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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” [
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.
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
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,
Stanley Cavell famously defines the work of Romanticism in
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?
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
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.