Politics

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Margaret Kohn

In this chapter, the author suggests that films and even television shows can be texts that encourage reflexivity about moral paradox, political obligation and community. He will do this through a reading of a more recent work in the genre of "the tragedy of remarriage": the television show The Americans. The Americans is a commercially successful spy drama set in Washington, DC in the early 1980s. It incorporates aspects of high and low culture. It combines the elaborate atmospherics of Mad Men with elements of the spy genre, but at its core it is a story about marriage and, to a lesser degree, about politics. The author clarifies how The Americans resembles the other remarriage films and illuminates the issues they raise. Finally, he explains what insights he can draw from the show and whether these insights could fortify democracy.

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The tragedy of remarriage

Letter to M. Cavell about cinema (a remake)

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Joshua Foa Dienstag

This chapter engages in a critical encounter with the work of Stanley Cavell on cinema, focusing skeptical attention on the claims made for the contribution of cinema to the ethical character of democratic life. In 1757, Jean d'Alembert wrote an entry on "Genève" in the seventh volume of the Encyclopédie, the great encapsulation of the Enlightenment, of which he was also one of the general editors. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva, had contributed many entries to the Encyclopédie on music and political economy and was well known as a composer and patron of the theater. Determined to oppose Voltaire's suggestion that theater represented cultural and political progress, he wrote a public letter to his editor and friend. It was published in 1758 as Letter to M. d'Alembert on the Theatre. It provoked an extended public exchange and represented Rousseau's permanent break from d'Alembert, Diderot and all his former Enlightenment allies.

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“That dangerous contention”

A cinematic response to pessimism

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Davide Panagia

In this chapter, the author begins with a dangerous contention he hold to be true: film is in direct competition with God for the creation of worlds. The issue of aesthetic absorption bespeaks a further element of Stanley Cavell's writings on film-learning that Dienstag's "Letter" sidesteps; namely, the matter of ekphrasis. "A reading of a film," Cavell states, "sets up a continuous appeal to the experience of the film, or rather to an active memory of the experience (or an active anticipation of acquiring the experience)." It is at the point at which memories count as the fragmented traces upon which to construct a claim about film's legitimacy that Cavell encounters Dienstag's mood of pessimism which affirms that "Nothing is permanent".

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Joshua Foa Dienstag

In this chapter, the author argues against an optimistic account of the relation between film and democracy. He contests Stanley Cavell's interpretation of The Philadelphia Story, a film that he has said exemplifies the connection between Emersonian perfectionism and the "remarriage comedies" of the 1930s and 1940s. The author turns from The Philadelphia Story to its dark twin The Rules of the Game, a film made at roughly the same time with roughly the same plot but with a much more pessimistic account of the relationship between eros and politics. He considers Cavell's contention that time is a "barrier" between film and audience. The author argues, to the contrary, that time is in fact the medium that forms the aesthetic connection between humans and film, something people can understand better by contrasting cinema with television.

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The phenomenology of the political

A reply from Saturday Night to Mr. Dienstag

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Tracy B. Strong

In this chapter, the author begins with Plato's Symposium and recalls a passage from Pindar, three-fourths of which formed Nietzsche's favorite encomium. On Saturday night at the cinema, one can learn such from comedy as well as from tragedy. The author rehearses what Mr. Stanley Cavell thinks the place of film in people's lives should or can be. Film can be a key conveyor of both the individual and political perfectionism that Cavell finds at the center of his thought. Perfectionism thinks that people can learn - only a piece at a time - that what a transformation would make of us is a bit more of what it is ours to be. Mr. Cavell calls this "philosophy" or "the education of grown-ups.".

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Thomas Dumm

In this chapter the author offers a response to Joshua Foa Dienstag's letter to Stanley Cavell on film and what he calls as the tragedy of remarriage. Constitutional Convention seems to the author to be precisely one of the pertinent motifs Cavell explores in his various readings of The Philadelphia Story and other remarriage comedies, as well as in his parallel studies of the other genre he identifies: the melodramas of the unknown woman. The author says that he have been deeply influenced by Cavell's understanding of film, and his understanding of skepticism and its relationship to moral perfectionism. He thinks that democracy requires not simply a tolerance for degrees of ignorance, impertinence and boundary crossing, but their active, if selective, celebration and pursuit.

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Clare Woodford

In much of Stanley Cavell's writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms "remarriage comedies" live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. This chapter examines differing alternative interpretations of The Philadelphia Story to defend its use as a fruitful exemplar for the understanding of democratic relationships. It explores the author's wider claim about the value of films for democracy in general. It has been suggested that the difference between the author's and Cavell's readings come about in part because of the fact that neither distinguishes clearly between the imitative and the inspirational models of exemplarity, to emphasize that it is the latter that may be more beneficial for democracy whilst the former can be detrimental.

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Cinema, democracy and perfectionism

Joshua Foa Dienstag in dialogue

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Edited by: Joshua Foa Dienstag

This book engages in a critical encounter with the work of Stanley Cavell on cinema, focusing skeptical attention on the claims made for the contribution of cinema to the ethical character of democratic life. In much of Cavell's writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms "remarriage comedies" live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. Films are often viewed on television, and television shows can have "filmlike" qualities. The book addresses the nature of viewing cinematic film as a mode of experience, arguing against Cavell that it is akin to dreaming rather than lived consciousness and, crucially, cannot be shared. It mirrors the celebrated dialogue between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean D'Alembert on theatre. The book articulates the implications of philosophical pessimism for addressing contemporary culture in its relationship to political life. It clarifies how The Americans resembles the remarriage films and can illuminate the issues they raise. The tragedy of remarriage, would be a better instructor of a democratic community, if such a community were prepared to listen. The book suggests that dreaming, both with and without films, is not merely a pleasurable distraction but a valuable pastime for democratic citizens. Finally, it concludes with a robust response from Dienstag to his critics.