Congratulations to Toril Moi (Duke University) on the publication of her new book, Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell.
From the publisher:
This radically original book argues for the power of ordinary language philosophy—a tradition inaugurated by Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, and extended by Stanley Cavell—to transform literary studies. In engaging and lucid prose, Toril Moi demonstrates this philosophy’s unique ability to lay bare the connections between words and the world, dispel the notion of literature as a monolithic concept, and teach readers how to learn from a literary text.
Moi first introduces Wittgenstein’s vision of language and theory, which refuses to reduce language to a matter of naming or representation, considers theory’s desire for generality doomed to failure, and brings out the philosophical power of the particular case. Contrasting ordinary language philosophy with dominant strands of Saussurean and post-Saussurean thought, she highlights the former’s originality, critical power, and potential for creative use. Finally, she challenges the belief that good critics always read below the surface, proposing instead an innovative view of texts as expression and action, and of reading as an act of acknowledgment. Intervening in cutting-edge debates while bringing Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell to new readers, Revolution of the Ordinary will appeal beyond literary studies to anyone looking for a philosophically serious account of why words matter.
Rita Felski, author of The Limits of Critique: “Revolution of the Ordinary is a milestone in literary studies. In lucid and invigorating prose, Moi shows how a certain picture of ‘literary theory’ has held us captive and offers a brilliant and devastating analysis of its weaknesses. Drawing on the tradition of ordinary language philosophy, she offers a new vision of how we might think and read. This groundbreaking book will shape conversations among literary scholars for years to come.”
R. M. Berry, Florida State University: “Revolution of the Ordinary takes on the formidable challenge of making Wittgenstein understandable and brilliantly shows his work’s relevance for critics educated in post-Structuralist, Lacanian, deconstructive, new historicist, culturalist, postcolonial, queer, feminist, and critical race theories. The growing interest in Wittgenstein among both literary critics and contemporary writers and poets absolutely demands this book.”
John Gibson, University of Louisville: “This is an agenda-setting work by a preeminent literary theorist. It is also tremendously fun to read. Revolution of the Ordinary is the kind of book that tells literary scholars and philosophers how to repair their relationship, and how to do so without losing what is distinctive about each discipline.”
We are pleased to announce that Andrew Norris (Department of Political Science, University of California Santa Barbara) has published a new book titled Becoming Who We Are: Politics and Practical Philosophy in the Work of Stanley Cavell. You can visit the book’s page on the Oxford University Press site here. Here is OUP’s description of the book:
While much literature exists on the work of Stanley Cavell, this is the first monograph on his contribution to politics and practical philosophy. As Andrew Norris demonstrates, though skepticism is Cavell’s central topic, Cavell understands it not as an epistemological problem or position, but as an existential one. The central question is not what we know or fail to know, but to what extent we have made our lives our own, or failed to do so. Accordingly, Cavell’s reception of Austin and Wittgenstein highlights, as other readings of these figures do not, the uncanny nature of the ordinary, the extent to which we ordinarily fail to mean what we say and be who we are. Becoming Who We Are charts Cavell’s debts to Heidegger and Thompson Clarke, even as it allows for a deeper appreciation of the extent to which Cavell’s Emersonian Perfectionism is a rewriting of Rousseau’s and Kant’s theories of autonomy. This in turn opens up a way of understanding citizenship and political discourse that develops points made more elliptically in the work of Hannah Arendt, and that contrasts in important ways with the positions of liberal thinkers like John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas on the one hand, and radical democrats like Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe on the other.
We are also pleased to announce that Professor Norris has published a paper in the journal Philosophy & Social Criticism titled “Skepticism and Critique in Arendt and Cavell.” For online access to the journal, click here.
A new essay by Larry Jackson is out now in the latest issue of Diacritics. It begins:
Philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
But can philosophy become literature and still know itself?
—Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason
Scene One: This Is Simply What I Do in which a spade is turned and a mystery is unearthed
Poor Ludwig Wittgenstein. How many times as a schoolteacher had he turned a student’s chair so that it faced the wall as punishment for not understanding a lesson?1 And now, here he was, the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, staring at the wall like a surly child. Only this punishment was self-imposed.
