Reading Cavell's The World Viewed
A Philosophical Perspective on Film
Publication Year: 2000
Published by: Wayne State University Press
The World Viewed has been available for thirty years. Indeed, it has been available for the exact period during which film study has taken shape as an academic field in America and throughout the world. By reading The World Viewed as we do, in a way that uncovers and acknowledges its philosophical aspirations and depth, we seek to demonstrate its relevance to issues ...
List of Abbreviations
Between World War II and the Cold War, there was an all-too-brief period when thoughtful people everywhere were joined in recognizing humanity's awesome responsibility for creating a new world order. American films like The Best Years of Our Lives and Its a Wonderful Life reflected this moment's humanistic spirit. ...
Reading The World Viewed
I The Preface: A Metaphysical Memoir
During the period of his life in which going to the movies was a normal part of his week, Cavell observes in the opening paragraph of the Preface, "it would no more have occurred to me to write a study of movies than to write my autobiography." It is because the writing of The World Viewed is prompted by his memories that Cavell finds himself feeling, ...
II Chapters 1-5: What Is Film?
The opening chapter of The World Viewed begins with the question of why movies are important. It ends with the question "What is film?" For Cavell, these questions are not separable. This fact about film, or our concept of film, reflects a fact about art, or our concept of art: What art is cannot be separated from what makes art important. ...
III Chapters 6-9: Film's Origins and History
In the preface, Cavell suggests that the completion of Chapter 5 marked the end of the first stage of the writing of The World Viewed. Having got this far with the work, he felt he had some words he could believe in to account for his experience of film. ...
IV Chapters 10-11: The End of the Myths
The ending of Chapter 9 marks the first passage in The World Viewed whose tone is poised between elegy and harsh judgment. This tone will be repeatedly sounded in the two chapters that follow, which inaugurate the book's reflections on the fact that the traditional media of movies are losing their power to compel conviction, ...
V Chapters 12-13: The World as a Whole
The idea that emerges at the end of Chapter 11, that each possibility of a medium is what it is only in view of the others, is yet another quintessentially Cavellian principle. It is akin to the idea, crucial to Pursuits of Happiness, that instances of a genre—for Cavell, a genre is a medium— do not share a set of features that can in principle be enumerated; ...
VI Chapters 14-15: Automatism
"I have spoken of film as satisfying the wish for the magical reproduction of the world by enabling us to view it unseen," the first paragraph of Chapter 14 begins (101). What we wish to view in this way "is the world itself—that is to say, everything," Cavell goes on (102), invoking and answering the culminating question of Chapter 6 ...
VII Chapters 16-18: Film and Theatricality
At this point in The World Viewed, it remains a standing question how film can for so long have avoided the fate of modernism, for so long maintained its continuities of audiences and genres without assuming the serious burden of justifying its existence as an art. ...
VIII Chapter 19: "The Acknowledgment Of Silence"
Naturalness has been withdrawing—nature itself has been withdrawing— from film. But "nature's absence," as Cavell puts it in Chapter 15, "is only the history of our turnings from it." If nature has been turning away from film, film has been turning away from nature, indeed, from its own nature. ...
Appendix: Cavell's Philosophical Procedures and Must We Mean What We Say?