The Human Embrace: The Love of Philosophy and the Philosophy of Love: Kierkegaard, Cavell, Nussbaum

By Ronald L. Hall | Go to book overview

Four

MARRIAGE AS REMARRIAGE

In his more recent writings, Stanley Cavell has turned his attention to film, or rather to the philosophical reading of film. The first venture in this direction was The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film.1 This was followed ten years later by Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage ( 1981). And most recently, the publication of his Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman ( 1996).2

____________________
1
The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979).
2
Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). I was not aware of the publication of Contesting Tears until after the completion of this book, but let me comment briefly on it. In the melodrama of the unknown woman, the story line is of the woman who is searching for a story, or a right to tell her story, that is, the woman's search for her own particular feminine mode of experience; and a man's desire to know what this is, and his not wanting to know (as though knowing might spoil the mystery of the ferminine).

The genre of the melodrama is a companion to the genre of the remarriage comedies in the sense that the former is derived from the latter. Here the particular derivation is via negation, or dialectic: the melodramas negate the central features of the remarriage comedies. For example, the father (or husband) or older man is not on the side of the woman; and the mother of the woman is always present--in one way or another; and the woman is always shown as a mother and her relation to a child is explicit; and the past is thought of differently: in remarriage, it is something fun, something shared; in the melodramas, it is thought of as mysterious, forbidden, etc. The chief negation, however, is the negation of marriage itself.

Both genera present the woman as wanting a marriage of shared equality, mutual education, transfiguration, playfulness, etc. Neither could have a marriage of irritation, condescension, silence, etc. It is just that in the melodramas, the woman chooses solitude and unknowness to such a failed farce of a marriage. This reminds us again of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, who refuses to stay one minute longer in that marriage which is no real marriage. This is the melodramatic refusal of marriage.

-127-

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