Epstein’s essay: Freud ou le Nick-Carterianisme en psychologie” purports to refute psychoanalysis as a method for understanding the subconscious. The subconscious has a fundamentally elusive nature: motivations and associations are fundamentally elusive and un-graspable. He refers to Edgar Alan Poe’s ‘The Imp of the Perverse.” Epstein posits Lyrosohpy as a concept to describe the transformation of subjectivity in modernity. The modern world creates lapses in conscious attention which allows the subconscious to flood the conscious mind with emotion and revelatory analogy between what is in the world and what one perceives the world to be about.
“Beauty is a thing in itself, that is to say, in us. It can be projected on almost any object or person who, immediately, will become beautiful. Everything depends on the quality, the force of our subconscious..”
In this way love too is a projection and this theme – this structure – pervades much of Epstein’s film work. This is a kind of Kuleshov effect in which meaning is projected onto a subject via the contextualisation from the subjective point of view: the person is beautiful, because I am looking at the person and thinking beauty. Figures in Epstein’s films are mirrors that reflect and deflect desire.
Epstein’s conception of photogenie is equally reflective and deflective. It is allusive and ungraspable as the subconscious. It cannot be reverse engineered via creating logical connections between motivation and association as psychoanalysis attempts to do. Photogenie is resistant to a foundation in words as words are static. To describe beauty is to destroy beauty. A good approach to photogenie is a shotgun – scatter shot approach of description. Epstein’s direction is that of the nexus between the human mind and the world and the appearance of beauty and love.
In summary, psychoanalysis is ocular-centric. It seeks to explain the act of looking in terms of what is being looked at. Epstein’s thinking gives way to general phenomenological approaches that reconstitute the role of the body in visual perception. Epstein sees the camera, and by proxy the cinema, as an instrument to make visible the interior life of human beings that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
From A Temporal Perspective: Jean Epstein’s Writings on Technology and Subjectivity by Trond Lundemo
Epstein often describes the processes forming subjectivity in cinema as an alternative to psychoanalysis. Actors do not recognise themselves on the screen. Cinema counters our self impressions and reveals true identities. This is why cinema produces a split of the subject, as an on-going process of individuation. Already the simple technique of shooting in reverse motion disturbs our conception of the universe. Cinema allows us to look at things in a different way because it is not governed by the principles of human psychology and consciousness, but instead disturbs our conception of the universe as well as our image of ourselves.