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The hypotheses of Francesco Casetti's view on cinematographic enunciation.

1. Introduction

Benveniste's theory of enunciation was one of the main view (with Austin's speech act theory and Peirce's semiotics) that opens the study of language, until then restricted by the well determined frames of Saussure's structuralism, towards the communication sciences through the pragmatic-semiotic direction of linguistics. One of the ways through which the cinematographic enunciation enters into the research area of the filmic discourse is the linguistic-pragmatic one inaugurated by Benveniste. The Italian semiotician Francesco Casetti undertakes the principles of Benveniste's conception and places them into his own view on the cinematographic enunciation. But out of French linguist's theory, Casetti hangs on two others fundamental perspectives from semiotics and communication sciences. First, it is the reconsidering of the addressee into the communication process from semiotic perspective, then the transition in the semiotic research area from structuralism to text semiotics.

2. The Concept of Enunciation

The concept of enunciation is formed on the field of linguistics and subsequently valued especially by pragmatics and discourse analysis. Structural linguistics had entailed the isolation of the study of language from its relationships with mind and world through the classical distinction made by Saussure between langue and parole. The linguistic sign, as relation between signified and signifier, let out the research of the extralinguistic elements of language with which the linguistic components interact within the use of language. Focusing on the study of language as system and ignoring the use of language within the speech, notions such as enunciation and discourse was excluded from linguistics (Moeschler and Reboul, 1999: 73-74). Criticizing the structuralist conception of language, Emile Benveniste reconceives the limits of linguistics bringing back in the focus the concepts of enunciation and discourse. Starting from the study of the personal pronouns the French linguist establishes within the language two correlative oppositions: first, the correlation of personality, in which the pronouns "I" and "you" are opposed, by indicating person, to "he/she" characterized by the absence of person; then, included in the first, the correlation of subjectivity, where "I" as mark of subjectivity is opposed to "you," the non-subjective person, to which it is external and transcendent (Benveniste, 2000c: 215-225). First-person and second-person pronouns are nothing but instances of discourse, "namely discrete acts and every time unique, through which language is actualized in speech by the locutor" (Benveniste, 2000e: 239). The statement that contain "I" and "you" belongs to the pragmatic level of language, the referents of two pronouns being mobile and variable, dependent on the partners involved in the use of language. "I" cannot be defined except by the act of locution and "you," except by the one of allocution: "I" refers to the person who utters the instance of discourse that contains the linguistic instance "I," and "you" refers to the person whose "I" speaks to in the instance of discourse that contains the linguistic instance "you" (Benveniste, 2000e: 240). Personal pronouns "I" and "you" are not the only deictics (linguistic elements whose meaning depend on the context of enunciation). Adverbs of time and place and verb tenses belongs to the same category, and they all allow the distinction between language as system of signs and language as discursive instance assumed by an "I" and carried out within a communicational situation (Benveniste, 2000e: 241-242). An analysis of the distribution of verb tenses in the two distinctive and complementary systems led Benveniste to relieve two different levels of enunciation, narrative (historical) and discourse, the former proper to writing, the latter, to oral expression (Benveniste, 2000b: 226-238). While narrative refers to events that occurred in the past without the intervention of the speaker, using the aorist mode (= passe simple), the past tense, the past perfect tense and third-person pronouns (the present tense, the present perfect tense (=passe composse) and first-person and second person pronouns being excluded), discourse implies a speaker and an auditor, the former having intention to persuade the latter, and uses all personal pronouns and verb tenses except the aorist mode. Thus, if in narrative the temporal mark is given by the time of event, in discourse it is given by the time of statement. Discourse, therefore, means to put language into practice and is specific to communicative situation (Benveniste, 2000a: 245-248). The personal pronouns "I" and "you" are nothing but signs of communicative use of language. None of the two terms can be conceived in isolation within discourse. The existence of one implies the existence of the other. Benveniste frames in "The Formal Apparatus of Enunciation" some general conclusions of his theory (Benveniste, 2000d: 67-74). First, the enunciation is considered as an individual act to use language, assumed by an "I," through putting language into action within the speech. The discourse is the result of the manifestation of enunciation. Thus, Benveniste builds a bridge between the levels of language radically separated by Saussure, langue and parole, enunciation mediating between them. Secondly, any enunciation is also an allocution, the locutor addressing always to a "you," present or absent. Thirdly and lastly, the enunciation expresses a certain relation to the world through the presence of deictics (including personal pronouns), the referent becoming thereby integrant part of the use of language.

