- Sergei Eisenstein
- Aleksandr Bogdanov
- emotional script
- theory of expressiveness
Developing the idea of organization, Bogdanov, like Avenarius, distinguishes between two types of line of experience – dependent, that is, reliant on the state of the nervous system, and independent, that is, free from such kind of reliance in the sense of not being reducible to sensations – and looks into emotional complexes that he categorizes as psychic processes. Although recognizing the distinctiveness of emotional complexes, Bogdanov nevertheless objects to singling them out as something purely psychic within the system of experience, and he argues that emotional complexes and psychophysical entities are constituted by elements of an equivalent nature. Bogdanov does not endorse a mind–body division, and his conception of experience is much richer than understanding it simply in terms of sensation and perception. Rather than mind–body division, he is more in line with what is now called synergetics, a theory of self-organization in open systems, when he claims that the same innervational and tactile elements, which are in various combinations constituent of physical bodies, play a substantial role in emotions. He is also more in tune with the American pragmatist philosopher William James, who saw the universe we live in as chaotic, non-reducible to an uncomplicated choice between physical interaction and complete inertness, but with ‘room in it for the hybrid or ambiguous group of our affectional experiences, of our emotions and appreciative perception’ (James 1905: 282).
Building the monistic theory of the physical and the psychic, Bogdanov seems highly concerned with placing emotions on a par with other psychic and physical combinations. The idea of organization presumes discriminating between dominant and non-dominant constitutive elements of a complex, while the idea of parallel lines of experience supposes establishing systems of links among these elements. When applied to emotional complexes, the idea of organization eliminates irreconcilable distinctions between elements in experience that are dependent on the state of the nervous system and those that are independent of it. Bogdanov divorces objectivity from the stability of a physical body in individual experience. For him, objectivity is the experiential data that have communal significance; it is the correspondence of individual experiences (Bogdanov 1904–1906/2003: 15). The virtue of such an interpretation of objectivity is that it brings to the centre of discussion the category of experience, which is in turn divided into experience organized socially and experience organized individually. In a system of organization such as Bogdanov’s, there is no ontological distinction between the real and the unreal, or, more precisely, between objects of external and internal perception. Bogdanov creates a framework for locating differences and commonalities in emotional and psychophysical complexes, arriving at the conclusion that special psychic complexes, that is, emotions, do not differ from psychophysical complexes either by their elements or by their material. The crucial assumption for his theory is that emotions result from physiological changes in a human body – the idea that comes from American pragmatism and lies at the core of the Jamesian theory of emotions.
In 1884, William James, in his ‘What Is an Emotion?’ claimed that ‘the emotional brain-processes not only resemble the ordinary sensorial brain-processes’ but also ‘
In 1885, and independently of James, Danish physician Carl Lange developed similar ideas that physiological reaction is followed by a corresponding emotional reaction. The James–Lange theory attracts Bogdanov’s attention as it fosters the idea that innervational and tactile elements play a pivotal role in emotional complexes and in shaping individual and collective experience. Moreover, the James–Lange theory has become the crucial point for Bogdanov’s departure from empiriocriticism as developed by Avenarius and his movement towards the conception of empiriomonism, which supports the ideas of Spinoza and brings Bogdanov close to American pragmatism with its conception of experience, which is based on active perception and interaction with the world.
Delimiting the concept of experience in accordance with the James–Lange theory, Bogdanov borrows from Avenarius the notion of ‘affectional’ that he revises and imbues with new meaning. For Avenarius, ‘affectional’ (from Latin Bogdanov favours dynamics and evolution; for him, absence of vital-differences is not an ideal state but, on the contrary, a regression. Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, Bogdanov’s collaborator and brother-in-law, attended Avenarius’s lectures on philosophy at Zurich University in 1895.
Bogdanov favours dynamics and evolution; for him, absence of vital-differences is not an ideal state but, on the contrary, a regression.
Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, Bogdanov’s collaborator and brother-in-law, attended Avenarius’s lectures on philosophy at Zurich University in 1895.
