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Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature

David Rudrum

Publication Year: 2013

Stanley Cavell is widely recognized as one of America’s most important contemporary philosophers. His writings have attracted considerable attention among literary critics and theorists. Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature is the first monograph to comprehensively address the importance of literature in Cavell’s philosophy, and, in turn, the potential effect of his philosophy on contemporary literary criticism. David Rudrum dedicates a chapter to each of the principal writers that occupy Cavell, including Shakespeare, Thoreau, Beckett, Wordsworth, Ibsen, and Poe, and incorporates chapters on tragedy, skepticism, ethics, and politics. Through detailed analysis of these works, Rudrum explores Cavell’s ideas on the nature of reading; the relationships between literary language, ordinary language, and performative language; the status of authors and characters; the link between tragedy and ethics; and the nature of political conversation in a democracy. Rudrum casts a wide net that Cavell scholars as well as people interested in the philosophy of tragedy, aesthetics, and literary skepticism will find compelling.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

...First and foremost, let me begin by thanking everyone at the Johns Hopkins University Press, in particular Matt McAdam for taking an interest in this project and for his invaluable support. It is equally important to thank my colleagues and my students at the University of Huddersfield. The full extent of my gratitude to them is, in fact, easily quantifi ed: they aff orded me the priceless opportunity...

List of Abbreviated Titles

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pp. xi-xiv

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INTRODUCTION: Approaching the Unapproachable

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pp. 1-23

...Stanley Cavell is among the most infl uential and signifi cant of contemporary philosophers. His works have achieved a level of eclecticism unparalleled in Anglo-American thought. Not only does Cavell’s philosophy succeed in accommodating the “ordinary language” tradition of J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein with the “continental” tradition from Kant to Derrida and the American tradition of thought represented by Emerson and Thoreau...

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1 Making Sense(s) of Walden

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pp. 24-41

...grounds for a reader to expect me to begin by setting out what it is that makes Cavell’s readings so distinctive and insightful, or, in other words, to spell out what makes a reading Cavellian. What are the distinguishing features, the strengths and weaknesses, the advantages and disadvantages, of a Cavellian reading? Pressing though these questions are, they overlook, and perhaps thereby beg, a more fundamental question raised by the idea of...

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2 The Avoidance of Shakespeare

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pp. 42-84

...In sketching the background to Cavell’s thought, then, Shakespeare’s name needs to be ranked alongside those of such hugely influential figures as Austin and Wittgenstein, Emerson and Thoreau. And yet Cavell’s Shakespeare essays have until recently met with a mixed reception, and often with no reception at all, unless wholesale indiff erence among literary critics and phi los o phers alike may be considered...

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3 From the Sublime to the Ordinary: Stanley Cavell’s Beckett

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pp. 85-98

...“Beckett shrugs his shoulders at the possibility of philosophy today.” So claims Theodor Adorno in his rather abortive “Versuch, das Endspiel zu verstehen.” And yet, perhaps because of this very act of shoulder shrugging, the works of Samuel Beckett seem to have fi red the imaginations of a great many phi los ophers. Discussions of Beckett feature prominently in the...

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4 How to Do Things with Wordsworth

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pp. 99-121

...a claim that puts his poetry in a similar orbit to that of the philosophy of J. L. Austin. Though this claim might at first seem counterintuitive— what, after all, could Austin, the most insistently ordinary of ordinary language philosophers, have in common with Wordsworth, a romantic poet?— I shall nevertheless be adding another claim to it, namely, that...

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5 What Did Cavell Want of Poe?

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pp. 122-133

...In a lecture given at Stanford some years ago, Stanley Cavell added his name to the list of thinkers who have endeavored to read Poe philosophically, an impressive list that already included Derrida, Lacan, and Barbara Johnson. Yet Cavell’s engagement with Poe does not amount to a “reading” in any straight-forward, positivistic sense of the term. Focusing largely...

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6 “Politics as Opposed to What?”: Social Contract and Marriage Contract in A Doll’s House

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pp. 134-176

...Accordingly, Cavell’s more substantial engagements with Ibsen are essays in a philosophy he terms moral perfectionism, and as such, they are sketches of the moral questions and principles raised by Nora’s shutting the door, literally and meta phor ical ly, on her marriage in order to try and fulfi l what she calls “My duty to myself...

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7 Tragedy’s Tragedies: Between the Skeptical and the Ethical

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pp. 177-221

...Allow me to begin this chapter by asking the reader to visualize a brief yet disturbing scene. Assuming that you are sitting down while reading this, I ask you to imagine, if you will, that about a dozen paces from your seat you see a young couple— an attractive young woman and a well-built young man. They appear to be in love, they are tender enough with each other, and they are engaged...

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CONCLUSION: Just an Ordinary American Tragedy

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pp. 222-256

...This may seem a strange move, given that Cavell himself has never written on Miller’s work, but in making it I hope to demonstrate, among other things, that Cavell’s philosophical approaches to literature have a wider degree of applicability than just to the texts he discusses in his...


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pp. 257-276


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pp. 277-282


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pp. 283-285

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410494
E-ISBN-10: 1421410494
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410487
Print-ISBN-10: 1421410486

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 861692392
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature

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Subject Headings

  • Cavell, Stanley, 1926- -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Literature -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
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