Known & Unknown Mimesis: Projection & Drama

Thoughts On: Mimesis, Projection & Drama

A question of the foundation and reason for art and cinema.

We return again today to our developing body of work around subjective-objective theory. Previously, we looked into the different forms of subjective and objective projection. Because we went into some detail explaining subjective and objective expressionism, impressionism, surrealism and realism respectively, we shall not delve into this again. So, before we continue, you may want to check out the recent post. That said, today I'd like to begin linking together these four modes of projection with the four modes of drama that we delved into earlier on in the development of this theory.

You may have seen this post coming as I have used two almost identical diagrams to depict a spectrum of unrealism and realism in both drama and objective-subjective projection:

To understand why these diagrams are so similar, we have to pull away from a specific theory of drama or projection and return to the question that is at the heart of all of our questioning: What is cinema for?

The question of "What is cinema?" is one that has rung through much of cinematic history and has lead to many varying conclusions ranging from Epstein's theory of photogénie, which implies that cinema is art and therefore seeks to find moral enhancement and investigate humanity, to the French New Wave theory of film as politics, of everything as political, to even Deleuz's theory of movement- and time-image. These theories describe mechanisms of cinema and so answer the question "What is cinema?". Hand-in-hand with this comes an answer to the question "What is cinema for?". How strong the bond between purpose and form, between answers to what cinema is and what cinema is for, is always varying within these theories, however. And such, I believe is a great weakness. Epstein, for instance, writes of photogénie as almost a source of existential pleasure. But, whilst this pleasure provides some sense of meaning, the reduction to be made on the purpose of cinema is not all too dexterous: Epstein seems to suggest that cinema should provide high moral pleasure, that this is its very purpose. However, consider the pop-corn action film, that which was not the art film that Epstein revered and aimed to create, and cinema suddenly loses its purpose. And Epstein, for reasons attached to his context in film history and more, was accepting of this exclusion; he wanted to craft an art cinema in opposition to a cinema of entertainment and thus was seemingly willing to label some films true cinema and others not. In my opinion, this is foolhardy as it seems very clear that, in regards to pleasure, there are many different kinds and purposes of cinema; the art film means to please in ways that differ from the blockbuster, but, just because there is a difference, there is no consequential distinction between purpose. This is to say that different functions do not inherently decide the value of meaning; objectively, not just subjectively, the art film and blockbuster are neither equal or unequal. Quality can only truly be judged with specification if one truly knows cinema. For how can one watch, for example, an array or musicals and not find at least one they enjoy? And how can one then say that, even though they are not a particular fan of musicals in general, that the genre is meaningless? There is greater investigation needed in this case. To find virtue in a musical means that the musical in general has some meaning; it cannot be dismissed even if it is clouded. If one investigates, the musical may perhaps be ranked against other genres in terms of the quality meaning (a silly game if I am allowed to note), but, the importance of this point is that meaning must be recognised, and that meaning cannot be recognised without specific analysis, without a focus on purpose as opposed to form and general categorisation.

We are beginning to lose ground now. So, let us take a step back. The true meaning of cinema cannot be derived from an answer to the question "What is cinema?". "What is cinema?" means to define and categorise, not to designate meaning and purpose. Alas, purpose follows definition because most things that are do, most things that exist have purpose, and so in being they act; this is why "What is cinema for?" is attached to "What is cinema?". We return again, however, to the conundrum that a definition of cinema too specific leads to a failure to assign cinema, to recognise within cinema, general meaning across its vast array of products. Like Epstein then sees non-art cinema as meaningless with a theory of photogénie, anyone who defines cinema with the same degree of exclusive specificity will be unable to do much but dismiss many varying forms of cinema separate from their singular focus. Or worse, one will fit all cinema into a confine too small - such so often being the case with ideological answers to the question of "What is cinema?". We see this especially with those who see all film as politics and then map a Marxist or feminist ideology onto it, painting all film on a spectrum of anti and pro Marxism/feminism. This is a game that may be played, and there may be purpose in it being played to some degree, but, it does not answer any real questions intrinsic to cinema itself because there is undoubtedly more to cinema than politics. (Such being self-evident when we accept that politics do not form the foundation of human life and nature). To access more truthful ground, I believe we must look inside cinema to find purpose before definition. Or, to be more accurate, we must attempt to look through cinema to see the very crux of its meaning in the epicentre of its being; i.e. in its function.

