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442 GREIG HENDERSON the fictiveness of society that we seek out and content ourselves with its aestheticization. Harvey's way out (and any study of postmodernism that does not admit to claustrophobia is likely to be narcissistic) is to call on Marxist theory to 'dissolve the categories of both modernism and postmodernism into a complex of oppositions expressive of the cultural contradictions of capitalism.' With the global distribution of postmodernism and the folding up of the Iron Curtain, it might be necessary now to include Communism within the contradictions of Capitalism. What has made the latter proposition hitherto unthinkable is the Manichaean splitting that made modernity endurable. Harvey is persuasive in his argument that we should read Marx as an early modernist'writer. As it is written in Das Kapital: 'We erect our structure in imagination before we erect it in reality.' Many years after the scheme of modernity was in place, the Berlin Wall was erected. Postmodernism may have brought about its demolition. In his concern with the dependence ofidentity on s~hemes of division, Harvey discusses the film Wings of Desire (Himmel uber Berlin), in which a character says: 'It is impossible to get lost in Berlin because you can always find the Wall.' If it is true also that we destroy our structures in imagination before we destroy them in reality, then the events of the autumn of 1989 suggest not just that we are but that we have been living in a/mazing times. Dedalus, old artificer, cunning in deed. In Search of the Ordinary: Leading Words Home GREIG HENDERSON Michael Fischer. Stanley Cavell and Literary Skepticism Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press 1989. 165. us $27.50; $10.95 paper Stanley Cavell. This New Yet Unapproachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein Albuquerque: Living Batch Press 1989. 128. us $9.95 paper The philosophical work of Stanley Cavell is based on the assumption, enunciated by Wittgenstein, that the task of philosophy is 'to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.' As Cavell reflects in his latest book: 'Philosophers before Wittgenstein had found that our lives are distorted or waylaid by illusion. But what other philosopher has found the antidote to illusion in the particular and repeated humility of remembering and tracking the uses of humble words, looking philosophically as it were beneath our feet rather than over our heads?' Like Wittgenstein, Cavell confronts the temptation of scepticism and finds whatever victory there is to be found in 'never claiming a philosophical victory over (the temptation to) skepticism,' for such a victory could only mean 'a STANLEY CAVELL 443 victory over the human.' Our very sense of the arbitrariness and conventionality of language, Cavell suggests, is itself a manifestation of scepticism as to the existence of the world, ofthe self, and of others. Appealing to shared criteria is not very helpful, for such criteria do not provide refutations of scepticism; they merely beg the question. But why, Cavell asks, do we expect otherwise? Why are we disappointed in criteria, in language itself? After all, as Wittgenstein observes, 'explanations come to an end somewhere,' and to repudiate shared criteria is to speak outside language games and to renounce the forms of talkinglife into which we symbol-using (and misusing) animals are thrown. Nevertheless, this 'straining of language against itself, against the commonality of criteria which are its conditions,' is, Cavell maintains, perfectly natural. Our reflective encounters with language are often encounters with scepticism, and to bring us home to the ordinary, to nurture in us a distrust of the need for the profound, can neither prevent nor eliminate these occasional bouts of scepticism, for the griefs to which language repeatedly comes are part of our inheritance and condition. Cavell's meditations on 'a practice of philosophy ... that is based on ... the ordinary' might initially seem to offer an antidote to the literary and linguistic scepticism that pervades poststructuralist theory and criticism. Of course, they offer no such antidote; the adequacy of shared criteria is precisely what deconstruction puts in question. To appeal to such criteria is to refute Berkeley by kicking a stone or to refute Derrida by telling him there is egg...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 442-448
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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