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The World Achieved:
Film and the Enacted Mind

  John M. Carvalho

Stanley Cavell taught us that films give us a view of a world that differs from the world in which we view films only by not being that world.  Films, that is, screen a world for us and screen us from a world that is not our own.  Cavell’s view is based on a photographic conception of film images.  A film is composed of photographic images collected on reels and put in motion at twenty-four frames per second.  In “More of the World Viewed,” Cavell dares us to come up with a theory of perception that challenges the assumption that the camera sees the world the way the eye sees it.  Alva Noë has come up with just such a theory.  In this essay, we challenge the photographic view of perception and the photographic basis of film to argue for an enactive conception of film viewing.  On this conception, worlds in films are not viewed but achieved by affordances picked up and skills refined in the course of an embodied encounter with a world that includes films.  Additionally, in this skilled achievement of the worlds in films, we also achieve something of ourselves.  Ultimately, this view preserves and enhances many of Cavell’s key insights in the context of a new philosophy of mind.

affordances, Cavell, enactivism, film, mind, Noë

1. Introduction

Stanley Cavell famously described film as “the world viewed.”[1]  We wonder whether this view of film is based on a concept of viewing, a view of perception, that is misleading. More to the point, we worry that the assumptions about perception some of those following Cavell’s view may make – and perhaps even Cavell himself – are not just misleading but mistaken.  A careful retelling of Cavell’s view of film seems to show that it marries comfortably with what Alva Noë has called a “snapshot conception of visual experience.”[2]  Following Noë, we can demonstrate that there are problems with this conception, that it does not fit the facts of perception, and that, to the extent he relies on it, this snapshot conception distorts Cavell’s view of film.

We can also articulate and defend an alternative conception of visual experience that preserves what is best about Cavell’s view.  By drawing on this alternative conception, we can improve on what we understand about film and, also, what we understand about ourselves as viewers of film, something that is not obviously a part of Cavell’s view. In short, our aim is to defend an enactive or actionist philosophy of perception and to argue for an enactive view of film which avoids the pitfalls that come from associating a view of film as the world viewed with a snapshot conception of visual experience.  In this way, and at the same time, we aim to update and enhance many of the insights Cavell brought to our attention in his study of film so many years ago.           

2. Cavell

Cavell is at pains in his classic text to defend the position that the medium of film is the real world.  The real world is that through or by means of which the world of the film is represented.  More helpfully, perhaps, as pigment and canvas and stretcher bars are to painting, so, Cavell says, a “succession of automatic world projections” is to film.[3]  With “succession” Cavell refers to “the various degrees of motion in moving pictures,” including the movement represented in the film, the contiguity of the motion picture frames, and the juxtapositions produced by cutting and editing.[4]  By 'automatic' he refers to the mechanisms of photography responsible for the contiguous frames successively screened and especially to the absence of a human hand in the creation and screening of those frames.[5]  'Projection' refers to the phenomenological facts of viewing the film, and 'world,' Cavell writes, “covers the ontological facts of photography and its subjects.”[6] 

Clearly underwriting this intuition is a confidence in the “fundamental fact of film’s photographic basis,” in the fact that, as Cavell goes on to say, “objects participate in the photographic presence of themselves; they participate in the re-creation of themselves on film; they are essential in the making of their appearances.  Objects projected on a screen,” he continues, “are inherently reflexive, they occur as self-referential, reflecting upon their physical origins.  Their presence refers to their absence, their location in another place.”[7]  In this account, Cavell reveals, among other things, his allegiances to the writings of André Bazin.

Writing about film's ontology, Bazin argued that the production of the photographic image by automatic means alters our psychological response to it.  On account of this mechanism, we are forced, he says, to recognize as real what is pictured in the image by virtue of a “transference of reality from the thing to its reproduction.”[8]  The reality of the subject imaged, according to Bazin, passes directly, is transferred to the image of it.  “Only a photographic lens,” says Bazin, because it is free from human agency, “can give us the kind of image of the object that is capable of satisfying the deep need man has to substitute for it something more than a mere approximation;” it gives us, instead, “a kind of decal or transfer” of the thing imaged.  “The photographic image is the object itself,” Bazin declares.  “It shares, by the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model.”[9]  Viewed from this perspective, Bazin concludes that cinema or film adds time to photographic objectivity.  Drawing something of an analogy to painting, Bazin recommends that just as photography successfully realizes the Renaissance ideal of making compelling resemblances of objects in space, film delivers Baroque art from its “convulsive catalepsy.”[10]  Film, then, on this view, gives us the real, moving images of people and things in their duration.

