Tagarchief: art

On Immersion 26: Emotional art and expression, part 1 – Art and Emotion

The subject of Derek Matravers’ study Art and Emotion (1998) is our emotional engagement with art. Art in this sense means not ‘just’ representational art; music and other forms of less representational art are also at stake. Matravers asks two central questions. The first question is the one we saw earlier in the works of Currie and Walton (the paradox of fiction): how can it be that we feel emotions when we are engaged with representations? How do we feel emotions for things that do not happen to ourselves, but merely in a (fictional) work of art? Does it matter that we know the things described not to be real? The second question Matravers poses is how we can ‘recognize’ emotions in works of art and why we describe works of art in terms of emotion (‘this classical piece of music is just so sad!’, ‘this painting is very aggressive’…). Why do we see art as expressions of emotion? In the following posts, these two questions will be taken up. Although these questions are of course subject of fierce debates, Matravers’ theory does give us more insight in understanding the implications of these questions.

Derek Matravers’ Art and Emotion (1998)

Currie, Gregory. Arts and Minds. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004.
Matravers, Dererk. Art and Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On immersion 3: A working definition

In the previous posts I argued that, when dealing with fiction, we sometimes find ourselves being absorbed into a fictional world. This is of course just replacing the word immersion with absorption. It in no way explains what it means to be immersed in a fictional world. To be able to discuss what it means to be immersed, I will first provide a working definition. I will use this working definition as a starting point for further discussion on the concept of immersion. In short, immersion can be qualified as the phenomenon of a person trading his or her own identity and environment to a certain extent for a represented identity and environment. According to this working definition, immersion seems to involve a person consciously or unconsciously trading his or her identity and environment or surroundings for a fictional identity and environment. It assumes the presence of a represented (and fictional) world.

Of course this definition is far from complete and it does not explain the workings of immersion. We could ask whether immersion occurs consciously or unconsciously, and why someone would willingly trade his or her environment for that in a horror movie? What exactly does it mean to trade your identity? Does it mean we somehow ‘become’ Emma Bovary when reading Flaubert’s novel? To be able to gradually develop a more systematic understanding of the concept of immersion, the following posts will first discuss definitions offer by much cited authors on the subject and will continue by discussing their explanations of how immersion works.

On immersion 2: Outline

The question pursued in this series is about our experiences with representations. In our experience with representations, from soap series to classic literature, we sometimes find ourselves being absorbed into the (fictional) world presented. How can this be? Why do we feel emotions towards fictional characters we know to be “fake”? We know Emma Bovary is a tragic figure, but also a fictional figure. There was no Emma Bovary, she’s made up by the author of Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert. And still we feel sorry for her and hope everything will be fine in the end. Even when we’ve read the story before, know it ends in tragedy and are unable to save her. When reading, it sometimes feels like you are in the world of the novel, not (just) in your armchair reading. Although this everyday experience may seem simple at surface, for an (aesthetic) understanding of this phenomenon it involves rather difficult problems to solve.

The above mentioned phenomenon of transposition into fictional worlds is sometimes called immersion. In contemporary theory, especially theory dealing with new media, the term immersion is used without addressing the, in my opinion, necessary problematic aspects of the concept. Some critics have attempted to define the term, but mostly from perspectives of for instance technology that do not deal with the underlying philosophical or ontological problems. This why this series will address several theories of the philosophy of art to problematize the concept of immersion. We have to ask questions preceding a concept of immersion, for instance about the nature of representations, in order to form a stable basis on which theoretical reflection on the concept of immersion can be built. The goal of this series is therefore not to give a definitive answer to the question of what immersion is or what it means to be immersed, but rather to give a series of perspectives on how one can think about immersion.

The general outline of this series will be first the problematization of the way the term immersion is used in contemporary theory dealing with new media. To do this, the metaphor of “text as world” will be one of the central issues. From this metaphor, we need to address stimuli and perception, which brings us closer to the problems of the relation between real and fictional worlds. Next, the concept of empathy will be discussed as one of the mechanisms for transposing oneself into another world. The concept of empathy draws heavily on imagination, which leads us to the question of what the difference is between being experiencing a representation and experiencing imagination. Is a representation needed for immersion to emerge? The provisional conclusions drawn from the preceding discussions will be problematized on ontological grounds and I will try to use the (postmodern) notions of interface and rhizome to form a possible solution to the proposed problems.

In the second part of the series I will try to use the problematizations and possible solution(s) in a case study of the postmodern genre of cyberpunk, especially because postmodernism and cyberpunk deal with topics relating closely to our problematization of immersion. Where literature and film are, in almost all cases, linear, new (digital) media offer us the possibility to interact with the representation it offers us. Could this mean we would actually be able to save Emma Bovary from her misfortune? Connecting to the ontological problematization of immersion, cyberpunk takes us into the future to test whether our understanding of our (emotional) relation to representations can uphold against the influence of time and new forms of representation. The case study will focus on David Cronenberg’s 1999 movie eXistenZ. We will closely look at a future in which reality and representation are, perception wise, indistinguishable. Does this have implications for an understanding of immersion?

A lot of big questions are inherently linked to the outline of the series given in this post. I’m not pretending to answer them all, or even one, in a definitive way, as I’m am merely searching for a way to understand the concept of immersion myself.

On immersion 1: Series of posts on immersion

The last couple of years I have been really interested in what is sometimes called immersion. The quest for what immersion precisely is, is a (very) though one. Roughly it is understood that to be immersed in a work of art (or a representation) means being absorbed in a fictional world. I guess we all know this experience. When reading a book or watching a movie, we sometimes tend to forget the act of reading/watching and we find our self being emotionally evolved with the fictional characters. Surely, although we don’t like to admit it, everyone has had a hard time not to cry when watching a really sad movie.

The “explanation” given above does not do justice to the concept of immersion. For instance, look at the last two words of the previous paragraph, ‘sad movie’. What does this mean? Surely not that the movie is sad. The movie is an object, an inanimate thing. It cannot be sad. It can make you sad, but this is not the same. This is just one of the many problems you encounter when thinking about art and our (emotional) relation to it.

I do not hold the illusion that I can give a definitive definition of immersion. In the series of posts on immersion introduced by this post, I will use the contemporary (art) theory to problematize a concept of immersion. Mainly through the philosophical/aesthetical works of Richard Wollheim, Gregory Currie, Kendall Walton and Derek Matravers I will show that understanding what immersion involves issues that go back to for instance questions of what (pictorial) representation is and how representations relate to reality.

At the end of the series, I will use the postmodern genre of cyberpunk as an illustration of not only the impact of representation on our conception of reality, but also the strength of fiction to test the understanding of a philosophical concept.

For now, this will do. The next post will give a general outline of the series. Until then, you could check out Jacob van der Linden’s posts on the same subject at http://blamkol.blogspot.com/.