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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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“That dangerous contention”

A cinematic response to pessimism

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Davide Panagia

automatism, or a human something “unlike anything else we know.” 38 The godlike feature of cinema, and its aesthetic and political value, is its capacity to give us something unlike anything else we know . And that , to be sure, is a dangerous contention. 1 Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean

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Clare Woodford

happiness that is the promise of an emancipated perfectionist democracy. 1 Stanley Cavell, Cavell on Film, edited by W. Rothman (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005) p. 11. 2 Jacques Rancière, “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

“Rousseau: Music, Language and Politics,” in Keith Chapin and Andrew Clark, eds . , Speaking of Music (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 86–100. 5 Stanley Cavell, “The Good of Film,” Cavell on Film , edited by William Rothman (Albany, NY: State

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Thomas Dumm

Dear Joshua, There is little I can offer here in response to your letter to Stanley Cavell on film and what you are calling the tragedy of remarriage. (Since I am recently remarried, and find our marriage meet and happy, I have to say that I am not inclined to sympathize with your perspective on The Philadelphia Story .) This is not to say that I

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The tragedy of remarriage

Letter to M. Cavell about cinema (a remake)

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Joshua Foa Dienstag

been endorsed by many but celebrated by one distinguished voice in particular, especially with reference to film, that of Stanley Cavell. It is therefore necessary, once again, to rehearse the opposing view, not out of any dislike for that medium, but out of a greater concern for its corrosive effects on our democracy. Not having found any way to improve on Rousseau’s style of

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Joshua Foa Dienstag

small community of five or six, like the larger one of which we are but a part, will be strengthened by an equal, reciprocal and boisterous conversation and not by a quiet collective viewing, however pleasing the latter might be. I have not, in this response, spent much time on the particulars of the two films I discuss at length in my “Letter to M. Cavell.” While I want to

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Shakespeare’s genius

Hamlet, adaptation and the work of following

John J. Joughin

The survival of Shakespeare’s plays continues to demonstrate that literature means different things to different people in different contexts. To say that this facility for reinvention and restaging seems to be valued is not to reduce the evaluative to a prescriptive form of interpretation – indeed, the range of ways in which those texts we now term canonical continue to be valued and reinterpreted, often from diametrically opposed points of view, suggests rather the contrary. In considering the question of Shakespeare’s ‘uniqueness’, Stanley Cavell points us to the

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Margaret Kohn

enough to see things through a slightly different lens. We must also create a different world. 1 Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life (Cambridge, MA, and London: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 42

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Sounding

Henry David Thoreau

David Herd

to, or borrowed from – the work of two of Thoreau’s major modern commentators: Stanley Cavell, who writes brilliantly about prophecy in The Senses of Walden, and Lawrence Buell, one of whose importantly responsible questions in The Environmental Imagination is (to paraphrase), ‘What is it in Thoreau, or in Walden in particular, that has secured and stirred so many readers?’3 What I want to say – it’s difficult now to propose it – is that thinking about Thoreau’s enthusiasm, and thinking of him as an enthusiast, is a good way of going back to these and other