Motion Pictures: Politics of Perception

By Zarzycka, Marta; Papenburg, Bettina | Discourse (Detroit, MI), Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Motion Pictures: Politics of Perception


Zarzycka, Marta, Papenburg, Bettina, Discourse (Detroit, MI)


Movement, Stillness, Affect, and Emotion

This special issue examines the capacity of images-be they still or mobile-to move wsas viewers. We wish to foreground the capacity of motion to induce affect and to spark emotional response. In this we tarry with recent scholarship on affect that insists upon sharply differentiating affect from emotion. Brian Massumi and Steven Shaviro, for example, both see emotion as contained by the subject and affect as existing in excess of the subject. Massumi insists that affect is presubjective and unqualified sensation, whereas emotion is situated perception: subjectivized, formed, and qualified intensity.1 He stresses the "irreducibly bodily and autonomic nature of affect" while asserting that an "emotion is a subjective content, the sociolinguistic fixing of the quality of an experience which is from that point onward defined as personal."2 In the same vein, Shaviro affirms that "[e]motion is affect captured by a subject, or tamed and reduced to the extent that it becomes commensurate with that subject."3 While affect is a force or intensity flowing through subjects, an emotion becomes property of the subject, or as Shaviro puts it, "Subjects are overwhelmed and traversed by affect, but they have or possess their own emotions."4 Yet as both Massumi and Shaviro admit, affect and emotion are closely related: while emotion confines affect, it does not exhaust affect. Shaviro emphasizes that "emotion can never entirely separate itself from the affect from which it is derived."5 Similarly, the inner movement that we experience and articulate as emotion contains the various types of physical movement that are involved in the process of production and reception of images ranging from camera motion to the flickering of our eyelids. We therefore propose the term "movement" as encompassing both affect and emotion.

If motion links to emotion, our second term-"stillness," or "inner stillness"-signifies neither simply the reverse nor the lack of inner movement, nor does it signify passivity. Rather, the emotional state of becoming still, which may be facilitated through both still awámoving images, is the state of retreat, rest, and contemplation and of subdy connecting to the outside world while being in touch with one's sense of inferiority. Stillness and movement are vital components of the rendering of both still and moving images as well as of their perception and their projection. Camera motion and the movement of bodies and objects in front of the camera lens shape the process of production of footage. The movement and stillness of our bodies-when sitting in the dark room of the movie theater or when holding a photograph-reign over the perception of images. Movement is also a key constituent of projection in the form of a celluloid strip moving through a projector or when it comes to the projector emitting light waves and particles. Motion pictures draw us in by way of their movement, facilitating identification with film characters as well as bringing about immersion into a projected setting and evoking empathy with characters, objects, rooms, and landscapes in addition to forms and shapes onscreen. Both moving and still images have the power to move us but also to still us with their capacity to invite a state of contemplation and arrest-particularly infrequent in current times that value movement as a sign of activity, vitality, and advancement.

The threshold between still and moving images-both the dialectical tension between these terms and the indeterminate space where one becomes another-is particularly enticing.6 Contemporary attempts to engage this threshold are numerous: digital images that unfold in time across electronic screens, YouTube clips that can be paused and reanimated at any moment, still images inserted into a sequence of a film, and slow-motion and stop-motion techniques employed in film editing. Via remote control and keystroke, viewers encountering digital images can control the progression of stilled moments, disrupting temporal linearity. …

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