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TitleThe Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses
ISBN 139780822323587
CategoryArts - Film
File Size20.3 MB
Total Pages320
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
1	The Memory of Images
2 The Memory of Things
 The Memory of Touch
 The Memory of the Senses
Conclusion: The Portable Sensorium
Document Text Contents
Page 160

whom his cinema theory is based, Bergson and Peirce, do not use 139
the term mimesis, it is quite consistent with all their conceptions of
the relationship between the world and the sign or the image. Like _3
memory in Bergson's theory, mimesis is mediated by the body. As °
Peirce's semiotics presumes a continuum between more immediate CD
signs and more symbolic signs, mimesis presumes a continuum be- o
tween the actuality of the world and the production of signs about 0


that world.4 This excursion into increasingly bodily forms of repre- g3
sentation is thus consistent with the theories of representation and o
memory with which I began.

Mimetic representation, then, exists on a continuum with more
symbolic forms of representation. It lies at the other pole from the
symbolic representation characteristic of contemporary urban and
postindustrial society. The highly symbolic world in which we find
ourselves nowadays is in part a function of the capitalist tendency
to render meanings as easily consumable and translatable signs,
a tendency that in turn finds its roots in Enlightenment idealism.
Consequently, critics of capitalism often seek a return to mimetic
representation in order to shift the emphasis from the world of ab­
straction to the concrete here-and-now. Because vision is the sense
that best lends itself to symbolization, contemporary forays in West­
ern scholarship into a tactile epistemology are generally rooted in
critiques of the current state of visuality in postindustrial, capitalist

Noting that the senses are formed in a social context, Marx argued
that the modern individual's "alienation" is an alienation not only
from the products of his or her labor but from the very body and
the senses ([1844] 1978, 87-89). This observation informed many
subsequent critiques of the apparent atrophy of sensuous knowl­
edge in industrial and postindustrial societies. British critics such
as William Morris critiqued the fact that capitalist culture alien­
ated the "close" senses such as touch and smell, while honing the
visual sense until it acquired the character of a weapon (Classen,
Howes, and Synnott 1994, 87). Similarly, the Frankfurt School crit­
ics perceived an increasing process of abstraction stemming from
the subjugation of nature in Enlightenment science and culminating
in late capitalism. They do not confine this movement to the West,
noting that in both Homer and the Rig-Veda the separation of sub­
ject and object in representation originates in periods of territorial

Page 161

140 domination and the subjection of vanquished peoples (Horkheimer
and Adorno 1972, 13). Still, they argue that capitalism enables the

g domination of nature and others to an unprecedented degree. Sen-
E suous knowledges that rely on both body and mind, according to
g Horkheimer and Adorno, or what Benjamin called the mimetic fac-
"o ulty, have atrophied in the historical context of industrialism and
3 capitalism. The Frankfurt School critics valued sensuous knowledge
© as a reservoir of nonalienated experience (Horkheimer and Adorno
H 1972, 71 and passim). Mimesis, they argued, is a form of yielding to

one's environment, rather than dominating it, and thus offers a radi­
cal alternative to the controlling distance from the environment so
well served by vision.

Recall Benjamin's enormously productive suggestion (1968c) that
aura entails a relationship of contact, or a tactile relationship. The
"Artwork" essay implies that aura is the material trace of a prior con­
tact, be it brushworks that attest to the hand of the artist or the patina
on a bronze that testifies to centuries of oxidation. Aura enjoins a
temporal immediacy, a co-presence, between viewer and object. To
be in the presence of an auratic object is more like being in physi­
cal contact than like facing a representation. In early drafts of the
"Artwork" essay Benjamin posited a form of "sensuous similarity"
that would find communicative correspondences between nature
and perception (Hansen 1987). Sensuous similarity describes corre­
spondences between one's body and the world that precede repre­
sentation, such as the relationship between people and the heavens
described by astrology (this controversial notion disappeared from
the final draft of the essay). Benjamin's essay "On the Mimetic Fac­
ulty" (1978a) also took up this theme. This essay and the unfin­
ished Passagen-Werk, like the early drafts of the "Artwork" essay,
attempted, always evasively, to demonstrate a mimetic understand­
ing of material reality. Benjamin valued children's ability to relate
to things mimetically (Buck-Morss 1989, 263-67), and he suspected
that the mimetic relationship need not be superseded by an "adult"
way of relating to things as merely objects. He also suggested that
the use of the mimetic faculty varied over history. "It must be borne
in mind that neither mimetic powers nor mimetic objects have re­
mained the same in the course of thousands of years. Rather, we
must suppose that the gift of producing similarities—for example,
in dances, whose oldest function this was—and also the gift of rec-

Page 319

298 water into fire, 74
Watermelon Woman, The, 25, 65
Water Ritual #1: An Urban Site of

<D Purification, 251115
pn Waters, John: Polyester, 212, 245

Way to My Father's Village, The, 25, 75
Weiner, Annette, 95
Weinstein, Jeff, 194, 234-235, 238
Wen, Laurie: The Trained Chinese

Tongue, 236-238
Wharton, Edith, 223
What's the Difference Between a Yam

and a Sweet Potato?, 227
White, Allon, 87
Whitman, Walt, 26
Who Needs a Heart?, 25, 31-32, 36-37,

47, 68, 71, 76,134, 200; sound in, 48,

Who's Gonna Pay for These Donuts
Anyway?, 25

Wilkinson, Dawn: Instant Dread, 224

Williams, Linda, 151, 254 n2
Williams, Selina: Saar, 227
Winnicott, D. W: and transitional

object, 78,123-124
Woman Being in Asia, A, 1^1 ni
Woman from the Lake of Scented

Souls, 104-106,120, 237
Wong, Paul, 4; Chinaman's Peak: Walk-

ing the Mountain, 74
Work in Progress, 252 ni
Worringer, Wilhelm. See Riegl
Writing (as technology), 214-215, 220-


Xie Fei: Woman from the Lake of
Scented Souls, 104-106,120, 237

Young, Robert: Alambrista, 252 n i
Youngblood, Gene, 256 ni8

"Zone of indetermination," 147, 202

Page 320

Laura U. Marks is Assistant Professor of Film Studies
at Carleton University.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Marks, Laura U.
The skin of the film : intercultural cinema,
embodiment, and the senses / by Laura U. Marks.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8223-2358-3 (cloth : alk. paper). —
ISBN 0-8223-2391-5 (paper : alk. paper)
1. Intercultural communication in motion pictures.
2. Motion pictures—Philosophy. 3. Deleuze,
Gilles—Cinema. 4. Experimental films—History.
5. Video art.
PN1993.5.D44M37 1999
79i.43'09i72'4—C2i 99-26487

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