Self-Projection: Hugo Munsterberg on Empathy and Oscillation in Cinema Spectatorship

TitleSelf-Projection: Hugo Munsterberg on Empathy and Oscillation in Cinema Spectatorship
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsBrain, RM
ISBN Number0269-8897
Keywordsarticle, Audiences, Birth Order, DISCRETE SUCCESSION, Empathy, Epistemology, Federal Republic of Germany, History &amp, IMAGE, Laboratories, MOTOR THEORY, PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, Physiology, Prevention, PSYCHOLOGY, RHYTHM, TECHNOLOGY, universities

This essay considers the metaphors of projection in Hugo Munsterberg's theory of cinema spectatorship. Munsterberg (1863-1916), a German born and educated professor of psychology at Harvard University, turned his attention to cinema only a few years before his untimely death at the age of fifty-three. But he brought to the new medium certain lasting preoccupations. This account begins with the contention that Munsterberg's intervention in the cinema discussion pursued his well-established strategy of pitting a laboratory model against a clinical one, in this case the "master-trope" of early cinema a spectatorship drawn from hysteria, hypnosis, and related phenomena like double-consciousness. Munsterberg's laboratory-oriented account also flowed from his account of cinema technology as an outgrowth of the apparatus of his own discipline of experimental psycho-physiology, which entailed a model of cinema spectatorship continuous with the epistemological setting of laboratory relations. I argue that in The Photoplay and related writings projection functioned in three registers: material, psychological, and philosophical. Munsterberg's primary concern was with psychological projection, where he drew upon his own work in experimental aesthetics to articulate an account of how the basic automatisms of cinema produce a state of oscillation between immersion and distraction. I show how Munsterberg's experimental aesthetics drew upon German doctrines of aesthetic empathy, or Einfuhlung, which Munsterberg sought to modify in accordance with the dynamic and temporal characteristics of psycho-physiological experiment. Finally, I argue that Munsterberg's cinema theory was enfolded in his action or double-standpoint theory, in which the transcendental self posits the material, objective conditions of laboratory experience as a means to know itself. This philosophical projection explained cinema's uncanny ability to suspend ordinary perceptions of space, time, and causality. It also made cinema uniquely suited for the philosophical emancipation of a popular mass audience.