5
Aesthetics, Modernism, Literature:
Cavell's Transformations of Philosophy
J. M. BERNSTEIN

From the outset Cavell has proclaimed an intimacy, at times amounting to a virtual identity, between the logic of aesthetic claiming (the logic appropriate to our claims, evaluative and interpretive, about works of art and, byextension, the logic of those works, their claiming) and the logic peculiar to ordinarylanguage philosophy(“what we saywhen” and “what we mean when we sayit”). Cavell also states that artistic modernism “onlymakes explicit and bare what has always been true of art” (MD, 189), 1 entailing that now what we think of aesthetics, and so of art, is bound to artistic modernism. Holding onto the first identification of aesthetic claiming and philosophy, this would associate or identify the logical form of modern philosophy — its forms of writing, argument, claiming — as forged paradigmaticallyin Wittgenstein's late writings, with the logical form of modernist works of art, with their modes of claiming and authenticity. Analogously, at the close of The Claim of Reason Cavell is mourning Othello and Desdemona, finding in their fate something that philosophy must be capable of — call it acknowledgment — but that, ever since Plato banned the poets from his ideal republic, philosophy has banned from its precincts. So much is implied both by the analysis itself and by Cavell's explicit statement that “tragedy is the story and study of acknowledgement, of what goes before it and after it — i.e., that the form of tragedy is the public form of the life of skepticism with respect to other minds” (CR, 478). In the light, then, of his demonstration of the entanglement between the philosophical problem of skepticism and the role of acknowledgment, 2 Cavell wonders whether there is space in philosophyfor Othello and Desdemona, their fate: “But can philosophy accept them back at the hands of poetry?… Perhaps it could if it could itself become literature. But can philosophybecome literature and still know itself?” (CR, 496) Whether this is meant as a specification of the earlier claims or as an addition is, even in context, difficult to say. At any rate, I presume that these claims of virtual identity between philosophical and aesthetic forms of claiming, between the position of modern philosophy and artistic modernism, and between philosophy and literature, at least at

-107-

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Stanley Cavell
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contemporary Philosophy in Focus *
  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Stanley Cavell *
  • 1 - Introduction: Between Acknowledgment and Avoidance 1
  • Notes 11
  • 2 - Stanley Cavell and Ethics 15
  • Notes 43
  • 3 - The Names of Action 48
  • Notes 77
  • 4 - Stanley Cavell's Vision of the Normativity of Language: Grammar, Criteria, and Rules 79
  • 5 - Aesthetics, Modernism, Literature: Cavell's Transformations of Philosophy 107
  • Notes 138
  • 6 - A Second Primavera: Cavell, German Philosophy, and Romanticism 143
  • Notes 169
  • 7 - Cavell on American Philosophy and the Idea of America 172
  • Notes 187
  • 8 - “disowning Knowledge”: Cavell on Shakespeare 190
  • Notes 204
  • 9 - Cavell on Film, Television, and Opera 206
  • Notes 237
  • Brief Annotated Bibliography of Works by and About Stanley Cavell 239
  • Index 245
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