Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's Recounting of the Ordinary

By Stephen Mulhall | Go to book overview

12
'Philosophy Cannot Say Sin'

The interpretation given in the preceding chapters of Cavell's understanding of, as well as his willingness to identify himself with, the tradition of perfectionist thinking founded by Emerson brings us abreast of his most recent work and almost to the end of this survey of the main themes or foci of his philosophy. It also brings us to the point at which a serious critique of his overall project is at last feasible. The reader will hardly have failed to notice that my account of Cavell's work thus far has been primarily exegetical rather than critical: apart from certain limited attempts to locate his position in relation to alternative interpretations of the various traditions, fields, and texts in and upon which he has worked, my efforts have largely been devoted to identifying and developing its inner logic and resources. There are several reasons for this. First, there is the obvious general point that no penetrating or profound criticism of an intellectual project possessed of this degree of complexity and richness is likely to emerge from a partial or inadequate understanding of its target; in this sense, until we have been brought to see precisely what Cavell is up to, and how that project might be thought of as a species of perfectionism, we are in no position to set about criticizing it. And in fact, the exegetical account so far provided has already revealed the standard lines of criticism of Cavell's work to be either essentially irrelevant or insufficiently thought through. For example, much of the criticism hitherto directed at his work has focussed on his interests in Romanticism, psychoanalysis, and the theory and criticism of literature and film, taking them to be an indication that, whatever value his project may have, it can have nothing to do with philosophy. By demonstrating that his work in those supposedly non-philosophical areas is in fact a carefully worked-out consequence of recognizably philosophical concerns, my exegetical account as a whole is intended to constitute a definitive rebuttal of this type of criticism. The other standard line of criticism focusses upon Cavell's style: his use of parentheses and qualification, his idiosyncratic modes of punctuation, his reliance upon complex, allusive, and endlessly

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The title of this chapter comes from IQO 26.

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