3. The Spectator as Interlocutor

Francesco Casetti's first theoretical step on the way to his conception of cinematographic enunciation is the definition of the spectator, a true "nodal point located at the intersection of numerous, complex and diverse paths. This individual, notes Casetti, is present as a witness to potential contradictions rather than as a subject of consensus, an object of doubt rather than a secure referent, a piece of a puzzle rather than a finished design" (Casetti, 1998: 1). Most writings about cinema between 1910 and 1950 refer to the spectator without putting the problem of the nature of his status that was considered the evident one. What is pointed out in these texts are rather the actions of medium than the variations in interpretation, the typologies of films replacing the problematization of what means the presence at the projection of a movie, describing the realist or oniric nature of picture without analyzing the different ways through which these expressive forms entail the place of spectator (Casetti, 1998: 2). However, within these context dominated by a mechanistic understanding of the spectator, Casetti discusses several "voices" who deviated from the general line and put more emphasis on the reception on the film by the spectator (Casetti, 1998: 2-3). The first pointed is Hugo Munsterberg who in 1916, in The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, treated not only the mental processes by which film entails the place of the spectator, but insisted also on the actions that the one who look at the screen must to carry on so that the film may function as such. The Russian formalist Boris Eichenbaum, in a paper published in 1970 in Cahiers du cinema, suggests the notion of "inner speech" to explain how the sequence of stimuli that appears on the screen is transposed into the psyche of the receptor, where the string of photograms and shots makes sense. In the mid-1930s Walter Benjamin, in a paper entitled "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" suggests that "age of mechanical reproduction" led both to the change of the nature of the work of art and to the characteristics of its receptor. So that he/she turned from a passive participant in receiving the pictures into the spectator who engages in an act of visual consumption being in the same time present and detached. Finally, in the 1950, Edgar Morin in Le cinema ou l'homme imaginaire defined the cinema as a "symbiosis," a mechanism that combines the linguistic with the psychic elements. Acting in accordance with his/her dispositions and particular emotional needs, the spectator tries to compensate the apparent coldness of images from the screen, revealing their deep meanings. All these voices led gradually to the consolidation of a direction in conceiving the spectator, he/she turning into an object of study, into someone or something capable of being understood by means of empirical facts, and whose essential characteristics would be described on the basis of the objectives proposed and the research tools used. From an assumed presence, the spectator became an existence with a determined face and a specific constitution.

This theoretical and methodological transition in conceiving the nature of the spectator has two consequences (Casetti, 1998: 4). On the one hand, there is a disproportion about the references to the spectator. If in the writings of the "mechanistic" period the references were scattered in different works without to form into specific issues, within the new direction they constitute a determined case related to being spectator of film. On the other hand, the second consequence is connected with the multiple characteristics of the identity of the spectator. In the past, the systematic way in which the spectator was described suggested that he/she featured a reality with the same meaning for everyone. In the new conditions, the choices determined by the domain of discipline and the research method entail the diversification of the ways of investigation. Every researcher has his own object of study given by the nature of discipline and method, and so every researcher will have his own spectator. The conclusion of this complexification and simultaneously fragmentation owed to the plurality of perspectives is that the spectator will must have in the future a multiple face.

But this plurality of perspectives on the spectator recurs also into the field of semiotics, a domain of research divided in two large sections (Casetti, 1998: 5). On the one hand, the spectator is viewed as decoder, as someone who decodes a group of images and sounds, a participant who aims to recover the meaning of representation, a person who translates a coded message. On the other hand, the spectator may be understood as interlocutor, as recipient of a propositional structure, from who are expected signs that message was understood. In this case the spectator is nothing but a subtle accomplice of the character that appears on the screen, a partner whose may be assigned a task and who will truthfully perform it. These two definitions belong to different frames of semiotics, but also to different understandings of communication. As in communication theory there was a transition from mechanistic to organicist models of communication, in semiotics there was a transition from structure to text.