So, Cavell can claim that the real world is the medium for the world viewed on film because he accepts the view that film has its basis in photography and because he accepts an ontology of that photographic basis that has, following Bazin, a distinctive feature, namely, that the reality of the subject in the photograph has been peeled off or transferred from the subject photographed to the photographic image of it.  In addition, Cavell will want to hold, also pace Bazin, that movement in the world viewed on film is not an illusion produced by the successive projection of photographs of the world but a transfer of real movement from the world to the cinematic image of it.  We will not have time to explore questions about the reality or illusion of movement in film, though the conclusions proffered here give a clear indication of how we might start to answer them.  We will turn, instead, to interrogate the photographic basis of film and the supposed transfer of reality to the photographic image before going on to ask whether this snapshot view of film captures the way the eye views the world or film.

3. Bazin

In his argument for the transfer of reality from the subject to the photographic image of that subject, Bazin is fond of the example of family albums.  From the pages of these collections of photographs, Bazin says, we see the lives of those now passed on or now past their prime staring back at us, their lives and their vitality preserved forever.  This observation is not idiosyncratic.  Some of us are old enough to have had some of those older still present us with photographs taken with the express purpose of preserving a remembrance of them that would withstand the ravages of time.  But we are not convinced that all of these photographs are up to the task of saving those pictured from the finality of death.  Sorting through a shoe box full of photographs not yet resigned to an album, we often find images that do not preserve a recognizable life at all, images of people we do not know or who are not made memorable by this image of them, images developed and saved just in case someone might find the events or people captured in them memorable.

Families who preserve their photographic memories in slides can enhance the reality supposed to be preserved in photographs by projecting them, enlarged, on a family room wall, sharing them with groups of people, increasing the likelihood that a person or place pictured will be remembered by someone in the group.  These images will likely have been selected from a contact sheet of all the images on a roll of exposed film so as to make slides only of those images worth sharing.  It is apparently the case, then, that, on first inspection, not all of the photographic images on that contact sheet preserve a life. The images projected in the slide show are those that have already survived a process of selection.  Today, that selection process, made easier by the option to trash the digital image that does not measure up, is not exercised often enough.  Photographic images of everyone and everything are taken and shared with friends, social media “friends” and random strangers (assuming these are not also social media “friends”).  Even when they are taken with professional single lens reflex cameras and not smart phones, these images only rarely capture and preserve the reality of their subjects.  More often than not they capture cats asleep in the sink, artfully formed steamed milk on a caramel latté, or something a naked royal did that did not stay in Vegas. 

The point of these examples is that the transfer of reality Bazin attributes to photographs does not appear to be a compelling ontological feature of photographic images in general but only of a privileged instant captured and preserved in particular photographs.  The photographic lens does not by itself lend to what we call photographs that magical quality Bazin has noticed in certain photographic images.  In fact, it is, we suppose, widely recognized today that it is the non-automatic presence of a human hand that captures the reality or being of a subject in a privileged instant of it.  A less talented photographer, one without an “eye” for these privileged instants, takes only random shots of people and things that have no basis in the reality of their subjects at all.  Only the practiced photographer captures something of the essence, the reality of her subject.

Moreover, that those privileged photographic instants cannot be the basis for a film could be demonstrated by making a flip book of these privileged instants, these decisive moments in the life of a subject, whether a person, a bit of nature, or a thing, thought to capture something real or even true about them. What we would see in such a flip book would be the shuttering image of its subject and those subjects presented as associated with it.  What we would see would not be real but surreal bordering on the dream in which clearly imaged people, places, and things are juxtaposed without a sense of the order to which they might belong. We would see an exaggerated flickering produced by the separation of these privileged instants strung together in a syntagm detached from the order or the whole that might connect them.  Last Year at Marienbad (1961) would look positively prosaic by comparison.