Falling back on Spinoza’s treatment of emotions and Theodor Meynert’s work on mental processes, Bogdanov arrives at the idea that the affectional is connected to the accumulation and dissimilation (expenditures) of energy; it is an emotional expression of increase and decrease in energy that concurs with what Bogdanov calls the algebraic sign of biopotential, a mathematical way of measuring relevant forms of energy (Bogdanov 1904–1906/2003: 135). In other words, emotional experience is not only positively or negatively affectional (feeling pleasure or feeling suffering); it also possesses intensity and is connected with physiological processes. Similar to Spinoza’s distinction between active and passive emotions, Bogdanov distinguishes between positive and negative ‘affectionals’ in the dynamic process of psychic and social selection; therefore, emotions serve as indicators of energy balance. Relations between the organism and the environment transfigure into immediate experience that has emotional character and is built with affectionals of different intensity. James, in his famous quotation, sees the world ‘as one great blooming, buzzing confusion’ (James 1890/1950, I: 488). Jamesian ‘buzzing confusion’ resembles Bogdanov’s affectional experience of life. Vladimir Lenin sensed the link between Bogdanov and James and, in his work
Vladimir Lenin sensed the link between Bogdanov and James and, in his work
Sergei Eisenstein started to develop the theory of expressiveness in the early 1920s and continued into the 1930s. In the ‘Programme of Theory and Practice of Film Directing’ that he crafted in the 1930s for students at the State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, alongside the practical training of voice and body, he paid attention to the theoretical basis of expressing emotions. Eisenstein was familiar with
Discussing emotional effects, Eisenstein regularly refers to the Jamesian theory of emotions. In the article ‘Stanislavsky and Loyola’ (1937), he cites James, paraphrasing the famous quote ‘we cry not because we feel sorry but we feel sorry because we cry’. Eisenstein seems not so much interested in explaining the principles that govern the connection between bodily movements and emotions; he does not care much whether it is a chain of associations or a reflective action. More important for him is the
In James, one can find an initial stage of what would later become a technique of acting; it is the transition from event to arousal, then to interpretation, and finally to emotion. Reciting James’s famous example of a meeting with a bear (‘we meet a bear, are frightened and run’), Eisenstein agrees with James’s statement of the importance of emotions in human interaction with the world: ‘[W]ithout the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry’ (James 1884: 190). However, in Eisenstein’s view, Jamesian theory is applicable not so much to the actor as to the spectator. The spectator empathically co-participates in whatever happens on stage or on screen. Through mirroring and imitating an actor’s bodily dynamics, the spectator is to achieve a desirable emotional state. His perception is active; he co-produces and, therefore, co-authors a film. Eisenstein states in his lecture on biomechanics in 1935: ‘James’s point of view has a correct expression in the theatre in the audience. It’s not that the actor makes a correct movement and experiences a proper emotion – the audience reproduces that movement in a concentrated form and through it enters into the emotional state the actor is demonstrating. The secret of form lies here’ (see Law & Gordon 1996: 208). Eisenstein at that time was also influenced by Alexander Luria, who was engaged in a research project ‘on the relationship between emotions, affects, and human motorics’ and even participated in the experiments ‘to verify his explanation for the trajectory of recoil movement, which he saw as the essence of expressivity’ (Vassilieva 2019: 33). Yet another influence on Eisenstein’s thought concerning imitative reaction to a stimulus and empathy was Vladimir Bekhterev, especially his works about children’s psychology and interpersonal communication (Olenina 2021: 360).
Eisenstein, expelled from Meyerhold’s theatre in 1922 and from his school in 1924, however, adopted some of Meyerhold’s ideas and tried to interpret them through the lenses of Jamesian theory of emotions or Bogdanov’s empiriomonism, which he probably came to know during his Proletkult years (1920–1925). Mikhail Yampolskiy unveils the closeness of Eisenstein’s aesthetic views, particularly during his activity in Proletkult, to the ideas of Bogdanov, who was one of the Proletkult ideologists at that time (Yampolskiy 2009: 49–50; Tikka 2008: 64–68). In 1923, Eisenstein, as Yampolskiy points out, tried to combine Meyerhold’s biomechanics with Bogdanov’s monistic energy theory and interpreted Meyerhold’s acting as ‘a mysterious and invisible function of individuality, which is discharging of abundance of energy’ (Yampolskiy 2009: 49). Yampolskiy points out that Bogdanov based his monistic conception of world organization on the interaction of active and reactive forces. In Bogdanov’s view, any activity, decomposing or combinatorial, inevitably meets resistance, weak or considerable. However, resistance is not a separate independent notion; it is an antagonist to another activity. When two people are fighting, the activity of the first one is the resistance for the second one and vice versa (Bogdanov 1990: 427–428). Bogdanov’s ideas of vital-divergence are concordant at large with the theory of expressiveness, if one does, as did Eisenstein, see expressiveness as conflict, impulse, and struggle.
