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Berman, E. (1998). The Film Viewer: From Dreamer to Dream Interpreter. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(2):193-206.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(2):193-206

The Film Viewer: From Dreamer to Dream Interpreter

Emanuel Berman, Ph.D.

One of the frequent limitations in the psychoanalytic study of literature and art is an emphasis on content at the expense of form (Berman, 1991, 1993). This tendency often goes hand in hand with a “pseudo-clinical” approach, which treats figures as if they were flesh and blood individuals undergoing analysis or accords similar treatment to the author or artist (“pathography”).

Naturally, treating figures or artists as our patients allows us to stay in our familiar territory and to avoid issues with which we may be less acquainted, such as the unique structure and traditions of fiction, poetry, theater, or film. However, if we wish to move away from colonialistic “applied analysis” and towards true interdisciplinary work (Simon, 1993), our attention as psychoanalysts to the specificity of each art form becomes crucial. This is certainly true of film, an art dependent on particular technologies, which radically changes with their advances and modifications (from silent film to “talkies”, from black and white to color, and so forth).

This article, while far from any attempt to formulate a comprehensive psychoanalytic understanding of film as a unique art, will focus on one particular aspect of film viewing: the way the visual images of the film, in interaction with the spectator's personal history both as an individual and as a film viewer (past cinematic experiences), arouse the deep identifications that can make film viewing such a powerful affective experience.

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