Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2013: Beyond Film

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Cinema and/as Autism
William John Robert Campbell Brown, David H Fleming, Steven Eastwood

Last modified: 23-03-2013


This is a panel of theorists and practitioners looking into the issue of cinema and/as autism.

An Artaudian Autistic Assemblage: From Affective Neuro-Stereotypy to Mental Mathematical Architectures

David H. Fleming University of Nottingham Ningbo

In this exploratory paper I examine how an ‘autistic’ image of thought may be unleashed or nonverbally stimulated by an affective assemblage of technology and acting. Adapting Artaudian models of performance alongside neurological views of cinema introducing mental relations into image, I explore how Hollywood depictions of autism might serve to affect the brain through the locus of the body, stimulating an alternative image of thought. I particularly examine how films featuring autistic characters utilise affective performance, movement and bodily gesture to communicate mental alterity and unfamiliar brain patterns. I also open up a consideration into how different technologies surrounding cinema (such as VHS or DVD) may have augmented these. Here, I argue seeing-feeling with autistic characters and films serves to disrupt ‘normal’ sensory patterns, so that an alternative mathematical mental architecture can be prehended. Indeed, Steven Shaviro reminds us that a new ‘neurodiversity’ movement increasingly demands a reclassification of autism as an ‘original mode of being in the world.’ And in following the recent work of Erin Manning, he argues that autistics are typically stigmatized for not approaching the world “according to standard human-centered expectations.” Autism is here understood in terms of encouraging an ‘aesthetic’ rather than ‘representational’ image of the world, which for Shaviro may even serve to offer a more adequate “image of thought” than the one provided by traditional phenomenology. If autistic perception both precedes cognition and bypasses normalised ways of ‘understanding’ and classifying the world, I explore how cinematic versions of autistic perception open thought up to these transfigured planes by defamiliarising the key cognitive role of the ‘other’ co-ordinate, and forgoing ‘normal’ figure based forms of recognition by foregrounding nonhuman and mathematical patterns.


Cinemautism: provisional and super knowledge in the (rooms and) social space of cinema

Steven Eastwood, University of East London

Autism is described by the National Autistic Society as affecting “how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and how they make sense of the world around them” (National Autistic Society). People with autism have said that the world to them is a mass of people, places and events, which they struggle to make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety. Regulation of experience is needed – often in the form of repetition – but the difficulty in understanding the provisional knowledge and the subjectivities of others is always there. There are apparent parallels to be drawn with the systems of narrative cinematic arrangements. Much like the “other people” described by those with autism, the normative cinema appears to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with the other of the audience. It knows what to reveal, what to conceal, where and how to be. But when and how might the much debated screen-mind relationship produce a frustration of otherness, or tamper with an audience’s ability to ascribe provisional knowledge to others? In this paper I will argue that cinema is required to be regulated so as to be socialized, so to speak, to the reception and response of 'others' (the audience), and so a camera must be placed not too far from, or not too close to the speaking subject; equally, a normative film ought not to be too repetitive and yet always balances the use of motif repetition; it should provide an audience with the right angles, the necessary rooms, the useful information, so as to be a good companion to our cognition. And yet all normative (fiction) films threaten to get ‘autistic’, or to expose the autism within us, the viewer. In other words no film system is perfectly regulated. The paper will examine a number of films that involve spatial continuity going awry (either deliberately or unforced), parallax film narrative events and provisional narrative systems, including films by Marguerite Duras, Jerzy Skolimowski and Shane Carruth. The paper asks, can we think of the cinematic transaction as by its very nature and construction imperfectly regulated? Is there such a thing as an ‘autistic’ film assemblage? If so, what emancipatory, affective value might such an acquired autistic perception have for the orthodoxies of our social configurations?


Cinema and psychic equivalence

William Brown, University of Roehampton, London

Psychic equivalence is a concept that is particularly important in the work of contemporary psychoanalyst Peter Fonagy. In his work with Mary Target and Anthony Bateman, Fonagy argues that psychic equivalence involves a failure to mentalise. That is, if mentalisation is the human capacity to be mindful of other minds, psychic equivalence is the belief that all other minds know what is in one’s own mind, and that the outer world conforms exactly to what is in one’s own mind (see Fonagy and Target 1996a; Fonagy and Target 1996b; Bateman and Fonagy 2006). As such, psychic equivalence is the breakdown of mentalisation or the ability to be mindful of other minds, and the institution of believing that all minds are one’s own mind.

With regard to cinema, it is common for viewers to feel anxiety when they know more than the characters in a film. Knowing that the killer lurks behind the door, viewers are placed in a state of suspense as the character obliviously approaches their own doom. The desire to shout ‘don’t open the door’ suggests mindfulness of the character’s mind: the character in the film does not know what awaits them, and our response acknowledges this.

However, this response from viewers demonstrates what we might term psychic equivalence; as a borderline personality cannot mentalise, nor can the film viewer tolerate the lack of equivalence between the character’s and their own mind. The paper explores, then, the way in which cinema can at times be a machine for inducing moments or modes of psychic equivalence, which is itself at the root of the borderline personality.

Only abstracts are available on this site