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KINSHIP AND SEPARATION IN CAVELL'S PURSUITS OF HAPPINESS by Alex Neill In the second part of his article "Getting To Know You,"1 Roger A. Shiner suggests that light can be shed on various epistemological and metaphysical problems through a consideration of what Stanley Cavell has called in his book Pursuits ofHappiness "the Hollywood genre of remarriage."2 Shiner's aim is "to present the genre of remarriage as a figure for the profoundest relationships of epistemology and metaphysics . . . . Specifically, divorce and remarriage as part of human life are to be seen as figures for separation and kinship, avoidance and acknowledgement in the philosophical sense of those terms" (p. 80). Much of the first part of his paper is concerned with spelling out just what the philosophical sense of these terms in Cavell's work is, and in particular with attempting to draw out the conceptual relationship and balance between the twin notions of kinship and separation. Understanding this relationship is crucial to Shiner's metaphysical and metaphilosophical projects; however, he thinks that it is obscured by Cavell himself: "I believe Cavell's own account in Pursuits ofHappiness to be unstable and its instability importantly instructive" (p. 87). While I share Shiner's view that what he calls Cavell's "conceptual framework" represents an original and important contribution to our understanding of central issues in epistemology and metaphysics, and agree with much of what he has to say about its importance with regard to questions of philosophical method, I find his claim that there is an instability in Cavell's account of the roles of kinship and separation in Pursuits of Happiness unconvincing. There are two elements involved in this claim, and I think that Shiner's discussion of both is seriously misleading with regard to the conceptual relationships between kinship, separation , and acknowledgement. In what follows, I would like to consider 136 Alex Neill137 his claim in some detail, with a view to clarifying the nature of the relationships between these concepts. The standard pattern of the comedies that Cavell discusses in Pursuits ofHappiness is represented by a progression from marriage to divorce to remarriage. A central claim of Shiner's paper is that this pattern reflects a theme which runs through much of Cavell's other work, according to which our relationship to the world and to others is not one of knowing but of acknowledging. 3 Shiner's suggestion is that remarriage is a figure for the condition of acknowledgement, a condition which requires an acceptance of the facts of both human kinship (symbolized here by a first marriage) and human separation (symbolized here by divorce). Shiner's assertion that there is an instability in Cavell's account of the genre of remarriage is based on the latter's inclusion of Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night in the genre. His suggestion is that the inclusion of these films obscures the importance of the notion of kinship, a key notion in the genre in its own right, and an important figure for a central concept of metaphysics. The point is that in these films, the protagonists are not at first married to each other: the films begin with their meeting for the first time, and conclude with their marriages. Thus it appears that in Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night the kinship stage of the pattern is missing. This is the first element in the instability which Shiner is concerned to bring out. If the inclusion of Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night in the genre of remarriage is legitimate, then, it would seem that they must represent or express kinship in some way other than through a first marriage. That is, in order to see Cavell's account as being stable, we need an alternative formulation ofkinship that can be satisfied by these films. A candidate for such an alternative formulation is suggested by Cavell in his reading of The Philadelphia Story: "Having ... in some way created a childhood past together, remains a law for the happiness of the pair in the universe of remarriage comedies" {PH, p. 136). However , Shiner finds this formulation of kinship in terms of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 136-147
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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