restricted access Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature by David Rudrum (review)
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Reviewed by
David Rudrum, Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 285 pp.

Rudrum responds to the philosophical, literary, and literary-philosophical writings of Stanley Cavell in a deeply Cavellian manner. Early in this book, Rudrum notes that “there can be no such thing as a ‘Cavellian theory’ or a ‘Cavellian approach’ to literature.” “My aim in reading,” Rudrum quotes Cavell as saying, “is to follow out in each case the complete tuition for a given intuition (tuition comes to an end somewhere).” Cavell, in Rudrum’s rendering of his reading practice, is responsive to the text rather than declarative about its meaning. He raises questions [End Page 337] that he pursues with us, his readers, not to arrive at answers but to open up texts to further exploration and response. For this reason, Rudrum adapts as his chapter titles many of Cavell’s own book and essay titles, which themselves imply processes or questions that do not necessarily culminate in resolutions or answers: “Approaching the Unapproachable,” “Making Sense(s) of Walden,” “The Avoidance of Shakespeare,” “How to Do Things with Wordsworth,” “What Did Cavell Want of Poe?,” and “Politics as Opposed to What?” are a few examples. As Rudrum puts it most succinctly in relation to the title of his own book, which echoes the title of Cavell’s classic The Claim of Reason: “The claim of literature is a phrase that designates the power of literary texts to unsettle both our critical understanding of literature and our philosophical understanding of the world. That this phrase gives my book its title is meant to draw attention to Stanley Cavell’s unerring ability to allow the texts he reads to enter claims into his discussion of them on their own terms.” Rudrum’s book is deeply compelling in its own right. It claims our attention, even while permitting Cavell also to register his claims on us.

Emily Budick

Emily Budick holds the Ann and Joseph Edelman Chair in American Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she directs the Center for Literary Studies and chairs the Department of English. She is the author of Emily Dickinson and the Life of Language; Fiction and Historical Consciousness: The American Romance Tradition; Engendering Romance: Women Writers and the Hawthorne Tradition, 1850–1990; Nineteenth-Century American Romance: Genre and the Democratic Construction of Culture; Blacks and Jews in Literary Conversation; and Aharon Appelfeld’s Fiction: Acknowledging the Holocaust.