We’re pleased to announce the appearance of a new book by Kyle Stevens (Cinema Studies and English, Colby College), titled Mike Nichols: Sex, Language, and the Reinvention of Psychological Realism (Oxford University Press). Below is some information Stevens provided us about the book, and in particular its relationship to Ordinary Language Philosophy.
In The World Viewed, Stanley Cavell writes: “It is an incontestable fact that in a motion picture no live human being is up there. But a human something is, and something unlike anything else we know.” In his new book, Kyle Stevens explores the category of these human somethings, which, as Cavell suggests, inform and gird our own ideas of the category of the human. He does so through the study of performer and director Mike Nichols. With iconic movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, and Carnal Knowledge, Nichols was the most prominent American director during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. It was also during the late 1960s and 1970s, as Film Studies crystallized into an academic discipline, that psychological realism became linked to both classical Hollywood and continuity editing. The style was derided as theatrical, or worse, bourgeois, a product of a capitalism that valorized individual personality. This view persists, though often tacitly. Yet, we must attribute some degree of mindedness to any figure that we might call a character. Stevens clarifies that at stake is an idea of action: how a film expresses a character’s orientation toward and effect upon objects, and how audiences construe that relation. He contends that Nichols creates a mode of character rooted in doubt about actions, doubt that is politically savvy and which, by accommodating quotidian anxiety about knowing other minds, offers a new register of realism.
Themes and methods from Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell are central throughout the book, from thinking about the nature of improvisational utterances to linguistic self-presentation. For example, by asking when, or whether, The Graduate’s taciturn hero means his silences, Stevens shows that the film exhibits an interest in rethinking the nature, force, and relationality of utterances. In doing so, he illuminates its appeal to an aesthetic context fascinated by silence, and to a political context of youth galvanized by the Free Speech Movement and Vietnam. The Graduate thus becomes a means of asking what it means to speak representatively. And what, in that context, does it mean to remain silent, to choose to speak only for oneself? Hence, readers will learn not only about an important filmmaker and his influence on the last five decades of Hollywood, but about film’s participation in a US history of ideas and, more broadly, the relation of film and philosophy.