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Philosophizing Brecht

Critical Readings on Art, Consciousness, Social Theory and Performance

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Edited by Norman Roessler and Anthony Squiers

This anthology unites scholars from varied backgrounds with the notion that the theories and artistic productions of Bertolt Brecht are key missing links in bridging diverse discourses in social philosophy, theatre, consciousness studies, and aesthetics. It offers readers interdisciplinary perspectives that create unique dialogues between Brecht and important thinkers such as Althusser, Anders, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Godard, Marx, and Plato. While exploring salient topics such as consciousness, courage, ethics, political aesthetics, and representations of race and the body, it penetrates the philosophical Brecht seeing in him the never-ending dialectic—the idea, the theory, the narrative, the character that is never foreclosed. This book is an essential read for all those interested in Brecht as a socio-cultural theorist and for theatre practitioners.

Contributors: Kevin S. Amidon, José María Durán, Felix J. Fuch, Philip Glahn, Jim Grilli, Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Norman Roessler, Jeremy Spencer, Anthony Squiers, Peter Zazzali.

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Abraham Jacob Greenstine

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Plato’s Sophist is a critical dialogue for the question of images, for here the interlocutors divide images into two kinds – likenesses and apparitions – in their hunt for an account of sophistry. Yet much of the recent scholarship on the Sophist does not make much of this division. This chapter defends the continuing significance of the distinction between likeness and apparition. It argues for its importance in Plato’s analysis of images, in his theory of accounts, and in his endeavor to differentiate philosophy from sophistry. It further contends that one can only distinguish likenesses from apparitions by establishing a correct perspective on both the image and the original. Thus, the Sophist exhorts us differentiate likenesses from apparitions, even as we struggle to consistently find the right perspective for this task. Living in the cinematic age only intensifies the need to distinguish likeness from apparition. Over the course of this chapter, we consider two films that advance our questions about perspectives, images, and falsity: Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) and Orson Welles’ F for Fake (1974). Like the Sophist, both films reveal a world of apparitions, where names are confused, lies are constant, and the truth is elusive.

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Jorge Tomas Garcia

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The present chapter proposes an ontological and aesthetic analysis of the film image highlighting its power as a simulacrum. To carry out this analysis, the text considers three different positions: the Platonic, the Bergsonian and the Deleuzian. The Platonic discussion is based on the difference between the model, the copy and the simulacrum. According to Plato, simulacra superficially represent their resemblance to the model. Henri Bergson develops an ontological study of the material world and the moving images that compose it. Bergson makes a classification of the arts taking into account his approach to movement. In relation to Platonism, it can be said that Bergson considers cinema as a simulacrum or an inappropriate representation of reality. Finally, for Gilles Deleuze, the cinema reproduces the image-movement and produces the time-image, which enhance the image-cinema, since they generate a new affective experience within the scope of the Virtual. This power leads to reevaluate the importance of simulation within the arts and therefore the Platonic hierarchies.

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Timothy Secret

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In this chapter, the author offers a reflection on the famous command of the Oracle at Delphi gnōthi seauton (“know thyself”) in order to advance our understanding of the dynamic interaction between knowledge of the self and right action. This is done alongside and by means of a critical reflection on recent developments in cinema studies. The chapter begins with a reflection on the self-conscious cinematic presentation of the protagonist Filip Mosz in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s quasi-autobiographical film Camera Buff (Amator). Following this, a novel and sustained reading of the Ring of Gyges is offered as one way of understanding to role of the gaze in cinematic experience, building off a reconstructive analysis of the concept of the “objective gaze” in light of Sartre’s analysis of shame as a motor of self-knowledge. Finally, this re-reading of Sartre on shame and the gaze in concert with the place of the gaze in Plato’s retelling of the Gyges story is put into conversation with Herodotus’s version of the Gyges story and Diderot’s Letter on the Blind. In this closing moment, it is argued that the notion of the objective gaze, as advanced in classical film theory, does not necessarily contribute to our understanding of self-knowledge or right action.

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David H. Calhoun

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Plato’s account of philosophical transcendence links together wonder, spectacle, ascent, and love. A preoccupation with transcendence and its corollary Platonic themes is replicated in the cinematic work of writer / director Terrence Malick, who reinterprets them in terms of Kierkegaardian existential quest. Malick’s films Knight of Cups (2014) and To the Wonder (2012) illustrate failed moves of ascent toward transcendence, but they also shed light on successful ascent. A persisting problem in interpretation of Plato is the nature of ascent and transcendence, particularly with respect to the question of how ascent relates to concrete reality. Some commentators read Platonic ascent in dualistic terms, as abandonment of concrete immanence; by contrast, a more holistic view asserts that to love the Good is to orient oneself toward concrete individual things in the light of the ideal. Malick offers a cinematic argument for holistic transcendence, depicting ascent as a conversion insight that the ideal is present in the concrete and provides grounding and intelligibility for the concrete. To make the movement of ascent is to grasp the dialectical or synthetic relationship between the transcendent and the immanent, and to affirm both the transcendent source and the imperfect beauty it grounds.