mimesis (aesthetics) Mimesis, is the psychological ability to perceive lived experience and internally re-construct this as temporally connected sequences of events which can then be perceived as thought and represented in spoken language. This event-sequence story construction is not limited to on-going experience it involves the mental construction of past, present and possible future events as coherent narrative representations: memories and imaginings. This psychological ability to mentally retain lived experience as constructed story and to construct imagined story has been developed into formal social and aesthetic practices through oral storytelling, song, poetry, drama, and through specific media: image, print, and moving image.
For an understanding of creative storytelling an important point emerges from this cognitive definition of mimesis. The general usage of the term, originating from Aristotle in The Poetics is that through mimesis, through mimicry, art imitates life. This establishes the connection between the artefact and actuality as the essential relationship which establishes realism, the representation is validated by having a connection to reality, but mimesis is implicitly a psychological phenomena and the experienced realism in a story is a judgement of perception: a fiction film is a pattern of light on a screen with a range of sounds accompanying it. It has a realism only because of mimesis.
Any narrative and experience of realism that an audio-visual representation, a narrative film has is only possible because of human perception, and crucially, it is because of this human capacity that mimesis extends beyond representing what is possible in reality to construct what is impossible: alternative and the fictionalised presents, the imagined past, the imagined future, the fantastic. There can be a judgement made on whether a story is factual or fictional, but the mimetic processes of constructing and comprehending a story does not differentiate based the truth of actuality: we know from lived experience that people cannot fly unaided, but we can tell a story, create a picture and make a film where we can represent and perceive this to be realistic, as though a person flying unaided does exist in real life: realism, is not limited by objects and events in the world.
Centering mimesis on human cognition rather than on the narrative artefact is the definition that is acknowledged in contemporary narrative theory. Where one needs to be wary of stating that a feature of narrativity is shared by all is if this is extended to the simplistic overview that stories are universal and we are all storytellers because of mimesis. Instead, a more delineated understanding is accurate: storytelling exists in every human society, and storytelling is a human ability, but this ubiquity does not extend to the production of complex aesthetic artefacts: songs, plays, books, films, games. In each of these the medium has been developed to produce a conventionalised narrative form within a specific social and historical context, so that writers, composers dramatists, filmmakers need to develop sophisticated abilities through specialised knowledge to be able to tell stories within a particular medium at the highest level of understanding and competence.
Narrative film may be easy to understand in terms of the audience comprehending a story, but storytelling in film is not an immediate skill granted to us all because of our inherent mimesis. To develop as a storyteller, a filmmaker it’s necessary to understand the narrativity of the medium, how the medium narrates story, and how this narration has been developed into narrative forms. Mimesis is how films are understood, it is not an understanding of how mimesis is created through a narrative film.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019