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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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Thomas Dumm

Cavell suggesting that he is somehow naive or ignorant or disingenuous is simply a non-starter. (It is remarkable as well to me that you are arguing so extensively on a turf of Cavell’s own making: after all, both the terms “remarriage comedy” and “moral perfectionism” are inventions – exclusively, in the case of his identifying the genre of remarriage, and largely in the

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Joshua Foa Dienstag

connection between Emersonian perfectionism and the “remarriage comedies” of the 1930s and 1940s . Rather than demonstrating moral improvement, the film reveals the dangers and pleasures involved in the representation of the instability of erotic relations. It warns, I argue, against thinking that we can learn to democratize by watching a representation of democracy, however artful

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Clare Woodford

. Two models of exemplarity 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. However, there appear to be two ways in which we can interpret exemplarity in Cavell

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Margaret Kohn

/ideological and critical/unpopular film. Initially, it might seem to be an odd example to draw on because it is not a film, nor does it obviously fall into the genre of a “comedy of remarriage.” It is, however, a “filmlike” television show and one in which remarriage plays an important part. Attending to the theme of remarriage helps illuminate the central themes of the show. Is 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

it. The “remarriage comedies” to which Mr. Cavell draws our attention, and the intention of which you wish to contest, are thus presentations of the achievement of a “meet and happy” marriage. They show us perfected marriage, not in the sense of the best of the best, but in the sense of having become more of a true marriage. There is no Platonic agathon here

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The tragedy of remarriage

Letter to M. Cavell about cinema (a remake)

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Joshua Foa Dienstag

rejected, may at unpredictable times return with new power … The sage in us is what remains after all our social positionings. [T]‌he genre of Hollywood comedy … [that] I name … comedies of remarriage were working out ideas in Emersonian perfectionism … The lives of the remarriage couples

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Conclusion

Behind the screen

Chloe Porter

ended, And hung open at stall, it was so vile, So monstrous and so ugly, all men did smile At the poor painter’s folly. Such we doubt Is this our comedy. 24 Spectator interaction with an image is here unhelpful, as a cacophony of conflicting opinions produces a work that is ‘monstrous’ in appearance. At fault also in

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“That dangerous contention”

A cinematic response to pessimism

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Davide Panagia

ameliorative spirit of perfectionism found in Cavell’s comedies of remarriage, and especially in The Philadelphia Story , is a dangerous supplement that degrades viewers to a state of animalian existence incapable of presenting and admitting vistas to one another. In the movie theater, Dienstag affirms, “We relax into the comfort of a prehuman isolation only to enjoy the spectacle

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‘Believe me or not’

Actresses, female performers, autobiography and the scripting of professional practice

Maggie B. Gale

autobiographical writing. Fifteen years her senior, Ada Reeve (1874–1966), who had also spent a substantial proportion of her career working as a Gaiety Girl and in musical comedy, titled her late autobiography Take It for a Fact (Reeve, 1954), with a similar pointed reference to her sense of agency and ­18 The social and theatrical realm authority in the writing of her own professional life story. Reeve, with a characteristic lack of charm, orders us to read her reminiscences as a ‘record’ of fact, even though they were written in a moment of almost desperate nostalgia