Joshua Foa Dienstag in dialogue
Series: Critical Powers

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.

Letter to M. Cavell about cinema (a remake)
Joshua Foa Dienstag

Introduction In 1757, Jean d’Alembert wrote an entry on “Genève” (Geneva) in the seventh volume of the Encyclopédie , the great encapsulation of the Enlightenment, of which he was also one of the general editors. Among other things, the article proposed that Geneva should relax its sumptuary laws so as to permit the

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A reply from Saturday Night to Mr. Dienstag
Tracy B. Strong

. 1 Jean d’Alembert , Lettre de d’Alembert à M. J.-J. Rousseau sur l’article “Genève , ” from l’Encyclopédie , vol. 7. Online at: (accessed January 19, 2016): “On va, selon vous, s’isoler au

in Cinema, democracy and perfectionism