Sensational genres : experiencing science fiction, fantasy and horror
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This dissertation explores the embodied and sensory dimensions of fantastic film, those elements that are generally held up in contrast to and, often, in excess of, narrative structure. I suggest a departure from the traditional approach to genre study which has been preoccupied with narrative formulas, themes, and iconographies. My goal is not to dispense with those kinds of analyses but to complement them and, importantly, to point to some neglected dimensions of genre pleasure. I propose to transform the presumably excessive pleasures of the fantastic genre into something essential to it. First, I explore the disavowal or avoidance of embodied sensation within popular genre criticism. I then turn to critique existing models of film reception, focusing particularly upon a critique of the ocularcentric or visualist framework. From this critique, I am able to suggest some criteria for an alternative theoretical model based upon embodiment. I propose a theoretical framework based, first, on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who demonstrates that human subjects are constituted materially and culturally through their perceptual relations within the world. Second, I rely upon a further interpretation of this phenomenology by the American philosopher Don Ihde. Ihde’s work, configured as “postphenomenology,” draws variously from technoscience studies, the philosophy of science, feminist, and posthumanist theory, and sketches a system for the application of an experimental phenomenology. With this method, I explore various embodied, sensational aspects of fantastic genre films, i.e., spectacle, gore, musical genre conventions. I describe and relate these aspects of fantastic film to other cultural venues, exploring common themes and structures among them. From this, I draw some conclusions as to the nature of these sensational genre pleasures for embodied human individuals. Simultaneously, I consider the possibilities for embodied difference among individuals.