A Democratic Enlightenment

The Reconciliation Image, Aesthetic Education, Possible Politics

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 1 illustration Published: May 2020

Media Studies > Film, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

In A Democratic Enlightenment Morton Schoolman proposes aesthetic education through film as a way to redress the political violence inflicted on difference that society constructs as its racialized, gendered, Semitic, and sexualized other. Drawing on Voltaire, Diderot, and Schiller, Schoolman reconstructs the genealogical history of what he calls the reconciliation image—a visual model of a democratic ideal of reconciliation he then theorizes through Whitman's prose and poetry and Adorno's aesthetic theory. Analyzing The Help (2011) and Gentleman's Agreement (1947), Schoolman shows how film produces a more advanced image of reconciliation than those originally created by modernist artworks. Each film depicts violence toward racial and ethnic difference while also displaying a reconciliation image that aesthetically educates the public about how the violence of constructing difference as otherness can be overcome. Mounting a democratic enlightenment, the reconciliation image in film illuminates a possible politics for challenging the rise of nationalism's violence toward differences in all their diversity.


“In a political climate marked by right-wing celebrations of misogyny, xenophobia, oligarchy, racism, militarism, and extractive capitalism, you might be skeptical of a book about ‘the reconciliation image.’ But Morton Schoolman, in a startling and effective admixture of Whitman's democratic ethos, Adorno's defense of a specifically aesthetic kind of critical reason, and contemporary films, contends that now is the time for new thinking about ‘reconciliation.’ This is an original, creative, provocative, rewarding, and timely book.” — Jane Bennett, author of Influx and Efflux: Writing Up with Walt Whitman

“Morton Schoolman is an accomplished, erudite, and wonderfully playful reader of both Whitman and Adorno. His insightful account of a ‘democratic enlightenment’ through encounters with images opens spaces for politics that we wouldn’t otherwise see. I didn’t want to put this provocative book down!” — Lori Jo Marso, author of Politics with Beauvoir: Freedom in the Encounter


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Morton Schoolman is Professor of Political Science at the State University of New York at Albany and author of Reason and Horror: Critical Theory, Democracy, and Aesthetic Individuality and The Imaginary Witness: The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction: Past as Prologue  1
Part I. The Reconciliation Image in Whitman
1. Democratic Vistas: Democratic Enlightenment and Reconciliation  47
2. Whitman's Discovery: Aesthetic Education through the Visual Image  79
First Bridge. Thinking with Adorno against Adorno  119
Part II. The Reconciliation Image in Adorno
3. Aesthetic Reason and Reflexivity, Twin Economies and Democratic Effects  145
4. Aesthetic Analogues: Art and Film  166
Second Bridge: The Reconciliation Image versus the Narrative Structure of Film  199
Part III. The Reconciliation Image in Film
5. The Help: Entangled in a Becoming  231
6. Gentlemen's Agreement: Beyond Tolerance  249
7. The Reconciliation Image in Film as Universal Art Form  273
Notes  281
Bibliography  301
Index  309
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0803-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0765-4