Ricoeur's Three Stages
Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-A-Thon is a great and resounding success. I wish I could crawl out from under my mountain of semester-end grading and create some original content for the occasion but instead, let me do the next best thing and post this brief and interesting passage that I've been meaning to share with you for a while. It's from Tim Bywater and Thomas Sobchack's 1989 book Introduction to Film Criticism: Major Critical Approaches to Narrative Film:
Paul Ricoeur, a noted French philosopher, has described the process of immersion in a text which leads to a richer, more complete relationship with that text, as a movement through three stages. The first he calls “understanding.” This is the movement when a text makes its power clear to the experiencer. Having seen a particular film, for example, the viewer is struck by the insistence the text has in the viewer’s life of meaning. We are all aware that some films do not have such an appeal; we see them, pass the time, and forget them. When this recognition of understanding does take place, however, the text demands some “explanation.” This is Ricoeur’s second stage. Dudley Andrew, in Concepts in Film Theory (1984), says this is necessarily a reductive process, breaking down the text into its various parts to unlock its hold on us. “The text is situated in its various contexts (biographical, generic, historical) and is subjected to linguistic study, psychoanalysis, and ideological critique until the particularity of its appeal is explained as an effect of these generative forces” (p. 181). In a sense this analysis, the second stage, may remove us from the power of the text felt during the moment of understanding, the first stage. But Ricoeur goes on to say that a third stage, “comprehension,” follows. Here a return to the work, bolstered and enlarged by the explanatory process, renews, in a stronger and more comprehensive way, the initial sense that the text has importance in the spectator’s life of meaning. “Comprehension,” Andrew suggests, “is synthetic in that it listens to the wholeness of the text rather than breaking it down into parts: further it responds to cues it finds in the work, initiating a project of meaning which is never complete” (p. 182). The relationship of the text and the spectator becomes a living one. One can return to certain films again and again because they never lose their ability to yield meaning.