Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

By Stephen Mulhall | Go to book overview

8
Psychoanalysis: Practices of Recovery

The concepts and practices of psychoanalysis have fed into Cavell's work from its earliest stages, although it is only in recent years that their intersection with philosophy as he conceives it (as well as with his conception of other domains and disciplines in which he has a stake) has become an explicit focus of his writings. In terms of my interest in the matter, it will be useful to distinguish three different levels or dimensions on which this influence has operated.


Psychoanalytic Readings and Reading as Psychoanalysis

On one level, specific Freudian diagnostic and therapeutic insights have helped to guide Cavell's readings of specific texts and the interpersonal relationships that are presented in them. I mentioned earlier that Cavell's epistemological interpretations of Shakespearean drama have invoked psychoanalytic concepts such as narcissism to identify components or facets of sceptical doubt; and a crucial part of the flexibility and subtlety evinced in his readings of specific speeches and behaviour patterns in these plays derives from his acceptance of such notions as repression, denial, the formative influence of maternal figures, and the intersubjective validity of Freud's analyses of dream-narratives and other symbolic systems ( Cavell's interpretation of Leontes' doubt about his fatherhood of Hermione's child as an expression of anxiety about the reality and trajectory of the woman's desire is a key example of this last strategy). And much the same can be said -- as we shall see in the next chapter -- about Cavell's readings of specific films; in general, his work as a reader of texts is imbued with a sense (often acknowledged by Freud himself) that the poets and artists preceded Freud in many of his most important discoveries.

We might summarize this first level of intersection by saying that Cavell regards psychoanalysis as providing a set of indispensable tools for establishing the meanings of texts -- for identifying their basic structure and content. But he also regards it as an essential resource for

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