The paratext in "Dexter"

Brylla, Catalin ORCID: (2011) The paratext in "Dexter". In: Television Narratives Symposium, 28 May 2011, University of York, UK. (Unpublished)

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Since the advent of academic film studies realist and formalist frameworks have constantly alternated in apparent opposition, currently culminating in the schism of the phenomenological and cognitive model. According to Elsaesser, cognitive film studies locate the relationship between film and spectator on an abstract mental plane, whereas phenomenologists suggest a simultaneous somatic experience of the spectator parallel to the experiences represented on screen through aesthetics. Arguably, unlike the cognitivists the phenomenological approach takes into account our immediate experience of phenomena (for instance colours and linear patterns) as they show themselves on screen, disregarding hermeneutical questions of representation and authorship. This apodicticity of the immediate (Ihde) results in the viewer’s corporeal experience of the on-screen expression of experience (by either screen characters or the frame itself); “an expression of experience by experience” (Shobchack). This concept allows to draw conclusions about the impact of audio-visual aesthetics, such as light, colour, texture, visual depth, sound effects, etc. on the spectator.
However, although our primary perception is sensorial and we are affected by sound and images first, we are reliant on our cognitive capability of linking various sensations into a coherent schema. Thus, as Kevin Sweeny suggests, there needs to be more of a conceptual bridge between phenomenological and cognitive models, and indeed Don Ihde’s introduction to the phenomenological method establishes the fourth (and last) major stage as “Seeking out structural or invariant features of the phenomena” and “Repeated patterns are significant and must be actively probed”, reminiscent of Bordwell’s narrative structuring.
The complementary nature of phenomenology and cognitivism can be efficiently demonstrated by applying both theories to the analysis of title sequences. Credit sequences by Saul Bass (Vertigo), Maurice Binder (James Bond) and Kyle Cooper (Seven) have become iconic in their own right, although, film studies have shamefully neglected to analyse narrative beginnings and endings (with a few exceptions from aesthetic and iconographic fields). In TV studies, this area has been covered even less, which is paradoxical, given that TV title sequences (especially for long-running series) are made by specialised creative directors and crews, and have their own fan bases, art scenes and even their own festival categories (e.g. at the Emmies). As title sequences are not part of the actual narrative, but are micro-narratives themselves, they need careful consideration not just as an aesthetic object (where the focus has been so far), but as an aesthetic experience by the viewer. Gerard Genette calls these transitional signifiers “paratexts”. They reflexively (and reflectively) address the audience and prestructure horizons of expectation (formal and tonal). They represent a complex threshold from the reality of the viewer to a hyper-reality of the diegesis. This paper argues that the intricate aesthetic and structural strategies of TV paratexts, which are deliberately utilised to pre-condition the spectator in the current TV culture where the adoption of ethical ambiguity and the subversion of normative values are cultivated by reality TV and drama series, can only be understood through employing a phenomenological AND cognitive approach to spectatorship. The rational for selecting the title sequence in “Dexter” as a case study is that, firstly, it has had a considerable extra-textual response (several blog comments, Youtube entry, and an Emmy award for Eric Anderson, its creative director) and secondly, it uses the liminal disposition of the paratext to introduce a socially and ethically transgressive character during his typical morning routine.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Film and television
Depositing User: Catalin Brylla
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2016 21:32
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:19

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