I’m working on a writing Essay and need support to help me understand better.

In lecture I contrasted two kinds of “studies on evil” — the studies of science / philosophy; and the studies of art (the film Dangerous Liaisons). I suggested that art brings us face to face with a feelingfulness of evil — in this case, evil as the byproduct of sexual eros and power — a feelingfullness that a science or philosophy of evil is not equipped to communicate.

In your opinion, in what ways might Laclos’ artistic “study of evil” (as depicted in the film) contribute to all non-artistic studies on evil in the world. In other words, in what ways might the experience of an artwork on evil contribute to the current scientific or philosophical understandings of evil coming from, say, the disciplines of sociology or psychology or anthrolpology or the natural sciences as they might come to us in our own day?

This is an “opinion question.” I don’t seek for a “right” answer but rather only your opinion. Do please aim to use exmples from the film, examples that exmplify what “in your opinio” art can contribute and enrich our shared cultural understanding of evil in the world.

One of the major philosophical investigations in eighteenth-century France, and which sits behind Laclos’ novel (turned into a film) Dangerous Liaisons, was precisely the major philosophical investigation of our entire course:

a study in evil…

What the philosophes (French philosophers) of the age came to discover was that they could not come to intelligent conclusions about their “study of evil” without at once giving attention to certain overarching political and social domains, domains which, in the account of the philosophes, precondition evil.

In order to understand the nature of these philosophers’ investigations (and by association, the limitations that we will find in the conclusions they come to), we need to give attention to those zones of seeing which because they are scientific in nature, potentially constrict seeing.

Specifically, let’s look at the word “study” itself — it came into existence in eighteenth-century France to communicate a branch of scientifico-philosophical inquiry, very much akin to our word “observation,” or an “observational process” germane to the process of thoroughgoing scholarly philosophical or scientific investigation.

In other words, to embrace the enterprise of a so-called “study” or to embrace the enterprise of a so-called “observation” is to embrace with streamlined specificity a very very specific species of “optic” — a very specific way (which definitively excludes other ways/ optics) of seeing and understanding the phenomena of the world, in this case, the phenomena of “evil.”

More to the main point of this lecture: what the “studies” or the “observations” of the eighteenth-century philosophes (French scientists) exclude in their choice to embrace the optic of a “study” to understand evil is the optic of literature and also religion.

In any case, what the philosophes came to discover was that evil can often become normative, universal on a societal level: it can exist in the lives of individuals as a byproduct of certain widespread politico-social configurations among certain classes of people.

The artist’s contribution to the “studies” of the philosophes — the contribution of someone like the novelist Laclos — is oceanic, is special, is an indispensable contribution to the studies on evil coming out of the human sciences and philosophy.

Why?

Because the artist re-creates by aesthetic (artistic, imaginative) means, the overarching dynamics of society at large: the artist, in other words, clothes abstract philosophical thought — in this case, philosophical thought on the “study of evil” — with the feelingfulness of everyday life as it is lived (existentially) on the ground between you and me.

The artist’s optic compliments the optic of the philosophes precisely where the optic — the “study” — of the philosophes reveals limits, constrictions, reductivities of seeing and knowing and feeling one’s way into a study of evil.

Or we might say: while philosophies or scientific studies on the study of evil are essentially “mental” (abstract), by contrast literary-aesthetic representations of such studies (like Laklos’ representation) quite simply imbue with feelingfulness the ideas from philosophy or the human sciences that might otherwise remain merely mental, theoretical, arms-length, lacking in feelingfulness.

So therefore in Laclos’ work, certain prevailing and widespread social dynamics — and indeed we speak of eighteenth-century dynamics that pivot on the dynamics of sexual erotics and power — give rise to the same sort of social dynamics of sexual erotics and power among certain individuals belonging to certain classes; and these dynamics in turn, according to Laclos’ artistic re-creation of them, give rise to what we, following Laclos, may here conventionally comprehend as “evil.”

With Dangerous Liaisons, Laclos — through the theme of a dynamism of “sexual eros and power” that terminates finally in a reality of “evil” — essentially communicates humankind’s fundamental alienation from its own best-humanity, and the result of Laclos aesthetic representation is a feeling for the growing destructiveness (Thanatos) of humanity.

What might be capable of healing the evil, the “destructiveness” rooted in a dynamism of “eros and power” of Laclos imaginary depiction?

The answer can only be a “constructiveness” rooted in an eros (a form of love) that can be felt and understood as “a total lack of power,” also known as the experience of nakedness and vulnerability that, in one formulation by C.S. Lewis, stands in direct contrast to the form or power-driven eros represented in Laclos’ novel (turned into a film).

Lewis with the following quote depicts a form of eros (constructive Love) that stands in direction opposition to the eros (destructive Love) represented in the film Dangerous Liaisons —

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Learning Goals:

1. To comprehend two opposed form of eros: 1. a sexual eros in connection with a lust for power and which ends in that species of evil depicted in Laclos’ imaginative “study of evil” in Dangerous Liaisons; versus 2. romantic eros in connection with a readiness to relinquish power in the direction of shared vulnerability and the possibility having one’s heart broken (as imaged in the quote from Lewis above).

2. To comprehend the difference between two different forms of the “study of evil”: 1. the scientifico-philosophical study of evil that would have come out the “studies” of the eighteenth-century philosophesversus 2. the imaginative study of evil which Laclos’ study of evil imaginatively represents. We will acknowledge that each form of “study” does contradict each; but rather each compliments each in such a way that each remains somehow incomplete without each. Or in other words, artistic studies need scientifico-philosophical studies, and in turn, scientifico-philosophical studies need artistic ones for each to thrive in the direction of reliable depictions on the “study of evil.”

Study Materials:

1. Film: Dangerous Liaisons (1988, directed by Stephen Frears)