Eisenstein was familiar with Bogdanov’s concept of conflict and, as was already discussed, he was also influenced by the James–Lange theory, which serves as a conceptual base for Bogdanov’s theory of the affectional. In an unnamed manuscript written in Almaty in 1943, Eisenstein reviews the fictitious and the factual in connection with the Jamesian theory of emotions. In the situation of watching movies, the spectator is an active perceiver; mirroring an actor’s expressive movements and experiencing situations on screen, he virtually co-authors a film. In this case, one can speak of a fictive emotion action; the entirety of feelings (sensations) that the spectator experiences during the film or performance creates an illusion that he has done some work and, therefore, there is an illusion of an amount of abundant energy. Despite the fictitious character of interaction with the environment on screen, the spectator experiences a non-fictitious feeling of satisfaction with a film or performance (Eisenstein 2002: 52–53). The illusion that substitutes for a spectator (a viewer) a normal organic activity can be explained in terms of vital-divergence with Eisenstein’s emphasis on emotions. Eisenstein understands emotions as embodied reactions to the interaction with the environment (situation), and, in a close reading of his writings, it seems that he applies Bogdanov’s notion of energy to those situations, though without mentioning Bogdanov’s name.
Eisenstein proposes the notion of an ‘emotional script’, which is ‘an imaginary narrative of a prospective viewer telling the story of a film that impressed him’, in his essay on the form of a film script (1929) (Eisenstein 2004: 465–466). The emotional script is not a step-by-step narration of a story, and it does not provide detailed descriptions of film frames; rather, it gives an emotional impulse to the film director that he will employ in his work so as to evoke the projected emotions. The idea of an emotional script, though it failed in its practical application, was in the spirit of the artistic experiments of the time that were aimed at the psychological involvement of a spectator, creating works of art in which a viewer could be engaged and whose emotional reactions could be guided.
Nikolay Zhinkin, in his 1920s essay ‘Psychology of Film Perception’, develops the idea that the perception of artworks is not necessarily a one-way communication. Perception is the way to open a door for other people into an area otherwise inaccessible. The question that interests Zhinkin is whether a reversed communication is possible in the situation of watching movies. And if it is possible then the next question is where to search for it – in the behaviour of a spectator or in the intentions of a film director. It is obvious that in cinema the reaction of the audience will not change the way of acting on screen, and therefore the plot of a film is of importance; the plot determines the situation and the structure of perception. Zhinkin reveals the paradoxical situation that perception is not in the system of receiving devices but is already present in the production itself. However, he finds that it is possible to predetermine the process of film perception. Preceding the idea of inter-subjective synchronization, Zhinkin sees the main goal of filmmakers in finding ways to focus the viewers’ attention and to increase their activity in the process of watching movies. A film creator, for example a film director or a scriptwriter, should see a film before it has been created as if through the eyes of a prospective viewer (Zhinkin 1971: 214–254).
Eisenstein, and Rzheshevskiy in ‘Bezhin Meadow’ (1937), tried to accomplish (though they never completed) One of the first emotional scripts and one of the first failures of Rzheshevskiy is
One of the first emotional scripts and one of the first failures of Rzheshevskiy is
‘Eat up, my little son… Who brought you into this world?’, he suddenly asked Stepok, very softly. The boy continued eating.
‘Who brought you into this world? Me or somebody in the Political Department?’, he asked again, softly.
‘My mother’, answered Stepok, just as quietly, and calmly putting down his spoon, he got up from the table, but his father’s drunken words followed him.
‘When our God created the heavens, the water and the earth and people like you and me, my dear little son, he said…’
‘What did he say?’, asked Stepok, smiling and gathering up his things, not turning his head.
‘He said’, said the voice of his father, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, but if the son betrays his father, kill him like a dog, God says in the Holy Book, kill him immediately’.
‘Did he say that?’, said Stepok without turning his head, smiling, and moving towards the door…
Suddenly, his father, like a drunken bear, punched little Stepok in the chest with his paws and whispered, his face distorted with indescribable hatred: ‘I’ll light the stove… Do you hear me? Right now… I’ll chop you into pieces… I’ll put you in the pot… Do you hear me? I’ll cook you… And eat you… All by myself… With bread and pickles…’ (Rzheshevskiy 1982: 225).
The emotional line of the narration and the emotional link between the film viewer and what is shown on screen ties Eisenstein’s theory of expressiveness to Bogdanov’s theory of an ‘affectional’, both of which have the same root – James’s theory of emotions.
