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Still,I think the error was a productive one. In assigning to the spectator the taskof ongoing fabula construction, NiFF harmonized withone premise I consider central: a holistic sense of form. Even if we scan theentire narrative through a narrow slit, it’s important for the analystand theorist to consider the overall design of the work, the more or less coherentprinciples that govern the unfolding tale. I’m thinking of such mattersas smoothly cascading character goals, psychological motives and personalitychange, gradual development of knowledge, shifts in viewpoint, repeated and variedmotifs, and finer-grained patterns of visual and sonic presentation. In an analysisof Jerry Maguire, for instance, I tried to show how such features wereoperating at many scales, creating a considerable formal richness.

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Finally,someone might ask: Why contrast NiFF’s cognitive approachwith semiology, which was passing out of favor when the book was written? Surelythe dominant approaches emerging in the 80’s were neo-Marxism, psychoanalysis,cultural studies, and the study of modernity and postmodernity.

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Here’s myanswer. These perspectives don’t play a role in NiFF,or in this essay, because their proponents weren’t asking about how filmsare understood. These writers focused on questions of how social, cultural, andpsychodynamic processes were represented in films. Typically those questionswere answered by interpreting individual films, reading them for traces of thelarger processes made salient by the given theory. Myconcern was explaining, not explicating; I wanted functional and causal-historicalaccounts of why films in various traditions displayed certain regularities intheir narrational strategies. That was, I thought, most pertinent to the semiologicalline of inquiry.

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SparkNotes: Common Sense: Summary

: See, for example,Phillipe Rochat, Ulric Neisser, and Viorica Marlan, “Are Young InfantsSensitive to Interpersonal Contingency?” Infant Behavior and Development 21,2 (1998): 355–366.

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: See Anderson, Realityof Illusion, Chapters 3–5; see my “Convention, Construction, and CinematicVision,” in Poetics of Cinema, 57–82.

Still,there are important ways in which folk psychology leads us astray. Film exploitsthose too.

Linda is a bank clerk.Linda is a bank clerk and a feminist.

: On this GoldenOldie of humanities lore, see Geoffrey Pullum, The Great Eskimo VocabularyHoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1991), 159–175.

: See my , “Now you see it, now you can’t” for more discussionof these trends.

Thomas Paine: Common Sense - US History

Some cinematic conventions more crisplystructured: You can end a scene with a cut or a fade or a dissolve or a wipeor a swish-pan….and that’sabout it. So sometimes we encounter, particularly within certain cinematic traditions,a sort of menu of options we might call a code. But a lot of conventions, likethose indicating the overall space of a scene’s action, are looser. Thereis no rule that requires a long-shot to be followed by a close-up, the way apreposition in language requires an object. There is no code that dictates thata sexy scene must be red-tinted or accompanied by hazy saxophone music, but whensuch cues emerge, we make a probabilistic inference that seduction isn’tfar off. Not all conventions, it seems, are coded. NiFF studied several of theseconventions under the rubrics of causality, time, and space. Those three categories,NiFF claimed, are basic to narrative and to human cognition, and so they oughtto play roles in the process by which we understand stories.

: Paul Messaris, VisualLiteracy: Image, Mind, and Reality (Boulder: Westview, 1994), 165.

Thomas Paine's Common Sense - Lesson Plan

: Alison Gopnik, ThePhilosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, andthe Meaning of Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 98.