Criticism

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Criticism
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Criticism
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Criticism

Austen and Cavell

Taking its departure from Stanley Goldstein’s adoption of himself as Stan Cavell, this essay argues that marriage and adoption are twinned locations where normative patterns of pairing and kinship are first unstitched and then rewoven in the necessarily elusive forms of Cavellian perfectionism. After a review of Cavell’s own belated engagements with Austen’s fiction, the essay offers, first, a reading of a central Cavellian trope, remarriage, in a novel he ignores, Persuasion; and, second, a reading of Emma as a novel preoccupied with adoption. Because Cavell does not attend to cinematic Austen, I pay special attention to the 2009 Jim O’Hanlon film of Emma and argue that both the novel and the film offer a human world in which adoption and marriage are isomorphic forms suffered by and available to, however elusively, the perfectionist quest.
July 2014

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Introduction: Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism

For Romanticists, the many interests of Stanley Cavell’s work include not only the pervasive concern with skepticism across all his books, but topics as divergent as understanding and incomprehensibility, acknowledgment, denial, withholding and secrecy, responsibility, forgiveness, gender, melodrama, horror, monstrousness, therapy, cinematic ontology, religion, secularity, and spectatorship. Two points of emphasis are maintained across his books. These are: the idea of skepticism as an unappeasable predicament one does not solve but lives (skepticism as a problem whose “answer does not consist in denying the conclusion of skepticism but in reconceiving its truth” [The Senses of Walden 133]); and the discovery that acknowledgement and avoidance are primary human orientations (often experienced through their equally human denial), with regard to which certainty and ignorance (the more visible and epistemologically-privileged terms of knowing) are evasions.

Four of the contributors to Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism (François, Fry, Wilner, and Lindstrom) presented early versions of their essays as part of the “Stanley Cavell and Romanticism” panel, organized by Joshua Wilner and Eric Lindstrom, at the 2010 International Conference on Romanticism (ICR) held in Lubbock, Texas.

July 2014

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Cavell’s Romanticism and the Autobiographical Animal

This essay discusses the implications of Cavell’s performative act to “confess” a Romantic attitude toward the claims of experience. “To be interested [. . .] in the costs of knowing to the knowing creature, I suppose one will have to take an interest in certain preoccupations of romanticism,” Cavell admits near the end of the second part of The Claim of Reason (242). I read Cavell’s habitual sense of Romanticism, in the languages of economic exchange and animal life, as “the cost of knowing to the knowing creature.” The last half of this essay discusses Cavell’s complex, sometimes prickly relationship with Jacques Derrida and the relation of both to autobiographical modes of Romanticism. Cavell’s topic, I argue, is the “recall,” his reclaiming, via Romantic poetry as well as through so much else, of what it means to be responsive to the human animal by other standards besides a rehearsal of self-possession in our measures of knowledge.
July 2014

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“A Modest Creed”: Saving Skepticism in Shelley and Cavell

Shelley and Cavell share the view that the imagination, visionary or otherwise, arises from a necessary basis in skepticism. What Shelley calls “Error and Truth” are historical; they are shaped by change and time. Only poetry, perpetually reconstituting veridical propositions as metaphor, can prevent the arteries of knowledge from hardening. Skepticism enables hope: our uncertainty about what life is (it is figured as death in Adonais) makes it possible to wonder whether death may not really be life. Apparently in contrast, Cavell emphasizes romantic disappointment with Kant’s “settlement” with skepticism, whereas for Shelley our inability to know the thing in itself is the very opening required for imaginative hope. Yet Shelley does not doubt the existence of things, only their identity, and also their “life,” and here he anticipates the argument of Cavell in In Quest of the Ordinary. For Shelley, as for Cavell, the visionary does not replace the ordinary but recognizes it anew. They differ from each other finally, however, in that whereas Cavell understands what Wittgenstein calls “criteria” for knowledge in semantic terms, Shelley sees them as typically semiotic: “almost all familiar objects are signs, standing not for themselves but for others” (“On Life”). The darker skepticism of The Triumph of Life anticipates deconstruction.
July 2014