The images we see on the motion picture screen are not compellingly veridical because reality has been peeled off or transferred from its subjects.  The images flashed twenty-four (more or less) frames per second (or their digital equivalent) in a film are not privileged instants but the mundane, ephemeral instants whatever of the subject as it happens to appear or pass before the motion picture camera.  This is not just an aesthetic difference but an epistemological difference.  The images that show up for us in a film are ontologically different from those that show up for us in a photograph, and for that reason the cinematic image makes a different claim to know its subject from what a photographic image does.  The successive images of Christopher Walken, to take just one example, first contemplating a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in A Late Quartet (2012), eyes darting about to no place in particular, turning his head to face different volumes in the room around him, fidgeting in his seat, clearly contemplating something profound tells us something about his character that would have been conveyed very differently in a photograph.

What shows up for us in the film as the image of a man alive to and animated by the inevitabilities he faces would show up for us in a photograph as the image of a man fixed and consumed by his fate.  Cindy Sherman has famously captured this difference in her series of untitled film stills.  What distinguished those photographs as film stills is the openness of the subject imaged to a whole of which that subject might be a part.  The subject, Sherman herself, is not so much imaged as captured or consumed by her truth, as open or directed to a truth that might complete her.  That whole or the truth is not given in the image.  Rather, there is movement in the image, represented as still, because that whole or truth is neither given nor givable in it.  This is a modern sense of movement embodied by cinema that endows its subjects with a quality or sense we do not find in the privileged and remarkable poses captured in a photograph.[11]  On this view, film is not the mobilizing or temporalizing of still photography.  Film, instead, constitutes a new image whose reality is not given (any more than it is in photography) but must be achieved by the film maker and the viewer, both.

When Cavell says film is the world viewed, he means that what we see on screen is not a representation of the world.  It is the world itself or a world different from our own only by virtue of being screened for and from us.  It is present to us by virtue of its being absent somewhere.  It is present to us because it has been taken from where it no longer is.  How does this happen? It happens, according to Cavell, as a consequence of the photographic basis of film and by virtue of an ontology of the photographic image as given by Bazin.  According to Bazin, the distinctive features of this ontology are that the photographic image is automatic, that no human hand is involved in its making, and its being automatic gives it a claim to being objective.  In addition, its assumed objectivity is supposed to make a psychological claim on us.  But Bazin appears to be wrong about this.  The photographic image is not automatic.  It is not objective.  It is not natural.  It is contrived and constructed according to a very specific code.  The reality of the photographic image is not a consequence of a magic peeling.  It is the effect of a very specific technique of capturing a privileged instant.  Does this mean that there is no ontological basis for the world Cavell says we view on the motion picture screen?  No, it just challenges the notion that it has its basis in what Bazin says is the ontology of the photographic image.

Bazin attributed an ontology to photographs based on the assumption that the camera sees the world the way the eye sees the world.  The camera sees the world, he thought, objectively without any interference or modification or imperfection or interpretation by the human hand or any other artifice.  The camera gives us, Bazin thinks, what we want but what painting and drawing cannot provide, namely, a double that will preserve the world from a second death.  But the camera does not see the world the way the eye does.  In the first place, this is because the eye does not give us a photographic image of the world. In the second place, it is because we do not see the world with our eyes.  We see the world with our whole bodies.  And film is uniquely qualified to picture for us the world we see or, better, achieve, using our whole body.

4. Noë

This world viewed, or rather, as we want to say, achieved in film is nothing other than our world, enacted by us in just the way the world in which we enact worlds in film is itself achieved.  The world in film is not a presence given here because it is taken from someplace where it is now absent, as Cavell would have it.  It is rather enacted or achieved from a cache of affordances or resources for making or achieving or enacting worlds.  We enter the world on screen the way we enter the world in which we find worlds screened, experiencing not just its sights but also its sounds, its causes and effects, its affects and aspirations, through a moving, living model of that world.  And this view of film and of the world in which we view films is precisely what Noë says cannot be squared with a “snapshot conception” of perception and experience.[12]  On the snapshot model, we perceive the world completely and in full, vivid detail, the way the world is presented to us in a photograph, in the sort of images which Bazin believes saves its subject from suffering a second death.  The idea behind the snapshot theory is that we see the world, roughly, the way a camera captures scenes from that world, more or less refined according to the quality of the instrument and the materials used, but complete and focused and stable, with the results preserved in the developed print.