4. Film as Text

The understanding of spectator as decoder is closely related to the definition of communication as linear transmission of messages and the mechanistic understanding of communication process. Within these approaches the process of reception was considered the marginal and secondary one, where the spectator had a determinate but limited function. "The transmission of messages" understood as apart from "the exchange of meanings" had within semiotics the effect of partition of analysis in the study of communication and meaning. Umberto Eco is the one of theoreticians who set up the unification of the two fields of research, considering that when we speak of man as the recipient of a communication process, the study of communication cannot be separated from that of meaning, but conversely (Eco, 2008: 22-23). Since the '70s more and more texts begin to emphasize the shortcomings of the definition of spectator as decoder. According to Casetti "these were undertaken essentially in two forms. One involved a complex conceptualization of the state of reception, while the other entailed an analysis of the text itself for evidence of the reception process" (Casetti, 1998: 6). This duality is exemplified by various conceptions: the idea that "to read is to rewrite" recognizable in Barthes's, Althuser's or Derrida's writings, the postulate "to read means to interpret" representative to German theories of interpretation based on hypotheses borrowed from hermeneutics and phenomenology, the concept of "implicit reader" from works of Wayne Booth, Wolfgang Iser, Seymour Chatman, Maria Corti; the notion of virtual public derived from Lotman's writings and developed especially in the field of narratology. These two variants are also visible in the works on cinema. Christian Metz in Langage et cinema speaks of a plurality of levels in the interpretation of a movie, each of them being circumscribed to a principle of decoding determined by the subjective choices and directions. By this Casetti alludes to the tension in Metz's work between "an empirically driven attempt to identify and classify filmic elements and the semiotic activity of modelling the underlying system that organize these elements" (Buckland, 2000: 59). In the same work, the French semiotician describes film semiotics as an activity that aims "to understand how films are understood," a process named by both Metz and Casetti as "metareading."

This emphasis on text and the conditions of receiving entails in semiotics the transition from structuralism to text semiotics (Casetti, 1998: 7-8). Text becomes equivalent to discourse and both are opposed to Saussurian separation between langue and parole (about varied relationships of meaning between text and discourse in Rovenla-Frumucam, 2005: 70-73). A description of this transition in the semiotic field is given by Umberto Eco in his Lector in fabula, and in the domain of theory of film, by Gianfranco Bettetini in his work Tempo del senso. The transformation in researching the profile of spectator generates some results, Casetti identifying three of them (Casetti, 1998: 7-8). First, the way of conceptualizing the presence of spectator is modified. If in the past the spectator had been only to the margin of representation (as an episodic participant or simple consumer), now he/she is seen as someone called to participate to the construction of the intrigue. The spectator becomes both a genuine receiver (in so far as the story is revealed for him) and an obligatory reference point (because he/she enters within the intertexture of representation). Secondly, there is a simultaneous change in conceptualizing the manner of interaction with film. If in the past the interpretation of images and sounds assumed a code (namely, a system of signs, a list of correspondences between signifier and signified and a table with rules by which signs are combined), now becomes necessary to know the whole situation for a complete understanding, anticipating the results and apprehending the particularities that will follow. It requires an open knowledge with syntax and a lexicon like an encyclopedia, and this new kind of analysis is not anymore based on the notion of code, but rather competence, that is "an ensemble of rules which, in its totality, restores the richness underlying a discourse's production and reception." Thirdly, there is a modification in the spectator's field of action. "If what appears on the screen had formerly been understood as an ordered combination of elements and as a construction turned in on itself, it would henceforth be conceived as an organism which both submits to and influences its context." The film is no longer understood as message, but as text, a notion that suggests the conception of a dynamic construction, an open and complex structure of an intended object.

The "spectator as interlocutor" and "film as text" becomes the main hypotheses of Casetti's theory of cinematographic enunciation. Meeting the potential critics, the Italian semiotician shows that the problem of temporal and spatial distance between the components involved, the filmmaker, the film projected on the screen and the spectator, is only apparent (Casetti, 1998: 8-9). Far from being a closed and autonomous universe, the film has really an inherent availability long before being consciously discovered by any viewer. This fact is confirmed continuously even in the most elementary moments of the viewing process: "for example, when divisions are sutured and gaps filled with the collaboration of the spectator attending the show;" "moments when information is ruled by the function of a system of expectations;" "instances when all the possibilities of an image multiply even with the least bit of participation on the part of the spectator;" "finally, moments when figures of substitution emerge with regulate access to the narrative" (Casetti, 1998: 8-9). The film directs continuously to the outside the sights and voices that live into it, towards someone whose existence is assumed and whose response is expected. "The film, in sum, offers itself to sight" (Casetti, 1998: 8-9). As the spectator, he/she gets through the same trajectory in reversed direction. The person who looks at the film contributes actively to what is happened on the screen. "This occurs, for example, when he puts together all sorts of scattered elements to construct a character or place..., when he frames the events in a way that endows them with a meaning., when he passes through the visual field retaining only what is essential and discarding the accessory., when he fills the gaps in the narrative to give coherence to the intrigue" (Casetti, 1998: 8-9). In conclusion, the spectator "becomes engaged in the act of gazing, responding to the availability of the screen's world by assuming certain responsibilities according to the demands of a true vocation." Bearing in mind the two hypotheses, Casetti defines the interlocutor as both a symbolic occurrence and a concrete reality, embracing Benveniste's explicative model of first-person pronoun, where "I" designates simultaneously a concrete existence and a grammatical element that points out the presence of subjectivity (Casetti, 1998: 10-12).

