- An Autobiography of Companions
Of the contributors to this symposium, I am the newest to Stanley Cavell, both to the transformational power of his work and to the transformational power of his friendship. I thus want to start by saying how humbled I am to be a part of this occasion, which is the largest stage I have yet enjoyed as an aspiring philosopher. I first met Stanley Cavell in March 2009, in my first year of graduate school, when a friend and I invited him to join our first-year class at a performance of Beckett’s Endgame in Cambridge. Knowing something of the Cavell voice from his essay on the play (which I had come upon accidentally in college), but as yet knowing nothing of his devotion to young philosophers, I was giddy for weeks when he not only accepted our invitation, but suggested that we meet for drinks both before and after the play. It was a beautiful evening, and the next day Stanley sent all of us an email announcing that he had woken up with a smile on his face, “as if the performance we attended was rather of something called Openings.” Those openings widened sooner than I expected, when several months later (having spent much of the semester obsessively reading The Claim of Reason in a group organized by my teacher Richard Moran, whose role in my understanding of Stanley’s work will become apparent) I learned that the Walter M. Cabot Professor, Emeritus, was looking for a research assistant. To borrow a phrase from Little Did I Know: I might as well have been asked if I would care to visit Paradise (137). It’s a job I unhesitatingly (though very nervously) took up, and it’s one that I have relished ever since. I cannot express how grateful I am now to this wonderful man and his wonderful family, particularly his wife Cathleen, for their support during this period (this period which has included the editing and publication of Little Did I Know). [End Page 972] But I do want to note (and here I think I speak representatively) how important visits to their home in Brookline, Massachusetts, can be for restoring sanity and humanity. My afternoons with Stanley and Cathleen Cavell have been the best kind of philosophical education, the best kind of personal education, the best kind of therapy, and the best kind of companionship.
It should thus not be surprising that today I want to say something about themes of companionship, especially as they appear in Stanley Cavell’s earliest work (and the reception of ordinary language philosophy in that work) and as they appear in Little Did I Know. At the very beginning of his memoir, Cavell notes that he has been here before, not only in earlier autobiographical writing such as A Pitch of Philosophy, but also in his early understanding of the methods of J.L. Austin and the later Wittgenstein as autobiographical, specifically in their insistence that “I speak philosophically for others when they recognize what I say as what they would say, recognize that their language is mine,” and he notes that this has produced in him an understanding of philosophical writing as “the autobiography of a species” (6). So Cavell is returning to one of the animating questions of his earliest work, namely what entitles one to say ‘we’, what entitles one to speak on behalf of others. This is the question that opens the essay “Must We Mean What We Say?”, written in response to a paper by his then-Berkeley colleague Benson Mates disputing the entitlement of ordinary language philosophers (in this case, Austin and Ryle) to make claims about what we say (in this case, what we say is done “voluntarily”) because they have not assembled the right kind of evidence. Cavell’s response was to claim that such native speakers do not need evidence about “what we say”: they are the source of that evidence (Must 4).
Connected with this is Cavell’s insistence that the methods of Austin and Wittgenstein (including methods of asking “What should we say if . . .”, or “In what circumstances would we call...