It has been known for a long time, of course, that this model of perception is too simple to explain vision.  Starting with the anatomy of the eye, there is the fact that the image on the retina appears inverted, that there are two retinal images for the one thing we see, that there is a “blind spot” on both retinas, that acuity fades at the perimeters of the retina (where there are more rods than cones), that the eye is not fixed but constantly saccading.  And yet we say we perceive our world as fully focused, stable and richly detailed, just as it might be pictured in a photograph or in a motion picture image. Traditional responses to these difficulties assign the brain the capacity for overcoming the obstacles to the focused, stable, and detailed view of the world we say we enjoy.  Skeptical responses attempt to show how the apparent limitations actually contribute to the apparent effect of full vision without jettisoning the snapshot model.[13]  Noë points to the limitations, especially saccading and faded acuity, to reject the snapshot conception and to identify elements contributing to a more adequate account of how we enact or achieve the world we say we perceive.

For Noë, the world is not always already there waiting to be viewed or perceived.  The world is not given to us freely and without cost.  It is and must be achieved.  Noë says, a world “shows up” for us or becomes present for us only as a result of the exercise of certain skills.  It is the exercise of these skills that achieves a world for us, that makes a real world come alive for us.  At the same time, Noë thinks, the exercise of these skills gives us access to something about ourselves.  Using these skills, he says, we achieve ourselves at the same time as we achieve a world.  We achieve ourselves because, in order to achieve a world, we enact the skills we have acquired, practiced and refined for achieving the world we experience. The world we experience is “our world” because it is the world afforded us by the skills that define who we are and who we are becoming.”  Noë calls these “sensory motor skills,” and the exercise of these skills, he says, is the key to the varieties of presence we experience in the world.

On this view, enacting or activating the skills we have for making a world show up for us achieves the world we perceive, makes that world present for us, and in enacting those skills we become present to ourselves as what we are, namely, the composite or ensemble of the skills we have been afforded for making a world visible to us.  Already in the world, we enact ourselves, act out ourselves, put what we are into action, by activating the sensory motor skills afforded us for making that world show up for us.  The world that shows up is the world we achieve by the exercise of our skills, and we have access to precisely this world by enacting precisely these skills, that is, the skills that define us as who we are.  The result is that we achieve the world just as we achieve ourselves, and we achieve ourselves in order to achieve just this world.  The world, on the enactive model, is not a free presence waiting to be viewed.  The world is an achievement, a quite fragile achievement, and this achievement depends on our enacting ourselves, which is to say, exercising and mastering the skills that make us, and the achieved world in which we show up for ourselves, possible.

The skills we exercise and master are, Noë says, distinctly sensori-motor skills.  They are the kinds of skills we have because we do not perceive the world with our eyes or with our brain but with our whole embodied self.  Thus we overcome faded visual acuity and access the richness of a visual field by adjusting our position, turning one way and the other, peering around obstacles, putting on our glasses to bring heretofore fuzzy areas of the visual field into focus, attending to the many different details we experience in the world separately and seriatim.  Although from where we are standing, we see only the curved surface of the tomato, drawing on one of Noë’s favorite examples, we know that we can pick the tomato up and examine its other sides, using the sense of touch to perceive its volume and its density.  And understanding this, we perceive the tomato from where we stand as the fully fleshed out fruit it is.  The silver dollar or the euro coin looks elliptical lying there on the table, but we understand that were we to adjust our position, move our bodies, pick the coin up and hold it in front of us, we would perceive its actual circular shape, which we experience as virtually present in its elliptical presentation from where we see it now.  At the same time, my familiarity with the handling of produce and my attention to the apparently elliptical shape of coins give me access to something about myself and the practices and skills I have acquired and refined in the course of becoming who I am.