Misunderstood by his audience—the philosophers who would later be known as the Vienna Circle—Wittgenstein turned his back on them to read poetry aloud to the cobwebs and shadows that clung to the corners of the room, as though he were staging one of those enigmatic scenes found in his Philosophical Investigations.2 Like so many of the images in that work, this moment might also raise knotty questions about how we understand one another and why we often fail to do so. “Once I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned,” writes Wittgenstein, drawing on another of his short-lived professions, that of monastery gardener, to convey the exasperation of the educator.3 “Then I am inclined to say: ‘This is simply what I do.’” But when Wittgenstein turned his spade and his back on this group of prominent philosophers in the 1920s, he also raised a far more basic question. Just why was he acting this way?
No one among the group of intellectuals that comprised the Vienna Circle had treated Wittgenstein with contempt. On the contrary: they had invited him to speak in depth about the ideas that he had developed in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, many of which their own school of thought, logical positivism, attempted to amplify and refine. However much they erred in their interpretations of Wittgenstein’s ideas, surely they deserved a thoughtful response, not a puzzling poetic protest. Why did Wittgenstein not try harder to persuade them? And if that could not be done, then why accept their invitations in the first place? Obviously, he was making a point. But was this a profound philosophical point or a petty, personal one? And if it was philosophical, then why not present it the usual way, in the form of an argument?
Go back to that passage quoted a moment ago about exhausting justifications and reaching bedrock. You will see that there is, in fact, a striking difference between Wittgenstein’s real-life café contretemps and his parabolic turned spade in the Investigations. When Wittgenstein could not make himself understood to the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, he read poetry, whereas his fictional teacher, the one who hits rock bottom, confesses only that he is inclined to say something.4 We can interpret that silent inclination as prologue to any number of words or actions on the part of the teacher. Wittgenstein himself offers one such possibility in an early study for the Investigations, when he writes, “If a child does not respond to the suggestive gesture [to go on counting correctly], it is separated from the others and treated as a lunatic.”5 But we can just as easily imagine the teacher instead repeating the lesson or offering new examples, berating the student or collapsing in agony.
We can also interpret the silence not as mere prelude to some grand pedagogical strategy or personal meltdown, but as the action or lesson itself. Teaching is not just about talking. There are many scenarios in which silence might be the best, or even the only, way to educate (or be educated). Here is one of them:
If the child, little or big, asks me: Why do we eat animals? or Why are some people poor and others rich? or What is God? or Why do I have to go to school? or Do you love…
You can access the complete essay here
Guy Longworth recently posted a quick trot through J.L. Austin’s early thought to the Oxford University Press Blog. You can read his post, “J.L. Austin, “Other Minds,” and the goldfinch” here.
Amir Khan, co-editor (with Sérgio Dias Branco) of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies, has let us know of a call for papers for the journal’s fifth issue. It reads as follows:
Stanley Cavell has described the “new, yet unapproachable America.” These days, America seems as unapproachable as ever. Cavell’s reprise of Thoreau for the twentieth century, where American sins of slavery and the Mexican-American War are trumped by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, was either “politically” effective or it was not.
While Cavell has been open about his desire to address politics questions in a philosophical manner, it remains a matter of some dispute how, if at all, he does so. One reason for this is that Cavell does not outline a political platform or recommend specific action of any kind; another is that–from his late sixties Lear essay on–the political moment in Cavell is regularly entangled with aesthetic and epistemological questions.
In what ways, then, are Cavell’s political writings efficacious? How might Cavell’s reading of King Lear help us make headway of the peculiar political challenges America faces in the twenty-first century, if one extends a critique of America begun by Thoreau to the Black Lives Matter movement, or to the War in Iraq? And how might Cavell’s writings avoid falling into the aestheticization of politics criticized by thinkers such as Benjamin, Schmitt, and Habermas?