All these suggest that to speak simultaneously about interlocutor and text is not paradoxal, but both refer to the same phenomenon. So, a theory based on these two hypotheses, "the spectator as interlocutor" and "the film as text" is not an eclectic one, but represents a pertinent approach that avoids the extremes by choosing an equilibrated point of view. Casetti alludes, on the one hand, to the structuralist approach that binds behavioristically the spectator in a fixed position from which he/she have no other solution but to react mechanically to the action of stimuli, and on the other hand, the cognitivist approach that places the spectator above other elements and the film becomes nothing else than his/her construction.

5. Conclusion

Benveniste's theory of enunciation comes to bind the levels that Saussure once separated, langue and parole. In communication theory the designs are shifting from the communication as process, highlighting the transmission of information, to the communication as exchange of meanings based on codes (systems of rules) through Peirce's semiotic perspective, where the emphasis moves from the sender to addressee. Finally, the structuralist view is substituted in linguistics by text semiotics which directs the research towards a pragmatic aim including also in its domain the extralinguistic components. All these constitute premises that Casetti's theory on cinematographic enunciation is based on. If the meaning becomes the main component of communication process, then the addressee, the spectator in the cinematographic communication case, can no longer be understood as simple and passive receiver, but must be seen as a partner as active as the sender, an interlocutor, not a decoder.

The semiotic perspective on film assumes that the impression of unity and continuity every spectator experiments at the cinema is due to the existence of a system of codes that includes underlying non-perceptible characteristics that the perceptible structures (the particular films) are based on, ensuring its intelligibility at the perceptive level. The first researchers on film semiotics applied the methodology of structural linguistics of segmentation and classification in order to identify the underlying non-perceptible system of film. The establishment of this hierarchy--between the perceptible level of film and the non-perceptible system of codes that the first is based on--is the main contribution that the semioticians had it within the film theory. Semiotics, in fact, allows to the film semioticians to initiate a separation between film and its referent, to cancel the assumed hypothesis about the existential relationship between them, and to argue that filmic meaning are the consequence of the invisible system of codes and not of the relation between the image and its referent. Casetti's theory overthrows this structuralist view of film semiotics and builds a pragmatic direction by which, like Benveniste, binds the two levels radically separated, the perceptible and the non-perceptible, through the notion of text that includes both linguistic and extralinguistic elements.


Benveniste, Emile (2000a), "On Subjectivity in Language (Despre subiectivitate in limbaj)," Problems in General Linguistics (Probleme de lingvistica generala), vol. 1. Translated by Lucia Magdalena Dumitru. Bucharest: Teora: 245-252.

Benveniste, Emile (2000b), "Relations of Tense in the French Verb (Relajiile temporale in cazul verbului francez)," Problems in General Linguistics (Probleme de lingvistica generala), vol. 1. Translated by Lucia Magdalena Dumitru. Bucharest: Teora: 228-237.

Benveniste, Emile (2000c), "Relationships of Person in the Verb (Structura relajiilor de persoana in cazul verbului)," Problems in General Linguistics (Probleme de lingvistica generala), vol. 1. Translated by Lucia Magdalena Dumitru. Bucharest: Teora: 215-227.

Benveniste, Emile (2000d), "The Formal Apparatus of Enunciation (Aparatul formal al enunjarii)," Problems in General Linguistics (Probleme de lingvistica generala), vol. 2. Translated by Lucia Magdalena Dumitru, Bucharest: Teora: 67-74.

Benveniste, Emile (2000e), "The Nature of Pronouns (Natura pronumelor)," Problems in General Linguistics (Probleme de lingvistica generala), vol. 1. Translated by Lucia Magdalena Dumitru. Bucharest, Teora: 238-244.

Buckland, Warren (2000), The Cognitive Semiotics of Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Casetti, Francesco (1998), Inside the Gaze: The Fiction Film and Its Spectator. Translated by Nell Andrew with Charles O'Brien. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.

Eco, Umberto (2008), A Theory of Semiotics (O teorie a semioticii). Translated from English by Cezar Radu and Costin Popescu. Bucharest: Trei.

Moeschler, Jacques, Anne Reboul (1999), Encyclopedic Dictionary of Pragmatics (Dicfionar enciclopedic de pragmatica). Coordination of translation by Carmen Vlad and Liana Pop. Cluj-Napoca: Echinox.

Rovenja-Frumusani, Daniela (2005), Discourse Analysis. Hypotheses and Hypostases (Analiza discursului. Ipoteze f ipostaze). Bucharest: Tritonic.


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Author:Serban, Silviu
Publication:Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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