To find this singularity of sorts, I sense that Aristotle provides a good starting point, but is certainly not the end of any journey. Aristotle's greatest contribution to dramatic theory, in my view, lies within his description of poetry as mimetic. Like many after him, however, Aristotle makes an error in using mimesis to answer a "what" question as opposed to a "why" (a purpose and meaning-based) question. Aristotle suggests that poetry is memisis and then categorises theatre and poetry through its imitative capacity. In doing so, he assigns it a form that does not give it the means to act out its greater purpose. Aristotle then sees poetry as mimicking, as imitating, life with fluctuation in regards to accuracy. What poetry does in his view is answer questions of what would happen within in a given space or rule set; for example, what would happen if Artemis and Aphrodite came to conflict over a family they sought to have influence over? Aristotle reduces all fantasy to reality with this, and thus he gives poetry one arm when one could argue that poetry lifts a weight much heavier and larger than that which he implies. One cannot lift a heavy, thick and wide box with one arm; they need two. Aristotle does not recognise that poetry deals with imitation beyond the real world and thus his answer to "What is poetry" leaves art - storytelling - incapable of doing more than process audience emotion when it is far too easy to argue that art does more than just this - for instance, it investigates and questions emotion and existential thought, in turn, has function, meaning and purpose outside of just inducing sensation; art can be reflexive, constructive and moral in a capacity that Aristotle's theory does not pay respect to.

Whilst Aristotle's conception of mimesis is deeply lacking, there is seemingly truth in the idea of art providing a form of imitation, as the logic underlying a theory of mimesis is staggeringly difficult to rebut - maybe even impossible. Within the theory of mimesis is the idea that nothing comes from nowhere, or that something may not just start to exist. As any means of categorisation finds, the most obvious examples being in biology and chemistry, there is always evolution; from one thing comes another, and in the process of emergence comes development. If we map this onto art, we will conclude that, art does not just sprout from the imagination, but is derivative of something. What? is then the question. However, I will not answer it directly simply because I cannot and would be foolish to try. Alas, I will risk an indirect and conceptual response.

As we all know, art can emerge from personal experience, it can also emerge from ideology, from emotion, from intellectual deduction, from a dream, from a lie, from a misconception, etc. Where art comes from an artist and audience can never fully know as there simply are too many forces at play when one creates and spectates. However, this does not require the dismissal of a source (or sources) from which art may emerge from. It is always possible to determine some of the sources of a piece of art. For example, a writer may have a terrible experience at a restaurant, make a note of it, and decide to build a comedic book from it. In writing this book, the author engages in the practice of mimesis; he will imitate or re-represent an experience that he, and many others, have endured. And from this mimesis will emerge realisation, meaning and purpose. The writer may have learnt a lesson in patience whilst at the restaurant; this will come through in his work. However, more than just this may emerge, and this is because his work is received by others with their own experiences which the mimesis may attribute to. More fundamentally, however, more will emerge from the piece of art because there are forces at play which are unknown.

We may then ask, why did the writer go to the restaurant in the first place? Was it fate? What urged him to become a writer and how does this relate to him starting to write the comedy? What exactly went wrong in the restaurant and why? There are a plethora more questions to be asked and these can be mapped onto his story. We may then see the comedic restaurant story as a commentary on bad luck, on incompetence, on bureaucracy, etc. Some of these commentaries would be interacted with by the writer's conclusion on patience, but further commentary that naturally emerges from the unknown in the imitated situation will not. Thus, there is so often more to the story that anyone can know. One must not drown in recognising this, however, as a story is confined and packaged itself, which only validates a certain body of analysis - which is to suggest that, because of the manner in which a story is presented, it may not be appropriate to speak of politics or of fate. The rules of this game, however, are often complicated.