We gain the skills that make the world present to us in this way by collecting affordances, and we collect affordance, Noë says, “the way we might pick up pebbles on the beach.  Perceiving, in this view,” Noë continues, “is not a matter of representing the world in the mind.  It’s a matter of exploring the world and achieving contact with it.”[14]  Noë takes this view of affordances from the psychologist, J. J. Gibson.  For Gibson, affordances “are the possibilities for action provided by things.”[15]  “What a thing is,” Noë adds, “(as well as what it invites, threatens, does) belongs to its affordances.”[16]  On these terms, following Gibson, not only the properties of things but also their meaning and values can be directly perceived, which is to say, achieved.[17]  For Noë, this leads to the (for him) radical proposal that we always encounter something from a point of view and that “what enables us to achieve perceptual contact with objects despite the limited and partial character of our perceptual situation is our understanding (sensori-motor and otherwise).”[18]

In his Varieties of Presence, Noë directly addresses the presence in pictures.  Pictures afford us, Noë says, in a way that unknowingly echoes Cavell, a “visual sense of what is visibly absent.”[19]  Objects in pictures show up for us in a way that is, for him, “qualitatively different” from the way they show up “in the flesh.”[20]  Noë rejects Mohan Matthen’s suggestion that this is the result of an “optic ataxia,” that pictures activate the ventral (or representational) but not the dorsal (or practical) systems, because Matthen’s view depends, with other mimetic accounts of visual experience, on a model of perception that reduces what we perceive to an image in the mind.[21]  Visual experience is, for Noë, “always, already, an action-sensitive awareness of how things are” out there in the world.[22]  What we perceive in pictures is not referenced to an internal representation, an image in the mind, of what in the world pictures picture.  We see worlds present in pictures the way we see the world, by a kind of “skillful probing with our bodies,” by what Noë calls “styles of exploration.”[23]  And there will be styles specific to the experience of and skills for accessing photographs and films.

More precisely, we explore worlds in pictures because pictures “go proxy” for a world and serve as its “representative.” Pictures, Noë thinks, are substitutes.  They model the world and stand in for it.  Models are not representations of what they model.  They are representative and relative to the purpose for which they are constructed; and since they are constructed and not given, their significance is necessarily conventional, and the conventions for using and accessing these models must be learned.  Pictures are not natural, Noë says.  They are made and made precisely for those of us who have the sensori-motor skills to access them.  This theory directly challenges the “automatic,” hands free quality of Cavell’s photographic basis for film.  It insists, in the way Roland Barthes insists, that the seeming natural immediacy of the photograph is a myth.[24]  As Noë sees it, “the apparent immediacy and transparency of pictures is, in fact, an illusion, itself an artifact of their engineering.  We confuse excellence of engineering [in photography and film],” Noë says, “with naturalness and immediacy.”[25]  We always see pictures, Noë argues, in the context of someone trying to show us something, and, on this view, the world in that picture shows up for us only if it has been engineered for the skills (sensori-motor and otherwise) we have for achieving the world the one showing it to us wants us to perceive.

5. The world achieved

These conclusions pose less of a challenge for Cavell’s view than it might seem at first.  They certainly challenge the idea of film as a world viewed, but they allow that there is a world in film just insofar as it is engineered by the skilled artistry of film-making and achieved by audiences with the skills afforded them in their viewing of films by that artistry.  They challenge a mimetic or iconic view of film images, though it’s not certain Cavell is committed to such a mimetic or iconic view, but without invoking the conventions of a film language, which would be anathema to Cavell.  That the contents of a motion picture are engineered to model a world we access exercising many of the same skills we use to access the world modeled allows, as Cavell would want, that we experience the sight and sounds, causes and effects, affects and affinities of a world that is present to us by virtue of its being absent and screened from and for us.

We say “many of the same skills” because there appear to be skills afforded us by viewing films that contribute something more to our achieving a world in our experience of them. Audiences for auteur films, for example, who have picked up affordances and honed skills attending to the technical mastery, personality, and core themes of a director will gain access to the world in these films in ways and to an extent that other audiences will not.  Access to the world in such films will vary with the skill of the film maker and the different affordances picked up and skillfully exercised by audiences for those films. Genre films, by the same token, remarriage comedies, for example, some of Cavell’s favorites, are made by specialized artisans for the appreciation of audiences especially skilled in the viewing of these films.  It is fair to say, on Noë’s terms, that Cavell has acquired a significant store of affordances and mastered the skills for accessing a world in these films where happiness takes the form of people learning what they truly need by growing old together.

