David LaRocca, “When the Americans are RussiansModes and Myths of Selfhood, Marriage, and Parenting in The Americans
28 June 2022, 17h-19h
Campus Lourcine, 1 Rue de la Glacière, 75013 Paris
ISJPS, Bât. 1, 3e étage, espace Gisèle Halimi
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Despite being about murderers, The Americans (2013-18) offers a surprisingly commendable depiction of the legacies of moral perfectionism as exhibited in the contemporary art form we call television. Our principal characters undertake experiments in living—individually, as a couple, as a family, with friends and coworkers, and indeed, as befits their trade, also as strangers. In order to know who one can trust, the question of who one is becomes more fraught than its standard saccharine phrasing. To what extent does living a double life negate both lives? When Russians become Americans and “Americans” are Russians, both terms admit their conceptual fraud. The reversals and duplications repeat and reverberate throughout the categories of the series: KGB and FBI, Russian spy and American citizen, Russian wife and American wife, Russian husband and American husband, Russian child and American child.
The modes of selfhood, marriage, and parenting in The Americans create ways, as great art is wont to do, of acknowledging the presence and legacies of moral perfectionism in our own livesThe Americans’ particular genius lies in the extent to which it admits and heightens its own interest in how these categories—or modes—are constituted, and thus compromised, by their status as myths. The doubleness of the story’s structure and the show’s character—whether pictured as a mask over a face, or a double helix of entwined opposites, or even, fittingly, a matryoshka—necessarily positions us to face a persistent reflexive commentary on how these modes may be, or simply are, false, distorting, harmful, and undermining of the very motivation one started out with. What, in fact, is the mission? What is the objective of all this dissimulation along with the pain inflicted and the pain suffered?
David LaRocca is the author, editor, or coeditor of more than a dozen books. He edited MetacinemaThe Thought of Stanley Cavell and CinemaMovies with Stanley Cavell in MindThe Philosophy of War Films, and The Philosophy of Documentary Film. He also edited Stanley Cavell’s Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes and most recently, The Geschlecht Complex: Addressing Untranslatable Aspects of Gender, Genre, and Ontology. His articles have appeared in journals such as AfterimageCinemaConversationsEpochéEsteticaLiminalitiesPost ScriptTransactionsFilm and PhilosophyThe Senses and SocietyThe Midwest QuarterlyJournalism, Media and Cultural StudiesThe Journal of Aesthetic Education, and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. He was Harvard’s Sinclair Kennedy Traveling Fellow in the United Kingdom, and he has taught philosophy and cinema in visiting research or teaching positions at Binghamton, Cornell, Cortland, Harvard, Ithaca College, the School of Visual Arts, and Vanderbilt.