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Cinematic Shocks

Recognition, Aesthetic Experience, and Phenomenology

Julian Hanich

Pages 581 - 602


In this article I suggest that we, as human beings, gain personal recognition not only through intersubjective encounters with others, but also through aesthetic experience. To support my claims about what I call ‘aesthetic recognition,’ I focus on a pervasive but rarely explored phenomenon: the cinematic shock. Not only a staple ingredient of thrillers, horror films, and disaster movies, it is also found in art-films. The cinematic shock will serve as the case in point of my argument because in its lived intensity, density, and conspicuousness we can describe it more easily with appropriate words than other aesthetic experiences that are equally able to foster aesthetic recognition but are less readily accessible via language. When experienced in the social environment of the movie theater, cinematic shocks enable two widespread types of aesthetic recognition: aesthetic experience as individual self-recognition, and aesthetic experience as a collective recognition of accord. Due to the strongly affective lived-body experience brought about by an encounter with the aesthetic object, the recipient not only feels self-aware of and self-affirmed in his or her own embodied existence, he or she also experiences confirmation as part of a group responding equally—in accordance—to an aesthetic object. This double recognition gained from the cinematic experience of shock derives from the individual film experience and the collective theatrical experience. An additional outcome of my methodological reliance on dense phenomenological descriptions may be an argument for the value of phenomenology in both the study of film and of aesthetics more generally.


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