Reflexive Horizons is a film blog which aims to understand cinema of the past and present as ‘part and symptom’ of the crises and upheavals of life as we experience it. Drawing from a variety of backgrounds, our contributors take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding cinema. We begin from Miriam Hansen’s description of the cinema as a ‘reflexive horizon’ to consider the functions and pleasures of film in the wider world.
Cinema was not only part and symptom of the crisis and upheaval as which modernity was experienced and perceived; it was also, most importantly, the single most inclusive, cultural horizon in which the traumatic effects of modernity were reflected, rejected or disavowed, transmuted or negotiated…cinema not only represented a specifically modern type of public sphere, the public here understood as a ‘social horizon of experience,’ but that this new mass public could have functioned as a discursive form in which individual experience could be articulated and find recognition by subjects and others, including strangers. Kracauer… understood the cinema as an alternative public sphere – alternative to both bourgeois institutions of art, education and culture, and to the traditional arenas of politics – an imaginative horizon in which, however compromised by its capitalist foundations, something like actual democratization of culture seemed to be taking shape, in his words, the possibility of a “self-representation of the masses subject to mechanization.”… the cinema not only traded in the mass production of the senses but also provided an aesthetic horizon for the experience of industrial mass society. (Miriam Hansen,“The mass production of the senses: classical cinema as vernacular modernism” 2000: 341-342).
Hansen’s idea of the cinema as a ‘reflexive horizon’ is laid out in “Fallen Women, Rising Stars, New Horizons: Shanghai Silent Film as Vernacular Modernism,” in Ann Martin’s edited volume Film Quarterly (vol. 54 no. 1, Fall 2000, pp. 10-22), where she argues for film’s ‘ability to provide mass audiences both at home and abroad, a sensory-reflexive horizon for the experience of modernization and modernity’ (2000: 10). In the same article, Hansen writes of the cinema as ‘the single most inclusive, public horizon in which both the liberating impulses and the pathologies of modernity were reflected, rejected or disavowed, transmuted or negotiated, and it made this new mass public visible to itself and to society’ (2000: 12). In her argument for film as ‘a matrix for the articulation of fantasies, uncertainties and anxieties,’ (2000: 14), Hansen is open to an active spectator model; ‘To engage that public, to address its specific needs and fantasies, films had to be at once robust and porous enough to allow for multiple readings… which evokes quite a different, more active scene of spectatorship’ (2000: 20).
Reflexive Horizons gathers together film scholars from various research areas to investigate the ‘robust and porous’ nature of film which represents, reflects, and mediates everyday life for the viewer. In thinking of spectatorship in this open-ended way, we attempt to address the void in contemporary film studies left by the absent figure of the spectator, long considered a problematic area for research and study. The collective nature of the scholarship published here aims to generate a radical re-appraisal of this popularly-held view.