The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience, Vivian Sobchack – Chapter 1
Given into the experience of being in the world are perception and expression, a correlational structure of subjects and objects who operate reciprocally, intersubjectively and intrasubjectively, constituting meaning even as meaning is a primal element of being in the world. This reversibility is termed chiasmus, a dynamic that the film experience presupposes. The “cinema must express life with life itself,” Mitry insists, and so the film has a kind of agency as an intending subject as it is an intended object. It uses the same structures as those operating in direct experience in thew world. Our consciousness mediates experience, no longer making it direct but creating possibilities for meaning (through hermeneutics) following bracketing and reduction. All of these acts of experience further require and presuppose bodily existence created incarnated experience. Film experience operates with an assumption of a shared world, a common basis of experience for being in the world and a cooperation regarding how being in the world manifests itself through expression and perception, creating a communicative act. Structures of communication radically emerge through structures of being, structures which become apparent near the end of the multi-step process of bracketing and reduction. Once preconceived ideas, presuppositions, and associations have been bracketed, we level the playing field of the phenomenon, reducing each element to an equal basis of experience, avoiding the tendency to hierarchize the various elements in order to allow the phenomenon the freedom among its structures for our consciousness to perform “play” upon it. This play allows the phenomenon to “be” toward/at/before consciousness, intending toward consciousness while intending itself within itself as our consciousness likewise intends toward it and performs an intersubjective and intrasubjective play. The resulting structures that manifest in the phenomenon render it ready for interpretation.
So, the first movement is toward phenomenological description, requiring the first three rules. (1) Examine the phenomena of experience as they make themselves visible, present without mediation and available for experience. (2) Describe the phenomena without explaining them. (3) Flatten the various phenomena and avoid a hierarchy of importance. The second movement is toward phenomenological reduction, with a single rule: (4) locate formal/structural/invariant attributes of the phenomena. These features are one and the same with the being of the phenomena; formal elements must not be ignored or marginalized. The final movement is toward interpretation, also with a single rule: (5) all that we experience has a movement or signpost toward that which we experience, and conversely, every phenomenon that is experienced points to and indicates a certain type of experience toward which its being is directed. This is a distinctly existential phenomenology, as opposed to a transcendental one, first developed by Husserl.
The act of seeing has been taking for granted in film theory, so this methodology attempts to begin at the very beginning of film experience, focusing of the act of seeing and asking, “What is it to see a film.” This question entails others: “What is it to see? How does seeing exist and mean? Who is seeing being and what is being seen?” Rather than starting from premises, we start with questions. Rather than starting with presuppositions, we consciously avoid them, bracketing them out in order to discover what our consciousness is doing when it encounters and intends toward an object, a phenomenon. There is no such thing as a pure thought, we are always mediating by the nature of our being as intending subjects. But we can become conscious of the natural mode of existence and study the way in which we perceive and express. Whereas Husserl’s method leads to infinite regress and idealizes the act of perception outside the body, this method refuses to ignore the embodied and enworlded nature of ourselves as perceiving and expressing subjects that intend toward other intending subjects/intended objects in the world. The eye is the mode by which the “I” both perceives and expresses itself as a subject, a being-in-the-world. This is a semiotic phenomenology: “The perception of the phenomena brings forth the meaning that they have and expression causes them to have meaning. Such a synoptic perception is perception as expression” (p. 49). “Being and seeing, and being see are, from the first, hermeneutic and semiotic acts.”