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Narrative film and ethical life: The projection of possibilities

Stadler, Jane Megan (2000) Narrative film and ethical life: The projection of possibilities. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis concentrates on the intersections of three fields: ethics, narrative and film. The objective is to describe the ways in which narrative structure is implicated in ethical understanding and, in particular, how cinematic narratives and our interaction with them offer valuable resources for ethical life. Extending existing work on moral philosophy and literature to consider cinema, and phenomenological analyses of film to include ethics, I will argue that furthering theoretical understanding of spectatorial engagement with film sheds light on the practices and processes involved in developing ethical insight. An examination of the complex dynamics of cinematic spectatorship reveals the ethical significance of the embodied, perceptual, imaginative, emotional, and cerebral dimensions of practices of narrative engagement.

The ideas and arguments throughout the thesis arise from and evolve through close attention to specific films, springing from a conception of ethics that emphasises the complexity and contextuality of human interrelatedness. The first chapter offers an overview of the ways in which ethical understanding has been sought in both the content and form of narrative texts. I argue that narrative is a discursive form rich with unique possibilities for furthering ethical insight, and that ethical understanding and the practice of ethical deliberation inescapably involve narration. The second chapter looks specifically at narrative film, suggesting that a phenomenological understanding of the inherently evaluative nature of perception can draw out the ethical implications of both the experience of film spectatorship and the attitude taken by films themselves to the subject matter they embrace. Within this approach to film, spectatorship is understood as an embodied, perceptual experience of intersubjective engagement: a dialogue with the film. Chapter Three concentrates on the ways in which narrative (and the configuring acts involved in narration and narrative interpretation) is central to personal and ethical identity, such that we cannot ‘relate’ to others or be ‘accountable’ for our actions without understanding our lives as narratives.

The remainder of the thesis explores the ethical dimensions of different levels of attentive engagement with film texts. Chapters Four and Five look at the ways in which narrative film elicits the emotional and imaginative involvement of its spectators, considering how these faculties are involved in ethical deliberation. The final chapter describes a practice of ethically attentive engagement conducive to a sensitive and responsive, reflective understanding of self and others, claiming that engagement with cinematic narratives offers a model for ethical attention and concluding by suggesting how narrative engagement can potentially transfigure ethical experience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Bowden, Peta
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