Lecture: ‘Films and Existential Feelings: The Case of Depression’

Time and venue: April 18, 6pm to 8pm, Van der Leeuwzaal.

Speaker: Jens Eder teaches media and communication studies at the University of Mannheim, Germany. His current research interests centre on audiovisual narratives, their cultural influence and their recent developments on the web.

Abstract: Watching a film can change the viewers’ experience of the world – maybe only momentarily, but often profoundly. Jens Eder’s presentation will explore this world-changing quality of films as ‘qualia-machines’ by introducing Matthew Ratcliffe’s philosophical concept of “ feelings of being” or “existential feelings” into film and media studies. This concept captures an important category of affect in film reception, which is hard to grasp theoretically and has been largely neglected by film theory. It refers to a group of affective phenomena that escape not only most cognitivist but also most phenomenological theories of feeling in film. Starting from this assumption, the presentation will deal with the following questions: How can this kind of feeling be integrated into a more complete theory of film and feeling/affect/emotion? What is the relation between existential feelings of characters (represented feelings) and of real viewers (elicited feelings)? What are the specific aesthetic possibilities of film and its forms in evoking, simulating or influencing existential feelings in the viewers?

Focusing on examples from European and North American films dealing with depression (e.g., Il deserto rosso, Taxi Driver, Fight Club, Adaptation, Helen, Deine besten Jahre as well as series like Six Feet Under or In Treatment), Eder’s paper will suggest some tentative answers to those questions by connecting the philosophical concept of ‘existential feelings’ to approaches from psychology (e.g., accounts of depression) and film studies (among others, Plantinga’s ‘synaesthetic affects’, Fahlenbrach’s ‘audiovisual metaphors’, and my own work on characters, emotions, and ‘mental perspective’). In doing this, the paper will also try to shed some light on how depression – the most common meFight Club (film)ntal disorder in postindustrial societies – is represented in film and what kinds of feelings such representations are supposed to elicit in the viewers. An answer to that question should be informative not only for theories of film and emotion, but also for theories of culture and representation.