Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

Synopsis

This is the first full-length philosophical study of the work of Stanley Cavell, best known for his seminal contributions to the fields of film studies, Shakespearian literary criticism, and the confluence of psychoanalysis and literary theory. It is not fully appreciated that Cavell's project originated in his interpretation of Austin's and Wittgenstein's ordinary-language philosophy and is given unity by an abiding concern with the nature and the varying cultural manifestations of the skeptical impulse in modernity. This book elucidates the essentially philosophical roots and trajectory of Cavell's work, traces its links with Romanticism and its recent turn toward a species of moral perfectionism associated with Thoreau and Emerson, and concludes with an assessment of its relations to liberal-democratic political theory, Christian religious thought, and feminist literary studies.

Excerpt

If the chapters which follow do not make it clear why I believe that Cavell's philosophy deserves a wider and more appreciative audience than it has hitherto attained, then nothing I can say in introducing them will compensate for that failure. What does require some prefatory explanation, however, is why I believe that providing an exegetical account of his work is either a necessary or an appropriate means of bringing about that happy eventuality. That I feel it necessary implies an unwillingness or an inability to allow Cavell's words to earn or establish an audience by their own efforts -- as if I doubted their capacity to attract others in the way that they have attracted me. That I feel it appropriate suggests a failure to comprehend the almost comic mismatch (of purpose, of style, of achievement) between Cavell's mannerly, idiosyncratic, intensely personal, and endlessly reflexive prose and the level, distanced tones of the exegete.

With respect to the second worry, I can only assure the reader that no one appreciates the risks that are being run more intensely than I do, and that they would not have been run at all had I not reached the conclusion that constitutes my response to the first worry. For it seems to me that there are strong reasons both external and internal to Cavell's own project that at present militate against the possibility of its receiving a just assessment on its philosophical merits; and the sole justification of this book's existence is the contribution it can make towards overturning the external obstacles and illuminating the true import of the internal ones. Its purpose, in other words, is not to attempt to do what can and must only be done by Cavell's own prose, but to clear the space that is required for it to do so.

The external obstacles are not difficult to identify: they relate to the directions in which Cavell's philosophical endeavours have driven him, and the precise nature of their initiating and governing methodological impulse. Cavell's work grows out of the tradition of ordinary language philosophy; and although it began by focusing on issues in aesthetics, ethics, politics, and philosophical methodology, the specific conclusions it generated led him to explore themes in literary criticism and literary . . .

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