For the fifth issue of Conversations, we invite essays that address these questions as they emerge either in Cavell’s own work or in the evident political crises of our time as seen in light of that work. Topics might include:
- Cavell and Romanticism
- Politics as poetics and poetics as politics
- Cavell and Hannah Arendt
- Cavell and Pragmatism
- Cavell and political resistance
- Cavell and Black Lives Matter
- Cavell and democracy
- Cavell and the republican tradition
- Cavell and Communitarianism
- Cavell and perfectionism
- Cavell and the politics of cinema
Papers should be no more than 6000 words, including footnotes, and must follow the notes and bibliography citation system described in The Chicago Manual of Style. We also welcome shorter, more intimate pieces addressing specific questions (800-1200 words).
Please send complete articles to Amir Khan at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than September 15th, 2017. If you submit your article through the website, please send a follow-up query to one of the managing editors as well.
Karen Zumhagen-Yekplé and Michael Lemahieu have written to us to announce their new co-edited volume, Wittgenstein and Modernism (University of Chicago Press). You can access the book’s page on the University of Chicago Press website here.
Here is the book description:
Ludwig Wittgenstein famously declared that philosophy “ought really to be written only as a form of poetry,” and he even described the Tractatus as “philosophical and, at the same time, literary.” But few books have really followed up on these claims, and fewer still have focused on their relation to the special literary and artistic period in which Wittgenstein worked. This book offers the first collection to address the rich, vexed, and often contradictory relationship between modernism—the twentieth century’s predominant cultural and artistic movement—and Wittgenstein, one of its preeminent and most enduring philosophers. In doing so it offers rich new understandings of both.
Michael LeMahieu Karen Zumhagen-Yekplé bring together scholars in both twentieth-century philosophy and modern literary studies to put Wittgenstein into dialogue with some of modernism’s most iconic figures, including Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Walter Benjamin, Henry James, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Adolf Loos, Robert Musil, Wallace Stevens, and Virginia Woolf. The contributors touch on two important aspects of Wittgenstein’s work and modernism itself: form and medium. They discuss issues ranging from Wittgenstein and poetics to his use of numbered propositions in the Tractatus as a virtuoso performance of modernist form; from Wittgenstein’s persistence metaphoric use of religion, music, and photography to an exploration of how he and Henry James both negotiated the relationship between the aesthetic and the ethical.
Covering many other fascinating intersections of the philosopher and the arts, this book offers an important bridge across the disciplinary divides that have kept us from a fuller picture of both Wittgenstein and the larger intellectual and cultural movement of which he was a part.
And here is the table of contents:
Part 1 Wittgenstein’s Modernist Context
1 Wittgenstein and Modernism in Literature: Between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations
Anthony J. Cascardi
2 “To Become a Different Person”: Wittgenstein, Christianity, and the Modernist Ethos
3 The Concept of Expression in the Arts from a Wittgensteinian Perspective
4 Wittgenstein, Loos, and Critical Modernism: Style and Idea in Architecture and Philosophy
Part 2 Wittgenstein’s Modernist Cultures
5 Loos, Musil, Wittgenstein, and the Recovery of Human Life
6 Wittgenstein, Benjamin, and Pure Realism
7 What Makes a Poem Philosophical?
Part 3 Wittgenstein and Literary Modernism
8 In the Condition of Modernism: Philosophy, Literature, and The Sacred Fount
9 The World as Bloom Found It: “Ithaca,” the Tractatus, and “Looking More than Once for the Solution of Difficult Problems in Imaginary or Real Life”
10 Lectures on Ethics: Wittgenstein and Kafka
11 Bellow’s Private Language
NB: the deadline for the call for papers has been extended until 25/1. We particularly welcome new proposals on the themes of “tropes” and “attunement”.
Confirmed keynote speakers: Derek Attridge (York); Claudia Brodsky (Princeton); Maximilian de Gaynesford (Reading); Anthony Ossa-Richardson (Southampton); Constantine Sandis (Hertfordshire); Catherine Wearing (Wellesley College).
