Toward a Systematic Synthesis – the border lines, border conflicts and desirable transgression of cognitive film studies


Henry Bacon

As cognitive film studies together with ecological film theory and historical poetics emerged in the 1980s they defined their position in the field of film studies to great extent as standing in opposition to theories grouped round the scholarly periodical Screen, viz. de Saussure’s semiotics, Althusserl’s neomarxism, Freudian or Lacanian psychoanalysis and Foucouldian analysis of power structures. Later on the opposition pattern shifted slightly so that the main opponent of the cognitive film studies has been cultural studies and the kind of postmodernism which has emerged in the wake of Gilles Deleuze. In a philosophical sense the structuring opposition has been that between realism and conventionalism.

The main argument in this article is that setting these groups of theories into opposition with one another has to a significant extent been misguided and that many oppositions such as that between phenomenology and cognitivism, ecological film theory and semiotics, poetics and hermeneutics, formal analysis and interpretation, text centred approach and reception studies are complementary rather than mutually incompatible. An analysis of the actual questions that these major film theories address reveals that they treat equally important issues on different levels of how films are perceived and apprehended or how they relate to our lives. This point is captured in so-called bioculturalism, the basic premise of which is that cultural formations such as systems of representation emerge as a part of the social construction of reality yet are founded on cognitive faculties which humans have acquired in the process of evolution. Consequently, film studies should embrace a whole variety of approach in terms of their particular spheres of application so as to be able to address all the various issues that the cinematic experience evokes.