In contemporary neuroscience, emotions are central to cognition. Thus, Antonio Damasio, drawing on the theories of James and Lange, argues for the importance of emotions in the evolution of consciousness. For Damasio, emotions are bodily changes that trigger feelings, which he defines as mapping such changes in brain structures, This understanding leads him to distinguish among three closely related phenomena: ‘
This understanding leads him to distinguish among three closely related phenomena: ‘
The theoretical considerations of Eisenstein and Bogdanov are relevant to twenty-first-century scientists. They could be considered as working theories, for instance for studying emotional states of the viewers watching movies. Eisenstein already in the 1920s ‘intuited the existence of a mechanism of involuntary, nonevaluative emotional engagement – a system akin to the mirror system’ (Belodubrovskaya 2018: 9) and called that system ‘attractions’. Involuntary brain activities produced in the viewer through fast simulation (Bordwell 2007), for example involuntary suspense, explain the appeal that slapstick or stunts have, since ‘a neurological cine-fist is impossible to resist’ (Belodubrovskaya 2018: 14). Thus, in the situation of watching movies, perception of the ‘exciting fact’ on screen comes first, then this perception is followed by the bodily changes, and only afterwards comes the feeling of these changes, which is, according to James, the emotion. The viewer is immersed in the film milieu and identifies himself with one or another character. The interaction of the character with the environment on screen and the character’s movement in space owing to mirroring may cause bodily response in the viewer. Mirroring here refers to a situation where a viewer subconsciously mimics and lives through the bodily changes of the screen characters that he watches. He may instinctively respond by moving aside or back to the attack on the film character, may wiggle, vibrate, fidget, hum, and flap in excitement or impatience. According to neuropsychologist Jeffrey Zacks, though, when speaking about mirroring in the situation of watching movies, we miss an important point, namely that mirroring a facial expression, for instance, is not necessarily the same as feeling an emotion. Zacks further points out that ‘most surprising about the experience of emotion in the movies is not the grimacing and smiling, but
To describe the connection between visual images and motor activity, James uses the term ‘ideo-motor actions’: ‘Wherever movement follows
Bogdanov uses the metaphor of a phonograph to describe the psychic processes that take place in communication. When shared, experience is different from the original experience and at the same time is related to it – the same way indentations in the foil of a phonograph, on one hand, differ from the melody they reflect and, on the other, are dependent on its structure. Through the movement of a phonograph cylinder, the indentations form a basis for reproducing the melody. Similarly, other people’s articulations become a basis for replicating their feelings and emotions, that is, the second reflection of these emotions (Bogdanov 1904–1906/2003: 80). This is where Eisenstein’s theory of expressiveness comes into play. Films are forms of conveying and transferring experience, including the emotional, at several levels. In his view, the low-order and the high-order brain processes are interconnected and work in tandem. Initially aimed at expressing and causing certain emotions, Eisenstein’s films, using expressive movements and exploiting the connection of the physical and the physiological, are creative and transformative of experience and even aspire to change mentality.
In her article, Lyubov Bugaeva explores the concepts of emotional experience developed by Aleksander Bogdanov and Sergei Eisenstein in the context of the history of ideas. The author finds the origins of these concepts in the works of Richard Avenarius and William James and draws a reasonable conclusion about their influence on Eisenstein’s cinematography. She claims that, for Eisenstein, the work of screenwriter Aleksandr Rzheshevskiy was an example of intense reliving of emotional experience. She pays special attention in the article to the current idea of emotional experience developed in neuroscience and cognitive theory. Because of the heterogeneous nature of the problems raised, I would like to make two comments, which may help to broaden the context of the study.
1. The complex of Eisenstein’s ideas has once again become relevant owing to the anthropological turn in the humanities that was largely a reaction to the spread of the structural method. Among the first significant ‘reactions’ is the work by philosopher Valery Podoroga ‘The Second Screen: Sergei Eisenstein and the Cinema of Violence’, closely connected to his multi-volume study of literature
2. Among the theorists named and discussed in the article, there is one pure ‘practitioner’ who never wrote any theoretical work or creative manifesto – the screenwriter Aleksandr Rzheshevskiy. The article considers his work as a practical application of Eisenstein’s theoretical views. Such an approach is, of course, reasonable; moreover, even Eisenstein and Pudovkin themselves suggested it. However, Rzheshevskiy said that ‘the very problem of the ‘emotional script’ was engineered by the others and imposed on him, that he was in some way entangled and used in the struggle of all against all: officials with directors, directors with playwrights, novelists from cinema with poets from cinema’ (see Grashchenkova, I. 1997. ‘Aleksandr Rzheshevskiy. Zhizn’. Kino. Teatr: bibliografiia s kommentariiami’.
Mind and body are not two separate entities; meaning is tied to bodily processes and constructed through parallel lines of experience. Valery Podoroga’s