Following the success of the 2014 conference “21st-Century Theories of Literature: Essence, Fiction and Value”, which drew over eighty participants from across the globe and several of whose papers are about to be published as essays in Andrea Selleri and Philip Gaydon (eds.), Literary Studies and the Philosophy of Literature: New Interdisciplinary Directions (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016 – forthcoming), this conference seeks to broaden the avenues of conversation between aesthetics and literary studies that were opened on that occasion by prompting scholars from both fields to engage with each other in an actively interdisciplinary study of topics shared by literature and philosophy.
This time, too, there will be three overarching themes: (1) Ethics; (2) Tropes; (3) Attunement. The main questions to be explored are, respectively: (1) whether and how literature and ethics can provide reciprocal illumination, and how each field’s established lines of enquiry can help the other; (2) how literary studies and the philosophy of literature negotiate non-literal meaning, and the linguistic models which the respective practices imply; (3) how the theories and practices of the two fields can be brought to bear on one another. For each of these themes there will be parallel sessions with papers by scholars at all stages of their careers, and a double keynote session that will feature established scholars from each field.
Abstracts of 400-500 words for 20-minute presentations should be sent to the organisers at email@example.com by 25/1/2017. We would particularly appreciate an engagement with both philosophical and literary-critical literature, but this is not a requirement as long as your argument is broad enough to be of interest to a large interdisciplinary audience. We welcome case studies and historical analyses, as long as there is an explicit theoretical dimension to the discussion. Possible themes may include but are not limited to:
- Illustrations of ethical themes in fiction
- Illumination of ethical themes through fiction
- Doing, deeds and actions and consequences in fiction
- Narrative and the formation of character
- Fiction as experimentation with situation and response
- Narration and judgement
- Fiction and habitus
- Implied attitudes in literature
- The ethics of reading
- Literary vs figurative meaning
- Tropes as conveyors of philosophical meaning
- Tropes and genre
- Tropes across and between cultures
- The evolution of tropes in history
- Tropes and quantitative literary theory
- Reading protocols and figurative language
- Tropes and the history of hermeneutics
- Tropes in expository vs non-expository prose
- Generality and particularity in literature and philosophy
- Literary affect and hermeneutic interpretation
- Literary immediacy and concept generation
- Modes of argument: what could each field take from the other
- Literary plots: cases/examples for philosophers?
- Literary works as case studies to illustrate philosophical issues: enrichment or appropriation?
- The limits of language and how to tackle them
- Philosophical contributions of “literary” writers
- Philosophers and style
This conference is organised by Andrea Selleri (Warwick), Marianna Ginocchietti (Trieste), Alex Underwood (Warwick), Giulia Zanfabro (Trieste), and it is made possible by the generous funding of the British Society of Aesthetics and of Warwick’s Centre for Research in Philosophy, Literature and the Arts. We are able to provide travel bursaries of £700, so please let us know if you would like to be considered for one.
As many of you know, Johns Hopkins University has recently threatened to close its acclaimed Humanities Center. A thorough account of the threat (including a play-by-play, possible rationales, and the resultant outcry) can be found [here]. (Kudos to Colleen Flaherty for her exhaustive reporting.)
Should you wish to join in protesting the closure, there is a petition circulating on Change.org which you can access [here]. Of course you may also contact JHU President, Ronald J. Daniels, or JHU Krieger School of Arts & Sciences Dean, Beverly Wendland, directly. Their addresses, emails, and phone numbers are available at jhu.edu.
Thanks to Peter Fosl for passing along the following:
Richard Fleming has just published a new piece in this volume: Peter S. Fosl, Michael McGandy, and Mark Moorman, eds., Commonplace Commitments: Thinking Through the Legacy of Joseph P. Fell (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2016). Fleming’s contribution is called “Ordinary Studies: Conceptual Brackets—Textual Moments” (pp. 153-65 in the book). It “seeks to both disquiet and still the matters of the ordinary” by, among other practices, melding John Cage’s use of “time brackets” with more traditional etude aims and forms. The text’s conceptual brackets are selected from collected data descriptions of the ordinary first given in the afterword of part 1 of Fleming’s Threads of Philosophy. Click [here] for more information. And enjoy!