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May 30, 2008


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What about the third and fourth viewing, though? It would seem strange (and counter to my own experience) if there wasn't eventually a convergence on a single opinion after repeated viewings. On the other hand there are movies I watched multiple times as a child or teenager and loved consistently but would dislike now. But, within a relatively short time frame, it would be odd if you loved the movie on the first viewing, on the second thought it didn't hold up, on the third decided you finally "got it", on the fourth, etc.


To be clear, I agree with your conclusion, but I don't think changing one's view about a movie upon a second viewing is a very convincing argument for it. In fact, talk about "getting it" seems to imply that the film has a value independent of your opinion of it that the right sort of cognition will discover (eventually tending to bring your opinion in line the film's objective value).


Bryan -
I don't think it's all that strange to have an opinion of a movie that doesn't necessarily converge, for a couple reasons. First, the movie is not the only input to the system - your "state" (as in, a state machine) also affects the output, so your state could be continually changing in a way that would affect the output. Second, even if it was the only input (or the external state wasn't changing - that is, the only thing that ever changed in you was your opinion of this movie, and nothing else), it could oscillate, where if anytime you watched the movie while liking it, it would cause you to dislike it, and vice versa. I could see those both being plausible alternate scenarios to a convergent opinion.

Q the Enchanter

Hi Bryan, you're right that after several viewings of a film I can generally expect to come into some kind of evaluative equilibrium with it (as it were), and that at least in many (most?) cases this equilibrium will persist indefinitely. Let me just make three points about this.

First, one thing I'm not saying is that value is radically unstable.* It's highly unlikely, for example, that I'd watch Cannonball Run II on a Tuesday and reckon it crap, but then on Thursday see it again and reckon it the greatest art film since Persona. (The sort of evaluative stability that makes this seem so unlikely is, after all, what gives us a sense of "taste.")

Second, whatever stable evaluative equilibria eventually obtain, the fact remains that affective reactions elicited from the same aesthetic object on different exposures to it can (and often do) substantially differ over time, and this needs explaining. Let's call the explanatory view that says that we just eventually "get" a work after multiple exposures to it the Discovery Account of Differential Appraisals (or "DADAism"). One problem with DADAism is that the experience of "getting it" often does not reliably reflect any articulable understanding. This is true even with respect to your garden variety propositional content.** In the aesthetic case in particular, I'd say categorically that "I get it" is just a figurative way of expressing a positive emotional reaction to an aesthetic object, where the reaction is distinguished (among other things) by the way it unexpectedly contrasts with our earlier reaction(s) to the same object.

Another problem with DADAism is that we know that other viewers who we'd grant are as aesthetically sensitive as we are, and who've had similar exposure to the same objects we have, may come to contrary evaluative conclusions about those objects. The only thing that DADAism has to say here is that these people "just don't get it." This seems uncharitable and self-aggrandizing. To say that DADAism is true surely requires that we at least say something more articulate at the object level about our aesthetic encounter than "I get it and you don't."

Third, and finally, I don't think our evaluative equilibria, once established, are necessarily all that stable. I can think of several cases in which my relationship with a work of art went from indifferent to positive to negative, or like that (I don't want to give examples, since they'll expose me as the Philistine I really am). And even when they seem "stable," I think you have to be sensitive to the time frames you're considering. At all events, it seems natural to me to think that if I liked, say, the Hardy Boy novels in my youth (my younger youth, that is), but don't like them now, it's because I've changed as a person. In particular, I've changed into the sort of person for whom those books no longer hold value.

* And I certainly didn't mean to make the case only in respect of the difference in reactions on a couple of viewings. You're exactly right that "talk about 'getting it' seems to imply that the film has a value independent of your opinion of it that the right sort of cognition will discover." That's why I used the scare quotes. (Then again, maybe this was clear to you by the first paragraph in this comment...)

** For example, you've probably had the experience of thinking you "got" some mathematical formula, scientific law, our other bit of abstruse knowledge only later to be proved wrong (when asked to apply it, or explicate it, or draw some conclusions from it). At least, I know I have. So having the subjective sense that "Now I get it!" isn't a reliable guide to whether you actually do get it.

Q the Enchanter

Eric, yes, I think that's right. Thanks.

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