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Passing Judgment, Conceding Perfection: Third-Person Narration and Versions of the Cavellian Secular

This essay reviews the tensions between the hard work that the Cavellian figure of “acknowledgment” is supposed to perform in guaranteeing recognition between secular individuals, and the movements of “decline,” “lapse,” and “concession” by which acknowledgment happens. Cavell’s comments on perlocutionary utterances as acts whose happening cannot be definitively concluded, similarly leave open the question of what is to count as a “final word” between people. For a possible answer, the essay turns toward free indirect style in third-person narration as literature’s own performance of the finality, passiveness and non-assertiveness of acknowledgment, and offers sentences from Austen and Stendhal as instances of “passing judgment.” What light can a narrative style that enacts a split between the subject of experience and the agent of its verbalization shed on the Cavellian figures of conceded recognitions, withdrawn questions, and final judgments?
July 2014

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Afterword

Starting out from a consideration of the more or less contemporaneous emergence of Cavell's work and deconstruction, this afterword responds to the other contributions to the collection. In doing so, it also emphasizes the importance of Wittgenstein and the idea of "bring[ing] words back to their everyday use" in understanding Cavell's engagement with Romanticism; examines the Cavellian problematic of "living one's skepticism" as entailing something other than an ethical recommendation; and, taking a cue from François' contribution, asks whether marriage in Cavell is to be considered only in terms of intersubjectivity.
July 2014

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Mournful Translation: On the Name of Shelley’s Adonais

This essay focuses on Tom McCall's theory of "wrathful translation" and develops this theory in relation to both Walter Benjamin's account of tragic mourning in The Origin of the German Tragic Drama and the purpose of elegiac renaming in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais." McCall's emphasis on "wrath" or "anger" in Hölderlin's "Remarks on Oedipus" provides a concentrated, and therefore properly tragic, instance of how this genre resists resolution through the self-consciousness or recognitions of its central figure. Starting from such resistance this essay examines the transformation of tragic anger into the elegiac. By way of Benjamin's remarks on naming and mourning, the significance and challenge of "Adonais" is reinterpreted as the consequence of Shelley's recognition that elegiac mourning is the form in which tragic anger and its resistance to any katharsis is translated not only within Romanticism but through Romanticism as the subject that modern elegy is compelled to address.
October 2014

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Wrathful Translation: The Sophocles of Hölderlin

McCall’s essay reflects on Hölderlin’s theory of translation as it relates both to translation and to a poetics. He renames this mode of translation “wrathful,” drawing on Hölderlin’s use of the word Zorn to describe (and translate) Oedipus’s wrathful quest for what is “more than consciousness can bear or grasp.” McCall argues that wrath signals the process of “disowning the signifier,” a process that takes placed (and is allegorized) in Hölderlin’s translations of Sophocles and is linked to the “disarticulation of the symbolic core of tragedy.”
October 2014

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Plastic Time and Poetic Middles: Benjamin’s Hölderlin

McCall’s essay provides a summary and interpretation of Walter Benjamin’s early “Two Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin.” McCall argues that this essay provides an anti-aesthetic mode of reading that ties it to a tradition of “poetic calculation” (rather than “inspiration”). McCall shows how the notion of calculaton and “caesura” are bound up with Hölderlin’s own theoretical writing and poetic practice.
October 2014

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The Case of the Missing Body

McCall’s essay proposes that Hölderlin’s translations of Sophocles allegorize the process of their own translation. McCall focuses in particular on Hölderlin’s translation of Sophocles’s Antigone, showing how Hölderlin’s rendering of the play turns the problem of the burial of the corpse into a figure for issues of textuality and meaning in the movement between Greek and German.
October 2014

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