Worldview-philosophy-through-film: an account of cognitive discomfiture in viewer-engagement
Koster, Johannes Marthinus
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The philosophy of painful art has a lineage that goes back at least as far as Aristotle's treatment of tragedy. Since the 1990s, the problem of cognitively confusing, negatively valenced film-viewing experiences has achieved a renewed significance because of the flourishing of the puzzle film and its unresolvable variant, the impossible puzzle film. This trend, which has unfolded within the emergence of mass art films and a mass cinephilia that have popularised the techniques of art and avant-garde cinema, may be best embodied in the films of David Lynch and specifically in his early masterwork, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), a disorienting tale of incestuous sexual abuse. To investigate this topic, I adopt the piecemeal, mid-level approach that Noël Carroll has established within the broader research programme of cognitive (biocultural) film theory. Accordingly, I construct a rich-disclosure framework that accounts for cognitive discomfiture film-viewing experiences from well-founded, constructive explanatory material within film theory and the philosophy of film, and interdisciplinary support from social scientific research in media psychology. The most important of these sources are David Bordwell's neo-formalist model of conventional and unconventional cinema; Todd Berliner's reappreciation of the challenging dimensions of mainstream film; Torben Grodal's PEMCA flow/freeze model of viewer-engagement plus the saturationacceptance and upstream intentional access that it encompasses; Noël Carroll's dramaof-disclosure and erotetic, criterial prefocusing; and Aaron Smuts' integrative, nonhedonic theory of rich, value-constitutive film-viewing. The latter two sources contribute a further five important elements to the integrative cognitive-emotive model of viewerengagement, namely folk psychology, asymmetrical, 'twofolded' character engagement, negatively valenced affects, maieutically guided moral involvement, and narrative practice with therapeutic potential. Thereafter, I complete the overall conceptual framework by positioning rich-disclosure within the broader field of eudaimonic viewing practices. This basically involves linking the foregoing film theoretical/philosophical material to the film-based popularisation of philosophy (movie-made thought experiments), to William Charlton's relatively uncontroversial definition of academic philosophy, and to Mark Koltko-Rivera's systematic worldview theory. It produces a sense of popular philosophical, eudaimonic viewer-engagement that is characteristically mentalisation-dependent, worldviewinvolving, and conversational. In the end, the problem of motivated viewer-engagement with cognitively irresolvable impossible puzzle films is addressed in terms of, what I call, worldview-philosophythrough-film. The latter is defended in two moves: A primary, reflective, and descriptive definition of this gradually emerging, graded kind of viewer-centred popular philosophy. And, a secondary, integrative set of considerations of possible objections to this preliminary effort to characterise and account for an important-but-unaddressed filmic popularisation of philosophy via painful viewing experiences that hold the promise of renewing viewers' insights into their most basic beliefs.