On Noë’s view, Cavell’s considerable appreciation of Hollywood romantic comedies and melodramas was not freely presented to him but achieved by the mastery of considerable skills, and we will have access to that same view and that same world only by exercising as many of the same skills as we can muster. Skillfully attentive to the same affordances Cavell finds in these films, we can achieve something of the world of Cavell’s Hollywood and achieve access to something of ourselves in our encounters with this world.  Where we find ourselves at odds with Cavell’s view, it may be the result of an incomplete skill set or it may be the result of an attention to different affordances in the Hollywood and “neo-Hollywood” films Cavell discusses.  It may also be a consequence of our acquisition and exercise of different sets of skills.

For example, we can achieve something of the world in John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence (1974), certainly neo-Hollywood by Cavell’s standards and, so, by those standards, lacking a world, by a practiced attention to the blue collar domesticity of the Longhetti home, to Mabel’s unpredictability, to Nick’s volatility and passionate love for his wife all afforded us by the attention the camera, the direction, and the editing give to these details in the film.  At the same time, in enacting this world on screen, we gain access to something about the ensemble of skills that define us, in part by our familiarity with these ethnic and class specific environs, in part when we come to tears watching Mabel rush to the bus to greet her children coming home from school.  We gain increased access to the world in this film by the affordances we have picked up in our familiarity with Cassavetes’ body of work and with the skilled acting of Peter Falk, playing Nick, and Gena Rowlands, playing Mabel.  From our appreciation of film acting more generally, we appreciate and enact the skilled risks Gena Rowlands takes in her role as a woman not just on the verge of a nervous breakdown but patently over the edge, psychotic, and yet so full of love for her children that she can barely contain herself with the joy of welcoming them home from school, not because it is a special day but because it is any day, whatever.  And if we find ourselves moved by this scene, we certainly gain access to something about ourselves, not about our personal history with mental illness but about the ensemble of skills and practices that relate us to borderline mental states and that enact for us the becoming psychotic that is a mother’s love for her children.

In another example, we achieve the world of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001) because director Ron Howard depends on the kind of skillful attention to the film that ironically keeps us from noticing, on first viewing, that the roommate, Charles, only appears to John (played by Russell Crowe) and that Marcee, Charles’s niece, as Nash finally realizes, doesn’t age.  We achieve or enact the world in this film by a style of exploring or a skillful probing of what we take to be the environs, physical and psychological, of a precocious student at a prestigious American university.  We are afforded access to this world by the wardrobe and the props and the palette which gives the film a patina we associate with a time gone by (when students were in fact so precocious).  We fail or refuse to pick up affordances that would alert us to John’s mental state and, as a result, to the point in the film where Nash’s illness is disclosed, we see what John but no one else in the world of the film sees.  We share John’s psychosis because we achieve it, on screen and in ourselves.  We enact what we have become by the acquisition and refinement of skills for viewing films that, in this case, lead us to overlook the obvious for the sake of what we, falsely perhaps, take to be true, especially about ourselves. We also enact or question the guilt that may be the source of John’s psychosis and achieve in ourselves the guilt that might affect our own mental health.

If Cavell would not see a world in these films, as he says he does not in Bullit, The Detective, In the Heat of the Night, Petulia, and Pretty Poison,[26] it would not be a failure of the films or of Cavell but a failure of fit between the considerable resources Cavell brings to the viewing of films and the affordances available to him in these films.  The skills Cavell has acquired and refined in his attention to remarriage comedies and melodramas of the unknown woman may not, perhaps, have prepared him for the distinctive volatility of Frank’s and Mabel’s southern California life, the unmistakable coherence of class, ethnicity, domesticity, and sociality that compose that life, or for the intense isolation of ivy league life that leads Nash, naturally, so it seems, to hallucinate the companionship of Marcee and Charles.  If we say we have picked up the affordances and acquired the skills that allow us to enact these worlds, and ourselves, we do not say we have achieved these worlds completely or that our achievement somehow surpasses Cavell.  We say only that the world we achieve, as the self we enact and engage, is a fragile accomplishment of the skills we have refined and the affordances we have collected in our experience of films and the world that includes these films.

