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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reframing depression as an embodied state of being in contemporary audiovisual narrative Smith, Edward


While language so often serves to bridge the gap between individual subjectivities, it is a bridge that rests on the assumption that all humans principally experience their lives in the same way. When describing emotions, embodied metaphors are often used to relay, for example, an “elevated” mood or “feeling down”, mapping affective experiences to the physical positioning and movement of the body, the primary interface through which we experience the world. We understand the passing of time as analogous to movement through physical space, and assign physical qualities to feelings based on sensory information such as heat, colour, sound, pressure, pain, and so on. We recount “feeling blue”, “boiling with rage”, being “overwhelmed” and “sinking into despair”. When expressed in words, these metaphors rely on the semiotic nature of language to evoke relevant concepts in the minds of the listener or reader. In this way, we must all agree on the meanings of words, and must have a mutual understanding of how embodied sensations feel. I argue that in describing complex mental states, such as depression, natural language becomes an inadequate tool of communication, as it cannot help but evoke semantic frames that rely on human-scale concepts. I propose that audiovisual narratives, particularly those that diverge from traditional dramatic conventions, are more effective in depicting the lived experience of depression, as they are better able to represent a holistic flow of phenomenological experience and may utilise inputs from many different modes (sound, light, colour, written and verbal text) to produce gestalt impressions. Through these multimodal artefacts, depression may be reframed as an embodied experience of the world that is not simply analogous to intense sadness.

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