Sense as Muse and Lessons in Perception

Dr. Paul Taberham’s project aimed to clarify key themes of the avant-garde with the use of existing research from the field of cognitive psychology.

The paper outlined Paul’s upcoming book, which is due to be published by Berghahn in 2017.

There is a long-standing history of reference to psychological concepts in relation to avant-garde film, such as its unique relationship to memory, visual perception, narrative comprehension, and synesthesia.

Yet direct analysis of these topics in light of existing psychological research remains largely unexplored until now.

More broadly, the aim of Paul’s book is to frame a widespread mode of avant-garde filmmaking practice as a form of ‘practical psychology’.

In doing so, Paul proposed two principal arguments: first, it is suggested that taking “sense as muse” (in Stan Brakhage’s words), many avant-garde filmmakers draw creative inspiration from their own cognitive and perceptual capacities and touch on topics explored by actual psychologists; secondly, it is argued that as practical psychologists, avant-garde filmmakers provide “lessons in perception” (in Michael Snow’s words), offering psychological experiences that are largely unrehearsed in commercial cinema, and also life in general.

If the spectator is willing to engage with films that do not attempt to directly interface with pre-existing, well-rehearsed skills of comprehension, the avant-garde may reveal experiences which expand the viewer’s range of aesthetic sensitivities.

Part of the novelty of the book is the interdisciplinary reach in its fusion of cognitive-perceptual research and film scholarship.

Paul explained that while there is a growing scholarly movement known as Cognitive Film Theory, material on avant-garde film within the field has remained relatively scarce up to this point.

You can read more about Paul’s work here.