- Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow
Cavell reads Nietzsche’s reference to Übermorgan, the day after tomorrow (the day after the crisis of nihilism), on the model of Übermensch, as a surpassing dawn, elucidated with examples from Emerson and Thoreau. These philosophers may not be Dionysian pessimists on the other side of Western nihilism, but they are as untimely as a midday dawn. In Cavell’s Emersonian terms, they are perfectionists, assuming “the right to seek a step toward an unattained possibility of the self, to want a world closer to the heart’s desire.” Cavell, too, is an untimely perfectionist in American philosophy. He has spent his career comfortably close to the center [End Page 501] of the analytic establishment, feeling answerable, he says, to their judgment, yet he has refused to follow their lead in defining his questions. Instead of abandoning the analytic audience he seems destined to disappoint, he has endured as the aesthetic conscience of their otherwise pretty philistine approach to philosophy. Cavell does not have an aesthetic theory as such. Instead, he has an art of philosophy whose engagement with art — the films of Fred Astaire, the voices of opera, characters in Shakespeare — is a method unlike any other for enacting philosophical engagement.
Barry Allen teaches philosophy at McMaster University and is associate editor of Common Knowledge for philosophy and politics. His publications include Truth in Philosophy, Knowledge and Civilization, and Artifice and Design: Art and Technology in Human Experience.