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Reading Cavell's The World Viewed

A Philosophical Perspective on Film

William Rothman & Marian Keane

Publication Year: 2000

In their thoughtful study of one of Stanley Cavell’s greatest yet most neglected books, William Rothman and Marian Keane address this eminent philosopher’s many readers, from a variety of disciplines, who have neither understood why he has given film so much attention, nor grasped the place of The World Viewed within the totality of his writings about film. Rothman and Keane also reintroduce The World Viewed to the field of film studies. When the new field entered universities in the late 1960s, it predicated its legitimacy on the conviction that the medium’s artistic achievements called for serious criticism and on the corollary conviction that no existing field was capable of the criticism filmed called for. The study of film needed to found itself, intellectually, upon a philosophical investigation of the conditions of the medium and art of film. Such was the challenge The World Viewed took upon itself. However, film studies opted to embrace theory as a higher authority than our experiences of movies, divorcing itself from the philosophical perspective of self-reflection apart from which, The World Viewed teaches, we cannot know what movies mean, or what they are. Rotham and Keane now argue that the poststructuralist theories that dominated film studies for a quarter of a century no longer compel conviction, Cavell’s brilliant and beautiful book can provide a sense of liberation to a field that has forsaken its original calling. read in a way that acknowledges its philosophical achievement, The World Viewed can show the field a way to move forward by rediscovering its passion for the art of film. Reading Cavell’s The World Viewed will prove invaluable to scholars and students of film and philosophy, and to those in other fields, such as literary studies and American studies, who have found Cavell’s work provocative an fruitful.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series


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pp. 9-11

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

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pp. 12-14

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pp. 13-32

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

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I The Preface: A Metaphysical Memoir

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pp. 35-41

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, ...

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II Chapters 1-5: What Is Film?

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pp. 42-86

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. ...

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III Chapters 6-9: Film's Origins and History

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pp. 87-126

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. ...

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IV Chapters 10-11: The End of the Myths

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pp. 127-139

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, ...

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V Chapters 12-13: The World as a Whole

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pp. 140-173

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; ...

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VI Chapters 14-15: Automatism

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pp. 174-195

"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 ...

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VII Chapters 16-18: Film and Theatricality

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pp. 196-232

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. ...

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VIII Chapter 19: "The Acknowledgment Of Silence"

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pp. 233-260

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?

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pp. 261-278


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pp. 279-284


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pp. 285-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780814340103
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814328965

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 28
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series