What is necessary to extract from this sequence of thought is not predicated on the validity of what may be surmised and analysed in a story - this must almost always be decided with specific reference to individual works. Rather, what is of most note is that we must recognise that the basis of imitation lies in both the unknown and the known. One of the most successful approaches to wrestling with this issue, in all psychological outputs whether they be artistic or not, comes from Jung and his conception of the conscious and unconscious. Jung provides a framework that competently describes art as mimetic with a focus on the unconscious mind, in turn, unknown forces that are imitated. He deals with this within the confines of his archetype theory. To Jung, archetypes embodied universal human idols that we map onto the world, understand life through and use to act. These emerge in consciousness through the collective unconscious, which is to say that they are recognised in one's own mind, but are found in all minds, in the collective, general, mean human mind. For Jung, the archetypes were mimetic basis, and thus myths, stories and fairy-tales of a profoundly deep nature, all draw from and imitate them.

Much more could be said about Jung, but he makes a similar mistake to the likes of Epstein in that he is exclusive in his definition of what stories are. It must be noted that, unlike Epstein, Jung makes an approach to narrative from a position of "Why?" or "What for?". Alas, his attached "What?" is too exclusive - and one sees this in his dream analysis most particularly, which forms, in my view, some of his weakest work. Like Epstein dealt with high art cinema, Jung deals with deeply profound narratives, but, just like all cinema is not art cinema, all narratives are not deeply profound. Thus, there are limitations in Jung. Unfortunately, I then find very little value in his dream analysis for the fact that I very rarely dream in overtly archetypal symbols and can so often see my previous day in my nightly dreams. What Jung then fails to address is the form of dreams that are more functional than the collective unconscious implies - and so this is where Freud's analysis seemingly outclasses his; for Freud not everything seems to be directly routed in childhood in the most strict sense and so there is an allowance for mimesis rooted in the present, not just the ancient, universal past as with Jung.

From Jung, we learn that we must be careful with our assigning of a mimetic foundation. Art does more than imitate the unconscious, the deeply rooted past and the unknown. Art is more than capable of interacting with consciousness, the present and the known. In fact, as we loosely implied, it is a product of both. The degree to which this is true is always determined with specific analysis, but it seems acceptable to assert that there is always two forces at the source of mimesis: the unknown and the known.

There are three parallels that we must, at this point, distinguish: unknown and known parallel conscious and unconscious and in turn parallel real and unreal. These three dichotomies are not precisely synonymous, but they form a conceptual yin and yang that artistic mimesis embodies. To these three dichotomies, I may even hazard to add a fourth; objective and subjective. Let us then step back and analyse some very basic Taoist theory.

To the Taoists, the foundation of all existence is Tao, otherwise known as The Way. What must be emphasised above all in this assertion is the concept that "Tao called Tao is not Tao". That is to say that The Way of all things, the foundation and reason and direction of existence, cannot be given a name and definition. If anyone purports to know The Way, they are lying. Thus, the Tao that is given a name and is supposedly known - brought out of the collective or universal unconscious and unknown into personal consciousness - is not the true Tao: Tao called Tao is not Tao. With this in mind, we come to the philosophical Chinese symbol of the Taijitu:

The Taijitu symbolises Taiji (the Ultimate Supreme, something that, through Taoist thought, may be aligned with Tao) through Yin and Yang. From the ultimately unity that we may call Tao there then emerges a duality in the negative and positive. This negative and positive is defined as masculine and feminine, wet and dry, dark and light and more, but, fundamentally, it makes most sense to apply the Taoist dictum of namelessness; the Yin and Yang that may be named are not the true Yin and Yang.

That said, we have in our hands now a hugely profound basis from which to further build upon a conception of mimesis. If the foundation for existence can be conceptualised as The Way and The Way can be thought of as birthing all things, then all that is, is The Way. At least, this is partly true. The Way is both Yin and Yang, positive and negative; it is and it isn't, it can be known of, but will always remain truly unknown. Humans have the capacity to know and not know, and from these two positions, come different kinds of actions: conscious and unconscious actions. Taoist practise so often centralises unconscious practice and the nature of the feminine, or rather, the nature of yin. Through yin, through passivity, humans can embody and align themselves with Tao (which produces positive Te - a concept we will not wander into). This Taoist proposition is very similar to the Jungian proposition in that it is through not being that one truly becomes for the Taoists and that it is in being unconscious that one truly masters consciousness and the self for Jung. And what emerges from this is an emphasis on the unknown as a source of purpose, meaning, and in turn, mimesis; both Jung and the Taoist suggest that we must imitate Yin to a rather conclusive degree. Alas, this is just their philosophy and certainly not a universal one of all artist and philosophers - and I briefly describe it to make this very point; that one can prioritises Yin over Yang, or vice versa, in their mimesis.

