Social sense and embodied sensibility

Towards a historical phenomenology of filmgoing

Authored by: Stephen Putnam Hughes

The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138955844
eBook ISBN: 9781315666051
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter reflects upon how we might develop a more phenomenological approach for the historical study of social experience at the cinema. To do this, I will consider some recent scholarship and a few examples drawn from my own research on the history of cinema exhibition in south India during the early decades of the twentieth century to suggest several possible starting points for writing a historical phenomenology of filmgoing. On the most general level, I want to encourage more attention on the cinemagoing experience as a complex play between you, me, them, the film, the place of exhibition and the wider world beyond (Breakwell and Hammond, 1990). Certainly, historians of cinema need to be much more attentive to the sensory texture of the past and to ask phenomenological questions of our source materials that can help us relearn how to do history using our senses. However, for the purposes of this chapter, I will focus on one aspect of this sensory history of cinema that has all too often been overlooked, namely how embodied sensibility went together with the social sense of being part of an audience. Before moving on to specific examples I will first explain my focus on social sense and how this relates to phenomenology.

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