NDPR: Peter Dula Reviews Espen Dahl’s Recent Book

Peter Dula recently reviewed Espen Dahl’s Stanley Cavell, Religion, and Continental Philosophy for NDPR. The review begins:

For a long time, Stanley Cavell was the least read of his generation of American philosophical greats. Richard Rorty, Donald Davidson, John Rawls, Hilary Putnam, Arthur Danto and Thomas Kuhn all became famous (as famous as philosophers can be) while Cavell remained relatively obscure for most of his career. That has changed decisively since the early 2000s. In the last five years alone, almost 10 monographs have appeared on his work. Most of these are by literature professors, almost none, sadly, are by philosophers, and a few are by theologians and scholars of religion. The newest addition to the latter is Espen Dahl’s impressive book, one that lives up to every aspect of its title. Dahl has a comprehensive grasp on Cavell’s thought, is clearly a gifted theologian, and manages to place Cavell in conversation with continental thought as productively as anyone before him. Moreover, he does so in prose that is a model of clarity and brevity. Just see his overview of Cavell’s “ordinary” (7-13), which manages to be a frankly stunning six page summary of Cavell’s work as a whole.

The theologian drawn to Cavell has to first get past those early readings that understood Cavell as a secular and atheist philosopher, whether, like Richard Eldridge, they approve of his atheism or, like Judith Tonning and the early Stephen Mulhall, they disapprove. That reading flattens the complexity and ambivalence of Cavell’s many remarks on religion. Dahl follows an alternative line of thought, which argues for Cavell’s openness to religious and theological concerns. [Click here to continue reading]

Ethics of Alterity, Confrontation and Responsibility in 19th- to 21st-Century British Literature – new volume edited by Christine Reynier and Jean-Michel Ganteau

Christine Reynier and Jean-Michel Ganteau (University Paul Valéry – Montpellier III) have edited over the last few years  a number of wonderful volumes of essays that might be of interest to scholars working at the intersection of literature, philosophy, and the arts: Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth-Century British Literature (PULM, 2005), Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth-Century British Arts (PULM, 2007), Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Literature (PULM, 2010), and Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Arts (PULM, 2012). The last in this series was published last year, also by Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée:

“Over the last few decades, in the wake of the ‘Ethical Turn’, contemporary literature has been examined through the prism of the ethics of alterity. Yet, this may not be consis­tently the case with Victorian and Modernist literature, since relatively few of the authors of those periods have elicited such critical and ­theoretical scrutiny.

The articles in this volume set off to re-read Victorian and Modernist literature in the light of the ethics of alterity and investigate whether the post-Auschwitz, contemporary period breaks away from or favours lines of continuity with the productions of the earlier era. It also strives to address works which do not belong to the canon, focusing alternately on great authors and less known artists, on what has been termed ‘minor’ texts or genres that are less visible than the novel. Approaching literature by examining the relations between ethics and aesthetics, even while adopting an ethical approach, helps the authors in this volume contribute to revising the contemporary, Modernist and Victorian canon in English Literature.”

For the table of contents, please visit the publisher’s page.


New Issue: Journal of Aesthetic Education

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 1.44.02 PMRoughly this time last year we advertised a symposium—Perfectionism and Education: Kant and Cavell on Ethics and Aesthetics in Societytaking place in Stockholm. The papers that came out of that symposium have since been published as special issue in the Journal of Aesthetic Education. Below you’ll find the introduction, as well as the table of contents with links to each of the articles. (Thanks to Viktor Johansson for bringing this to my attention!)