Let us not get trapped here, however, and start to build up from such a base. At the foundation of all being is an ambiguous logic and direction. This is a philosophy that I find acceptable - and as do most people. After all, it is the scientists who investigate the universe with the assumption that there is logic and rules to be found. The theologian, too, investigates the world as having rules and logic, and they assign these fundamental elements the role of meaning. The artist and art serves a very similar role in that they imitate life as to find, question and grapple with its meaning and logic. The manifestations and diversity of this imitation are seemingly countless and inconceivable, but, according to the assumption that all art has some logic, aims to have some meaning and purpose, this remains true: art has purpose, therefore it investigates the unknown or known, therefore it is mimetic. Let it be emphasised, however, that the logic of art is not entirely derivative of an artist - they so often represent Yang and the known - there, too, is the unknown, and this falls all the way down to the the realm of Tao (as does the artist at times, if this need be noted).

There is much more to be expanded upon in this regard that leads to a discussion of this:

However, we shall save this subject for another posts, as this cannot be approached without recognising and following the more basic concepts in this post. What we have so far done with our transition through Epstein to Aristotle to Jung to Taoism is begin to formulate the strongest answer to "What is cinema for?" that I can manage. Cinema's purpose is found in known and unknown mimesis, in the imitation of the known life and the life unknown. From this imitation comes the investigation of meaning and purpose itself, and so there is born a cycle between imitation and conclusion that mimics the process of evolution; from one copy of a biological organism comes another copy, however, the new copy represents a development because it also inherits conclusions represented as adaptations. In evolutionary biology, there is mimesis, imitation, in reproduction, but conclusion and meaning acted out in the process of adaptation. This plays out in art and cinema, on a much smaller scale with very different variables, through projection and drama.

Projection is the heart of cinematic mimesis, it is an artist representing the world through mechanisms of objective and subjective realism, impressionism, expressionism and surrealism.

Drama is memisis transforming into action, in turn, into conclusion and meaning. So, from projection comes imitation, but from drama comes meaning. However, these two elements find themselves caught in a cycle when the viewer is introduced (drama is represented on screen, whilst projection is an extension of the hand of the filmmaker).

The viewer mediates between drama and the representation of drama via projection; they perceive the two as affecting one another, and thus may learn from the evolution of a narrative as time sees space transform and drama unfold. Herein is a more precise articulation of our answer to the question, "What cinema is for?".

What we next find emerging from the relationship between projection and drama are varying experiences based on the degree of realism and unrealism represented. We return again, then, to our two diagrams:

Realism and Biodrama are often seen coupled for the fact that they produce characters, drama and cinematic spaces that derive their purpose and meaning from close observation of bare-faced truth in reality. Tuphlodrama and Impressionism sometimes couple so that twisted reality is given a symbolic basis attached to emotion and psychology. Typhlodrama and Expressionism also find themselves coupled as the perturbed reality of typhlodramatic action often requires psychological and intellectual support via expressionism. Finally, melodrama and surrealism find themselves together so often for their unrealistic captivation or representation of truth beyond reality.

These, as one can determine, produce different classes of experience in a narrative, each with their own philosophy and outcomes. We shall save a more detailed exploration of these effects as they manifest through characterisation and drama for a detailed post that will take advantage of examples, and so this is where we will close investigation for now: at the start of a What and Why of cinema. Let us, however, end with an emphasis of the core point I hope to be made: Art is a mimetic function that explores and exists within a Yin and Yang, a known and unknown, reality and unreality, objective and subjective, conscious and unconscious. Projection is the basic, fundamental phase of artistic mimesis that provides a space that drama then imbibes with action, in turn, with meaning; projection sets a space and drama gives that space meaning. This is the "What?" to the more important "What for?" that we are ultimately centralising in formulating this theory; cinema is an affective agent, constructed as a form of communication, with which we try to grapple with, live in and explore the unknown and known of being. If it affects you, it means something; therefore, objective-subjective theory.

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