleep, imagination, and many more – the world of everyday life takes center stage’ (Ayaß, 2017, p. 519). The realism of this short film is further enhanced by the familiarity of the human experience with dreaming images and feelings drawn from our phenomenological experience of material reality. It is worth noting that the point of this film was to disperse one’s sense of home to the larger sphere of the intersubjective life-world. This is precisely the reason why the entire project deliberately involved foreign languages, i.e., Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia, Filipino, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, etc., to promote a profound feeling of connection with other human beings who reverberate with one’s insatiable curiosity of the essences and meanings generated within the shared life-world. This is congruent with the transcendent connection that Walter Benjamin described in his piece entitled ‘Si Parla Italiano’ in his book, One-Way Street (originally published in 1928):

I sat at night in violent pain on a bench. Opposite me on another, two girls sat down. They seemed to want to discuss something in confidence and began to whisper. Nobody except me was nearby, and I would not have understood their Italian however loud it had been. But now I could not resist the feeling, in face of this unmotivated whispering in a language inaccessible to me, that a cool dressing was being applied to the painful place.

(Benjamin, 2016, p. 83)

[1] This serves as the primary source of a basic form of the realist sensibility ‘which feels most at home living among familiar things in their familiar places’ (Earle, 2011, p. 25).

References

  • Aitken, I. (2001). European film theory and cinema: A critical introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Ayaß, R. (2017). Life-World, Sub-Worlds, After-Worlds: The various ‘realnesses’ of multiple realities. Human Studies, 40(4), 519-42.
  • Benjamin, W. (2016). One-way street. (M. W. Jennings, Ed.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Casebier, A. (1970). Film and phenomenology: Towards a realist theory of cinematic representation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Costelloe, T. (1996). Life-world and intersubjectivity: A study in the development of a phenomenological sociology [Thesis (Ph.D.) –Boston University, 1996]. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing: http://pqdt.calis.edu.cn.lib-ezproxy.hkbu.edu.hk/Detail.aspx?pid=5ECl%2bMimhSQ%3d
  • Earle, W. (2011). Surrealism in Film: Beyond the Realist Sensibility. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
  • Gander, H. (2017). Self-understanding and lifeworld: Basic traits of a phenomenological hermeneutics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Husserl, E. (1965). Phenomenology and the crisis of philosophy. (Q. Lauer, Trans.) New York: Harper & Row.
  • Ihde, D. (1990). Technology and the lifeworld: From garden to earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Kracauer, S. (1960). Theory of film: The redemption of physical reality. London, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Patočka, J. (1996). An introduction to Husserl’s phenomenology. Chicago, Ill: Open Court.Wagner, H. R. (1983). Phenomenology of consciousness and sociology of the life-world: An introductory study. Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta Press.