Introduction: Perfectionism and Education—Kant and Cavell on Ethics and Aesthetics in Society 1-4, Klas Roth, Martin Gustafsson, Viktor Johansson
Immanuel Kant’s conception of ethics and aesthetics, including his philosophy of judgment and practical knowledge, are widely discussed today among scholars in various fields: philosophy, political science, aesthetics, educational science, and others. His ideas continue to inspire and encourage an ongoing interdisciplinary dialogue, leading to an increasing awareness of the interdependence between societies and people and a clearer sense of the challenges we face in cultivating ourselves as moral beings.
Early on in his career, Cavell began to recognize the strong connection between Kant’s aesthetics (as it finds its expression in the Critique of the Power of Judgment) and the claims of ordinary language philosophy. In this connection, he also found a fruitful way of dealing with philosophical problems in response to modern art and music. Commentators have found in Cavell’s work powerful criticisms of, and novel support for, a Kantian aesthetics. Cavell was also one of the first to describe Wittgenstein as working within a Kantian framework.
In both Kant’s and Cavell’s aesthetics, moral practice and education play an absolutely central role. Both philosophers see art as crucial to moral education, in its capacity to cultivate and expand our moral experience. It is, therefore, surprising how little has been written on their contribution to education, in particular, on how their views on the relation between ethics and aesthetics matter to education and contemporary educational theory.
The aim of this collection of papers is to discuss the value, significance, and relevance of Kant’s and Cavell’s conceptions of education, ethics, and aesthetics in relation to contemporary educational theory. In particular, Kant’s and Cavell’s conceptions of moral perfectionism and education are in focus. The first contribution is an original paper by Paul Guyer (Brown University), one of the world’s leading scholars on Kant and a student of Cavell’s. Guyer has written on almost every aspect of Kant’s philosophy, including education, and he has developed novel and highly influential interpretations throughout his academic career.
Guyer’s paper serves as the starting point for the other contributions, written by (in order of appearance) Klas Roth (Stockholm university), Pradeep Dillon (University of Illinois at urbana-Champaign), Viktor Johansson (Stockholm university), Richard Eldridge (Swarthmore College), Alice Crary (New School for Social Research), Martin Gustafsson (Åbo Akademi University), and Timothy Gould (Metropolitan State University).
Examples of Perfectionism 5-27, Paul Guyer
Making Ourselves Intelligible—Rendering Ourselves Efficacious and Autonomous, without Fixed Ends 28-40, Klas Roth
Examples of Moral Perfectionism from a Global Perspective 41-57, Pradeep A. Dhillon
Perfectionist Philosophy as a (an Untaken) Way of Life 58-72, Viktor Johansson
Kant, Cavell, and the Circumstances of Philosophy 73-86, Richard Eldridge
A Radical Perfectionist: Revisiting Cavell in the Light of Kant 87-98, Alice Crary
What is Cavellian Perfectionism? 99-110, Martin Gustafsson
Seven Types of Unintelligibility: Guyer on Cavell on Making Sense of Yourself 111-126, Timothy Gould
Replies to Comments127-142, Paul Guyer

Two Essays of Interest

Of late I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Benjamin Mangrum, a PhD student in English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina and founding editor of Ethos, a digital peer-reviewed journal devoted to arts, humanities, and public ethics. I’ll have more to say about Ethos by and by, but for now I’d like to draw your attention to Mangrum’s marvelous article, “Bourdieu, Cavell, and the Politics of Aesthetic Value,” available for advance access through Literature and Theology.

Mangrum’s abstract reads as follows:

Bourdieu’s critique of aesthetic value has had significant intellectual purchase in its controversial assertion that critical judgments regarding culture and aesthetics necessarily occur in an arena of social inequality and symbolic distinction. I explore a specific set of problems in Bourdieu’s theory of aesthetics through the work of Stanley Cavell, drawing on the latter’s investigation of the natural/conventional binary and what I describe as a theory of action (as opposed to a theory of meaning) based upon his reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The comparison of Bourdieu and Cavell yields a more nuanced account of aesthetic judgments, the politics of criticism, and the production of value or meaning.

And then Nat Hansen (Philosophy faculty at the University of Reading) has an essay out in the most recent issue of Philosophy Compass titled “Contemporary Ordinary Language Philosophy,” which promises both a helpful overview of OLP’s past-to-present and a hopeful glance at OLP’s future.

Hansen’s abstract reads:

There is a widespread assumption that ordinary language philosophy was killed off sometime in the 1960s or 70s by a combination of Gricean pragmatics and the rapid development of systematic semantic theory.1 Contrary to that widespread assumption, however, contemporary versions of ordinary language philosophy are alive and flourishing but going by various aliases – in particular (some versions of) ‘contextualism’ and (some versions of) ‘experimental philosophy’. And a growing group of contemporary philosophers are explicitly embracing the title as well as the methods of ordinary language philosophy and arguing that it has been unfairly maligned and was never decisively refuted. In this overview, I will outline the main projects and arguments employed by contemporary ordinary language philosophers and make the case that updated versions of the arguments made by ordinary language philosophers in the middle of the 20th century are attracting renewed attention.

Happy reading! CL

The Struggle Against Silence — Interview with Alice Oswald

Last winter in Chicago was especially trying: relentless, unyielding – all those words we use to express strain.  In late February British poet Alice Oswald came to the University of Chicago to do a ‘reading.’  This was a misnomer.  Memorial, a version or ‘excavation’ of the Iliad, is an oral poem.  Hers was not a reading, but a partial recitation.  There was a buzz in the room, something to do with the mic, then the lights.  A man was called in to fix it.  Meanwhile she stood at the podium gripping its wings and clenching her jaw.  By six in the evening the sun had already set and the east-facing windows were pockets of dark.  Several minutes passed as cords were rearranged, plugs pulled and reset.  Still, the buzz, and now one of the fluorescents was blinking.  She cleared her throat: “It’s important that we get this right, because once I start I can’t very easily stop.”  She said this forcedly and with what read as a trace of resentment.  She seemed to be working under incredible duress.  Which struck me as mysterious.  Until she began.

