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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.

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The tragedy of remarriage

Letter to M. Cavell about cinema (a remake)

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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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The phenomenology of the political

A reply from Saturday Night to Mr. Dienstag

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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: http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Lettre_de_d%E2%80%99Alembert_%C3%A0_M._J.-J._Rousseau_sur_l%E2%80%99article_Gen%C3%A8ve (accessed January 19, 2016): “On va, selon vous, s’isoler au

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A civic profession of faith

Rousseau’s and nationalism

Mads Qvortrup

subject whatsoever. I often defended myself rather feebly because of my distaste and lack of talent for disputation, but never once did I adopt their dismal teaching (desolante doctrine)’. Rousseau, Revieries du promeneur solitaire (Bourdeaux: Larousse, 1997), p. 58. 15 Rousseau’s awareness of the paradoxical character of his work is well illustrated in Lettre à M. d’Alembert, in Allan Bloom (ed.) Politics and the Arts. Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theatre by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Glencoe Ill: The Free Press, 1960), p. 131. 16 It is interesting to note that Voltaire

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More than just kissing

Cousins and the changing status of family

Jenny DiPlacidi

Sevignie’s lack of history and kinship network is perceived as ominous. But Madeline’s other suitor, D’Alembert (her second cousin, Clermont’s cousin), has too much history, is too connected with her family’s past, making him an even greater danger (he wants to kill his wife to marry Madeline, who is, unbeknownst to her, heiress to a fortune). Eventually we learn that de Sevignie is Madeline’s cousin; in

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Margaret Kohn

and social structure, not when it suggests that this tension can be easily overcome. It is tempting to say that film can be democratic as long as it has the disruptive effect of atonal music rather than the soporific effect of jazz, but Dienstag does not take this position. Inspired by Rousseau’s Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theatre ( Lettre à M. d’Alembert sur les

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Clare Woodford

). 15 D’Alembert, cited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Politics and the Arts , translated by Alan Bloom (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1968) p. 4. 16 Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator,” p. 14

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France

The revolt of democratic Christianity and the rise of public opinion

S.J. Barnett

their education of the European elite and dedication to maintaining Roman orthodoxy, could hardly be ignored by the philosophes. It was inconceivable that they could silently ignore the victory; something had to be said. This was the momentous context in which d’Alembert claimed the suppression of the Jesuit order as a victory for the influence of the philosophic spirit, that is to say the thought of the Enlightenment. In his Sur la destruction des Jésuites en France, he characterized the Jansenists as intolerant supporters of superstition who hated the Jesuits only

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Mads Qvortrup

on the Internet, and totalitarian ideologies based on ‘scientific’ reasoning. This is the dark side to a development, which no one intended; applications of technologies established for the benefit of mankind, which turned against him. This is a replay of the development in Rousseau’s time. Armed with the insights of the scientific revolution, philosophers like Diderot, d’Alembert, Voltaire and d’Holbach set out to free mankind from its age-old cocoon of superstition and establish a more reasonable world of experiment and progress. While the great majority of the

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S.J. Barnett

general indictment of enlightened thinkers or indeed of the philosophical and scientific achievements of the Enlightenment itself. But it does illustrate how a tiny minority of intellectuals naturally grasped any opportunity to further their own views, claiming favourable winds as universal victories for reason against ignorance and superstition. We know that d’Alembert, for instance, in his 1765 pamphlet Sur la destruction des Jésuites en France, claimed the hitherto unthinkable destruction of that pillar of papal and absolute royal power as a victory for enlightened