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Feelings of guilt and cinematic expression

How do films try to evoke moral emotions such as guilt in their audience? How do they unfold the affective foundations of shared values and (his)stories, of identities and action tendencies?

Project No. G 306

Matthias Grotkopp

"Look what you have done!" This little sentence, in a nutshell, demonstrates the importance of perception and embodied affectivity for the acquisition of moral norms and values. The dissertation project aims at a theoretical conception and exemplary analyses of the relationship between affective experience and normative world-reference as they are aesthetically modulated in audiovisual media.

What is the cultural and historical implication of the bad gut feelings the audience gets from the actions of the lone gunman or the cavalry in late westerns? Does the German post-war-cinema face up to questions of collective guilt or does it transfer it towards collective shame? What are the moral attitudes of documentaries on global warming when they try to convince their audience of changing their ways of conduct?

The evocation of moral emotions is one of cinema’s modes to relate to questions like: Who are we? What kind of history do we share? What values and ways of conduct do we deem right or wrong? "Morality and affectivity" as a specific way of relating to the world is something to be established by the single film. This is evident especially for feelings of guilt: The spectator's implication in the represented moral conflicts has to be shown as emerging from specific aesthetic constellations and modes of address.


Film studies


Prof. Dr. Hermann Kappelhoff