Aesthetics of Art and Cinema

Semiotics of Passions: a new proposal for the aesthetics of the subject

By Hermes Leal

New Semiotics allows you to grasp new modes of the language of cinema

This space aims to present a new science, the Semiotics of Passions, started almost three decades ago in France, by A. J. Greimas, who promised to be the new science of knowledge for the 21st century.

But, only now, Hermes Leal resumes the “Semiotics Narrative, of the Passions and Tensive”, by Greimas, Fontanille and Zilberberg, with its application in the subject's pathetic states of soul, and in the fictional characters, generating a theory for narrative and for the aesthetics of cinematographic art. Until then, this semiotic had turned to the study of objects, of the sensitive in objects. Now, let's study the sensitive through the subjects / characters.

This space will be dedicated to this new science of knowledge, the newly discovered semiotics that explores, in language and in aesthetics, the “sense” in the work of art, but always taking into account the passions of the subjects in the construction of the “sensitive”.

The objective is to explore the application of this science in cinema, literature, photography, theater or any other aesthetic language, in search of the sensible in this art, in what it sensitizes, through the effects of sense on the subject.

Study of the Sensitive and a Dictionary of Passions

In this space, we will continue the study of "sensation" and "sensitive", no longer like Gilles Deleuze and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, but in the generation of meaning for the sensitive in cinematographic work, based on what the characters feel.

At the same time, we are preparing a Dictionary of Passions, so that we can better understand how “hate”, “revenge”, “guilt”, “anger”, “resentment”, “envy”, “jealousy” and “fear”, for example, affect the characters.

The Dictionary of Passions studies passions from the point of view of their structure itself, of how they affect the characters, but also their applications in different ways in the fictional character.
In cinema, we can explore the sensitive from the sense of the subject in the documentary by João Moreira Salles. The tense scene that defines the meaning of the work “No Intenso Agora” is when a student on the phone calls the mothers of the young people to warn them that they are well, which is repeated to reinforce the “mother” character as meaning. In the literature, there may be meaning in this same form of occurrence. In Michel Houellebecq's novel “Submission”, this does not occur in the sense of what begins or ends a story, of the narrated, but in what the subject character generates in the form of a “sense effect” for the whole work, from a simple and unpretentious “event” of the narrator / sufferer when visiting his father in a summer camp.

The Three Semiotic Systems of Film Language

The first of the aesthetic studies will be about the new documentary or fictional languages based on editing and photography, and not only on the script. The fusion of the three semiotic systems in cinematographic projection. Cinema, its narrative aesthetic of telling a story inherited from the theater, especially due to the time of occurrence of the text, also has an aesthetic language based on the “feeling of the character”, even if this film does not show any character visibly.

This is possible because cinema is formed by “three semiotic systems”, in which the subject is observed in his sensitization in different ways: the script, the photography and the montage system. Of these three semiotic systems that make up the cinematographic language, the fictional script is the most complex. It requires, in addition to a dramatic structuring of the story and the characters, a philosophical vision of human relations and the existence of the individual, at a deeper level, a layer below, where the actions take place, and which is dominated by the passionate characteristics of the characters .

In this way, cinematographic "photography" is generated by a system of internal dependencies that determines the framing of the image and the cutout of the scene, reveals the presence of the actors and temporalizes them from the movement of the image through projection.

The “montage”, in turn, is a system that generates rhythm, speed, and cuts time and audio in the degree of speech, offering meaning to the photographic system at the deepest level of the narrative.

The montage is what gives logic and meaning to the narrative chain - especially the temporal one -, determining the duration of the plans, both by the aspect of the action and the needs of the characters. The montage in documentary cinema, overlaps the script system by exchanging the approach of fictional content for the real.

The system that involves the script, on the other hand, is textual narrative, and totally governed by the needs of the characters. The actions and emotions of the characters provide meaning to the other semiotic systems, which determine the obligation of a quick-cut aesthetic in films such as “Parasite” (2019) and with extensive, long cuts, as in “Roma” (2018), due to the “sensitivity” of the characters and the contexts of the action.

An example of cinema in which editing makes more sense, and gains more importance than script or photography, is the documentary “No Intenso Agora”, by João Moreira Salles, built practically only by archival images, with an off director himself as a conductive narrative throughout the film. The filmmaker took advantage of the footage taken by his mother on a visit to China in 1968, in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, and of the youth movements in Paris, and makes a reflection in which the meaning lies in showing the historical issues of the moment, but also the affective relationships between mother and child, which are contained in the discourse, but in the form of immanence of the sensitive.

An example in which the strength of photography, framing, color and art direction (costumes and ornamental objects) overlap with the script and montage is “Creamaster”, a film project by Matthey Barney, designed in museums and galleries, but considered one of the lines of cinematographic art. Filmmaker Cao Guimarães sensitizes his film “Otto”, a feature film about his “pregnant wife of Otto”, and not about Otto, with this character who is present and sensitizing the narrative and aesthetics of the film through photography, framing, sequences and other ways to aestheticize a sensitive object.