MemorialYoutube is replete with video recordings of Oswald performing Memorial which may or may not capture the effect (relentless, unyielding).  A partial audio recording can be found at Poetry Archive.  A CD of the whole is available from Faber & Faber, a print version too.  Whether by way of introduction or as a return to a familiar name, readers of this blog may take interest in Max Porter’s recent interview with Oswald (featured in the current issue of The White Review).  The interview begins by touching down on what is distinctive about American poetry – “this extraordinary capacity to think within a poem, to channel the essay,” in her words.  From there topics range from plant life, to musicality, to the self-sufficiency  of the poem and the necessity of its beginning “against silence.”

Stony Lonesome, Poems by Kelly Dean Jolley — New Book Available for Pre-Order

Congratulations to Kelly Dean Jolley! His first book of poetry, Stony Lonesomewill be out soon through New Plains Press. Copies are available for pre-order through the publisher. Pre-ordered copies will be autographed by the author. Click [here] for more information and to purchase.



“Legend has it that Wittgenstein turned his back on the Vienna Circle to read poetry, but had he access to Jolley’s Stony Lonesome, he could have read it with back turned or facing that truth-obsessed circle of philosophers.”

— Ronald Hustwit, The College of Wooster

The Institutions of Meaning by Vincent Descombes — Now Available in English



In 2009 Bernie posted a note suggesting that scholars interested in Rob Chadot’s development of a ‘postskeptical’ literary criticism might also find a resource in Vincent Descombes. Lifting from Bernie’s original post:

Because cognitivist explanations of the human mind have made surprising inroads into literary studies in recent year, literary scholars may find Descombes’ book on cognitivism — The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism — relevant to their own work, despite the fact that it has nothing to say about literature as such (elsewhere, however, Descombes has written on literature). For those who want to delve deeper into Descombes’ critique of cognitivism, check out this special 2004 issue of , which features a symposium on The Mind’s Provisions (with essays by Charles Taylor, Robert Brandom, Richard Rorty, and John Haugeland, followed by a response by Descombes).

The Institutions of Meaning (now available in English through Harvard University Press) is a constructive follow-up to the critical project of The Mind’s Provisions. Descombes makes a sustained case for holism and addresses the theoretical difficulties holism presents. More about the text [here]. 

(Readers of French can find a review of Les institutions du sens (1997) by Laurence Kaufman [here] and another by Guillaume Garreta [here].)

Romantic Circles: Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism

A new volume has appeared of Romantic Circles, “a refereed scholarly website devoted to the study of Romantic-period literature and culture.” This volume is edited by Eric Lindstrom (English, University of Vermont) and is titled “Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism.” To access the volume, click here. Here is an excerpt from the section About this Volume:

At a climactic point in Part Four of The Claim of Reason (1979), the American philosopher Stanley Cavell arrives at the striking conclusion that “romanticism opens with the discovery of the problem of other minds, or with the discovery that the other is a problem, an opening of philosophy.” Cavell’s account of how Romanticism opens is not historical in orientation, but rather offers a rich conceptual, aesthetic, and ethical site of concern that both interrupts and generates his life’s work— thus presenting an opening for scholars and students of the Romantic Period to think the subject of Romanticism anew in studying (with) Cavell. The essays in this volume seek to provide the fullest account to date of Cavell’s prompting by Romanticism in light of his powerful record of engagement with British and European Romantic texts: a body of literature on which Cavell has performed several bravura readings. Cavell’s writings and distinctive philosophical approach have garnered an increasing amount of sustained attention over the past several years, particularly since the publication of Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow (2005) and Little Did I Know (2010). Yet beyond his major American subjects of Thoreau and Emerson, there is still little published scholarship that engages Cavell’s thought at extended, close range with Romanticism as the moment that matters so much him: the “perfectionist” opening that comes after religion, but before philosophy. The present collection—with essays (in suggested reading order) by Emily Sun, Paul Fry, Eric Lindstrom, Eric Walker, and Anne-Lise François, and a substantial Afterword by Joshua Wilner—hinges between the efforts to record Cavell’s engagement with British Romantic texts and to stage new interventions.

The table of contents is as follows:

Issue #2 of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies

Amir Khan, managing editor (together with Sérgio Dias Branco) of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies, has just informed us that the journal’s second issue is now online. You can view or download the full issue here. According to the journal’s announcement:

This special issue showcases Cavell’s appeal “down under,” all papers appearing under the auspices of guest editor, Professor David Macarthur, c/o the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney.

Indeed, the papers in this issue were given at a conference titled “Themes from Cavell” at the University of Sydney on Feb. 27-28, 2012.

For an announcement of the call for papers for the journal’s third issue, click here.