Abstracts

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Abstracts

Eric Lindstrom, "Introduction"

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.

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Paul H. Fry, "'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.

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Eric C. Walker, "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.

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Emily Sun, "Your Friends and Lovers: Perfectionism’s Recounting of Romanticism"

Stanley Cavell famously defines the work of Romanticism in In Quest of the Ordinary as “the task of bringing the world back, as to life.” This essay examines how Cavell turns to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a text that anticipates Romanticism’s preoccupation with reanimation; in his analysis of the play’s language of economy and computation, Cavell parses “life” as a process of division and branching that is denied or overlooked by skepticism. According to such an understanding, Romantic efforts to reanimate “life” in its generality fall short of a genuine recounting of and reckoning with the ordinary. The essay reads Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Julian and Maddalo” as staging the several characters’ failure to recover the world and bring it back to life.

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Anne-Lise François, "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?

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Eric Lindstrom, "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.

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Joshua Wilner, "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.

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Published @ RC

July 2014