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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

. Let us recall, briefly, the era in which Cavell’s studies on film were written. Though published in 1981, Pursuits of Happiness was composed throughout the 1970s and followed The World Viewed as the only other book that took film seriously as a philosophical topic, written by an American author tenured in a philosophy department at a prominent American university

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Laura Chrisman

towards the liberatory properties of the public sphere and rationality. These are frequently associated with the Enlightenment, taken to be both an historical period and a philosophical disposition. The Enlightenment is then construed as the instrument or origin of racial and colonial domination. I am interested to present other ways, here, of thinking about the relations of racism, colonialism, and the public sphere. A persuasive alternative is suggested in Madhu Dubey’s account of contemporary black representation in the USA: even in the most difference

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Thomas Dumm

, for me, for all of us really. Are you actually suggesting that it would be better not to watch movies than to watch them? Is the argument you make an attempt to show that Cavell does not understand the dangerous relationships of culture and politics, or that his politics are somehow Whiggish, unduly hopeful in a world where pessimism is the only legitimate response? The former

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Andrew Bowie

to sustain a universalist conception of rationality; Rorty and Derrida, in contrast, think that such a conception is a residue of a philosophical past which it is time to leave behind. Significantly, the former do not give a decisive role to the aesthetic, whereas the latter do, and it is not fortuitous that what is at stake in both positions can be elucidated in terms of the interpretation of Nietzsche. Whereas, for Habermas, Nietzsche is part of a questionable tradition of critiques of modern rationality, Rorty thinks he offers the possibility of escaping from many

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A modest proposal for a less natural lifestyle

The paradoxes of sustainability and Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island

Hannes Bergthaller

world, on what we may hope and should fear, on the possible scope of our knowledge and our actions; it has an anthropological dimension, in the philosophical sense of that term. While my little larval epiphany may have reflected anxieties typical of a youth spent in suburban West Germany (in a household of lapsed Catholics, for that matter), I think that it also encapsulates, with the luridness of a dream image, some of the most unsettling anthropological implications of neo-Malthusian thought. It suggests that humanity’s destructive impact on the natural environment

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Christopher Morgan

lines of the poem that such withdrawals, in keeping with the via negativa as a technique of approach, are embraced solely in pursuit of spiritual ‘riches’, a kind of mystical union with the divine. It needs to be emphasised, however, that the actual experience of the divine is not always one of such presence but frequently, rather, of absence. This experience of divinity as absence is rooted in a philosophical logic which asserts that since divinity, by its very nature, must necessarily overflow the created world of the senses, its presence therefore, at least in the

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

) Ideology is … a system of definite views, ideas, conceptions, and notions adhered to by some class or political party. [Ideology] is always a reflection of the economic system predominant at any given time. ( Soviet Philosophical Dictionary , 1954) Political debate is widespread in society. Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us are, at a very

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Johan Östling

university also adapted to the new deal of the time. The mechanised and commercial Germany was, according to the mandarins, superficial and vulgar, and many felt alienated. They closed ranks within their fraternity, guarded their territory, distanced themselves from current politics and social commitment, and adopted cultural pessimism and anti-modernism. In the Weimar Republic, the mandarins embraced the national-conservative reaction that opposed the democratisation of society in general and of the university in particular.8 Ringer’s theses have been influential, but he

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Johan Östling

ideal Einheit der Wissenschaft (the ‘unity of science/scholarship’) as a guiding principle – not as a philosophical system but as an institutional arrangement. Similarly, the ideal of Einheit von Forschung und Lehre (the ‘unity of research and tuition’) continued to be relevant, though it was not simply a matter of bringing research and education together but of combining a large number of different functions. An additional task that had to be given a new form was the relationship of the university to the practical needs of society, for instance the vocational