By the same token, following Noë, we would suggest that the “readings” Cavell gives of remarriage comedies and melodramas of the unknown woman are compelling precisely because they are achieved by the exercise and refinement of a special set of skills and the collection of especially rich affordances.  On this view, those films, as he sees them, are not given to Cavell freely and without effort.  The genres “remarriage comedy” and, especially, “melodrama of the unknown woman” were not out there waiting for someone to discover them.[27]  Cavell achieves these genres through a truly virtuoso deployment of skills acquired and perfected by a loving attention to these films and to the place of women in these films.  The skills Cavell brings to his appreciation of these films are refined by his appreciation of the importance of skepticism in philosophy as well as by his identification of the importance of women in psychoanalysis and film.[28]  This tells us less about Cavell as a person and more about the affordances Cavell has picked up in his practiced appreciation of an extensive filmography and his patient survey of a vast body of philosophical, critical, film theoretical, and literary texts.

6. Conclusion

We have wanted to preserve, here, the unmistakable value that Cavell gave us in suggesting that we find a world in film and in the suggestion that the world we live in is the medium through or by means of which we have these worlds on film.  We worried about the easy association of the concept of a world viewed and a snapshot theory of perception.  In “More of The World Viewed,” the essay appended to the enlarged edition of his classic text, Cavell challenges us to propose and defend a theory of vision that defeats the view that the camera sees the world the way the human eye does, that we perceive the world with our eyes and that the camera shows us the world as our eyes see it.[29]  We have begun to answer that challenge here without questioning the broader conclusions Cavell aptly defends.  Alva Noë’s concept of enacted mind and an actionist or enactive model of perception gives us the world on film in a way that avoids what seem to be problems in classic models of perception and philosophies of mind.  At the same time, Noë’s view enhances the value of Cavell’s conclusions by adding to the achievement of a world in film the achievement of ourselves as the audience for film.  Noë’s view also offers the possibility of multiplying the worlds and the selves, some more fragile than others, that there are to achieve in the experience of viewing film.  Cavell argues heroically for a world in film that suits his own special attention to the affordances and mastery of an ensemble of skills for seeing worlds on film.  We are looking for a model of perception that advances on the classic model and that, in the appreciation of films, opens access to worlds that might suit the affordances and skills for a more varied audience for the art of film.

John M. Carvalho

John Carvalho is Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University. He writes about ancient philosophy, aesthetics, creativity, film, music, Nietzsche, Foucault and Deleuze.

Published on November 25, 2013.



[1].  Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, Enlarged Edition (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1979).

[2].  Alva Noë, Action in Perception (Cambridge, MA:  The MIT Press, 204), p. 35.

[3].  Cavell, The World Viewed, p. 72.

[4].  Ibid., pp. 72-3.

[5].  Ibid., p. 73.

[6].  Loc. cit.

[7].  Ibid., xvi.

[8].  André Bazin, What is Cinema?, Essays selected and translated by Hugh Gray (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2005), pp. 13-14.

[9].  Ibid., p. 14

[10].  Ibid., p. 15.

[11].  See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1:  The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 3-8.  Deleuze asks here whether, with this quality, cinema has a role to play in the birth and formation of a new way of thinking.  That question is answered, in the affirmative, in Cinema 2:  The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1989).

[12].  Noë, Action in Perception, p. 35.

[13].  Dennet’s accounts appear to be the most salient and most persuasive in this regard.  See Daniel Dennett, “Surprise, Suprise,” Behavioral and Brain Science, 24:982 (2001), cited in Noë, Action in Perception, p. 58.

[14].  Alva Noë, Varieties of Presence (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 29 n.8.  All emphasis in the quotations from this text are Noë’s.

[15].  Ibid., p. 120.

[16].  Ibid., p. 120, n.2.

[17].  Ibid., p. 121.

[18].  Ibid., p. 123.

[19].  Ibid., p. 87.

[20].  Ibid., p. 87.

[21].  Ibid., p. 91.

[22].  Loc. cit.

[23].  Ibid., p. 96.

[24].  See Roland Barthes, “Myth Today” in Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York:  Hill and Wang, 1972), pp. 109-158, especially pp. 116-117.

[25].  Noë, Varieties of Presence, p. 104.

[26].  Cavell, The World Viewed, p. 76.

[27].  Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness:  The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press), 1984; Stanley Cavell, Contesting Tears:  the Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1996).

[28].  Cavell, Contesting Tears, pp. 97-104.

[29].  Cavell, The World Viewed, p. 192.